“Given that you’re the Slayer, I’m not worried about your safety. But it does make me wonder why you’re out here,” Angel said, his amusement clear. “I would have laid odds that wild dogs couldn't drag you away from a party.”
Buffy spun around and felt her cheeks flame in embarrassment. She automatically curled in on herself, hunching her shoulders forward in a futile effort to disguise her ridiculously skimpy outfit. She didn’t want Angel to think she had donned it for his benefit.
Of course, hunching completely destroyed the dress's lines. It had taken her two weeks to find the perfect dress for this party. It was well worth her time, too. The knee length black Donna Karen looked absolutely stunning with her Jimmy Choo stilettos and the gorgeous diamond Tiffany earrings. That bitch, Sunday, almost choked on her hors d'oeuvres when Buffy made her entrance. Sunday had shown up in some Todd Oldham knock-off that looked absolutely ridiculous in comparison to Buffy's elegant sophistication. Victory rarely tasted quite so sweet.
Emboldened by the memory of Sunday's hideous defeat, Buffy met Angel's gaze. The ever present wealth of bracelets she wore tinkled musically as she straightened her spine, her arms stiff at her sides. She hated the fact that he could make her feel like she was doing something scandalous when she wasn't. She was perfectly innocent. But still, she hadn’t been aware that she was being followed. Of course, that was probably due to the fact that he was skulking around spying. As usual.
“What do you want?” she snapped in English, refusing to answer him in ShadowTongue. It annoyed her to no end that he insisted on reminding her of their bond.
Angel laughed in genuine delight, regarding her with no more distress than he would afford a hissing kitten. “I’m concerned about your safety,” he mocked smoothly, switching to English to humor her and her prissy sensibilities. “I know how much of a tightass your father is.” He smiled and it was more than a little wicked. "Giles is a powerful man. I'm not in a rush to piss him off. Yet." He winked and added, "And besides, we're family. We have to look out for each other."
With an impudent snort, Buffy turned and walked away, heading deeper into the sunken garden that ran along the back of Angel’s enormous mansion. Just like everything else in Angel’s world, the mansion was larger than life. With Angel’s wealth, he could have afforded to have a home built anywhere, to any specifications. But a new home would have lacked the punch Angel desired. He liked to make a statement without having to open his mouth. Rather than commission his own construction, Angel paid an exorbitant amount for an existing property. Angel’s mansion was built in 1924 by Frank Lloyd Wright and it was one of the most recognizable private residences in California, eclipsed only by William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon or possibly the Winchester Mystery House.
Buffy pressed her palm to one of the textured concrete blocks that composed the wall. It was hard to believe that Wright could make a material as cold and functional as concrete seem so warm and artistic. Angel and his house seemed to be a perfect fit at times.
“You’re my stepmother’s half-brother,” Buffy stated blandly, without looking at him. “We aren’t anything.”
“Besides, the blonde," she said, turning and facing him as she pointed to her head, "is from a bottle. I'm not stupid enough to think anyone is safe with you.”
Angel smiled and let her put several strides between them before he followed at a much more languid pace. Buffy glared at him over her shoulder. “Go away!” she huffed, acting every inch the princess.
“If you refuse to acknowledge our relationship,” he said, “then I’m forced to exercise my rights as host. I can’t risk you to wandering around alone.”
She stopped walking and gaped at him incredulously. “Antique much?” she snarked. “Get with the program. It isn’t the era of hoop skirts and fainting rooms. This is L.A. It’s 2003. I don’t need you to watch me you ... you ... perv.” Her own eyes widened in shock at her words and she automatically clamped her hand over her mouth. Engaging Angel in a conversation about perversions was the last thing she wanted to do, regardless of how unintentional.
Angel cocked a speculative eyebrow as his lips curled into a crooked smile. “Perv?” he parroted with ill-disguised delight.
Buffy’s blush increased and try as she might, she could not meet his gaze. But she did remove her hand from her mouth -- she didn’t want to smear her lipstick. “You heard me,” she replied with false bravado.
Angel nodded and slowly stalked towards her, his gait more akin to a jungle cat than the successful businessman charade he often employed. There was so much more to Angel than met the eye. Of course, Buffy had known this since she was eight. It was one of the reasons she now went out of her way to avoid him. Buffy was accustomed to getting her way. She handled men with ease, but she was too smart to try her luck with Angel. She instinctively knew that tangling with him would be a mistake. A lot of men pretended to be dangerous to impress people. Liam Roarke was the genuine artifact and though she always called him Angel, Buffy knew he was nothing of the sort. There was nothing angelic about Jenny's brother. He wasn’t to be treated lightly or underestimated. But she also knew that to show weakness was to invite his notorious cruelty. Raising her head, she stuck her chin out defiantly and stared into the blackness of his irises.
Angel looked Buffy up and down, circling her at a little more than arm’s length. It was a decidedly predatory move on his part, but the willful little blonde didn't cower as so many others had when in the same position. He knew she refused to give him the pleasure of tracking him with her gaze. Such a gesture would have been to admit fear. Buffy had a healthy respect for the danger Angel presented, but she was not afraid he would do her bodily harm.
Angel took great pleasure in Buffy’s confidence in her safety. There were few people in the world who dared to turn their backs on him. The knowledge that Buffy, despite her protestations to the contrary, felt safe in his presence, meant more to him than he would ever admit. Of course, her behavior also illustrated a point. She could pretend to be the delicate flower all she wanted, but they both knew she was made of sterner stuff – whether she and her father would admit it or not.
“I assume you’ve heard the nasty rumors about my personal life,” he said quietly.
“That one of your girlfriends is a porn star?” Buffy huffed, not bothering to camouflage her disgust. “It's common knowledge that you're a pig.”
Angel watched her with shuttered eyes, and once again Buffy found herself forced to look away. “And what about you, child?” he asked in a biting tone. “Whom are you meeting out here in the dark?”
Buffy flinched involuntarily at his words. His barb stung, just as he had known it would. It was his favorite line of attack with her – to remind her that she was an untried girl while he was an adult. Why skitter around or pull punches when he could bring an adversary to their knees with one blow? He did not bluff.
“You are looking particularly scrumptious this evening,” he said, his tone lighter. “I assume it must be a boy.”
Buffy turned slowly and met his gaze. His face was unreadable, but as was often the case between them, she could sense his emotions and knew he was reining back. He knew he insulted her with his previous, stinging comment. The offhanded praise was as close to an apology as he could venture.
But Buffy didn’t want his apology. She didn’t want anything at all from him. She burned with humiliation at the certainty that Angel the snoop already knew about her trials with Ford. He was always digging in everybody’s business. She didn’t need anymore reminders about her personal life disasters, especially not from him. “Save the compliments for one of your trashy whores,” she snapped. “I wasn't born yesterday.”
Angel took no offense at her vitriol and his expression turned oddly speculative. “I know you weren’t born yesterday," he said. "And you are definitely not naïve.” He paused, smiling wolfishly, “but maybe you’re not as grown up as you pretend to be, Buff?”
Lips pressed together, Buffy remained silent.
“Maybe one day I’ll find out for myself,” he said.
Buffy ignored his innuendo. She wasn’t about to allow him to entertain himself at her expense. Despite recent regrettable events, Buffy was not accustomed to social ineptitude. She might not be the kind of sleazy woman whom Angel found attractive, but she most certainly was not someone to be discounted. Buffy Summers was accustomed to being queen of all she surveyed, be it her high school or any other social forum. She was not about to let the drama with Ford lull Angel into thinking that she would put up with his crap.
With a growl, she crossed her arms over her chest. It was much easier to fight with him than to flirt. If Angel wanted women, there were insipid throngs inside waiting to throw themselves at his feet. Buffy didn’t want his favors and she sure as hell had more self-respect than to get involved with a jerk like him. Angel was an unpleasant, unavoidable fact of her life. They were forced to inhabit the same social circles and she did her best to endure him for Jenny's sake, but nothing more than that. “Leave,” she commanded, her expression hard.
Giving her a cold, appraising glance from head to toe, he stepped forward, invading her personal space. His movement caused her to crane her head back sharply to meet his gaze. She saw a muscle in his jaw twitch as he ground his teeth together. “Careful, Slayer,” he said, mocking the title as usual, “it isn’t wise to upset me.”
Buffy forced herself not to shiver at the cold menace of his words. She had pushed him too far. She stepped over the line of fearlessness and treaded into the territory of insult. It was a stupid mistake. Slowly, she let her eyes drop to the ground.
He accepted her mute acquiescence and most of the tension drained from his body. He was still standing very close. The arms crossed defiantly over her chest brushed against the front of his black silk shirt. Ever so slowly, he lifted his hand and ran a knuckle lightly over her exposed collarbone. Buffy’s head jerked up and she took an involuntary step back. Her gaze searched his face, bewildered.
Expression softening, Angel stepped forward again. He opened his mouth to speak, but fell silent. There was an odd mixture of longing and anger on his features.
“Whom are you meeting, Buffy?” he asked again, his voice hard. “Some stupid, frail, little boy who can’t possibly ...” his vision raked over her form, making her feel naked, “appreciate all you have to offer?”
This time, it was her jaw muscles that flexed. “It’s none of your business,” she said, her voice shaky with anger.
Angel lifted his hand and ever so gently trailed his fingertips along her jaw. “He won’t last, Buffy,” he said. “They never do. You can’t pretend to be one of those insipid creatures they love. You’re the Slayer.”
Buffy twisted backwards, stumbling a few steps before she regained her balance. “Fuck you!” she spat, her chest heaving as she stared at him with unbridled rage. He loved to torment her about being a Slayer. It seemed to amuse him to infer that she was cursed with the same freaksome traits as he.
As if confronting a cornered, dangerous animal, Angel watched her closely. “Hate the game, Buffy, not the player. I didn’t make the rules. If you would just accept what you are and – “
“I am done talking,” Buffy said in a growling voice. “Stop toying with me and go play with your porn star.”
He watched her for several moments more and then shrugged, taking a step backward. “I’ve never hurt you. I’ve never been threatened by your power,” he said much more casually than the words would imply. “I have enough sins of my own, don’t punish me for ones I didn’t commit.”
“Goodbye, Angel,” she ground out, glaring at him.
Angel nodded, bowing his head in mock obedience. “As you wish, Buttercup,” he said in ShadowTongue, “but when Humperdinck gets here, send him packing.”
She continued to glower, not trusting herself to speak as he turned away. Was the implication that he was Westley to her Buttercup? Big fat chance. Though he could probably pull off a fairly believable Dread Pirate Roberts. She snorted. The whole idea was, like, completely laughable. It was just another one of Angel’s little reminders of how interwoven their lives were. She spent the entire summer when she was ten making him watch “The Princess Bride” over and over. But then again, that was back when her father still allowed him in the house.
In the intervening years, things had changed so dramatically that Buffy wasn’t even certain how she and Angel ended up enemies. So much happened when her mother got sick. The horrible men from the Watcher's Council showed up on her doorstep, shadowing her around Sunnydale. One night, one of them dragged her out and forced her to stake a vampire. It was one of the most gruesome experiences of her life. Between the horrors of her mother's illness, her own adolescence and her newfound role as Slayer, Buffy barely managed to maintain a grasp on her sanity.
When Joyce died, Buffy was truly afraid that she was broken in a way that would never heal. Her mother’s death was so sudden, coming just when they thought she was on the road to recovery. The vulture-like Watchers stepped in and were making arrangements to have Buffy transferred to England when her father arrived. Before that night, Buffy had never imagined what a scary man her usually gentle father could be. He wasn’t shocked by her status as a Slayer. It turned out that he was a Watcher himself – though no longer allied with the Council. Giles informed the Council in no uncertain terms that they best find another Slayer and he didn't care how they did it.
Before she knew what was happening, Buffy was in Los Angeles with her father and Jenny, under their protection. They didn't allow anyone near her; not friends, certainly not Angel. Buffy was lost, depressed, overwhelmed. The Council didn't give up. Buffy knew that she was putting her father and Jenny at risk simply by staying with them. Day in and day out, the phone rang, messengers appeared at the door, people accosted her whenever she left the house. She had a sacred duty, they said. People were dying, they assured her. All because she was ignoring her Calling.
Most mornings she would find newspaper clippings of the previous night's killings waiting for her on the front step. Sometimes it was worse. One day a particularly enterprising Council goon left a corpse for her. It was on the lawn, right where she would find it when she went out for her morning swim in the pool. She could still remember the sight perfectly. The vampire had torn the little boy's throat out. It was a fresh kill. The blood was still a bright, vivid red rather than an orangey brown. In the early morning light she could see the sun glinting off his exposed vertebrae. Buffy didn't even realize it was her screaming until her father gently clamped his hand over her mouth.
Buffy couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, couldn't sustain a coherent thought for more than a few moments. School was completely out of the question. Jenny ended up in the hospital because someone ran her car off the road. She wasn't badly hurt, but there was no doubt in Buffy's mind that it was all her fault. Everything was her fault.
One June night, before her freshmen year in high school, Buffy literally took matters into her own hands.
The following morning, all of the harassment disappeared as if it had never existed. When Buffy woke, there was another Slayer for the Council to shape and mold. She was free from her sacred duty and her father was more protective than ever. Rupert Giles never spoke of those dark days. They were swept under the rug.
Buffy was all too willing to go along with her father's delusion. Gone was the sullen, flighty creature she had been and in her place was Buffy Summers, ultimate California rich bitch. Now rather than worrying about life and death, she worried which shoes went best with her new outfit and who would be the best date to the Homecoming dance. She immersed herself in the insubstantial glitter, leaving behind the pain and horror of her former life. She used social status like a drug to numb away all of the crushing pain.
She abandoned everything that held any ties to her life as a Slayer. The Watcher’s Council was never mentioned in the Giles home. Buffy pretended that vampires, demons and assorted other monsters were not real. She lived in denial so deep that she eventually began to think it was real. A big part of that denial had been cutting Angel out of her life entirely.
The scrape of a shoe on concrete pulled her out of her thoughts. Buffy was so caught up in her brooding that she almost forgot the entire reason she was sneaking around in the garden. Ford approached her, nearly blind in the dim light, calling her name softly as he crept down the stairs. Buffy glared at him.
“There you are,” he said with more than a little relief, “damn, I didn’t think I would ever find you out here in the dark.”
Buffy remained silent, neither she nor Angel had a problem navigating in the dim light, but she wasn’t about to bring that up. She needed to concentrate on the task at hand. “Why are we meeting out here?” she demanded sharply.
Ford shifted his weight nervously on the balls of his feet. “I need to talk to you,” he said impatiently.
“And I already told you I don’t want to talk,” Buffy bit back.
“That’s not true,” he said, staring fiercely into her eyes. “You want to talk, otherwise you wouldn’t have told me how to sneak into the party.”
Buffy clenched her teeth together, but held her tongue. That much was true. Ford wasn’t welcome at Angel’s home and she had indeed given him the necessary information to sneak in. She was disgusted with herself for doing such a thing. She should have cut Ford off completely, let him think what he would. But she couldn’t. She needed answers.
End Chapter One
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