Willow was looking at Gunn, her brow furrowed, as Buffy pushed through the Hyperion's doors again. "What do you mean I'm not on the schedule?" she asked.
"You're needed elsewhere," Buffy offered with a grin, bounding down the stairs and into the lobby.
Willow turned, smiling at her roommate, thrilled Buffy seemed to be in much improved spirits. Still, she arched an eyebrow warily. "Doing what?" she asked.
"Shopping," Buffy said. "We both need something to wear on Saturday. Not to mention invitations and a caterer," she trailed off, making a mental list. "And a location ... how the hell am I supposed to get all of this organized?"
"Wear? Invitations? Did what I think happened happen?"
Buffy smiled. "I don't know. What do you think happened?"
"Don't mess with me," Willow said with mock severity. "I can turn you into a rat. Now are you and Roarke getting married?"
Buffy's grin was blinding. "Saturday," she said.
"Woah!" Gunn exclaimed. "Back that up. You and the boss are what?"
In tandem, Buffy and Willow gave him duh face. "Getting married," Willow said seriously.
"Married?" he squeaked. "I just found out you two were messing around and now you're getting married?"
"Obviously," Willow said tersely, "you're blind. They've been falling over each other for months."
Buffy sighed loudly, becoming overwhelmed by the mental inventory of tasks that had to be completed. Willow stepped closer, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "You have Roarke's plastic?" she asked.
"I'm sure as hell not paying for this," Buffy scoffed.
"Then we don't have anything to worry about. First things first. We need a wedding planner." Buffy watched as Willow grabbed out a copy of In Style magazine from the waiting area.
"What are you doing?" Buffy asked.
"Finding you a wedding planner," Willow said patiently.
"But that magazine is about celebrities," Buffy said, her brow crinkling with a frown.
"Trust me," Willow said, "Roarke can afford it."
"You weren't kidding," Buffy whispered to Willow, who sat next to her on the elegant settee. Gia (no last name, because, it was Hollywood after all), wedding planner to the stars, was a force of nature. There was absolutely no doubt that she could easily pull off this wedding in less than a week. As soon as Gia's assistant ran Angel's credit history, the elite coordinator was in front of the Hyperion with a limo, ready to chauffer Buffy from venue to venue as they arranged the Happiest Day of Your Life (tm). Buffy was certain it was actually the ninth circle of Hell.
"Are you there?" Angel barked through the cell phone.
"Uh, yeah," Buffy said, turning her attention back to him as she readjusted the phone against her ear.
"So, what do you want?"
"I don't know," Buffy whined, her bottom lip sticking out in a pout that Angel might not be able to see, but could nevertheless hear. "I've never planned a wedding before!"
Angel sighed in barely contained exasperation. "What do you mean you don't know? Buffy, you are one of the girliest girls I have ever seen. You had every Barbie doll known to man. You change your clothes at least three times a day. You were a princess for Halloween. Every. Single. Year."
"So?" she pouted plaintively.
"So you expect me to believe that you've never thought about what kind of wedding you want?"
Buffy chewed on her bottom lip, debating what to say next. He was irritated and probably rightly so. She knew he considered his function in the wedding to be limited to the ring, the question and the 'I do'. And yes, she had indeed spent countless hours planning her wedding in myriad ways, vacillating from an enormous cathedral affair with a thousand guests and a thirty-foot white satin train to a private beachside ceremony wearing nothing more than a bikini and a lei.
But in all of her daydreams, amid the ever-changing venue, dress and guest list, at least one thing had been consistent; the groom was always madly professing his love for her. Listening to Angel's irritated tone, she had no trouble buying the madly part. But love was another matter entirely.
Buffy sighed and sank back in the beautifully upholstered sofa. They were at Vera Wang's Beverly Hills bridal boutique inside of Barney's. She had dreamed of an opportunity like this since she was old enough to read Vogue. It was right out of Buffy the Prom Queen's wildest imaginings. Of course, she never dreamed of coming here with the buffer of Angel's money. Her father was wealthy, but Angel was filthy, stinking rich. There was a difference to be sure.
Buffy was still chewing on her bottom lip as Angel sighed and said, "Do whatever you want."
"But I don't know what I want," she said in exasperation.
To his credit, he didn't scream. Or hang up the phone. "Fine," he said, "what don't you want?"
Buffy thought about it for a moment. "No church."
He was silent for a moment. "I really thought that went without saying."
"You asked," she huffed, her frazzled nerves threatening to break entirely under the stress. What if she planned the wedding and Angel hated it? What if he thought it was ridiculous?
"You're right, you're right," he placated. "I'm sorry. Okay, so first item, no church."
"What about you?" she pressed. "What don't you want?"
"Shoes," he said seriously.
"Yes, shoes. I'm not wearing any. Plan whatever wedding you want, but I'm not wearing shoes."
His demand seemed so ridiculous that Buffy laughed. One laugh turned into a fit of giggles so overwhelming that tears streamed down her cheeks. When she calmed, Angel said gently, "Simple, Buffy. Buy a dress, we can get married at the house. A few guests, some food. I don't need fanfare. I just need you."
Buffy's heart caught in her throat. Angel said he needed her again. She knew it was probably just a turn of phrase. He was trying to make her feel better. But it worked extraordinarily well. She smiled. "Okay," she said.
Confident once more, Buffy clicked off the phone and turned her attention back to Willow, Gia and the army of designers and seamstresses. Angel's money didn't talk, it was more like a Marine Corps drill sergeant. The second she'd walked in the door, Gia had the entire boutique closed for her private shopping. But even with the entire staff at her disposal, finding a wedding dress was not easy. There wasn't enough time to design a gown from scratch, so they would have to modify one of their existing stock. She found The Dress. It was beautiful. It cost more than the car she drove, but Buffy didn't bat an eyelash as the flurry of tape measures and straight pins descended upon her, altering the dress to fit her petite frame. She looked at herself in the dressing room mirror and fell in love. She wistfully hoped that maybe Angel would do the same.
The empire waist cream silk played up her cleavage wonderfully and it nearly trailed on the floor. Of course, a pair of stilettos could take care of that. But it was sleeveless. She absolutely could not do sleeveless, not with her scars. Gloves were right out. She needed to be able to touch Angel, to feel the physical bond with him. The army of assistants tried a variety of different sashes and scarves attempting to camouflage the imperfections, but nothing worked.
Oh well, since when had she gone for subtle? Ignoring the pins poking her and having to bunch the skirts up in her arms to keep them from dragging, Buffy charged headlong out into Barney's proper. In moments, she found what she was looking for, much to the horror of the watching seamstresses. Buffy pulled a black leather jacket off the rack and shrugged it on over the dress. There was a three way mirror, and Buffy took in the sight. Behind her, the seamstresses looked horrified. Gia, knowing where her bread was buttered, was much more politic. Willow smiled openly. Buffy nodded in approval to her reflection.
She found it befitting her marriage to Angel. Nothing conventional here. Satisfied with her outerwear, she was ready to leave. That was, until a rather stern looking woman her father's age discretely suggested that maybe she needed some ... intimate apparel as well. Buffy blushed crimson, but accepted the proffered glass of Champaign and merrily made her way to the lingerie section. She doubted that Angel was going to find the plain, white, cotton underwear that dominated her underwear drawer too appealing. She wasn't about to wear the set she wore that night in Wesley's office. Angel would think she only owned one pair of underwear. And it was his wedding night after all. She might as well be nice. Flanked by the wedding planner, Willow and two strapping young men carrying all of her purchases, she signed the receipt without bothering to look at the total.
Looking out the window in his private study, Angel watched the workers prepare for tomorrow night's event. "Well, you and Rupert have two other children," Angel said coldly into the phone, "I suppose it really doesn't matter if you screw things up with Buffy. You can always get it right next time."
"If we - " Jenny sputtered, her rage evident. "You heartless - cold - This is all your fault!"
"My fault," Angel repeated with amusement. "No, definitely not. I made it clear to Buffy that both you and your husband would be welcome."
"I knew you were a bastard," Jenny ground out, "but I never really thought you would stoop this low."
"I don't really feel that I'm stooping to marry Buffy," he said, deliberately misunderstanding Jenny.
"You know what I mean!" she shouted. "How can you do this? Have you no shame at all? You're condemning that girl - "
"I'm marrying her, Janna, not sending her to prison."
"In the end, it will all be the same," Jenny spat. "You'll make her miserable. You'll take every beautiful thing about Buffy and twist it until she isn't even recognizable anymore."
Angel looked down at his shaking hand, clenching it tightly into a fist. His voice was deadly quiet when he responded. "You have no idea what it's costing me to do this."
She laughed. "Costing? That's a good one. You never do anything that doesn't bring you something."
Angel was sitting at the bar at Caritas, looking through a stack of bank statements and contracts. While he left the day to day management of the legitimate, human arm of Roarke Industries to a team of professionals, he always checked up on them. Just because he had distanced himself, preferring to spend his time dealing with the supernatural, didn't mean he was a patsy. He kept a close eye on his employees and an even closer eye on his money. He took a sip of the bottled water as he flipped the page, studying the long columns of numbers.
The barstool next to him made a loud noise as it was pulled along the floor. Angel didn't turn his head as the newest patron took a seat, but he did say offhandedly, "Good evening, Lindsey."
Lindsey flipped open his Zippo and lit a cigarette. He took a drag, snapping the lighter closed. "That's still fucking creepy when you do that," he said, exhaling a cloud of smoke.
"It's illegal to smoke in here," Angel noted, his attention still largely focused on the statements.
"So arrest me," Lindsey snorted. He waved at the bartender and ordered a beer. He looked over at Angel. "You're really going to go through with this?"
Angel put the statement down and met Lindsey's gaze. "The wedding's at eight tomorrow. You're not invited."
Lindsey shook his head. "You know this can't possibly end well and you're going to do it anyway, aren't you?"
"Not that it's any of your damn business," Angel said, "but yes."
"I'll bet you didn't even warn her, did you?" Lindsey asked with a smug expression. "I know you," he said. "You've taken it upon yourself to decide what is best for her. I'll bet she has no idea the effect she has on you. She's blissfully ignorant of the fact that there might be fallout and still ... you're not even going to mention it."
"It's my life," Angel said tightly.
"Yeah, but if you're marrying her, it's sorta hers too, huh?"
Angel smiled and it was a mercenary expression. "Well, maybe if I die then you and Buffy can start the 'we got fucked over by Roarke' club."
Angel shrugged. His expression became more pensive. When he spoke his voice was gruff. "Besides, it's not like she won't be taken care of."
Lindsey nodded slowly. "And I'm sure she's just marrying you for the money," he said sardonically. "She really struck me as the gold digger type."
Angel didn't answer. He looked at Lindsey, the closest thing he'd ever had to a true friend. Angel was well practiced at being alone. Solitude was a given in his life. But in this moment, he longed for simple friendship. "I love her," he said bluntly, waiting for Lindsey to tear into him.
Lindsey was quiet for a very long time. Slowly, he lifted his glass. "To the bride and groom," he said sincerely.
Angel stared out in the bright, early morning sunlight, watching workers ready the grounds for the night's event. He was all too aware of the tiny pinpricks of pain the light caused over his exposed flesh. This, more than anything, was what had always driven home the fact that he was a creature of darkness. The light didn't want him, didn't need him.
Irony of ironies that he needed the light. Because there definitely wasn't anyone on the planet more imbued with lightness than Buffy Summers. And he did need her.
[End Chapter 17]
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