Duty
by indie




“Over my dead body,” he snapped.

Professor Walsh turned her head slowly and fixed him with a long-suffering expression reserved for those brave enough to speak out of turn.  “Technically you’re already dead,” she supplied coldly.

Angel well understood the warning clip to her voice, but he wasn’t about to back down.  He was indentured to the Initiative and consequently Maggie Walsh, but he sure as hell wasn’t some lapdog to be loaned out on a whim.

Turning his attention from Walsh, Angel swiveled to face the annoying young Watcher with unrestrained loathing.  The bookish little man was about to jump out of his skin.  Not exactly a great front to present to one of the most vicious predators to ever stalk the planet.  Was the Council really becoming a joke?

“So your new Slayer is so incompetent that she needs a bodyguard,” Angel offered snidely.

The Watcher bristled visibly, adjusting his glasses with taut, jerky movements.  Wesley Wyndham-Pryce would make a deplorable poker player.   “Ms. Summers is neither new nor incompetent,” he said in precise tones.  “Certain individuals, however, feel it would be best if she were provided some backup for her first few assignments in new territory.”

The Watcher clearly omitted saying your territory, but that’s he meant.  Irritated though he was, Angel had to admit it was shocking that the Council would bother to arrange such a formal introduction.  The Initiative was indeed coming up in the world if the Council would deign to admit they were on equal footing.

Angel pursed his lips together, but held his tongue.  No doubt both the Council and the Initiative were putting on their best smiles as they tried to stab each other in the back.  Neither organization wished to cede an inch of territory.  The Council wanted him to shadow the Slayer so she could get an idea of his capabilities, the Initiative wanted him to do the same in regards to the Slayer.  He growled under his breath.  One Hellmouth wasn’t going to be big enough for everyone and he wasn't going to be the one to go to Cleveland.

***

Two nights later, following a bevy of serious threats of physical torture from Maggie Walsh, Angel was reluctantly holding up the Initiative's end of the arrangement.  Truth be told, it wasn’t Walsh’s threats that coerced him to do as she wished.  He wasn't afraid of that bitch, regardless of her fondness for the myriad uses of electricity.

No, it was his own curiosity driving him.  He was a perverse creature, he freely admitted to himself.  He also admitted that curiosity about this Slayer was gnawing at him.  That curiosity, however, did not alleviate the irritation he felt at being ordered around like a pawn.  The Initiative’s yoke chaffed.  Some days more than others.

The house was in the middle of town on Revello Drive in one of the nicer residential districts.  Why exactly the Council wasn't trying to be less conspicuous was beyond Angel.  Of course, they had their heads shoved so far up their asses most of the time, they probably had no idea they might attract attention.  This was California, but Sunnydale was still a very conservative town.  Two American women in their late teens sharing a house with two middle aged British men was bound to attract attention.

As Angel approached the appointed address, a young, severe-looking woman strode out the front door and down the steps.  She was dressed in drab colors, a tanktop and cargo pants.  Her black combat boots were well worn, her blonde hair pulled back in a severe braid.  Most noticeably, a scar bisected her pale pink lips.

She seemed to take no notice of him, not even bothering to make eye contact.  She walked right past him, calling over her shoulder, “Keep up.  I’m not carrying anyone.”

***

“The nerve!” Angel seethed.

Spike eyed his Sire warily, careful to keep his distance.  He hadn’t seen Peaches this worked up about anything in decades.  Absently, he pulled out the pack of cigarettes and stuck one in his mouth.

“Light that and it will be the last thing you ever do,” Angel growled darkly.

Spike scowled, but put the cigarette away.  He didn’t doubt that in this mood that his Sire would stake first and ask questions later.  And Spike didn’t particularly feel like dying just because some Slayer had Peaches’ panties in a wad.  “So what happened?” he asked.

Angel growled, morphing into game face.  “That self-righteous little witch acted like she was doing me a favor letting me follow her around my town!” he bellowed.

Spike frowned.  “Was she at least hot?” he asked absently.  “The last one was at least a triple-bagger.”

Angel gaped at him like he’d sprouted another head.  “What are you talking about?” he demanded.

“The git,” Spike explained.  “Was she easy on the eyes?  Or do you need to put a coupla paper bags over her head just to be able to nail her?”

“She’s a Slay-er,” Angel ground out as if he were speaking to an exceptionally slow child.

“I kno-ow,” Spike returned in kind.  “What’s the bird look like?”

Angel rolled his eyes, turning to stalk around the mansion’s living room.  He waved his hand dismissively.  “Short,” he said tersely.  “Blonde.  Scar.”  Fabulous tits, he thought, but didn't share that tidbit with Spike.

Spike frowned, toying idly with the unlit cigarette.  Peaches could be such a damn killjoy.  Leave it to him to be in the presence of one of the most powerful females in the demonic world and not even check her out.  At times Spike wondered if Angel’s soul had subdued not only his demon, but his sex drive as well.  Angelus would have been able to give him a detailed description.

***

“So, what was the vamp like?”

Buffy didn’t deviate from her task of meticulously cleaning her favorite crossbow.

Never one to be deterred by something as trivial as a stony silence, Faith stretched out on Buffy’s bed, hands folded behind her head as she watched her sister Slayer.  “Yo, RoboBitch,” Faith goaded.  “I know you’re not deaf.  What’s the what with the pointy toothed tour guide?”

Setting the crossbow down carefully, Buffy turned to look at Faith.  Her expression, as always, was completely sober.  “The vampire shadowed me on the patrol route.  There was very little interaction,” she stated plainly.

“There was very little interaction,” Faith parroted, rolling her eyes.  “Damn, Summers, you’re about as lively as a root canal.”  She pushed herself into a sitting position and quickly crossed her legs, ignoring Buffy’s glare of annoyance at the dirty boots on her bed.  Buffy’s bedroom wasn’t exactly meant for entertaining.  There was a small twin bed, a desk, a dresser and several chests of weapons. With Buffy sitting at the desk, Faith had little choice but to sit on the bed.  The way she figured, it was Buffy’s own fault for not being more hospitable.  Faith’s own smaller room was crammed with furniture.  It didn’t make sense for Faith, with all of her belongings, to be placed in the smaller room, but she knew why Wesley had done it.  Buffy’s room had a bank of windows right over the eaves of the house.  Simply throw up the sash and it was no trouble to sneak out of the house without being detected.  If Faith had this room, she would be using that to her advantage nightly.  Buffy, on the other hand, probably had noticed it only in so much as it could be a potential vector of attack.

Leaning forward, Faith braced her elbows on her knees and rested her chin on her fisted hands.  “’The vampire,’ as you called him, is like two hundred and fifty years old.  He has a soul.  I mean, he’s like one of a kind.”

“Except, for the other ensouled vampire that lives with him,” Buffy pointed out sourly.

Faith smiled at the show of spirit.  “Girl, you need to stop spending so much time with Wesley,” she said derisively.  “What little personality you did have, he’s quickly killing.”

Buffy fixed her with an impatient, irritated expression.

“Come on,” Faith said in exasperation, “give me some details.  I’m dying cooped up in the house here with English and English junior.  You could at least give me your impression of the vamp.”

Buffy shrugged, looking away.  “He was ...” she trailed off, some of her business-like reserve fading.  “I don’t know,” she said, “he was tall, dark hair.  He didn’t seem overly friendly.”

“He’s not all animalistic, is he?” Faith asked.  “I mean, he is kind of old.”

Buffy knew exactly what Faith was talking about.  As vampires aged, they tended to lose their human appearance becoming more and more an animal with each passing year.  “Uh, no,” she said, “he definitely looked human.”

“Wicked,” Faith said with obvious appreciation.  “Can you imagine?  I mean, if he’s half as hot as English junior’s sources say ...  Wow.  Two hundred and fifty years.  I bet he’d be one hell of a ride.”  Turning, Faith met Buffy’s appalled countenance.  “Oh come off it,” Faith goaded, “don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it.  Human guys just can’t keep up and garden variety vamps are so not in the picture.  But an ensouled vamp, one that fights on our side ...  Dear Penthouse.”

“You’re a disgrace to humanity,” Buffy said shortly.

“But I have a hell of a lot of fun,” Faith replied unrepentantly.

***

Angel came to a stop in the middle of the alley and whipped around, glaring at the Slayer's retreating form. "Where are you going?" he demanded.  She didn't stop.  She didn't even slow down.  There was absolutely no outward indication that she heard a word he said.

Angel cursed under his breath for the thousandth time that evening.  Why did he get stuck with this Slayer?  He met Faith earlier, when she'd paired up with Spike for her tour around town.  The two of them hit it off so well Angel was forced to control his gag reflex.  While he didn't share Spike's unbridled appreciation of Faith's body, Angel did appreciate the younger Slayer’s apparent good humor.  She seemed much easier going than Buffy.  Of course, that wasn't saying much.  Buffy was about as personable as a sheet of plywood.  She spoke only when spoken to, and then it was like playing twenty questions to get anything out of her.  She was as cold and emotionless as an android, yet somehow still managed to get on his last damn nerve.

He turned around, trotting back down the alley after her.  He rounded the corner just in time to see Buffy's leg disappear on top of the building's roof.  Muttering more curses under his breath, he climbed on top of the dumpster and vaulted onto the roof.

"What are you - "

Buffy turned around, glaring at him with such animosity that he fell silent.  Apparently satisfied that he would keep quiet, she turned back to her task, staring down at the sidewalk on Sunnydale's main street.

Angel walked up behind her, easily looking over her shoulder down at the street.  His chest brushed against her back.  There was a cadre of vampires on the street below.  Damn, she was good.  Even he hadn't sensed them from the alley.  He tapped her on the shoulder and proceeded to try and chart out a battle strategy using hand signals.

Buffy rolled her eyes, shook her head and jumped down off the roof right into the middle of the vampires.

"Dammit!" Angel snarled before jumping off the roof to join her.

***

"Look, I don't know what exactly you were trying to pull back there," Angel snapped, stalking along behind Buffy as she made her way to one of the walled cemeteries, "but this isn't how we do things in my town."

She just kept walking.  Angel growled low in his throat.  "Are you listening?" he demanded.

She did not reply.

Reaching out to grab her shoulder, he snarled, "I'm talking to yo-"

He couldn't finish his sentence because he was thrown over her shoulder and onto the ground with such force that it knocked all the air from his lungs.  By the time he had gathered his wits, Buffy was standing over him, her foot crushing against his throat.  If he had needed to breathe, it would have been a problem.  As it was, it kept him from drawing air to speak.

"I don't play well with others," she bit out.  "And I don't take orders from a blood-sucking demon.  Your job is to show me around town.  Do that and stay out of my way or we're going to have problems."

***

"She thinks we're going to have problems," Angel said darkly.  "I'll show her problems."

"So I guess tonight was even more successful than last night," Spike said with a smirk.

Angel glowered at him, growling and Spike backed up several paces.  "How was your evening, Spikey?" he demanded in a snarl.

Spike grinned wickedly.  "My evening was fanfuckingtastic," he said.  "My gods, Faith is a fine piece of ass.  I got hard just watching her stake some idiot fledgling."

Angel growled again and threw himself down onto the couch.  He should have known that his own misery was conversely equivalent to Spike's enjoyment.  No doubt Spike would get some hot little lover out of the bargain while Angel was stuck in close quarters with a woman whose very existence seemed to be designed to drive him insane.

Buffy Summers was a cold fish as emotionally stunted as any he had ever seen.  She was rude, abrasive and all together completely unhelpful.

Angel glared a hole in Spike’s back as the younger vampire walked into the kitchen for bagged blood.  He groaned, sinking back into the couch, one arm thrown over his eyes.  The most frustrating part of working with Buffy was that he couldn’t write her off.  She was a Slayer, possibly the best he had ever seen.  She was sharp, brutal and could think on her feet faster than anyone he’d ever known.  Physically she was in top form.  When viewed as a whole package, she was the ultimate Slayer.  On the surface, she was the perfect contradiction in terms.  Even with the scar, she was beautiful; that long blonde hair, those big hazel eyes sparkling with wit.  She was small and curved in just the right places.  Even with the overly stark clothes she wore, she looked soft and feminine.  But those beautiful little hands could do a lot of damage.  She was perfect.  You would never see her coming.

***

“Walsh’s office,” Riley said, popping his head into the conference room where Angel was reading files, “now.”

Angel ignored the boy, waiting until he was gone to pack up the files and languidly head to Walsh’s office.  He sank into the chair opposite her desk, his expression blank.  “You whistled?” he asked dryly.

Walsh frowned at him.  She knew it was no use to upbraid him for his insolent behavior.  Her predecessors had been doing it for centuries with little or no effect.  “Your reports,” she said, throwing the bound stack of paper at him.

Angel picked them up.  “What about them?”

“They’re completely insufficient.”

Frowning, Angel threw the report back on Walsh’s desk.  “How so?”

“There is absolutely nothing in this report that can be used to a tactical advantage,” Walsh snapped.

“That’s probably because I couldn’t discern any apparent weakness in the Slayer’s conduct, skills or form,” he countered just as irritably.

“I find that hard to believe,” Walsh bit out.  “You’ve been a predator for hundreds of years.  I can’t believe you can’t find anything we could use to our advantage where this girl is concerned.”

Angel’s jaw clenched tightly. Of course, Walsh was absolutely right.  His report had been accurate, but lacking.  It was true that as far as Buffy’s fighting skills and conduct, she was flawless.  She was the perfect Slayer.  But her manner was an entirely different matter.  Few people could maintain her level of detachment and it was almost always a defense mechanism.  There had been a lot of horror in Buffy Summers’ past.  If someone could find out what, they could most certainly use that to their advantage.  But for some reason, Angel wasn’t willing to share that information with anybody.  “I gave you everything I have,” he said coldly.

“Then, I guess you’ll just have to keep looking,” Walsh informed him.

“Hey,” Angel said, rising out of his chair, “you said that the assignment was two weeks.  That’s up tomorrow.”

“Consider yourself reassigned then,” she said with a cruel smile.  “You’re not getting out of this babysitting mission until you provide us with something useful.  Unless you want to spend the next five years playing pet to the Slayer, I suggest you get to looking.  Dismissed.”

***

Two nights later, right on schedule, Buffy strode out the front door.  He was surprised to see shock register on her features.  It was rather nice to see that she could be thrown, after all.  She continued, stopping right in front of him.  “Our arrangement ended yesterday,” she said.

Angel shrugged.  “Plans change,” he said.  “Looks like we’re buddy-buddy indefinitely.”

“This is not acceptable,” she said sharply.

“Not my rules,” he countered flippantly.

Her stoic resolve cracked and she looked at him with unbridled irritation.  “I don’t want you following me,” she snapped.

“And I don’t want to be a blood-sucking immortal,” he snarked.  “We all have our crosses to bear, sweetheart.”

She turned around, stomping back inside the house.  Angel followed her, stopping at the door.  They’d never invited him in.  But from the front porch, he had no trouble hearing her argue with her Watcher.  Given how much the good soldier she appeared, he was shocked to hear how much lip she was giving him.  Unfortunately, it did her no good.  The Watcher told her exactly the same thing Walsh had told him.  They were stuck together indefinitely.

He stepped aside as she strode down the stairs once again.  “Told ya,” he called after her, laughing to himself.  He could see her bristle and it only warmed him more.  So, maybe Buffy wasn’t as good a poker player as he thought.

Angel still didn’t have much interest in serving Buffy up on a platter for Walsh to pick apart, but he had to admit to himself that if he was going to be stuck with her night after night that for his own edification, he needed to get closer to her.

***

Angel spent a good deal of the night leaning against cemetery walls watching Buffy fight.  It was a highly enjoyable way to pass the time.  Apparently, if you could just piss her off enough, she was a regular little spitfire.

He did the wise thing and stood clear, watching her take on two or three vampires at once.  She never backed down, never faltered.  Watching her move was like watching one of the most well choreographed ballets in history.  Her body was perfect poetry in motion.  Every twist, every turn, was sheer beauty.

He watched the way her muscles flexed, her golden skin pulled taut over sinuous muscle.  He admitted to himself for the first time that she was absolutely gorgeous.  To his own discomfort, his admission was far less than scholarly appraisal.  While the predator in him watched her technique, looking for any weakness, the man – and the demon – began to wonder about more entertaining possibilities for a woman who most certainly could match him tit for tat.  It had been a century since he had a true mate.

He watched her perfect, perky breasts rise and fall with her motion, unable to stop himself from imagining what they would taste like against his lips.  He watched the tiny beads of perspiration slick her skin, watched her chest heave with the force of her breath.  He couldn’t help but fantasize about those perfectly proportioned thighs wrapped around his waist.  And that ass, good lord.

Buffy Summers was a wet dream.

But he hadn’t had the luxury of dreaming for a long, long time.  Grimacing, Angel turned away, looking for some idiot vamp on which to take out his frustrations.

***

“No.  Way,” Faith said, pushing through the front door and breezing down the steps, right past Buffy, who was returning home for the evening.

Buffy turned and looked at her sister Slayer, then quickly stepped back to avoid being run over by Wesley as he stumbled out the door and onto the porch.  “Faith, come back!” he yelled.

Faith turned around and walked backwards as she yelled back, “Nuh uh, English junior.  I’m not going to college.  Don’t even think about it.”  She spun around again and quickly disappeared into the night.

Wesley huffed in indignation and turned to look at Buffy.  “I’m sure you’re going to be every bit as amenable,” he said sarcastically, ushering her inside.

Buffy walked in, searching out Giles who was sitting at his desk in what she supposed would have been the dining room had they been normal people.  They weren’t, so it was a combination office and weapon room.  “College what?”

Giles took off his glasses, motioning Buffy into a nearby chair.  “I know you completed your G.E.D. not too long ago, but I daresay that you’ve been given a rather unusual opportunity here.  Sunnydale has a first rate university and it seems a shame to be this close and not take advantage.”

“University?” Buffy parroted in disbelief.

“Well, yes,” Giles continued, “the Council is dedicated to your continued education as a Slayer as well as a formal education.”

Buffy shook her head.  “I just ... uh ... college?”

“Take some time to think about it,” Giles encouraged.  “Enrollment for the next full semester isn’t for another two months.”

***

Several hours later, Angel stumbled across Buffy in Resthaven cemetery.  She was sitting with her legs crossed, balancing precariously on top of a tombstone reading something.  She was so engrossed that she obviously didn’t hear him.

He stopped directly in front of her.  It took her almost a minute to notice he was there.  Her head snapped up to meet his gaze.  She was so shocked that she lost her balance, tumbling backwards off the tombstone.

Angel vaulted over it, making sure she was all right and helping her to her feet.  She brushed herself off, obviously embarrassed.  As he went to retrieve what she had been reading, she snatched it out of his hand.

“I wasn’t trying to pry,” he said, holding his hands in front of himself in surrender.

She sighed heavily, slapping the brochure into his hand as she walked off in the opposite direction.  Angel looked down at it.  “UC Sunnydale?” he asked.

She shrugged, not looking at him.  “I’m sure you think it’s funny,” she said.

“I, uh, ... no, actually,” he answered.  “I don’t think it’s funny.  But I’m also not sure why you’re so sensitive about it.”

She turned to look at him, her lips pursed together.  “Slayers aren’t exactly known for their mad intellect,” she said derisively.

Angel nodded curtly in understanding.  “I’m guessing you don’t have a lot of time for school,” he offered.

Shrugging, she said, “Not usually, no.  But lately, with two of us, there’s more time.  And since there’s a university here, Giles seems – “

“Giles?”

“My Watcher.”

“I thought Wesley was your Watcher.”

“Wesley is Faith’s Watcher. Giles is my Watcher.”

“Oh.”

Buffy shrugged, continuing.  “Giles seems to think I should at least take some classes.”

Angel nodded.  “He’s got a point.”

“Yeah, well,” Buffy threw her hands up in exasperation.  “This just really isn’t my thing.  I mean, I barely passed my G.E.D.”

“You didn’t go to high school?” Angel asked conversationally.  He handed her back the brochure and she accepted it.

“Wasn’t really time,” she said, kicking absently at the ground.  “What with the constant moving and the late night and death and gore.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of it now, though,” he offered.

She snorted.  “You sound just like Giles,” she said.  “Like it’s so easy.  You know, not all of us were born to be brainiacs.”

“I don’t think anyone is suggesting you be a brainiac,” he qualified.  “Just that you give it a chance.  You may not be educated, Buffy, but you’re one of the best critical thinkers I’ve ever seen.  It might be overwhelming at first, but I don’t think you would have any problem.”

Buffy shrugged and then gave him a small, tight smile that had the effect of making his dead heart lurch.  He watched her look at the brochure again and he was overwhelmed by the vulnerability in her gaze.  “Thanks,” she said quietly.

***

“I am not her babysitter,” Angel snapped more out of habit than anything.

“I don’t care,” Walsh countered.

“It’s okay, I can take care of it.”

Every head in the room turned to face Riley.

He scanned their faces and shrugged.  “What?” he asked.  “Angel obviously doesn’t want to do it.  I can show Buffy where Cordelia’s main hideouts are.”

“Well, since Angel doesn’t – “ Walsh began.

“I’ve got it covered,” Angel said shortly.  “I don’t need Finn’s help.”

Walsh shot the vampire a very unimpressed look.  The animosity between Angel and Riley was old hat, but annoying nonetheless.  “You’ve done nothing but bitch since the second we assigned you to the Slayer.  Now someone is offering to help you out and you’re getting all territorial.”

“I’m not territorial,” Angel countered quickly.  Riley Finn wasn’t getting anywhere near his Slayer.  The thought jolted him.  Exactly when had Buffy become his Slayer?  He fidgeted uncomfortably.  “I’ve taken the assignment this far, I might as well see it out to the end,” he said, trying to sound professional.

Walsh looked at him, lips pursed.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Rolling her eyes, Walsh said, “Fine, but I don’t want to hear one more word of bitching about it.”

“Fine,” Angel snapped.

***

Buffy winced as she lifted her head.  “I hate it when they knock me out,” she muttered.  Blinking rapidly, she did a quick inventory.  She was chained down, manacles around her wrists and ankles, strapping her to a rather uncomfortable chair.  She quickly tested the bonds.  She could break out.  It would take a long, long time, but she could do it.

“Finally.”

Buffy turned her head and glared at Angel.  They were in some sort of warehouse basement.  It figured.  Weren’t they always?  For a town this small, Sunnydale sure had an obscene number of vacant warehouses and sewer tunnels.

The room was small, maybe ten feet by fifteen feet.  She was backed against one wall.  Directly across from her, Angel was chained to the other.  He was upright, his arms stretched taut over his head.  He had to stand on tiptoe to relieve the strain on his shoulders.  “What happened?” she demanded.

“Well, your plan worked brilliantly,” Angel said wryly.  “You ran in with no prep.  You were outnumbered.  I had no choice but to follow you.  You got knocked out and thirty of them tackled me.  Now, here we are.  Cozy, isn’t it?”

Buffy frowned.  “I don’t have amnesia,” she said acridly, “and I don’t remember there being any more than ten.”

If possible, Angel’s expression became even colder.  “There were thirty,” he bit out.

“Yeah, uh huh,” she taunted.  “I bet there were.”

Their bickering was cut short as the metal door opened with a clang.  Buffy sighed in exasperation as Cordelia sauntered into the room, followed closely by Harmony.  She didn’t need this now.

Angel appeared equally unimpressed.  Ever the aspiring actress, Cordelia was dressed for the role – only this time the role was apparently somewhere between Xena Warrior Princess and Elvira.  Whoever Turned that girl had no idea what they were unleashing.  Her dyed black locks fell nearly to her waist and she was wearing leather and lace.  Method acting indeed.  She looked like a reject from a bad goth music video.

Cordelia’s eyes raked over both of them.  “Oh, good, you’re awake,” she snipped.

Angel rolled his eyes.  “I should have known.”

“Known what?” Cordelia demanded.

“The basement, the chains.  It’s just so clichéd,” Angel explained.  “It reeks of you.”

“Oh yeah,” Cordelia countered, “well if it’s so clichéd, then why are you the one chained to the wall?  Huh?”

“She has a point there,” Buffy said, looking at Angel.

“Shut up!” Angel snapped.

Cordelia smiled viciously.  “So,” she said, “lesboSlayer can speak.”

Buffy’s mouth snapped shut and her jaw muscles flexed visibly with the strain of holding her tongue.  It wasn’t wise to taunt your aggressors when you weren’t in a position to be able to defend yourself.

Cordelia walked closer, crouching down in front of Buffy’s seated form.  She smiled maliciously.  “I’ve seen the other one – Faith, I think it is,” Cordelia said.  “She’s a skanky ho, but at least she has some style.  I mean, you’re just ... well, let’s just say that if I weren’t going to kill you tonight, you’d have a long, lonely existence full of cats and fifty cent video rentals in your future.”

“Damn you love to hear yourself talk,” Angel sneered.

Cordelia turned, advancing on Angel.  Her leather clad hips swayed as she walked in her perilously high heeled boots.  Angel looked her up and down with disgust.  She was trying too hard with the whole vampire scene.  Her leather corset was so tight that her plentiful breasts were nearly spilling out the top.  And floor length black leather skirt was slit so high up both sides that it left nothing to the imagination.  He did have to smile though.  Vampire or not, Cordelia would always be a California girl at heart.  She was coated with so much sunless tanner that she was actually darker complected than Buffy, the only sun-friendly being in attendance.  Not that Angel had spent much time considering the texture or color of Buffy’s skin.  He hadn’t.  Really.

Mistaking his glance, Cordelia smiled.  She pressed herself against him, her hand trailing over his chest.  “Like what you see?” she purred.

Angel snorted.  “Not particularly.”

Cordelia’s face hardened.  “Yeah, I’m sure you get to see anything this good like ... ever?” she spat.  “You spend all your time with little miss loves the camo over there.  I’m sure that gets you hot.  It works for so many men, the whole no care for what she looks like.  I mean, come on, she shops at Goodwill.  In the boy’s section.  And that hair?  Please.  What is this?  Little Haunted House on the Prairie?”

Angel smirked.  “You’re right and the goth whore look is so much more timely.”

Cordelia laughed mirthlessly.  She trailed her fingers over his chest again, daring to venture lower.  She toyed with his belt buckle, scraping her long, red nails over the shining silver.

Buffy watched Cordelia press herself against Angel and her anger simmered.  Cordelia was evil, but she was beautiful.  And her taunting barbs had struck deep.  Buffy concentrated so hard on being a Slayer that at times she could forget she was also a human, a woman.  But on those times when she was forced to remember, it was never good.  While Buffy had never been exactly obsessed with her looks, she had enjoyed being a girl.  She liked pretty things and had her own flock of admirers.  But that was all years ago.  Now, she was a means to an end.  And no doubt everything Cordelia had said about her was true.

Angel laughed.  Cordelia’s head shot up and she looked into his eyes.  “What?” she demanded.

“Oh dear,” he said with faux concern, “were you going to try and prove a point to me?  Were you going to try and show me that you could get my body to respond to you even though I said no?”

She stepped back from him, crossing her arms over her chest as she glared.  That had indeed been exactly what she was going to do.

“Think again,” Angel said coldly.  “I’ve been on this earth longer than you know, little girl.  And I’ve done things you can’t even imagine.  I’m not one of your stupid, simpering little school boys and you’re sure as hell not going to get me hard against my will.”

Buffy took that moment to strike.  She lunged forward, pulling as hard as possible against the chains.  They snapped.  Harmony had been too busy watching the byplay between Cordelia and Angel to keep an eye on Buffy.  Swinging the length of chain that was still connected to her wrist, Buffy easily knocked Harmony unconscious.  Cordelia turned, but her boots were more suited to the runway than a fight and Buffy easily pushed her out of the way.  Together, she and Angel managed to break his chains loose.  As Buffy moved to advance on Cordelia, Angel grabbed her around the waist.

“No,” he snapped, “not now.  We have to get out of here.  We don’t know how many more there might be.”

Buffy was reluctant, but as Angel pulled harshly on her wrist, she had little choice.  She couldn’t fight him and Cordelia.  She followed him and ran.

***

Moments later they were outside and apparently not being followed.  “The old Murdock factory,” Angel said frowning, “I should have guessed.  Cordelia is nothing if not predictable.”

As they walked he found a piece of wire and efficiently picked the lock on his manacles, dropping them to the ground.  He quickly did the same for Buffy.  Once they were both free he said, “I suppose we could just tip off Willow to Cordelia’s whereabouts.  Those two always hated each other.”

Buffy remained silent and Angel chanced a look at her.  She stared straight ahead, her jaw muscles clenched tightly.  He took a deep breath.  It was obvious that Cordelia’s taunts had struck a nerve or three.  Which, was ridiculous.  Cordelia was evil.  Being mean was her job.  You couldn’t take it personally.  And the idea that Buffy could put even an ounce of belief into what the vampire had said ... it was preposterous.  Sure Buffy was a bitch and a half and he didn’t like her – at all – but she couldn’t honestly think that she was unattractive.  The very idea was so completely outside the bounds of reality. But Buffy definitely didn’t look like she was playing it off.

“You know, Cordelia was just trying to get to you in there,” he said.

Buffy stopped walking and looked at him, incredulity written on her features.  Without a word, she turned on her heel and stomped off in the opposite direction.

Angel watched her go, absently running a hand through his hair.  He had the sinking suspicion he had just messed up very badly.  “What’d I say?” he muttered to himself.

***

There was a constant stream of muttered curses flowing past Faith’s lips as she crouched down in front of the bathroom door, concentrating on picking the lock.  Who the hell knew what Buffy was up to in the bathroom.  If she’d been a fourteen year old boy, Faith might have had an idea, but Buffy?  No way.  As far as Faith could tell, Buffy was about as sexually unaware as a person could get.  She was probably locked in the bathroom playing with her favorite knives or something.

Normally, Faith would be more willing to cut some slack, but not today.  Buffy had been in there for two hours.  An hour ago, Faith had politely knocked on the door and asked Buffy when she might be done.  Faith had managed to fall off the top of a crypt last night and she seriously needed some of the muscle relaxers in the medicine cabinet.  A growled “go away” was the only response.  Half an hour ago, Faith had started pounding on the door and yelling.  Buffy’s response had been the same.  Now Faith was taking matters into her own hands.

There was a sharp click as the lock sprung and Faith rose to her feet, pushing the door open.  Buffy stopped what she was doing and stared at Faith bewildered.  Faith stopped as well, staring openly at her sister Slayer.

Buffy was trying to put on make-up.  Not that she was doing a bad job, but it was evident from her self-conscious expression that she was very insecure about the whole process.  Her hair was down, the first time Faith had ever seen it so.  It fell to her waist in long, healthy waves.  Her eyelashes were made more dramatic by mascara and pretty pink blush highlighted her cheekbones.

“Actually,” Faith said, “I’d put on some lipstick in a tone close to your blusher.  I’m sure you don’t want to cuz of the scar and all, but I really think it would look nice.”

Buffy looked away self-consciously.  “Thanks,” she said quietly.  Quickly, she gathered up her things, which, judging from the empty packaging in the trashcan, she had just bought.  She didn’t meet Faith’s eye as she scurried past her and into their room.

***

The Bronze was not one of Angel's favorite places, nor would he have ever expected it to be one of Buffy's.  She didn't strike him as overly social.  Hell, she didn't strike him as even slightly social.  But Buffy's message, relayed via Spike by way of Faith, had told Angel to meet her at the Bronze.  So there he was, milling around with a bunch of high school and college students.  He rummaged around in his pocket and found enough money to procure a coffee; black, with none of those damn cinnamon sprinkles.

Leaning back against one of the metal pillars supporting the balcony, Angel looked out at the crowd of dancing, hormonal youngsters.  His eyes drifted over a few of the women, taking in their tight tops, their short skirts.  He watched their bodies move in time with the music as they flirted with their dance partners.

Growling in frustration, Angel forced himself to look away.  What was he doing checking out children who weren't even as old as his favorite duster?  But he couldn't help himself from taking another glance.  It was all Spike's fault, dammit.  Angel was now kept up at least three nights a week having to listen to Spike and Faith go at it.

Of course Angel had considered what sex might possibly be like with a Slayer.  What self-respecting debauched vampire hadn't?  The predatory skill of a vampire, preternatural strength, delectable human heat and all those pent up teenage hormones -- how could you not consider it?  Or fantasize about it?  But just because he'd considered it -- in the abstract, yes, most definitely in the abstract -- didn't mean that he had any desire to listen to Spike actually doing it.  Especially while he was laying in bed staring up at his ceiling.  Alone.  Frustrated from yet another mentally excruciating evening with Buffy the Ice Queen.

Angel rolled his eyes at his own pathetic thoughts.  Maybe Spike was right.  Maybe he did just need to get laid.  He looked out at the crowd again.  It had been a very, very long time since he last had a lover.  Maybe it was time to get in the game again.  Maybe he could fine himself some nice little human girl, entertain himself for a while before sending her off on her merry way once again.

Hell, that was the ticket.  Why not?  It wasn't like he was going to hurt her, physically or emotionally.  He could find some free spirit, maybe someone like Faith, someone who liked to have a good time with no strings attached.  He was quite certain he was a better lover than any of the human males in the room.  It wasn’t ego, it was a statement of fact.  They could have a good time together and then part ways.  Nothing serious.

More intently this time, Angel once again visually perused the room.  A lot of the crowd were high school kids, which really was too bad.  Angel didn't want a high school girl.  Or maybe he did.  Maybe he wanted a lover that was getting ready to graduate.  One that would be going away to college, but would be looking for that final summer fling.  Arching an eyebrow, he looked closer.  A tall brunette caught his eye.  She had lovely curves and she obviously knew how to use her body.  But as she turned, Angel saw she bore more than a passing resemblance to Desdemona, this vampire bitch he'd known in the late eighteenth century.  He shuddered.  No way he was going there.  Taking a deep, unnecessary breath, he looked again.  There was a beautiful young woman, possibly Polynesian with glossy dark hair and the most inviting set of pouting lips.  However, when those lips locked with some frat boy's, Angel looked away in irritation.

He spent the next ten minutes looking, becoming intrigued only to find some fatal flaw moments later.  He had finally begun to give up hope when he saw her.  She was so petite, he almost missed her in the crowd.  She was facing away from him so that all he could see was a cascade of beautiful blonde hair and a fantastically well proportioned ass.  She was dressed in a black halter top, leaving her entire back bare, and a pair of low slung black leather pants.  Her outfit was completed by a pair of very high strappy black heels.  Angel was still looking at her feet as she finally turned toward him.  He slowly raked his gaze up her body, lingering for a moment on her breasts as he grinned wolfishly.

As their eyes met, everything stopped.

"Buffy?" Angel actually said aloud, nearly dropping his coffee.

A bright blush crept into her cheeks and she smiled awkwardly at him before making her way off the dance floor in his direction.  Stunned as he was, he still couldn’t look away.  It was Buffy, but it wasn’t Buffy.  She looked all soft and girlie.  As she came closer, he took in the myriad differences.  Her hair was loose, cascading over her bare shoulders in soft waves.  Her already flawless features were accentuated with just a light touch of cosmetics, faint blusher on her cheeks, a sheer pink gloss on her lips, a dab of mascara on her eyelashes.  The outfit really wasn't that much of a change from what she normally wore, but oh what a difference the little things could make.  While the black halter top probably exposed the same amount of skin as her tank tops, it clung to her curves deliciously.  And the pants … oh what leather could do for a body like that.  The shoes were the biggest difference.  Angel knew he'd never seen her in anything but her combat boots in the past.  Yet, while she seemed to feel self-conscious, she didn't have any trouble walking in the shoes.

They both smiled at each other tightly as she finally stopped at his side.  Angel opened his mouth to say something and then closed it again.  Finally he said, "You look really nice."

Her blush deepened and she looked away.  "Thanks," she mumbled awkwardly.

A frat boy walked past them, blatantly eyeing Buffy.  She shifted her weight nervously on the balls of her feet, obviously uncomfortable with the attention.  Angel stepped a little closer and glared at the boy.  The kid quickly got the hint and left.  Buffy was staring at the floor, but Angel could see the smile on her lips.

The silence stretched out between them.  "Would you like something to drink?" Angel finally asked awkwardly.

"Uh, yeah, sure," Buffy said, doing her best to sound gracious.

Glad for something to do, Angel nodded and escorted her over to the counter.  He had no idea why Buffy was dressed like that, but he couldn't say he disapproved.  She looked fantastic.  And oddly vulnerable, which made his insides do funny things.  He'd never thought of Buffy as vulnerable in any sense, but it was clear she didn't feel comfortable in her new clothes.  Angel had to assume she wasn't completely comfortable with being seen as a woman, which was probably understandable.  Like any Slayer with a Council upbringing, she had been taught that she was Slayer first, Buffy second.

As the guy behind the counter took Buffy’s order, Angel reached for the cash in his pocket.  He stopped mid action and took a moment to marvel at the situation.  He was buying something for Buffy.  If you had asked him yesterday, Angel would have sworn that she would rather stake him dead than allow him to pay for something of hers.

She bounced lightly on her toes next to him, full of nervous energy.  Angel couldn’t help but think back to the run in with Cordelia.  The way she looked had to be a byproduct of that taunting.  Not that Angel was in the mood to complain.  Buffy looked fantastic.  He supposed it would be normal for her to want to reassure herself that she was attractive and feminine.  Getting dressed up, coming to a place like this ... that would do it.  But he couldn’t help that Buffy didn’t seem all that comfortable with the attention she was attracting.  She went out of her way to avoid making eye contact with any of the available young men who glanced her direction.  In fact, she seemed quite content to stand close to him, letting his imposing bulk and surly attitude discourage any potential suitors.

Angel wasn’t sure if he should feel honored or insulted.

Buffy probably viewed him as comfortable.  Safe.  A eunuch.  Angel frowned at the thought.  Undoubtedly, she would be intensely uncomfortable with any man, but given that they had been working together every night for months, she had finally become familiar with him.  She was used to him.  She could talk to him and be close to him without feeling unnecessarily pressured.  Having him near allowed her to bask in the glow from appreciative male eyes without having to put herself in a situation where she would actually have to deal with any of their advances.  Yep, he was safe.

He hated feeling safe.

The guy behind the counter handed Buffy her hot chocolate, extra whipped cream.  Angel quickly paid and then watched Buffy take a drink.  She got a whipped cream mustache.  She looked up at him and their eyes met.  At the same time, her little pink tongue snaked out to capture the cream on her upper lip.  Neither of them looked away.  Angel waited for her to break eye contact, but she didn’t.  Heat raced through his veins.  If he had a heartbeat, it would have been pounding.  Her eyes were hooded, mysterious, but she wouldn’t look away.  Her lips were so glossy pink.  “We should ... uh ... sit down,” Angel managed to say.  Buffy nodded.

He hadn’t really intended to find the darkest corner in the club.  It was habit.  He was a creature of the night and he liked to lurk.  His head was so full of Buffy he was running on autopilot.  There was a small sofa facing away from the dance floor.  Angel watched her take a seat and then did the same.  Reaching over, she placed the mug on the small end table and then turned to face him.

Angel didn’t know what came over him, but there was an urgency he couldn’t deny.  He knew he was never going to get another opportunity like this.  Maybe Buffy was just toying with him.  But maybe not.  Carefully, he cupped her cheek in his hand, pausing just long enough for her to throw a punch if she was so inclined.  She didn’t.  Lowering his head, he cautiously brushed his lips across hers.  She parted her lips, taking a gasping breath and he seized the opportunity to kiss her more deeply.

Angel had intended to take it slow, honestly he had.  Though they had most certainly never discussed it, he knew that Buffy didn’t have much experience with men.  He’d wanted a kiss, a stolen moment.  Somehow he ended up sitting on the sofa with Buffy straddling his waist, his hands buried in her hair as the two of them did their best to molest each other’s mouth.
 
 
 

END ... for now

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