Evolution: An Elseworlds Fic
by indie




AUTHOR'S NOTE:  total indie fic.  Oy.  This thing is an embarrasment.  I started it *years* ago.  It's bad.  I have absolutely no illusions about that.  It's stupid, over the top melodrama told in a not particularly engaging way.  I haven't even looked at it in over a year and I'm not going to because if I do, I'll weenie out and not post it.  So, here it is.  It's never going to be finished and we should all be happy about that.
 
 
 
 

*****

The car was waiting when Buffy pushed through the airport doors and into the windy mid-fall day.  Her stiletto heels clicked loudly on the grimy pavement.  Mutely, she slid into the limo, not bothering to take off her dark glasses despite the tinted windows and dim interior.  Her chest felt tight and it was difficult to breathe.  Tension seemed to rob her of breath.

Home.  Buffy could feel it in her bones.  The pull of this place that would always be her center was a tactile sensation.  Where once it had comforted her, it now felt like a noose slowly tightening around her neck.  But none of her running had forestalled the inevitable.  She had to face up to things before her life was damaged beyond repair.

She shifted uneasily as the limo pulled away from the curb.  Pressing her eyes closed, she saw the image that was forever burned into her consciousness; her mother’s grave, so cold and sterile.  It was the image that two short months ago had driven her away in some ill conceived attempt to outrun her own mortality.

She has succeeded in a fashion, she supposed.  Now she knew that she would never be able to outrun time, or the demons of her past.

Buffy spent a great deal of her sabbatical immersed in a ruthless self-inventory.  Endless days of searching her soul and she came to the uncomfortable conclusion that she was sick with loneliness and superficiality.  She needed substance, a foundation.  She needed to be real in a way that she had never known before.  She needed her life to mean something.

But all of that would have to wait.  First, she needed to make peace.  Problem was, she had no idea how to do that.
 

***

“Isn’t this just great?”

Completely devoid of enthusiasm for the task, Angel tore his gaze away from the latest market rundowns to look at the inch-high kanji tattooed across Cordelia’s lower back.  He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes.  Her skin was still red and puffy from what had undoubtedly been a painful process.  In addition, he very seriously doubted the spoiled little debutante had ever studied Japanese.  Angel would wager a good sum of money that Queen C didn’t even know if her latest, permanent adornment was Katakana or Hiragana.  Hell, he’d wager she didn’t even know that there were two alphabets.

Unlike his annoying paramour, Angel had studied Japanese extensively.  Not even the tattoo artist’s apparent sense of humor could amuse him – providing, of course, that it had been intentional.  “Very nice,” he said dryly, turning dismissively back to the online stock quotes he was reading.

She stuck her bottom lip out in a pout and twisted her head around, trying to get a look at the tattoo.  “You don’t like it?” she asked.

Angel once again looked up at the voluptuous brunette invading his private office.  It was early in the morning, a time he reserved for dealing with business affairs.  Not even Lindsey would dare disturb him at this time of day.  Everyone knew better.

Everyone except Cordelia.

“Do you know what it says?” he asked, his tone sharp.

She ignored his lack of interest, concentrating only on the fact that he wanted to talk about her. She smiled prettily.  “The fierce heart of woman,” she said proudly, then faltered.  “Or something like that.”

“Hmmm,” was his only reply.  Once again he turned his attention back to the LCD display.  While Cordelia’s translation managed to hit some of the high points of what her tattoo’s intent, it managed to miss the heart of things.  Of course, Angel couldn’t begin to imagine what would possess someone to have something permanently printed on their body in a language they didn’t understand ... or in a place they couldn’t see without aid of a mirror.

“I like it,” Cordelia announced, completely ignoring his not-so-subtle hints to cease and desist.  “I think it’s beautiful and it will totally go with that new outfit I bought last week.”

Angel shuddered inwardly.  He liked Cordelia.  More to the point, he liked Cordelia’s breasts ... and her mouth so long as it was occupied with something other than talking.

“So, uh,” she faltered, flipping her hair in what he assumed was supposed to be a seductive manner, “Daddy won’t give me the money to go to Paris next month.  He says that he already sent me to Japan and Greece and that I have to wait until next year.”

Angel stared at her mutely.  “And?” he prompted, hoping he could get this over with and she would go away.  Last night was fun, but the mornings after with her were a serious study in mental torture.  He merely wanted her out of his office.

“And,” she said, looking at him like he was the moron, “I was hoping that maybe you would send me.”  She gave him a huge smile.

“Why on earth would I do something like that?” he asked incredulously.

Cordelia’s lips pursed together in a very unhappy expression.  “We’ve been dating for four months,” she said.

“We’ve been fucking for four weeks,” he stated firmly.  “And during that time, we have not been exclusive.  We have no claim on each other.”

Cordelia released an exasperated sigh.  “Months, weeks, whatever.  I think I deserve something from you,” she grouched.

He laughed.  “You give a good blowjob, Cordy, but I make it a rule never to pay for sex.”

“Fuck you,” she spat.  “I’ve earned it.”

“Earned it?” he asked, genuinely amused.  “What on earth did you do to earn it?  It was mutual, honey.  You didn’t martyr yourself in my bed.”

She shrugged.  “Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “you’re good.  For an old guy, I mean.”

He stared at her for several tense moments.  “Old?” he nearly growled.

She looked at her fingernails in a bored manner and then back to him.  “Well, yeah,” she said.  “I mean, like I said you’re good, but you’re way too old for me.  I mean, you’re like almost the same age as my dad.”

“Your father is sixty,” Angel said, his voice low and controlled.  “I’m thirty-five.”

“I know,” Cordy said.  “Old.”

***

“Will that be all, Ms Summers?”

Buffy turned and nodded to the housekeeper.  The woman closed the bedroom door behind herself as she left.  Listless, Buffy sat down at her vanity and absently dragged a brush through her long, golden locks.  She studied her reflection, looking for wrinkles.  There weren’t many, but there were a few discrete lines.

“Welcome home, Buffy,” she said to her reflection.

She laughed and slapped a hand over her mouth to quell the hysterical sound that soon dissolved into tears.  She sobbed for long minutes.  How did this happen?  How did she end up in a situation like this?

***

Angel smiled as his gaze lighted on the diminutive blonde.  He sank back a few degrees deeper into the comfortable chair, slowly sipping his bourbon.  He had feared that the evening's soirée would turn out to be dull, boring chit chat with the same blathering morons he saw at every other social event.

He hadn’t particularly felt like making an appearance, but Spike gladly offered to show up at his house with company.  Angel knew his best friend’s taste in women.  The vacuous bimbos that Spike liked could make Cordelia Chase look like a rocket scientist.  He wasn’t up to dealing with idiots, even if they came in a pretty wrapping.  He feared Cordelia’s accusations might be right.  It could very well be a portent of his increasing age that he would prefer to spend an evening with Wesley and Spike rather than some eighteen year old model who didn’t even speak English.  At the moment, he didn’t particularly care.

Following Angel gaze, Wesley smiled as well.  “Ah, yes,” he said with a grin, “I was beginning to wonder if Buffy was going to return.”

Spike snorted loudly at Angel, still irritated that his friend hadn’t taken up his offer to entertain.  “What is it with you an’ Buffy?” Spike bitched, his eyes raking over the ravishing blonde gracing the entryway to the Sutherland ballroom.  “Aren’t you sick of each other?  You’ve been playing doctor with your not-girlfriend over there since you two were in high school.”

Angel grinned a knowing, wicked smile at his friend.  “Junior high,” he clarified, throwing back the last of his bourbon.

“Fine,” Spike said in exasperation, “junior high.  Which is even sicker.”

Angel shrugged.  He really didn’t give a shit what anybody thought about his relationship with Buffy Summers.  They enjoyed each other, that was all that mattered to him.

“I daresay that you two still seem rather taken with one another,” Wesley said.  “Your attachment has survived some obstacles which could have proven insurmountable to a couple with a lesser bond.”

Angel arched one eyebrow in an unhappy gesture.  “We’re not a couple,” he said firmly.

“Yeah,” Spike said derisively, “which is why you’re still shaggin’ like bunnies decades later.  You know, most guys cut their junior high girlfriends loose by now, especially when they’re married.”

Angel signaled to one of the servers that he needed another drink and then turned back to his friends.  “Buffy isn’t married now,” he said.

“No thanks to you,” Spike muttered as he reached for a cigarette, realized he wasn’t allowed to smoke inside and angrily shoved the pack back in his pocket.  “Her blissful union to poor Harris lasted what?  A year?”

“Ten months,” Angel said.  “And that was years ago.  Besides, she only did it because she was pissed at me.”

“Exactly,” Spike huffed.  “You know, there’s hundreds of birds with bigger tits, firmer asses and none of the baggage.  Why do you keep goin’ back to her?”

A smirk spread across Angel’s handsome features.  “Summer before freshman year in high school,” he said.  “I stole my dad’s ’64 ragtop Mustang and we drove up to the clearing at the top of Breaker’s Woods.  Definitely a night for the history books.”

Spike rolled his eyes, but Wesley nodded with a faintly longing look.  “Shared experience can be a potent glue between people,” he said.  “Especially if the memories are, as you imply, very pleasant ones.”

“Pfft,” Spike said derisively.  “So Peaches got his cherry popped by the chit,” he said.  “So what?  Some things don’t age well and women are one.  Today she probably won’t even admit that she’s ever been to Breaker’s Woods.  Bints get all uppity once they start worrying about their reputations.  Even suggest a bit o’ fun and they start throwin’ around those damn restraining orders.”

Angel half chuckled at Spike’s unintentional humor, but his expression was somewhat nostalgic.  “I probably would ditch her,” he said.  “But just last summer we ended up there again in my Boxster and if anything it was even better than the first time.  Buffy Summers is the only woman in my entire life who has never bored me.”

Wesley smiled and Spike frowned, but none of them took their eyes off Buffy.

***

Buffy smiled wryly to herself as her vision flitted around the room.  She felt edgy, uncomfortable.  She shouldn’t have ventured out.  What made her think it would be easier to see him socially rather than privately?  She took a deep breath and headed for the patio.

The fall air was crisp, but she welcomed the bracing effect.  The party was crowded with the usual suspects.  She realized that being in familiar surroundings with familiar faces only made her feel more out of sorts.  How could one tiny thing throw her life into such upheaval?

She turned to rejoin the party, but a pair of deep chocolate brown eyes locked with her own.  Two large hands clamped firmly around her waist, pulling her against his hard chest.  She was surrounded by him, the smell, the feel, the tingle down her spine that always accompanied his presence.

“Buffy,” he said in a purring rumble, “where have you been?”

She took a deep breath, trying to remember herself, to remember their situation.  But things were so unbalanced and being held in his embrace was the only sanctuary she had found in months of searching.  She leaned into him, breathing in the scent of him, letting it wash over her.

He pulled her closer, wrapping himself around her, cradling her with a tenderness that would have shocked even his most satisfied lovers.  He leaned down and his breath puffed against the shell of her ear.  “I know it hurts,” he said, “but you have to let your mother go.”

Buffy sniffled and rested her forehead against the solid wall of his chest.  He was so right and so terribly wrong.  She did miss her mother with an almost crippling intensity, especially now.

She knew she shouldn’t be doing this.  There was so much emotional rubble between the two of them.  She couldn’t afford to let it melt away simply because his arms felt so good.  She had to be strong.

***

Buffy sighed as the hot water sluiced over her sore muscles.  It was too damn early to be up, but she couldn’t afford to linger in bed.  She winced as she shifted her weight on the balls of her feet, her body protesting from the hedonistic exertions of the previous evening.

She wasn’t happy with herself, but at least she had felt alive for one night.  However, the smug satisfaction faded quickly with the dawn.  She had been so stupid.  Angel was her problem and she had slept with him ... again.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The door clicked open and cold air invaded her warmth.  She didn’t look at him, lowering her head and letting the water pour over her.  “What makes you think I want company?” she asked neutrally, careful to keep him at a mental and emotional distance if not a physical one.

“What makes you think I care what you want?” Angel snarked back, pulling the door shut behind himself as his gaze raked over her nude form appreciatively.  Buffy may have been halfway through her thirties, but her body was still a work of art, as flawless as it had been when she was in high school.  Spike’s comments about firmer asses and bigger tits only meant that he hadn’t been fortunate enough to see Buffy in the buff.

She did her best to ignore him as she rested her forehead against the tile.  Though his body wasn’t touching hers, she could tell from the way the water hit that he had stepped under the spray with her.  She startled as his large, soapy hands rested on her shoulders, but as soon as he began to rub, she relaxed.  It was one of his many talents.  He was fantastic at backrubs, knowing just how to work out all the sore muscles.  Buffy was, however, completely unaware that she was the only one of  his many lovers that he lavished with such decadent attention.

She didn’t resist as he lowered his head, lightly clamping his teeth down on her earlobe.  As his hands found her breasts, his mouth moved lower down the side of her neck.

Buffy groaned, knowing she should push him away.  Last night she could write off as a moment of weakness, but this morning she couldn’t lie.  She needed to stop this.  She needed to stop melting for him.

She twisted in his embrace and instead of ordering him out of the shower, their mouths met, their tongues tangling wetly.  Threading her fingers through his hair, she lifted one foot to run up the side of his calf.  He moaned into her mouth, grasping her hips roughly as he backed her against the tiled wall.

Knowing what he wanted, she moved her hands from his hair, down to his shoulders.  Through their combined efforts, she soon found herself against the wall with both legs wrapped around his waist.  The grace with which they performed the feat, given the fact that they were both wet and soapy was testament to the amount of times they had been in this very situation.

“Angel,” she whined against his lips, her short nails biting into his corded shoulders.

He smiled, kissing her deeply once again as he lowered her onto his erect shaft.  She hissed as he stretched her recently abused tissues yet again, loving the feel of him inside her.  Once he was seated to the hilt, they both stilled, their foreheads resting against each other as they savored the sensation of being one.  It wasn’t a moment that casual, unattached lovers would share, but neither of them was going to admit that.

Before long, the tension became unbearable and Angel thrust up into her body.  She received him willingly, her head lolling back as she squeezed her eyes shut in pleasure.  Groaning, he drove into her forcefully, over and over again.  As contractions deep within her body heralded her approaching release, he redoubled his efforts, bringing them both to a roaring completion.

*****

“Oh look who’s here.  I’ll try to hide my shock.”

Angel stopped his hasty beeline to the front door, reluctantly turning to face her.  “Darla,” he said without any warmth, “I didn’t think you crawled out from under your rock until at least noon.”

She smiled venomously at her baby sister’s most glaring weakness.  “Trying to sneak out before anyone notices?” she asked, cocking an eyebrow speculatively.  “Daddy’s too old to go chasing you out of Buffy’s window in your underwear now.”

He looked at her through slitted eyes, a wicked grin curling his mouth.  “Later, Darla,” he said without looking at her.

*****

“Why do you do that to yourself?”

Buffy jumped, unaware that there was anyone else in the room.  “Damn it, Darla,” she hissed.  “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

Ignoring the admonishment, Darla draped herself over the foot of her sister’s still unmade bed.  Their eyes locked in the mirror where Buffy was applying her make-up.  “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Oh,” Buffy said sarcastically, “I must have forgotten what you asked.”

Darla rolled her eyes.  “I’m serious,” she said dryly, winkling her nose as she eyed the tangle of sheets.  “You could have your pick of men.  I don’t understand why you insist on involving yourself with him.”

Buffy shrugged, remaining silent.  Finished with her face and hair, she rose and moved to the closet.  Having no plans to leave the house, she intended to be comfortable.  She pulled out a pair of baggy jeans and a soft sweater, having no reservations about changing in front of her sister.

“Do you love him?” Darla asked.  “Because maybe I could understand that if I thought-“

“No,” Buffy said firmly.

Darla’s mouth curved into a wry grin.  It was obvious she didn’t believe her sister, but she let the comment stand.  “Then why?” she pressed.

“Why not?” Buffy retorted, turning away from the full length mirror to face her sister.  “I may be able to have my pick of the local men, but why on earth would I want them.  I’m sick of looking at the same drunken, lecherous bunch of pigs.  The novelty of taking lovers is wearing off.”

“But you’re still fucking your ex,” Darla pointed out.

Buffy sighed, sinking onto the bed next to her sister.  She studied Darla’s face for a moment, not at all shocked to find that her sister was still a beautiful woman.  Both of them were beautiful, that was their claim to fame.  The Summers sisters, blonde, beautiful, rich bitches without a care in the world.  They were both notorious for their appetites.  They went through men and belongings like it was nothing.  And they always came out on top.  Yet, the more she consumed, the more empty Buffy felt.  “I don’t know why I do it,” Buffy said honestly, her voice barely a whisper.  “He’s safe, I guess.  I don’t have to risk anything when I’m with him and he doesn’t expect anything.”

“Are you sure that’s it?” Darla asked skeptically.

Buffy shrugged.  “What else would it be?”

“Maybe you still have feelings for him.”

Buffy looked at her sister, holding her gaze for long moments before speaking.  “That would be stupid,” she said.  “I don’t know what’s going on with me, but I’m changing.  I don’t want the same things I wanted when I was twenty.”

“What?” Darla asked in disbelief.  She stood up and paced the length of her sister’s room.  “You going soft in your old age?  Have you decided you want a family or something?  2.5 kids and a minivan?”

Buffy avoided her sister’s gaze, toying with the edge of the comforter.

“Oh my god,” Darla murmured incredulously.  “You do.  You want to be a goddamn housewife.”

“No, Darla,” Buffy shot back, “I do not.  But I do want something more out of life.  I’m thirty-five years old.  Mom was only fifty-five when she died.  Besides, what do I have to show for myself besides a string of meaningless relationships and a rather high tolerance for alcohol?”

“Let’s see,” Darla countered, “a successful career, a social life to die for, men fighting for the chance to be with you, influential friends. “

“Wrong,” Buffy clarified.  “I do not have a career.  I manage my half of the money dad left us.  I keep busy, but it’s not like I really do much.  As for the social life, I could care less.  It doesn’t hold as much appeal as it used to.  And men,” she said, making a sour face.  “I don’t want another fling.  Why even bother if there’s no substance?  Let’s face it, I’ve seen and done about everything with almost every one.  There’s nothing left to discover.”

“Good lord,” Darla said, thoroughly disgusted, “you want to be ‘in love’.  How perfectly hideous.  Next you’ll be telling me you’ve decided to become a breeder.”

“What would be wrong with that?” Buffy asked seriously.  “Would it be so terrible to have a child?”

Darla made a face.  “Oh no, that sounds wonderful,” she said sarcastically.  “Nine months of a nasty little parasite growing inside you, giving you stretch marks and hemorrhoids, making you fat, followed by an excruciatingly painful labor and then you get to take care of the squalling brat for the rest of its life.  Sounds fun to me.”

Buffy gave her sister a dirty look.  “I don’t think it sounds quite so dreadful,” she said.

With a snort, Darla said, “Well, if you’re looking for love and a family, I suggest you stay away from Liam Angelus because I can almost guarantee he wants nothing of the sort.”

“Trust me, I’m well aware of that,” Buffy said dryly.

“So back to my original question, why do you bother?”

Buffy flopped back on the bed, staring blindly at the ceiling.  “I have no idea,” she said honestly.  “A weakness in my character, I suppose.”

*****

“You have got to be kidding me,” Buffy said under her breath.  She put the book down on the table, rubbing her temples as she tried to figure out why she was even reading the damn thing.

“Problem?”

Looking up, Buffy saw the rather attractive man about her age and was momentarily tongue tied.  “Pardon?” she finally managed to say.

He smiled easily.  “Looks like you’re having a problem,” he said, “just wondered if there was anything I could do to help out.”

Buffy laughed lightly.  “Um, no,” she said, “I’m just trying to get through this book for a reading group I joined and I’m not having much luck.”

“You sure?” he asked.  “I’m pretty well read, I might be able to help.”

Shocked by her own boldness, Buffy pointed to the chair across from herself.  He smiled again, taking the seat.  It wasn’t exactly an intimate setting, they were in an open courtyard shared by several outdoor cafes.  There were at least thirty other people milling around.

“I’m Riley,” he said, extending his hand.

“Elizabeth,” she said in return, “but my friends call me Buffy.”

“Nice to meet you, Buffy.  Now, what is it you’re trying to read?”  She held out the book and his face fell.  Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman.  “Easy to understand physics is still beyond me,” he said.

“Me too,” she commiserated with a frown.

He shook his head.  “Why exactly are you reading this?”

She was silent for a moment, contemplating how much to tell him.  Against her better judgment, she decided on honesty.  It was a rather novel approach.  “I belong to a reading group,” she explained.  “It’s the book we’re on right now.”

“A reading group?  Why?” he asked, truly curious.

She smiled with genuine warmth.  “Trying to meet new people,” she said.

He narrowed his gaze at her.  “Pardon me for saying so,” he said, “but you don’t look like someone who has trouble meeting people.”

She shrugged.  “Let’s just say I’m rather disillusioned with my old friends and I’m looking for people who want the same things I do.”

He watched her for several long moments.  “And you want layman’s physics?” he asked with a smile.

Buffy laughed and shook her head.  “Not so much,” she said.  She took a deep breath.  “I want marriage, kids, a white picket fence,” she said brashly.  It was sort of the truth.  Why should she be coy about it, especially with someone she didn’t even know?

A shadow of pain crossed his face for a moment and Buffy misread it.  “Ooh, there I go,” she said, “we haven’t even known each other for five minutes and I’m already scaring you off.”

He was silent for a while before saying.  “No,” he said, “I’m not scared.”

“What then?” she asked.  “You don’t like kids?  Don’t want a wife?”

“I love kids,” he said honestly, “and I had a wife once.”

“Didn’t work out?”

“Sandy was killed in a car accident,” he said evenly.  “She was six weeks pregnant with our first child.”

Buffy was struck dumb.  She felt absolutely awful. She’d just been ribbing the guy and it turned out he was being completely honest.  “I’m sorry,” she said automatically.

He smiled softly.  “It’s not your fault,” he said.  “It happened quite a few years ago.”

“Still,” Buffy said, looking mortified, “I didn’t think it was possible to fit a whole boot inside your mouth.”

Riley laughed.  “Buffy, it’s okay.  I’m not going to fall apart or anything.”

“I’m sorry,” she said again, “I just wish I could make it up to you.”

He smiled broadly.  “You can.  Have lunch with me.”

*****

Buffy woke slowly, vaguely aware of a large form crawling over her sleepy body.  She didn’t bother lifting her head from the pillow as she tried to go back to sleep despite the light pouring through the window.  “Go away,” she muttered.

Two large hands planted themselves on the mattress on either side of her shoulders as he crouched over her.  “Buffy,” he said quietly, snuffing at the nape of her neck.

“Tired,” she whined, making a vain attempt to knock him off of her.

“It’s eight o’clock, sleepyhead, you need to get up.”

“Damn it, Angel, what do you want?” she asked, lifting her head to glare at him.

He smiled broadly.  “Just wanted to see what you’re doing,” he said.

She rolled her eyes, flopping her head back into the pillow.  Odd as it may have seemed to an outsider, it wasn’t too out of the ordinary for her to be awakened in such a manner.  Angel had an annoying habit of acting like he still had free rights to her bedroom.  She took some measure of relief in the fact that he moved away from her to lie on his side.  She groaned, rubbing her eyes as she tried to wake up.  Yawning loudly, she stretched like a sleepy cat.  Somewhat more awake, she turned her head to look at her ex.  “Why are you here?” she asked bluntly.

“I thought we could go away for the weekend,” he said.  “I have reservations at that inn in Santa Fe you like so much.”

Buffy frowned.  It was a tempting offer.  She did love Santa Fe.  She and Angel were there only a year earlier and had had a fantastic time.  But in the three weeks since their last tryst, she had vowed to herself that she wasn’t going to do this anymore.  She wasn’t going to settle for the physical while getting none of the emotional.  And with Angel, there was no emotional.  “Can’t,” she said succinctly.

He looked mildly shocked.  “Why not?”

“I’ve got plans,” she said honestly.

“So?” he scoffed.  “Break ‘em.”

Frowning she replied, “I’m not going to break my plans just because you want me to go away with you.”

His mild shock turned into absolute bewilderment.  “You’re serious?”

“Yes,” she said, sitting up and throwing her legs over the side of the bed, “I’m serious.  Find someone else to go to Santa Fe with.”  Buffy was glad she had opted for the man’s pajama set with long sleeves and pants before going to bed the previous evening.  She was in no mood to be flashing Angel any skin.  Much to her chagrin, he followed her into the adjoining master bath where she was brushing her teeth.

“So what are you doing that’s so damn important that you can’t leave town?” he asked, his irritation apparent.  He hated having his plans spoiled.

She met his hard glare in the mirror but finished brushing her teeth, spitting out the toothpaste, and replacing the toothbrush before she answered.  “I have a dinner date tonight,” she said evenly.

He snorted.  “Is that all?  Fine.  We can leave tomorrow morning.”

Buffy growled, picking up a brush and raking it forcefully through her hair.  “I’m not going,” she said firmly.

He smirked.  Moving so he stood behind her, he clasped his hand around her wrist, stilling her motions.  His eyes never left hers in the mirror.  He lowered his head so that his lips brushed against the shell of her ear.  She suppressed a whimper at the intimate gesture, breaking eye contact as she tried to steel herself against his advances.

“Do you have a new boyfriend?” he asked in a throaty whisper.  “Is that it?  You know I don’t care about that, Buffy.  What happens between us is independent of third parties.”

She twisted out of his grasp, retreating halfway across the large bathroom.  She was breathing in shallow, ragged breaths as she looked at him, trying to muster the necessary rage to get through this.  “No,” she said seriously.  “Even if I didn’t have a date, I don’t want this ... “ she flailed her hands around, swallowing a sob, “this... whatever sick thing it is we have ... I don’t want that.  Not any more.”

Angel flushed, shocked into silence.  Their relationship might have been rather raunchy at times, but it was always enjoyable, always consensual.  In a million years, he would never dreamed of categorizing it as “sick”.  The harsh assessment stung more than he ever would have dared think possible.  There had to be a reason she was acting like this.  “Who is it?” he asked ruthlessly.  “Lindsey?  Will?  You’re fucking someone who doesn’t want you with me, aren’t you?”

Buffy sighed, sitting down heavily on the edge of the bathtub as she looked at him with incredulity.  “No, Angel,” she said wearily.  “It’s not anybody you know and ... we’re not ... it’s not like that.”

“Like what?” he bit out.  “Sick?”

She winced at the cut, shaking her head as she looked at the floor.  “I mean we’re not involved physically, not yet anyway.  Besides, my decision has nothing to do with Riley.”

“Riley?” he spat. “I don’t know anyone named Riley.”

“I know,” she said calmly.  “He doesn’t run with your crowd.”

“My crowd,” Angel laughed sardonically.   “I thought it was our crowd.”

“Not anymore.”

He swallowed convulsively as he realized just how grave the situation between them had become.  “You’re serious about this?”

“I already told you that I was,” she countered solemnly.

He stared at her in silence for several long minutes.  This wasn’t happening.  Buffy wasn’t shutting him out of her life.  There had to be a reason.  “Do you love him?” he asked, his voice oddly hoarse.  It was with blinding fear that Angel realized just how much the fate of his well being rested in the answer to that question.

“What?” she asked, shocked.  “I mean, I don’t know?  No.  We hardly know each other.”

He sighed inwardly, but his exterior remained stony.  “You don’t love this Riley person, but you’re cutting me off regardless.”

Buffy dug her fingernails into her palms in frustration.  Why was he acting like this?  Why did he care?  Sure, they had a good time together, but it wasn’t like he didn’t have other women in his life.    “Why are you doing this?” she asked, ashamed as tears welled in her eyes.

“I’m not the one doing this,” he clarified.  “It’s you.  I like things the way they are.”

A small sob broke from her, and she pulled her knees up to her chest.  “I don’t understand why you’re so upset,” she said, sniffling.  “We’ve been divorced for ten years.”

“Yes,” he said, almost shouting, “but we’ve never been off limits to each other.  You’ve never shut me completely out of your life.”

She sobbed, tears streaming down her face as she looked at his furious countenance.  “I’m not doing this to you,” she said miserably.  “I want – no I need certain things out of a relationship right now, things you can’t give me.”

He stared at her, his jaw clenched tightly.  “How do you know?” he asked defiantly.  “Have you even asked?  Have you even mentioned this to me?  You summarily dismissed me without a word of warning!”

Buffy’s sadness began to recede in the wake of her growing anger.  It wasn’t as if she wanted to leave him, but he was still acting like he was a twenty year old boy.  Good Christ, he was almost forty.  He was Peter Pan, the little boy who refused to grow up.  Angel didn’t want commitment or constancy in his life.  He wanted women and parties and freedom.  Buffy couldn’t be a part of that, not anymore.  She loved him, yes, she could admit that to herself now, but she couldn’t continue like this.  She couldn’t wake up every morning to an empty bed and an empty life.  She couldn’t continue to convince herself that what little affection they had between them was enough.  “Do you honestly want to know what I want?” she asked, her voice surprisingly calm.

“Yes,” he said brashly.  “Name your price, Buffy, I guarantee I can beat anything Riley is offering.”

She sighed.  “Riley isn’t offering anything, Angel.  I already told you that.  He and I aren’t involved physically, but he’s at least open to the idea of a few things that I know would scare you to death.”

Angel snorted.  “Try me.”

“Love, marriage, monogamy, a home, children, stability,” she said firmly.  “Those are the things I want and need in my life now.  Can you give them to me?  And I’m not talking about the joke of a marriage we had before.  I mean a real relationship with love and trust and compassion and fidelity.”

He looked at her blankly.  In a million years he had never expected her to say those things.  He would give her anything, money, jewelry ...  But stability? children?  Buffy had made it abundantly clear before they were married that she never wanted children.  He didn’t know what to say.  Though he would never admit it to anyone, even himself, she meant more to him than any person had ever meant.  She was his touchstone, his center.  When everything else in his volatile world changed, only she, only their relationship remained untouched.  And now she was changing the rules and turning his world inside out.

The silence hung between them for long, drawn out moments.  She looked at him grimly, as more tears streamed down her cheeks.  “That’s what I thought,” she said, rising and walking back into the bedroom, hating herself for daring to hope that he would say yes.

*****

Buffy lay in her bed, hours later, still clothed in her pajamas.  After Angel left, she simply crawled back in bed, pulled the covers over her head and bawled her eyes out like she hadn’t since she was seven and her puppy, Niblet, was hit and killed by a car.

She expected the end of their association - she couldn’t give it any more weight than that - to be difficult.  She had not, however, expected the pain.  The real, physical pain of being separated decisively from her ex-husband left her shaking and weak.  He was such an overwhelming part of her life – granted, not a consistently pleasant part – that she had immense difficulty imagining herself without him in her future.  Only now that everything lay in ruins could she even begin to realize just how much he had meant to her.

For all of Angel’s inconsistency, he was a constant.  Every year on her birthday, he would make fun of her for weeks, rib her about the fact that she was getting old.  He would act like a little boy on the playground, insulting her and making sure she knew that he had no intention of being anything other than rude and crude when the dreaded day arrived.  And he was.  She could always count on some off-color card to show up on her doorstep.

But, it was always accompanied by at least a dozen red roses and an inquiry into her plans for the evening.  Of course, she always kept her calendar free because, despite the fact that he always said he wasn’t going to, he always did show up to pick her up for dinner.  He always remembered to bring a present which was unerringly perfect, a mix of something she wanted, yet something which was personal and always a bit too intimate for someone who professed to be nothing more than a friend.  He would wine her and dine her and take her home and make love to her so sweetly and tenderly that she could almost believe that they were in love.

And the next day he would be a completely insensitive jerk again, showing up with a nineteen year old model to one of her charity balls or forgetting that they had plans for the evening.  He was an encyclopedia of emotional manipulation and often times Buffy couldn’t figure out if he was intentionally driving her nuts, or if he truly couldn’t bring himself to stay away from her.

Well, she was through trying to figure him out.  She had seriously underestimated how much he meant to her, but nothing could be done about that now.  She made her break.  Regardless of how painful it had been, she couldn’t afford to turn back now.  She was going to move forward with her life – sans Angel.  Just as soon as she could muster the strength to get out of bed.

*****

Angel sipped his coffee and threw a glance over his shoulder at the empty bed.  It was shortly after six in the morning and the sun had just crested the horizon as Angel drank his coffee and absently flipped through some legal documents while watching the waves play on the beach his large home overlooked.

He sighed heavily, turning the page.  He would have been horribly embarrassed if anyone would have walked in and caught him leafing through the weighty document that was almost ten years old.  His divorce settlement from Buffy.  Angel was thoroughly disgusted with himself for his maudlin sentiments, but he couldn’t seem to help himself.  Luckily, however, he was alone – completely alone – and didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing him being a sap.

What went wrong between Buffy and himself?  He thought that they had a comfortable relationship, no strings to get in the way.  He thought she was happy.  He sure as hell was.  Or at least he thought he was.

Angel rarely thought about his age.  He knew he wasn’t a boy anymore, but he wasn’t ready to turn into his father, ancient and cranky.  In light of his recent fight with his ex-wife, he began to reevaluate his life.  Under the scrutiny, he decided that he found his carefree existence a little ... lacking.  Sure, he was lonely at times.  Sure he eventually wanted someone who could love and accept him, complete with all his faults.  But while he spent his time playing, eventually had become now.  And he didn’t have a damn thing to show for it.

Buffy said she wanted marriage.  Everything inside of him instinctively rebelled at the idea.  But as he forced himself to contemplate the scenario, he realized there were definite benefits.  Children.  Buffy said she wanted children.  It was an intriguing idea.  Even five years ago, Angel wouldn’t have thought so, but his younger brother, Doyle was married and had two beautiful little girls with his wife, Cordelia.  Some part of Angel longed for the happiness Doyle found in his marriage, though he would never admit it aloud.

Angel flipped the document shut.  Apparently it wasn’t meant to be.  Buffy didn’t want him in her life and he would be damned if he was going to grovel before her.

*****

Buffy smiled shyly up at her companion as he took her hand.  Odd that considering all the numerous lovers she had taken in the past that something as seemingly innocuous as holding hands in a public place would rattle her.  But she knew instinctively that this was different.  In all of her other relationships she gave her body freely while always holding back emotionally.  Not anymore.  She was old enough to know that you didn’t get something for nothing.  If she really wanted to test the possibility of a relationship with Riley, she would have to risk something in the process.

“You cold?” he asked solicitously.

“Um, a little,” Buffy admitted.

“Let’s go inside,” he said, pointing to a coffee shop they were passing.  Buffy nodded, glad to get out of the crisp fall air.  While it had been invigorating at first, she was starting to get very chilly.

Once inside the store, she inhaled deeply, loving the rich smell of coffee beans.  She took a seat in one of the large comfy chairs, tucked away in a corner while Riley ordered a hot chocolate.  She was lost in inner musings when he handed her the cup.  “Thanks,” she said with an easy smile.

He nodded, taking a seat across from her.  “You look better,” he said and then quickly caught himself.  “I mean happier,” he said hastily.  “You seemed a little distracted last week.”

Nodding, she took a sip of her drink.  “Yeah,” she said, “I had a lot on my mind.  Sorry if it showed.”

“It’s not a problem,” he said.  “Anytime you need to talk, I’m here.”

She smiled gratefully at him.  “That’s nice to know.”

The two chatted amiably for almost an hour, but Buffy remained distracted.  Her thoughts fixated on the events of the previous weekend.  She hadn’t heard so much as a peep out of Angel since their fight in her bathroom.  That was a week ago.  She hated herself for being mildly shocked by his silence.  She had always known that he didn’t want anything substantial.  She knew he was still a little boy.  But being proved right held no satisfaction.  She hated herself for daring to hope that he could return her feelings.

*****

“Wow, Wes was right.  You do look like shit,” Will smirked, as he took a seat in one of the hard backed chairs.  Angel shot him a withering glare, but Will’s twisted smile made it abundantly clear he would not be dissuaded from his chosen course.  Thankfully, a waiter showed up to take their orders, delaying the confrontation for several moments.  After the drinks were delivered and the waiter had disappeared, Will smiled predatorily at his friend.  “So, what’s wrong?” he asked with a smirk.  “Finally catch something the docs can’t fix with a shot?”

Angel sipped his coffee, but remained silent.  Despite the fact that he was freshly showered, shaved and dress impeccably, he knew his outward appearance reflected the fact that he hadn’t slept much in the last week.

Will was momentarily thrown off when Angel refused to respond to his jibes, but he quickly decided on a different tactic.  “Haven’t seen you ex around lately,” he mused.

Angel actually flinched at the comment and Will smiled brightly.  Jackpot.  “Where is dear Elizabeth?” he asked, scanning the dining room with much more flourish than necessary.  The posh restaurant was one of the Summers sisters’ favorite places.  As usual, Darla was present with her aged, but sickeningly rich, new boyfriend.  Buffy, however, was nowhere to be seen.

“I don’t know,” Angel said coolly.

“I doubt that,” Will said with a snort.  “What happened?  She tell you the last rock you gave her wasn’t big enough?  She won’t let you back into her bed until you bring her the Hope diamond?”

Angel scowled.  “That is not the ultimatum she gave me,” he said quietly, his voice slightly menacing.

For the first time that night, it struck Will that maybe Angel wasn’t playing.  He loved to give him a hard time about his odd relationship with his ex-wife, but it seemed that Angel was taking things a bit seriously.  Coughing to clear his throat, Will sat up in his chair, leaning across the table.  “What happened?” he asked, sincerely interested.

“She’s gone,” Angel said wryly, his vision flitting to Darla, who was facing in the opposite direction.

“Gone?  Gone where?  Back to Europe?”

Angel sighed, his gaze turning back to Will.  “I don’t think she left town,” he said, “but she made it clear that she wants nothing to do with her old life.”

Will laughed awkwardly, his incredulity evident.  “Old life?  You make it sound like she’s joined up with a cult or something.”

With a frown, Angel elaborated, “Nothing that dramatic, I assure you.  She simply decided that our relationship was ‘sick’ and that she wanted something real.”

A low whistle sounded through Will’s lips.  “Harsh,” he said succinctly.

Angel nodded, glancing yet again at the elder Summers sister.

*****

Buffy frowned as she picked through her sweaters.  What did one wear to dig in a garden?  She imagined her sister mocking her mercilessly if she found out that she was donating time and labor to a charity project.  On some things they simply could not see eye to eye.  Sighing, Buffy finally found an old, faded black cotton that was really more of a dingy gray.  It would have to suffice.  As part of her branching out, Riley talked her into joining him while he volunteered at a community garden for children.  Granted, she was getting in at the wrong time.  Fall wasn’t exactly a hoppin’ time as far as gardens were concerned.  The volunteers were needed to clear out the beds and get them in shape so they would be ready for the next year’s plantings.

Still, it was something different.  Buffy had certainly never used her Saturday mornings for anything productive in the past.  It was just after half past seven when Riley picked her up in his battered truck.  As usual, their chatter was pleasant and somewhat substantial.  The garden was apparently run by a woman who had been a high school friend of Riley’s wife.  Her name was Willow and from Riley’s descriptions, Buffy was looking forward to meeting her.

The garden was tiny, much smaller than Buffy would have imagined.  That, of course, didn’t mean that there wasn’t a lot of work to be done.  It seemed that volunteers were rather scarce and aside from Buffy and Riley, there were only three other people helping out, two of whom didn’t look like they were old enough to drive.

“Hey,” a striking young red haired woman said warmly as she walked up and gave Riley a hug.

Riley returned the hug and then looked at Buffy.  “Buffy,” he said, “may I present Willow Rosenberg.”

Despite her reservations about getting dirty, Buffy actually had a very enjoyable time.  The day turned out to be very pleasant and the company was nice.  Buffy and Willow hit it off immediately, due in no small part to the red head’s warm demeanor.

To her shock, the morning passed quickly and soon Willow was trying to get everyone to stop what they were doing and join her for a picnic lunch.  It had warmed up considerably and the air was warm and fragrant.  Buffy happily accepted the cheese sandwich Riley handed her as she chatted with the other volunteer, a woman about her age, named Olivia and her two children James and Cynthia, both of whom were in junior high.

*****

Angel squirmed uncomfortably as the girl - Harmony, he thought that was her name - nibbled on his neck.  Why had he let Will talk him into this?  He knew the answer.  He was desperate to prove to himself and everyone else that Buffy’s leaving him hadn’t turned him into a eunuch.  So, here he was, half heartedly making out with one of Will’s friends.  As her hand ran lightly over his crotch, Angle abruptly sat up, grabbing her wrist.  “I think maybe this was a bad idea,” he said, moving her off his lap and rising from the couch.

Harmony didn’t look so much wounded as irritated.  “Will said you were having trouble getting it up,” she said crassly, “but he didn’t mention that you were a prude as well.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Angel said curtly, making a mental note to wring Will’s neck the next time he saw him.

Walking out of the library and continuing out of the house, Angel got into his car.  Will was busy with Drusilla at the moment and Angel wasn’t about to stick around and make awkward explanations.  Thirty minutes later, he pulled up in front of his own home, still very irritated.  Killing the engine, he sat in the car for several minutes.  “What the fuck is wrong with me?” he asked himself, his voice thick with frustration.

He had always been a man of insatiable physical appetites, but lately, he wasn’t interested in sating them.  At least, not with anyone but Buffy.  He still wanted her so badly that he ached.  But she was gone.  And his attempts at moving on were failing miserably.  It seemed that whenever things started to get physical with another woman, Angel’s attention would return to the fight he had with Buffy.  Sick.  She called their relationship sick.  It put quite a damper on his sex life.  It had been five weeks since their fight and he just couldn’t get it off his mind.  With a growl, he exited the car and headed for the front door.

*****

Buffy picked listlessly at her toast.  She wasn’t hungry despite the fact that she had little to eat in the last several days.  The mere thought of food was making her sick.  She needed to stop this.  She needed to get over Angel.  Things with Riley were going good, really good, but still ...

“You miss him.”

Buffy raised her eyes and regarded her sister with a wry smile.  So much for their usual Sunday morning brunch being nothing but light conversation.  “That transparent, eh?”

Darla smiled warmly in return, her expression sympathetic.  “Maybe not to the whole world, but I’m your sister.  I know you better than most.”

Buffy nodded.  “Things with Riley are going really well,” she said cheerily.

“But ... “ Darla prompted.

“No buts,” Buffy replied, shaking her head.

Darla didn’t look convinced.  “But Riley is not Angel,” she offered.

Buffy winced, she would have never have dared say it out loud, but now that Darla had it was a different matter.  “No,” she admitted, “Riley is not my cheating, lying, bastard of an ex-husband.”  She took a deep breath, leaning back in her chair with her arms crossed over her chest.  A wry smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.  “And yet somehow that’s not a mark in his favor.  I must be pretty perverse.”

“You and Angel have a long history,” Darla offered conciliatorily.

Frowning, Buffy said, “It’s not merely the amount of time and you know it.”

Darla shrugged.  “Maybe lightning doesn’t strike twice,” she said.  “You and Angel have this attraction that simply won’t die.  You shouldn’t expect it to be like that with Riley.  Your relationship is different.”

“Why not?” Buffy half whined.  “I mean, I’m considering this man as a potential husband, as the potential father of potential children. Shouldn’t there be some serious sparkage?”

“You’re asking the wrong person,” Darla said.  “I’ve never felt that way about anyone.  How do I know what you need for a lasting relationship?  But you know as well as I do that passion usually fades, maybe friendship is better.”

Buffy chewed on her bottom lip, contemplating her sister’s words.  There was something valid in what she was saying.  Often times, relationships based on chemistry died abrupt deaths. True, her relationship with Angel hadn’t, but he was different.  Or more appropriately, the chemistry was still there.  It was the relationship that was dead and buried.  Looking at her watch, Buffy swore under her breath.  “I’m late,” she told Darla as she rose from the table, grabbing her purse.  “I’m supposed to meet Willow at the library.  I have to go.”

*****

“Sorry I’m late,” Buffy said sincerely as she pulled up a chair next to Willow.

The redhead smiled easily.  “Don’t worry,” she said, “the books aren’t going anywhere.”

Buffy laughed and relaxed.  For some reason it was always easy to talk to Willow.  “Riley mentioned that you need some more help this weekend,” she said.

Willow frowned suddenly.  “I’m not sure if you should help,” she said.  “We’re going to be planting some fairly large saplings.”

Buffy’s brow knit as she tried to decide what could possibly prevent her from helping.  “Well, “ she said, her feelings mildly hurt, “I guess I don’t want to do anything to hurt the poor trees.”

“Oh no,” Willow said quickly, realizing she unintentionally hurt Buffy’s feelings.  “It’s not the trees I’m worried about.  It’s you.”

“Me?” Buffy asked, thoroughly confused.

Willow blushed and looked around nervously, making sure no one was within earshot.  Cautiously, she said, “Sometimes I can just ... tell ... things by looking at people.”  Buffy’s confusion didn’t lessen one bit.  Willow sighed, searching for the proper way to word it.  “I’m just ... It feels to me like you’re ... “

“Like I’m ... “ Buffy prompted, her confusion evident.

“Pregnant,” Willow said abruptly.

Buffy stared at her friend in disbelief.  No.  No way.  She couldn’t possibly be pregnant. Could she?  Buffy had a sinking feeling as she stared blankly into nothing.  She knew that something was off, but she hadn’t wanted to even consider the possibility.  Oh, this could be bad.  “Oh no,” she said quietly, automatically dropping into the chair next to Willow.

Willow laid a gentle hand on her arm.  ”I didn’t mean to upset you,” she said.  “But I don’t want to risk hurting either or you.”

Buffy nodded, her mouth suddenly dry.

“If there’s anything you need to talk about,” Willow offered.  “I know situations like this can be complicated.”

Buffy stared at the redhead, looking like a deer caught in headlights.

Willow smiled conciliatorily.  “Buffy, I know it’s not Riley’s,” she said quietly.

Buffy nodded and a single tear streamed down her cheek.  No, it definitely was not Riley’s child.  She and Riley hadn’t done anything more intimate than some light kissing.  It was ... Oh gods.  She was pregnant with Angel’s baby.  Buffy was suddenly glad she hadn’t been able to eat brunch or else she would have thrown up right there.

*****

“My love to Mary and Katie,” Angel said to his brother, hanging up the phone.  He loved his nieces dearly, but for some reason, it was almost painful to think about them.  To think about the family he didn’t have.  He toyed idly with the letter opener on his desk.

He missed Buffy.  But there was the little matter about the fact that she wasn’t speaking to him.  He considered sending her flowers, or a card, or even calling her.  But those all gave her the option of her rebuffing him without even hearing what he had to say.

What did he have to say?  Angel frowned.  He gave serious thought to the things she said to him that morning in the bathroom.  Children, stability, a real marriage.  He thought he could honestly give her those things.  He loved her, he knew that much for certain now.  Sure, he was scared at the idea, but who wouldn’t be.  It was a hell of a responsibility.

He let out a heavy sigh.  So that’s what he had to do.  He had to convince Buffy that he was ready for the responsibility, that he was serious.

But how on earth did he do that when she wasn’t even talking to him?

*****

“Are you going to tell him?” Darla asked as she took a seat on the edge of her sister’s bed.

“No,” Buffy said, her voice augmented by the stuffy nose she had from crying all day.  Although she instinctively knew that Willow’s assessment was right, she hadn’t trusted it.  She went out and bought five different home pregnancy tests.  They all came back positive.  She spent the rest of the day crying and had finally given in and called her big sister with the news.

“Buffy, this is his child as well.  I think he deserves to at least be informed,” Darla said with a frown.  “I mean, if you weren’t going to have it, that would be on thing, but judging from how you’ve been acting recently, I assume you’re going to keep it.”

“Yes, I’m keeping the baby.  But I can’t tell him.  I just can’t,” Buffy said vehemently.  Angel didn’t want children.  He would accuse her of trying to trap him.  She couldn’t deal with that.  She wouldn’t.  He could never know.

“How do you think you’re going to have this child and never tell Angel about it?  He’s bound to find out, Buffy,” Darla said sternly.

“No he won’t,” she said.  “I only mentioned children six weeks ago and I haven’t heard a word out of him since.  I don’t think it will be difficult.”

Darla frowned at her sister.  “Famous last words,” she muttered under her breath.

*****

For most of the night, Buffy tossed and turned, her emotional turmoil lending itself to disturbing dreams.  Then, shortly before dawn broke, everything seemed to fall in place.  She sighed, snuggling deeper into his comforting embrace as she fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.

It was well into the morning when Buffy finally woke and she knew even before she opened her eyes that something was very amiss - or very right depending on how you looked at it.  The smell of him was everywhere and the weight of his arms around her was unmistakable.  Slowly, she rolled over onto her back and looked at Angel’s sleeping face on the pillow next to hers.  While she was snuggled deeply under the covers, he was lying on top of them, fully dressed, but wrapped tightly around her nonetheless.

She wanted to weep at the picture he presented.  She wanted to believe for one second that she could wake up to this every morning.  But then reality intruded.  She cursed herself for not having the locks changed.

Slowly, his eyes opened, but he didn’t speak.

“I could call the cops, you know,” she said, though they both knew it was an empty threat.  He shrugged and Buffy frowned.  He probably didn’t care.  Angel had always been prone to rash behavior.  “You need to leave,” she said, moving her gaze to stare blankly at the ceiling.

“And if I don’t want to?” he asked.

She ground her teeth together.  “I don’t want you here, Angel.  Not like this.  Nothing has changed between us.  You can’t keep trading on our old relationship.”

He sighed.  “But it feels right, doesn’t it?” he asked pointedly.

“It feels familiar,” Buffy admitted, sitting up in bed and shrugging off his embrace.  Angel let her go, but it felt like part of his soul was being ripped apart when she moved away from him.  Being together felt so right, so complete and she fought it every inch of the way.  If she could have just accepted his presence, in some way accepting him, it would have gone a long way towards making things right for him.

Buffy stood up and moved away from the bed.  She couldn’t be that close to Angel.  It was too tempting to give in, to accede to all of his terms without thinking.  Despite how appealing that sounded she couldn’t do that.  Not now.  She didn’t simply have herself to worry about, but also the child she was carrying.  “The fact that it feels familiar doesn’t make anything right,” she said.

“Oh, I forgot,” Angel said dryly.  “This is sick.”  The venom in his voice made Buffy turn and look at him.  Apparently her comment had made more of an impact than she had dared contemplate.

She opened her mouth to say something and then snapped it shut again.  “You need to leave,” she said.

“Is Riley coming over?” he asked, rolling onto his back and cradling his arms behind his head.

Buffy shook her head.  “We don’t have plans today,” she said.

“But you are involved,” Angel goaded.

Buffy swallowed harshly.  He was jealous.  Big shock.  Angel had always been possessive, but a relationship built on jealousy was not somewhere she wanted to be, especially with a child in the mix.  Buffy took a deep breath.  She honestly didn’t know what her relationship with Riley would be like after she told him about her pregnancy, but as it stood at the moment, they were still involved.  “Yes,” she said, “I still see Riley.”

“But you don’t see me,” he bit out.

“No,” she admitted.

“What makes Riley so fucking special?” Angel asked acerbically.  “Aside from the fact that he claims to want all the more wholesome things life has to offer?”

“He’s kind,” Buffy said.  “And responsible.”

Angel smiled mirthlessly.  “He’s kind and responsible and I’m sick.  Well, gee, I see why you made the choice you made.”

“Angel ...” she said, wanting desperately to make some overture that would allow them to truly communicate with one another.  Alas, it was not to happen.

“I’m leaving,” he said as he pushed himself up off the bed and strode from the room.

*****
 
 
 
 
 

Angel was more than a little tipsy when he showed up on Darla’s doorstep in the middle of the night.  He was thoroughly tanked.  Despite the life of excess he lead, he wasn’t normally prone to indulging in so much alcohol.  Sure, he drank socially, but never enough to give him more than a slight buzz.  He wove erratically as he made his way to the door.  Pounding loudly on the solid oak door, he had no concept of how much time passed before the door was flung open.

Darla was pissed, that much was evident, but Angel didn’t care.  He grabbed her, his fingers biting into the soft flesh of her upper arm as he pulled her roughly against his body.  She was stunned, so much so that she didn’t react at first as his lips descended over hers.   But soon, the decadent sensuality overwhelmed her, compelling her to open her mouth for him.  She did so, and he invaded immediately, using his tongue to explore the inside of her mouth.

Darla kissed him back with all the passion that fifteen years of pent up yearning could muster.  She had wanted him, dreamed of him for as long as she could remember.  And now he was here, pushing her backwards into the open doorway, kicking the door shut and lowering her to the floor of the foyer.  She didn’t fight him, ripping at his clothes with the same wild abandon he displayed.

Their clothes in disarray they groped and kissed each other madly, mindless of everything.  As Darla fumbled with the clasp of his belt, Angel panted raggedly against the warm flesh of her neck.  “Buffy,” he hissed, thrusting his hips against her.

Darla went still, her fingers falling away bonelessly as she stared blankly at the darkened ceiling.  He panted harshly above her, searching her features for the reason she had stopped.  “What?” he stammered as she crawled out from under him, attempting to right her nightgown and robe, both of which were miraculously in one piece.

She inched back until she was several feet away, her robe pulled tightly around her, covering her from the neck to her toes.  Covered, and somewhat more composed, she looked at him.

“Darla,” he said plaintively.

“You called me Buffy,” she said loudly.

“I-I” he stuttered, finally falling silent.

“You don’t want me,” she said.

“I think I know what I want,” he countered, becoming very agitated.

“You have no idea what you want,” she countered.  “You want Buffy but you can’t have her, so you ended up here at three in the morning looking for a quick fuck with the person who resembles her the most.”

Angel was silent, not bothering to refute her assertion.

“You’re just a lost little boy,” she said.

Sitting up, he glared at her.  “I am getting real fucking sick of people telling me what I am and am not.”

“People?” Darla asked.  “You mean Buffy?  What did she tell you?  That you can’t handle responsibility?”

“Something like that,” Angel said dryly.

Darla shook her head.  “You two are a matched set, I swear.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing,” Darla said, rising to her feet, intending to leave.

“No!” Angel said, “You tell me what you meant.”

Darla stared at the floor for long moments.  She was pissed at Angel and not entirely sure that her sister had the wrong impression of him.  But still, he deserved to know.  “Why don’t you just talk to her?” Darla said quietly.

“Because she won’t speak to me,” Angel replied honestly.

As Darla’s gaze fell on him, she noticed how absolutely miserable he looked.  There was so much more to his relationship with Buffy than either of them was willing to admit.  “Do you love her?” she asked.

“Yes,” Angel said quietly, in a voice full of self loathing.

“Damn it,” Darla muttered under her breath, pressing her eyes closed.

“What?”

She looked at him for a long moment before saying, “Buffy has every right to be worried about how responsible you are.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Angel asked, defensive again.

“She’s pregnant,” Darla said, adding pointedly, “with *your* child.”

Angel was stunned, absolutely silent for several minutes.  “Where is she?” he finally asked.

“Don’t you dare go over there right now,” Darla said, “you’re drunk and you smell.”

Angel shot her a dirty look, but remained silent.

*****
 
 
 
 

END ... for now

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