Order
by indie
sequel to Domestication




AUTHOR'S NOTE:
    When I say that this piece is a work in progress, I am not kidding.  This is by far the roughest WIP I have.  I do not write in a linear fashion, this thing jumps all over the place.  It has notes that I've written to myself about sections.  It's in chunks.  A bit from the beginning, some stuff in the middle and then part of the ending.  There are *huge* gaps in this story, entire sections that need to be created/removed/rewritten.  The continuity is shaky at best at this point and it hasn't been anywhere near a beta.  Spelling, grammar, punctuation and usage problems abound.

That said ... this really is the meat of the story.  Anything beyond this point is really going to be the window dressing to tie it all together neatly.

Reading this could definitely be a challenge.  It's very choppy in parts.  It's written mostly in sections and there are several lines of blank space between each section so you should be able to tell where it jumps around.

Again, consider yourself warned.
 
 

***
 
 
 
 

“Where is she?” Willow demanded, doing her best to hold herself together.

The Council guard turned around quickly, but frowned, appraising her from head to toe.  His lips tightened into a thin line.  Obviously he knew she was a vampire.  He shifted his considerable weight from one foot to the other, chewing agitatedly on a toothpick.  “Don’t you dare take that tone with me,” he spat.

Willow swallowed thickly, forcing her gaze to the ground when all she really wanted to do was rip this mouth breather limb from limb.  Where the hell was Tara?  “Please,” she said quietly, “I’m looking for Tara McKay.  I was told she was brought here.”

“The body is in the morgue.”

She couldn’t have heard right.  She couldn’t.  Slowly, Willow lifted her head, looking at the Council guard without seeing anything, she felt herself stumble.  “Morgue?” she asked dully.

“Demonic bitch.”

Willow slammed into the wall and tasted blood long before she realized what had happened.  Dazed, she looked up at the guard.  He glared down at her, his face full of loathing the likes of which she had rarely seen.  “Get her out of here,” he bellowed at several much younger guards.  They grabbed her, forcing her to her feet.

“No, please,” Willow pled.  “Tara, I have to see Tara.”

The fat guard laughed at her, his breath sour.  “Nasty little dyke got what she had coming,” he seethed, grabbing her chin between his dirty, corpulent fingers.  “A few boys found out what exactly it was she was shacked up with,” he said with a snort.  “Had a little fun with her.”

“Please,” Willow breathed, having forgotten any other word.  She had to see Tara.  She had to see Tara.

The guard sneered and then cocked his head to the side.  “Take her outside,” he ordered.

***

Buffy blinked back tears, looking at the body laying on the cold, stainless steel slab.  “She’s the little witch that healed Angel,” she said in a whisper.

Carefully, Wesley squeezed Buffy’s shoulder.  “There’s nothing we can do for her now.”

Buffy didn’t turn to look at him.  “You said her mate is being held in Council custody.”

“Angel has people working on it,” Wesley assured her quietly.  “She’ll be released shortly.  The charges against her are fabrication and we’ve been looking for a way to get rid of Taft for a long time.”

“I thought ... “  Buffy fell silent, looking at the girl’s ashen skin.  Her fingers came to rest on her neck and she lightly fingered the bandage that covered her still healing wound.  “I thought after everything we did … I thought it would make a difference.”

“Buffy,” Wesley said sharply.  “It did make a difference, I assure you.  If you hadn’t sacrificed what you did, Willow would already be dead.  As it is, Willow will be released.  Taft will be fired.”

“They killed her because she loved a vampire,” Buffy said thickly.

“Yes,” Wesley replied, knowing that lying would do no good.  “The fact that the Council has declared vampires equals does not make it so.  We still have much work ahead of us.”

***

“Are you sure – “

“It’s too late to Turn her,” Lindsey supplied, unable to meet Willow’s gaze as they sat in the back seat of Angel’s car.  “She’s been dead for hours.”

Willow fell silent.  She stared out at the night, at the cars they passed on the busy freeway.  Tears fell from her golden eyes, streaming down her cheeks.  Her emotional turmoil was so profound that she’d been partially vamped out all night, caught between two worlds.  “Did they?”

Lindsey opened his mouth, but then quickly shut it and looked away.  He caught Angel’s gaze in the rear view mirror, silently pleading with his better to take care of the situation.

From the front seat, Angel said, “They raped and beat her.  The coroner said the cause of death was a blow to the head.”

Willow winced, digging her fingernails so deeply into her palms that it drew blood.  The scent of her spilled blood permeated the air and a low rumbling immediately began deep in Angel’s chest.  His demon could smell her pain as acutely as his soul could sense it.  His demon, perversely, wished to comfort her, to offer solace to one of his kindred.  It was his duty.

“She suffered,” Willow said on a breath.

No one disagreed.

Interminable minutes later, they pulled to a stop in front of the Hyperion.  Angel walked around the car and opened Willow’s door.  He didn’t offer her any words of kindness, didn’t touch her in any way.  He turned toward the Hyperion and Willow followed silently.

The room was small, but tidy, much the same as Angel’s room here had been.  “I’ll see to it that your things are brought here,” Angel said.

Willow nodded and he left without another word.

***

It was nearing sunrise when Buffy returned from patrol to find Angel sitting in one of the library couches, his arm flung over his eyes.  She didn’t say anything, merely joined him on the couch, curling against his side.  He reacted immediately, wrapping his arms around her, pulling her close.  He held her as she sobbed, his own cheeks wet as well.

“What we did was a good thing, Buffy,” he said softly.  “A brave thing worth doing.”

She sniffled, burrowing deeper into his embrace.  “It isn’t just Tara, you know,” she said.  “There were four others last week.  Three vampires and another human.  The vampires were killed for being what they are, the human because he dared to rent one of his apartments to a vampire.”

Angel looked down at her, desperately wishing he had words of comfort.  He didn’t.  He had long ago lost the ability to be shocked by the horrors perpetrated by human and vampire alike.  “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” he said, gently stroking her hair.

“I know,” she said feebly.  She pulled back and looked at him.  “I want to go home, Angel.”

He nodded, rising to his feet and pulling her with him.

***
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"Amazing how big of a difference a slight variation on a theme can make," Buffy said, grinning as she crossed her arms over her chest and admired the view.

Angel narrowed his gaze at her.  "What are you talking about?" he asked coyly.

She grinned even wider, slowly pacing around him in a wide circle, her demeanor more than a little predatory.  Angel had walked into the library only moments earlier looking particularly sumptuous.  As usual, he wore black from head to toe.  Black boots, black leather pants and a black silk button up shirt that molded to his chest in an absolutely delicious manner.  The fact that she had seen him in  - and out - of a very similar outfit since the moment she first met him hadn't dulled her appreciation in the slightest.  "Even without the regulations, you wear a lot of black," she said mischievously.

He smiled wickedly.  "I like black," he said evenly.

Buffy winked.  "And it likes you," she replied saucily.

Angel gave her a mock glare and using his preternatural reflexes, reached out before she could react and grabbed her forearm, pulling her hard against his chest.  She could do little more than yelp before his mouth melded to hers, kissing her deeply.  She gave up her feeble faux protest and kissed him back.

Loudly, Giles cleared his throat.  Rather reluctantly, Buffy and Angel broke the kiss and turned their attention to him.  His admonishing expression did little to dull their happiness.  They were well used to his mild censure after six weeks of openly dating.  Grabbing Angel's hand, Buffy led him over to one of the large tables where she directed him into the chair next to hers.

Walking to the table, Giles set down a large box of files.  Both Buffy and Angel frowned.  Giles gave them a withering glare that practically dared them to say something.  Neither of them were that brave.

The box contained applications for asylum in The City from non-humans living in the Wastelands.  There was no shortage of them going around.  They arrived by the score daily and it fell upon their shoulders to review the cases.  Lacking enthusiasm, they each pulled a file from the box and opened it.

Before long, the rest of the Integration Committee arrived.  The Committee was populated by representatives from both the Watchers' Council and The Order.  The Committee's job was to try and create some sort of peace out of the turmoil that raged through The City.  In the meetings that followed the failed execution of the Slayer, DHST regulations were dissolved and all vampires living in The City were given citizenship.

In theory, at least, that is what had happened.  In truth, things were far from smoothed over.  There was a lot of upheaval in the wake of the changes.  Violence, riots and hate crimes perpetrated by both sides of the argument were still prevalent.  Everything from the legality of turning someone into a vampire to whether or not a vampire could sue to regain property lost upon death were up for debate.

Buffy sighed heavily, sinking back in her chair.  She loathed these meetings, but as a Slayer, she was required to attend, as was Faith.  Giles, Holtz and Riley Finn rounded out the Council's representatives.

The interests of The Order were looked after by Lindsey, Fred, Wesley, Willow and Lord Aurelius.  The Order was the vampiric equivalent of The Watchers' Council, but its inner structure was much different.  It was organized according to ancient vampiric law.  It was a pack structure with a rigid hierarchy.  The Order was actually short for The Order of Aurelius, named such because that was the vampiric clan from which its Lord and Master was descended.  The Order's Lord was the oldest, most powerful vampire living within The City.

To vampires, he was Master.  To the Watchers' Council he was Lord Aurelius.  To Buffy he was simply Angel.

Turning her head, Buffy looked at her lover.  He hadn't wanted the leadership of The Order, but Wesley prodded him mercilessly, convincing him that there was no one else fit to lead.  Angel's wisdom and leadership abilities were not the only reason he was the first choice.  Relations between vampires and humans were only as good as the relations between The Watchers' Council and The Order.  Given that Lord Aurelius and the elder Slayer shared a bed, relations were pretty phenomenal.

Clearing his throat loudly, Holtz brought the meeting to order.  "The moratorium on Turning will remain in place indefinitely," he said firmly, wasting no time on pleasantries.

"Michaelson is filing motions with Council offices tonight," Lindsey said with a frown.  With his reinstated citizenship, Lindsey returned to his profession as a lawyer, specializing mostly in groundbreaking vampiric law.  His big case at the moment was David Michaelson, a human fighting for the right to be Turned.

Holtz stifled a growl.  "This is not the time for this," he said angrily.  "We're busy trying to prevent this society from collapsing into utter chaos."

Lindsey tapped his pencil on the table top.  "He doesn't have much time," Lindsey said seriously.  David Michaelson was dying of cancer.  He and his former Pet - now wife - Jessica were fighting for the right to have him Turned as a vampire before he expired of natural causes.

"So now every human who is afraid of death is going to be reborn as a vampire?" Holtz spat.

Lindsey sighed, slumping back in his chair.  "Not every one.  Most humans still view vampires as some sort of vermin, but there will be some, yes."

Holtz shook his head.  "It is a matter of balance," he said seriously.  "How many humans does it take to support one vampire?  I know how many it took before, but now that we're no longer starving them, I need realistic figures."

Lindsey looked expectantly at Fred.  Quickly, she leafed through some of her papers.  "It depends," she said.

"On?" Holtz prompted.

"Supernatural ability for the most part," Fred replied.  "The more supernatural affinity a person has, the more sustenance a vampire can glean from them."

"Numbers," Holtz said impatiently, "I need numbers."

Fred shrugged.  "For a human with no supernatural ability ... four of them to support a healthy vampire.  With Watchers the ratio is about one to one.  Most people fall somewhere between the two.  The majority of humans have some supernatural ability."

Holtz took a deep breath and looked around the table.  "So, worst case scenario," he said, "The City can support a vampiric population that is a quarter of the human numbers?"

"In theory,"  Willow concurred.  "But like she said, there are exceptions.  Vampires can feed from livestock or mixing the Watcher donations in with general donations can make it go further."

Holtz shook his head.  "No more Turning and no more immigrants from the Wastelands until we get an accurate headcount on the vampire, human and demon populations in The City.  That is final."

*****

Lindsey took a drag off of his cigarette, staring up into the night sky.  "David Michaelson is going to die before this gets resolved," he said morosely.  He, Wesley, Fred, Riley, Buffy, Angel and Faith were sitting in Holtz's enormous backyard, enjoying the early summer evening, trying to unwind after the trying meeting.

"You can't save everyone, Lindsey," Fred said sadly.  She crossed her arms over her chest, leaning back against the tree she was sharing with Wesley.  They were all spread out in a loose circle, Fred and Wesley against the tree, Lindsey lying on the grass, Riley sat on an old stump, and Faith stood staring out into the night sky.  Angel sat on the ground with Buffy between his legs, leaning back against his chest.

Lindsey shook his head.  "I know," he said, "but it's just so damn frustrating.  When David dies, Jessica will go with him.  She's a strong voice within The Order.  It is really going to hurt us to lose her."

"So what can we do to speed things up?" Riley asked.  He was slowly warming to the concept of vampires, mostly out of guilt.  Despite his personal reservations, when Holtz asked him to serve on the Committee a month earlier, he accepted the challenge gladly. He was committed to finding a speedy, amenable resolution.  And, of course, it gave him an excuse to stay close to Buffy.

"Not much unless you can find a way to feed vampires something other than blood," Lindsey said in jest.

Riley frowned.  "What about Slayers?" he asked.

Everyone went oddly silent.

"What do you mean 'what about Slayers'?" Fred asked nervously.  Her eyes darted to her Master, who was clearly unhappy.  Angel's arms tightened on Buffy.

"According to you, the greater supernatural punch the donor packs, the more vamps can be fed, right?  Well surely Buffy and Faith could support a few vamps without much effort," Riley explained.

A low, malevolent growl threaded through the warm night air, raising the hairs on the humans' necks.  Lindsey and Fred instinctively dropped their eyes to the ground, cowering.  Riley's vision shot to Angel's and even in the dim lighting he could see the yellow tinged irises.

"That's not an option," Fred whispered quickly.

"I cannot speak for Faith, but Buffy doesn't donate," Angel said, his words slightly lisped around the mouthful of fangs.

Riley swallowed harshly, but refused to be intimidated into silence.  He and Angel managed to work together, but there was no love lost between the two.  "You're off rations," Riley said boldly, "that means Buffy has to be donating to you.  Why are you the only one who should get that honor?"

Angel made a move to get up, but Buffy pressed back against him, keeping him in place.  She had no desire to see the two of them get into another fight.  Angel wanted to go after the soldier, but he was going to have to push Buffy out of the way to do it.  There was no way he was doing that.  Eventually, he relented, relaxing again.

"I don't donate, Riley, not the way you do," Buffy explained once she was certain Angel would behave.

A frown creased Riley's brow.  "What do you mean?"

Buffy took a deep breath and released it.  No doubt everyone else knew what she was talking about, but Riley was being intentionally obtuse.  "When you donate, you go to the clinic and a tech sticks a needle in your arm.  I don't do that," she said.

Riley swallowed harshly.  "What do you do?" he asked.  Riley was already fairly certain of her answer, but he wanted to hear her say it.  He didn't want Buffy to have any illusions.  Her lover was nothing more than an overgrown leech.

With a flick of her wrist, Buffy untied the scarf that had become an integral part of her wardrobe, baring her throat.  Given that her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, everyone had an unrestricted view of her neck.  Angel's original bite had scarred, but it was almost impossible to tell at the moment given that he had re-opened the wound only the night before.  Riley looked at the bite and then turned away in disgust.

Faith took a deep breath, looking at her sister Slayer.  "He ... bites you?" she gasped.

"Yes," Buffy answered bluntly, "he does."

"Angel feeds from Buffy because she is his mate," Fred explained to the shocked Slayer.  "Vampires do not share their mates, under any circumstances.  It is not done.  Feeding is a very ... personal event."  Fred's emphasis on "personal" left little question as to what exactly was usually going on when the Slayer got bit.

Turning his head, Riley looked at Buffy again.  She regarded him placidly, her silence speaking volumes to her agreement with Fred's assertions.  And she didn't seem the least bit embarrassed or uncomfortable with the state of affairs.  Riley shook his head in frustration.  He just didn't get it.  Apparently, neither did Faith.

*****

Pressing a gentle kiss to Angel's jaw, Buffy silently bade him wait.  He did so, somewhat reluctantly.  Wesley turned his head to appreciate the view of The City from Holtz's back yard as she approached.

"Does she know?" Buffy asked quietly.

Arching a speculative eyebrow, Wesley said, "Beg pardon?"

Buffy smiled gently.  "Fred," she said.  "Does she know that you did all of this for her?"

Even in the dim lighting, Buffy could see him blush.  He opened his mouth to deny it and then apparently thought better.  He closed his mouth and stared at the ground for several long moments.  "No," he said seriously.  "She does not know."

"Do you think maybe you should tell her?" Buffy asked.  It had taken her a while to figure out Wesley's motives, but seeing him around Fred, it had become apparent.  He was enthralled with the lovely young vampire.

Wesley shook his head sharply.  "Absolutely not," he said.

Buffy frowned.  "How will you ever find out if you don't risk anything?" she asked.

"Fred is a very gracious, kind hearted soul," Wesley explained.  "If she had any inclination as to my true motives, she would feel obligated to return them whether or not she truly shared the sentiment.  I may hold great affection for her, but I do have my pride.  I do not wish to be pitied."

"Wes," Buffy said gently, "she doesn't pity you, she just doesn't know.  How can you expect her to reciprocate if she has no idea?"

Wesley shrugged.  "I do not expect anything," he said seriously.  "My actions were my own and done for my own reasons.  They were not a means to an end."

Buffy sighed deeply and said, "Okay."  She couldn't force Wesley to admit his feelings to Fred and she wouldn't betray his trust, no matter how much she felt it would be in his best interest.

*****

Buffy hadn't bothered retying the scarf around her neck after the meeting and it was driving Angel crazy.  Languidly, she wandered into the kitchen of the new house she now shared with her mate.  He followed, leaning back against the cabinets as he watched her predatorily.  She puttered around, pouring herself a glass of juice, very aware of the attention he was paying her and doing her best to ignore him.  She took a drink, knowing that his vision was fixated on her throat as she swallowed.  Deliberately, she set the glass down next to the fridge and looked at him.  "Enjoying the view?" she asked.

His only answer was a wicked smile.  Buffy watched something pass through his eyes and all of the hair on the back of her neck stood up.  His eyes flickered golden for just a moment.  She shivered, biting down on her bottom lip as she watched him, her eyes bright with anticipation.  One of the perks of being involved with a mortal enemy was that you couldn't stop your body from responding.  Not that she wanted to stop.

He stalked towards her, watching her as hunter to prey.  Buffy's body screamed for her to respond, her adrenaline spiked and yet she held herself still.  It was a hell of a rush.  He walked around her until he stood behind her, trapping her between his body and the refrigerator.  Silently, he dropped into a crouch.

She trembled as his hands hovered just above her ankles, almost touching but not quite.  It was like she could feel tiny sparks of electricity flowing between his body and hers.  She was hot and cold at the same time, her body primed for fight or flight.  She giggled.  They were quickly adding another "f" word to the short list of options when tensions ran high.

With wicked precision, he moved his hands upwards, almost skimming along her skin, but not quite.  It was exquisite torture.  She shook with the need to do something, anything, but she fought it.  It was all part of the game.  How much could she take before it was too much?  His hands traveled over the bare expanse of her legs, left vulnerable by her scandalously short miniskirt.  As he encountered clothing, he switched to her arms, the feather light press of his hands causing the tiny hairs on her skin to stand at attention.  He stood behind her now, looming but not touching.  She could feel him with her Slayer sharp senses, but it was maddening.  To almost touch him, but not quite, to not be able to see or hear him.  To not feel any heat from his body.

A fine sweat broke out on her skin and her mouth fell open in a pant.  Her trembling was more pronounced, almost a shaking as she waited for him to do something, anything.

She screamed as his bit down on the nape of her exposed neck, his hands pulling her violently back against him.  He wasn't in game face and his blunt teeth didn't break the skin, but it was exhilarating none the less.  She was pinned to his hard body, his erection pressing insistently into the small of her back.  She fought against him, trying to get free, to turn around so she could touch him, but he held her still.  Months ago, he wouldn't have been able to do it, but with regular infusions of her powerful blood, he was an even match for her physically.

"Angel," she whined plaintively, still panting.

She could feel him chuckle, the soft puffs of cool air against her nape.  He released his bite, pressing a long, hard kiss to the skin before spinning her around in his embrace.  Her arm instantly wound around his neck, pulling his head down for a kiss as he pressed her backwards into the refrigerator.  She used the appliance to lever herself upwards, wrapping her legs around his waist.  He groaned, thrusting against her as his tongue swept in her mouth, tangling with her own.  She tightened her grip around his waist and he was lost.  Twisting, he pulled her against him and took a sidestep to the small breakfast table.  One sweep of his hands sent the box of case files crashing to the floor.

Neither of them gave a damn.

*****

Hours later, they were curled together in bed.  She smiled goofily at him.  "I love you," she said.  He tightened his grip on her waist, pulling her close.  His response was a kiss so long and deep it staggered her senses.  She pulled back, gasping for breath and quickly burst out in laughter.

"What?" he asked warily.

"I'm just happy," she said giddily.  "I don't think I'm ever going to get used to this."

"Used to what?"

"You.  Me.  Us.  I had no idea life could be this good."

"Well, get used to it," he said.  "Because you're stuck with me."  He nuzzled against her neck, his cool tongue laving the brand on her neck.  "That's what this means," he said, pressing a kiss to the scar.  "Forever."

*****

The moon was still full in the sky when Angel ventured into the kitchen.  Running on autopilot, he retrieved the glass Buffy had used earlier and filled it from the bottled water dispenser humming quietly in the corner.  He leaned back against the countertop, taking a deep drink.

He couldn't remember ever feeling such a sense of contentment, of bone deep happiness in all of his long life.  For the first time ever, human or otherwise, he was at peace.  He had found a home, a mate.  Love.  He smiled at the thought, unable to stop himself.  Yes, life was good.

He set the now empty glass on the countertop and moved to return to Buffy and their warm bed when something caught his eye.  He stood stock still in the middle of the kitchen as a fine trembling came over him.  Very slowly, he turned his head back.

The files he and Buffy had knocked to the floor with their earlier amorous actions remained as they had fallen.  One of the files lay open.  Angel looked at the picture stapled inside the file.

Colin?

Very slowly, he advanced.  It couldn't be.  It wasn't possible.  His brother died almost three centuries ago.  Before the demonic plagues.  There was no way.  Colin hadn't risen as a vampire after the attack.  He hadn't.  Angel would have known.

With shaking hands, he lifted the file, studying the picture.  He knew the face.  Every curve, every dip and hollow was etched indelibly in his psyche.  Colin.  His older brother, killed while still in his teens.  Their father's pride and joy.

Frantically, Angel leafed through to the beginning of the file.  As he read the words, a sense of stark unreality settled over him.  It was an application for asylum filed by a vampire named Darla.  Angel swallowed harshly.  Darla had been his lover for a very long time, but they had broken it off almost two decades ago.

Darla had filed the application on behalf of herself ... and her seventeen year old human son, Connor.

The file fell from his boneless fingers to land in a heap on the floor.  He didn't know how or why, but he did know who.  His son.  His human son.

"Oh gods," Angel whispered.

*****

"Bloody hell," Giles said as he pulled open the door, trying to put on his glasses while still holding his robe shut.  Didn't these people have any decency?  It was nearly three o'clock in the morning.

"Rupert."

Giles stared open-mouthed at his wife.  She was older, fine lines etched the corners of her eyes, but she was still radiant.  "J-j-joyce," he managed to stutter, a look of absolutely bewilderment on his face.  "I thought ... I thought you were ... dead."

She nodded slowly, guilt etched on her features.  "I know, Rupert, and I'm truly sorry, but I couldn't stay.  I couldn't let it happen.  Not again."

"Couldn't let what happen again, Joyce?  What are you talking about?"

Joyce turned and beckoned to someone standing around the corner.  Slowly, a teenage girl with long, brown hair came into view.  She smiled hesitantly at him.  Giles jaw fell open.

"They took Buffy, Rupert.  I couldn't let them have Dawn as well."

***
[this passage sucks a lot.]

“This damn room still stinks.”

Wesley, blessed - or cursed depending on your viewpoint - with mere human senses, looked at Angel.  Angel ignored Wesley's gaze, his eyes locked on the stage they made their way there.  Behind Angel, Lindsey nodded in agreement, his nose wrinkling in displeasure.  As usual, Willow was non-responsive.

Wesley shrugged it off.  Apparently there were benefits to being human.  He threaded through the rows, following the others closely as they ascended the stage.  They all took their assigned seats, waiting for the auditorium to quiet.

The auditorium was packed to capacity with human and demon alike, all desperate for information.  A few short months ago, the audience would have been a scant few DHSTs , but all that had changed now.  Vampires were no longer DHSTs, no longer a slave caste whose only purpose was to serve as beasts of burden to the human population.  The ultimate irony now was that because of that fact, no one was being granted entry into the City.  There was too much turmoil, too much that had to be sorted out with the existing population before more immigrants were allowed.

The ceremony that would have once granted more DHSTs admittance into the City had been supplanted by a quasi state of the union address, given monthly by a joint board of Council and Order members.  The purpose of the address was to allay the fears that ran rampant through the population, human and vampire alike.  So far their impact was negligible.  Society within the City was in more upheaval than ever.

Angel settled into his chair, a scowl on his normally unreadable features.  His eyes were narrowed against the harsh, fluorescent lights, but Wesley could still see that they were bloodshot and irritated.

“Late night?” Wesley asked.

“No night,” Angel qualified, his voice overly gruff from lack of sleep.  “I’ve been up for the last two days dealing with bureaucratic red tape.”

His statement wasn’t precisely true.  There had been a good deal of tedium, but it was Buffy, not bureaucracy, who had occupied the wee hours of his morning.  Not that Angel would have traded those moments for sleep.

Easily guessing Angel’s thoughts, Wesley commented, “Faith is here, but I don’t see Buffy.”

“The Council decided it was a waste of resources to have both Slayers attend,” Angel explained.  Buffy should have been at home sleeping, but Riley paged her just before dawn to help roust some demons.  Angel kept that irritating bit of information to himself.

Wesley nodded.  He could tell there was more, but Angel had been under an unbelievable amount of stress lately.  The process of integrating human and vampiric society into a cohesive whole was proving arduous, if not out right impossible.  Sighing, Wesley glanced around the room.   “Apparently Council Leader Holtz is on his own today as well,” he said.  “I don't see Mr. Giles anywhere.”

Angel looked around the room, but after searching, he too came to the conclusion that Giles was missing.  While not alarming, it was decidedly odd.  He made a mental note to check up on the Watcher later.

Lindsey grunted, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.  He hadn’t slept in almost two days and was more than a little irritable.  “You know, at least when we were animals they had the decency to hold these proceedings at night.”

“Yes, but we’re people now,” Angel said sardonically.  “And people function during the daylight hours.”

Wesley frowned again.  “Vampires are completely capable of adopting a diurnal lifestyle.”

“We are well aware of that,” Angel explained dryly, “but there is also a damn good reason most vampires are nocturnal.  I doubt any of the Council members had to run from the back of a van to the auditorium’s front doors covered in a blanket.  It doesn’t exactly set a particularly impressive tone for The Order.”

Wesley nodded in concession.  He knew there was a concerted effort from within the Council to subtly remind the vampires of their place in human society.  Wesley just hoped it continued to be understated.

The auditorium quieted instantly as Holtz approached the podium.  Turning, Holtz nodded to his fellow Council members and to the representatives from The Order.  They all nodded in return.

“You are here today,“ Holtz began.

***

The attention of every being in the room was fixated on the dynamic Head of the Watcher’s Council. That was, every being save one.  Spike's attention was fixated not on the aging human standing at the podium, but on the ragtag group of vampires recognized as representatives of The Order.

Spike knew that the dark scowling vampire would most definitely be a problem.  Though the ponce degraded himself by deigning to appear at this ridiculous function, Lord Aurelius exuded power.  Angel tried to appear human, but it wasn’t convincing – not if you knew how to look.  The bitch at his side would not be taken lightly either.  She was by far the most animalistic of the group, the most thoroughly vampiric of the vampires.  Spike knew instinctively that she followed the Old Ways.  To Lord Aurelius’ left sat a human.  That was an insult.  A human had no business seated among the most powerful vampires in The City.  Yet there it was.  The little Happy Meal with legs relaxed like he didn’t have a care in the world.  Strange indeed.  Though not as strange as the final vampire on the panel, a thoroughly human specimen if Spike had ever seen one.  No doubt a victim of the plagues, but Spike would be willing to bet the soft creature had never even been outside the walls of Guardian City.

The City was indeed a mixture of all walks of life and unlife, a melding of cultures and beings – and it was ripe for the picking.

***

[clean up Willow in this piece, give her a personality]

They walked down the narrow hallway, nearly side by side.  There were no windows obviously, since it was early afternoon and the sun was still high in the sky.  The building had once housed Caritas, a sanctuary for DHSTs.  It was now the home of The Order.  It had a long way to go, but they were slowly making progress.  So far it looked like little more than the former factory building it was.  But that, as so many other things, would soon change.

Willow lagged back half a pace, just over Lord Aurelius' right shoulder, silent as always.  He pushed open the door to his office and they both came to an abrupt stop.

“Hey, Angel,” Xander said, looking up at the new arrivals, “man, I’m strapped until payday.”  He held up the bag of blood and grinned sheepishly.

Willow stepped around Angel, staring incredulously at the insolent whelp.  Her posture was rigid, her jaw set as she glared at him distastefully.

Xander shrugged nervously as he eyed Willow.  She had never done anything to him but Xander couldn’t relax around her, regardless of the fact that she was Angel’s constant companion.  He always had the sensation of barely contained darkness when she was near.  “I, uh, didn’t think it would be a problem,” he said, shifting his weight back and forth on the balls of his feet as he addressed Angel.  “I know you don’t use your rations anymore.”

Angel held Xander's gaze for several long moments and then sighed.  He just wanted this day to end.   “It’s fine, Xander,” he said with a dismissive wave.  “But in the future, I would appreciate you asking.”

A big grin split Xander’s face.  “No problemo, boss man,” he said.  He wasted no time gathering up the bags and scurrying out of the office.  He pointedly avoided meeting Willow’s still hard gaze.

When Xander was gone, Angel shut the door.  He walked over to his desk and sat down heavily.  He frowned at the small refrigerator situated against the wall and extended a leg, toeing shut the door that Xander had left ajar.  Leaning back in the chair, he threaded his fingers together over his chest and took a deep breath.  Slowly, he swiveled the chair to face Willow where she still stood in the middle of the room.  Their eyes locked and he easily read the contempt in her gaze before she dutifully lowered her eyes to the floor.

“You think I should have punished him,” Angel said.  It was not a question.

“I think you are Lord and Master,” she replied evasively.

Angel made a small frustrated noise and sat forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his desk as he watched Willow.  “And what would a proper Lord and Master do?” he demanded harshly.

“It is not for me to speculate on how proper your actions are or are not,” she returned neutrally.

Angel laughed and something inside of Willow silently rallied.  His laugh was not a warm sound.  It was not cuddly and approachable.  It did not belong to the Slayer’s lapdog.  It was a cold sound that promised pain and blood and domination.  It was the sound of a true Master.

“But that just isn’t true, Willow,” he said, his words sharp enough to cut glass.  “You are continually speculating on the propriety of my actions.  You continually judge your Lord and Master and find me lacking.”

Willow allowed the smallest grin to curl one edge of her lip.  “I do not know what my Master means,” she said flippantly.

Her head smacked against the bare concrete wall with an audible crack and she tasted blood.  She hadn’t even seen him move.  He stood over her, his hand now curled into a fist though he had backhanded, not punched, her.  He was breathing hard, his eyes yellowed even though the rest of his face was human.

A feral grin trickled over her features, “Yes, Master,” she hissed in undisguised pleasure, leaning forward and pressing her forehead to the bare concrete floor at his feet.

Angel looked at her face and felt something twist inside himself.  He shook his head quickly to clear it and stepped back.  When he looked at her again, his eyes were their usual deep brown.  His gaze wandered over her body and his expression was contrite.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I didn't mean ...”

He extended a hand to her and Willow’s grin died a quick death.  She eyed the proffered hand with disgust.  “I do not require assistance,” she said.

Angel went back to his desk as Willow rose without assistance, brushing off the long, tight, black skirt she wore and straightening the severely tailored jacket.  In moments her flowing red hair was once again secured in a knot at the nape of her neck.  Angel fidgeted in his chair, trying to look busy as she made her way to his desk, her stiletto heeled boots clicking loudly on the floor.

As she took a seat, he met her gaze again.  He had the most unpleasant sensation that if he were physically capable of blushing, he would being doing so.  “Again,” he said quietly, “I'm sorry.“

“You did what your place requires,” she said in precisely clipped tones.

Angel shook his head, obviously shunning the idea.  “I had no right-“

“You had every right,” she said baldly.

Their gazes locked for several long moments before Angel looked away.  Something was happening, something he did not understand.  Something he didn’t want to understand.  He could feel the pull in his blood, the pull to dominate, to control.  There was too much on his mind to deal with this at the moment.  As leader of The Order, he had a million and one things to contend with – not to mention Buffy.  Or the file he found last night.

“Master?” Willow asked, watching him quizzically.

Angel straightened in his chair.  “I need you to look into something,” he said.  She nodded dutifully and he chose not to investigate the bone deep sense of satisfaction her actions gave him.  He handed her the file folder.  “A vampire, Darla, applied for asylum.  She has a human boy, Connor, with her.  Find out everything you can about them and about their situation.”

“Of course, my Lord,” she replied, bowing her head.

Willow stayed as she was and Angel watched her, taking in every line of her submissive posture, the scent of the her blood so recently spilled by his hand.  He felt his eyes tinge yellow again and shook his head, fighting back the change.  “Go,” he barked, wishing Willow – and the uncomfortable sensations she wrought – out of his presence.

“There is but one small issue for which I require clarification,” she said, keeping her eyes lowered as she used the overly formal language Angel's rank required.

“What?” he demanded.

“To go amongst vampires from the Wastelands, I feel it would be best to present a united front.  I would not wish them to have any doubts that The Order is Law.”

Sinking deeper into his chair, Angel narrowed his gaze.  “The Order is Law,” he bit out.

“Forgive me, my Lord,” she said, “but may I speak freely?”

Though he had serious doubts that he wanted to hear her unrestrained opinions, Angel tersely replied, “Speak.”

Willow lifted her head, her expression somber.  “You underestimate the importance of, if you will excuse my pun, order within The Order, my Lord,” she said brashly.

A growl rumbled in Angel’s throat.  “Watch yourself, girl,” he rasped.

Willow couldn’t completely suppress the smile or the tingle of anticipation that shivered through her lithe frame.  “You've never lived within a true pack structure,” she continued boldly.

“No,” he confirmed.

“I have,” Willow said, her gaze locking with his.  “These soft, domesticated creatures born and bred here within The City have no idea what true vampiric society entails.  That boy, Xander, is nothing more than a human with pointy teeth.”

Angel shook his head dismissively.  “He knows no differently.”

“He should learn,” Willow said, her voice cold and hard.

Once again, Angel felt the truth in her words resonate uncomfortably within himself.  “What does this have to do with running that damn errand?” he demanded.

“Everything, my Lord,” she replied.  “For nearly three centuries, you lived in the Wastelands.  You chose to avoid vampiric society, but you are no more domesticated than me.  Whether you admit it to yourself or not, you have the instincts required to lead.  Trust me when I tell you that these new immigrants from the Wastelands understand pack structure.  If we present them with one, they will be easily absorbed into The Order.  If we don't, they will undermine everything we have fought for.”

Slowly, Angel nodded.  Once again, he felt the truth in her words.  They had fought too long and too hard to have all of their efforts negated by an inability to control their own kind.  So much of their bid for equality was based on the understanding that vampires would police their own, that they didn’t need human law or brutality to keep them in line.  If vampires from the Wastelands were admitted without some sort of structure waiting to inform them of their place, their roles and acceptable behavior, it would be mass chaos.

“Your theory is that to be equal to humanity, we must become more, not less, divergent from them?” he asked skeptically.

“We are divergent,” Willow replied.  “To think otherwise is to delude one’s self.  The humans' rules of conduct should no more apply to us than ours to them.  It does both species a great disservice to assume we are interchangeable.”

“And you do not believe that The Order is a true pack structure,” he said.

“I believe,” she said carefully, “that The Order may yet become a thing of true beauty.”
 

***
 

[Angel and Wes need to discuss the dire necessity for a regimented vampiric society.  Need to talk about how things are falling apart now … how do you get people to give rations when they no longer get their free labor … how do you suddenly come up with an economy that can sustain paying a former slave class … hate crimes -- tie that back to Tara.  Need a lot more exploration of Angel's fears about his life with Buffy.]
 

***

The house was dark and still when Buffy entered.  She shut the front door and leaned back against it, listening to the quiet hum of the air conditioner, feeling the cool air prickle over her heated skin.  Regardless of the blazing sun outside, the living room was swathed in deep shadows that made the Slayer feel at home.

Home.  The sensation seemed odd to Buffy even now.

Buffy’s gaze flitted around the room, absorbing the landscape of her life with Angel.  For years she had lived in that damned pink apartment, feeling horribly out of place every day.  It shocked her when Angel suggested they start somewhere new, find a home together.  But as soon as she made the decision, a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

Together, she and Angel found the comfortable house in a quiet neighborhood on Revello Drive.  It was a lot of space for just the two of them, but Buffy was trying to convince Angel to use one of the spare bedrooms as an art studio.  The basement was their training room and the rest of the house was simply home.  She also liked that it was only a short distance from Giles’ condo.  The change made a lot of people happy.  Faith was enjoying the fact that Buffy handed her the keys to the old apartment, though the younger Slayer groused about all the redecorating.

An irritating buzzing in her pocket pulled Buffy from ruminations on her new life.  With an unhappy growl, she pulled the pager out and glared at the display. Giles again.  Buffy spent the better part of the day playing phone tag with him.  This was his fourth page.  His messages kept asserting that it was definitely not an emergency but he needed to speak with her.

While Buffy had no intention of ignoring her father or being disrespectful, Giles was going to have to wait a little longer.  Contrary to her usual nocturnal schedule, Buffy had been on duty at dawn helping Riley and a battalion of Council soldiers clean out a nest of fire-demons in a cave by the beach.  It hadn’t been the most pleasant of experiences and she needed a shower and a nap before reporting for duty.

***

“Surely not,” Holtz scoffed into the telephone, but he frowned, listening to the chatter on the other side.  “Fine, fine,” he said, “I’ll look into it.  Good day.”  Rising from his desk, Holtz ventured into the library where Giles was sitting at one of the long tables, staring at some ancient book.

“You’re the history buff, Rupert,” Holtz said, “have you ever heard of anything as absurd as a male Slayer?”

Giles didn’t respond.

“Rupert?”

“Huh? Wha-“ he stuttered, focusing on his superior.  “Oh, yes, Daniel, I’m sorry, what did you want?”

“Are you all right?” Holtz asked skeptically.

“Fine, fine.  Tip top,” Giles assured him.

Holtz frowned, unconvinced, but let it go.  “I asked you if you had ever heard of anything as preposterous as a male Slayer.”

Giles took off his glasses, polishing them absently.  “A male Slayer,” he considered, replacing his glasses.  “No, I can’t say that I have.  Though it is an interesting concept.  There is nothing in the original rituals that would necessarily preclude a male from being Called.  It’s merely that, to my knowledge at least, it has never happened.”

“There was a Watcher by the name of DaMerra in the fifteenth century that wrote some very interesting theories on the hypothetical male Slayer.  He posited that there would be a great deal of inherent instability.  DaMerra seemed convinced that Slayers are female because the combination of natural male aggression and elevated testosterone levels at puberty would cause a male Slayer to be quite unmanageable.”

Holtz mulled over his friend’s words.  “So it is possible.”

“Possible,” Giles conceded, “but not probable.”

Sighing, Holtz said, “Well, probable or not, John Merrick just called and he assures me that he’s found a male Slayer.”

“Now?” Giles asked incredulously.  “But that’s impossible.  We already have two Slayers.”

“Indeed,” Holtz agreed.  “One girl in all the world and all that rot.  However, Merrick is firm.  He believes that he has the first documented case of a male Slayer and he’s quite excited about it.”

“Are you certain it is a male?” Giles asked, searching for some way to explain the anomaly.  “There are any number of biological transmutations that could give the impression of a male Slayer.  Anything from a female with an overabundance of testosterone to a chromosomal abnormality known as Klinefelter's Syndrome that results in an intersex state.”

Holtz shrugged.  “That is a possibility,” he conceded. “I didn’t ask Merrick how exactly he verified the gender.  But regardless, he’s most anxious for me to go over and have a look at ... uh ... the boy.”

“He’s here in The City?”

“In the quarantine compounds to be exact,” Holtz explained.  “Apparently the boy arrived from the Wastelands with the most recent wave of refugees.  There was some uproar.  A couple of hoodlums were looking for a little fun.  The boy beat them half to death.  Merrick culled him from the crowd and is currently keeping him isolated.”

“Merrick took him out of the general population?”

“I assume he didn’t know what else to do,” Holtz said dryly.  He sighed.  “I suppose I better go have a look at the boy.  Merrick’s an old dog.  He won’t leave me alone until this is done.”

***

Riley Finn walked down the hallway, his mind a million miles away.  There was still so much to do, so much change that needed to occur.  He didn't feel that this was the best time to start this particular venture, but as always, Daniel Holtz's word was law.

He stepped into the small room.  "Ma'am," he said, "if you'll follow me."  The doctor wasn't what he had expected.  Though, honestly, Riley wasn't certain what he had been expecting.  She was exotic looking, with huge dark eyes and a fluid movement that reminded him of a dance.  She followed wordlessly, shadowing him down the hall.
 

***

Buffy was still toweling off as she walked into the bedroom.  The room was on the small side, but comfortable with a bed just the right size for the two of them.  There was a larger master bedroom in the house, but given its windows with the eastern exposure, they had chosen the smaller room as theirs.  Angel was awake with the lamp on, reading some horribly boring piece of important literature.  Buffy lounged against the doorjamb watching him as he stared at the pages intently, oblivious to her perusal.

Buffy wasn’t exactly sure where Angel found the bed or the cream colored silk sheets, but she loved them.  And him.  Angel and the bed together were almost enough to make her combust on the spot.

He was sinfully handsome, his alabaster skin complemented beautifully by the creamy texture and color of the sheets.  At the moment the sheets pooled around his lean hips, molding to his long legs.  She knew that he wasn’t wearing anything under the silk and the mere thought made her mouth dry.  Her gaze slowly trickled over his body, soaking in every tiny detail - the luminous glow of his skin, the way the muscles seemed to be chiseled out of marble.  As her eyes met his, she swallowed audibly.

“What are you doing?” he asked, his brow furrowing slightly.

“Having an epiphany,” she replied.

Slowly, his mouth quirked into a lopsided grin.  “About?”

“I so understand why people kept Pets,” she said, cocking an eyebrow saucily.

His lips pursed together but his eyes sparkled with mischief.  “Want me to get out the collar and wrist bindings and do a little role playing?” he offered.

Buffy blushed crimson from the tips of her bare toes to the roots of her still wet hair.  “Angel,” she hissed, scandalized, as she walked over to the bed and smacked him playfully on the shoulder.

With a growl, he grabbed her, pulling her over his body and pinning her on her back in the middle of the bed.  His growl turned into a chuckle as he pressed hard kisses against her abdomen while maintaining eye contact.  “You don’t like that idea?” he asked, prodding because he knew it embarrassed her.

He ran his hand up the inside of her leg, slipping it beneath the towel in which she was still wrapped.  Her flesh was warmed from her shower, but underneath it he could feel her internal temperature rising with an entirely different heat.  They had been lovers for blissful weeks, falling asleep every dawn in each other’s arms, but there was still so much he longed to share with her.  Little by little he broadened her definitions of what was sexy.  Angel didn’t regret their fevered hours at Nihil, but had he been given infinite time, he would not have rushed so many moments.  He liked to savor Buffy’s discoveries, delighting in her newfound boldness and sensuality.  He loved that a few words still held the power to make her blush.

“You don’t like the idea of having me at your beck and call?  Of coming home after a hard day at work and having me here to do nothing but pamper you?”  His hands were both at work as he pulled the towel loose, baring her body to his molestations.  She made a helpless noise as he levered himself up, latching on to one of her pebbled nipples as his hand found the humid juncture of her thighs.

He touched her reverently, his tongue and lips teasing her nipple with infinite care.  Today, more than ever, he needed to reassure himself that she was his.  “You don’t like that idea?” he teased lightly, efficiently masking his inner turmoil.

She moved restlessly, parting her thighs as he insinuated himself between them.  “Angel,” she panted plaintively, tugging on his shoulders, trying to pull him up for a kiss.

He laughed again and caught both of her wrists in his hands, pinning them to the bed above her head.  "Or maybe I get to be in charge today," he mused wickedly, staring down into her passion drugged features.

***

"She's asleep, Giles," Angel said quietly.  "She was up at dawn patrolling with Riley, she only got home a while ago.  It'll probably just be a catnap, I'll have her call you when she wakes up."

After giving Giles his regards, Angel hung up the phone and quietly padded back to the bedroom.  He leaned against the doorjamb, watching Buffy sleep.  She was nude, twined in the light covers.  She was undoubtedly the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  Angel felt the gaping void in the pit of his stomach.

He was torn between two worlds.  The vampiric world needed him for survival and the human world – Buffy’s world - he needed for survival.  And the future of The City hinged on the fate of both those worlds.  It made his head ache just to consider the situation.  Willow was absolutely right.  The Order, in its current incarnation, could not survive.  There was a lot of lip service to the old ways, but very little was actually put into use.  That would have to change.  He would have to become the Lord and Master that could rule The City's vampires.

But how did he do that without sacrificing his relationship with Buffy?  She was human and so much of his relationship with her was human.  Yes, there were parts that were Slayer to vampire, soul to soul, but for the majority of the time, he treated her as a human lover would treat her.  He was the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the demon masquerading as a man, lying to everyone including himself.  How could he become a Master vampire without sabotaging the part of him that belonged to her?

Maybe he would be able to do both.  But even as he thought it, he knew it wasn't true.  When his demon lashed out at Willow, it was almost like it overtook him.  His responses were based on instinct, not on emotion or logic or love.

But he couldn’t lose control.  He couldn’t lose Buffy.  He had to find a way to make it all work.

***

“What's this for?” Connor asked impatiently, watching Holtz carefully as he threaded the needle into his vein and filled the vial.

“To provide conclusive answers to several questions the Council has before they can begin to evaluate this case.”

“Like what?”

Holtz removed the needle and quickly pressed a cotton ball to the wound, folding Connor’s arm back on itself for pressure.  “For one, that you are a male, and – “

“Wait a second,” Connor interrupted, hopping off the table.  “What do you mean to verify that I'm male?”

Frowning wryly, Holtz shrugged.  “I’ll admit that I don’t expect to find anything anomalous about your bloodwork,” he said.  Though the boy was in desperate need of a haircut and rather on the waifish side, he did appear to be completely male.  “As far as I can tell you seem to be your garden variety difficult, teenage, human boy, albeit far stronger than usual.”

Connor narrowed his eyes but seemed satisfied that his masculinity had been defended, though the manner was somewhat round about.  “Then what?”

“Then I don’t know,” Holtz said, looking at Merrick. “We already have two Slayers.  It’s possible that Buffy’s incident precipitated this incongruity.”

“Buffy?”

“The elder of the two Slayers,” Holtz explained.  “The younger is Faith.  Buffy ... collapsed several months ago.  She was unresponsive to all attempts to revive her.  She finally came out of it on her own, but when she did, another Slayer had been Called.  This is the only time in the history of the Council that there have ever been concurrent Slayers.”

Connor shook his head.  “I’ve always been like this,” he explained.  “Nothing happened to me two months ago.”

Holtz frowned.  “Curious indeed,” he said.  “Given that you are an orphan and ignorant as to your past, it will limit the investigative routes we can pursue, but we shall endeavor nonetheless.”  He turned to Merrick and nodded.  “I’ll let you know as soon as I have the results.  No doubt this matter will have to be brought before the Council at large, possibly even The City’s entire governing board.”

“I expected as much,” Merrick said, reaching out to shake Holtz’s hand.
 

***

Pushing open the door, Buffy strode into Giles' condo, unconcerned with pleasantries like a doorbell.  He was in the kitchen making tea and she poked her head through the opening.  "What's the sitch?" she chirped.

Giles nearly dropped the kettle.  He spun around, his hand clutched over his heart.  "Don't you people knock!" he snapped.

Buffy snorted, waving dismissively.  "Hello?  Biological connection here.  I don't have to knock.  Besides, Angel said you called and you've been beeping me all day.  What's up?"

Carefully Giles set the kettle down, his expression guarded.  He looked to the stairs, verifying they were empty.  "I hadn't anticipated you actually stopping by," he said.

Shrugging Buffy answered, "I was getting ready to patrol, besides I only live a few blocks from you now.  Just figured it would be easier to stop by, get some face time."

Giles walked out of the kitchen and went to the front door.  Pulling it open, he motioned Buffy outside.

Her brow furrowed, but she followed.  Once outside, she looked at him warily.  "Dad, what's goin' on?"

Giles heart lodged in his throat for a moment.  He coughed to clear it, but there was still a film of tears in his eyes.  His little girl had just called him "Dad".

"Earth to Giles," Buffy said, when he remained silent.  What was up with him today?

"I, uh," he stuttered, still far too emotional for his sensibilities.  He took a deep breath, concentrating on the task at hand.  It sobered him instantly.  He looked back at the closed door of his condo and then at his daughter.  Scratch that, his eldest daughter.  "I have something to tell you," he said quietly.

She nodded at him like he was a lunatic.  "I gather that, Agent 86.  Want me to break out the Cone of Silence?"

"This is serious, Buffy," he chided.

She shrugged.  "Giles, you're twitching.  What's the big?"

"Your mother is alive," he blurted out.

Buffy stared at him blankly for almost a minute.  Then she laughed punchily.  "I thought you said my mother is alive," she chuckled.

His expression was stone sober.  "I did," he clarified.  "Joyce is alive.  She returned last night.  With your sister, Dawn."

Buffy opened her mouth and then snapped it shut again.  Tears welled in her eyes.  "My mother is alive?" she asked in a tiny voice.

Giles nodded, stepping closer to his daughter.  He wasn't good with physical contact, but he reached out to pat her on the shoulder.  She threw herself into his embrace.  After the momentary shock passed, Giles hugged her tightly.  Buffy clung to him, a lifetime of fears assailing her.  What if her mother didn't want her?  What if Joyce was disappointed?  Where had she been?  And how could she have a sister?

"Buffy," Giles said softly, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.

"What if -  What if she doesn't want me?" Buffy whispered.

Giles hugged her tighter.  "Buffy," he said softly, "you can't think like that.  Your mother loves you very much."

"Then why did she leave?"

Giles rocked her gently.  "She didn’t leave.  The Council took you," he explained.  "As far as we knew, neither of us would ever see you again.  It nearly destroyed Joyce.  The pain of losing you eclipsed everything else.  Apparently when Joyce discovered she was pregnant with a second child, she vowed to raise the baby outside The City rather than risk losing Dawn the way she lost you."

Buffy pulled back and looked into her father's eyes.  He smiled gently.  "They're inside," he said.  "Would you like to meet them?"

Buffy looked at the door warily.  Her mouth felt like it was full of sawdust.  She swallowed thickly.

Giles held out his hand and Buffy took it, allowing him to lead her into the condo.  Apparently alerted by their voices earlier, Joyce and Dawn were standing in the living room.  Giles nodded to his long estranged wife.  Their relationship was precarious at best.  The marriage had been strained when she left.  Fifteen intervening years, a fabricated death and one hidden child hadn't improved the situation.  But it wouldn't do for Buffy to worry about that, so Giles swallowed back his own reservations.  "Buffy," he said, "this is Joyce.  Your mother.  The young lady with her is Dawn, your sister."

"Oh, baby," Joyce sobbed, rushing forward to envelope Buffy in a hug.

Buffy's instincts told her to run, but she couldn't move.  When Joyce hugged her, it was like time stopped.  Her mind told her that she should break away, that some strange woman was touching her.  But when Joyce held her she smelled … like Mommy.  Buffy sobbed, clutching Joyce tightly.

It was long minutes before they pulled apart, Joyce cupping her daughter's cheeks in her hands.  "You are so beautiful," she said, with tears standing in her eyes.

Someone cleared their throat loudly and Buffy turned to look at her sister.  The young woman’s expression was sullen, but even that couldn't disguise the fact that she was lovely.  Dawn was at that strange stage between child and woman with long honey brown locks and huge blue eyes.  She was taller, Buffy noted, feeling oddly disconcerted that her baby sister was bigger than she was.

Joyce held out her hand and Dawn stepped forward, arms crossed over her chest.  "Buffy, this is Dawn," Joyce said.

Buffy looked at her sister nervously.  It was easy to see that Dawn wasn't thrilled to be doing any of this.  It was also easy to see that she had no desire to share their mother.  "Hi," Buffy said.

Dawn nodded in greeting.

***

[Xander is attacked by an alpha male vamp.  Angel punishes the male very harshly because Xander, though soft, is part of his inner sanctum and not to be pushed around.]

***

“I hope you ...  I mean, I hope it wasn’t too presumptuous of me,” Wesley stammered, his cheeks stained with a blush.

“Oh no,” Fred said happily, “it’s lovely.”  She held up the dress.  It was a deep blue sundress in the softest material she had ever felt.  It had to have cost Wesley a lot of money.  “But you shouldn’t have.”

“I saw you looking at it in the store last week,” he admitted.

She smiled, ducking her head.  She was half giddy that Wesley had purchased something so beautiful for her, and half ashamed that her own job doing data entry for a claims service wouldn’t allow her to buy it herself.  “Thank you,” she said quietly.

“You are quite welcome,” he assured her.

***

"Dad, you really didn't have to patrol with me," Buffy said an hour later.  "I would understand if you wanted to catch up."  Giles nodded vaguely and Buffy stopped walking.  "What?" she asked.

Shaking his head, Giles said, "Nothing.  It's just that … I honestly don't know what is going to happen from here, Buffy."

Buffy shrugged.  "But Mom's back."

"She is," Giles agreed with more than a hint of sadness.  "But my marriage to Joyce was on life support fifteen years ago.  The fact that she left, that she concealed my own child from me … it complicates matters."

Buffy stared at her father, his words slowly filtering through her brain.  The revelation hit her.  Her father had no intention of reconciling with her mother.  Buffy's fairytale life came crashing down around her ears in an instant.  She felt like a fool for having dared to dream.  "Of course," she said awkwardly, "I can see how that would be an issue."

Giles stepped closer.  "Buffy, none of the problems between Joyce and myself have anything to do with you, " he assured her.

Buffy nodded, using a lifetime of experience to mask her emotions.  “I know,” she lied.

***

“He was removed from general population,” Willow said, handing Angel the file folder.

He took the folder, tucking it safely away in his bottom desk drawer.  “Removed?”

Willow nodded sharply.  “There was a physical confrontation.”

Unbidden, fear tugged at Angel’s insides.  “Is he okay?” he asked tightly.

Willow smiled.  “He’s your son,” she said.  “The fight ended with his assailants nursing broken bones while he didn’t have a scratch.  He’s not exactly ... human.”

Angel’s brow furrowed and emotion overwhelmed him.  Part of him was still in denial about the boy’s parentage, but at the same time he felt undeniably protective.  Willow’s assertion that Connor was not human made his blood run cold.  The file had said he was human.  He had to be human.  Was Connor a monster like him, a victim of his father’s curse?  “What is he then, exactly?” Angel asked tightly.

“No one knows,” she said flippantly, “but rumor is he’s a Slayer.”

Whatever Angel was expecting, that was not it.  He stared blankly at Willow.  “Slayers aren’t male,” he said.

“Tell that to your boy.  Because he is your boy, I mean.  I used my diplomatic passes to get in to see him.  He reeks of you.”

A strange pride filled Angel.  He had a son – a human son.  “You talked to him?”

“Talked?” she mused.  “Not exactly.  He wasn’t extremely forthcoming, especially when he realized I’m a vampire.  The damn Council doesn’t even know who your boy is at the moment.  He apparently got rid of his tags and they haven’t managed to link their newfound male Slayer back to Darla’s missing son, at least not since you have the only existing copy of his file.  Someone might catch the paper trail eventually, but I wouldn’t count on it.  The Council is so overwhelmed right now they don’t know which direction the sun rises.  He’s a John Doe and I think he likes it that way.  He’s running from something.  Maybe it’s Mommy dearest, maybe it’s not.”

“Darla lied,” Angel said quietly.

“About some things,” Willow replied.  “I spoke with her briefly as well.  He’s as much hers as he is yours.  However, I don’t think that Connor is necessarily aware of his family tree.  If he is, it’s safe to say he and Darla aren’t on good terms.  But it doesn’t feel like your normal teenage hate-the-parents angst.  I’d bet he wasn’t raised by her.”

“Then where was he raised?” Angel demanded.

Willow’s vision fell to the ground.  “I don’t know, my lord,” she replied evenly.  “Given that he isn’t a vampire, my abilities to investigate the matter are limited by the Council.  Taking an undue interest in him at this point may not be the wisest course of action.  It would raise uncomfortable questions.”  She lifted her eyes, looking at him rather predatorily.

Angel turned, staring blankly at the bare, concrete wall.  Willow, no doubt, knew he had yet to inform Buffy about the newest developments.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out that he didn’t know how to broach the subject and that he was not looking forward to it.

“Do you think your mate will understand?” Willow asked coyly.

“My mate is none of your business,” Angel growled.

***

Angel could sense Buffy was near, but it took him a while to locate her sitting forlornly on the back step, staring out at the small yard.  Mutely, he took a seat next to her, gently enveloping her in his embrace as she leaned into him.  He hugged her tightly, pressing a hard kiss to the top of her head as she sniffled.  “Want to tell me what’s wrong?” he asked quietly.

“My mom is alive,” she responded in a whisper.

Angel went perfectly still, staring down at Buffy.  Taking a deep breath, he unwrapped her from his body and made her meet his gaze.  “Your mother is alive?” he repeated, his brow furrowed with curiosity.

Nodding, Buffy said, “Yeah, that’s why Giles was in such a huff to see me today.  My mom showed up at his place last night – with my sister.”

Angel’s lips pursed into a thin line and he nodded.  “Are you okay with this?” he asked.

She shrugged pitifully, her eyes welling with tears.  “I don’t know,” she answered with a shaky whisper.

He groaned her name, pulling her close as she began sobbing again.  Though her voice was muffled against his chest and thick with tears, he managed to discern that her turmoil was due not to her mother’s return but to the rather harsh realization that her mother’s return did not necessarily herald the beginnings of one big happy family.  Angel smiled wryly as he held her.  He knew from speaking with Giles that the quiet Watcher’s relationship with his wife had been dead long before she disappeared.  Of course, Angel also knew that a child’s dreams were painful when broken – even if the child was no longer a little girl.

***

“There you are, little bird,” she said in a singsong voice, twirling her way up the bleachers.

Darla turned, glaring at the mad vampiress.  It was too late to ditch her.  “What do you want, Drusilla?” she snapped, her eyes darting around the large common area.  Vampire refugees from the Wastelands were being housed on a former high school campus.  It had been badly damaged in an earthquake, but apparently was in good enough shape for vampires.  The human refugees were housed in old army barracks which were in significantly better shape.

Taking a seat at Darla’s side, Drusilla giggled madly.  She quickly clasped her hand over her mouth, her eyes darting around the gym as if afraid someone would hear her.  “Oooooh,” she crooned, bouncing in her seat as she clapped her hands.  “Your little boy scurried away,” she said, wriggling her fingers wildly.  “He ran straight to Them.”

“What did you expect?” Darla said dryly, scooting away.  “He’s human.  A Slayer.  You didn’t think he was going to walk up to the guards and proclaim that his parents are vampires, did you?”  She crossed her arms over her chest, staring down at her fellow vampires without actually seeing any of them.  Most of them were Plague victims, pitiful hybrid creatures, vampiric in body, but human in spirit.  She wasn’t.  She hadn’t caught her undead nature from a case of the sniffles.  She was Turned – blood, sex, violence.  She was born a vampire in the old tradition.  She was a vicious, soulless killer.

And she didn’t care about that despicable human child borne of her undead flesh.

She didn’t.

Turning, Darla found Drusilla watching her very carefully.  The mad vampiress smiled insanely.  She sniffed Darla.  “You smell like a soul,” she whispered conspiratorially.

Darla hissed in her face before leaping to her feet and stomping away.

***

Angel stared down at Buffy, watching her sleep in his embrace.  It had taken her hours to fall asleep, but finally her breaths were even and deep.  Joyce was back.  Angel sighed deeply.  This was going to take a great deal of adjustment for all of them.  He had no illusions about just how much strain this new development could put on his relationship with Buffy.

And then there was Buffy’s father.  Giles was just beginning to develop a real bond with Buffy.  Angel had no idea how Joyce’s presence might affect the father-daughter dynamic.  Or the father-daughter-daughter dynamic.  Part of Angel wanted to laugh.  Maybe he and Giles could go out and commiserate over drinks about the pitfalls of having teenage children appear on your doorstep.

Angel’s momentary amusement faded as his thoughts turned back to his son.  He needed to tell Buffy about Connor, but now was not the time.  She had too much on her plate between Joyce and Dawn without also saddling her with his teenage son and former lover.

Buffy shifted in her sleep, curling deeper into him and he tightened his grip.  This would all work out.  It had to.

***

Spike walked into the bar, his eyes scanning all of the occupants.  He took an empty table with a view of the door and nodded to the waitress.  She’d had a hard life and a harder unlife.  Spike doubted she had been that old when she was Turned, but her skin looked like leather, deep creases on her forehead and at the corners of her eyes.  Her hair was too blonde and she reeked of cigarettes and cheap beer.  The phrase rode hard and put away wet came to mind.

She sauntered up to his table, a slightly lecherous smile playing on her lips as she looked him over.  He growled, deep in his throat and she stopped short.  She was a vampire, no doubt born and bred in The City, which meant she didn’t know shit about being a vampire.  But there was no messing with instincts.  Her eyes dropped to the floor.  He was her elder and she had displeased him.  Her tongue came out to wet her lips.  “What can I get you?” she asked quietly.

“Guinness,” he said.

She nodded and quickly turned to fetch his order.  Spike doubted she really understood what had just happened.  The vampires in The City were so green, so unused to living as true vampires, that they might as well have been humans.  But their demons understood him.  Their demons would respond even when their minds couldn’t fathom the reasoning.

He did not smile as she set the beer in front of him and quickly backed away.  He waved his hand dismissively and she retreated behind the bar.  Rolling his eyes, Spike turned his attention to the real reason he was here.  He watched Lindsey nurse his whiskey, lost in his own thoughts.

***

It was late afternoon when Angel woke alone.  He turned and found a letter on the pillow.   As he read it, a smile crossed his face.

A~
Didn’t want to wake you.  G paged.  Panties in a wad.  Had to run.  Call me later.
xoxo,
B

It was so damn domestic it made his heart hurt.  He didn’t deserve this.  He didn’t deserve Buffy.  Of course, it wouldn’t keep him from doing everything in his power to keep her.

***

”Get out!” Buffy exclaimed, scandalized.  “A boy Slayer?  Are you sure this isn’t some macho guy thing ‘cause I’ve had lots of guys try and pull that on me and in a fight they fold faster than French government.”

Giles sighed wearily, looking at his daughter.  “I assure you it is not a ‘guy thing’,” he said dryly.  “Genetic workups as well as rigorous physical testing seem to verify that Connor is indeed a male Slayer.”

“Wicked,” Faith said with a grin, rubbing her hands together.  “So we get to be the three musketeers now or somethin’?”

Holtz rose from his seat to pace around the library.  “We’ve been afforded an incredible boon,” he said seriously.  “Three Slayers in one city.  That is unheard of.  However, I don’t feel it is wise to get ahead of ourselves.  Connor is a male Slayer, but he is not one of our Slayers.  He was not raised by the Council or within The City.”

Buffy held up her hand.  “Hello?  Raised by the Council.  Executed by the Council.  Tending to think the whole Council raising thing is overrated.”

Holtz frowned, but Giles went to stand closer to his daughter.  It undoubtedly spoke to her healing wounds if she could be so flippant about her brush with death, but it still bothered him deeply.

“Point taken,” Holtz conceded.  “However, allied with the Council or not, we simply do not have enough experience with this young man to know whether or not he is stable.  I think it may be prudent to keep him in quarantine a while longer.”

“Where he’s surrounded by a bunch of people that couldn’t hope to take him in a fight rather than sending him here with us, where either Faith or I would be more than a match and the two of us together could undoubtedly take him?” Buffy asked, smiling.

“Well, when you put it that way,” Giles said.

***

“Well, well,” Spike said blandly, “isn’t this just downright cozy?”  He glanced over the half-dozen armed Council soldiers with no more concern than he would afford a group of surly children.

“Insolent beast,” the Watcher swore.

Spike exhaled a cloud of smoke and smiled coldly, propping his booted feet up on an empty chair.  The meeting room left something to be desired.  Located in the basement of one of The City’s downtown skyscrapers, it had no windows, no carpet and no paint.  It was a big concrete box, the only door made of heavy steel.  There were several chairs strewn about the space, but Spike was the only one sitting.  “You went to all the trouble to get me here, Roger, seems the least you could do is offer a bloke a pint.”

“This is not a social call.”

Spike smirked up at the man who was agitatedly pacing around the room.  “Course not,” he rejoined coolly, “this is a Watcher making a deal with the devil to betray his own kind.”

Roger Wyndham-Pryce’s features went harshly cold.  “It is Holtz and his army of bleeding heart morons who have betrayed humanity,” he swore.

“Along with the help of your son,” Spike offered with a knowing smile.

“I have no son,” the Watcher countered with icy finality.

“Let’s cut to the chase, shall we, mate,” Spike said, growing weary of the theatrics.  “You went to all the trouble of sneaking me and Dru, that bitch Darla and her pathetic little bastard into your precious City.  Why?”

“Why so you could do that at which you excel, of course,” Wyndham-Pryce replied, “remind the people of Guardian City that vampires are animals.”

Spike held his tongue, surveying the Watcher carefully.  “In the mood for some anarchy?”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“I hear you have a nice little human,” Darla taunted.  “Does she keep you warm at night?”

Angel’s expression was hard.  “What do you want, Darla?” he asked coldly.

“I wanted to see my mate,” she countered.  “I wanted to see what had become of you.”

Angel snorted.  “I was not your mate,” he replied.  “We fucked.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Don’t try and spin it into some love story.”

Her features twisted into a snarl.  “I made you,” she spat.

“The plague made me,” he clarified, “you just helped me hate myself."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Buffy walked into the library and slumped down into the couch with a stack of files in her lap.  Her head was swimming and she hoped that the routine of reviewing applications would block things out for a while.  She flipped open the first file with a sigh and started to read.

Several minutes passed before she heard the first muffled noise.  She looked around the library, which she had thought was empty.  “Is someone there?” she yelled.

There was a giggle and a smack and Faith strode out of the stacks, tugging at the hem of her shirt, obviously trying to look calm and collected – and failing miserably.  Buffy stared at her, brow furrowed.  Several moments later, Connor, holding a book - upside down -  sauntered into the main library as well.

“Oh, gawds,” Buffy sighed, rolling her eyes.

“B, it’s not what it looks like,” Faith said firmly.

“Really?” Buffy asked sardonically.  “Because it looks like a little Slayer on Slayer love.”

Faith blushed furiously and Connor just smiled.  Faith turned around and punched him in the shoulder.  Hard.

“Ow, dammit,” Connor muttered, rubbing his shoulder as Faith walked off down the hall.
 
 
 
 
 

“Got it?” he rasped.

Darla nodded, cowering, face down on the desk both unwilling and unable to meet his gaze.

Angel withdrew from her body and took several steps back, tucking himself back in his pants.  Numbly, he surveyed her quivering legs, her disheveled clothes.  Though the demon that animated his flesh reveled in this violence, he – the man – did not.  He was finished with Darla long ago, she held no fascination for him.  But she was a loose cannon and Willow was right, she had to be reined in before she destroyed them all.  Only absolute domination would keep Darla in check and the most efficient way to do that was through actions like this.  Still, it didn’t mean he didn’t loathe himself for it.

Disgusted, he turned –

and found Buffy standing in the doorway.

Her complexion was pasty white as she stared at him, a surfeit of emotions playing over her features.  Her face twisted as she looked at him, tears glittering in her eyes.  “Was I not good enough?” she choked.

His entire world froze. This could not be happening.  It couldn’t.  “Buffy,” he said, stepping forward and extending a hand.

She jumped backwards, avoiding his touch and nearly hissed at him.  “Don’t touch me!” she spat.

She stared at him, shaking her head before she turned and ran down the hallway.  Angel followed her pleading, “Buffy, please, you have to understand – “

She did not slow.  She bounded up the concrete stairs and burst through the door and out into the brilliant sunlight.  Angel came to a skittering halt, barely managing to avoid being burned as he stared at Buffy’s quickly retreating form.

“Oh gods,” he whispered, “what have I done?”

***

Shaking, Buffy fell to her knees, vomiting up the meager contents of her stomach.  Slowly, she pushed herself back to her feet and managed to stumble over to a nearby park bench.  She sat down, curling in on herself as she rocked compulsively.  Violent, raw sobs tore from her chest and she trembled all over.  What happened?  What had she done to make Angel go to another woman?  She thought things were fine – better than fine, she thought they were great.  How perfectly stupid of her.  While she was busy playing house, Angel was obviously finding extracurricular company.

She had never imagined feeling so betrayed.  It was like her heart had been ripped out and she was left to die a slow lingering death.  Angel was her heart, her center, her mate.  He was her protector and her lover.  For him to do something like this – it made her doubt her entire life.

Hours later, Giles didn’t say a word as he opened the door and found Buffy on the other side, looking completely bewildered.  She was pale and gaunt as if she had aged a decade since he last saw her that morning.  Quickly, he ushered her inside and sat her on the couch.  He wrapped her in a blanket and placed a cup of tea in her cold hands.

Crouching in front of her, he gently touched her face.  “Buffy,” he said.  “Are you all right?”

Her gaze lighted on him and she slowly shook her head.  “I’m a very long way from all right,” she replied in a tiny voice.

“Please, Buffy, tell me what’s wrong,” he pled, terrified at the myriad possible ways she might have been hurt.

She opened her mouth and then snapped it shut.  Anguish washed over her features and tears streamed from her eyes.  She opened her mouth again.  “Angel ... “ she began before trailing off.  “He, uh, ...  There was, uh ... “

Giles brow furrowed.  “Is Angel all right?” he asked.

Buffy looked at her father seriously, her expression going utterly cold.  “As far as I could tell, he was doing just fine,” she seethed bitterly.  “This afternoon I caught him fucking some vampire bitch.”

Giles eyes went wide.  “Oh dear,” he managed to say.

She smiled cruelly.  “Not exactly my thoughts.”

***

Giles’ condo was dark when Angel approached, but he had looked every other possible place for Buffy.  She was nowhere to be found.  No one had seen her.  He pounded on the door and in short order, it was yanked open by Giles.  Angel opened his mouth to speak when Giles pulled back and belted him as hard as possible, sending him sprawling back into the courtyard.  Dazed, Angel looked up at the usually reserved Watcher.

“I cannot begin to imagine what went through your head,” Giles spat, “but know this.  You are not welcome here.  There is absolutely no excuse for the pain you have caused my daughter and if you have the nerve to try and come here again, I swear to God I will stake you myself.”

Angel watched dully as Giles slammed the door shut.  He let his head fall back, staring blindly up at the stars.  At least he knew where Buffy was now.  It was also a fairly sure bet that he would not be welcome at Holtz’s house either.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"Women," he clarified.

Buffy's expression was stricken.  "Oh," she said thickly, "silly me."

He shook his head wearily.  "It's a role, Buffy," he said, "a job.  It's what Masters do.  It's what I have to do to hold this all together."

She nodded, scowling at him caustically.  "And so you were going to mention this when?"

His gaze dropped to the floor.  "I didn’t mean for you to find out that way," he said.  "I never intended to - "

"To hurt me?" she bit out, finishing his thought.  "Funny that, because when my lover fucks other women, it hurts me."

"I love you," he swore vehemently.

"Yeah, I know," she said flippantly.  "You love me so much.  And this was nothing more than a job, but for some reason, you never felt the need to mention any of this to me.  You just went to work, fucked your whores and then came home to our bed."

"Buffy - "

"Our bed, Angel!" she raged, her face turning red with the sheer force of her anger.

He fell silent, staring at the gentle, caring woman he had fallen in love with - the same woman he had turned into this scarred, wounded creature, shaking with fury.  He did this.  By having the gall to think that he could be human, that he was worthy of loving her, of being the recipient of her love, he precipitated this entire fiasco.  "I'll go," he said quietly.

"Good," she spat, "you are not welcome here."

He looked at her sadly and nodded, hanging his head as he left the only true home he had ever known.

***

"B, yo, it's wicked hot out there to be lightin' a fire."

Buffy didn't turn to face her sister Slayer as she continued to feed item after item to the hungry flames.  In a rare moment of understanding, Faith sat down in front of the fireplace next to Buffy and watched as she tossed in ticket stubs, letters, a few books, a pressed flower.  The glinting light caught her eye and Buffy tore at the silver ring on her finger.  She would have thrown it into the fire too had Faith not stopped her.

"You may not want it," Faith said defensively, clutching the ring to her chest, "but the rest of us gotta make a living.  I can pawn this bad boy for a little cash."

Regardless of the fact that she had intended to destroy the ring, it bothered her to see Faith holding it.  But then Buffy thought about why she was getting rid of it in the first place, of the fact that Angel may very well have come from another woman's bed before he gave it to her and she turned away in disgust.  "Fine," she said, "take it."

Faith took off the plain silver necklace she always wore and strung the Claddagh through it securely before clasping it shut again.  Buffy was having a meltdown now and she might regret it once her ex-meat did his requisite groveling.

They sat together in an awkward silence before Faith finally broke down, "So, I'm layin' odds that you talked to Angel today."

Buffy snorted, still staring blindly into the flames.

"I'm also gonna go out on a limb and say that it didn't go well."

"He informed me that he didn't just fuck one woman, he fucked women," Buffy ground out.  "Direct quote."

Faith whistled between her teeth.  "I gotta admit I always thought he was mostly just pretty meat but I never took him for bein' that dense."

"I can't believe I was so stupid," Buffy said, her voice thick with loathing.

Faith let out a sharp laugh.  "Welcome to the club, girlfriend," she said, clapping Buffy on the back.  "Let's see, I had Ronnie, deadbeat. Steve, klepto. Kenny ... drummer. Eventually, I just had to face up to my destiny as a loser magnet. Now it's strictly get some, get gone. You can't trust guys."

Turning, Buffy looked at her sister Slayer and nodded.  "I used to think that you could trust some of them," she said.  "Guess I know better now.  Live and learn."

Faith smiled broadly.  "Live and learn," she repeated.  Rising to her feet, she reached down and offered Buffy a hand up.  Once they were both face to face again, Faith said, "Wanna go have some fun?"

“Doing what?”

Faith gave her a ‘duh’ look.  “Slaying.”

“Slaying isn’t fun, Faith, it’s a job.”

Faith shrugged, clearly of a different opinion.  “Hey, Slaying's what we were built for. If you're not enjoying it, you're doing something wrong.”

***

Faith looked around at the ash blowing in the wind.  Ten on two.  They should have lost, but they didn’t.  Buffy was still breathing hard, flushed from the fight.

“Tell me you didn’t get off on this,” Faith said wickedly.

Buffy flipped the stake in her hand, grinning wryly.  “It didn’t suck,” she admitted.

***

“Rupert,” Holtz said dryly, “do you have a moment.”

Giles nodded and followed his long time friend into his office, shutting the door behind himself.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Willow smiled widely, baring a lot of fang and Wesley stopped, staring at her warily.  "Angel," he said, fighting to keep his voice even.

Angel turned, facing the man who had been his most trusted advisor.  His vision flicked to Willow and then back to Wesley.  "You need to leave, Wes," he said flatly.

Wesley laughed uneasily.  "But this concerns Fred," he pointed out.

Angel's expression was unreadable.  "Go home, Wesley."

"I can't, I -"

Wesley hadn't even sensed Willow move until Angel was slamming her into the wall, preventing her from ripping out Wesley’s throat.  Angel threw Willow inside the room and turned abruptly on Wesley.  "I … understand," Angel said, fighting back his demon.  "You and Fred have a commitment, but that commitment does not extend to her role within the Order."

"But, Angel," Wesley said incredulously, "I've been a part of the Order from the beginning.  I was the one who founded Caritas.  I was the one who gave DHSTs sanctuary.  I was - "

"You are a human," Angel clarified around fangs, "and regardless of your former involvement, no credentials can substitute for being a vampire.  Fred will be dealt with in our way in our time.  You have no say.  This is Order business."

"If you harm her," Wesley swore.

Angel shrugged.  "There are traitors among us," he said dispassionately.  "We will find out who they are and we will deal with them.  If Fred is guilty, she will be punished.  I do only what is required of me."

"As do I," Wesley ground out, his chest heaving.

"If that’s what has to happen, so be it," Angel said, turning on his heel and entering the chamber.  As soon as he pushed through the doors, two beefy vamps pulled them shut and stepped in front of them, their arms crossed over their chests.  Wesley stared at them blankly for a moment before finally turning and heading home.

***
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“This is my cousin, Robin Wood,” Gunn said.

Despite her foul mood, Buffy smiled, looking at the two handsome cousins.  “Gunn, Wood,” she said, “your family have a thing with names?”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

***

“You look like shit.”

Angel lifted his red rimmed eyes to meet his mate’s gaze.  Standing just inside the ancient elevator, she wasn’t looking much better, bags under her eyes, bruises visible on her skin.  Of course, it was never a good idea to tell a woman she was looking less than stellar, so he held his tongue.

Buffy walked into the room, keeping a safe distance from his seated form.  He did look terrible, so pale his eyes looked black.  She could almost feel the weight of the world crushing down on him.  She swallowed thickly, turning her head to gaze around the apartment.  It was a strange space, windowless and depressing.  It felt like a dungeon.  It felt like Nihil Prison.  Her heart clenched at the memory.

Fixing her eyesight on the bare brick wall, she snarled, “Are we going to get this over with?”

He didn’t take the bait.  “Is that what you want?” he asked, his voice gratingly neutral.

The muscles in her jaw stood out as she clenched her teeth.  “Spike is a serious threat, right?” she demanded tightly.  “He has a real shot at destroying everything we’ve built.”

“He wouldn’t be a good leader,” Angel replied, “but yes, in general terms, he could muster enough support to take over the Order.”

“And what would the Order become?” she asked.  “Under him, what would happen?”

“War,” Angel said wearily.  “He’s riding the fence until he gets enough power, but once he has it, all out war.  There is still plenty of resentment and hostility about our treatment.  It won’t take much to turn the Order into a sadistic vengeance crusade.  Spike won't stop until everything in his path is dust.”

Buffy sighed, rubbing her temples.  “The City wouldn’t survive,” she said.  “We’ve come so far, given DHSTs so many rights and privileges. The new Council soldiers aren’t regularly trained to combat vampires, especially now that they’re stronger."

She released a tight breath, finally turning to look at Angel.  "You know that the Council has contingency plans for something like that.  They'd taint blood supplies, attack nests during the day.  Humans are physically weaker, but the Council ...”  She swallowed thickly, “They'd make sure the DHST body count is as high as the human.  It would end us all.”

“Our only option is to not allow him to succeed,” Angel said with finality.

Buffy turned, giving him a sardonic smile.  “Which means we have to keep you in power, Master,” she said, the final word filled with vitriol.

He lowered his gaze to the floor.  “I love you, Buffy,” he said quietly.  “You are my mate, my other half, my heart."  He took a deep, unnecessary breath.  "But I can’t change what I am.  I didn’t want to be Master.  I know I should have been honest with you from the start about everything, but I wasn’t.  I lied to myself.  And to you.  I can’t take that back."  He looked up, meeting her gaze.  "I’m sorry for the pain I caused, but I do love you.”

Her gaze was hard.  “And do you remember how very much you love me when you’re fucking your supplicant bitches?” she demanded.

He winced and then snorted in self-disgust.  “I know you don’t understand,” he said, “but it’s part of what I am.  I can walk like a man, Buffy, but I’m not one.  I do what is required of my position as Master.  I dominate my subjects through the Old Ways.  Hell, I even like it sometimes.  But do they really matter to me?  Do these supplicant bitches touch my heart?  No.  Only you.  Only you ever.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at him through tears.  She had been avoiding him for weeks, avoiding this situation for weeks.  She naively thought she could slip back into the old life that existed before him.  How wrong she had been.  So many parts of her daily life reminded her of him.  She found it impossible to sleep in their bed.  Some of his clothes still hung in the closet and damn him, she could still smell him everywhere.  She missed him with a pain that eclipsed emotion and swelled through her body as an acute physical ache.

And doing what needed to be done tonight was only going to make matters worse.

“Why can’t you go back on rations like the rest of the animals?” she asked coldly.

Angel sighed, accepting her anger.  “So we’re animals now?” he mused.  “I seem to remember you arguing before the Council that we were equals.”

She swallowed thickly, but her expression remained defiant.

He shook his head.  “I can go back on rations,” he conceded blandly.  “They’ll keep me alive, but I’ll weaken physically to a severe degree.  It won’t go unnoticed.  Neither will the unmistakable conclusions that could be drawn from me once again requesting rations.  Before long it would be public knowledge that the Master and the Slayer are on less than optimal terms and consequently, that the Order and the Council are no longer allied as strongly as they once were.  It will be a prime opportunity for our enemies to strike.”

She glared at him, the hatred glittering in her eyes almost masking the bone deep pain.  “So if all you need is a Slayer’s blood, then why not Faith?” she asked.

“Do you want me to feed from Faith?” he countered quietly.

Buffy ground her teeth together, trying to fight back the nauseating jealousy and pain his words wrought.  “That’s not what I asked,” she snapped.  “My point is that if all you need is a Slayer, then why me?  Why not her?  It should be the same difference.”  Her chest was heaving as she glowered at him, barely managing to refrain from ramming her fist through the nearest wall.

“In base terms,” he said, “there is no difference.  You or Faith, it wouldn’t matter.  A Slayer is a Slayer.  But it makes a difference to me.  You are my mate, not Faith.  Also, you’re marked.  You have extraordinary healing abilities and my first bite did scar.  But even the scar would fade eventually if I don’t continue to reopen it.  If it heals, people will know.”

“Don’t tell me we couldn’t find a way around this,” Buffy said mockingly.  “Faith could let Wes open up a vein.  I could find some random vamp and have him mong on my neck a little ... “  She trailed off, looking at Angel, finally getting the reaction she had been baiting.

He rose to his feet, shaking with barely contained rage. “I am Lord and Master within The City,” he swore in a raspy whisper.  “If a vampire dared violate your body in any way, it would be the last thing he ever did before dying an excruciatingly painful and lingering death.”

She glared at him.  "Don't you think I feel the same way about your bitches?"

They stood there, staring at each other across the room, their emotions stretched so taut it threatened to break them both.  Finally Angel looked away, turning to pace in a tight circle, one hand massaging the back of his neck.

“Let’s get this over with,” she snapped.

Slowly, Angel held out a hand in invitation.  Though still angry, she grasped his hand and followed as he led her from the room.  This was her first time in this space and she wasn’t certain where he was going.  But knowing Angel as she did, she had a fairly good idea.

The room was dark, but she could make out the shape of a bed.  It smelled like him and him alone.  Nice to know that he wasn’t stupid enough to bring her somewhere that he had taken his whores.

He pulled her over to the bed.  Without a word, she toed off her shoes and scooted into the middle, trying not to savor the scent of him.  For weeks she had ached for him.  He stared down at her for a moment before removing his own shoes and then pulling his shirt over his head.

Buffy didn’t say anything.  Of course, he didn’t need to take his shirt off.  But then again, they didn’t need to be in bed, hell they didn’t even need to be in the same room.  His caution about the scar aside, she could have had Wesley bleed her with a needle.  She didn't need to even be in the same room as Angel.  But though her pain and anger was all too real, her wounded soul needed this balm as much as his.

He joined her on the bed, pulling her close.  His skin was cool, cooler than she remembered.  Her fingers played over the landscape of his body and she grimaced.  “You’re starving,” she said, trying to keep her tone neutral and failing miserably.

“I am,” he conceded.

“Dammit, Angel,” she swore, “what are you trying to prove?”

“Nothing,” he said guilelessly.  “You didn’t want to talk to me and I didn’t want to force you.  I waited as long as I could before I called.”

“You should have called earlier,” she chastised.  "I mean it, Angel."

“I will in the future,” he acquiesced, holding her tighter.  He pressed his face against her shoulder, imbibing her precious scent.

Her arms automatically went around his neck, holding him close as her fingers sifted through his hair.  A low, rumbling purr began deep in his chest and Buffy felt her insides go liquid even as the ache in her heart threatened to kill her.

She had known the second she took his hand that she wouldn’t be able to remain neutral, but until this moment, she hadn’t realized absolute intimacy of this act.  She was so angry with him, so grievously wounded by his actions, but she couldn’t prevent her response to him.  He loved her absolutely and though she entertained dark fantasies about staking him, she loved him beyond reason.  He shifted, pulling her beneath him and she opened her legs as far as her skirt would allow, cradling his hips against her own.  Despite his weakened state, he was hard and she couldn’t help squirming against him.

He growled, turning his face against the crook of her neck, his cat-rough tongue laving her brand.  She shuddered, moaning as her hand pressed his face more tightly against her flesh.  She felt his features shift and a breathy cry escaped her lips.  Her hands trailed down his bare sides, finding the waist of his pants and pushing at it impatiently.

“Buffy,” he groaned against her skin, his own hand aiding her progress.  In short order, his pants were open and pushed down his hips, her skirt was around her waist and her panties were gone, compliments of vampiric strength.

He pushed inside of her at the same moment that his fangs pierced the vulnerable column of her neck.  Her body instantly corded beneath him as she climaxed in his arms, her shout echoing off the walls.  He growled loudly, drinking from her in great draughts as his hips pumped against hers.  Her fingernails bit into his back, the shallow cuts welling with blood and he gloried in the sensation of being marked by his mate.

They were both in sad physical shape, both too long denied their mates and the moment was over all too quickly.  Angel tore himself back from Buffy’s flesh, his fangs glistening with her stolen blood as he threw his head back, howling towards the sky as he spilled himself in her molten depths. (this was possibly ripped off from margot, go check)

When the world once again righted itself, Angel pushed himself up on his elbows, looking down at his mate.  Even in the dim light, he could tell she was pale.  “I took too much,” he swore.

“I’m fine,” she replied dryly.

“Buffy – “

“I’m fine!” she snapped, trying to ignore the fact that his flesh was still cradled deep within her.

Here it was, the horrid awkward moment.

On all previous occasions, after this, they would simply fall asleep in each other’s arms.  Angel never worried about drinking too deeply because he was with her, he was there if she felt weak or lightheaded.  He would get her orange juice and insist she sleep.  But he couldn’t do that now.  They weren’t together and regardless of what they had just shared, she now had to get up and go home.  Alone.

Buffy cursed herself, staring blindly at the ceiling.  Why oh why had she just had sex with Angel?  It was bad enough that he fed from her, but she didn’t have to fuck him.  But even as she thought it, she knew the truth.  It wasn’t right without being one.  It was alien to offer him sustenance without also offering him comfort and love.  And as much as she would have liked to categorize it as such, she knew it wasn’t just fucking.

Which is exactly why she had been avoiding this moment for weeks.

She couldn’t stop the tears that coursed down her cheeks.  She tried to twist out of his hold, but he clasped her in a grip so tight in bordered on pain.  His mouth pressed tightly against her temple, he vowed, “I love you, Buffy,” in an agonized whisper.

The sob tore harshly out of her throat and she redoubled her efforts to get free, shoving at his chest.  “I know,” she swore through tears, “that’s what makes this so goddamned hard!”  She clawed at his forearms until he finally relented and released her.  She scrambled across the bed as quickly as possible, shoving her feet into her shoes and tugging her skirt down so fast that it made the world spin.

He stared at her guiltily, watching her teeter weakly.  “Please let me call Wesley so he can see you home,” he pled quietly.

She laughed shrilly, wrapping her arms around her middle.  “No thanks,” she said.  “I don’t really want an audience for this.”

***

“Oh, Buffy,” Anya said in an extremely stilted, scripted manner, just as Buffy exited the apartment building.  “How odd to run into you here.  It is most completely unexpected, but at the same time fortuitous as I did not wish to walk home alone.  Perhaps we should walk together.”

Buffy looked at Holtz’s secretary, nonplussed.  “Come out, Xander,” she said dryly.  “I know you’re lurking and you don’t do it half as well as my ex.”

Slowly, Xander peeked his head around the corner.  “Don’t be mad,” he begged.

Sighing, Buffy looked at his cowardly expression.  Why exactly Angel thought it would be safer for her to walk home with these two yahoos was beyond her, though he did manage to pick the two people she wouldn’t stake on sight.  Lindsey so would have been dust.  “I’m not mad,” she said, “just tired.  I want to go home.”

***

Angel didn’t shower.  He strode into the great room reeking of sex and blood and most importantly, Buffy.  Many heads turned as he passed, eyebrows raised speculatively.  Perhaps rumors of the Master’s falling out with the Slayer were greatly exaggerated.  Angel growled.  He hadn’t done it for their benefit.  He couldn’t bring himself to brush the taste of her out of his mouth, to wash her musk from his body.  She was his damn it, and he didn’t know if he would ever be able to get her back.

Willow smiled at him wickedly. “Your mate is safely back in her place, I gather,” she said.

Angel’s closed fist send her tumbling off the dais.  It was nearly a minute before the vampiress regained her senses enough to sit up and meet her Master’s gaze.  She swallowed harshly before wiping her bloodied mouth with the back of her hand.

“My mate is none of your fucking business,” he rasped around fangs.

Willow nodded before crawling forward, pressing her forehead against his booted feet, silently begging forgiveness.  He reached down, fisting his hand in her hair and pulling her up on her toes.  She kept her eyes submissively downcast.  “Forgive me, Master,” she whispered.

Angel snorted and tossed Willow at Groo, one of the beefy bodyguards.  “Take her to my private chambers,” he snapped.  “I will deal with her later.”

He ascended the dais, seating himself upon the ornate throne.  The entire cavernous room was silent, hundreds of pairs of eyes locked on his every move.  He smiled coldly, still in game face.  “Bring me the traitors,” he roared to the guards.

***

When Buffy finally wandered into the library the next morning, coffee mug in hand, Wesley was already waiting.  From his rumpled clothes and his stubble-roughened cheeks, she gathered he had not yet been to bed.  Though she had been to bed, Buffy wasn’t feeling much better than Wesley looked.

As she took a seat, he turned to face her.  “What happened last night between you and Angel?” Wesley asked.

Buffy’s hand instinctively flew to her neck, covering the brand.  “What do you mean?” she countered defensively.

Wesley took a deep breath, his expression anguished.  “Last night, Angel executed the traitors,” Wesley said.

Buffy’s eyes widened in shock.  “He did what?” she demanded incredulously.

Wesley shook his head, as if he could find some way to undo what had been done.  He finally settled for laughing coldly.  “They were our best bet at finding a way to undermine Spike,” he said.  “But last night, Angel murdered them before the entire Order.”

*****

Her head slammed against the wall and she whimpered as he growled in her face.  “They’re dead Willow,” he said.  “That’s what you wanted isn’t it?  That’s what a real Master would have done?”

She nodded, her eyes pressed tightly shut.  “Yes, Master,” she whimpered.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

He slammed her into the wall but before he could open his mouth, her fist snapped his head back painfully.  By the time he turned to face her, there was a stake pressed against his chest so hard it was drawing blood.  Angel looked at the stake and then to Buffy.  He laughed sardonically.  “Do you regret passing up the opportunity before the Council?” he asked, his enunciation distorted by budding fangs.

“Let’s just say a that if we replayed it, I wouldn’t bet on your odds,” she snapped.

He growled.  “What do you think you’re doing out there?” he demanded.

“Enjoying life as a single girl,” she said defiantly.

He snarled, leaning in closer, mindless of the stake digging even deeper into his chest.  “Stop being a brat,” he rasped.

“A brat?” she repeated incredulously.  “Well, it’s nice to know what you really think of me.”

He shook his head in disgust.  “Can you even begin to appreciate what you’re doing?” he demanded.  “Your actions here could compromise everything we’ve built.”

She looked at him, confused.  “What on earth could my dancing have to do with anything?”

He leaned in closer and Buffy was forced to pocket the stake lest she really hurt him since he didn’t even seem to notice it anyway.  He was pressed against her completely and she turned her head to the side to avoid looking at him.

But not looking at him didn’t make the sensation go away.  She had been mildly aroused dancing with her admirers, though she had to admit to herself that most of the fun came from knowing it was pissing Angel off.  But with him touching her, pressing into her, her mild arousal blossomed into full-blown lust.  Damn him.  She was more than a little tipsy and she missed him so much.  And he felt so good.

“The problem, Buffy,” he growled, “is that regardless of the fact that we may have privately broken up, that publicly we’re still very much an item.”  He could smell her arousal and it was driving him insane.  “Trust me when I tell you that I am not okay with you displaying yourself like this.”

She turned, glaring at him.  “You’re upset because I danced with some boys?”

“’Danced with’ is a pretty loose term.  Mated with might be a little closer.”

Her glare wobbled and a tiny smile curved her lips.  “Don't you think you're being a little unfair? It was one little dance - which I only did to make you crazy, by the way. Behold my success.”

One of his fingers trailed over her exposed collarbone and she shifted restlessly, biting down on her bottom lip.  “I’m not jealous,” he denied.

She looked at him, her eyes half-shut with passion.  “So you don’t mind me dancing with them,” she said, “you’re just afraid of losing face?”

He leaned in, pressing hard kisses along her jaw line.  She nearly purred, her fingers biting into his leather covered shoulders, glad that his duster was blocking the room’s view of them.  “Maybe it bothers me a little,” he admitted, dipping lower to kiss along her neck.

She whined, pressing her neck against his still blunt teeth as she straddled his thigh.  She could hear his growl of appreciation rumble through his frame and her body’s reaction was immediate.  Her nipples pebbled and she rubbed against his thigh in need.

“Buffy,” he panted, his fingers finding the buttons to her pants and swiftly undoing them.  He reached inside his fingers rubbing over the damp silkiness of her panties.  She wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him tighter.  His fingers slid inside her panties, easily parting her to stroke the little bud begging for attention.

She bit into his shoulder to keep from crying out and he turned his face into her neck, his fangs easily breaking the vulnerable flesh.  He continued to stroke as he drank, the taste of her impending climax sweetening her blood.  She came soundlessly, her body cording and then shaking in his powerful embrace.

He held her tenderly, purring softly as he licked the slowly healing wounds at her neck, letting her rest her forehead against his shoulder as she nearly dozed.  Carefully, he righted her clothes.  His actions did not impress her.  He had taken the edge off, but she was still tightly wound.  “Let’s get out of here,” she said.

He met her gaze, his expression unreadable.  “Is that what you want?” he asked.

She snorted.  “I thought that was obvious,” she said.

His expression was tentative.  As he looked over his shoulder at the rest of the room, the full implications of his actions slammed into her lust addled brain.  It was like a punch to the stomach.

A fine rage trembled through her body.  “Take me outside now,” she said through clenched teeth, “or I swear to gods, I will stake you in front of this entire bar.”

Angel looked at her, his expression contrite.  He stepped back and grabbed her hand, wordlessly leading her out the back entrance and into a deserted alley.  He didn’t even attempt to avoid the punch that sent him flying into the brick wall.

“You son of a bitch!” she raged.

“It was necessary, Buffy,” he replied dully.  “Your actions were foolish.  I could never allow my mate to do what you did without consequences.”

“So you just push me up against a wall and bite and fuck me to teach me my place?”

He looked at her, his expression unreadable.  “I didn’t do anything you didn’t want,” he said carefully.

“You manipulative bastard,” she spat.  “You worked the situation to your advantage.  You know I didn’t know that you were putting on a show!”

His expression was hard and he advanced without warning, pinning her to the wall, grinding his erection against her.  “Do you think I was kidding?” he rasped.

She shoved him back several paces, glaring.  “Every single vamp in that bar knew what was happening, didn’t they Master?”

Angel met her gaze, but held his tongue.

“You wanted me, I believe that, but let’s face it, you were putting on a show for your public.”

He roared, turning around and slamming his fist into the brick wall.  He stood there, fist bleeding, panting hard as he attempted to get himself under control.  “I don’t know how to change this, Buffy,” he said in an agonized whisper.  “I don’t know how to go back to what we were.  I don’t know how to make this right.”

Buffy looked at him, wrapping her arms around her middle before she broke down sobbing.  Angel turned and watched her, helpless to make it any better.  As she calmed, he looked at her, his expression lost.

“Do you love me?” he asked.

She looked to the sky, as if beseeching the heavens for help that would never come.  She met his gaze again.  “I love you,” she said flatly.  “But I can’t trust you.”

Angel watched as she walked down the alley, still clutching herself like she was going to fall apart.

He had to find a way to fix this.

***

“Bet the other guy looks worse.”

Buffy jumped off of the tombstone on which she was sitting and faced Connor.  She couldn’t even begin to put on a polite mask for his benefit.  She was still far too raw.

“Hey,” he said gently, stepping closer, “you okay?”

“No,” she said flatly.  “Right now I’m trying to keep from dying.”

His expression was concerned but his lips twisted into a wry grin.  “This is about Angel, isn’t it,” he said.

She looked away.  “I don’t expect you to understand."

“Sure,” he countered caustically, “I get it.  I grew up in the Wastelands so what would I know about human emotion?”

She narrowed her eyes.  “I meant you wouldn’t get it because you hate him,” she clarified.

“Oh.”  He shrugged awkwardly.  “I thought you hated him too.”

“I do,” she said blandly.  “It’s just the part where I also love him that makes for the conflict of interest.”

Connor pointed to her neck.  “Then I’m guessing that he’s the one responsible.”

“What?” she asked, insulted.  “You think I’d let some garden variety stake-bait get this close?”

He watched her silently and for a moment, Buffy was struck by the resemblance to his father.  “I think maybe you have more to lose from Angel than you could ever lose from some generic vamp,” he offered.

She shrugged, wrapping her arms around herself.  “You’re not wrong there,” she admitted.

“So, you wanna talk about it?”

“No.”

“So you wanna go get drunk about it?”

Despite her foul mood, she looked at him and smiled.  “Actually,” she said, “oblivion sounds like a lovely idea.”

“Great,” he said, rubbing his hands together, “I know this seedy little bar where they don’t card.”

“Sounds perfect.”

***

“Beer foamy,” Buffy giggled.  Why on earth were people ever sober?  This was so much easier.  Everything was happy and hazy and painless.  Beer good.

“Lightweight,” Connor slurred, wobbling unsteadily as he lifted the mug to his lips and finished it in one mouthful.

“Uh, hey, you two,” the bartender said nervously, “is there someone I could call to come pick you up?”

“No,” Connor barked, “and bring me another beer.”

Willy frowned, but nodded.  This bartender gig wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Ever since DHSTs went legit, the Hyperion was having a hard time keeping clientele.  He picked up the bartending as a side to make some easy money.  He obviously hadn’t considered the possibility of two drunk Slayers when he made that decision.

“Pick you up,” Buffy parroted, giggling madly.  She poked Connor in the shoulder.  “Faith could come pick you up,” she taunted.

“Faith snot my girlfriend,” he slurred, glaring.  “Says’n noffice r’mance issa bad didea.”

“Ha!” Buffy yelled.  “I knew it!  You two are in lurve.”  She laughed uproariously.  “Faith and Connor sittin’ in a tree,” she sang hideously off key.

“Shaddup,” he said, pushing her off her chair.

Buffy fell on her butt on the dirty floor, still giggling madly.  Alcohol was such a lovely thing.
 

***

Buffy woke and quickly began praying for a swift death.  Unless, of course, she was already dead.  Which could be a possibility because this felt an awful lot like she imagined hell.  Very carefully, she pushed herself into a sitting position.  She blinked into the dim light.  Bed.  She was in a bed ...

... Naked.

She would have cocked an eyebrow, but the mere thought made her head want to explode.  She sucked in a breath of air and swallowed thickly.  It tasted like she had eaten a pack of cigarettes before washing them down with a nice chalk shake.  What the hell happened last night?  She remembered Willy’s.  She remembered getting extremely drunk.  After that ... not so much.

There was a grumbling noise from the covers next to her and Buffy slowly turned her head to see.  The scene took a moment to process.  “Oh gods,” she whispered.

Much more quickly than was wise, she stood, hopping back from the bed.  She stared at him, her heart racing.  What had she done?  This couldn’t be happening.  She turned, blindly searching for a way out and soon found herself inside a tiny bathroom.  She slammed the door shut and flipped on the lights.  One bare bulb over the sink buzzed to life.  She stared at her reflection in the dirty water streaked mirror.  She looked even worse than she felt.

Fighting to be rational, she thought maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.  Maybe nothing happened.  After all, she heard other girls who had nice human boyfriends talk about the detrimental effects of alcohol on male performance.  Maybe he was too drunk to ...

An extremely cursory physical inspection proved that there was nothing innocent about her drunken evening.  She had sex with him.  Unprotected sex.

Nausea roiled through her and Buffy managed to make it to the toilet before retching up everything in her stomach.  The moment seemed to stretch on forever, but when the heaving finally subsided, she sat back on her heels, shaking as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.  She had to get out of here.  Now.

Pushing herself to her feet, she flushed the toilet.  She did her best to clean herself up and then rinsed her mouth out with water.  Her head was pounding and her stomach kept threatening to rebel again.  She needed to go home.  She needed to be anywhere but here.

Attempting to be quiet, she opened the door ... and found Connor staring at her blankly.  His vision traveled down her nude body and as he realized what he was doing, snapped back to her face, mortified.  He looked just as confused and hung over and uncomfortable as she.

“I’m going to leave now,” Buffy said.

“Okay,” Connor replied encouragingly.

As she walked out of the bathroom, he walked in and shut the door.  As she was frantically pulling on her clothes, she could hear Connor retching in the bathroom.  She redoubled her efforts, trying to tug on her pants as she hopped down the hallway.  By the time she hit the door, she was still trying to shove her foot into one shoe, her shirt was inside out and her underwear was crammed in her pocket.  She managed to make it out into the hallway and down two flights of stairs, but as she pushed through the apartment building’s front doors, she almost collided with Faith.  The brunette was carrying two cups of coffee and a bag from a local bakery.

Faith smiled awkwardly.  “B, what are you ... “ she trailed off, the implications of Buffy’s appearance and location hitting home.  “Oh,” she said slowly, “I see.”  Her flip manner couldn’t completely disguise the hurt on her features.

“No, no, no,” Buffy pled, holding her hands up in front of her, “you don’t understand.  This was just a ... none of this was ... it was a mistake, Faith. There is nothing going on.”

Faith turned and dumped the breakfast into a nearby trashcan before turning to face her sister Slayer, her face hard. “It really doesn’t look like nothin’ from where I’m standin’, B,” she said.  “It looks like someone did you over good and guessing from the location, I’d say it was my would-be boyfriend.”

Buffy groaned miserably.  “Faith, I don’t even remember what happened really.  Whatever did happen, it was wrong.  Very wrong.  Trust me, it won’t ever happen again.”

“Look,” Faith snapped, “you can boff Angel junior all you want.  Ain’t no skin off my teeth.”

***

“Buffy, are you sure you’re okay?”

“Please, Riley, just take me home,” Buffy said tightly from her position curled in on herself on the passenger’s seat of his truck.  She hadn’t wanted to call him, but the cab company was going to be at least an hour and she wasn’t about to walk or take a bus looking like the whore of Babylon.

“If someone hurt you – “

“No one hurt me.  Take me home.”

Riley was blessedly silent for the rest of the trip, which actually might have been worse.  Left with absolutely no distraction, Buffy kept replaying Faith’s reaction over and over in her mind.  Dear gods, what had she done?  Her stomach knotted tightly.  Was that what she had looked like when she caught Angel with his whore?  Buffy swallowed back the bile rising at the back of her throat.  She knew the situation was different.  She and Angel had been serious – very serious.  But that was no excuse.  Though Faith and Connor weren’t a public item, Buffy knew there was something going on with them.  She knew that they were interested in each other.

She was a monster.  There was no excuse for her actions.  She, of all people, knew better than this.  After the way Angel’s betrayal nearly destroyed her, how could she possibly do something like this to one of her friends?  And it wasn’t even like she was interested in Connor!  Sure, she liked him and they were friends, but she had never thought of him like that.  He was Angel's son for gods' sake.   “Riley,” she said tightly, “please pull over.  I’m going to be sick.”

****

“Do the three of you wish to share?” Holtz drawled, looking at his charges.

Buffy, Faith and Connor were all seated around one of the big conference tables in the library, none of them speaking, none of them making eye contact, all of them as far apart as possible.  Buffy’s visible skin was still raw and red from the vigorous scrubbing she had given it for a large part of the morning.  Connor was sporting a new black eye.  Buffy knew that Faith must have gone up to “talk” to him after she left.

"We're five by five, Danny boy," Faith said, "nothin' to share."

Holtz was nonplussed.  He crossed his arms over his chest, frowning at his Slayers.  "You are a team," he said.  "And I will not allow petty differences to compromise any of your safety."

Faith snorted.  "Talk to those two.  They're the ones gettin' groiny on company time."

Holtz's eyes went wide.  Connor became inordinately interested in some dirt under his fingernails while Buffy slumped down so far in her chair she was almost under the table.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Connor twisted around, glaring at the man who sired him.  "Is this about what happened between me and Buffy?  Because if it is then you can just - "

"You and Buffy," Angel repeated, his voice so quiet it stopped Connor dead in his tracks.

Connor shifted nervously.  "Nevermind," he said quickly.

Angel stepped closer, closing and opening his eyes like it could somehow make his quickly gelling suspicion go away.  He didn't want to know this.  He couldn't know this.  "I thought you were with Faith," Angel bit out.

"I am … I mean, I’m kind of …," he stuttered, quickly growing angry.  "It isn't any of your fucking business anyway," he yelled.  "You and Buffy aren't even together."

Angel fisted his hands in his son’s shirt, pulling him up to eye level so that Connor's toes were barely touching the ground.  His irises were tinged with yellow and his fangs were beginning to descend.  "You are my son," he rasped, "and that will buy you an inordinate amount of slack, but you had better pray to God that Buffy does a better job of explaining this than you just did."  He shoved Connor away roughly, causing the boy to stumble backwards a few steps before landing on his butt.
 
 
 

“This really isn’t your call, you know,” Wesley said bluntly.  Angel’s rumbling snarl from the deeply shadowed corner should have been enough to warn off any intruder, but Wesley watched him placidly. His hands were shoved in his pockets, his posture slumped as he watched the dark vampire brood.

“Everything having to do with Buffy is my concern,” Angel growled.

“Why?” Wesley asked flippantly, turning to pace in a slow line.  “Because you bit her?”

“Because she’s my mate!”

Wesley stopped and turning to face Angel, smirked.  “Oh,” he said with a snort.

“What the fuck would you know about it?” Angel demanded, rising to his feet.

“Quite a bit, actually,” Wesley said bitterly.  “I know all about watching the woman I love ... become entangled with other men.”

Angel made a derisive noise.  “That’s different,” he scoffed.

“Different why?” Wesley asked.  “Different because you’re the one fucking Fred?”

Angel watched Wesley carefully.  “Different because Fred is a vampire and it is our way,” he said, neither conforming nor denying Wesley’s suspicions.

“And Buffy is a Slayer,” Wesley said with forced thoughtfulness.

“Buffy is a human!”

“And a Slayer,” Wesley continued, mindless of Angel’s anger.  “You know yourself how different she is from normal human women.  Why exactly should it come as such a shock that perhaps being a Slayer would create the same exemptions for her as vampirism seems to do for you?”

Angel bared his fangs.

“You are – as we just agreed – a vampire,” Wesley continued in a voice rife with academic interest.  “It shouldn’t be such a leap of logic to theorize that while you may not have stimulated a certain ... reaction in her, that perhaps another Slayer, a male Slayer, could do so.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit,” Angel growled.  “Instinct or no instinct, Buffy is capable of controlling her actions.  She is a sentient being.  Her hormones might tell her to crawl on my son, but her mind and her heart know better!”

Wesley laughed coldly.  “Just like you should know better?”

Angel stared at him dumbly.  “That’s ... different,” he blustered.

“Different how?” Wesley pressed.  “At least you two were broken up when she bedded your son, at least she was drunk out of her mind on magically spiked beer.  What exactly is your excuse for cheating on your mate right under her nose?”

Angel’s chest was heaving with the force of his unnecessary breath.  “That was different.”

“I know,” Wesley snidely assured him, “you’re a vampire.”

“I am,” Angel bit out.

“A vampire is what you are, not who you are,” Wesley snarled.  “You may possess a demon form, but you still have a human soul, a human mind!  You’ve set yourself up as the reigning vampire king and destroyed every bit of your humanity in the process.  You’ve sacrificed all of your human relationships at the alter of Lord Aurelius!”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

She looked at him, her lips soft, her eyes wide.  He could hear her heart pounding, taste her on his lips.

"What would happen if you just kept drinking?" she asked softly.

Her gentle words were like a punch in the gut and he pushed himself up on his elbows looking down at her.  Her expression was open, innocent and full of pain.  "You would die," he said thickly.

She licked her lips.  She took a deep breath.  "What if you …"  She trailed off.  "What if you let me drink you?"

Angel bolted out of bed and was on the other side of the room before she could push herself up on her elbows.  She looked at him, half ashamed, half needy.  "Would it be so bad?" she asked in a tiny voice.  "Maybe then it wouldn't matter to me.  I would understand why you have to do the things you do."

"Enough!" he roared, he was breathing hard, his hands trembling.

She sat up, her expression so vulnerable.  "Please, Angel," she whispered, her voice cracking as tears welled in her eyes, "I can't think of any other way to make it better."

He shook his head frantically, staring at her.  His hands balled into fists to keep from reaching for her.  While his mind and his heart screamed in anguish that such a vibrant creature would even suggest something so blasphemous, his demon roared in pleasure.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Angel laughed, a harsh, bleak sound.  "It's so easy for you to be righteous, isn't it?" he asked.

Giles' glower deepened.  "Call me old fashioned, but after your mistreatment of my daughter, I can't seem to muster much empathy for your plight."

Angel nodded, smiling sardonically.  "Because you've never made mistakes?  You've never been stuck in a position where you had to do your duty at the price of your personal life?"

Giles recoiled, narrowing his eyes at Angel.  "Why are you here?"

Taking a deep breath, Angel reined in his temper.  "I need to talk to you about Buffy," he said.

"Well then our conversation is finished because I will not discuss my daughter with you," Giles said, pulling open the door and looking expectantly at Angel.

"She asked me what would happen if I Turned her," Angel snapped bluntly, savoring the shock that washed over Giles' features.  "She wanted to know if being my childe would make her understand the things I did, if we could go back to being what we were."

Giles' complexion was pallid.  "Dear gods," he mumbled, trying to come to grips with Angel's words.  As he did, a rage overtook him.  "If you ever touch one hair - "

Angel grabbed Giles' tweed lapels, picking him off the floor and slamming him back into the wall.  "I love her!" he roared.  He held Giles like that for interminable moments, snarling, his eyes golden.  He managed to control his temper and released Giles, turning to pace around the living room.  "The idea of Turning Buffy as a vampire makes me sick," he rasped around fangs.  "I would never harm her.  Never."

Brushing off his jacket and righting his glasses, Giles cleared his throat.  "Did you mention to her that as your childe, things would be considerably different than the life you shared?"

Angel turned and looked at him.  "You mean did I tell her that beating and raping her would be a mainstay of our relationship?  Yes, though I did concede the fact that she would probably enjoy it."

Giles expression was one of barely contained rage, his hands balling into fists.

Angel swallowed, screwing his eyes shut and taking deep breaths until his irises returned to their normal chocolate brown.  "Being a vampire - a corpse animated by a demon, forced to drink blood to survive - is one of the most vile existences I can imagine.  I loathe what I am.  I loathe that a demon lives inside of me, that it influences my actions," he said seriously.  "I would do anything to protect Buffy from that fate.  Anything."

"I sense there is more," Giles said cautiously.

"This … whatever it is that Buffy and I have ... cannot continue, Giles.  Not as it is.  It is tearing both of us apart.  You know Buffy as well as anyone.  You have to understand how close to the edge she is to even consider becoming a vampire.  I won't Sire her.  I would die first.  But this constant pain eating at both of us is almost unendurable, Giles.  Something is going to break and we both know how resourceful Buffy is.  If I won't help her, she will find someone who will."

Giles teeth ground together.  "Your death would alleviate the problem," he said bitterly.

Angel laughed mirthlessly.  "Don't you think I've considered that?" he asked.  "The problem is that my second in command is a complete sadist.  She would be more of a menace than Spike; if she were able to maintain control without me to help.  To leave The Order under either of their control would be to condemn everyone in Guardian City to death."

Giles sighed, wearily removing his glasses to polish them.  "Do you have any suggestions?"

"None."

***
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Angel woke wrapped tightly around Buffy, his head resting against her chest.  Her could feel her fingers sifting lightly through his hair and he hugged her tighter.

“Guess you’re awake,” she said.

He pulled back and looked at her.  She obviously hadn’t been sleeping while he was injured.  “Buffy – “

She pressed a finger to his lips.  “What you did was unbelievably stupid,” she said.

He nodded.
 
 
 

END

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