AUTHOR'S NOTES: Inspired entirely by the Mark/Juliet section of the film “Love Actually”.
Mark (to Juliet, on cue cards):
... for now, let me say ... without
hope or agenda ... To me, you are perfect and my wasted heart will love
AUTHOR'S NOTESS: This WIP is by
far the closest I have to being finished. It is, however, decidedly
not finished. There are a few sections with notes on what I need
to write, but you can generally get the point.
Buffy stalked across the couch on her hands and knees, closing on her prey. He pretended to ignore her, leafing through one of the myriad portfolios that had been sitting on her coffee table. She sighed, nuzzling under his jaw, running her lips over his skin. Her tongue ventured out, licking the vaguely salty, stubble roughened curve of his jaw. "Please," she pled in a breathy whine.
Spike groaned, letting his head fall back in the sofa cushions. "No, pet," he countered.
Huffing indignantly, she immediately pulled away, sitting back on her heels, her hands fisted on her thighs. She glared at him like a petulant child.
He looked at her, his lips pursed tightly. With a roll of his eyes, he ignored her, reaching inside his jacket to pull out a pack of cigarettes.
"I've asked you not to smoke in here," she said shortly.
He stared at her for a long moment. "If you want to come up with a different way for me to relieve my frustrations," he said pointedly, "I'm open to suggestion." He lit the cigarette, taking a long, unhurried drag and then exhaling with a mirthless smile. "Until then, I'm smoking."
"Like a chimney," he finished, taking another drag so forceful his cheeks hollowed.
Her face scrunched up in irritation and she stood up, stalking into the kitchen. She started cleaning up the dishes from their relaxed dinner of Chinese takeout. "Why are you being so stubborn about this?" she demanded over the noise of the running water. "He's your friend."
Cigarette half gone, Spike came to lounge in the doorway, leaning against the frame. "And he's your client."
Buffy looked away. "He was my mother's client," she said softly.
"Maybe," Spike conceded, "but either way, he's yours now. Unless you want to lose him - which, trust me, pet, you can't afford to do - you have to build some kind of a working relationship with him."
Abruptly, Buffy turned off the water and stared at her boyfriend. "He's just so … mean," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "I know he's your friend and I know that I need him in order to keep the gallery, but he looks at me like he hates me."
Spike frowned studying the beauty before him. She was dressed casually in a pair of white linen pants and a white baby t-shirt that left a tantalizing expanse of taut belly bare. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail. It was beyond his comprehension that anybody could hate her. He sighed. "Angel doesn't hate you, pet. He's just … odd."
"He was always nice to my mother," Buffy pointed out. "They weren't buddies, but he was good with the small talk. I know he can be charming. But with me, it's like he can't wait to get away from me. He can hardly bring himself to speak to me."
"I'll admit he's got a bug up his ass," Spike replied, "but I won't spend the rest of my life being your go-between. This gallery is your business, Buffy, and you've got to learn to manage it. And your artists."
Groaning, Buffy walked over to the small table and sat down in one of the chairs. She leaned forward, burying her face in her hands. "I just wish he wasn't so popular," she complained. "If he was any of my other artists, I could just dump him."
"Yeah," Spike said, taking a seat, "but unfortunately, Angel's your meal ticket."
Buffy looked up, biting down on her bottom lip. She couldn't lose the gallery. It was all she had left of her mother. After all the blood, sweat and tears Joyce poured into it, failing would kill Buffy. She took a deep breath. "He's so damn talented," she groused. "It's not fair. Someone that mean shouldn't get to be that talented."
"Come on, pet," Spike said, tugging on Buffy's hand until she rose from her chair and walked around, situating herself in his lap. "Angel's not a monster. You've just got to come to some sort of understanding."
She stuck out her bottom lip petulantly. "I don't want to."
He leaned forward, kissing her and biting down gently on her pouting lip. "Too bad," he whispered against her lips. He pulled her closer, tilting his head as he deepened the kiss. Her hands came up, resting along his jaw. With a gasp, she pulled away.
Spike let her go as she stood up. She righted her clothes and returned to the sink to finish loading the dishes into the dishwasher.
He dug out another cigarette.
Buffy turned off the engine and stared out the windshield at the enormous mansion. Angel’s home was in some serious need of repair, but it was still beautiful. He’d bought the broken down property almost ten years ago, but the renovations had been slow due to his long periods of time away from home.
She forced herself to get out of the car and walk toward the house. The Summers Gallery absolutely couldn't afford to lose Angel. He was one of the most successful and respected photographers in the world.
But international acclaim wasn’t what had Buffy on his doorstep. Ar-teest or not, Angel wasn't about to go hungry for anything, least of all his art. He worshiped the almighty dollar above all else, which worked out well for Buffy.
He whored himself out to anyone who could afford him. In the process, he made himself a nice little fortune and a reputation to match. A large portion of his time was spent doing commissions for different publications. He had long-standing relationships with British Vogue, Rolling Stone and GQ. Celebrities and the moneyed elite paid huge bucks for a private portrait session with him. One of those sessions, with Angelina Jolie nude on a deserted beach, was as infamous as it was famous. It had doubled Angel’s sitting fee and raised more than a few interested eyebrows among the world’s wealthiest women. It had also irritated Buffy far more than she cared to admit.
But Angel's true passion wasn't haute couture photography or even moneyed, international partygirls. His passion was shooting every day life in all its glory and misery. It was those prints, rather than the slick, artsy fashion photos, that he sold through The Summers Gallery. His reputation alone could have gotten him into the more upscale galleries in New York and Los Angeles, but Angel was loyal. He'd spent a good part of his life in Sunnydale and he preferred to use it as his home base. He'd been a nobody when he walked into The Summers Gallery, seriously underfed and wearing clothes that hadn't been washed in weeks. Anyone else would have called the cops and had him escorted off the premises, but Joyce Summers took a shot. She'd been impressed with his eye and agreed to give him space in the gallery.
He'd made enough money to feed himself, to buy some new clothes and cameras. It was his looks, more than anything that had gained him entrance into the world of high fashion photography. It was doubtful that anyone expected him to be any good, but they'd enjoyed the view. Angel surprised them all. Behind his undeniable masculine beauty was a true artist. His photos were fabulous and soon the top models and designers were refusing to be shot by anyone but him.
Now, his original love of capturing humanity at its rawest had been put on the back burner. He traveled more often than not. But when he did get a few weeks, he liked to return to Sunnydale, to tinker in his private darkroom and to personally hang his prints at the gallery. Or at least he used to enjoy coming to the gallery. But that had been before Joyce died.
Angel had been on a shoot in Morocco for Vanity Fair when he got the news. He'd gone straight from the airport to the funeral. Buffy remembered that as one of the few times Angel had been nice to her. No, he'd been more than nice. He'd seemed truly concerned. She knew his red-rimmed eyes had more to do with genuine grief than with the long flight.
The memory was an embarrassing one for Buffy. She'd been holding up so well. She was standing in the back room at the gallery, listening to her mother's well meaning friends and associates mill around when it hit her. Her mother was never going to come home. She was never going to get excited over a new artist again. She was never going to ruin the Thanksgiving turkey. She was just … never.
Buffy hadn't even been aware that she was sobbing until Angel pulled her against his chest. He held her gently as she clutched at him like a drowning woman. Ever so slowly, he rocked her, his hand gently sifting through her hair as he whispered nonsensical soothing words into her ear. It seemed that they stayed like that for an eternity. When she finally pulled away, embarrassed, Angel had looked at her with such an expression of gentle concern that she had started crying again.
Buffy didn't know what had gone wrong between them. For a while she'd even had some foolish hopes that maybe they could be more than just business associates. But Angel's schedule was packed as usual. They spent a nice, but understandably subdued, afternoon together the day after the funeral. That night, she saw him off at the airport. They’d traded calls for a few weeks, but as his schedule picked up, the calls got fewer and farther between. Buffy understood. Angel was a practical man. He knew he couldn’t stay on top forever, so he had to make as much money as fast as possible and hope it could see him through the lean years ahead. Plus, he most certainly had never declared any intentions toward her. They had a nice time together considering the circumstances, they liked talking and there were hints of good physical chemistry. But some things just weren’t meant to be. It was more than ten months before she saw him again. By that time, she had started casually dating Spike, which was just as well because if she'd still been pining over Angel, his chilly attitude towards her just might have crushed her.
When she saw Angel again, he was the distant business associate she now knew. Even in Spike's company, he was slow to warm. He ignored her at dinner parties, preferring to speak only to Spike. Buffy tried to forgive him that transgression. She knew from what very little Spike had told her, that Angel had a very rough childhood. He and Spike had ended up in the same youth detention facility just outside Sunnydale in their early teens. Spike would never go into specifics, but Buffy knew it had to be bad. She also knew whatever bond had been forged between Angel and Spike during that time was far thicker than blood.
The walk from the car didn’t take near as long as it should have and soon, Buffy found herself staring at Angel’s door. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to knock before she lost the nerve. As soon as her hand connected with the door, she considered running for it. For a split second, she wished she hadn’t gone out of her way to look nice. It would have been much easier to sprint back to the car if she weren’t wearing a miniskirt and heels.
Buffy was still lost in her internal panic when Angel pulled open the door. “Can I help ... “ he asked, studying the paper in his hand rather than his visitor. He fell silent as he saw her.
Buffy grinned nervously, unable to stop herself from being hyper-aware of the fact that all he was wearing was a worn pair of black cargo pants with the top button undone. In some neglected corner of her mind, she must have known that Angel worked out. Working in high fashion had to be murder on the ego. It was doubtful he could look at toned bodies day in and day out without becoming self-conscious. Not that he had any reason to be self-conscious. If the gloriously defined shoulders, the lovely pecs and the sculpted abs were any indication, Angel would be just as comfortable in front of the camera as he was behind it.
“Buffy,” he said quietly, studying her with a perfectly expressionless face.
“Angel,” she replied, mortified that it sounded so breathy. She coughed to clear her throat. “I’m just ... I, uh ... I want, uh, need to talk to you about the gallery.” She cringed. Why did she always have to be such a bumbling moron in front of him?
He stared at her for a few more seconds before nodding and stepping aside. Horribly self-conscious, she stepped over the threshold into the mansion. Had dressing up been a mistake? She didn’t know. Maybe she should have gone for serious business professional rather than stylish college girl. Not that she was going to college, but still, that was her demographic. She graduated from high school two years ago and had directly taken over the gallery. But somehow, Buffy had never been able to dress the part. Today she was wearing a denim miniskirt and a lightweight white cotton blouse with a deep V that tied around the waist to accentuate her slim figure.
Buffy followed Angel down a narrow hall until it opened into a large, cavernous space he obviously used as a living room. The walls and floor were all a light limestone and a gigantic fireplace dominated one entire wall. He gestured to the sofa. “Excuse me,” he said, heading for what Buffy assumed must have been his bedroom.
The mansion was big, but somehow not as overwhelming as she was expecting. The living room was open and airy and the space flowed into a small dining room area and an open kitchen. Given the mansion's monstrous size, she was expecting to be overwhelmed. But it didn’t feel like a behemoth. The space felt personal, it felt intimate and cozy.
She knew the doorway Angel just entered had to be his bedroom and she could another archway that led into what appeared to have been designed to be a formal dining room, but was now a general storage space. She knew the entire basement was monopolized by Angel’s dark room. He developed and printed all of his own work for the gallery. Given the length of his marathon sessions in the darkroom, it was only reasonable that he would want a large, easy to use space.
Aside from the living room and kitchen area, the rest of the space looked untouched. It was obvious he didn’t spend a lot of time in Sunnydale, using the mansion as more of a storage locker than anything else. There were enormous stainless steel shelving units lining most of one wall in the dining room. They had to be at least ten feet tall and were filled with endless boxes of prints, negatives and supplies.
Hearing his door open, Buffy turned and saw that Angel had pulled on a white wife beater and white dress shirt. He was still barefoot, but looked significantly more presentable. He took a seat on the step in front of the fireplace, legs apart, resting his elbows on his knees as he leaned forward. “You wanted to discuss business,” he said blandly.
Buffy shifted nervously in her seat. How did he manage to look completely unaffected all of the time? It was like nothing rattled him. He never seemed happy or sad or even frustrated. He was the platonic ideal of stoicism. She took a deep breath. “The gallery is ... struggling,” she admitted.
Angel looked at her appraisingly. “As I understood, it was doing well last year,” he said.
Buffy flushed, looking at the floor. The gallery had been doing well last year. While her mother was still alive. Angel was just another in a long line of people who thought Buffy wasn’t up to the task. She swallowed thickly, trying to prevent the tears from welling in her eyes. “I’m not my mother,” she snapped.
Angel was quiet for a long time. “I wasn’t making a comparison,” he said. “It’s merely that this is rather unexpected. The last time I talked business with Joyce, she mentioned how well the gallery was doing.”
Slightly mollified, Buffy straightened up, though she still couldn’t look at him. “The gallery was doing well,” she said. “But once I got done paying for mom’s medical expenses and funeral ... I had to take out loans and I’ve already been late with a few payments. If I can’t come up with some money soon ... Well. I need to have a good show.”
“I had no idea,” Angel admitted solemnly. “I assumed Joyce had insurance.”
“She did until she and Dad divorced. I guess she just never got around to it,” Buffy explained softly. “She thought she had time. We all thought she had time.”
“I’m sorry,” Angel said quietly. He reached up and unconsciously rubbed the back of his neck. “What do you want me to do about this?”
Buffy tried not to cringe. She hated asking for help, especially from someone who so clearly felt obligated. But right now, she couldn’t afford pride. Nervously, she smoothed the material of her skirt. “I was wondering if it would be possible for you to do a show at the gallery. I know you generally don’t do shows and I know that you’re probably busy.” She looked at him beseechingly.
Angel held her gaze for a moment before he stood and walked over to a set of French doors that opened out into a sunken garden. He stared blindly outside. “I’ve been wanting to get back to something more substantial,” he said, sighing. “Time seems to get away from me.” He turned and looked blandly at Buffy. “I think a show would be a good idea,” he said. “I’ll see about freeing my schedule up. It will take a while to prepare. I’d say between six and eight weeks.”
Buffy did some speedy mental calculations. She could financially limp by until then. “Sounds great,” she said, rising to her feet.
Angel nodded tersely.
“Well,” Buffy said awkwardly, “that’s really all I wanted to talk to you about, so I’ll be going.”
Angel motioned her to the door. She was several paces in front of him, but when she reached the door, she stopped and half-turned back to him. Biting down on her bottom lip, she looked at him warily. “Can I ask you a question?”
Angel stopped about ten feet from Buffy, standing casually with his hands in his pockets. He shrugged. “Sure.”
Swallowing thickly, Buffy asked, “Why do you hate me so much?”
Angel stared at her blankly for almost a minute. He seemed to realize what he was doing and he looked away sharply. “I don’t hate you, Buffy,” he said tersely. He turned away, walking back down the hall several paces before he stopped. “I trust you can see yourself out,” he said over his shoulder.
Buffy was leaning over the table, inspecting the print. It wasn’t great, but then again, nothing was these days. When her mother died, several of the more opportunistic (and unfortunately for her, successful) clients had taken the chance to move on to bigger and better venues in Los Angeles and San Francisco. So, now she was stuck with the finest Sunnydale had to offer, which honestly, wasn’t much. She needed Angel’s show to go exceptionally well.
She sighed, standing up straight as she stared down at the print. Spike wrapped his arms around her, playfully nipping at her earlobe. “How’d it go?” he asked.
She jumped in surprise and pulled away from him. Smoothing down her shirt compulsively, she said, “Okay.”
Spike frowned at her. “Okay?”
She shrugged, rolling her eyes. “Angel agreed to do the show,” she said. “And he wasn’t too much of an ogre.”
“See,” Spike said with a grin, “no one can resist your charms.”
Rolling her eyes, Buffy turned away. Angel most certainly could resist her charms. She just hoped that they could manage some sort of working relationship long enough to get through the show.
Angel pulled open the door, unimpressed to see Spike on the other side. His displeasure deepened as Drusilla giggled, wrapping herself around Spike. "My Angel," she crooned.
"Dru," Angel replied, stepping aside.
The pair sauntered into the mansion hand in hand. From the look and the smell of them they'd spent the last several hours drinking, smoking and fucking. Angel glared at the back of Spike's head. He had known Spike was still seeing Drusilla. Spike would always see Drusilla. Nothing would ever be able to keep him away from his dark goddess. But Spike also knew his relationship with Dru was horribly unpredictable, so he preferred to keep her as a side distraction.
Angel felt the overwhelming urge to beat the crap out of his best friend. The son of a bitch was lucky enough to have a woman like Buffy and he couldn't even be faithful. It disgusted him to no end.
Dru made herself at home, flipping through Angel's cds and popping one of them into the stereo. She twirled around the room, giggling like mad. Her long skirts flowed around her sensuously as she moved to the music.
"Just like old times, eh?" Spike asked, taking a drag off his cigarette.
Angel shrugged. It was true that he, Spike and Dru had been nearly constant companions through most of their teen years. He couldn't deny that the two of them knew a side of him that no one else knew existed. Some of his best, and most horrific, memories involved Spike and Drusilla in this very space. When they were in high school, the mansion had been a condemned, boarded up mess. Angel always vowed that one day he would buy the place and restore it to its former glory. No one had believed him except Drusilla.
Sighing, Angel headed to the kitchen and opened the cabinet that held the glasses. He poured red wine for Dru and made himself a vodka tonic. Spike walked into the kitchen and helped himself to a Guinness.
"You're pissed," Spike said, leaning back against the counter, eyeing his friend speculatively.
Angel looked at him carefully. There was no use in denying it, Spike could read him far too well. "I don't understand why you pull crap like this with them," he said seriously.
Spike rolled his eyes. "Always the champion of the damsel in distress aren't you? Like you’re so much more noble Mr. Afraid to Commit? You just love ‘em and leave ‘em. Can’t really see how that’s so much better than what I’m doing."
Glaring, Angel said, "Neither of them deserve to be dicked around by you. Not Dru and not Buffy."
"Get off it," Spike chided. "The thing with Dru," he shrugged. "It's just … You know it's never going anywhere."
"Oh?" Angel asked, unconvinced. "And what's the thing with Buffy?"
Spike looked at him seriously. "Serious, mate."
Angel stared at Spike for several long moments. He shook his head, taking a drink. "You've got to be kidding me," he said flatly.
"No," Spike rejoined. "I love Buffy."
Angel snorted and rolled his eyes before swallowing nearly half his vodka tonic in one gulp. His best friend was not in love with Buffy. He wasn’t. It couldn’t be happening.
"Speaking of," Spike said quietly, leaning in towards Angel. "I was wondering if you could suggest a good photographer."
Angel cocked an eyebrow in annoyance. "Other than the obvious choice standing right in front of you, you mean?"
Spike grinned. "You can't take the pictures, mate. You'll be in the wedding party."
Time seemed to freeze for Angel. He stared at Spike dumbly. "Wedding?"
Nodding, Spike said, "I'm going to ask Buffy to marry me."
Angel threw back the rest of his vodka tonic, slamming the empty glass down on the counter. "Why on earth would you ever think of getting married?" Angel demanded irritably, gesturing wildly with his hands.
Spike shrugged, obviously unnerved by the question. "I have my reasons."
"Like what?" Angel nearly yelled.
Glaring, Spike stepped closer. "If you must know," he said conspiratorially. "The bird won't … consummate things until she's married."
Angel had received what was perversely the best and worst information of his life. He wasn’t sure how to process the news. "You want to marry Buffy and you haven't even slept with her?" he asked.
"No," Angel pressed, ignoring Spike’s enormous I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-this vibe, "I need clarification on this. You've been dating Buffy for … " he shrugged, "ten months? And you haven't slept with her?"
"Fuck you," Spike countered crossly.
Angel laughed. "So, this is an everything but relationship, right?" Spike still wouldn't look at him and Angel started laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes. This was verging on the absurd. Spike claiming to be in love with a girl he hadn’t even nailed. "Have you at least seen her naked?"
"Yeah," Spike growled. "Well, mostly."
Cheerfully, Angel poured himself another vodka tonic. “You realize this is insane, don’t you?” he asked Spike. “You don’t marry someone just so you can have sex with them.”
Spike shrugged, not meeting his gaze. “I care about her,” he said quietly. “And you know, maybe she’s the one.”
Angel shook his head. “A word of advice,” he offered. “Don’t do it.”
Given the knock came at such a late hour, Angel figured it was Rebecca. She liked to show up at his place unannounced. Oh well, he was half drunk out of his mind. Rebecca might be a nice distraction. Before he could get out of the chair, Drusilla ran for the door, clapping. “I’ll get it,” she chirped.
Angel looked back at Spike, continuing their conversation. “Dating models is a bad idea,” Angel informed him. “They’re like ... the human version of Pomeranians. Yappy, neurotic, brains the size of a peanut.”
Spike opened his mouth to argue, but glanced at the door. As he did, he went pale.
Frowning, Angel turned around. “Buffy,” he said quietly.
Buffy was obviously unhappy, her vision flitting from Dru to Spike and back again. Spike nearly leapt out of the chair, quickly making his way to her side. He hugged her, pressing a kiss to her temple, but she was stiff in his arms. “Pet,” he said with forced cheer. “What are you doing here?” He shot Angel an absolutely pleading glance.
Stepping out of the circle of Spike’s arms, Buffy said, “I was on my way home from Willow’s and I had the contracts for Angel’s show at the gallery. I saw the lights were on, so I was just going to drop them in his mailbox when I saw your car.”
“I just – “ Spike started.
“Dru and I were reminiscing,” Angel said blandly, “so we called Spike to see if he wanted to come over to get drunk and rehash stories about the good ole days.”
Giggling, Dru tiptoed over to Angel and wrapped herself around him, pressing nipping kisses to his jaw. Angel wrapped an arm around her, but his eyes were fixated on Buffy.
She looked at him, obviously trying to discern if he was telling the truth or not. Buffy knew that Drusilla had been one of Spike’s lovers. She seriously suspected that she might still be. But Angel’s gaze was completely unreadable. He looked perfectly cool and collected. She shrugged. “Fine,” she said tautly, “I didn’t mean to ruin your little party. I’ll be going.” Turning, Buffy headed for the door.
“Wait, Pet, I’ll go with you,” Spike called. He jogged back to the couch to grab his duster and looked at Angel. “I owe you, mate,” he said.
Angel glared at him. “You have no idea.”
“Pet,” Spike said softly. Buffy had refused to let him drive her home. Instead, he followed her in his car back to her house. She tried to slam the door in his face, but he managed to get one steel-toed boot inside.
“I’m not an idiot!” she yelled.
Spike put on his best innocent mask. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She snorted in disgust. “I know who Drusilla is,” Buffy bit out.
“She’s a very good friend,” Spike replied blandly.
Buffy’s only response was to roll her eyes.
“Do you really think I’m that stupid?” Spike demanded. “Don’t you think that if I was going to cheat behind your back that I could be a little more sneaky? Good Christ, Pet, nothing happened. She was with Angel.”
Buffy looked at him, hurt, but obviously wanting to believe she hadn’t been made to look the fool. He ventured closer, his fingertips trailing along her bare arm. She sighed, finally offering him a small smile which he chose to interpret as forgiveness.
“I love you, Buffy,” he said seriously, pulling her only slightly resistant body into his arms.
Gently, he tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. “I’m committed to you,” he said. “To us. Buffy, I don’t want to be without you.”
“I overreacted,” she said softly, trying to find the quickest way to end this conversation. The scene tonight at Angel’s house had given her a lot to think about and she needed some serious distance from Spike. While not particularly honorable, right now the quickest way to get rid of him was to let him think things were fine between them. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, “ Spike replied. “It was my fault. I should have called you and let you know what was going on. It was rude. I wasn’t thinking. I’m sure the situation had to look very compromising.”
Buffy smiled up at him. “Truce?”
“More than truce,” he said. “I want to make sure you never worry about this again.”
Buffy’s brow furrowed. A sense of foreboding overtook her. This wasn’t good.
“Buffy, I – “ Spike fell silent. He looked at her before dropping to one knee.
Buffy’s eyes went wide with terror as she realized what he was doing. This was not what she had in mind.
He clasped her hand gently.
Her eyes darted around the room, looking for some elusive way out of this situation.
“Buffy, will you marry me?” he asked solemnly.
She smiled down at him, pulling on his arm. “Spike, get up,” she said tightly.
“I’m serious, Buffy,” he said. “Marry me.”
She laughed punchily. “Spike, get up. Really. Now.”
Reluctantly, he rose to his feet. “Buffy, what’s wrong?”
She paced around the room, staying out of his reach. “This is just very ... unexpected,” she said.
“We’ve been dating for ten months.”
“Very casually,” Buffy qualified with a glare. She was offended. On one hand there was the issue that she wasn’t anywhere near in love with him enough to think of marriage. And on the other hand, what kind of girl did he think she was that the occasional Chinese takeout dinner and reruns of MXC on the Spike network were enough to win her heart?
“I thought you wanted to get married,” Spike growled, angrily. Girls were supposed to want to get married, especially girls like Buffy. He hadn’t done anything wrong. She should be deliriously happy now. He should be getting the goodies now. But that glare she was giving him gave him serious doubts about him ever getting anywhere near her goodies again. Ever.
“Why would you think that?” Buffy demanded.
“Well ... “ Spike started, “the sex thing.”
Buffy flushed. This was a very touchy subject with her. “You thought because I wouldn’t sleep with you that I wanted to get married?”
Spike pulled out his pack of cigarettes and lit up. “So then what’s the hold up?” he asked. “Why do you keep putting on the brakes.”
Buffy didn’t know what to say. She didn’t have a reason for why she was reluctant to get physical with her sex god boyfriend. She found him extremely physically attractive, but when one thing started leading to another, she always stopped. Buffy wasn’t sure why. It was just that, it felt off somehow. She sighed wearily. “Look, Spike, I’m not going to marry you.”
His face was set. “We’ll see about that.”
“What did you say?” Willow gasped, leaning across the table toward Buffy.
“I said yes. We’re getting married in a week and I’ll warn you, the colors are puce and chartreuse.” Buffy rolled her eyes, taking another sip of her coffee. “I said no. Are you insane?”
Willow frowned. “What is up with you and Spike anyway?”
Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know.” She slid off the stool at the Espresso Pump and picked up her purse. “Are you going to walk me back to the gallery?” she asked, knowing full well that Willow would love an excuse to see Tara. Since Buffy introduced her best friend to her new assistant three months earlier, they had been inseparable.
Willow fell in step with Buffy as they walked down the sidewalk. “You’re in love,” Willow said flatly.
Buffy gave her a withering look. “I am not in love with Spike.”
“I didn’t say Spike, now did I?” Willow asked pointedly.
Buffy looked away, becoming inordinately interested in window shopping. Willow was her oldest and dearest friend and Buffy hated how transparent she was to Willow.
“So, Tara said Angel’s doing the show,” Willow offered.
“That’s the plan,” Buffy said evasively.
“You know, you’re never going to get him if you keep dating his best friend,” Willow informed her shortly.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Sure you don’t.” Willow sighed in frustration. “Buffy, you’ve been stuck on Angel since you were in junior high. Why don’t you just ditch Spike?”
“Angel doesn’t like me,” Buffy replied quietly. “He can’t even stand to talk to me. You should have seen him the other night with that nasty skank Drusilla wrapped around him.” Buffy felt nauseous at the very memory of Drusilla’s long, blood-red nails scraping over Angel’s black silk shirt. They were close, very close. And while Buffy still half-suspected that Drusilla had been with Spike and not Angel, the fact that Drusilla and Angel had any type of intimate relationship bothered her deeply. To her, Angel was always such a closed book and it hurt to know that the nutcase Drusilla was one of his very few confidants.
Brow furrowed, Willow asked, “I thought Drusilla was Spike’s ex.”
“She is,” Buffy said wryly. “I’m fairly sure that Angel was covering for Spike.”
“Great!” Willow said with faux enthusiasm. “Your boyfriend that you don’t even like is cheating on you.”
“I like Spike,” she countered irritably. And yes, for the record, she did know how insane it was that she was more upset about Angel and Drusilla than she was about Spike and Drusilla. But Buffy was never going to admit that. She did have some pride, after all.
“You don’t like him like him.”
Buffy shrugged. “Well, maybe not, but I can’t have who I do want. And Spike’s fun and easy to look at and being around him means I get to be around Angel even if he can’t stand me.”
Willow frowned at her friend. “You’re redefining pathetic, you know.”
“I know,” Buffy said petulantly, taking a sip of her coffee.
When they reached the gallery, Willow quickly found Tara. Buffy left the two in silence, smiling a little sadly as she made her way to her office. Tara and Willow were so happy together despite everything stacked against them while Buffy was being offered happiness and couldn't take it.
Buffy sat down heavily at her desk. She was dating Spike and should have been deliriously happy with him. He was attentive, good looking, fun to be around. Okay, so he might be cheating on her, but even that wasn’t the reason that she had doubts. No. She had doubts because of Angel. Buffy cringed at her own pathetic nature.
Leaning back in her chair, Buffy thought about Angel, marveling at how happy she felt just thinking about Angel. He made her insides go mushy and it was like whenever he stepped into a room the lights just dimmed everywhere else. She had been crushing on Angel for as long as she could remember and he was so out of her league it wasn’t even funny.
But if her mother’s death made Buffy realize anything, it was that life was short. She didn’t want to look back and have regrets, to have a whole series of what ifs. She liked Angel. She more than liked him. She knew she had no chance with him, but she was sick of settling for second best. Spike was a distraction, nothing more. Granted, he was a distraction that looked fabulous in leather and could do some sinfully wicked things with his tongue ... but in the end, it wasn’t worth it.
She might not have Angel, but she was finished pretending to be in love with someone when she wasn’t.
“Tell me why I said I would do this again,” Buffy mumbled to herself as she looked critically in the mirror. She ran her hands down her torso, smoothing out the silky lavender material. Two months ago when she’d agreed to go to this party with Spike, things had been different. For one, she and Spike were actually dating.
It had been three weeks since his disastrous proposal. Spike still called a lot and occasionally dropped by, but their relationship was dead in the water. That alone would have made the party uncomfortable. But combine that with the fact that Angel was going to be at the party and Buffy’s nerves were strung so tight she thought she was going to snap.
Buffy hadn’t seen Angel since that night with Drusilla. She didn’t know if he had any idea that she and Spike were no longer an item. Of course, going to this party as his date wasn’t a real great reinforcement of that fact.
Normally, there would be no way she would consider going to a party with her ex, but the world wasn’t perfect. She needed to make contacts, court new clients and Angel and Lindsey were bound to have some artist friends. There was no way she could let this opportunity pass her by.
“Get a move on, pet,” Spike bellowed from the living room. Sighing, Buffy grabbed her purse.
The party was at Lindsey’s house. He was a very successful, only slightly-slimy, lawyer with the most successful firm in Sunnydale. His house was impressive, which, Buffy was certain, was the intention. Spike ushered her inside, his hand resting on the small of her back like nothing had changed. Buffy’s smile was too tight, but she didn’t feel like making a scene.
Buffy’s attitude toward the evening had been ‘grin and bear it’. But that was before she saw Angel and his leggy, sultry, way-too-slutty date. All thoughts about making work contacts were long forgotten. By the time people were taking their seats at the table, Buffy was on her second glass of wine. Taking care not to embarrass herself since she was slightly tipsy, Buffy didn’t bother looking at the person seated next to her as she sank down into her chair.
“I know for a fact you’re underage.”
Buffy shivered slightly at the sound of that voice and turned her head to look at Angel. Damn, he was beautiful, she couldn’t help noticing. He looked particularly good in the dark blue shirt. The material looked so, so soft. Buffy wanted to scrape her fingernails over his chest. The thought caused her to giggle and she licked her lips before replying, “Depending on what I feel like doing, I’m completely of age.”
Angel stared at her for a long moment and Buffy could swear she saw hunger in his eyes. He leaned in closer and Buffy’s pulse sped up.
Deftly, he plucked her glass out of her hands and raised it to his lips, draining it in one long swallow. His tongue snaked out to catch a final drop of wine and he said blandly, “I was talking about the alcohol.”
“Pet,” Spike purred, his hand finding her thigh under the table. Buffy turned to look at him. By the time she looked back at Angel, he was engrossed in some conversation with his skanky whore of a date. Her name was Rebecca Lowell and she was a moderately famous television actress, though her career was quickly fading into obscurity. Buffy hated her. Granted, previous to this evening, she had adored the woman, but the second she saw the nasty ho with Angel, she hated her.
The dinner was a blur, due mostly to the fact that just to piss Angel off, Buffy kept steadily drinking. By the time dessert was served, she was fighting to remain upright. She reached for her glass again and Angel caught her hand. “No more,” he said firmly.
She glared at him. “You’re not the boss of me,” she slurred.
Angel was leaning against the doorframe talking to Gwen. He liked her. She had a dark and dangerous edge that was too rare. Plus, Rebecca was getting a little clingy. He knew it was time to move on. He was just about to make a joke when Lindsey tapped him on the shoulder and discretely whispered in his ear. With a nod, Angel excused himself and headed for the foyer.
He found Spike trying to calm down a very distraught Buffy.
“No,” she snapped, far louder than was socially acceptable, holding the keys out of his reach.
“What’s going on?” Angel asked the pair.
Buffy immediately maneuvered herself so Angel was between her and Spike. Spike looked at him and rolled his eyes. “She wants to drive herself home,” he said.
Angel glared over his shoulder at Buffy. “You’re not driving,” he said flatly.
“I’m not letting him drive me,” she said, sticking her chin out defiantly.
Spike shrugged, looking at Angel expectantly. Angel growled in frustration. “Can I drive you home?” he asked her.
Buffy looked at Angel speculatively – or at least as speculatively as one can look when one can’t focus much more than a foot in front of them. “Fine,” she announced, holding out the keys and then dropping them before Angel could catch them.
He glared at her as he bent down to pick up the keys, but she had turned away and was drunkenly weaving her way to the car.
Five minutes later, they were on their way across town and Angel looked over at Buffy who was staring blindly out the window. “Want to tell me what’s wrong?” he asked.
She turned around and looked at him for a moment before staring back out at the road. “Nice date,” she said. “Where’d you find her? 976-NeedAWhore?”
Angel couldn’t help it, a snort of laughter escaped him. He snapped his head to Buffy who was looking at him defiantly. He couldn’t believe she had just asked him that. “And why would my date be any of your business?” he pressed.
Buffy rolled her eyes. She huffed, crossing her arms over her chest as she watched the road again. “Spike asked me to marry him,” she said matter of factly.
All of Angel’s mirth was gone in a moment. He cleared his throat nervously. “So, what did you say?” he asked as casually as possible.
“I told him no,” she said. She glared at him sideways. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“You’re right,” Angel admitted. “It’s not my business. So why are you telling me?”
“Because I’m drunk,” she said.
“False courage,” Angel commented, “you better be careful or you’ll regret it in the morning.”
She shorted. “I regret everything,” she said. “That’s me, Buffy of the Many Regrets.”
Angel rolled his eyes at her theatrics. “You don’t have anything to regret, Buffy,” he said.
“Yes I do,” she snapped.
He glanced at her in disbelief. “Like what?”
“Not throwing myself at you when I had the chance.”
Angel swallowed thickly. Taking a
deep breath, he turned to look at Buffy – and saw she was passed out, her
head resting against the passenger window.
Buffy woke alone, fully dressed in her bed. Her mouth tasted like it was full of chalk and her head was pounding. “Oh no,” she whispered, wincing.
Slowly, so her head wouldn’t explode, Buffy glared at Willow lounging in the doorway. “You’re way too chipper,” she grumbled.
“Have fun last night?” Willow asked with a grin.
Buffy groaned. She didn’t remember much of anything past the appetizer. “I have no idea,” she admitted. “What happened?”
“Beats me,” Willow said, venturing into the room and taking a seat at Buffy’s desk. “Angel called me a little after midnight last night, wanted me to come over here. I found you passed out on your bed and he was in a pretty big hurry to leave.”
If she weren’t certain that it would make
her head explode, Buffy might have started crying. As it was, she
didn’t dare. Lord only knew what happened at the party. She
had vague recollections of arguing with Spike in the hall and then a very
fuzzy car ride home with Angel. She had no idea what she might have
said to embarrass herself enough that he couldn’t wait to get away from
[B/A end up having casual sex with each
other, neither knowing that each is in love with the other and both of
them trying to play it cool]
Two weeks later, Angel cursed looking through the prints he was hanging. “It’s not here,” he said shortly. Buffy’s assistant, Tara, looked up at him helplessly. Angel sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “I need that print,” he announced to the room. “It’s the centerpiece of this whole panel.”
“Well, can’t you go get it?” Buffy asked bluntly.
Angel frowned at her. “I have to finish matting at least a dozen prints. I don’t have time.”
Buffy rolled her eyes, quickly tiring of his overly dramatic fit. “Give me your keys,” she said. “I’ll go get the damn thing.” Angel narrowed his eyes at her and she glowered back. “I promise I won’t steal anything,” she said shortly.
“That’s not the issue,” he mumbled. Sighing, he walked over to the corner where he had dumped his jacket and pulled a key ring out of the pocket. He threw them to her. “The blue one,” he said, motioning to the keys. “And the print I need should be with the prints stacked in the northwest corner of the dining room on the bottom shelf. It should be labeled ‘Ireland 5’. Get the print and don’t touch anything else.”
“Fine,” Buffy huffed, irritated with being treated like a clumsy child. No doubt he was afraid she was going to ruin one of his precious photos.
Buffy fought with the aging lock but finally managed to open the door to Angel’s home. It was late and she started flipping on lights. She walked into Angel’s living room and surveyed the view. A wicked smile curved her lips as she took in the absolute silence of the space. She was all alone in Angel’s mansion. She had to admit, the impulse to snoop was strong. He was always so secretive about everything. She’d known him since she was just a kid, yet she didn’t know him at all. At least not yet.
Whistling to herself, she strolled into his kitchen. His bills were on the counter, but nothing too interesting there. They appeared to be such mundane items as electricity, water, cell phone, some work correspondence and an odd assortment of junk mail. She frowned. A cursory glance through his cabinets made a strong argument for the fact that he could actually cook. He had flour. Someone didn’t buy flour unless they were serious about building something in the kitchen. Buffy idly wondered how unimpressed he would be by her plethora of cereal and frozen pizza.
She stood in his doorway for a moment before curiosity got the better of her. The bedroom was on the small side, considering the size of the rest of the mansion. But it felt cozy rather than cramped. The bed was unmade, the pillow still dented from Angel’s head. Buffy couldn’t help but wonder what he must look like curled among the dark crimson sheets.
She shook off the thought, padding over to his dresser. It was spare and could use a good dusting. There was a pile of loose change, a tube of chapstick and a sealed condom package. Buffy couldn’t help but blush as she looked at the latter. “Moving on,” she muttered to herself.
There wasn’t anything obviously salacious and Buffy wasn’t about to go digging through his drawers. She walked back out to the living room, taking her time to study things more closely. It was all tasteful and expensive and gave no particular insight into Angel.
Sighing, she figured she might as well get on with what she was supposed to be doing. “Northwest corner, bottom shelf,” she repeated aloud. After several false starts, she finally figured out which corner was the northwest corner. Gods, Angel was nothing if not anal retentive. Everything was perfectly labeled and ordered. Crouching down, Buffy was in the process of carefully extracting the print when she stopped.
The massive shelves were lined with box after box, all of them professionally labeled. All of them except the box right at eye level. Where the others had terribly boring and terribly descriptive tags like “Johnny Depp, France, June 1998, Vanity Fair”, this box had no label. It simply had her name hand scrawled in Angel’s slanted script.
Buffy blinked at it for several minutes. But even under the harshest scrutiny, nothing changed. It was labeled “Buffy”. So this was why he’d been so antsy about letting her come pick up the print. Buffy reached for the box and then stopped herself. Regardless of the fact that it had her name on it, it was Angel’s and he had made it clear he didn’t want her snooping in it.
Ha! Too bad. But as Buffy finally reached for the box, her hands were trembling. What could possibly be inside of it? Her mind raced with possibilities. In all likelihood, it was nothing more than paperwork for the gallery or something equally boring.
Well, she’d never know if she never looked. Taking a deep breath, Buffy pulled the box off the shelf and set it on the floor. Carefully she eased herself down beside it and removed the lid. She stared at the contents of the box for long moments, unable to move.
When she finally could move again, she leafed through print after print, each painstakingly organized. There had to be hundreds, maybe even thousands of pictures.
And each and every one of them was of her.
Buffy’s hands were trembling. There were a couple pictures here and there of her as a child. Buffy thought back, she would have been five or six when Angel started working with her mother. Apparently he’d taken her picture. There was a gap of several years, no doubt when Angel was in New York, getting his career off the ground. The pictures seemed to start again when she was fifteen or sixteen. There was one picture of her standing on the steps at school sucking on a red lollipop. Her hair was long and straight, falling around her shoulders. She was wearing a white tanktop and ... a short little skirt with a pair of platform sandals. What the hell had she been thinking? She cringed to herself.
But hideous fashion sense aside, why did Angel have all these pictures? Obviously he’d shot them himself. She found one that wasn’t taken more than a few months ago. She was sitting at her desk at the gallery with a decidedly maudlin expression on her face. Carefully, she replaced the lid and returned the box to its place on the shelf.
Efficiently, she took the print Angel needed and made to leave. She turned off the lights and locked up the mansion.
Was it possible? Was Angel in love with her? It seemed so absolutely unlikely. He’d never really spoken to her, never shown any sign that his feeling might be of the soft, squishy sort. Except for that moment at her mother’s funeral.
It hit Buffy like a ton of bricks. That day at her mother’s funeral was the first time she saw Angel since she graduated from high school. He’d been kind, caring, attentive. But then his career pulled him away again. The next time she saw him, she was dating Spike – his best friend.
Buffy felt like a fool. That day at her mother’s gallery had been the only time Angel felt like he could approach her. She was out of high school, over eighteen and single. But given the circumstances, he hadn’t made a move. And when he came back, she was involved with his closest friend in the world, so Angel kept his distance, shoring it up with gruff words and long silences.
Buffy wasn’t exactly sure how she made it back to the gallery. Her mind and heart were swimming.
Angel watched her from the second she entered the gallery. Their eyes locked as she made her way to where he stood, directing the print hanging. Buffy stopped at his side. “Uh, here’s the print,” she said quietly.
He took it, his hand brushing against hers. “Thanks,” he replied softly.
Buffy swallowed thickly, trying to think of something to say. But there didn’t seem to be anything to say. “I, uh, should go back to my office,” she said lamely.
Angel nodded, but as she turned to go, he caught her hand. She looked back at him. “I’m glad,” he said with a strange little shrug.
Angel pulled her closer, not exactly an embrace, but their bodies were almost touching. “I’m glad you found your pictures.”
Buffy’s cheeks stained with a blush and she shifted her weight on the balls of her feet. “I better let you finish,” she said, her voice sounding absurdly breathy.
END ... for now
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