375° For 9 to 11 Minutes
by indie



“Do you love him?”

She shifted uncomfortably, crossing her arms over her chest as she stared out the window at the people walking by on the sidewalks. From this height, they all looked like little ants scurrying to and fro. She took a deep breath, lifting her face directly into the stream of sunlight, stopping before she allowed herself to wonder at Angel having an office with great natural light. “Do you really want me to answer that?” she asked, her voice low and hard.

“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t,” he gritted out.

“He’s dead, Angel,” she said, her voice dull and defeated. “What does it matter now?”

He glared at her, his jaw so tight she could almost hear his teeth grind together even from across his spacious office. “It matters to me,” he said.

She sighed, turning away from the window. She took several steps, allowing her arms to hang limply at her sides. “I loved him,” she said, staring into the shadowed depths of his eyes.

He snorted, turning away from her to stare blindly at the wall.

“What? That’s it?” she demanded. “Don’t you want to call me ‘bitch’ or maybe make some remark about how it’s so typical for a woman?”

His head snapped to face her and if she weren’t fairly certain she could still kick his ass, she might have taken a step backward. “Being fickle, you mean?” he asked in a biting tone.

She smiled tightly. “Fickle,” she repeated, wrapping her tongue around the word like she was trying it on for size. “That’s a good one,” she said, whistling. “Fickle.” She spat the word like a curse. “Let’s see, I know the monks did some funky stuff with my memories, but if I concentrate hard enough I can usually figure out which ones were cooked up and which ones are legit. I seem to remember you telling me that in two hundred and forty-five years that I was the only girl that you ever loved.” If looks could have killed, he would have been a pile of ash on his sinfully expensive carpet. “I don’t think you’re one to tell me about fickle.”

“That wasn’t a lie,” he said coldly.

“Just an exaggeration maybe,” she offered with a brittle smile.

“What is this about?” he asked, irritated and confused. “Darla?”

“And Cordelia,” she added helpfully. “Let’s not forget that one. I mean, Darla, I can sort of get past. You were with her for a century and a half. It’s like a reformed alcoholic having a relapse or something. But Spordelia. Come on. You left me because I couldn’t have kids or sunlight or make love. Guess you didn’t have to be so noble with her.”

“She was part demon.”

“And I’m a fucking Slayer!” Her eyes glittered with hatred.

“It wasn’t the same with Cordy,” he said quietly, still overwhelmed with guilt. “She knew what she was getting into.”

“Oh, and I didn’t?” Buffy demanded at the top of her lungs, righteously offended that she had been compared to Cordelia and found lacking.

Angel’s lips pursed together tightly and he shook his head. “That’s not what I mean, Buffy.”

“What exactly do you mean?” she snapped.

“My arguments for leaving you might have hurt, but they were true,” he said. “I know you’re a Slayer, Buffy. I know you’ll never have a normal life. But you’ll want as normal a life as possible. So you know about the things that go bump in the night, okay. But you still need a partner. You still need someone to build a life with, to have children with, someone who doesn’t confine you to the shadows.”

“And what? Cordelia was avoiding the rays out of some concern about premature aging?”

He stepped closer, his eyes not exactly gentle, but no longer filled with loathing. “Cordelia was an amazing woman. She was strong and a fighter.”

Buffy blinked back tears.

“But at the core of her, there was a selfishness that you never possessed Buffy. An instinct for self-preservation that was intrinsic to her nature. I left you because you would have eternally compromised yourself for me. Cordelia never would have done that. She would have stayed with me for as long as it suited her needs and if she ever came to a point in her life where she wanted things I couldn’t give her, Cordelia would have walked away. I don’t think she would have been happy about it, but she would have done it. She would have gone on.”

A single tear slid down Buffy’s cheek. “So now I’m being punished for being loyal?” she asked, her voice cracking.

He stepped closer. “You’re not being punished, Buffy.”

“Funny, that’s how it feels,” she said thickly. She rolled her eyes, staring at the nearby coffee table with inordinate interest. “Somehow I can’t imagine Cordy signing up for an ‘everything but’ relationship.”

Angel took a deep, unnecessary breath. “Cordelia and I did not have a relationship.”

Buffy looked up at him sharply. “But you wanted to.”

He watched her for several tense moments. “Yes,” he admitted.

Buffy grimaced in disgust, looking away. “Like I said,” she repeated, “I can’t see Cordy signing up for that.”

Angel shrugged, looking down at his hands. “A physical relationship wouldn’t have been a problem,” he said quietly.

Turning slowly, Buffy stared at him. “So you could have fucked her?” she demanded.

“Just like you fucked Spike?” he countered.

“Oh, no,” she said, “this isn’t about me. This is about you.”

Angel frowned, but let it go. “Sex wasn’t the trigger, Buffy,” he said. “You were.”

She flinched like he had hit her and took a step backward.

“That’s not – “ he stopped, cursing himself. “That’s not what I mean. It wasn’t your fault, Buffy.”

“Really?” she said in a scathing tone.

“I just – “ he stopped, trying to find some eloquent way to phrase it and coming up short. “Having an orgasm wasn’t perfect happiness,” he said bluntly. “If it was, Angelus would be free every time I jerk off in the shower.”

Buffy remained mute, but her cheeks burned.

“I could have had sex with Cordelia,” he explained, “because that’s what it would have been, sex. I cared deeply about her, I loved her. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it. She was a beautiful woman. But it wouldn’t be perfect happiness because you are my perfect happiness, Buffy.”

She snorted, but it sounded a lot like a sob. “Yeah, I’m making you real happy,” she said.

He shifted, straightening up to his full height. “You’re right,” he said, “so let me amend that to you alone have the capacity to be my perfect happiness.”

She laughed, shaking her head as she turned back, pacing over to the plate glass windows again. She leaned forward, pressing her forehead to the cold glass. Screwing her eyes shut, she took a deep breath. “I don’t think either one of us is capable of perfect happiness anymore,” she said quietly.

“Maybe not,” he admitted. “But then again, you never know.”

Angel walked over to the couch and sat down, propping his feet up on the coffee table. Silence hung heavy in the air and Buffy marveled at the soundproofing his office must have had. She couldn't hear any of the building's bustling noise.

“Did he make you happy?” Angel asked, fighting to keep his voice neutral.

“He made me feel alive,” she said. “And sometimes he made me feel safe.”

Angel flinched at her words, but swallowed back his growl. “I really want to be glad that someone could make you feel safe, but I can’t.”

“I know,” she said without censure. She turned around, facing him as she leaned back against the glass.

“You really did love him,” Angel said with wonder.

“I really did love him,” she confirmed.

Angel shook his head and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, there was nothing but pain. “I hated Riley,” he said, “but somehow even though I knew you were with him, I never worried. I knew it was wrong and I felt guilty about it, but I knew he could never really compete with me.”

“And that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?” she asked. “It all comes down to the competition. Which vampire did Buffy love best?”

He held his hand up to her, silencing her. “Don’t bother,” he said dryly. “I get it. I got the cookie dough and Spike got the cookies.”

She made a frustrated noise, stalking over to the couch. She stepped one leg over both of his and moved to sit down on the coffee table. It forced Angel to move his feet and sit up lest she sit down on his feet. “You don’t get anything,” she spat. “You never have. I’m still cookie dough! No one has had Buffy cookies!”

Angel frowned, but somehow managed to look mollified.

Buffy looked disgusted and glared at him. "Wonder at the wholeness that is me," she demanded.

His brow creasing, Angel said, "What?"

Rolling her eyes, Buffy stood. "Oh yeah," she said, "I forgot. You don't know what I look like after you leave me because … well, you're gone."

"What are you talking about?"

"I am standing here, in your office, having a calm conversation with you about the fact that I did love Spike," she yelled, breathing hard as she stared at him.

"I noticed," he said dryly.

"No you didn't," she countered, "because if you did, you wouldn't have to play these stupid fucking power games with me because you would already know."

He shook his head, at a loss for what she was talking about. She turned, walking back to the window yet again. It was a defense mechanism. She could recognize that much. Even if his new windows could now allow him to step into the sunlight, she still took sanctuary from him in the warm rays, her body knowing that he shouldn't be able to follow. But of course he could. He stood behind her, waiting.

She shook her head, her vision blurred by the tears in her eyes. "After I sent you to Hell, it took me five months to be able to even tell anyone what had happened. Five months! And I don’t mean details. I mean a mere acknowledgement that it had been you and not Angelus. To this day, I've never discussed that with anyone."

He reached out, but stopped before his hand made contact. He pulled back.

"When you left me after graduation, it was almost as long again before I could even say your name and then it was only because I had to give you that damn ring. You weren’t even dead that time. I hadn’t been your murderer and I was still in a haze for months. I jumped every time I caught a glimpse of someone I thought might be you. It was sick."

She twisted around, glaring at him. "When you left me, I had to learn how to breathe again, Angel. So yes, I can stand here and calmly tell you that I loved Spike. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? Do you want to know that I made love to Spike the night before he died, but that I didn't for one second try to stop him from sacrificing himself?"

He reached out, cupping her cheek. "Buffy," he rumbled, wiping a tear away with the pad of his thumb.

"I hate how much you hurt me," she said in an agonized whisper. "I hate how much you can still hurt me."

He pulled her closer, dropping his head so his forehead rested against hers. “So do I,” he said, his voice hoarse.

“Then stop doing it,” she said petulantly.

Leaning in closer, he brushed his lips gently against hers. She responded in kind, sinking against him with a sigh as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He deepened the kiss, sliding his lips along hers, tracing the seam of her mouth with his tongue. Her lips parted and she allowed him access to her body, suckling lightly on his tongue. He urged her backwards, pressing her into the plate glass. Her legs parted instinctively, allowing him to step between them.

With a groan, he broke away, pressing his forehead against her shoulder, both of them breathing hard. “Like I said,” he panted, “perfect happiness and you.”

She turned her head, pressing a gentle kiss to his hair. “I guess it’s some consolation that if you can still throw me, that I can throw you too.”

“Definitely thrown,” he said, wrapping his arms around her waist. He took a deep breath and released it in a shuddering sigh. “What are we going to do, Buffy?” he asked. “The curse is still very much a problem.”

She hugged him. “And I’m still busy baking,” she said wistfully.

He pulled back and looked at her with a wry grin. “Trust me, even when you’re done baking, the curse will still be a problem.”

She smiled enigmatically. “You never know,” she said.

He narrowed his gaze at her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

She shrugged. “Nothing.”

“Buffy.”

She smiled again and twisted out of his embrace with a playful giggle. “Let’s just say that I’m pretty good friends with a goddess,” she said.

“Willow?”

Buffy nodded. “If she can rewrite thousands of years of Slayer lore, I’m pretty convinced she can take care of that little gypsy loophole of yours,” she said. She grinned evilly. “When I’m done baking that is.”

He frowned again, but it was clear he was amused. “Why not now?” he asked, advancing slowly on her.

She moved, being careful to stay out of his reach. “Because I’m still a work in progress,” she said firmly. “And I don’t need the ... temptation.”

“What about me?” he asked with feigned insult. “Don’t you think I’d sleep better knowing my soul was anchored?”

One carefully plucked eyebrow arched. “Considering how and where and with whom you slept while you were all Mr. No Anchor, I think you’ll survive,” she said.

“Buffy,” he said creeping closer.

She shivered. He’d almost whined. Almost. That needy breathy caressing of her name as he slowly advanced made her heart clench in her chest while other parts of her anatomy did the same ... She turned quickly and darted around the back of the couch. "Baking," she said. "Baking!"

He gave her a sullen expression. "How long?" he asked.

She grinned.

END

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