That Night
by indie
A few quick notes:
1. This fic is a birthday present for trammie, hope you like it, sweets.
2.  The idea for this fic was completely inspired by Tango's Drawings Series.
3.  Alley was absolutely invaluable with all of her information on NYC.  Any fault with the representation lies with me, not her.

Buffy lay back, staring up at the night sky.  She wore a tanktop and the tar coating the roof was rough against her bare shoulders, but thankfully warm.  It still held the heat of the day though the sun sank behind the horizon some hours earlier.  Her bare shoulder brushed against his and the strange fizzle of electricity seemed to tingle over her nerves.  “Okay,” she said, trying to ignore the sensation, “what am I supposed to be looking at?”

He released an exasperated sigh and Buffy had to stifle a laugh.  He was so adorable, trying to teach her things when they both knew she was hopeless.  That said, the astronomy lesson was going much better than the algebra.  Trying to explain theorems almost exhausted his infinite patience.  “This is not the best place to be doing this,” he grumped.

Buffy smiled in the dim light.  He was such the perfectionist.  He wanted to go to the planetarium for this lesson.  Of course she made up some lame excuse they both knew was a lie.  She didn't feel guilty about it.  Not in the least.  Not if a simple lie could prevent him having two broken legs – or worse.

He steadfastly refused to admit there was any danger in the two of them being seen together in public.  Buffy knew better.  She wasn’t going to risk his health simply to see some stupid stars.  “We can see the stars,” she lied.  There was too much light from the city for the stars to be distinguishable, but it was a preferable alternative to him being pummeled to death.

He was quiet beside her and Buffy knew he was concentrating.  She rolled her head to the side watching him stare intently up at the sky.  Just looking at him caused the corners of her mouth to curve upward into a smile.  They were the same age, but he still seemed so young, so innocent.  She had no idea what he was doing spending time with her.  Trouble and misery were her constant companions.  Most people knew enough to steer clear of her.

But he was her friend.  He had always been her friend and he was undoubtedly the only wholesome thing in her life.  While all of the other kids from the neighborhood avoided her, whispering things about her, he always seemed immune.  Buffy knew what people thought of her.  She hung with a bad crowd and that seemed to make her bad by association.  She also knew that the rumors were more fact than fiction.  She was not a saint.

He pointed to the sky and said, “There, the really bright one, right above us.”  But Buffy’s eyes weren’t on the sky, they were on him.  When she didn’t answer, he turned his head to look at her.

As soon as their eyes met, Buffy was swimming in his dark chocolate irises.  Even in the dim light, they were the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.  Huge, richly dark orbs that gave you the feeling you were seeing right into his soul.  Without thinking, she reached out and cupped his cheek in her hand, trailing her fingertips lightly over his skin.  “Why don’t you have a girlfriend, Angel?” she asked in a bare whisper.

His expression was suddenly akin to the one he wore when trying to teach her algebra.  It told her that she had asked the most obvious question in the world.  But she was blind to the answer.  He opened his mouth to say something and then shut it again.  Levering himself up on one elbow, he looked down at her.  Her hand slipped from his cheek down to his neck and in one agonizingly sweet second Buffy knew exactly why Angel didn’t have a girlfriend.

Her heart raced, but she didn’t pull away like she should have.  She was transfixed by his eyes, by the naked longing they held, the affection and reverence.  How many times had she wondered what it would have been like to be looked at like that?  And instantly, she knew she did not deserve it.  She was sullied and worn – used goods.  At eighteen, she had done more living than someone three times her age.  There were mornings when she couldn’t bring herself to look into a mirror.  Angel deserved so much better, so much more than second-hand whore like herself had to offer.  But again, she did not pull away.

He leaned down, his lips barely brushing against hers and he uttered her name with such absolute reverence she wanted to weep.  She wasn’t meant to be touched like this.  She was not something to be worshiped.  She was someone who mothers warned their sons to avoid.  But he pressed his lips against hers and she forgot why she didn’t deserve him.

He nipped at her lips softly, somewhat awkwardly.  Buffy didn’t care.  She had more than enough experience for both of them.  Using her tongue, she languidly traced the seam of his lips.  With a silent gasp, he opened his mouth and she pulled his bottom lip into her mouth, suckling.  He let her take the lead, groaning as she tangled her fingers through his shaggy locks and urged him to blanket her body with his.

She parted her legs, causing her short skirt to ride up, and he slipped between them, his hips cradled by hers.  She kissed him deeply and then broke off with a breathy moan as he instinctively pressed against her.  There was no doubt how much he wanted her as Buffy felt his unmistakable arousal.  But for all of her experience with this particular scenario, it was completely new.

How many times had she spread her legs for a man, resigned to the fact that it was simply easier to give in than to push them away?  How many times had she gotten blitzed out of her mind on alcohol or drugs so that she could make it through this inevitable part of the evening?  More often than not, they hadn’t even known her name.  She had been convenient and she owed them.  She owed them for letting a piece of trash like her into their snobbish circles.  She owed them for all the free coke and booze they gave her.  She owed them for overlooking the fact that it took her seven subway stops and a cab to get to their upscale neighborhoods, far from the three-room apartment she shared with her mother and sister.  But all those hazy, degrading nights were a million miles away from this.

“Buffy,” he groaned, kissing her neck before suckling on her earlobe, dragging her from her thoughts.  Angel knew who she was.  Angel knew that some months the phone got turned off because her mom didn’t have enough money to pay the bill.  Angel knew a lot of the rumors about her were true.  But Buffy also knew that it didn’t matter to him.  He wasn’t feeding her a line.  He wasn’t offering to buy her a drink so he could get her drunk and have her suck him off in the front seat of his father’s Porsche.

He was touching her like she was the most precious thing he had ever known.  Tears pricked her eyes as her mouth found his.  She knew that he deserved so much more than her, but she was weak and she couldn’t throw away her only chance to know what it felt like to be truly loved.

Snaking a hand between their bodies, she found the fly of his worn jeans.  He panted harshly against her neck as she helped him wriggle the denim down his lean hips.  He was so hard, moisture beading the head of his cock as she grasped him carefully.  He made a helpless sound as she touched him and Buffy seriously suspected that it was his first time.  Moving her thong out of the way, she guided him into her willing body.  He gave a little grunt and clamped his teeth against her neck as he imbedded himself in her.  She turned her head, rooting for his mouth and ate at his lips.  She drew his tongue into her mouth, suckling as she wrapped her legs around his hips.  He pumped in and out of her, breaking off the kiss to whisper her name against her heated skin.  His hand snaked under her top and Buffy pulled it up, baring her breasts to him.  He kissed down her chest, drawing one of her pebbled nipples into his mouth as he continued to slide in and out of her body.

She pulled his t-shirt up far enough to touch bare skin, digging her short fingernails into the small of his back.  She arched underneath him, her back bowing as she clamped her vaginal muscles around his invading flesh.  He let out a strangled cry and slammed violently into her one final time before going rigid above her.  A moment later, he slumped heavily against her, sparing her none of his weight.

Any other time and Buffy would have shoved the guy off, but this wasn’t any other time.  She held Angel, his hips still cradled in hers, his softening cock still buried inside her.  She toyed idly with the hair at the nape of his neck, waiting for him to recover.

Long moments later, they lay on the roof, Buffy on her side, Angel spooned tightly behind her.  One of his legs was thrown over hers and his arm pinned her to his chest.  Buffy’s head was pillowed on one of his arms as she stared blindly out into the night.  He nuzzled against the nape of her neck and whispered, “I love you.”

Tears of self-loathing such as she had never known slipped from Buffy’s eyes.

*****

Buffy toweled off in the cramped bathroom, avoiding looking at herself in the mirror as she wrapped herself in the threadbare terrycloth.  What had she done?  She sat down on the counter and pulled her legs up to her chest.  In all of her experience, sex had been at best something fun, but more often than not, a bargaining tool.  It was a means to an end.  The rich assholes she normally hung out with liked sex.  It was a sure way to placate their egos or smooth over an argument.

But she was certain that Angel hadn’t viewed it so cavalierly.  She knew that they hadn’t fucked on the roof.  They hadn’t had sex.  They made love - and it most definitely meant something to him.  She bit into the towel that covered her knees and sobbed.  This couldn’t be happening.  She couldn’t have fucked this up too.  Angel was the only good and decent thing in her life and she knew that she had ruined it like she ruined everything else.

She cried until she didn’t have anymore tears left.  Angel, her friend, the only person that knew her.  But Angel didn’t know her.  Angel was blind to her faults.  Angel brushed away the bad things that people said about her – even when they were true.  Angel ignored the fact that she didn’t come home a lot of nights.  Angel treated her like a person when even she knew that she was nothing more than trash.

He would sit up nights talking to her on the stoop when she was late getting home from a party, her breath smelling of some stupid preppy jerk’s cum.  Angel was sweet and honest and gentle.  And she had repaid him letting him think that she felt the same way that he did.  But she didn’t.  It wasn’t possible.  Buffy knew the truth.  She knew that she was blank inside, a huge aching void.  She wasn’t capable of loving anyone or anything.  She survived, nothing more.

Somewhere along the line, Buffy decided she wasn’t going to end up like her mother – living hand to mouth, scrounging every penny to keep her two children fed.  Joyce had listened to her heart and ended up being abandoned when Buffy's father decided he was done playing house.  Buffy vowed then and there to never make that mistake.

She was filled with loathing for her Good Will clothes.  She was tired of never having anything that belonged to her, always having to do without.  She started hanging out with the rich kids who sometimes came slumming in her neighborhood.  Buffy was a very pretty girl with a quick mind and a healthy sense of adventure.  They invited her into their circles.  They let her play their games.

She still wore hand-me-downs, but now they were Donna Karan and Dior.  Cordelia and her friends seemed to view Buffy as a sort of life-sized doll they could dress up.  Buffy let them, taking their fashion advice, deferring to their judgment on how she should behave.  Before long, she was a pretender to the crown, moving easily among the moneyed youth of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  She was equally at home in the backseat of a BMW as on a crowded subway.

And all it cost her was her soul ...

Buffy was so accustomed to handling the vacuous, two-dimensional creatures that posed as friends that she hadn’t given a thought to what her actions would mean to Angel.  But now, with the heat of the moment long gone, alone in her tiny, crumbling bathroom, she knew.  She knew that she was going to hurt him.

She roughly pushed away the thought.  Angel was the dearest person in her world.  She would do anything to protect him.  But Angel wanted her and that was the one thing she couldn’t give him.

Crawling off the counter, Buffy slipped silently into the room she shared with Dawn.  It was the dead of the night by the time she pulled on her pajamas and slid into the double bed next to her sister.  She stared ahead, watching the headlights of passing cars play on the ceiling.

Maybe ...

Buffy rolled over, trying to tamp down the odd sensation that curled in her stomach at the merest thought.  It was a strange feeling, one she failed to recognize as hope.  What if she could be with Angel?  She allowed herself to contemplate the idea.  She didn’t know if she loved Angel – she honestly didn’t think herself capable of the emotion – but she knew he meant more to her than anyone else.  She was tired.  Tired of mind games and date rapes and trying to live in a world where she didn’t belong.  While the world of the wealthy might have glittered more, it wasn’t any nicer.  Sure the kids in her neighborhood got drunk to numb the pain.  Cordelia and Pete’s peers did the same thing, only it was martinis or ecstasy.  The resultant effect was the same.

What if Angel could deal with the real her?  What if he could look at who she truly was and accept it?

Buffy took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling as if a weight was being lifted from her chest.  For the first time in her life, she felt like there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Years later, Buffy would marvel at how her hardened, abused self could have still retained that much naiveté.

*****

She woke gasping for breath.  Spots swam before her eyes as she clawed at the hand, fisted in her hair.  She didn’t have time to prepare as he tossed her off the bed, sending her crashing into the aging chest of drawers.  She crumpled into a ball, whimpering on the floor as he advanced.

The bedroom was brightly lit and Dawn was long gone.  Her mother was probably already at work and Buffy was missing school – again.  Not that it particularly mattered, especially at the moment.  She covered her head with her arms as he advanced.  She didn’t need to look up to know who it was.  Only one person touched her like this. Only one person knew that the cute little Buffy Summers who was friends with Cordelia Chase really lived in a rat infested walk-up in the South Bronx.

“Pete,” she whimpered as he grabbed another fist full of hair and forced her to her feet.  She met his furious gaze as he backed her against the wall, pinning her there with his body.

“Where were you last night, Buffy?” he asked, his face mere centimeters from hers.

“I ... uh,” she stuttered.

He slammed her head into the wall hard enough that she saw stars.   “You were supposed to be at Owen’s party,” he said.  “You were supposed to meet me there.”

Buffy whimpered as one of his hands wrapped around her upper arm, squeezing to the point of pain.  Pete had been her on-again, off-again boyfriend for the last four years.  At first she had gloried in his attentions.  He was older than her by several years, handsome, usually charismatic with a trust fund that eclipsed the gross national product of several small nations.  At the moment, she had no idea how these things had made him even remotely appealing.  He had always been controlling and lately had been getting even more so.   His behavior seemed to get more possessive, more erratic by the day.  She knew he was doing a lot of coke, but she really thought maybe he’d finally fried himself.

When she was a sophomore, he’d gotten mad one night and broken her wrist.  She hadn’t spoken to him for a month.  Not until he bought her a diamond bracelet that cost more than her mother made in a year.  Now, she knew it hadn’t been worth it.  None of this would ever be worth it.  Pete truly thought he was better than everyone else and she knew that he saw her as nothing more than a piece of property.  His possessive behavior had nothing to do with actual concern for her well-being.

“I stayed home last night,” she said though clenched teeth as she fought the pain.

“Really?” he sneered in disbelief.  “You mean you weren’t out fucking some guy?”

Buffy yelped as he tore her pajama top off, roughly fondling one of her breasts.

She clenched her eyes closed tightly.  This had happened countless times before, but she was usually drunk or high, anything to help numb the physical and mental pain.

There was a loud banging on the front door of the apartment and both of them went silent.  “Buffy,” Angel yelled through the door, “are you okay?”

Pete laughed in her ear.  He reached into his back pocket and slapped something against the wall by her head.  Turning, Buffy looked at the coldly glinting metal.  She swallowed thickly.  The knife had been a present from Pete’s father, smuggled out of Russia for a hefty price.  It had belonged to one of Stalin’s main enforcers and had doubtless been used to torture and kill countless innocents.  “Your little puppy dog is worried about you, Buffy,” he said.  “Get rid of him, or I will.”

Pete and his father both marveled over the knife.  Buffy thought it was sick and she knew that Pete wouldn’t hesitate to use it on Angel.  He probably thought he could murder some poor kid in cold blood and get away with it.  Buffy was more than a little terrified that he was right.

She was so nervous her hands were shaking.  Even without the knife, Pete would tear Angel to shreds.  Angel was sweet and devoted, but he wasn’t a fighter and he was physically outmatched.  Angel was tall, but painfully skinny.  Pete took several martial arts for fun and she didn’t doubt he would love to try some of them out on an unsuspecting boy he outweighed by forty pounds.

She walked to the front door and Pete followed.  She pulled it open, thankful that Pete had latched the chain behind himself when he came in.  She stared up into Angel’s worried face, clutching her torn pajama top to her breasts.  A blush rose in his cheeks as he realized she was topless.

“Hi,” he said nervously, a small smile playing on his lips.

“Hi,” she replied and then steeled herself.  If she didn’t get rid of Angel, Pete would, and she knew just how vicious he could be.  “What do you want, Angel?” she asked far too harshly.

He flinched at her words, almost as if he had been hit.  “You weren’t in school,” he said in a near whisper.  “I just wanted to make sure that you were okay ... after last night.”

Pete peeked his head around the corner and Angel’s entire posture went rigid as he watched Pete pull Buffy’s bare back possessively against his chest.  “Last night?” he purred in Buffy’s ear.  “What happened last night, Buffy?”

Buffy ignored the hand that was attempting to fondle her breast.  Pete loved to put on shows, especially for Angel.  “Nothing, Pete,” Buffy ground out.  “I was sick last night, Angel is just checking up on me this morning.”  She shot Angel a glare that threatened him not to contradict her version of events.

But Angel wasn’t going to contradict anything.  He had gone very pale as he watched the sadistic jerk paw the woman that he loved – while she let him do it.  Buffy wanted to die.  The look on Angel’s face should have been disgust, hatred, anything but the soul wrenching pain she saw etched on his features, permeating those huge brown eyes.  Everything inside of her screamed for her to push Pete away, to run to Angel and tell him everything, make him understand that she loved him – because she knew now that she did.  She knew she was capable of love, because she would have done anything to protect Angel.

And in the end, she did protect him.  Angel’s family was poor, as poor as her own.  His father was on disability and his mother barely made end’s meet by working in the garment district – in a factory owned by Pete’s father.  Pete knew this. And if he had any idea of what had really happened between Buffy and Angel, he would have beaten Angel to a bloody pulp and arranged for his mother to lose her job.  It would have destroyed not only Angel, but his whole family.

Buffy couldn’t do that.  She wasn’t good enough for Angel anyway, she couldn’t let that happen.  Better to break his heart than to destroy his entire life.  In a performance that should have won her on Oscar, she pushed back into Pete’s embrace, craning her neck to kiss along his jaw.  “Angel was just leaving,” she said.

As she turned back to look out the door, Angel was already gone.

Forever.
 

*****
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Ten Years Later
*****

Both Doyle and Angel's mouths curled up into snarls as they watched Spike sidle up to the gorgeous blonde in the barely-there black dress, draping a possessive arm around her shoulders.

"I fuckin' hate that guy," Doyle said, tossing back what was left of his scotch, thankful that this gallery didn't serve the froo froo white wine crap of the more upscale venues in TriBeCa and SoHo.  Unlike Angel, Doyle’s interest in the galleries was limited.  Doyle didn't particularly give a shit where he was, so long as the booze flowed and the view was good.  And this view had been absolutely spectacular up until about twenty seconds ago.

Angel's lips pursed together in a glowering frown which had the added bonus of keeping his jaw off the floor.  Hard to look like the poised ar-teest when one was gaping like a moron.  But his outward composure did nothing to quell his inner turmoil.  He couldn't believe it.  Of all the places … what was she doing at his show?  He heard she was back in town and that was hard enough to take, but the actuality of having her this close bordered on physical pain. "You don't even know that guy," Angel said offhandedly, his voice sounding distant in his own ears.

Doyle shrugged.  "S’what?" he scoffed.  "Wearin' clothes like that in a dive like this?  Who the hell is he trying to impress?  I don't need to know him to hate him."

"Yeah, well," Angel muttered, his eyes roaming freely over the woman, soaking in every detail.  He couldn’t help think of the old adage that the more things changed the more they stayed the same.  Things had changed.  He was no longer the pitiful little boy across the hall that she could use to amuse herself.  He was a grown man.  He had an important life.  He was an artist.  But she was still beautiful.  And she was still with a Weston. "If you did know him,” Angel continued, “it would be all the more reason to hate him."

Doyle grunted noncommittally.  "Take it you're acquainted," he said, sounding rather disinterested, all of his attention fixated on the woman in black.  Angel’s enemies were nothing new.  You couldn’t turn around without bumping into one of them.  Between his ruthless business dealings and his penchant for taking lovers who were already committed, Angel was much loathed – by men.

"Openly hostile is more like it."  Angel forced a laugh and then said crudely, "But if it's any consolation, Spike isn't getting a piece of that ass.  She's taken."

With some difficulty, Doyle tore his gaze from the piece of ass in question and arched a speculative eyebrow at Angel.  "Your intelligence reports are wrong, James Bond," he snarked.  "You've been out of the city too long.  Living in L.A. must have fried your brain.  You think all little blonde girls look alike.”  Cocking his head towards the blonde, he said, "That delicious little thing is named Buffy Summers.  And she is single, though 'not on the market'," he explained, doing a horrid mockery of Buffy's voice.

"Oh really?" Angel said in obvious disbelief, looking pointedly at Doyle's bottomless scotch glass.  Doyle was known for his stories and Angel wouldn’t have been surprised to find that most of his information was enhanced by an alcoholic fog.  "And how exactly do you know that?"

"I asked 'er," Doyle replied bluntly.  "You think I'm going to see a woman looking that fine and not hit on her?  She's scouting for new talent or something.  Looking to handle up and coming artists."  He turned and looked at Angel.  "Maybe you could try her out – as a potential agent, I mean."

Angel smiled mirthlessly.  "I already have an agent, Doyle," he replied evenly.

With a wink Doyle said, "Yeah, but she doesn't know that.  Might be interesting to see how far she would go to get a hot young talent like yourself.  And you are in the market for a new agent.  You've been bitchin' for months about how Darla isn't doing shit for your career."

Angel shook his head, never taking his eyes off Buffy.  "She's probably dealing with much bigger talent than me," he said wryly.  "In terms of sales, I mean," he tacked on for good measure, giving Doyle a smirk rife with masculine ego.  "Don't know what she's doing slumming out here, though."

"Yeah," Doyle agreed, his voice taking on an oddly serious note, "she looks the part don't she?  Looks like she should be goin’ home to a million dollar apartment on the Upper East Side after this little party and washin’ off the grime.  But I'll let you in on a secret, she's stuffin' hors d'oeuvres in her pockets so she can eat tomorrow.  Don't know where she got her polish, but wherever it was, it's long gone now.  She's hungry."

Angel shot an appraising glance at Doyle.  "Not really your style to take advantage of women," he said, holding his irritation in check behind a smile that was a shade too forced.  It helped that Doyle was too tanked to notice.

"It's not," Doyle said, sighing in agreement.  "I leave the sadistic little mind games to you, but I won't say it's not a tempting proposition.  Can't help but imagine how much she might be willing to do to drag herself outta the gutter."

"I'm not sure you would be an improvement over the gutter," Angel said dryly.

"Your mother," Doyle insulted in a very offhand manner, clearly not paying any attention to Angel.

Angel shrugged in what he hoped was a careless manner and turned away, leaving Doyle lounging against a pillar that didn't look too structurally sound.  He knew Doyle presented no risk to Buffy.  Despite Doyle's words, Angel knew his friend too well.  Doyle had seen first hand the fallout of women taken advantage of by men.  The issue hit too close to home for him and Buffy was in no danger from the piercing blue eyes or the charming Brogue.

Angel's own intentions, of course, were nowhere near as chivalrous.  There was unfinished business between himself and Buffy Summers.  Old business.  He was a completely different person now.  He didn’t know how he had ever been that pathetic, that absolutely pitiful.  He hated his younger self.  He would have done anything to pull himself out of the life he had ten years ago.

Had Buffy been any different?  Angel pushed the thought away roughly.  He had no desire to sympathize with the woman who ripped his heart out and left him for dead.

Walking over to a small table against a wall, Angel grabbed a plastic glass of some cheap, red wine.  Immediately, he found an empty corner in which to brood.  He knew he looked like something right out of a bad movie, popular young artist, dressed all in black, drinking in the corner as he surveys the room.  But Angel wasn't surveying the room.  All of his attention was fixated on Buffy.

She was single again, and using her maiden name, Angel noted.  Maybe the fun of being married into that much money had finally worn off – though he doubted it.  Going hungry wasn't fun, he knew that lesson well - as did Buffy.  Of course, Angel never saw anything remotely redeeming about her ex-husband, Pete Weston – even taking the money into account.  Pete was a spoiled, irritating little brat that Angel hated long before that horrible morning in Buffy’s apartment.

Angel's jaw clenched tightly.  Of course, Buffy was as much to blame as Pete.  She succumbed to the lure of money without a second thought.  Mercenary bitch.  Maybe Doyle was right.  Maybe he should have a little fun with her.  He longed to show her exactly what she threw away – to make her want him and then leave her like she left him.

*****

Buffy stopped herself from cringing outwardly as her former brother-in-law pulled her against his side.  "William," she said in greeting, not looking up at him.  The movement would have put their lips in precarious proximity and she was in no mood to invite advances, his or anyone else's.  Even being held so close to another person made her heart race in a decidedly uncomfortable manner.

"You know, you're the only one I let call me that," he drawled in her ear, giving her a quick squeeze.  The name was a distinction to be sure.  Spike wasn't known for being overly gracious, but where Buffy was concerned, he was damn near a saint.

But even his apparent sainthood couldn't change the bare facts between them.  Pulling out of his embrace, Buffy turned and gave him a gleaming smile.  It was meant to soften the blow of her retreat, and apparently it worked as he returned the smile.  "I didn't know you were in town tonight," she said, doing her best to hide her nervousness.  She took a deep breath, running through the mental catalogue of calming techniques.

"Wasn't planned," Spike said offhandedly, shoving his hands into the pockets of his expensive dress slacks as he assumed a relaxed posture.  "Got called in on some last second business."

Buffy nodded slowly, but her expression was utterly serious.  She glanced around quickly and then leaned in a bit closer.  "How did you know I would be here tonight?" she asked with a forced smile.

Spike looked at her for a moment and she saw the realization hit him.  His expression instantly sobered.  "Oh, pet," he said quickly, "I'm sorry.  I didn't even think."  He pursed his lips together tightly.  "Dammit," he cursed.

Buffy rested a hand lightly on his forearm.  "It's okay, I don't mind," she said, knowing it was partially a lie.  "But I do need to know how you found out."

"Dawn," he said.  "I called Dawn and she told me you would be here."

Buffy nodded and smiled as she made a mental note to wring her sister's neck the next time she saw her.  Not that she saw her often.  It was simply too dangerous. "It's okay," she said, "I just wanted to make sure …"

"Pete doesn't know where you are," Spike said seriously.  "He won't hurt you, Buffy.  Never again."

Buffy smiled and turned away.  She wasn't going to think about her ex-husband.  Not tonight.  Not while she was doing her best to build a new life – one upon which Pete Weston had no hold.  She looked around the gallery blindly, not seeing the canvases.  It was a showing for half a dozen young artists, just the opportunity of which Buffy had been dreaming.  She needed clients and she needed them badly.  The artists being shown this evening were her best bets.  She needed to be mingling, making contacts, not rehashing the past with her former husband's brother.

Lightly, Spike touched her shoulder, but Buffy didn't turn around.  "Please leave, William," she said under her breath, forcing herself to retain her composure.  If years of marriage to Pete Weston taught her anything, it was the ability to look calm and unflappable while her world was crashing down around her ears.  "I can't do this, not tonight."

"Buffy," he said, his voice low and gravelly.

Turning, she looked at him, their faces scant inches apart.  "You're his brother," Buffy said baldly.

“Half-brother.”

She smiled mirthlessly.  “Semantics, William.”

"I'm also a man," Spike said, his mouth tight.  The innocuous seeming words held the weight of years of longing.

"A man who is brothers with my ex-husband," Buffy said softly.  She had no desire to do this here or now, but she couldn't let it continue any longer.  "We're never going to be together, William.  Never.  You mean a lot to me.  Without your companionship, your backing, I never would have made it.  But when I look at you ... I see him."

Spike's mouth pursed into a thin line.  These were the words he had avoided hearing for the last six years.  He thought … He thought if he just gave her time.  But his vision floated over her face.  She was as undeniably beautiful as always, her luminous hazel eyes, her softly pouting lips, her tumble of gorgeous blonde locks … but underneath it, Buffy Summers was tired.  He could see the tightness around her eyes and at the corners of her mouth, the slight furrowing to her brow that was always present, the shadows that never left her eyes.

She was remarkably composed, but if you scratched the surface, you could see the truth.  Buffy lived in a war zone for four years and then spent the last six years on the run, hiding, living like a hunted creature.  She had finally put down some roots, was trying to build a real life for herself.  He should have known that his presence wouldn't be welcome.  At least not now …

He smiled tightly.  "Here," he said, pressing something into her palm.

Buffy looked down at the folded bills.  "I can't take this," she said, shaking her head.

"It's not for you, pet," he said seriously.  He smiled.  "Goodbye, Buffy," he said and knew he meant for more than just the evening.

"Goodbye, William," she said, leaning forward to kiss him on the cheek.

He turned and their lips met, but she didn't pull away.  The kiss was soft and full of affection.  Eventually he broke it and pulled back, looking at her.  He didn't say a word as he turned and left.

*****

Angel watched Spike kiss Buffy and it ate at his insides like acid.  Out of the arms of one Weston and right into another.  Just like a cat, Buffy Summers always landed on her feet, though usually it was facilitated by lying on her back.  Turning away he slipped through a door into a ramshackle space that served as Anne’s office.  The absent gallery owner was outside, mingling, doing her best to promote her first big show.

Walking over to the window, Angel looked out the dirty glass, through the metal security bars and into the alley.  He stared blindly, trying to get his thoughts under control.  Buffy Summers was not his concern.  She had never been his concern.  Yes, there were a few fleeting moments when he thought maybe ... He pressed his eyes tightly shut and found a perfect mental image of Buffy.  He saw her petal pink lips moving as she spoke to Spike.  He remembered with painful accuracy how soft they were, how warm and tender.  He remembered the breathy little moan she made when you kissed her lightly, pulled her against your body -

With a growl, Angel slammed his hand against the window frame.  Ten goddamn years and he was standing in the dark like some high school reject dreaming about boning the prom queen.  He took a deep breath and forced it quickly out of his nose.  Buffy Summers was a part of his past.  Despite the fact that she might be standing in the next room, whatever had possibly existed between them was long dead.  So dead, it might as well have never existed.

Angel laughed wryly.  He just needed to convince his body of that fact.  He was still hard from the memories of what it was like to touch her years ago.  He laughed again and it echoed harshly in the bare space.  Buffy Summers was the undeniable impetus for his metamorphosis.  In the wake of her rejection and betrayal, he destroyed every recognizable part of Liam Roarke.

Out of that desolate wasteland rose Liam Angelus.

Angel took another deep breath and released it slowly.  He was now composed.  All he needed to do was remember who he was.  The simpering, pathetic little weakling in love with Buffy Summers was gone forever.

*****

Buffy stared at the canvas, immersing her entire consciousness in it.  The work was astounding.  It was bleak, harsh, she felt the rage jumping off the canvas.  It spoke to her intimately.  She definitely needed to talk to this artist.

She had decided to scout for new talent at this particular venue not because she thought it would be fertile ground, but because it was ground she could afford.  The artists showing this evening were poorer than she, holding down two or three other jobs to support their art.  Buffy had not expected to find anything with true merit, but she was pleasantly surprised.  At least half of the artists being displayed showed real potential.  This one in particular, captivated her time and time again.  She looked at the corner of the piece.  It was signed simply “Angel”.

“Like it?” a male voice drawled in her ear, far too close for comfort.

Buffy spun around, instinctively assuming a defensive stance.  Her heart was pounding in her ears.  No one in years had managed to get that close without her noticing.

“It’s my painting,” he said succinctly, a smile pulling his lips into a crooked, predatory grin.

She stared at the man in front of her, sizing him up in a glance.  He was tall, broad-shouldered with long lean lines that were accentuated perfectly by the dark leather pants and matching black silk shirt he wore.  His stance was leisurely, but Buffy could feel the restrained power in his muscled body.  He set off all of her warning bells.  Thoroughly masculine, looming, predatory.  She knew in a moment that this man was dangerous – and that she wanted nothing to do with him.

She was afraid, her heart pounding in her throat, and she detested that more than anything.  Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to meet his eyes.  And time seemed to stop ...

She would know those eyes anywhere, luminous pools of molten chocolate, so deep and dark you could get lost in them forever.  The tension in her body seemed to ebb and a smile graced her previously taut features as she said softly, “Angel?”

At the sound of the name on her own lips, something clicked and she looked at the canvas.  Her head turned back to him.  “Angel,” she said again, “you’re ... Angel.  I mean, er ...”

“Buffy,” he said quietly, his smirk fading away into something more pensive.  He watched her for several moments.  “I’m surprised you remember me,” he said, obviously uncomfortable.  “Most people don’t recognize me.”

She sensed the underlying hostility in his voice and it wounded her slightly.  “I would recognize you anywhere,” she said with quiet sincerity.

Her answer confused him and she could sense him mentally scramble.  He turned and looked at the painting, as if at a loss for anything else to do.  He gestured vaguely towards the chaotic mass of black.  “It’s mine,” he said.

By degrees, Buffy tore her gaze from Angel and looked at the painting.  “It’s a phenomenal piece of work,” she said seriously, not looking at him though she was painfully aware of his presence.  “I had planned to track down the artist this evening and speak with them.”

“About what?” he asked.  Once again he was closer to her than any man had gotten in years, but she didn’t move away.

She smiled at him in that beautiful, slightly condescending manner she always possessed.  "To see if the artist needs representation," she said plainly.

Angel stared at her mutely for several minutes before dropping his usual posturing and said, "I already have an agent."  What good did it do to put on his usual mask for her when she seemed to see right through it?  She completely bypassed the persona he cultivated and saw right to the gangly little boy who tried to teach her algebra and astronomy.  The gangly little boy who clumsily lost his virginity to her on the roof of their building on a chilly September night.  A blush crept into his cheeks and his vision darted around the room.

"Oh," she said, unable to hide her disappointment.  "Well, that's good.  I trust you're doing well."

"Not really," he said absently.  "I don't seem to be very high on Darla's list of priorities."  He didn't bother explaining that Darla's apathy was due completely to the fact that she caught him sleeping with several of her friends.  Well, sleeping wasn't exactly the right description … All four of them had most certainly been awake.  Thoughts of sex instantly led him back to his thoughts of sex with Buffy and from there to bone-deep embarrassment.

He looked at her and while she was smiling, she didn't seem to be amusing herself at his expense.  Maybe she didn't even remember having sex with him.  He prayed that was true.  Rumors were that she slept with half of the private school boys in Manhattan.  At the time, he had defended her honor, but now he was really wishing it was true.  If she had that many partners, she couldn’t possibly remember his humiliating performance.

*****

"Hey, how'd it go?"

Buffy set her purse on the counter and shrugged by way of answer.  "What about you guys?  Was Sam okay?"

Faith rolled her eyes, turning back to the late night talk show she was watching.  "I don't know why you worry.  She's better behaved than me."

"That's not saying much," Buffy said wryly.  She smiled, to let Faith know she was only teasing.  It was true, Faith was a wild child, but Buffy didn't know what she would do without her.  They'd met through a contact at a women's shelter.  Neither of them could afford to live by themselves and both were reluctant to move into any sort of a group home situation.  The first few months were hell as they adjusted to one another's way of doing things.  Buffy liked order, Faith reveled in chaos.  Somewhere they found a middle ground.

Faith clicked off the television and jumped over the back of the worn couch.  Buffy watched as she rummaged through the kitchen cabinets.  "Score," Faith said, pulling out a package of oreos.

Opening the bag of cookies, Faith took two and offered some to Buffy.  Buffy declined.  "You going out?"

With a mouth full of cookie, Faith nodded.  "Wiff Andy," she managed to say.

Buffy merely smiled.  After a string of abusive boyfriends, Faith still liked men.  It was just that now she liked men who also liked men.  Buffy was fairly sure she hadn't been out to a club that wasn't a gay bar in months.

"So what did happen tonight?" Faith asked.  "You look a little spun."

Buffy laughed mirthlessly.  "Past ghosts were crawling out of the woodwork."

Faith sobered completely.  "Pete wasn't there, was he?"

"God, no," Buffy said.  "I don't think I could manage to be this composed if he had been."  She shook her head.  "No, but his brother William was there."

"You two still keep track of each other, right?" Faith asked.

"Yeah," Buffy admitted.

Faith looked suspicious.  "So why was he there?"

Buffy shrugged.  "He gave me some money for Sam," she said.

"And …" Faith prompted.

Buffy rolled her eyes.  "He was trying to hit on me," she admitted.

Faith snorted.  "That's nice and tacky," she said.

"I know," Buffy groaned.  "Will is a nice guy and maybe in some alternate universe he would have a chance, but here, being Pete's brother, there is just no way."

Faith brushed her hands off on her jeans and looked at Buffy.  "You said ghosts.  Plural.  Who else?"

Buffy took a deep breath and released it slowly.  "Angel," she said.

Faith arched an eyebrow and gave her a questioning look.

"The one that got away," Buffy explained.  "He, uh.  We were close, growing up.  I haven't seen or spoken to him for a decade.  He was one of the artists showing tonight."

"Huh.  So, you two bond over modern art?"

"Not really," Buffy admitted.  "He's changed.  A lot."

"Turned out to be a jerk?"

Buffy frowned.  "Not really," she said.  "He seemed distant and a little prickly, but nothing to put him in the jerk category.  It's just … when he was younger he was so sweet.  Really, truly gentle.  He was probably one of the nicest people I've ever known."  She sighed.  "He's harder now, all grown up."  She looked around the room avoiding Faith's gaze.  "He, uh, looks a little different now too."

"Oh really?" Faith goaded.

Buffy smiled and laughed.  "Oh my god, if you'd seen him,” she groaned with a smile.  “I would have killed to be that pair of leather pants he was wearing."

Faith laughed.  She couldn't remember the last time she had seen Buffy have any sort of semi-sexual relationship with a man.  Most of the time, at the barest hint of any sort of physical attraction, Buffy ran screaming in the opposite direction.  "I take it he wasn't always a leather clad sex god?"

"Angel?" Buffy mused, smiling.  "I always thought he was adorable," she said truthfully.  "He has these eyes you can just lose yourself in, like liquid velvet.  In high school, he was shy and nerdy."  She chuckled.  "He looked like a scarecrow, all gangly arms and legs.  He had to have weighed about a hundred pounds."

"And now he's filled out."

Buffy made this strangled noise in the back of her throat.  "You could say that."

"So good,” Faith said with genuine delight.  “You found an old friend who looks good in leather.  The evening wasn't a total bust."

Buffy nodded enthusiastically.  "You've got a point," she said.  "Plus, he's a damn good artist and he's having some issues with his current agent.  I gave him my card."

Faith waggled her eyebrows at her friend.  "Mixing business and pleasure, tsk tsk."

Buffy did not look in the least bit repentant.

"Okay," Faith announced.  "I'm outta here now, or I'm gonna be wicked late.  I'm crashing with Andy.  I'll meet you at the diner at nine for breakfast."

The two friends hugged and Buffy locked the myriad dead bolts, chains and locks on the apartment door.  She rested her forehead against the cool steel for several minutes.

Angel.

Seeing him again after so long didn't even seem real.  She thought about him often, but her cursory attempts to locate him once she moved back to New York had been unsuccessful.  A former friend had told her she thought he was in Los Angeles doing something.

Everything she had said to Faith had been true.  She had adored Angel exactly as he was in high school.  But it was obvious that he'd gone to considerable lengths to change his life.  Goodbye skinny bookworm, hello sexy artist.  It was quite possible that Angel would want no reminders of his former life clashing with his new one.  Buffy couldn't blame him for that.

She groaned.  "I've got more pressing matters to worry about," she said.  She tried to be quiet walking down the hall to the bathroom, but the floorboards squeaked loudly.

"Mom?" came a sleepy voice.

"Just a sec, Sammy.  I just have to wash my face and brush my teeth."

Carefully, Buffy hung her designer dress in the hall closet.  She had to treat them gently.  She sure as hell couldn't afford to replace the few items she had taken when she fled from her abusive marriage.  So far she'd managed to scrape by on the charity of others and some dumb luck, but she didn't expect it to last indefinitely.  She needed to find artists to represent, and fast, otherwise the dresses, along with everything else she owned, would be pawned to pay for food and shelter.

Task accomplished, Buffy went into the bathroom and proceeded with her nightly ablutions.  Finished, she shrugged in the worn t-shirt she used as a nightgown and flicked off the light.  As she crawled beneath the covers of the double bed, Sam cuddled closer.  Leaning over, Buffy placed a gentle kiss on her daughter's head.  "Goodnight, baby," she whispered.

*****

Angel picked up the phone.

And quickly put it down again.

And picked up the phone.

And put it down again.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Angel swiveled around, glaring at Lindsey.  "Fuck off," he shouted.

Lindsey rolled his eyes, ignoring his friend and helping himself to Angel's well stocked liquor cabinet.  He walked over to the desk, trying to look nonchalant, and while Angel's head was buried in his hands, snatched the business card.

"Hey!" Angel bellowed, standing up from behind the desk and reaching out.

Lindsey moved back out of the way laughing.  He cursed as some of the scotch sloshed over the side of his glass and onto his pants.  But he was only distracted for a moment before quickly reading the front of the card.  "Buffy Summers, Innovative Artists," he said.

Angel grabbed the card back none too gently and Lindsey glowered, shoving his wounded hand into his pocket.  "Who is she?" he demanded, taking a seat and propping his feet up on the corner of Angel's desk.

Angel smacked Lindsey's feet off the desk.  "An agent," he bit out.

"Yeah, I get that," Lindsey replied dryly.  "Now who is she?"

"No one."

"You're sitting in here acting like some nervous fifteen-year-old getting ready for his first date over no one?"

Angel growled deep in his throat.  A nervous fifteen-year-old was exactly what Buffy made him feel like.  He didn't need to know that's how she was making him act as well.  "I'm shopping for a new agent," Angel said.  "It's complicated."

Lindsey absolutely didn't buy Angel's story, but he dropped the subject.  Like every other artist Lindsey had ever known, Angel could be a total pain in the ass when he wanted.  "You going to Oz's opening next Saturday?"

Glad for the change of subject, Angel sighed.  "I suppose," he answered.  "Why?"

"Because that fucker with guest list thinks he’s Steve Rubell or something.  You’re on the list, Liam Angelus plus guest.  I have to be the ‘plus guest’."

Angel rolled his eyes.  "You don't even know the girl's name, for gods' sake, Linds, let it go.  It's pretty hard to stalk someone if you have no idea who they are."

"I’m not stalking her," Lindsey snapped.  He frowned so hard he thought he might pull a muscle.  "I just … thought she was interesting," he said.  "And I'd like to see her again."

"Linds, it was six months ago.  You show up at any more of Oz's shows and he's going to think you’ve got a crush on him.  Besides, you don't even know why she was there.  She could have just wandered in."

"That show was at the Haute Gallery," Lindsey said dryly.  "Nobody just wanders in there without an invitation.  She has to be connected to Oz somehow."

Angel rolled his eyes.  “Who are you now?  Columbo?  Linds, you’re a lawyer, not a detective.”

If looks could kill Lindsey’s scowl would have laid Angel out dead.

*****

"Samantha Summers, would you please stop playing with your toast and just eat something," Buffy huffed in irritation.

Sam rolled her eyes with the perfect indignation only a nine-year-old girl could muster.  "I'm not hungry," she pouted, kicking absently at the underside of the booth.  "You said we could go to the museum."

"It doesn't open until noon," Buffy said absently, trying to get back to her conversation with Faith.

"It opens at ten," Sam corrected.  "I checked.  And it's going to take us forever to get over there."

Faith chuckled at the child.  "I thought you guys went to the museum last Sunday."

Sam sighed in exasperation.  "Last Sunday was the Museum of Modern Art," she informed Faith.  "Today we're going to the Museum of Natural History."

"Yes, Faith," Buffy said in mock exasperation, "keep up.  Last week it was the groundbreaking films of Melies and this week it's blue whales."

"Oh," Faith said good-naturedly.  "I keep forgetting you're hella smart."  She stuck her tongue out playfully.

Sam stuck her tongue out in response and the two laughed.

"I take her to the library twice a week and it's not nearly enough to keep her occupied," Buffy lamented.  "She's just like her father."

Faith frowned in confusion.  Nothing Buffy had mentioned about her ex would make Faith think the guy had been a brainiac, but given that she had never met Pete, she couldn't really say.  "Yeah, well, in four weeks Sam starts school for the scarily smart, maybe they'll keep her busy," she said with a wink.

Sam beamed.  She was so excited about her new school.  Buffy longed to share her daughter's enthusiasm, but she couldn't.  The board was so impressed with Sam that they agreed to put her on full scholarship for the first semester.  However, they couldn't guarantee there would be funds to pay for anything beyond that.  If Sam lost the scholarship, there was no way Buffy could pick up the ten thousand dollar a semester cost.

Buffy was saved from her maudlin ruminations by her ringing cell phone.  "Hello?"

There was silence on the other end and for a moment Buffy's heart stopped.  "Hello?" she said more forcefully.  Dear gods, Pete hadn't found her had he?

"Buffy?"

Her heart started abruptly, this time racing in her chest.  "Angel?" she said, noting that she sounded ridiculously out of breath.

At the name, Faith raised an eyebrow.  Frowning, Buffy turned toward the corner of the booth in a futile bid for privacy.  "I, uh …  Sorry.  Um, can I do something for you?"

Angel's throat was dry and his palms were sweating.  He took a deep breath and forced himself to charge forward.  "I was wondering if we could discuss the possibility of you representing me," he said.  "I was thinking maybe we could meet somewhere for lunch."

"Lunch?" Buffy squeaked.  Frowning, she cleared her throat.  "Um, I already have plans this afternoon - "

"Oh, well, if you have a date or something - " Angel said in a rush, feeling like an idiot.

"No!" Buffy said forcefully.  "Not a date.  Definitely not a date.  Um, I just … I uh, promised someone I'd do something for them."  Faith was waving her arms madly, trying to get Buffy's attention.  "Angel, can you hang on a second, please?"

"Uh, sure," Angel said.

Buffy crushed the phone against her chest.  "What?" she snapped.

"I'll take the munchkin to the museum," she said.  "You go meet with Angel."

Buffy looked at Faith and then at her daughter.  "Would that be alright with you?"

"Yeah!"

Somewhat irritated by her daughter's enthusiasm at the prospect of a mom free afternoon, Buffy turned back to the phone.  "Angel, it seems that my schedule has just been cleared.  I'd love to meet you for lunch."

*****

Buffy smiled awkwardly at Angel for what felt like the billionth time.  The waitress finally arrived with their food.  As much as she loved looking at Angel, she couldn't wait for this to end.  It was hell.  Neither one of them knew what to say.  Their eyes would catch and then flit away.  They sucked at inane chitchat.

"Looks good," Buffy said, immediately feeling like a moron.

"Uh, yeah," Angel agreed, studying his plate with inordinate attention.

Buffy took a bite of the salad.  It felt like sawdust in her mouth.  She forced herself to chew and chew until she could finally swallow.  She washed it down with a mouthful of water.

"So," she said, sounding anything but casual, "you're looking for new representation."

"I am," he concurred.

"Well, uh," Buffy said with a nervous smile, "not that it's any of my business, but I was wondering what went wrong with your last agent.  I'd hate to repeat the mistake."

Angel smiled tightly.  "We had a personal falling out and she just put me and my career on the back burner."

“Oh,” Buffy said quietly.  “Well, I’m sorry.”

For some reason, Buffy’s gentle nature unnerved him.  She seemed so genuinely reluctant to do anything to cause him pain, anything to make him feel awkward.  He couldn’t understand.  For the last ten years, he’d mentally painted her as the temptress, the seductress, the cold-hearted bitch.  That image didn’t mesh with the quite, rather withdrawn woman in front of him.

“So if we’re going to sign a contract, I suppose we should discuss specifics,” he said casually.

Buffy perked up, smiling as she looked at him.  “You want me to represent you?” she asked.  “But I haven’t even given you my sales pitch.”

He shrugged.  “I don’t need to hear it,” he said.  “I’m willing to gamble.  If you want to stop by my place this evening, I can show you my work.”

Buffy’s smile died slowly.  “I can’t come by,” she said.

“Oh, well, yeah, of course,” Angel said hastily.  “I didn’t mean to imply that you wouldn’t have plans.”

“I do,” Buffy said nervously, “have this thing, that is.  Nothing exciting.  Mac and cheese and some discount video rentals I’m sure.”

“I see,” Angel said slowly.  He should have known better than to trust Doyle’s information.  Of course Buffy wasn’t single.

Buffy knew exactly what he thought and decided that there would never really be a good time to broach this subject.  Better now than later.  “I have a date,” she said.

Angel nodded, his jaw clenched tightly.

“With my daughter.”

Angel couldn’t form a coherent thought for at least twenty seconds.  “Your daughter?” he finally managed to parrot dumbly.

Nodding, Buffy said, “Samantha.  We have a standing date every Sunday night.  Junk food and videos.”

Taking a deep breath, Angel said, “I ... didn’t know you had a child.”

Felling like a teenager caught necking, Buffy blushed.  This was ridiculous.  Why was she blushing?  “Yeah,” she said, “Sam’s nine.  She’s a great kid.”

Angel didn’t have a clue what to say.  In the million scenarios he’d dreamed up for Buffy while she was absent from his life, none of them ever included children.  But there it was.  Buffy had a child.  Pete’s child.  The knowledge ate at him.  He took a deep breath and released it slowly.  “I heard that Pete was living in Miami,” Angel said, testing the water.  “Does Sam see him much?”

Buffy bristled visibly.  “Pete isn’t allowed within a hundred feet of Samantha,” she ground out.

Angel’s eyes widened, but he didn’t make any response.  Obviously, there was no danger that Buffy was still pining over her husband.  Something had happened.  Something very, very bad.  “I don’t know how busy you are, but if you wanted to come by any night this week, I should have time,” he said.  “You could bring Sam,” he tacked on quickly.

“I, uh, I’m not sure,” she said.  “But I’ll ask Sam.”

*****

"So how was lunch?" Sam asked cautiously, turning her attention away from Spy Kids.

Buffy took a deep breath, looking at her daughter.  Sam was a beautiful child with long, curly chestnut hair that defied all attempts to tame it and huge brown eyes framed by lashes so long and thick they gave her an unearthly appearance.  "It was all right," she said cautiously.

Sam ventured closer, cuddling up against Buffy on the couch.  Buffy's arms automatically went around her daughter, pulling her closer.  They watched several more minutes of the movie in silence before Sam asked, "So, was it a date?"

Buffy considered her reply carefully.  She had run from Pete before Sam was three.  Since him, there had been no male in their lives.  Buffy had spent the last six years rigorously segregating herself and Samantha from men.  It had been rash, to be certain, but Buffy had done what she needed to do to keep her daughter safe and to get her own life on track.  She didn't regret her actions.  Though, it did now put her in an awkward position with the arrival of Angel in her life, and consequently Sam's.  "It wasn't a date," she said.  "He's an artist and we had a meeting to discuss the possibility of me serving as his agent."

"What's an agent do?"

"As Angel's agent, I would help put together exhibitions of his work, help get him displayed in some prominent galleries, find buyers for his work and broker the sales.  Basically, in exchange for a percentage of the profits, I would make it so all he had to worry about was painting.  I'd handle all of the business."

Sam considered this for a moment.  "That seems like a fair trade."

"Hopefully."

"So are you his agent now?"

Buffy smiled down at her child.  "Yes."

They got through another ten minutes of the movie before Sam asked, "So do you like him?"

Given that Sam had only the foggiest memories of Pete and that Buffy hadn't dated anyone since then, she wasn't exactly sure what to say.  "Angel and I are friends," she replied.

"Do you want to be more than friends?"

Buffy looked at Sam, nonplussed.  "Watch the movie."

*****

“Holy hell, Angelus,” Doyle said, whistling through his teeth.  “What happened to you?’

Angel turned away from where he was staring out at the skyline to growl at Doyle.  Angel knew that he looked like hell.  He felt like hell too.  He’d been drinking ever since he left Buffy after lunch which was ... he lifted up his wrist and tried to focus on his watch.  It took him nearly a minute to realize he wasn’t wearing a watch.  Oh fuck it.  It was a long damn time ago.  “Pissofff,” he snarled.

Doyle’s eyes went wide as he stared at his friend, but he said nothing.  Mutely, he shrugged out of his coat and threw it onto the couch.  It wasn’t like Angel to act like this.  Sure, he put on the tortured artist facade for company, but in private, he was usually really easy going.  Okay, maybe not easy going, but it wasn’t usual to come home at two in the morning and find him covered in paint clutching an empty bottle of whisky as he stared out the window.

“This have anything to do with your new agent?” Doyle asked, careful not to venture too close.

Angel spun around gracelessly, stumbling to prevent himself from falling on the bare, hardwood floor.  “No,” he snapped, trying hard to focus on Doyle and failing miserably.

Doyle just smiled.  “You’re sure?” he asked skeptically.  Obviously, Angel had spent the night, and probably the afternoon before as well, drinking and painting.  It wasn’t something the budding young artist did often.  Usually, Angel was meticulous about his work, but tonight, canvases were strewn around the large open room.  Some of the canvases sported rips and holes that looked suspiciously like someone had punched their fist through them.  Even Angel’s bed, which was shoved into the corner of the room, hadn’t escaped the carnage.  Some of the books, which Angel usually kept so neatly ordered, were spilled across the mattress.  Doyle couldn’t tell for sure, but one of them looked suspiciously like a photo album.

“Ya know,” Angel said thickly, gesturing wildly with his hands.  “It shouldna ev’nin be a shock.”

Oh, weren’t angsty drunks fun?  “What shouldn’t be a shock?” Doyle asked.

Angel glared at him like he’d just asked the stupidest question ever uttered.  “The kid!” he spat.

It hit Doyle and he tried, rather unsuccessfully, to stifle a smile.  “Buffy has a kid?”

“Girl,” Angel said morosely.  Then his lips twisted into a snarl.  “Daughter.  With ‘at mis’rable fuckin’ ‘scuse for a hum’n bean, Pete Weston.”

Crossing his arms over his chest, Doyle leaned back against the wall.  “Buck up, princess,” he said.  “She divorced the bastard, didn’t she?  Odds are she finished with him.”

“S’not the point!” Angel said, glaring at his roommate.

“Well then what is the point?” Doyle asked.

Angel’s snarling grimace wavered, collapsing into something that looked suspiciously like a pout.  Doyle inched closer to his bedroom door.  After a hard night of drinking himself, he wasn’t up to consoling a sobbing drunk.  Angel’s knees buckled and he sat down hard on their ratty, sheet-covered, couch.  He took a deep breath and released it slowly.  “She wasn’t supposed to have kids,” he said quietly.

All of Doyle’s earlier mirth faded.  He’d seen Angel with lots of women, but none of them had ever come close to affecting him this profoundly.  In fact, Doyle couldn’t remember ever seeing Angel look so vulnerable.  It was unsettling.  He shifted his weight uncomfortably on the balls of his feet.  “Guess you two were close, huh?”

Angel nodded slowly, his face buried in his hands.

“You two have a thing?”

Angel snorted, flopping backwards so he was splayed out on the couch.  He stared at the ceiling.  “I loved her,” he said sadly.  “She thought I was a dork.”

“Ah come on,” Doyle scoffed, looking at the man who had to beat women off with a stick.  Doyle had stopped clubbing with Angel.  It was too depressing to watch goddess after goddess walk right past him and nuzzle up to Angel.  “I saw her look at you in the gallery the other night,” he said.  “The lass is soft on ya.”

Lifting his head, Angel looked at his friend miserably.  “You donno,” he slurred.  “I wasn like this back then.  I was a nerd.  I was skinny ‘n weird.”  He gestured vaguely towards his head.  “Bad hair, bad skin.  No style.”

“So ya gained a hundred pounds o’ muscle,” Doyle said.  “And ya bought some leather pants.  You’re still you.  I mean, you’re still a damn bookworm when ya think no one’s lookin’,” he said, nodding his head towards Angel’s bookshelves, lined with literature and scholarly texts on a dazzling array of subjects.

“Oh good,” Angel said, defeated, “I’m still a dork.”

Doyle pursed his lips together sourly.  It really wasn’t his style to give pep talks to someone who had it all.  “Look,” he said sharply, “she liked you back then, right?  Dork and all?”

Angel sighed.  “I guess,” he said.

Doyle rolled his eyes.  “She either liked you or she didn’t.”

“We were friends,“ Angel admitted grudgingly.  He looked away, somewhat embarrassed.  “We sorta messed around.”

It took Doyle a moment to realize the implications of Angel’s words and manner.  He couldn’t stop himself from laughing.  “She love ya and leave ya?” he asked, tickled at the idea that this was the woman who had given the brush off to Liam Angelus, sex god.

“Inna manner a speaking,” Angel said darkly, irritated with Doyle’s amusement.

“And now she’s back and she has a kid.”

“Yes,” Angel growled.

“You’re just sore ‘cause some other guy has a claim on her and her life,” Doyle pointed out unsympathetically.

“Yeah?” Angel said dangerously.

Doyle snorted.  “Sleep it off,” he said, turning to head into his bedroom.  “The lass is divorced from the jerk and she’s more than a little interested in you.  Stop livin’ in the past.”

*****

"I still don't see why I have to go," Sam said, kicking absently at a crack in the sidewalk.

Buffy frowned, checking her watch again.  The bus was running late.  "Because Faith is busy," she said.

"I can stay home alone," Sam groused.

Buffy didn't even bother replying.  Sam knew the rules.  She didn't do anything alone.  Ever.  Truth be told, Buffy wasn't anymore excited at the prospect of dragging her difficult child along on this endeavor than Sam herself.  But some things couldn't be helped.  Faith got called in when one of her fellow waitresses called in sick and was therefore unable to watch Sam.

Buffy was trying to remain positive, but it wasn't easy.  Sam was having a bad day and when Sam had a bad day, everyone had a bad day.  Buffy loved her child beyond measure.  She would and had done anything and everything for her.  But some days, her beloved daughter was almost more than Buffy could handle.  Sam had an incredible mind.  She had a voracious appetite for learning and got bored very easily.  It was all Buffy could do to try and keep up with her need for new material and experiences.  They'd been everywhere Buffy could think to take her, but money was becoming an issue.  Even with discounted prices, it still got very expensive trying to keep Sam occupied.  She had nearly worn out the public library, a feat Buffy had naively thought impossible.

The plan for the day had been for Faith and Sam to visit yet another museum.  Okay, so Faith was going to visit Mark, Andy's boyfriend, who was a security guard at the museum, and Sam was going to get to look around for free.  But those plans were sunk and Sam was very disappointed.  Buffy already knew that expecting Sam to sit quietly and behave while she went through Angel's work was a pipe dream.  But she didn't have any choice.  This most certainly wasn't the ideal situation for Angel to meet her daughter, but it was just another disappointment in a long series of disappointments.  Nothing new there.

*****

It was a third-floor walkup to Angel’s apartment, but Buffy didn’t think much of it.  The tiny place she shared with Sam and Faith was fifth-floor.  Buffy took a deep breath and looked at the door to Angel’s apartment.  The door, however, wasn’t a regular door.  It was a huge square chunk of steel that slid back and forth.  She looked at it warily for a moment before pounding with the flat of her hand.

Several moments later, it slid open to reveal Angel wearing a black pullover sweater and a pair of worn jeans.  Buffy smiled and blushed, feeling like some fourteen-year-old virgin on a first date.  Angel smiled back, looking every bit as awkward.

“Mom!” Sam chirped, elbowing Buffy in the side.

Buffy smiled tightly at Angel and then turned to glower at her child.  Sam stared back, undaunted.  Buffy turned back to Angel.  “This is my daughter,” she said.  “Samantha.”

“Sam,” he said, “I’m Angel.”  The two sort of nodded at each other and Angel stepped aside so they could enter the apartment.

Buffy looked around with undisguised curiosity.  The building was an old factory that had been remodeled and turned into artists’ lofts.  It was almost impossible to get into, with a waiting list a mile long.  She was very curious to find out exactly how Angel had managed to get a spot.

She couldn't help but sigh as she looked around.  Buffy would have killed to live in a place like this.  Most of the apartment was a giant open space.  It was absolutely enormous, about seventy feet square.  The ceilings had to be at least fifteen feet high with exposed duct work, bare brick walls and scarred hardwood floors.  There wasn’t much furniture, a chair, an old sofa and a television.  There was a small space in one of the room’s corners that obviously served as a bedroom.  A mattress and box springs rested on the floor, framed in by several huge bookcases and separated from the rest of the room by a very inadequate screen.  The rest of the room, however, was open, scattered with canvases, easels and a wealth of art supplies.  Drop cloths covered the floors.  There were three doors.  One led into a small galley kitchen, the other into a bathroom.  The third was closed.

Angel noticed Buffy staring at the door.  “That’s Doyle’s room,” he said.  “My roommate.  Since I occupy most of the apartment with my art, he gets the bedroom.”

Buffy smiled.  "I guess there's always a trade off," she said.

Buffy waited patiently while Angel pointed her to the canvases stacked against the wall.  She was unprepared for the sheer volume of his work.  She took a deep breath, pulling out her laptop and small, digital camera.  These were her prized possession, she had pinched pennies for years to be able to buy them, knowing they would be indispensable in her new line of work.  “This is going to take a while.”

Angel winced and pointed.  “There’s more over there,” he said.

Turning around, Buffy saw the second stack of canvases, every bit as large as the one before her.  “A long while,” she amended.

Angel pulled a chair and a TV tray over for Buffy.  She was meticulous in her cataloging of his work.  For the first few minutes, she chatted with him about what pieces he’d already sold, where he’d had shows.  But eventually, Buffy needed to just get down to business.  He stood back for several minutes, watching her.

Angel could have stood there until sunset watching Buffy do nothing more exciting than typing, but someone tugging on his elbow broke his concentration.  Looking down, Angel met Samantha’s eyes.  She blinked up at him, her expression serious.  “Are those your books?” she asked, pointing to one of the large bookcases against the wall.

Angel nodded.

“Could I look at one of them please?” she asked.

Angel’s brow furrowed, but he followed Sam over to the bookcase.  His initial reaction was that he didn’t allow anyone to touch his books, much less a nine-year-old.  But that really wouldn’t be a good way to start off with Buffy’s daughter, so he decided to humor her.  Once he explained that these books were about important subjects, she would most surely lose interest.

“That one,” she said.  “The book on Byzantine art.”

Angel looked at the little girl wide eyed and then mutely retrieved the book off the top shelf for her.  Carefully, she set the book down on top of his bed and shrugged out of her backpack.  Angel watched as she sat down on the bed and carefully removed a pen and a journal from her backpack.  Methodically, she flipped through the journal until she came to the appropriate page, filed with line after line of tiny, perfect penmanship.

Samantha looked up and seemed to be confused as to why he was still standing there.  “Thank you,” she said.  “I checked this book out from the library, but I had to return it before I was finished with my research.”

“Research?” Angel parroted, feeling like a moron.

“Yes,” Sam answered, “into medieval art in the former Roman Empire, the crusades specifically.”

“Oh,” he said, somewhat dumbfounded.  “Are you studying that in school?”

“I’m not in school right now.  It’s summer,” Sam said patiently.  She always had to explain things so many times for adults.  “But, no.  In school, our art teacher was up to finger paints and paper mache.”

Crossing his arms over his chest, Angel stared down at the little girl in undisguised curiosity.  “So you’re doing all this research for fun?”

“Yes.”

Angel nodded.

“You think I’m weird,” Sam said plainly.

“No,” Angel said, shaking his head as he took a seat next to Sam.  “I used to do things like that when I was younger.  Though I’ll admit that my field of interest was geared more towards sharks and nuclear war at your age.  I used to spend a lot of time at the Museum of Natural History.”

“We went there last weekend,” Sam offered.

“See the sharks?” Angel asked.

“I was interested in the whales,” Sam countered.

“I don’t know,” Angel said in a singsong voice, “the sharks are pretty neat.”

Sam looked away from him, down at the book in her lap.  “Faith was supposed to take me to the Cloisters today,” she said petulantly.  “But she had to work.”

“Ah, yeah,” Angel said, “that’s a really cool museum.  I go there a lot.  The architecture is amazing.”

“I thought you painted.”

“I do,” Angel said, “but I get my inspiration from a lot of different places.”

“I was really hoping to see the tapestries today,” Sam hinted none too gently.  She batted her eyelashes and smiled at him in exactly the same way Buffy used to when she wanted him to finish her math homework.  He found that he was just as defenseless now as he had been then.

“Hang on a second,” he said to Sam.

He walked over to Buffy and gently tapped her on the shoulder.  She looked up at him with a smile.  “Do you care if Sam and I go to a museum?” he asked.  Her expression changed into something unreadable and Angel quickly backpedaled.  “I don’t mean to be presumptuous,” he said, “I understand if you don’t want your daughter going somewhere with a guy you hardly know anymore.”

“No, no,” Buffy said, “it’s just ... Is Sam okay with this?” she asked, looking around Angel at her daughter whose expression was so innocent it was automatically suspicious.

“I think she really wants to go,” Angel said.

“Well ... I guess it’s fine then,” Buffy said.  “As long as you’re okay with this.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean for you to babysit my kid.”

“No,” Angel said, “it’s not a problem.  I have my cell phone with me if you need anything.”

*****

Buffy turned around, watching as Faith climbed out the window of their apartment to join her on the fire escape.  It was still muggy and unseasonably warm, even for July.  Any person with an ounce of sense would be inside in front of the air conditioner taking it easy.  But Buffy had always found solace in places like this, immersing herself in the sights, sounds and smells of the city.  Yes, it could be loud and bright and pungent, but it was still home.  It spoke to something deep inside of her.

“Thought I might find you out here,” Faith said, taking a seat next to the small terracotta pots of herbs Buffy was slowly killing.  Buffy shrugged, but remained silent.  “So how did it go today?” Faith pressed.

“Good,” Buffy said evenly.  “It took me all afternoon to catalog his work.  He ended up taking Sam to the Cloisters.”

Faith’s brow furrowed.  “Unless I’m missing something major here,” she said, “this is good, right?  You like Angel, he likes you.  Business is good.  He gets along with the kid.  I’m not seeing the bad here.”

“It’s just ... “ She trailed off.  “It’s complicated.”

“I know you’re protective,” Faith said gently.  “But Angel, he sounds like a really good guy.  Plus, you’ve known him forever.  You trust him.  He’s not going to hurt Sammy.”

Buffy looked at her friend, tears welling in her eyes.  “You have no idea,” she said.

Faith immediately bristled.  “Did something happen?” she demanded.

Buffy smiled pathetically.  “It’s not that,” she said.  “Angel was perfect.  Sam was perfect.  Everything was so damn perfect.”

Cocking an eyebrow, Faith said, “You lost me.”

Buffy took a deep breath.  She glanced back in the window to be sure that the bedroom door was still shut.  “I was pregnant when Pete and I got married,” she explained.  “And when Samantha was born ... “  She shuddered.  “Pete was always paranoid.  But when Sammy was born it became a thousand times worse.  He continually accused me of sleeping around.  He got really violent.”

Faith’s lips pursed together tightly.  She knew Buffy had been through some really rough times, but she’d never gone into detail.  “Did he hurt Sam?”

Buffy shook her head.  “I left before it got that far.  But Pete was always saying things, always insinuating that Sam wasn’t his.  One day I came home and ... oh gods ... “  Tears slipped down her cheeks.  “The house was demolished.  Sam’s nanny was hysterical, crying, scared.  I found Pete in Sam’s room, holding her.  I’ve never seen him so cold.  He looked at me with such rage and hatred, while holding my baby.  It was the most terrifying moment of my life.”

Faith waited patiently.  She knew what it was like to carry these horrors around with you.  She also knew what it was like to finally let them go.  It took time.

“He had Sammy tested,” Buffy whispered.  “She wasn’t his.”

Faith’s eyes went wide.   All this time and she’d had no idea that Buffy’s bastard of an ex-husband wasn’t Samantha’s father.  She swallowed thickly. “So, uh, was this a shock to you too?”

Buffy snorted, shaking her head.  “When I found out I was pregnant, I knew it was most likely Pete’s.  There was only one other person and it was only one time.”  She took a deep breath.  “But when Sammy was born ... I knew.  I knew she wasn’t Pete’s and dammit if that didn’t make me happy.”

“So that’s when you left?”

Buffy nodded.  “Sam’s nanny must have gotten help.  Pete’s brother was the first one there.  William managed to get Sam away from Pete without incident, but it was bad.  He attacked me.  I ended up with a broken cheekbone and a fractured wrist.  I had to have three teeth capped.  I wasn’t even out of the hospital yet when I filed for divorce.  I took Sam and we ran and I never looked back.  I didn’t take anything with me, I didn’t sue for any type of settlement.  All I wanted was to be free.”

“Not to be cold about this, B, but I still don’t get why this is an issue now.  That was all ancient history.”

“Not quite,” Buffy said.  “Angel is Sam’s father.”

Faith blinked dumbly.  “Oh,” she finally said.

“Yeah,” Buffy replied, smiling tightly.  “Oh.”

Faith nodded, finally catching on.  “And no one knows but you, right?”

“Bingo.”

*****

Angel looked around the gallery, smiling as he saw Buffy.  He nodded to a few people he knew, but quickly made his way to her side.  “Hey.”

“Hey, back.”

He looked around, distracted.  “I thought Sam was coming this afternoon,” he said eagerly.  He genuinely delighted in Buffy’s daughter and he was anxious to get to know her better.

Buffy started to open her mouth and then closed it. “I just ... I just don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” she said.

Angel looked at her, smiling nervously.  “Oh – kay,” he said slowly.  “Did something happen that I don’t know about?”

Buffy shook her head.  “No,” she said, “I just ...”

Angel’s expression was quickly going from neutral to irritated.  He could almost feel the door being slammed in his face – again.  “You just what?” he asked shortly.

“Sam’s never really had a male authority figure in her life,” Buffy explained unevenly.  “And I’m not sure that bringing one in now is such a great idea.”

Yet again, he wasn’t good enough.  “Oh,” Angel said, nodding with faux enthusiasm, “well, thanks for discussing it with me.”

“It’s not ...”  Buffy took a deep breath and released it sharply.  “It’s not that I don’t trust you.”

“Whatever,” Angel said tightly.  “Aren’t we supposed to be meeting with the gallery owner?”

*****

“Yo, Berkowitz!” Faith yelled.  “Get a move on.”

Buffy cringed, looking to make sure that her daughter was indeed heeding Faith’s instructions and following.  “I wish you wouldn’t call her that,” she bemoaned.  When Buffy had christened her baby daughter Samantha Angelica Weston, she hadn’t given much thought to any sort of nasty nicknames that could be associated.  But nine years later, Samantha Weston was now legally named Samantha Summers.  Sam Summers.  Summer of Sam.  Serial killer David Berkowitz.  And to make it even worse, Sam didn’t seem to mind.

“I take it things didn’t go well at the gallery,” Faith noted.

“We got Angel the show,” Buffy said tightly.  “But in personal terms, no.  It was a flaming failure.”

Faith shook her head.  “I thought you two were five by five.”

Buffy sighed.  “It’s my fault,” she admitted crossly.  “I maybe, possibly, suggested to Angel that I didn’t want him and Sammy getting too close.”

“Ooh, that’s suave,” Faith goaded.  “I bet he took it well too.  Gee, Angel, I really like you, I just don’t trust you around my kid.”

“It’s not like that,” Buffy snapped.  “You know.  You know why I did it.”

Faith snorted and rolled her eyes.  “I think you’re being an idiot,” she informed her friend.  “And try and look at it from Angel’s perspective.  He doesn’t have the full disclosure on Sam.  He has no idea what you’re trying to do.  Though, honestly, even if he had the full story, I’m not too sure he would appreciate it.”

Buffy shrugged.  “I know what it’s like to have your dad take off on you,” she said.  “I don’t want Sammy to have to go through that.  And I don’t want to lay all this stuff on Angel only to find out that he’s not up to the burden.”

“You know,” Faith said firmly, “maybe you should leave that decision up to Angel and Sam.  This isn’t about you.  This is about them.”

Buffy frowned, but didn’t say anything.  She stopped walking and turned around to glare at her daughter, who was still dawdling.

“Besides,” Faith said, “you may know what it’s like to have your dad split, but I know what it’s like to never have one at all.  If you’re determined to keep this a secret, then you better be sure that you can keep it a secret for the rest of your life because if either of them ever finds out, they might not forgive you.”

*****

“Who is it?” Angel yelled through the door, in absolutely no mood for company.  Sure, he got his first show in a major gallery, but Buffy’s words had put him in a vile temper.  The half a bottle of scotch he downed hadn’t helped either.  Once again, he wasn’t good enough.

“It’s me.”

Angel scowled.  He’d know that voice anywhere.  With much irritation, he slid the door open, glaring at Buffy.  “What?”

She looked up at him, her lips pursed together in a frown.  She could smell the alcohol on his breath, but it wasn’t enough to make her fear him.  “Can I come in, please?” she asked calmly.

He nearly snarled at her, dropping into a deep, mocking bow as he stepped aside for her to enter.  She frowned, but walked inside, waiting as he slid the door shut again.  “Is your roommate here?” she asked.

“No,” Angel snapped.  “Why?”

“Because I want to talk to you about something important and I really don’t want an audience.”

“That’s a first.”

Buffy stared at him incredulously, rather unprepared for the amount of vitriol he exuded.  “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing apparently,” Angel replied bitterly, “I guess my public humiliation was completely forgettable too.”

Buffy shook her head.  “What?”

“That morning,” he snarled.  “With you and Pete putting on the show in your mother’s apartment.  You might not remember, but I do.  I remember watching him grope your tits and you just standing there, enjoying every second of it.”

“You’re wrong,” Buffy said, her jaw clenched tightly.

“Am I?” he mocked.  “Doubtful.  But that’s fine that you don’t remember.  I was really hoping you’d completely forgotten about me anyway.”

Buffy was quickly understanding that there was a whole lot more going on here than just the conversation at the gallery.  He obviously had years of issues he felt like airing.  “I could never forget you,” she said softly, truthfully.

He laughed mirthlessly.  “How can you do that?” he demanded bitterly.  “How can you stand there and say something like that and sound sincere?”

“Because I am.”

“You’re not!” he roared.

Buffy flinched like he’d hit her, tears pricking her eyes.

“I was such a fucking joke,” he said, his voice rife with self-loathing.  “Don’t pretend you weren’t laughing at me the whole time we were screwing.  That was it for me.  The defining moment.  I knew right then that I was too pathetic to live.”  He stalked around the room, pacing like a caged tiger.  “I destroyed every bit of who I was.  I rebuilt myself into someone who would never be teased or tormented again.  I became a man who never had to want for female attention.”

Buffy stared at him, absolute incredulity written on her features.  "You've got to be kidding me," she said.  "That's what this is all about?"

Angel bristled visibly, obviously finding nothing vaguely amusing about the moment.

Shaking her head, Buffy took a deep breath.  "You've spent the last ten years wandering around like some bored tomcat, sticking your dick in anyone you can find because you think you didn't make an impression?"

The muscles in Angel's jaw flexed.  "Don't act like you didn't notice, Buffy," he ground out.  "I would have defended you with everything I had, but I wasn't deaf or blind.  I know that you were popular for a reason.  I know you got around.  A lot."

Buffy flinched from his harsh words, but didn't look away.

"You were enough of a seasoned professional to know a pathetic, virginal performance when you felt it," he spat, his voice thick with loathing, both for himself and for her.  "I made up my mind the next day that I would do anything to make sure that I was never such a loser that I had to get a pity fuck from some girl who was probably doing her best not to laugh at me."

Buffy was quiet for several drawn out moments.  "So," she said, her voice taut, "you've decided that's what happened, have you?"

"Don't toy with me," he bit out.

"You know what?" she said coldly.  "Fuck you.  You're right, I have a lot of memories of that night, but trust me, none of them revolve around performance issues."  She turned on her heel and headed for the door.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Angel bellowed.

"Figure it out for yourself," she snapped.

Angel followed her to the door and when she moved to slide it open, he planted his hand on the handle and threw it shut again.  In this position, Buffy was effectively pinned between Angel and the door.  She should have been terrified, but she wasn't.  She would never fear Angel doing her bodily harm.

But it didn't mean he couldn’t tear her heart to shreds.

She turned around, her back pressed to the door.  She looked up into his face which was mere inches away.  "I remember that night," she said softly.

Angel closed his eyes in humiliation, but didn't move.

She lifted her hand, pressing it to his cheek.  He flinched from her touch, but didn't pull away.  "I remember that was the only night in my entire life where I felt like I was more than just a warm body to the man on top of me."

Angel's eyes fluttered open and he looked at her warily.

Buffy swallowed thickly.  "What I remember from that rooftop is that you wanted to be there with me.  You knew everything about me." Her bottom lip trembled.  "You knew that I was nothing more than a cheap, used-up whore and you still wanted me."

"Buffy," Angel said sharply, astounded by the depth of her pain.

She smiled and a tear slipped out of the corner of her eye.  "That night with you was the only time I've ever felt loved," she admitted in a bare whisper.

He groaned, pulling her against his chest.  He was certain he couldn't have felt like more of a self-centered, egotistical jackass if he tried.  All this time he'd been so worried that she was laughing at him that he was completely blind to the truth.

Her arms twined around his neck and he pressed her back against the door, his lips rooting for hers.  She sighed as he kissed her, parting her lips as his tongue sought out her own.  Gods, he still tasted the same.

He wrapped his arms tighter around her, pressing their bodies together.  Her fingers filtered through the hair at the nape of his neck, her short nails scratching him lightly.  They ate at each other's mouths, nipping at lips, suckling on tongues.  Buffy twined her leg around Angel's and he helped her lever herself upwards until her legs were wrapped around his waist.  He pressed against her instinctively.  He groaned and her breath caught in her throat.  He was hard, so hard and pressing against her in a manner that sent currents of excitement singing through her nerves.

Buffy was so lost in his kisses, in the feel of him between her legs that she wasn't even aware they were moving until she felt him lay her back on his bed.  “What about your roommate?” she asked, even as she helped him out of his shirt.

“Won’t be home for hours,” Angel said in between kisses.

After ten years of waiting for a repeat performance, Angel expected himself to be more patient.  He wasn’t.  He stripped both of them out of their clothes like a man possessed.  As he finally laid Buffy back in the pillows, she opened her thighs eagerly, welcoming him into her body and heart.

She hissed as he entered her, her fingernails biting into his back as he thrust forward.  He dipped his head, catching her lips.  “You okay?” he asked breathlessly.

She nodded frantically.  “Fine,” she gasped.  “It’s just been a while.”

Angel thrust forward again, one of his hands tweaking a pebbled nipple.  “How long?”

“Six years.  Oh gods!”  Her back arched and her legs tightened around his waist.

Angel couldn’t have asked any more questions if his life depended on it.  His entire universe constricted down to the sensation of touching Buffy, tasting Buffy, feeling her flex and arch around him.  His life depended on hearing the little gasps and grunts she made.  His next breath came only if her lips were pressed to his.

They strained together, washing away a decade of pain and want, misunderstanding and love.  She sobbed uncontrollably as she finally found release, crying out his name until her throat ached.  With a silent shout, he joined her, his hips slamming against hers one final time.

*****

The room was dark and quiet, the only sounds the rustling of covers and soft sighs.  Angel made a contented, purring sound deep in his throat as he pulled Buffy closer, pressing his face against the nape of her neck.  “I love you,” he said.  “I always have.”

She rolled over, staring into his face, scant centimeters from her own.  “I love you too.”

He released a deep breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.  “So what was this afternoon all about?” he asked.

Buffy closed her eyes for several long moments and then opened them.  Carefully, she pushed herself into a sitting position.  Warily, Angel did the same.

“Pete isn’t Samantha’s father,” Buffy said plainly.  “You are.”

It was a long time before Angel could speak again and when he did he said, “And you never told me this why?”

She fidgeted, wrapping the sheet around her fingers.  “When I found out I was pregnant, I assumed the baby was Pete’s.  There was only that one time with you and ... “  She trailed off, looking around the dimly lit studio.  “If Samantha had been Pete’s daughter and I left him, he would have tracked me down.  He would have used his money and influence and he would have taken my baby away from me forever.  I couldn’t do that.  I couldn’t live without her.”

Angel rubbed her thigh gently, urging her to continue.

“When Sammy was born there was no doubt in my mind that she was yours,” she said softly.  “But I was scared.  Oh, I was so scared.  Pete was becoming absolutely vicious.  I couldn’t leave him.  I was too afraid he would hurt Sam.  And then one day, his paranoia got the better of him and he had blood tests run.  He found out conclusively that she wasn’t his.  He went insane.  We ran.  I changed names and cities once a month.  I couldn’t sleep.  It took years to finalize the divorce and get Sammy’s birth certificate amended.  By the time I was finally free, I didn’t know what to do.”

“You could have come to me,” he said firmly.

“How did I know that?” she asked.  “You were so busy becoming Liam Angelus.  What would you have wanted with a used up whore and a toddler?”

“Buffy ... “

“I know,” she placated.  “I just wasn’t feeling particularly loveable at the time.”  She sniffled.  “Or, you know, ever.”

With a soft growl, Angel pulled Buffy into his arms.  He kissed her tears and she let him, basking in his affection like the desert to rain.  One thing led to another and they were once again making love, though this time without the frantic need.  Angel touched her with the same gentleness and reverence that she had been missing for ten long years.  She finally allowed herself to say the words she had been holding back.  She whispered her love to him, her need that he alone could sate.  She whispered the love she possessed for the boy he had been and for the man he had become.  She loved him with such tenderness that it soothed not only him, but her own tattered heart as well.

*****

Angel was standing in the middle of his studio, wearing only a pair of leather pants.  He held a cup of steaming hot coffee in his hand as he studied his latest piece in the gray, early morning light.

Buffy walked up behind him, her body covered by one of his black silk shirts.  She laced her arms around his chest as she pressed her forehead to his back.  “What ya thinkin’ about?” she asked.

“That I have a daughter,” he said truthfully.

Buffy cringed.  This wasn’t going to be easy.  There was going to have to be so much acclimation, for him and Sam.  And for Buffy herself.  She sighed heavily.  “I’m sorry,” she said.

He turned around, mindful of the hot coffee in his hand.  He pulled her close, pressing a hard kiss to the top of her head.  “I love you, Buffy,” he said vehemently.  “I’m going to make this work.”

*****

FOUR MONTHS LATER

*****

Buffy scrolled through screens on her PDA.  "Thursday at ten," she told Rebecca.  The gallery owner nodded brusquely before cutting through the crowd to inform the buyer when they could pick up their Angelus original.

Buffy couldn't help but smile at the brittle set to Rebecca's shoulders.  It was mean and petty, but Buffy didn't care.  Rebecca and Angel had been lovers off and on for the last few years.  But when Rebecca tried to pick things up again four months ago, she was met by a very cold shoulder.  And now that Angel was becoming an extremely hot commodity in the art world, Rebecca couldn't afford to keep her pride.  She had begged to host his latest show.

As much as Buffy had begged Angel to tell her to take a flying leap, he hadn't done it.  And in retrospect, Buffy had to admit he'd been right.  The show at Rebecca's gallery was a success beyond any of their wildest dreams.  The evening was only half over and he'd already sold all but two pieces.  Buffy was certain those two pieces would be sold long before the evening was over.

Smiling, she walked over to where Faith was doing her best to ignore Lindsey.  Since being introduced at one of Angel's shows four months ago, Lindsey had been following Faith around.  Though in his defense, he'd been doing his best to make it more flattering and less stalkerish.  But so far, Faith wasn't having any of it.  She continually gave Lindsey very polite but firm set-downs.

Buffy's vision sifted idly through the crowd and she smiled here and there.  As her eyes locked with a pair of icy blue, she stopped cold.  William looked at her intently, cutting through the crowd.

"Fancy seeing you here," he said somewhat lamely.

Buffy bristled.  "What are you doing here?" she demanded.

"Not exactly keeping a low profile anymore, luv," he said tightly.  "I read in the Times that you were going to be here tonight."

Buffy's gaze immediately searched the room and she took a deep breath as she saw Samantha hanging off her father's arm as usual.  As always, Angel didn't seem in the least bit perturbed by her exuberant behavior, ruffling her hair good-naturedly as he ignored a very famous art aficionado to intently listen to her latest theory.

William followed Buffy's gaze and his posture went rigid.  "Looks like Sammy's getting pretty chummy with your new boyfriend," he said, condemnation ringing in his voice.

"She has every right to be close to my new boyfriend," Buffy countered smoothly.  "He's her father."

William looked at her sharply for several moments.  "I always assumed that Pete was just giving his paranoia free rein," he said.

Buffy smiled tightly, catching Faith's eye and nodding to her.  "No," she said, "he wasn't her father.  Angel is."  Buffy didn't wait for him to process the information.  "Why are you here?" she asked again.

"Why not?"

She shook her head, lips pursing together tightly.  "I'm not going to play this game with you anymore, William," she said.  "You are not welcome here.  Please leave."

"Hey," he said sharply.  "I think I deserve a little better than that after all I did for you and Sammy."

"All you did," Buffy repeated slowly.  "You mean all the times you knew that Pete was beating me, that he was a danger to Sammy?  You mean all those times you helped maintain the status quo because it made it easier for you to swoop in and save the day?"

"I never - "

"You did," she said, cutting him off.  "Even after I left Pete, you encouraged me to be terrified, constantly whispering in my ear to be on the lookout, to know that the only person I could trust was you."

"I never intentionally hurt you," he said seriously.  "But I did come here to tell you that Pete is in town."

"Thank you," she said tightly.  "Now please leave."

***

“Good night, baby,” Buffy whispered, pressing a kiss to her daughter’s forehead later that night.  She tucked the covers more tightly under her chin and slowly backed out of the room, leaving the door open a crack.

She was still standing in the hall, looking at the door to Sammy’s room when Angel wrapped his arms around her, pulling her back against his chest.  She sighed, leaning back in his embrace.

So much had changed in the last several months.  Under her guidance, Angel’s career skyrocketed.  He left the loft to Doyle and moved Buffy and his daughter into a respectable apartment in TriBeCa only a few blocks from the private school Sam attended.  Together, they were making serious progress at becoming a family.  They were going forward with legal proceedings to have Angel formally recognized as Samantha’s father and Buffy and Angel had had some serious discussions about marriage.

Gently, Angel steered Buffy towards their bedroom.  She went quietly.  Angel merely watched as she went about her nightly routine, hanging up her dress, slipping out of her stockings and undergarments and shimmying into a nightgown.  He waited as she removed her makeup and brushed her teeth.  He was sitting up in bed, reading, when she finally joined him.

She crawled under the covers, facing away from him.  Putting his book down, he burrowed under the covers, spooning around her body.  “You going to tell me what’s wrong?” he asked.

She sighed.  “William Weston was at the opening tonight,” she said.  She felt him go rigid behind her.  “He just popped in to check up on me and Sammy.  Decided to let me know that Pete’s in town.  Insinuated that his little brother would probably be making an appearance in our lives again.”

“Why didn’t you tell me he was there?” Angel asked, his voice taut.

Buffy rolled over, looking at her lover.  “Because you would have beaten the shit out of him and it would have ruined your show and probably upset Sam.”

Angel’s lips pursed together tightly.  He didn’t give a damn about the show, but Buffy was right, he wouldn’t have wanted to subject Samantha to that scene.  Angel shook his head, trailing his fingers lightly over the exposed flesh of her shoulder and upper arm.  There were tiny little scars marring her flesh every few inches.  It had taken Buffy months to finally admit to Angel what they were, scars from a belt buckle Pete used to beat her.  “I’m not letting him near either of you again, Buffy,” he said vehemently.

She reached out, cupping his cheek in her hand.  “I know.”

***

Buffy held up a finger to bid the delivery man to wait as she turned her full attention to the telephone.  “Excuse me?” she said.

Buffy listened in growing horror and finally clicked off the phone, running out of the room.

Forty minutes later, she was striding up the sidewalk to Sammy’s school when she saw him.  He was leaning with deceptive ease against a building, watching her with a malevolent smile.  She approached him cautiously.  Surely he wouldn’t try anything in public.

Buffy didn’t even see Pete move before he backhanded her with enough force to send her stumbling.  His hand clamped around her upper arm and he yanked her back to her feet before she could fall.  In a fluid move, he slammed her back against the building.  She yelped, but before she could move, he pinned her there with his hands on her shoulders.  “You stupid whore,” he snarled.  “After everything I did for you, this is how you pay me back?  I can’t even take my own daughter out of school?”

Buffy stared up at him defiantly.  “She’s not your daughter, Pete.  Remember?”

“You bitch,” he hissed, pulling her away from the wall and slamming her back against it brutally.

Buffy winced as her head hit the concrete, but she didn’t cry out.  She glared up at him.  “I’m not afraid of you anymore,” she told him coldly.

He laughed, leaning in closer.  “I always knew you weren’t very smart,” he said, smirking.  He used his grip on her arm to pull her away from the wall, dragging her toward a waiting limo.  “We’re going to have a little chat, Buffy,” he said.

“Hey!”

Buffy and Pete both turned towards the shout.  Buffy had just enough time to jump back out of the way as Angel’s punch sent Pete sprawling.  Angel yanked her out of Pete’s range.  “Get inside,” he ordered, pushing her towards Sam’s school.

Buffy stumbled, landing with jarring force on the cold concrete.  She skittered back out of the way and turned to see one of the school administrators offering her a hand up.  “The police are on their way,” the woman informed her.

Swiveling around again, Buffy watched Angel and Pete fight.  For years, Buffy had lived in fear of her ex-husband, but that evaporated as she watched Angel batter him like a rag doll.   Angel was bigger, but it was his anger, not his size that gave him the advantage as he brutally beat the offensive prick into the sidewalk.

***

“What’s this?” the detective asked, looking at the large accordion folder Buffy had pushed across the table.

“Medical records, witness testimony,” Buffy said tautly.  “I want to bring charges against Pete Weston for the years of abuse I sustained.  As well as attempted kidnapping charges from today’s incident, for both me and my daughter.”

Detective Lockley nodded, grimly opening the file folder.  She couldn’t help but cringe as she looked at the full color photos of Buffy beaten and bruised.  Even a cursory glance showed that her ex-husband’s abuse had been violent and sustained.  There were at least two dozen police reports from various incidents over the course of their relationship.  Why exactly none of them had been followed through wasn’t clear.  Kate bristled.  It looked like the Weston name had managed to sweep quite a few bad times under the rug.  Well, they were about to come to light.

Buffy straightened her spine, trying to maintain as much composure as possible.  She hated admitting that she had been a victim for so long and irrational as it might be, she still felt guilt over it.  She knew this was going to be a long and painful process, but she also knew it was far overdue.

Right now, Angel was still in a holding cell for doing nothing more than protecting his lover and daughter.  After both he and Pete were arrested, the officers recreated the timeline.  When Pete attempted to pick up Samantha from school without proper authorization, both of Samantha’s parents were notified.  Buffy realized they must have called Angel right after they called her.  He’d dropped everything to make sure his daughter was safe.

Buffy bit down on her bottom lip reflexively.  She should never have let it get this far.  She should never have let Pete think he had the right to interfere in their lives.  If Angel ended up going to prison for this, Buffy knew she would never forgive herself.  Samantha deserved to have her father in her life, not rotting in some concrete cell because her mother had been too much of a coward to accept responsibility.

***

“Daddy!” Sam yelled, throwing herself into Angel’s arms.

He hugged the little girl tightly, pressing a hard kiss to the top of her head.  He looked terrible after spending the night in jail, his shirt was ripped from the fight and he had a black eye and was in bad need of a shower and shave.  It was a cold November morning and Buffy quickly handed him his jacket.

Buffy smiled at him tightly before dropping her eyes to the ground, following him and Sam to the waiting cab.  They all piled in, Sam chattering excitedly in the middle.  Buffy clasped her hands tightly in her lap, staring out at the passing scenery without seeing a thing.

When they finally reached the apartment building, Faith was waiting in the lobby.  She walked up to Sammy, pulling the girl’s stocking cap down over her eyes.  “Wassup, Berkowitz?” she taunted.

Sam pulled the cap off, beaming up at her friend.  “You can’t call me that anymore,” she informed her seriously.  “My last name is Roarke.”

Faith’s brow furrowed.  “I thought your last name was Angelus.”

“It’s Liam Angelus Roarke,” Angel said sheepishly.  “I just use Angelus professionally.”

Faith smiled down at the girl and then nodded soberly to Angel.  “Mind if I take the munchkin ice skating?” she asked both Buffy and Angel.

Sammy’s eyes went wide with anticipation.  She looked at her parents.  “Can I?” she chirped.

Buffy was confused.  She looked at Angel and he nodded once.  She turned back to Faith.  “I, uh, sure if you want to.”

“Okay,” Faith said, “we’re out of here.  See you guys later.”

Buffy’s head was still spinning as she and Angel stepped onto the elevator.  They were silent on the way up to the apartment.  Wordlessly, Angel opened the door and ushered Buffy inside.

“Did I miss something down there?” Buffy asked.

“I called Faith,” Angel explained.  “I asked her to meet us here, to watch Samantha.  I think we need to talk.”

Buffy felt her insides go icy.  “Oh,” she said slowly, “I see.”

Angel shook his head furiously before turning around and gently capturing her face between his hands.  His lips descended on hers and he backed her against the wall.  It never occurred to Buffy to do anything but melt into him.  She moaned, opening her mouth for him as her arms twined around his neck.

Angel was frantic, on fire.  He tugged Buffy’s coat from her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor.  He hiked up the carefully tailored skirt of her severe black suit, hooking his thumb under the waistband of her undies and pantyhose before pulling them down her legs.  Buffy helped him as much as she could, wiggling one leg free as her fingers undid his belt and the fly of his black slacks.  Without preamble, he hoisted her up against the wall and slid inside.

Buffy yelped at the sensation, her head smacking back against the wall.  Angel immediately threaded one hand behind her head to prevent it from happening again.  She clung to him, her legs tight around his waist as he thrust into her.  Her head rolled forward onto his shoulder and she turned, biting down gently on his neck.

He thrust harder and in moments, she was coming on his cock.  He didn’t attempt to hold out, letting himself spill inside her.  Long moments later, they were both collapsed on the floor in front of the door.  Buffy was lying on her back, Angel on his side, half over her, kissing her tenderly.

She looked up at him, smiling wryly.  “I thought you wanted to talk,” she said.

“I do,” he replied seriously.  Buffy turned away, but Angel caught her chin, forcing her to look at him.  “Lindsey told me what you did, filing charges against Pete.”

Buffy rolled her eyes.  “I should have done it years ago,” she said.

“What is going on, Buffy?” Angel demanded.  “Last night on the phone, this morning in the car ... it’s like you’re a million miles away.”

Tears pricked her eyes.  “This is all my fault,” she said thickly.  “You might go to prison now and it’s all because I didn’t take care of the situation when I should have.”

“Are you insane?” Angel asked incredulously.  “How on earth could Pete being an abusive fuck possibly be your fault?”

“I should have – “

“No,” Angel said sharply.  “This is not your fault.  None of this is your fault.  You did not deserve any of the things that Pete did to you.  And what you’re doing now, that is taking charge of the situation, Buffy.  Don’t you dare let him win this.”

She looked up at him, tears streaming down her cheeks.  “What if you have to go away?” she asked in a whisper.  “What am I supposed to tell Sammy?”

Angel shook his head.  “I don’t know, Buffy, but don’t you dare blame yourself for this.  Samantha is a smart girl.  She deserves the truth.  And the truth is that you certainly didn’t make me beat the shit out of Pete.  And trust me, if I had the situation to do over, I’d do the same thing tomorrow.  He threatened you, he threatened my daughter.  He’s lucky I didn’t kill him.”

***

Buffy and Angel both nodded at the assistant district attorney before rising from seats at the conference table with Lindsey.  Buffy gripped Angel’s hand tightly for support.  William was present as well as Lilah Morgan, the Weston family lawyer.

“There will be paperwork,” the ADA told them, “but this should be processed in a few weeks.”

When they reached the hall, Buffy finally broke down crying.  Angel pulled her close, gently soothing her as best he could.  “It’s over, Buffy,” he told her.  “We’re fine.  It’s over.”

Which was exactly why Buffy was crying.  After years of fear and guilt, it was finally at an end.  Pete had been found incapable of standing trial and his family agreed to have him committed indefinitely in exchange for the criminal charges being dropped.  In return, Pete dropped his charges against Angel.

Buffy took a deep breath, staunching her tears.  She looked up at him.  “I’m just so relieved.  I had no idea how much this had been dragging me down.”

“You’re free, Buffy,” Angel told her.  “Both you and Sammy.  You have no ties to him, not anymore.”

Sniffling one last time, Buffy smiled.  “That’s really convenient,” she said.

Angel’s brow furrowed, looking down at her.  “Okay,” he said, confused.

She took a deep breath.  “I’m pregnant,” she said.  “And I know this one is yours and I think you’re going to have to marry me.”

Angel smiled at her goofily.  “We’re in the courthouse,” he said.  “I’m fairly sure we could manage that pretty easily.”

Laughing punchily, she grinned at him.  “You’re such a tough guy to pin down,” she said.

“I know,” he said with a sigh.  “Mr. Fly by Night, that’s me.”

She leaned into him, letting him support her weight.  “I love you, Angel.”

“I love you too, Buffy.  For all my life.”

***

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Buffy snapped, “just say yes.”

Faith looked at her friend, over her steaming mug of peppermint hot chocolate, clearly irritated.  They were taking a break from Christmas shopping and Faith had been lamenting about Lindsey’s latest bid to take her to Buffy and Angel’s wedding as a date.

“Oh get off it,” Buffy continued.  “Lindsey’s nuts about you.  You’re nuts about him.  I’m sick of watching the two of you make googly eyes at each other.  The anticipation is about to kill me.”

“You’re in a mood today,” Faith countered waspishly.

Buffy sighed, slouching down in her booth.  “I’m just stretched a little thin with all the changes.  Christmas is coming up and Sam’s being more of a handful than usual.  She and Angel are both going nuts about the wedding and Angel’s on this kick to get a bigger apartment.  Yesterday Sam bought a Christmas present for the baby and she’s been checking out all these pregnancy books from the library.”

“You told her already?”

Smiling tightly, Buffy said, “I didn’t tell her anything.  Her father’s about as good at keeping a secret as she is.  And now they’re both watching me like a hawk.  I bet I was asked ten different times yesterday if I’m getting enough folic acid.  I had to inform Ms. Samantha that since she wasn’t born with two heads, odds were this baby would be okay too.”

“They’re just worried,” Faith pointed out.

“They’re driving me insane,” Buffy said, whimpering.

Faith decided it would be a good idea to change the subject.  “Did you find a dress yet?”

Buffy perked up.  “Oh, you betcha,” she said with a grin.  “And morning sickness, hello how I missed you.  It’s my regular size and it’s loose.  And pregnancy hormones,” she smiled wickedly.  “My boobs are already bigger.”

Faith laughed.  “So what does the dress look like?”

“Killer,” Buffy said.  “Pink sheath dress with a side slit.  Tons of cleavage.  Tons of leg.  Might I just say how much I love getting married on New Year’s eve at a gallery?  Nothing’s going to be traditional and I love it.”

“How’s your combo maid of honor/best man/flower girl doing?”

“She’s in heaven,” Buffy said happily.  “Angel put her in charge of the guest list and she’s actually done a hell of a job.  Though I really doubt if Justin Timberlake is going to show.  I tried to tell Sammy that aside from the fact that no one we know actually knows him, that he probably already has plans for New Year’s.  She’s in some heavy denial.”

***

Buffy’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head as she surveyed the amount of presents waiting under the tree on Christmas morning.  “An-gel!” she chastised, smacking him playfully on the arm.  She was in charge of their finances, but it was clear he’d been squirreling away money somewhere.

Sammy’s scream pierced the air and she dived into her booty.  Buffy shook her head.  “You’re going to spoil that child absolutely rotten, you know,” she said wryly.

Angel smiled unrepentantly, urging Buffy over to the sofa so they could curl up as Samantha opened present after present.  “One down,” he said, pressing his hand over her abdomen, “one to go.”

Buffy shook her head, but kissed him breathless.  Samantha wasted no time in ripping wrapping paper and ribbons.  There were books, dvds, cds, two framed paintings that Angel had done specifically for her (one of Sam and Buffy and one abstract whale that Sammy adored), more clothes than even the most dedicated little girl could ever wear and a wealth of other items; a camera and film, a chemistry set, tickets to a musical, two plays and Buffy couldn’t help but laugh, two front row seats at a Justin Timberlake concert.  “I’m not taking her,” Buffy informed him.

Angel’s look was absolute terror.  “Surely you don’t think I’m doing it,” he said.

“You’re the one that bought the tickets, Daddy.”

He muttered under his breath and Buffy leaned over to kiss him on the cheek just as Samantha launched herself at the two of them.

Buffy couldn’t help but cry as she saw the portrait that Angel had done of her while they were both in high school.  “You kept it all this time?” she asked.

He nodded, handing her another gift.  It was a beautiful silver cross.  Even the zygote made out like a bandit.  Samantha had purchased several onesies in a rainbow of colors for her new brother or sister.  Angel bought several baby books and framed the picture of the sonogram, which honestly looked like nothing more than a black dot.  There was also a miniature hockey stick that Angel argued was completely uni-sex.  Buffy hadn’t been convinced.

They spent the day being lazy.  Angel cooked a decidedly untraditional meal of hamburgers and hotdogs on the George Forman grill Buffy had bought him.  He took an inordinate amount of pleasure in charring animal flesh for his family.  Buffy couldn’t help but roll her eyes at her manly man with the spatula and pot holders.  He was such a dork and she absolutely adored him for that.

All curled up on the sofa together, they watched “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” followed by “Die Hard”.  Buffy had raised her eyebrows at that one, but Angel argued it fell well within the ‘Christmas movie’ parameters.  Buffy looked at the sweatshirt he was wearing – the one Sam made for him in her weaving workshop.  It was truly hideous and Buffy decided he probably needed some compensation so she sat through Bruce Willis blowing up buildings.  She drew the line at “Lethal Weapon”.

Long after Sam had finally passed out, Angel made sweet, tender love to Buffy beneath the twinkling Christmas tree lights.  Sated and sleepy, Buffy pressed a soft kiss to his temple, marveling at the bone-deep sensation of being home.  For so long, she had longed for a family and it had finally found her.  After year upon year of meager Christmases with just her and Sam, shuffled from one shelter to the next, trying to scrape together enough money to buy her a new coat or shoes, this was a dream come true.  And it was all because of Angel.

***

Anne’s gallery was still decorated from Christmas, with festive lights and garland everywhere.  It was late and people milled around sipping cocktails and munching on hors d’oeuvres.  Samantha stood up on a chair and called for everyone’s attention.

People smiled, but dutifully followed the tiny dictator’s directions, gathering around Buffy, Angel and the officiant.  The vows were warm and loving.  Buffy was wearing her killer dress with stiletto heels and her hair pulled back in a complex arrangement of golden curls.  Angel was dressed all in black from his Egyptian cotton shirt to his leather pants.  Everyone clapped as they traded Claddagh rings and kissed far longer than was socially acceptable.

Hours later, when Sam had finally collapsed on top of the pile of coats in the corner of the gallery and the lights had been dimmed, Buffy and Angel were dancing slowly.  He held her tightly, careful not to step on her bare toes, her heels having been abandoned hours earlier.

“Happy new year, Angel,” Buffy whispered, snuggling deeper into his embrace.

He nuzzled against her temple, squeezing her lightly.  “As long as I have you,” he said, “I have everything.”
 

End Story

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