Puzzle Pieces

Puzzle Pieces

By *Stars*
Author's Notes

Buffy waved goodbye to her best friend and roommate as she hopped into her mother’s old Jeep and backed out of the driveway. She didn’t know how many times she would thank the Powers That Be for Willow. When her mother was murdered last year during a convenience store robbery, Buffy thought her world was going to end right then and there. Thankfully though for the Summers sisters, Willow had stepped in, pulled Buffy up off the ground and gave her the lecture she knew Joyce would be proud of.

Buffy had just turned nineteen when her mother was killed and what did a nineteen year old college freshman know about raising a little sister, or managing a household or doing any of the other various activities she’d too easily taken for granted when her mother had been alive to take care of them for her. That was when Willow stepped in and offered her support. She had always been there for Buffy, as her best friend and confidant, but the shoulder she offered Buffy to cry on had spoken volumes about how much she truly cared about her best friend.

Willow subsequently insisted on moving into the Summers’ home, to share expenses and responsibilities. What she hadn’t planned on sharing was the remote with Buffy’s little sister, who wasn’t quite so little anymore. Dawn was thirteen now and felt enough in control of her own destiny that listening to “Buffy’s friend” wasn’t on her “to do list”. Willow called on every deity she could think of to grant her the patience to deal with Dawn. Whenever Buffy worked and Willow was left in charge it normally came down to lots and lots of deep breaths for the redhead. Dawn was certainly a teenager.

“You are supposed to finish your homework before you can watch any TV, those were Buffy’s orders,” Willow stated as calmly as she could.

Dawn turned and glared at Willow, giving her the “death glare from Hell” as Willow so affectionately referred to it.

“Well, Buffy isn’t here and I want to watch TRL. I’ll start on my homework after it’s over.”

It wasn’t really Dawn’s fault, Willow consciously knew that but no matter how many times she tried to remind herself of the fact it did little to help. She wanted to strangle her! However, in reality, Willow knew that the poor kid had been dealt the worst hand in life possible, or at least from the redhead’s point of view she had. Dawn had been the reason behind Buffy’s father Hank divorcing their mother. She was the product of a one-time affair that Joyce only admitted to once she found out she was pregnant by another man.

Even though Joyce had later confided in Buffy when she felt her eldest was mature enough to hear the truth, it hadn’t done much in stomping out the flames of dislike Buffy couldn’t help but have towards her younger sister. It was unfair that she had always blamed Dawn for her parents divorce, but as a young child, you needed someone to blame, and to lay the fault on those who she loved so much just wasn’t an option.

Willow tried the deep cleansing breaths she had been learning in yoga class at Sunnydale U.

“Okay, then as soon as TRL is over it’s homework. Understand?”

The “death glare from Hell” was flashed again and Willow resigned to the kitchen for a slice of chocolate cake. If Buffy’s job didn’t do so well in paying the bills she would refuse to help in the babysitting of the hell-spawn.

Buffy sighed as she pulled up in front of the large fraternity house on the Sunnydale University campus. Though she knew the guys at Lowell House were a little raucous, she also had never had a single problem with any of them in the past, so this *should* be a relatively easy night. It was just this was supposed to be her night off and if it had been any of the other girls besides Cordelia calling her for a fill-in she would have outright refused, no matter how badly she needed the money.

She’d had parties every weekend for the past two months, and she was starting to get worn out. Not something that was beneficial in this line of work. But it had been Cordelia who had called, sick in bed and apologizing all over the place for asking for this favor, and as Buffy’s other best friend, she wasn’t about to turn the brunette down.

Getting out of her car and putting on her happy face, Buffy grabbed her duffle bag out of the trunk and headed up the stone walkway towards the house. She was just about to knock on the door when a voice from behind startled her.

“Buffy Summers?”

Turning slowly around she prayed silently to whatever power above would listen that the male voice behind her wasn’t coming from the weirdo from three parties ago who had been so intrigued by her at his brother’s bachelor party that he had tracked her down and followed her around campus for a week. She was fairly certain she still had a copy of the restraining order in her purse if this was the same creep.

“Yes.”

She breathed out in relief when she saw the man, not the weirdo from the bachelor party.

The slightly haggard looking young man handed her his business card, she stared down at it in confusion, Francis Doyle, Private Investigator.

“Am I in some kind of trouble?”

“No ma’am. I was hired by your father to track you down. He would like to speak with you at your earliest convenience,” the heavy Irish brogue wasn’t lost on Buffy.

“Daddy?”

“As soon as you can miss, call my office to schedule a meeting time.”

He said it like it was just business, like her father who had abandoned her when she was just six years old just wanted to conduct some business with her. Maybe to him it was just business, he was after all just doing his job.

Buffy looked down at the card and then at the retreating form marching his way back down the stone walk. How many nights had she knelt by her bedside as a child and prayed for her daddy to come back? How many times since her mother had been murdered in cold blood had she begged whatever god would listen to her to bring her daddy home? She needed him like he was her life preserver, she was sinking on this ship called life and this might be her only chance to patch up the holes and make a go of it again.

Tucking the card safely into the zipper pocket of her duffle bag, Buffy turned and knocked on the Lowell House door. One evening of entertaining a house full of half-drunk, all horny men celebrating one of their fellow brother’s twenty-first birthday was all she had to get through before she could return to her dream world that held everything she had ever wished for with her daddy.

Quickly the door opened and a familiar face greeted her.

“Hi Graham.”

The handsome young man pulled her into a light embrace, “Hey there hot stuff.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and kissed him lightly on the cheek. No matter what party she was hired as entertainment for at Lowell house, she could always count on Graham being there to make sure that no one over stepped their bounds. He had been a good friend since grade school and though a couple of years ahead of her, they had always been close. His family had come from the wrong side of the tracks, but Buffy had never treated him as anything other than an equal. She couldn’t have cared less if his dad drove a Benz or a beater, it was all in how you were as a person that mattered to her and he had taken that and ran.

“So, who’s birthday?” she asked as her friend stepped away.

“Riley Finn, new guy. You’ll like him.”

Buffy smiled, “Uh…huh, going to go change. I’ll be ready in about ten minutes.”

“Not that I’m not totally happy to see you, but I kind of thought we were getting Cordelia tonight,” he asked with mild embarrassment.

“Not that that doesn’t sound like I’m yesterday’s news or anything, but she’s sick so she called me to fill-in tonight. You know if you’d just ask her, she’d go out with you,” Buffy admonished.

Giving her friend a wink, she took off to the bathroom to change before she embarrassed the poor guy even more. She had known almost from third grade that her friend was smitten with Cordelia, but for whatever reason she could never talk him into just asking her out.

“Hello,”

“Mr. Summers, it’s Doyle.”

Hank immediately straightened in his chair. He had been pacing around the house like a caged tiger waiting on this phone call for the past three hours and the minute he sat down to try and relax the phone rings. It was the call that could potentially save his son’s life and bring a smile back to his wife’s tired and worried face. “Did…did you find her?”

“Yes’ir.”

Pause.

“She has my card. Told her to call at her earliest convenience to set up a meeting time,” Doyle answered matter-of-factly.

“What did she say? Did she say she was going to call?” Hank asked, trying to get a feel for whether this was going to be just a fleeting hope or if he had a real shot at getting his firstborn to talk to him.

“She was….getting ready for work, didn’t really have much to say.”

“That’s it? That’s all you have to tell me?” Hank returned with an anger-laden tone. He couldn’t believe he had fronted over five grand for expenses for this.

“I’m faxing over my full report on your daughter and her current…situation. I’ll contact you with the meeting time once I’ve heard from her. I’m assuming your schedule is flexible and that you can be here within a couple of hours?”

Hank heard the fax machine in his study beep, “Of course.”

Doyle sighed into the phone, “Good evenin’ Mr. Summers,” and hung up.

Unfortunately, for Francis Doyle, his line of work involved dealing with people who he did not approve of. Hank Summers was certainly on that list. The L.A. businessman was known throughout the City for his less than ethical business practices, some of which involved blackmail. The blackmail of one of the best private investigators in town currently being number one on his list. Doyle couldn’t believe that he’d allowed himself to get caught up in Hank’s mess. He could kick himself for that one indiscretion with the wrong woman.

Hank hadn’t cared enough to listen to Doyle’s last words; he had clicked the phone off as soon as he’d answered his availability. Walking hurriedly through his large home, Hank pulled the paper out of his fax and sank down in his large leather office chair. The information that Doyle had sent over was more than what Hank could have ever hoped for.

The further he read through the report the more he realized there was not only a small bit of hope for his son, but it was a glaring possibility that he would recover fully. With the ammunition Hank now had in his hands, there was no way that Buffy could turn him down. She was walking a tightrope as it was, trying to keep what was left of her life together and unless she cooperated in the fullest, he’d cut the end of that rope and she had no net underneath to catch her.

Buffy gave Graham a friendly wave as she pulled away from the curb. She’d had a really good night at Lowell House. The boys were for the most part well behaved and the cash was flowing as freely as the alcohol. She was pretty certain she had made a couple hundred bucks in just a few hours. Birthdays at that fraternity were always good parties to do, but this one had been extra lucrative. The new brother whose birthday was being celebrated with fervor had apparently led a sheltered life up until his transfer to Sunnydale U, so the boys at Lowell were initiating him threefold.

Buffy was certain she hadn’t given that many private dances to one person in an evening ever before. It hadn’t been a problem though, after the first couple she realized she didn’t have a drunken-can’t-keep-his-hands-to-himself kind of guy, but instead had a mildly drunk yet quite easily embarrassed gentleman in front of her. She did her best to not embarrass him too badly, yet keep up the charade for the rest of the guys like she was putting all her effort into it. She was a paid entertainer after all and that meant if she expected to be paid, she needed to entertain, birthday boy’s feelings notwithstanding.

Though as she turned down Revello Drive the joy of having money in her pocket to pay the bills drifted easily out the window of her mother’s old Jeep and into the night sky. Pulling into the driveway, she recalled the conversation she’d had only hours earlier with the mysterious man with the heavy accent. He’d tracked her down for her father. After all these years, even after her mother’s murder, she’d never been able to make contact with her daddy.

Now…he was looking for her?

Pulling the business card out from the pocket of her duffle bag, Buffy studied it closely. No hint as to who this guy was other than a name and dual office addresses, one in Sunnydale and one in L.A. She had to convince herself that this was a good thing, that no matter how many times over the years her father had disappointed her that this was going to be the turning point in their relationship. This was the moment when he welcomed her back into his life and helped her out of this hellhole life had pushed her in.

Pocketing the card, Buffy gathered her stuff and trudged in the house as quietly as she could. The hours she held with this job didn’t make for a big welcome home from work from the family. She rarely saw her sister or best friend on weekends and though this job did well enough paying the bills it did nothing for her social and family life. She had no idea when the last time was that she and Willow had gone out or she’d spent more than thirty minutes with Dawn. Things needed to change, and maybe her father walking back into her life was just the change she needed.

Early mornings were not kind to PI’s who stayed out half the night tailing young women who had less than desirable jobs. Doyle was just finishing his second cup of coffee when his cell phone rang. Looking down at the display, he didn’t recognize the number.

Flipping the small phone open he answered, “Francis Doyle Investigations.”

“Um…hello. This is….this is Buffy Summers. You um…gave me your card to call you last night.”

“Ahh…yes, Miss Summers,” Doyle said with a smile.

Buffy was quiet, unsure what to say next.

“Miss Summers?”

“Yes. I’m here. I uhh…guess I need to make an appointment with you?”

“Do you have any time available this afternoon? I know your father is interested in meeting with you as soon as possible.”

Buffy wanted to yell and scream and say she would be there in five minutes, but in reality she’d just gotten out of bed and ‘bad hair day’ was putting it mildly. She needed a shower, and some coffee, and maybe even a couple more hours sleep so she didn’t pass out during the meeting. So she did the best she could do.

“Anytime after two would be okay for me.”

Doyle looked down at his appointment calendar, nothing until five-thirty, “Would three work for you?”

Buffy hesitated; this was it, her daddy.

“I…uh…yes. Uh, three is fine.”

“I’ll contact your father. Thank you for getting back with me so quickly Miss Summers. I’ll see you this afternoon.”

Buffy felt like she was going to be sick. If she hadn’t *known* she was stressing herself out in a ridiculous kind of way she would have swore it was food poisoning from the nasty smelling Chinese food the boys had at the party last night. Graham had insisted she eat before she left. Buffy normally wouldn’t have put up a fight, but whether it was week old take out or some funky new concoction the place down on Main was now serving, the smell had been enough to send her packing. Two bites and that was enough for her.

“Hey Buffy, you’re up early. How’d the party go last night?” Willow asked as she moved into the kitchen.

Buffy was startled out of her thoughts, turning she smiled at her best friend, “Hey Will. It was great. I made over two hundred last night. We have grocery money and money for the electric bill now.”

“Wow…two hundred? You didn’t have to…you know…”

“No.” Buffy answered immediately, “NO! NO! Absolutely not!” she answered again after it registered what her friend was *really* asking.

The redhead smiled. She knew her best friend like the back of her hand; she just liked giving her a hard time once in a while. She did after all get left taking care of the hell spawn, she deserved to give her friend grief, it was only fair play.

“So, you’re up early. I didn’t figure on seeing you until this afternoon sometime,” Willow continued as she moved past her friend to the counter to pour herself some morning java.

Buffy sat silent for a long moment, thinking about how she should break the news to her best friend. She had an inkling of the reaction she was going to get. It wasn’t as if Willow didn’t know what a total ass her dad had been to her over the years. She had, after all been there to mop up the tears from all the birthdays and holidays that went by without Buffy ever once seeing a card or a gift, or hell even a phone call that said ‘hey, I acknowledge you as my kid.’ There was little doubt in Buffy’s mind this whole day was going to be bad.

“Buffy?” Willow prompted, concern starting to mar her face after her friend’s silence.

“Can you stay with Dawn this afternoon? I have an appointment at three.”

“I guess….what’s the appointment for? I thought you didn’t have any plans for this weekend, I thought before Cordelia called you were planning on doing *nothing* all weekend,” Willow questioned.

“It’s nothing…” Buffy trailed. She really wanted to tell Willow, but until she found out for sure what the situation was, she felt the easiest thing to do was just keep things to herself.

“Buffy…did one of the guys do something to you last night?” The concern was starting to take over.

“No…no. It’s nothing like that,” Buffy took a moment to gather her words, “It’s kind of personal Will. I’ll tell you later…..tonight, I promise.”

Willow started to protest, but the pleading look Buffy gave prompted her to hold her comments and concerns to herself. She trusted her best friend with her life, so if she said she’d tell her then she would, when she was ready.

“Okay, after supper, pizza and movies tonight. Dawn’s going to Janice’s for a sleep over,” Willow returned.

“It’s a date,” Buffy answered with a smile.

Rising from her seat at the table, Buffy gave her friend a loving hug to say thank you for understanding and not pushing for information she wasn’t quiet ready to divulge. With a thankful smile, Buffy left her friend to her coffee and newspaper as she headed upstairs for a shower.

Hank Summers strode purposefully through the Children’s Hospital halls. First, and foremost, he needed to see his young son, tell him he loved him and that daddy was going to make everything all right. Before, those words had been an empty lie that he always felt he had to say to give Zachary some hope. Today would be the end to those lies.

As he walked to his son’s room, Hank heard laughter drifting out the door and into the hallway. The thought of his son finding joy in the terrible life he had at this moment put a smile on his face. It was gone in the next second. Instead of Zachary enjoying himself with his mother, Hank’s second wife Kathleen, his young son was watching something on the TV perched high on his hospital room wall with his stepbrother, Kathleen’s adopted son from her first marriage.

Zachary adored his older brother, Kathleen practically worshiped the ground her eldest son walked on, Hank wished Angel would fall off the face of the earth. At age twenty-five, Angelus Liam O’Conner had graduated from Harvard Law School and was a budding new associate at the Los Angeles firm of Wolfram & Hart; the only firm in town who could not be bought off by Hank Summers.

He knew that for a fact, he’d tried.

Now that his stepson was a bright and shining employee, Hank knew that there would never be a way for him to persuade the senior partners of that firm to relent and let him in on the bidding for any of the City’s projects. Angel hated him just enough to do whatever he had to, to prevent that from ever happening. For some reason the dumb kid took issue with Hank marrying his mother. Angel should have been thankful that his stepfather hadn’t sent his ass to another country to boarding school. The only reason he hadn’t was because Kathleen never would have married him if she thought he might do something like that to her son.

Hank had tolerated Angel when he had to, he no longer *had* to. Moving inside his son’s room Hank glared at Angel.

“Daddy!” Zachary exclaimed when he saw his father.

“Hey there slugger, how you doing?” Hank asked as he moved to his son’s bedside.

Angel rose from the chair he had been occupying, “I better get going Zach. I’ll stop by and visit again tomorrow. Tell mom I said bye okay?”

“Awww….man….can’t you stay? Scooby Doo isn’t over yet!” Zach pleaded.

Angel had to inwardly calm himself. If it were up to him he would sit by his brother’s bedside until his hospital stay was over, but it wasn’t up to him. His stepfather had made it crystal clear the day Zachary was born that he was nothing to the boy. Angel’s adoption was something that his stepfather routinely threw in his face, there was no blood relation between him and Zach. So while Hank was around Angel was not at all welcome near his treasured younger sibling.

“Maybe tomorrow after work,” Angel offered.

Zach pouted as best he could, but relented at the stress he could see in his brother’s face. He knew Angel was worried about him, even seemingly, more than his own parents were, so Zach smiled and happily agreed to see his big brother tomorrow.

After his wife’s first son was gone, Hank sat down in the empty hospital chair and asked about Zach’s day, biding his time until his wife returned from her walk around the hospital grounds. It was the daily ritual she performed to keep her head level, as she would say, walking the stress of a terminally ill son away was the only thing that was keeping her sane at the moment.

Time seemed to stand still until Kathleen walked through the hospital room door. Hank was itching to leave, to head to Sunnydale; something he couldn’t do until his wife had returned to stay with their son.

“Hey mom!” Zach greeted.

“Kathleen.”

“Hey baby, where’d your brother run off to?” Kathleen asked suspiciously.

“He had to leave after dad got here. He said to tell you bye for him and he promised he’d come by to visit me after work tomorrow!”

Kathleen looked to her husband, Hank simply shrugged as though he wasn’t privy to the situation. He couldn’t have cared less anyway; he had more important things on his plate than whether or not his wife liked the fact that he hated her son.

“I have a business meeting out of town this afternoon. I just stopped by to check on you guys before I left,” Hank informed.

“But I thought we were going to watch movies?” Zach whined.

Hank looked pleadingly at his wife to distract their son, but after the events that she suspected had taken place while she was out, she was leaving him to his own devices. Besides, if his business took precedence over his son, then he could explain that to Zach on his own.

“It just came up, and I won’t get home until late tonight. I’ll come by first thing in the morning and bring you a present. How’s that sound buddy?”

Zach sighed heavily; this wasn’t the first time his dad had taken a business meeting over doing something with him. Even before he got sick, his father routinely missed family night events or his soccer games or whatever it was that he didn’t feel was more important than his work.

Kathleen simply eyed her husband, unwilling to listen to whatever excuse Hank would offer up this time. She was stressed beyond the telling of it worrying about whether they would ever find a match for Zach’s bone marrow transplant and instead of her husband being there with her; for them to love and support one another through this tough time he was off gallivanting around the city or state or hell country for all she knew.

Knowing that look Hank decided to part ways before he and his wife ended up out in the hallway making a scene in front of all of the hospital staff and half the patients. His trip was of the utter most importance to his son’s health, but explaining that he had a previous family and a grown daughter for that matter wasn’t anything he cared to go into before he left. Hell if he had his way, Kathleen would never find out about Buffy and he had just the right amount of information to insure she didn’t.

Buffy sat nervously in a private office inside the plain building that currently housed the Private Investigating firm of Francis Doyle. She and Willow had walked past this place on their way to ‘The Magic Box’ a dozen times in the last month alone, but not once had she ever paid any attention to what was on the front door.

She tried some of the deep breathing exercises that her best friend had been trying to teach her from her Yoga class; Buffy assumed she was doing them wrong as they didn’t seem to calm her down in the least. Suddenly the door to the private office swung open and Mr. Doyle reappeared, this time with her father in tow.

“Daddy?”

“Thank you Mr. Doyle,” Hank stated calmly to his associate in an effort to express his desire to be alone with his daughter.

Doyle nodded and ducked out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Hank waited until the door was closed before moving more fully into the room; taking a seat opposite Buffy.

Buffy smiled, the slightest hint of tears forming in her eyes.

“Look Buffy, I’ll make this brief. I need your help,” Hank stated so matter-of-factly it completely caught his daughter off guard.

No hugs or ‘I’ve missed you’ or the one she really needed…’I love you’.

Silence.

“Buffy?”

Shaking her head, Buffy tried to push her daydreams of this meeting out of her thoughts and let reality soak her emotions.

“How…how can I…help you?” she could barely choke the words out.

“I need a bone marrow donation from you.”

The tears flowed like rivers now, “You’re….you’re…dying?”

She started to rise from her chair, to go to her father. She wanted to hug him, hold him; tell him she would do whatever he needed just as long as she knew he would be okay.

Hank raised his hand in a halting motion, “It’s not for me. My son, Zachary has leukemia. We’ve gone through the national donor registry, myself and his mother and no one matches. We wouldn’t know until you’ve been typed, but there’s a very good chance that a half sibling would match.”

The breath couldn’t possibly have left her body any faster if her father had literally kicked her in the gut. He had a son? A son that was dying and he wants her to save him? How dare he? How dare he waltz back into her life after thirteen years without a word and suddenly ask such a thing of her?

“Before you say no, let me offer you this,” Hank started as he rose from his seat and began to walk casually around the room, stopping in front of the window, “I have it on good information that you are living on your own with your thirteen year old sister and a friend. You go to college during the day and work as a stripper at night to pay the bills.”

Buffy sat still, she was too shocked to say anything.

“I have every intention of turning you and Dawn over to Child Protective Services if you do not cooperate. I’m quite sure that they would frown upon your child rearing abilities, not to mention your choice of employment.”

Hank turned to look at his daughter, pulling a card out of his pants pocket he handed it to her.

“I expect you to be at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, 4650 Sunset Boulevard, by one o’clock Monday afternoon. You have an appointment with Dr. Walsh,” Hank advised.

Buffy looked up at her father through teary eyes, holding the card her father gave her and trying to block out the pain of her heart breaking into a million little pieces.

Hank offered up one last piece of advice, “If you tell *anyone* what we have discussed here, or if you do not show up on time for the appointment, I will immediately contact CPS.”

With that last threat, Hank Summers was out the door, and Buffy Summers was left to sob away any dreams she had had of reuniting with her father.

Buffy stood in the hallway, just outside her brother’s hospital room. She stood in silence and watched him sleep. He was so little, so incredibly sick looking. His head was bald and his cheeks looked puffy, both she supposed were from the treatments. It was all she could do to fight back the tears. No child should have to suffer though something this horrible. As much as she wanted to hate the boy for no other reason than he was Hank’s son, she couldn’t feel an ounce of ill will towards him.

“Can I help you?”

Buffy was startled when the man spoke to her, she was so lost in her own thoughts she had no idea that anyone had been near her.

“No…I uh….no…” she stammered, “He’s….my brother. Just looking in on him. But he’s asleep so I’m just going to….”

“*Your* brother?” the man asked.

Buffy was a little taken aback. The guy in the suit was awfully nosey.

“Half brother, same….,” she paused trying to decide how she wanted to say this, “….father.”

Sperm donor was really the term that had been running through her head right then but she really didn’t figure suit-guy wanted to hear about it.

“Are you sure you have the right room?” suit-guy asked.

Buffy scrunched her face up in confusion. Suit-guy was becoming very annoying.

“Zachary Summers, room 211,” Buffy read off the card she’d gotten from Guest Services.

Suit-guy started to say something, closed his mouth and grabbed Buffy by the arm, pulling her down the hallway, “Come with me.”

When they rounded the corner at the end of the hall Buffy finally yanked her arm free, “Just what do you think you’re doing?”

“Who are you? REALLY?” he demanded.

“Who the hell are you? And what….”

Buffy was cut off when suit-guy cupped his hand over her mouth and leaned out to look down the hallway towards her brother’s room. Obviously not liking what he saw he pulled her into an open room and shut the door.

“What the hell did Hank put you up to?” suit-guy demanded, “Whatever he’s paying you I’ll double it.”

Buffy looked like a deer caught in headlights.

“Are you with CPS?” she finally asked tearfully.

“No, I’m with Wolfram & Hart. Who the hell is CPS? I don’t recognize that firm.”

The tears began to snake down both of Buffy’s cheeks, “Child protective services.” It was almost a whisper.

Suit-guy now looked more confused than she was.

Buffy’s already knotted stomach started to churn on her once more. Grabbing the railing on the empty bed, she steadied herself. Gods she should have known that anything that had to do with her father would be bad. She should have learned by now he was a no-good bastard. He’d caused her to lie to her two best friends and sister in the last twenty-four hours. He had threatened to turn her entire life upside down and now she was being accosted by some weirdo in a suit.

“Look, I’m sorry….I didn’t mean to upset you,” suit-guy apologized.

“Whatever,” Buffy straightened herself, “I need to go.”

Not giving suit-guy the chance to stop her, Buffy turned on her heels, and pulling the heavy hospital room door open she left him standing there alone.

Angel watched the petite blonde’s retreating form. He had no idea what Hank was up to, but he had pretty unlimited resources to find out. Whipping out his cell phone, he dialed his office number.

“Harmony, this is Angel. Could you patch me through to Wesley please.”

“Sure thing boss.”

Angel waited patiently for his partner to get on the line. Wesley was only a couple of years his senior but had risen through the lower ranks of Wolfram & Hart quickly. He was now a junior partner and had considerably more experience and know how than Angel had at the moment. And if Wesley didn’t know the answer, he sure knew who to contact that would.

Within moments, Wesley had turned his partner over to the best PI in the City, who just happened to be on the Wolfram & Hart payroll.

“I’m sorry Mr. O’Connor, I can’t seem to help you with that,” Doyle choked out through the phone.

How in the hell had he gotten into this mess? Oh yeah, he couldn’t keep it in his pants and had slept with the wrong woman in town.

“I don’t think you understand the situation Mr. Doyle,” Angel advised.

“Actually, Mr. O’Connor, I understand the situation perfectly, but I still can’t help you.”

Angel didn’t really want to resort to blackmail, but Wesley had told him it might come to that. How Wesley knew the dirty dealings of a PI was beyond him, but the firm didn’t really pay him to know those kinds of things….yet.

“If your refusal to help me with this has anything to do with Darla, you can leave that baggage at the door right now. She’s slept with everyone employed by this office at one time or another, male and female alike. You having relations with one of the senior partner’s wives is nothing if not expected,” most of that was bullshit, but Wesley said he might have to pour it on thick with this guy.

Doyle thought he might choke on his coffee right then. Did everyone in town know what he’d done?

“I…well…Mr. O’Connor…it’s a bit more complicated than just that.”

“Are *you* working for Hank Summers?” Angel was slowly starting to put the pieces together.

“You know I’m not at liberty to discuss my clientele.”

“How about we do it this way, I’ll pay you twenty grand up front, cash. I need a private detective to locate someone.”

Doyle paused for a minute considering his options, “Bring the money and meet me at my office in Sunnydale at six o’clock tonight. We’ll discuss particulars when you arrive.”

Angel was suddenly listening to dial tone, flipping his cell shut he walked out of the room and back down the hallway towards Zach’s room. He really didn’t give a rat’s ass if Hank was there now or not. He was going to say hi to his mom and his brother, and then he had things to do. There was something off here and he had every suspicion that Hank was behind the whole mess.

Cordelia was not a happy camper. She was still sick, nose running like a freaking river, her head felt like it was mashed in a vice grip, and she was running a fever, still. But Willow had called her hysterical about Buffy. Their best friend had called after the mysterious appointment yesterday and said she had to go to LA, she’d be back tomorrow afternoon, which it was now, and she was still a no-show.

Willow was certain that something beyond bad had happened to her at that party she’d done at Lowell house for Cordelia, and she had every intention of finding out what, so she’d enlisted Cordelia’s help, sick or not.

Kleenex box in hand, Cordelia answered the front door of the Summers’ house.

“Hey Graham, sorry about this,” she did her best to welcome him in but not get too close.

“Are you okay?” he asked her, obvious concern in his voice.

“No, not really, but this isn’t about me. Something’s wrong with Buffy. We think something happened to her at the party the other night,” Cordelia returned through coughing and sniffs.

“Something? Like what?”

Willow couldn’t hold her tongue any longer. She had promised Cordelia she’d let her handle this, but something bad was going on and she couldn’t stand back and do nothing any longer.

“She was raped!”

“Raped?” Graham sat down hard on the couch.

“WILLOW!” Cordelia admonished, “We don’t know that, Graham. Its just, she left for a mysterious appointment yesterday afternoon, then called about an hour later saying she had to go to LA and we haven’t heard from her since.”

Graham buried his head in his hands, “I know the guys were a little wound up the other night, but I didn’t think anyone had gotten out of hand. I mean she seemed okay when she left.”

“You are supposed to protect her when she’s out there,” Willow accused.

Graham looked up at the redhead, obviously hurt by the statement.

“Gods, Willow, would you please shut up! Graham didn’t do anything. We don’t even know if there was a *thing*,” Cordelia chastised again, more annoyed at her friend’s last statement than maybe she should have been, Graham was a big boy after all and could handle himself.

Willow eyed her friend angrily.

“Well, at least I *care* if there was a *thing* or not,” the redhead shot back.

If she didn’t still feel like she’d been run over by a truck, Cordelia would have probably wrung her friend’s neck by now, but as it was, she just couldn’t muster the energy.

“Have you tried her cell lately?” Graham asked, trying to diffuse the situation between Buffy’s two best friends.

“Try whose cell?”

The trio all turned to see the youngest Summers standing in the living room doorway with a concerned look. None of them had realized that school would be letting out and that Dawn would be home soon.

“What’s wrong? Where’s Buffy?” Dawn questioned again at their looks.

“She’s out,” Cordelia shot back quickly.

“Out where?”

“Well, we uhh….” Willow started.

Dawn let her backpack fall to the floor, “If something is wrong with my sister, I want to know. She’s all I have. You can’t keep this from me.”

Graham was the first to act. Moving from his spot on the couch, he quickly pulled Dawn into a hug and then moved her to sit in the over-stuffed chair; bending down in front of her, he chose his words carefully.

“We don’t know if there is anything wrong with Buffy. She’s taken a short trip to LA, and we haven’t heard from her for a few hours, that’s all. We’re just staying in touch with each other, that way if one of us hears something we can share the news.”

“Why would Buffy go to LA without tell me?”

Cordelia stepped up to take this one, they’d just blindsided Graham with this news. It wasn’t fair to make him field all of Dawn’s questions.

“It was a last minute trip. You were already in bed, and she just didn’t think it was right to wake you up to tell you.”

“But…”

Any further questions from Dawn were halted when the front door opened and Buffy walked in, looking tired but, for the most part, in good shape.

Angel was beating a path through Sunnydale to make it to his appointment on time. The traffic out of LA had been ridiculous but nothing compared to the delay at the bank trying to withdraw from the trust account his father’s will had provided for him which had been a nightmare. Thankfully, enough, this sleepy little town hadn’t provided much of an obstacle for him.

Whipping his BMW into a parking spot on the street, Angel eyed the front of Doyle’s private investigating office. Plain, nothing out of the ordinary, barely noticeable when you thought about it.

Grabbing the briefcase from the passenger seat, Angel exited the car and made his way to the front door of the office. He opened the door and went inside. The office was sparsely decorated; either the guy didn’t spend much time here or blew every dime the firm paid him because he was certain he made enough on the Wolfram & Hart payroll to furnish this tiny office to the hilt.

“Mr. O’Connor,” Doyle greeted, approaching from another room.

Angel extended his hand, and the PI shook it cautiously.

“I’d like to discuss the arrangements, your office?” Angel nodded to the room Doyle had just appeared out of.

Doyle breathed in deeply, trying to relax the jitters he had.

“Not much to discuss the way I see it.”

Angel ground his teeth to keep from biting the guy’s head off right then. He hadn’t gone through all of this trouble to be jerked around by some two bit…

“I’m guessing you’re looking for a wee lass, blonde, five-foot something and weighs just this side of a rock,” Doyle offered casually.

“How did you…”

Doyle leaned back against the desk that occupied most of the front office space, “Not hard to figure. This stays between you and me or else…understand?”

Angel nodded; he sat his briefcase down on the floor and crossed his arms over his chest. He figured this should be interesting.

“I like to know *everything* about people I work for, so I tend to do a little extra investigating if you know what I mean. I was hired by Hank Summers to find his daughter, Buffy Anne Summers, from his first marriage; he was hoping she would be a bone marrow match for his son Zachary.”

Angel stood still and listened, his face a stone statue, unreadable to anyone; even one of the best PI’s in the business.

“It also came to my attention that Mr. Summers’ second wife had a son from a previous marriage, namely you.”

Pushing away from the desk, Doyle walked back into the room that was off the main office, retrieved some papers and returned, handing them to Angel.

“When you called today and asked me about Hank, I was certain you had found out about Buffy. I knew she was scheduled for a bone marrow test today at one, so putting two and two together wasn’t hard.”

“What are these?”

“That’s the same report I gave to Hank about Buffy. She is who you’re looking for isn’t she?”

Angel skimmed the pages quickly.

“I can’t believe this,” Angel said aloud, though not really meaning to.

“Look, I have some other business to attend to while I’m in town. If you don’t mind I’d like to lock up now,” Doyle pushed past Angel towards the front door.

Angel picked the briefcase up off the floor and handed it to Doyle.

“No thanks man, don’t want your money. Just make this right.”

“But…”

Doyle looked resolved, and with other things racing through his mind, Angel didn’t argue further. Unlocking his car door, Angel opened it and tossed the briefcase in the backseat before sliding inside.

“So she really was Zach’s sister.”

Angel focused his attention back onto the report he held in his hands; the address yielded someplace called Revello Drive here in Sunnydale, what were the chances?

“Buffy!” Dawn bounded towards her sister and mashed her in one giant bear hug.

Buffy looked puzzled but went along with her younger sister’s out of character behavior.

“Umm...was there a party someone forgot to tell me about?” she questioned after noticing that her house was filled with *every* close friend she had.

“Maybe we should be asking you that,” Willow shot back, the annoyance in her tone evident.

Buffy eyed her friend, hoping she would just drop the subject. She couldn’t talk about what she had just gone through; if she mentioned it to anyone, she could lose Dawn. She couldn’t even fathom that thought.

“Why did you go to LA without telling me?” Dawn asked.

Buffy looked at Willow, annoyed that her friend would tell her sister; someone she deliberately told her not to tell.

“Buffy,” Dawn quizzed again.

“Research for a class at school. No big,” Buffy lied.

“Oh, you could have just told me that guys,” Dawn huffed then grabbed her backpack and headed upstairs to her room.

When everyone was fairly certain that Dawn was out of earshot, they turned on their friend.

“Research Buffy?” Willow asked with sarcasm.

“Yeah, I needed to do some research. Leave it alone, okay?”

Cordelia moved to stand in front of her friend, wishing she could hug her or at least take her hand, Cordelia did the best she could, “Sweetie, did something….happen to you at the party the other night? It’s okay you can tell us.”

“No, I’m fine. I’m going outside, I need some air,” Buffy returned angrily.

It wasn’t her friends’ fault. She realized they were just concerned about her, but the more they pressed her for information the more she was going to have to lie about her trip to LA and she really didn’t want to do that.

Sitting down on the front step, Buffy tried to breath in the cool evening air to clear her head.

As the front door clicked shut, Buffy felt the dread overtake her body again.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Graham sat down on the step beside his friend. She’d been his confidante more times than he could count. When his father had gotten drunk and beat him to within an inch of his life, Buffy had been the person he’d turned to. When his older brother was arrested for burglary, he’d sought out Buffy to ease the hurt. She’d always been there for him in his time of need. All he could do was let her know that he was here for her, no matter what.

“I’m not going to make you.”

“Thanks,” Buffy gave a grateful smile.

Graham pulled his friend into him, “No matter what’s going on Buffy, you know you can always tell me. We don’t judge each other, remember?”

“Things are a little more complex this time around Graham. I’ll tell you when I can,” Buffy answered evenly.

“Will you at least tell me you’re okay? Nothing is physically wrong is it? Did one of the guys at the house do something the other night?”

Buffy leaned back, away from her friend, “No, it’s nothing like that. It’s just….”

“Buffy Summers?”

Both Buffy and Graham looked up at the man walking towards them.

Buffy stood quickly, “What….what are you doing here? I didn’t tell anyone, I swear!”

“What the hell is going on Buffy?” Graham asked as he moved to his feet quickly ready to act if the need arose.

She hadn’t realized her body was trembling until Graham reached out to steady her. The tears that she’d fought so hard to keep welled up on her drive home were now spilling over at the thought of losing her sister. She had no idea how to convince suit-guy that she hadn’t told anyone anything about her trip to LA.

“I didn’t tell, I swear I didn’t tell them.”

“Didn’t tell us what, Buffy? What did this sonofabitch do to you?” the anger was apparent in his tone. Graham was a fighter, he’d been forced into that role as a child, and he’d kick suit-guy’s ass from here to kingdom come and back if he had to.

“I didn’t do a thing to her, I just want to talk,” Angel answered calmly.

Graham turned to his friend, “Buffy? Who is this guy?”

Buffy looked back and forth between the two men. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know suit-guy’s name, just that he worked for her dad; and she couldn’t tell Graham that because she swore to her dad that she wouldn’t tell anyone about what she was doing. She couldn’t or else he’d take away Dawn.

Pulling her arms around herself Buffy shook her head no.

“My name is Angel O’Connor, I’m an attorney with the law firm of Wolfram & Hart in Los Angeles,” handing his business card over to Graham he continued, ”I’m also the adopted son of Kathleen Summers, Hank Summers’ second wife.”

Buffy’s eyes shot up quickly, “That’s why….”

Angel nodded.

Before Buffy had time to say another word, the front door of her house flew open and out ran Willow and a still very sick Cordelia one with a baseball bat and the other a folded up umbrella. They’d been watching out the living room window; and when they saw another guy come up the walk and Buffy jump up like she was expecting him to attack her, the girls had grabbed the first suitable weaponry they could find and headed out to help defend their friend.

“You leave Buffy alone. We know what you did to her!” Willow shouted.

“Yeah!” Cordelia agreed.

Angel’s eyes widened considerably, he’d taken enough martial arts classes to know how to defend himself, but he wasn’t sure that two irate women with a baseball bat and umbrella were good odds.

Graham on the other hand couldn’t help but smile at the scene. As long as he’d known the girls, they’d been the three musketeers, one for all and all for one.

“I think it’s okay ladies; you can put your weapons down. I don’t think he’s here to hurt anyone,” Graham announced.

“That’s because he already has,” Willow accused again.

“Yeah!” Cordelia chimed in on cue.

Angel looked at Buffy and raised an eyebrow, begging for help.

“It’s okay guys. Mr. O’Connor just needs to talk to me. I’m fine. Can you give us some space?” Buffy intervened.

Willow didn’t seem to want to budge, though Cordelia looked relieved at the thought. Graham leaned into Buffy and quietly reminded her that they would all be just a yell away if she needed them before he herded the other two women inside the front door.

Swiping at the tears in her eyes, Buffy apologized to suit-guy, “I’m sorry about that.”

Angel shrugged it off as if every day he was threatened with deadly weapons. Gesturing towards the steps Angel moved to take the seat the other man had just vacated.

“You want to tell me what’s going on?” he asked after Buffy set down next to him.

“I can’t tell you anymore than you have already figured out.”

“Because you don’t like me, or because Hank’s threatened you?”

Buffy chose her words carefully, “I don’t know you well enough not to like you.”

Angel nodded his understanding.

“Would you be interested in my side of the story?”

Buffy shrugged; again, she still wasn’t sure what she could say without getting herself into trouble.

Leaning forward, resting his arms on his knees, Angel clasped his hands together, and looking out at the silent street in front of them, he began.

“When I was three my mom and dad adopted me. My mom had been told that she could never have children of her own, and it just so happened that a cousin of my dad’s had a daughter that was a junkie, addicted to cocaine. She had a kid, and the kid needed out of that situation.”

Buffy listened but chose to remain silent; it wasn’t her place to ask questions.

“So mom and dad take me in, and we live happily ever after, until my dad was killed in a car accident when I was twelve. Two years after that my mom met and married Hank Summers. He wined and dined her and swept a lonely widow off her feet. Me on the other hand, well, he hates me, I hate him; it’s a very hate-hate relationship.

“Jump to my senior year in high school; mom finds out she’s pregnant with Zach. She was thrilled. I was excited; I was getting a little brother. I have no clue what Hank thought at the time since he was mostly involved with his work.

“Everything was fine, or as fine as it could be with Hank. He let me know pretty much right from the start that I was nothing to Zach since I’d been adopted and wasn’t really my mom’s son to begin with. By that time I’d come to ignore the man. Regardless of his feelings, Zach and I were close; mom made sure of it.”

Angel chanced a sidewise glance to see how Buffy was reacting to all of this news. She was stoic. He almost laughed to himself; she should have been the lawyer.

Taking in a deep breath Angel finished, “Last year Zach started getting tired a lot, and mom finally took him to the doctor. Next thing I know she’s calling me hysterical because Zach has leukemia. It’s been a roller coaster ride ever since.

“I never pegged Hank for giving a damn one way or the other. That’s why I didn’t trust you at the hospital today. I pretty much figured he’d paid you to show up, give mom and Zach some kind of false hope that he’d pulled off the miracle and found a donor for him. I’m sorry.”

Buffy swiped at the tears that began to fall down her face, “Nothing to be sorry for.”

“What did he say to you?” Angel asked finally after a long moment of silence.

“Nothing.”

“I can help you.”

“He didn’t say a thing, and you can’t say anything to him. You have to promise me you won’t!” Buffy turned to Angel, the pleading in her voice evident.

“You can trust me, Buffy. I have no interest in helping your father.”

“I can’t tell you. I’m sorry,” she answered tearfully.

“Were you tested today as a possible donor for Zach?” Angel asked seriously.

Buffy bit her lip trying to stave off any more tears. She wanted to tell this man so badly, but she couldn’t risk it; she couldn’t risk Dawn.

Frustrated at the girl’s silence, Angel rose from the steps and paced around the front walk.

Running his hand through his hair and desperate for an answer, Angel gave it one final attempt.

“I have a briefcase in my car. It has twenty thousand dollars in cash in it. You can have it all, just tell me if you were a match for Zach or not.”

Silence.

“Even if he isn’t blood to me, he’s still my brother, and I love him more than you can imagine. I need to know Buffy,” Angel begged, “The money’s yours. No strings attached. Just tell me, yes or no.”

Buffy closed her eyes, dizzy from the offer that had just been laid before her. That was so much money, and it would go along way to help pay for Dawn’s college in a few years. But, could she risk it? Could she risk this man being some ploy by her father to ruin her life further?

No, she couldn’t. So, before Buffy could change her mind, she stood from her perch on the porch step and turned, running into the house before the man pleading with her could object. Shutting the door behind her, Buffy looked at her friends who had been none to subtle about keeping an eye on her from the living room window.

“Are you okay,” Willow asked quickly.

Buffy ignored her friend, looking straight at Graham, “I don’t want to talk to him. Don’t let him in this house….please.”

Graham nodded his assent, and Buffy headed up the stairs to her room before anyone else could ask a question.

Angel started to the house, he wanted to bang on the front door and yell and plead with Buffy to talk to him, but he didn’t. Whatever Hank had said to her was enough to keep her quiet. Shaking his head at the thought, he headed back to his car. It was baffling to think that a man could put such fear into his own daughter. Sinking down behind the wheel of his car Angel leaned his head back thinking, if Hank could do something so vile to his daughter, what would he be willing to do to his son? Shuddering at the thought, Angel straightened himself, putting the car into drive he was determined to find an answer to that question and he was certain he knew just the person to talk to.

“What did you say to her?” Angel demanded as he pulled his “stepfather” out his chair in his office.

He didn’t wait to be buzzed in, like all the rest of Hank Summers’ associates did, nor did he wait until his stepfather was finished with his current client. By the time Angel O’Connor had returned to Los Angeles after his meetings with Doyle and Buffy, he was furious. It had taken all of the will power he possessed not to storm into the bastard’s home and throttle him as soon as he hit town, but on the off chance that his mother was home and not at the hospital with Zach, Angel decided against it. He went to his apartment instead and spent a sleepless night in his big, lonely bed, figuring out the best way to kill his stepfather without having to go to jail for it.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing young man?” Hank spat at Angel as he tried to wrench himself free from the younger man’s grip.

“I want to know what you said to Buffy Summers….your *daughter*?”

Hank eye Angel angrily, turning to his client who was too frightened by the scene to leave, “I’m sorry Mr. Snyder, we will have to continue this another time, if you don’t mind seeing yourself out.”

The short, weaselly looking gentleman nodded and hurriedly left the office, none-to-anxious to stay around for the explosion that was about to take place.

When the door closed Hank angrily pulled away from his stepson, “I don’t know who you’re talking about, but be assured this little incident will not go unpunished.”

Angel laughed that evil, angry laugh that only came out when Hank thought he could still push him around. He wasn’t that skinny little teenager anymore, who cowered in the older man’s shadow, who didn’t want to upset his mother so he would just go along with whatever Hank demanded. No, it had been a long time since he’d been that boy; apparently, Hank hadn’t gotten the memo.

“I’ve seen your daughter, Hank. I’ve talked to her, and she’s scared out of her mind. She won’t tell me a damn thing, and I know….I know beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s because of you. Now I want to know just what the hell you threatened her with.”

Hank looked away from Angel and out his large office window, weighing his options.

“Get out of my office,” Hank finally bit out angrily.

“Last chance,” Angel offered.

Hank did not respond, did not turn to look his stepson in the eyes.

“Just remember, I offered,” Angel reminded as he headed for the door, “Oh, one last thing….if you come near my mother, Zach, or your daughter again, I promise, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

Hank smirked at the threat.

“Don’t think you’re above me Hank.”

The elder man didn’t budge, not even after he heard his office door slam shut. He hadn’t become one of the wealthiest businessmen in this city by cowering down to idle threats thrown at him recklessly. If Kathleen’s son thought he could scare him like that, he had another thing coming.

“Do you think you should maybe call this O’Connor guy?” Cordelia asked, pushing the business card across the kitchen table toward Graham.

Picking it up and studying it closely Graham shrugged, “She said she didn’t want to talk to him.”

“She’s not talking to us either, so who cares! Maybe he knows something,” Willow said emphatically.

No one said a word for a few long minutes as they waited to see if the noise coming from upstairs happened to be Buffy.

“Oooo…..slumber party and I wasn’t invited. How completely special of you,” Dawn quipped as she breezed through the kitchen.

“Do you need a ride to school Dawn?” Graham asked.

“…mmm…ing….ith…isss…” Dawn mumbled through the mouthful of pop-tart she was eating.

Waving goodbye to the group, Dawn grabbed her book bag and headed out the front door.

“What did she say?” Graham asked in confusion.

“She’s walking with Janice,” Willow translated.

There was a collective “ohhh” from both Cordelia and Graham, neither of whom spoke teenage girl.

Picking up the cordless phone from the middle of the kitchen table, Graham started to dial the number on the business card. They weren’t getting any answers just sitting there talking about it.

Hitting the “talk” button, Graham started punching buttons again.

“What? No answer? Wrong number? What happened?” Willow quizzed.

“Voicemail.” Graham answered evenly.

“So you’re going to call his voicemail again?” Cordelia asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Cell.”

“Uhh…hello…Mr. O’Connor…this is… Graham Miller, Buffy’s friend and….uh huh… I see…yes…okay….uh huh….we will,” disconnecting Graham looked at his friends in bewilderment.

“What? What’d he say?” Willow asked.

Graham laid the phone down on the table, “He said he was on his way to Sunnydale to pick up Buffy, that her brother wanted to meet her. Not to let her out of our sight.”

“Brother?” Willow and Cordelia questioned in unison.

“It’s what the man said. I’m just relaying the message.”

“Maybe he has her confused with someone else,” Cordelia offered.

“He doesn’t come across as someone who would be so careless with his facts,” Graham returned.

Willow stood from her chair, walking around the kitchen she began to babble, “I was way off base on this one. That must be what the whole secret meetings have been about, and her trip to LA. She’s found out about a brother and until she knew for sure, she didn’t want to tell us. Oh my gods, this is great! This is exciting….”

“This is none of our business, Willow. We have to respect Buffy’s privacy. Maybe this isn’t something she wanted us to know about,” Graham said, trying to remain the voice of reason.

Willow sighed, looking up at the kitchen ceiling as if it would somehow give her a porthole to Buffy’s room. Her best friend had locked herself in and wouldn’t talk to anyone since the night before. They were all desperately worried about her and this huge mystery that was suddenly hovering around her.

Shrugging Willow answered, “I guess.”

Tossing his cell phone into the passenger seat, Angel turned his attention back on the road in front of him. In the past few hours he’d broken the news to his mother and brother about Zach’s sister, had a serious heart-to-heart with his mother about Hank and the potential danger he could pose for Zach, and what, they as a family, should do about it.

Angel’s little meeting with Hank had been after the conversation with his mother. He had been almost certain before this strange turn of events surfaced that Kathleen was desperately unhappy with Hank, but until he had confronted her with the news of Hank’s daughter, something the man had never shared with her, Angel hadn’t been sure she would want to divorce him. Now, he had no doubts.

Before Buffy’s friend Graham had beeped through on his call waiting, Angel had been in contact with Wesley. He wanted to get the firm on retainer for his mother’s divorce and the assured fight over assets and Zach that would follow. Angel was sure there would be a fight over assets but less so of a fight over his brother. Obviously, Hank had never been the fatherly type; if what he was doing to Buffy was any indication, but he wanted to take every precaution, just in case. He had assured his mother he would, and Wesley had given Angel his word that the firm would take care of everything.

The next hour of driving was spent thinking about Buffy Summers. He knew that convincing her that whatever Hank was threatening her with was no longer an issue was going to be tough. She was terrified and, from the fact that her friend had contacted *him* first, gave every indication that something was going on. When his brain had finished analyzing every possibility, the part of his subconscious that had noticed the girl, really noticed her, kicked in.

As mile after mile passed him by, Angel thought about those long golden locks of hair that cascaded so freely down her back. He then considered those mossy green eyes; they held so much pain and sadness, yet seemed to show him the gateway to her soul; and the sheer force of will that she exhibited by refusing his offer of money for information spoke volumes about the kind of person she really was. Someone that he would really like to get to know better; someday.

Before Angel realized how much time had passed the ‘Welcome to Sunnydale’ sign was in front of him. Making his way through the small town was the easy part. Figuring out what to say to Buffy Summers, that was more terrifying than interviewing for his job at Wolfram & Hart.

Pulling his car to a stop in front of Buffy’s house, Angel took a deep calming breath, got out, and headed up the walk. The front door opened before he even hit the steps.

“She hasn’t come out of her room all night,” Willow informed.

“I… uh…” Angel hadn’t been prepared for the whole gang again; he was pretty much hoping to just deal with the boyfriend.

Graham pushed past his half-hysterical friend, “I think maybe we should talk before we let you see Buffy.”

Angel nodded, he understood. If he were in this guy’s shoes he was certain he wouldn’t be *this* understanding of a complete stranger.

After Angel had answered all of their questions, both girls and Graham led him in the house and up the stairs to Buffy’s room. From there he was on his own. If they couldn’t get her to talk to them, they didn’t really see how this guy was going to do it.

Angel watched as Buffy’s friends marched solemnly down the stairs, then turning, he knocked on the bedroom door.

“Buffy….Buffy it’s Angel. I need to talk to you. Zach wants to meet you.”

Obviously, the group downstairs didn’t know the trigger word because two seconds after the name Zach left his lips, Angel was face to face with the blonde beauty, who now had fire in her already reddened and tired eyes.

“WHAT did you do?” she demanded angrily.

Angel used the opportunity to muscle his way past the angry young woman and plant himself *inside* her room where, whether she liked it or not, he could talk to her.

“No really, come in,” Buffy quipped as he brushed passed her.

Slamming her door shut, she turned on Angel, not only angry that he had obviously violated her trust but also that he had the audacity to waltz into her room uninvited.

“I want to know what the hell you’ve done, and I want to know now!”

“I told my mom and Zach about you and that I was pretty sure you had been tested as a possible donor match.”

Buffy picked up the first thing on her nightstand that she could get her hands on and launched it at Angel. Her alarm clock didn’t make it across the room since it was still plugged in, but she hoped that it at least got the point across.

“How dare you! I begged you not to say anything. You have no idea what you’ve just done to my family!” she screamed, all the fear and sadness she had felt over the past forty-eight hours were immediately turned into anger and an inner strength she didn’t realize she possessed.

Angel had to reign in his emotions. He really wanted to grab this girl, hold her, and tell her that it was all going to be okay. It was going to be okay, he would make certain of that; but right now he had to gain some trust, or at the very least convince her to hear him out.

“I know you’re upset,” he began.

Throwing her hands in the air, Buffy started towards the near stranger standing in her room, “Upset? You think I’m just *upset*?”

Angel started to speak, “I..”

“NO! I don’t want to hear it. You had no right to tell your mother or your brother about me. You. Had. No. Right!”

“I’m sorry, but they needed to know.”

“It wasn’t your place to tell them,” Buffy bit out angrily, “You didn’t even know for sure that I had even been tested, you were just going off a hunch.”

“Maybe, but I was right, wasn’t I?” Angel asked as he grabbed Buffy’s bare right arm and twisted it just enough to show the band aid covering a vein at the crease of her elbow on her right arm.

Buffy yanked her arm away from Angel, looking sadly up into his eyes, “The fact that you guessed right has nothing to do with this, and you know it.”

It was almost a whisper.

This time Angel chose to follow his heart instead of allowing his brain to control his every move. Sometimes you had to go with instinct and let reason fall to the side. Stepping closer he pulled the young woman into his arms. He held her close and waited for the sad attempt at a struggle to give way to acceptance.

“I can help you, if you’ll let me,” Angel said in a quiet gentle voice.

There was a long moment of strained silence, but finally Buffy broke down and told Angel everything. She let him lead her over to her bed, and allowed him to sit next to her as she retold her life story, every last sordid detail of it. From her father cheating on her mother to the point Joyce finally retaliated, ending up pregnant by another man. How her father found that as his escape, and left her and her pregnant mother to fend for themselves.

Buffy had to bite back tears when she told Angel about her mother’s murder. Time could only do so much to heal the wounds she received from that blow, but the real sickness in her gut hit when she told him what her father was bribing her with. She didn’t know why she cared what he thought of her, but for some reason she did. It wasn’t like with Graham, who had been a loyal and trusting friend for most of her life. He grew up poor too, so he knew that sometimes you had to do things you would prefer not to do just to put food on the table, but telling this almost perfect stranger that she stripped at parties for a buck was humiliating. She’d grown a thick skin over the past year to the teasing and taunts she sometimes received because of her “job,” but she wasn’t prepared for the reaction she received from Angel.

“Oh gods, baby….I’m so sorry,” Angel said sincerely, pulling Buffy back into his arms and holding her tightly.

He had no idea what possessed him to say what he did or to hold the girl as if she really meant something to him. It was instinct. Angel had read the report that Doyle had prepared. He had known before he heard it come hesitantly across her lips, that she was a paid entertainer, that she took her clothes off for money. He hadn’t really given that information much consideration when he had read it. His mother had raised him better than to judge someone by what they wore, or by what they did for a living. Judgment was to be left to the higher powers, not him.

Buffy started to sob at the kind words Angel offered. She had been steeling herself for the worst, but instead she’d been blindsided by kindness something she’d only been offered before, by her closest friends.

“I…I…know…what you’re thinking…” Buffy choked out.

Angel couldn’t help but smile, “I doubt you do.”

Buffy pulled back and looked Angel in the eye; those deep, dark, soulful eyes almost caused her to loose her words.

“I…I know…you think I deserve this. That what I do for a living is….wrong, but…”

Angel cut her off, he couldn’t allow this woman to think such things of him.

“You provide for yourself and your sister. That’s what I know,” he said to her matter-of-factly, and taking one of her tiny hands in his, he continued, “I also know that no one deserves to be threatened the way you have been.”

Buffy looked down at her slender fingers entwined in Angel’s larger ones; she couldn’t respond. All the things that kept coming to mind seemed so trite and clichéd. She opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again, unsure that there was any way she could convey her appreciation. Just having someone besides her three best friends understand her situation without judgment meant a great deal to her. More so she figured, than a silly “thank you” could express.

“Look, I won’t apologize for telling my mom and Zach about you, but I will promise to take care of this situation with….your father.”

Buffy nodded.

Releasing her slender digits, Angel cupped Buffy’s face in his hands, looking at her seriously he asked, “Are you a match for Zach?”

Tears flooded Buffy’s eyes, and without a word she nodded her head up and down the best she could as it was still cradled in those large and caring hands.

The relief that she could see in his features immediately helped to ease some of the emotions Buffy was feeling at that moment. She was putting her future and the future of her sister in a stranger’s hands, but they were hands that were holding her as if she were delicate porcelain that might break at any moment. Though doubt was something that was always just in the back of her mind, Buffy couldn’t help but feel safe. Whoever this man was, she couldn’t help but trust him.

Willow, Cordelia and Graham each turned their attention to the couple coming down the stairs. It was obvious from the reddened and blotchy patches on Buffy’s face that she had been crying, but it was just as noticeable to the three friends how comfortable she looked tucked under the arm of Mr. O’Connor. He whispered something in her ear as she led him to the front door. Buffy gave him a hopeful smile before showing him out.

When the door closed, Buffy once again felt as though she was under a microscope.

“So???” Willow asked instantly, using all of her will power to remain seated instead of running over to her friend.

Buffy sighed heavily, “We need to talk.”

Sitting down in one of the living room chairs, Buffy Summers explained, in great detail, everything that had happened to her in the past couple of days. She started with the private investigator tracking her down at Lowell House, then moved on to the meeting with her father, and the threats he’d laid on her. It was hard, but Buffy even managed to get through the description of her newfound little brother who was dying and about his big brother who cared so much about him.

“Oh my gods, Buffy, that’s so sad,” Willow said through tears of her own, “and mean, your dad is a big poopy-head.”

“Fucking bastard is more like it,” Graham said angrily.

“No arguments there,” Cordelia added.

Graham scooted to the edge of his seat on the couch, eyeing Buffy cautiously, “So…are you going to go through with the procedure?”

“How can I not? It isn’t Zach’s fault he was born to that asshole,” Buffy answered seriously.

“But what about the risks to you? Do you know everything that’s involved in this Buffy? Shouldn’t you consider everything before you just jump in to save the day?” Willow rambled.

Buffy gave a slight smile. She appreciated how much her best friend cared about her, “I talked to Zach’s doctor when I had the blood work done. The risks are minimal for me.”

“What about your….dad? What’s he going to do now that everyone knows?” Cordelia asked.

“Angel said he was going to take care of it.”

“Angel? You’re on a first name basis with this guy all of a sudden?” Graham asked curiously.

Cordelia pushed off the couch, crossed her arms and walked towards the other side of the room, “And you’re so concerned….why?”

“She’s my friend that’s why!” Graham shot back quickly.

Cordelia raised an eyebrow; Buffy and Willow smiled at one another, both knowing where this sudden bout of jealousy was coming from.

“My room’s free, why don’t you two just go do it, and get it over with,” Willow teased, trying to lighten the mood.

Cordelia turned and stormed off into the kitchen leaving Graham to give his other two friends a pleading look.

“Go talk to her,” Buffy suggested.

Resigned that it was his only option, Graham took Buffy’s advice and left the room.

“When?” Willow asked.

“When what?”

Rolling her eyes, Willow continued, “When are you having the thing done?”

“Ang…Mr. O’Connor said he would call me tomorrow with all of the arrangements.”

Willow smiled, “You like him don’t you?”

“He’s Zach’s brother, and I’m Zach’s sister and that makes us…”

“Technically no relation whatsoever, you said he was adopted,” Willow reminded her friend.

Buffy shrugged; it wasn’t like he would be interested in her and her completely dysfunctional life anyway.

Lying in the cold, sterile hospital bed, waiting for the orderly to come to take her down to the operating room, Buffy contemplated her life and the new people she now had in it. Since arriving in LA late last night, Buffy had been introduced to her new brother Zach and his mother Kathleen.

Buffy couldn’t help but like them both. Zach was as sweet a little boy as she had ever had the pleasure to meet, and his mother….well she reminded her, a lot of her own. Kathleen kept expressing her gratitude over, and over again for what Buffy was doing for her son, and at one point pulled the young blonde aside and promised to do whatever she had to do, to ensure Buffy’s family was kept intact. Angel had obviously told his mother what Hank had done.

“Listen here, you little whore....” Hank bit out angrily as he stormed into Buffy’s room unannounced, “if you think this little stunt of yours is going to work, you are sadly mistaken.”

“Dad I…” Buffy started as she sat up in bed trying to plead her case.

The fire in Hank’s eyes was easy to see. His perfect little plan hadn’t worked out quite like he had thought. He didn’t give his daughter time to finish her sentence, pushing her back down on the bed, Hank wrapped both of his large hands around his daughter’s neck.

“You’ve ruined my life. First your whoring mother, and now you.”

Buffy tried desperately to pry her father’s hands away from her throat. She had expected any confrontation with him to be heated, but she hadn’t banked on this. Neither had any of her friends, because if they had she wouldn’t have been left alone to fend for herself. She knew that much.

The stars that Buffy always heard of appearing before a person’s eyes when blacking out, began to drift through her sight. This was it. The one person she had always held out hope of having a good relationship with one day was going to kill her and prevent her from helping his own son. The word ironic danced through her mind, kill both of your kids in one fell swoop.

Buffy hadn’t even realized she was gasping for air, the hands that had been restricting any airflow to her body were suddenly gone, and the burning in her lungs from the deprivation of oxygen was now consuming her.

“Buffy…Buffy are you okay?” Willow asked frantically.

Gasping for air once again, Buffy struggled to open her eyes and fought the hands that were on her.

“Buffy, it’s just me. It’s Willow, you’re okay now…Buffy….”

As consciousness took control, the small blonde realized that it was her best friends and not her father touching her.

“Fucktard is gone,” Cordelia announced angrily, “The bastard won’t touch you again.”

Buffy reached up, gently touching her neck.

“It’s probably going to bruise, but I think you’ll be okay,” Willow answered her friend’s unasked question.

Swallowing hard, Buffy understood with Willow’s words that it hadn’t been some freakish nightmare, that her father had, in fact, tried to strangle her. Tears welled in her eyes at that thought. How could he do something so brutal to anyone, never mind his own flesh and blood?

“It’s okay, Buffy. Graham and Angel took care of your…..well you know,” Cordelia comforted, “They’ll be back in a minute. Everyone wanted to tell you how much we love you before they take you down for the procedure.”

Buffy forced a smile.

“Hey sweetie,” Graham said smiling as he walked into Buffy’s room a few minutes later.

“Hey.”

Buffy’s friend leaned over the bed railing and placed a gentle kiss to her forehead.

“You know, big and menacing out there isn’t half bad,” Graham grinned, nodding towards Angel’s broad form that took up most of the doorway.

When all of Buffy’s friends had said their piece, Angel finally allowed himself a minute alone with his brother’s savior.

“I’m sorry.”

Her throat still raw from the unexpected attack, Buffy could only scrunch up her brow in confusion.

“I told you I would protect you. I promised that I would take care of everything with your father, and I failed you. I’m sorry,” Angel apologized.

Buffy reached over and with her free hand she took Angel’s larger one in hers, “’s okay.”

The words came out in a whisper, gravelly sounding from the soreness that she still felt in her throat, but she needed to say them. She needed this man to understand she didn’t hold him responsible for the actions of the man she’d once called her father.

Angel leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss to Buffy’s lips, “They said they gave you something. I know you’re getting tired, but I want you to know I’ll be here when you wake up.”

As Buffy’s eyes fluttered shut, she smiled.

When Buffy’s consciousness returned to her, the anesthetic having finally worn off, she saw a room filled with flowers, family and friends. All of whom were squished together in tiny chairs, asleep on each other’s shoulders, but together nonetheless.

Her little sister was curled up with Willow in one chair, while Cordelia was with Graham in another. She smiled at that sight, hoping that while she was unconscious, those two finally figured out how much they liked one another, so they could quit torturing her and Willow with all that unresolved sexual tension that always oozed out of them both.

There was movement in the corner of the tiny room that caught Buffy’s eye. Immediately her body stiffened, unsure of who was coming towards her from the shadows. She was still a little groggy from the anesthesia, but with it, enough to remember the near death experience she’d suffered through just before she went under.

“Hey,” Angel whispered.

Buffy smiled, her body relaxed immediately.

“Can I get you anything?”

Her mouth felt like a cotton field, “Water,” she whispered back.

Angel turned to the rolling tray that held the pitcher of ice water the nurse had brought in only a few moments ago. Pouring a small amount into the plastic cup, he tore the paper off a straw and stuck it down inside. Turning slowly he offered the drink to Buffy.

She mouthed a ‘thank you’ as she pushed herself up in bed so she could take a drink.

After a few sips, and when she finally felt like she could speak again, Buffy asked what had been on her mind since the moment she had regained consciousness.

“How’s Zach?”

A smile pulled at the corners of Angel’s mouth, “He’s a very resilient little boy….he’s doing fine.”

Buffy nodded, and then turned her attention back to her water. She wasn’t sure why Angel was here, in her hospital room, when she obviously had plenty of company. Sure they were all dead to the world, and didn’t even know she was back among the living yet, but still, they were there.

Angel felt like he should say something; maybe thank her again for what she was doing for his….no, their brother, or maybe reassure her that the man she once called ‘daddy’ wouldn’t touch her again, not as long as he had anything to do with it.

The feelings that coursed through his tired body as he watched the fragile looking young woman sneak a glance up at him were confusing. Sure, she was a gorgeous creature, with her long blonde hair and petite body, any man would have to be blind not to notice her, but what he was feeling for her now was more than just carnal lust. He tried to shake it off as gratitude for what she was doing to help Zach.

But was it?

Angel couldn’t help but grin again when his eyes met Buffy’s. They seemed to be playing that game with one another; the one that young teenagers use to tell someone they “liked” them without actually saying the words.

“I…” Angel had started to say something when a noise from behind stopped him in his tracks.

“Buffy! You’re awake!” Dawn exclaimed.

Buffy smiled at her sister, “Hey.”

Dawn excitedly pushed past Angel so she could hug her sister. They hadn’t always gotten along, and Dawn knew that she had been a big pain to Buffy more times than not in the past year since their mother died; but she loved her more than anything in this world, and she wanted nothing more than for her to be okay.

“How are you feeling? Are you in any pain? I can go tell the nurse to get you something if you need it…not that they’d listen to a kid, but I’ll tell them if you want me to,” Dawn said in a rush of words.

Buffy squeezed her sister’s hand, “I’m fine, but thank you.”

Within moments of Dawn’s shrieking, the rest of the room’s occupants stirred awake. Though all of Buffy’s friends were sore and stiff from dozing in the uncomfortable hospital chairs no one complained. They were just happy that their friend was awake and seemed to be doing well.

Angel had contemplated bowing out of the room silently. He felt like an interloper, he didn’t know these people he barely knew Buffy but something kept him from going. He wanted to watch her, to see how she interacted with her friends, with her sister. Buffy intrigued him in more ways than he could describe; there was just something about her.

“So you feeling….hold on,” Willow started, “I gotta sneeze.”

Buffy watched as one of her best friends went into a major sneezing fit.

“I think the real question is, are you feeling okay?” Buffy said seriously.

“I think Cordy’s gotten us all sick,” Graham said, “I’ve felt terrible all morning.

“Like it’s my fault. I was at home in bed when all this started. You people are the ones that called me remember, so I don’t want to hear it!” Cordelia shot Graham an angry look.

“I didn’t mean….”

The friendly bickering among Buffy’s friends was about to roll down the hill full steam when a nurse interrupted.

“Did I hear someone say they were sick?”

“Cold, that’s all,” Willow answered.

“OUT! All of you out now. Miss Summers cannot have sick people in her room!”

Buffy watched in horror as her three friends and sister were herded out of her room, banned from visiting her. Only Angel was still in Buffy’s sights. He stood just outside her open door, talking quietly with the nurse. There were hand gestures but nothing that gave Buffy any indication as to what the two were discussing.

Finally, the nurse nodded her head and walked away; Angel stepped back into Buffy’s room.

“What’s going on?” Buffy asked.

Angel smiled, pulled one of the vacated chairs close to the bed and sat down.

“I’ve been cleared to stay and visit.”

“Why?” Buffy questioned, scrunching up her brow as she did so.

“Why was I cleared, or why did I want to stay and visit?”

It was Buffy’s turn to smile; Angel hoped she did that more often, she had a beautiful smile.

“Both.”

Angel leaned forward in the chair and explained to Buffy both how and why he was there with her. Not only did he not want her being left alone, partly due to the threat her father still posed, but he also wanted an opportunity to get to know Zach’s sister better. He offered the nurse both excuses and presented the fact that he wasn’t a member of the other group and was therefore not a threat for infection.

Buffy accepted the explanation and took her visitor up on his ‘wanting to get to know her better because of Zach’ reason. She offered him free access to her life. Whatever he wanted to know, all he had to do was ask, and ask Angel did. By the time Buffy’s doctor arrived to check on her three hours later, the pair felt like they had known one another forever.

Angel stepped out of the room, allowing Dr. Walsh time alone to examine Buffy. It was then that he was informed by the on-duty nurse that unless there was an unexpected complication from her procedure, Miss Summers would be discharged later that day. That, Angel was also informed, was both good news and bad. Buffy would not be allowed to leave with any of her friends. They were all sick with the flu and had been sent home. She couldn’t risk getting sick herself, that could be dangerous to her body and immune system.

He had made up his mind almost before he had time to think it through. Angel advised the nurse that Buffy would be discharged into his care. The nurse documented his personal information on all the appropriate forms and headed back to her station.

Now, Angel could only hope that he hadn’t over-stepped his bounds. The past couple of days had to have been traumatic for Buffy, and he didn’t want to add to the situation, but he felt compelled to offer her more than just his thanks. She would need a place to stay since her own home and that of her close friends were now out of the question, and he had more space than he knew what to do with. It all worked out so perfectly, at least it did in his head.

He watched quietly as Buffy’s doctor said her goodbyes and left the room. Swallowing hard, Angel cautiously stepped back into the room.

“Good news!” Buffy said with a smile, “I get to go home.”

Before Angel could open his mouth, the duty nurse was back in the room.

“Mr. O’Connor, I need your signature, here, here and here,” she said pointing to each blank line on the form she handed him.

When Angel had finished and handed the form back to the nurse she turned her attention to Buffy, “Now, Miss Summers, I need you to sign, here, here and here.”

“What am I signing?” Buffy asked as she looked over the legal-looking piece of paper. One thing her mother had always told her was to know what you signed your name to. You didn’t want to sell your soul to the devil without knowing it first.

“Your discharge papers,” the nurse answered matter-of-factly.

“And why did he have to sign them?” Buffy shot back quickly.

“Because we are discharging you into his care.”

“Huh?” Buffy asked, the confusion on her face evident.

“I said because…” the nurse started to explain again.

Angel smiled as he interrupted the nurse, who was herself confused by Buffy’s question, “I think what she means is, why me.”

The nurse blushed at the correction, “Ohhh….well, your friends are all sick, and they informed me that you don’t have any other family besides Mr. O’Connor. Because of the procedure you had done, we had to have someone listed as responsible for your post-operative care.”

“Oh.”

When Buffy looked to Angel for some kind of reassurance that what the nurse was telling her was indeed the truth, she got a smile and a wink. She guessed that was his way of saying ‘yeah, she’s right, go ahead and sign the paper.’ Buffy blushed a deep red at the gesture. She was used to being pawed at like an animal at the parties she did, but it had been longer than she could remember since a guy winked at her like that.

Though she knew he was only doing it to be nice and there wasn’t a chance in hell at a relationship with someone like him, Buffy couldn’t help but let the gesture warm her heart. He was signing for her so she could get out of here and possibly even helping her find a place to stay until her friends felt better. Getting her discharged from the hospital alone, meant more to her than he could possibly know. She had shared almost her entire life with him in the few hours they had talked, but the one thing she hadn’t explained was her aversion to hospitals; that was just too painful to talk about.

As Buffy signed her name to the release papers, she decided just what she would do to show Angel her gratitude. There was only one thing she had that she could give him, and that was her body. Once she had recuperated and was back to her old self, Buffy fully intended on treating her savior to his very own private dance, something she had never done for anyone else; ever. It was a job to her and a job only, but she would have to make an exception in Angel’s case. It was the least she could do as repayment for his generosity.

Buffy stood in awe just inside the foyer in Angel’s house. She had never before been afforded the opportunity to see what a sprawling home like this looked like on the inside. The chandelier that hung so beautifully above her head, sparkled as the mid-afternoon sun crept in through the window above the front door, catching the elegantly carved crystals. A painting of a faraway landscape adorned the right wall and a horizontal mirror that reached at least four feet in length decorated the opposite.

Angel allowed his guest to examine her surroundings. Though living in a large, expensive home had been his lifestyle growing up, if only by default, he was almost certain that it had not been Buffy’s. The thought both saddened and angered him; how could Hank have forgotten about such a lovely child? Abandoned her, and her family leaving them to fend for themselves while he lavished his new wife and eventual son with all his wealth could afford.

“Follow me, your room is down this hallway,” Angel finally said, breaking the silence.

Buffy smiled and followed obediently, admiring the family pictures of Angel, Zach and their mother that hung perfectly on the crème colored walls of the hallway. She watched in silence as Angel pushed open the bedroom door and walked inside, setting her small suitcase in the middle of the bed.

“It’s not very big, but it’s on the main floor and you have your own private bathroom,” Angel said as he looked around the small room, “I didn’t think you would feel like walking up and down the stairs if you didn’t have to.”

A grateful smile crept across Buffy’s mildly pale face, “Thank you. This is….perfect.”

Buffy appreciated Angel’s thoughtfulness. Her hip was still sore from the procedure and though she would have climbed the staircase without complaint, she had to admit it was a relief not to have that worry.

“How about I show you the rest of the house…the ground floor anyway,” Angel asked.

Buffy nodded. This was feeling more awkward by the minute, and she had no idea why. She had never felt this self-conscious around a guy before, especially one who had no interest in her. He was just being nice, offering her a bed to sleep in for a couple of nights until her friends got over the flu; it was no big. Yet something in the pit of her stomach was telling her otherwise. She felt flushed, and all tingly inside every time she even looked in Angel’s direction. Maybe she had caught the flu from her friends after all.

“This is the kitchen. You’re welcome to help yourself to anything I have, no need to ask just take what you want,” Angel advised as they walked through his spacious kitchen.

As Buffy hobbled through the room, her right hip throbbing a little more with each step she took, she couldn’t help but admire the modern looking stainless steel appliances that looked practically unused. She ran her fingertips across the cool, gray marble countertops as she followed Angel around. She had always loved looking at pictures in the architectural magazines her dad had when she was little. Pictures of houses just like this littered the pages. An involuntary shiver coursed through her body; her father, she had purposely kept him out of her thoughts until then.

“You okay?” Angel asked when he noticed Buffy’s color seemed to pale even more than it already was.

Buffy lied, “I’m fine, just a little tired I guess. Would it be okay if I just went back to my room and lay down?”

Angel almost cringed at the thought that he had worn her out already. He should have waited to give her the tour.

“Sure…absolutely,” carefully taking her left arm in his large, warm hands, “let me help you.”

Buffy hesitated, still unsure whether she could fully trust this man or not; an unfortunate side affect of her father’s actions over the years, and especially most recently. Trust wasn’t something she gave easily.

Angel waited patiently, pleading with his deep brown eyes for her to allow him this gesture. He needed to feel like he was helping her in some way. Offering her a place to sleep was a minor thing compared to what she had done for Zach.

After a couple of strained moments, Buffy finally relented and nodded her assent to Angel. She was being silly, hesitating at his offer of help was ridiculous and somewhere deep inside herself she knew that. Unfortunately, for both of them the actions of her father had screwed with her sense of wellbeing more than she had realized.

They slowly walked down the hall, Angel careful to keep enough space between his body and Buffy’s. He could tell she was on edge, as should be expected given the circumstances and he didn’t want to add to her anxiety. When they reached her room, Angel carefully released Buffy’s arm and hurried to the bed to remove her small suitcase he had placed there earlier. Setting it on the floor, against the wall, Angel opened the closet door and removed a blanket and extra pillow that was stored in there for company.

“You may want these,” Angel offered, setting the items on the bed, and then stepping away.

“Thank you. You’ve been…very kind to me. I really….”

Angel cut off her words, moving around the bed in a few short steps he stood in front of her, “If you need anything, just….yell.”

Buffy’s head tilted back, allowing her to look up into the eyes of the man who towered over her small frame. For the first time since she had met him, she really saw him. This time he wasn’t just some mysterious man accosting her in the hospital hallway or knocking at her bedroom door, nor was he just Zach’s brother.

This time Buffy saw a man who had more depth in his eyes than she had even known was possible. His dark brown hair, well groomed and spiky on top; his large hands gentle as they caressed her arms and his well toned body obvious through the dark blue t-shirt and denim jeans she noticed only now.

Mesmerized by his look; his touch, Buffy forgot her troubles, her worries.

“You’re safe here, I promise,” Angel whispered, leaning down he placed a gentle kiss to Buffy’s forehead before willing himself to step away and leave her to rest.

Pulling the door closed behind him, Angel leaned against the wall, taking in deep breaths as he stood there; possessed by a force to which he had never before known. Assisting Buffy to her room had been the Good Samaritan thing to do, but what followed had come out of nowhere. He was lucky she hadn’t punched him and ran out the door screaming. Kissing her? Even if was a friendly kiss to the forehead, Angel didn’t truly know Buffy, and to invade her space like that? Maybe he should check his desk calendar, see if there was a full moon tonight. It was the only explanation for his mad behavior.

Buffy stood looking at the closed bedroom door in disbelief. If she wasn’t trying so hard to convince herself that she was lightheaded from overexertion she would definitely have contributed her present condition to that man’s touch, and kiss. He had kissed her; yes, maybe it was just a friendly kiss, but it was more personal than necessary for the situation. A satisfied smile crept across her face and Buffy turned to crawl gently onto the soft bed. Pulling the plaid blanket over her body, which Angel had laid out for her moments before, Buffy inhaled and smiled. Everything in this house smelled like him; masculine and woodsy, so perfectly him, drifting off to sleep was much easier than she had anticipated.

Angel stood at the end of the hallway on the main level of his home and stared at the closed bedroom door. It was still in the early morning hours, but that mattered little to the homeowner. It had been four days since she had come home from the hospital with him, and yet he felt as though it were mere hours. The pull to be close to her, next to her, was more powerful than sleep, so instead he was left to stand the few feet from her door and ponder how she looked in slumber on the other side.

He had known there was something special about Buffy Summers the moment he had spied her staring longingly into his brother’s hospital room; at the time, he just didn’t know what. Now he did. She was not only stunning in her beauty; her golden hair flowing over her slim shoulders and halfway down her back, but those green eyes. Angel felt as though he could get lost in them, so unique in their coloring he could never bring himself put labels on their tint, as he felt no word he knew of could do them justice. Though her slim figure was more due to the recent events, he could still appreciate her small frame which showed just a hint of curves in all the right places.

Beyond the obvious physical features, there was a gorgeous woman inside as well. It had taken Angel the better part of the first evening she was there, to break down the walls she had so carefully constructed. After more in depth details from his own childhood, Buffy finally shared pieces of her own life which he was certain even her best friends did not know about. He felt like he had found his kindred spirit, a soulmate, someone who felt as comfortable with him as he did with her. It was a rare quality, and something to be protected, treasured; and as Angel stood vigil at the hallway’s end, he knew it was his destiny to keep that bond between them safe, to keep her safe.

Startled out of his musings by the jostling noise of the bedroom door, Angel turned tail and headed to the kitchen. He may be falling in love with his brother’s sister, a thought so strange he could not contemplate it for long, but he had no intention of having Buffy think he was a crazy stalker.

Buffy tiptoed into the kitchen thinking she had been the one to rise early, only to find Angel’s finely shaped, flannel pants-clad bottom facing her; his upper half buried deep inside the refrigerator. She couldn’t help but smile at the sight. Even though she had been staying at his house for less than a week, Buffy had never felt closer to anyone in her life. The relationships she had with Willow, Cordelia and Graham were special on an entirely different level. A level she cherished, and would never give up no matter what; but the feelings that were overtaking her heart and soul by this man were so powerful she gave up trying to fight them.

Clearing her throat, Buffy gave notice that she was in the room. Although observing Angel from his backside was no hardship, she felt almost guilty to be doing it without his knowledge.

The back of Angel’s head made contact with the bottom of the freezer door at the sound. He had known she was coming, even anticipated her arrival, yet at her acknowledgement, he still jumped. Smiling inwardly, Angel knew he was now fully a lost cause.

Putting a hand to the back of his head to try and sooth the throbbing pain, Angel moved away from the refrigerator, turning to his company, “You’re up early.”

Buffy tried desperately to suppress the giggle that threatened to betray her serious face. She really did feel bad for him; she didn’t mean to scare him so badly that he nearly gave himself a concussion.

“I’m….sorry,” she tried to apologize, but the wide smile gave away her seriousness.

Angel crossed the short distance between them, suddenly unaware of the aching in his head. Standing only inches from Buffy’s body, he looked down into her soft green eyes, “You don’t look very sorry.”

He said it in a velvety whisper, with a smile teasing his lips that said he wanted to play.

The grin that played across Buffy’s face only widened at Angel’s actions, and without thought she inched her way closer to his large, muscular body. Her t-shirt now grazed the ripples in his abdomen, and her bare thigh, below where her cotton shorts stopped, felt the flannel of Angel’s pajama bottoms tickle her skin.

Tilting her head upward, eyes batting innocently, “You don’t believe me?”

That was it; that was Angel’s undoing. No matter how insane it was that this wisp of a girl was his own brother’s sister, or that he had only barely gotten to know her, he was hooked. He wanted more than just conversation, more than just shy glances and longings for the touch he knew they both wanted.

Taking control, Angel leaned in and captured her lips with his, gently at first, allowing for her refusal if she so desired. His heart nearly sang as she returned his kisses with as much passion as he felt within his own body. It was unexpected but adored; he hadn’t been totally sure if she would feel the same or not. Wrapping his arms around her shoulders, he pulled her flush with his body; almost purring at the contact.

Buffy’s eyes fluttered shut as she wrapped her own slender arms around Angel’s neck. The feeling of his body so close to her own nearly set her on fire. She wanted to bathe in this feeling for the rest of her life. He was slow yet passionate, demanding but gentle. Angel was the most erotic mixture of man she had ever met; and the longer she kissed him, the more sure she was that she would never be able to get enough of him.

Restraint was something Angel had mastered well over the years. Being subjected to the whims of a step-father who would have been happier to have seen the young man dead than to have had to drag him along on family outings had played a big part in that. Restraint was not, however, something he had any of at that moment. He couldn’t help himself, no matter what he thought about; all the pictures in his head lead down the same path.

“Buffy…”

Her knees went weak at the way he breathlessly said her name. She tilted her head to the side, allowing him access to her sensitive neck. As Angel trailed kisses down the right side, she gasped at the feeling of the open-mouthed kisses he lavished there. She had apparently died and gone to Heaven.

“Angel…I…”

Buffy’s words were cut short with the shrill ring of a telephone. Angel reluctantly pulled away, knowing that a phone call at this time of the morning could not be good.

“I need….” He couldn’t help but kiss her again, “….to get that.”

Buffy nodded and stepped away, somewhat ashamed of the brazen way in which she was behaving. She barely knew Angel, and though she had been planning to dance for him before she left as a little gift and a sort of payment, she had not intended on sleeping with him; yet the way she was kissing him she was sending him all those kind of signals and more.

“That was mom….it’s Zach,” Angel said, the barely held down hysterics obvious in his tone, “I have to go.”

The terror of what those words could possibly mean chilled Buffy to the bone.

“I’m going with you.”

Angel nodded his assent, grateful not to have to face the possibility of losing his brother alone. Both turning on their heels, Buffy and Angel hurried off to their respective rooms to throw on some clothes. To each of them, the priority was getting to the hospital as soon as they could.

The drive to the hospital was silent but tense. Neither Angel nor Buffy said a word, both having too many jumbled thoughts running through their heads to form any coherent sentences worth uttering.

Angel practically screeched to a stop in the hospital parking lot before he and Buffy jumped out of his black BMW and ran for the entrance. They moved in tandem, neither having to say a word to the other as they gracefully moved down the crowded hallway and towards the elevators.

As the couple stood side by side in the small, enclosed space, waiting impatiently for the lift to stop on the needed floor, Buffy wordlessly reached out and took Angel’s large hand in hers. She wanted him to know that she was as much there to support him as she was to check on a brother she barely knew. Angel glanced down and gave a grateful smile, letting her know that the gesture was appreciated.

When the elevator doors opened on Zach’s floor, Buffy and Angel both took a calming breath before exiting. Squeezing each other’s hand, they wordlessly marched down the hallway towards their brother’s room. With each click of their heels on the stark white hallway tiles, the doom that they both felt chilling their bodies became more strangling.

Angel knocked once before pushing the closed door to Zach’s room open. He didn’t want to prolong the inevitable any longer than necessary, though by the occasional shaking of Buffy’s hand in his, he wasn’t quite so certain that his companion felt the same.

The scene that greeted the pair was anything but what they had expected.

“Surprise!” Zach screeched from his bed, where he sat atop the covers fully dressed and looking healthier than he had in months.

Angel and Buffy looked at one another in confusion and then back to Zach and Kathleen who was standing next to her son’s bedside, looking equally as devious as her youngest.

“I…” Angel stuttered, lost for words.

“Ha ha! You’re surprised aren’t you?” Zach laughed, “I told you he’d be surprised!”

Kathleen smiled at her son, “That you did, sweetie.”

“Speechless Zach,” Angel answered with a confused smile, “but I don’t understand. What’s this about?”

“I get to go home today! Dr. Welsh, checked-ed me out last night,” Zach said excitedly.

“Dr. Walsh honey,” Kathleen corrected, “she’s not a grape juice.”

Buffy giggled at the correction. Kathleen reminded her so much of her own mother.

Angel looked to his mother, “Seriously? He’s being released?”

Before Kathleen could answer, Zach interrupted, “Yeah seriously. And remember what you said??”

Angel started to wrack his brain for what he’d promised his little brother. He knew from prior experience that though he may forget things from time to time, Zach had a memory like a steel trap. There wasn’t anything that would escape him.

“Aaann-gellll,” Zach whined when he noticed the blank stare he was getting from his older brother.

And then it hit him, he’d promised that as soon as Zach was released from the hospital he was coming to stay at his house for a boy’s night. Just the two of them doing guy things. Things that their mom, no matter how hard she tried, just didn’t care to do.

Angel looked at a confused Buffy and then pleadingly at his mom. He didn’t want to say no to Zach. That was pretty much not an option, but he still had Buffy at his house as a guest until her friends recuperated from their bout with the flu. He couldn’t just boot her out the door.

“Zach, you know that Buffy is staying with your brother right now until her friends get better,” Kathleen tried, “maybe you could stay with Angel next weekend. Just the two of you.”

Zach smiled brightly, for some reason no one got it, “I want Buffy to be there, she’s my sister; that’s what you told me.”

Buffy was startled at the young boy’s declaration, and though she was thrilled at his easy acceptance of her, she just didn’t feel right intruding on his private time with his big brother.

“I appreciate that Zach, and it’s so sweet of you to invite me, but I don’t want to ruin your night with Angel.

Buffy turned towards Angel.

“I can call home. I’m sure one of my friends is better by now.”

Angel glanced towards his brother who didn’t seem at all happy with Buffy’s decision, “What’s the matter? Can’t hang with a couple of boys for one night? Afraid of us or something?”

Zach brightened at his brother’s teasing, “Yeah Buffy…are you scaaaaaared?”

Buffy shot a quick glance at Kathleen who could only shrug at her two son’s behavior.

Turning her attention on her new little brother Buffy challenged, “Bring it on.”

After Angel was assured that his mother would be okay at home by herself, he ushered Buffy and Zach to his car and they headed off for their little party. Since they were celebrating Zach’s release from ‘jail’ as he called it, the day was all his to plan. The first stop was at the video store to pick out some movies.

Angel had been assigned the job of picking out a “scary movie” by his brother, while Buffy was physically dragged by the hand to the kid’s section. She assumed it was because she was the “new kid in town” that she was getting the extra attention, but regardless she was enjoying it just the same.

“How about Shrek?” Buffy asked as she picked up the box and looked it over. She’d seen it a couple of times with Dawn already, but it was so cute that she wasn’t opposed to viewing it for a third time.

“Huh uh,” Zach shook his head to the negative, picking up his own movie of choice he shoved the box at Buffy, “Here, this is way better than ‘Shrek’.”

Buffy took the box and read the title, “Madagascar.”

“Yep, it’s my favorite. Angel took me to the movies to see it before I got sick.”

“Well, if it’s your favorite then we have to get it,” Buffy replied with a grin.

Zach gave a knowing smile back and grabbed Buffy’s hand again, pulling her off in the direction of the “horror” aisle, where they found Angel still pondering the perfect selection.

“I didn’t realize blood and gore was that difficult a choice,” Buffy teased as she came to stand next to Angel, Zach hovering closely by her side.

“It’s a very festhidose decision,” Zach explained seriously.

Angel scrunched his brow momentarily until it dawned on him what his brother was trying to communicate. He had explained it to him in almost those exact words the last time they had rented movies, it was just a slight misspeak on Zach’s part, but not bad for a seven year-old.

“He means fastidious, ‘it’s a very fastidious decision’,” Angel explained to Buffy.

Buffy rolled her eyes; there was nothing fastidious about horror movies. Reaching in front of Angel’s looming body, the petite blond picked up the first box her slight hand touched, without so much as a glance at the title listed on the movie box she handed it to Angel.

“I’m the anti-fastidious movie picker-outer.”

Zach burst out laughing so loudly that Angel was certain everyone within a five-mile radius was staring in his direction. He smirked at Buffy for causing the scene he was currently the star of, picked the other movie box out of Buffy’s hand and headed towards the check out.

Buffy gave her younger brother a knowing smile as they turned to follow Angel to the front of the store, both knowing that even though Angel gave them an annoyed look he was in no way mad at either of them. That was just his personality. Zach knew it from all the time he’d spent with his older sibling over the years, and Buffy just *knew* it. The instincts she’d come to trust over the years had never failed her before, and she was positive this instance was no different.

The trio paid for their rentals and headed back to the car.

“Where to now, Captain?” Angel asked.

“The dollars,” Zach answered gleefully from the backseat.

Buffy scrunched her brows and mouthed the words ‘the dollars’ to Angel. To say she was confused was an understatement. Though to be honest she wasn’t familiar with LA at all, so maybe this was a cool hangout or something.

Angel grinned and answered, “You’ll see.”

A short drive later, Buffy was no less confused as to why Zach referred to the beach as ‘the dollars’. It wasn’t until the three climbed out of Angel’s car and walked slowly down to the water’s edge that the name Zach had used was explained.

“A few years ago I brought Zach to the beach for the day, and while we were digging for shells right over there,” Angel pointed to a little alcove about a hundred yards down the beach, “he found a sand dollar, and hence the name.”

“Makes sense,” Buffy agreed as she pushed herself to keep up with the boys.

“You okay?” Angel asked when he saw a slight grimace cross Buffy’s face.

Buffy looked ahead, watching Zach struggle to take off his shoes so he could wade in the Pacific’s rising tide, “Still a little sore, I guess. I think I’ll just have a seat here and watch.”

Angel started to hesitate as he watched Buffy gingerly ease down onto the sand, but she shooed him off to entertain his brother. She wasn’t about to ruin their fun just because her hip was still giving her problems.

Buffy kicked her shoes off and buried her own toes deep into the warm sand. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been afforded this simple luxury. Just relaxing on the beach and soaking up the sun wasn’t something she had known for quite some time. Watching Angel and Zach run around happily, she started to appreciate her own sister more. Thinking back on the past thirteen years, Buffy realized she had more times than not blamed Dawn for her parents split. Though what had seemed like common sense in her younger days, Buffy now realized was misguided feelings. She just hadn’t known at the time what kind of man her father really was.

Making a commitment to herself right then, Buffy promised that as soon as she returned to Sunnydale, she and Dawn would spend some quality time together. She owed her sister that; life was short and no one really knew how much time on earth he or she actually had; Zach was proof of that.

Turning her attention back to the boys, Buffy noticed they had made their way down the beach to the tiny alcove that Angel had pointed out to her earlier. She really hoped Zach was enjoying himself today, after everything he had been through he certainly deserved a day of fun. She couldn’t believe she was so lucky to have such a great little brother; only for a moment did she allow her thoughts to trace back to her father. The man who had played a part in the conception of both Zach and her, the only good thing he had ever done.

Pushing the thoughts away, Buffy’s mind quickly turned to the other man in her life now, Angel. She was thankful that he was around to look out for and protect Zach, though she couldn’t help but fantasize about what it would be like for him to be there for her. She knew it was a ridiculous thought. He didn’t like her like that and the kiss in the kitchen that morning had been impulse rather than feelings. She knew that, and though she wished it were different, she was okay with it. Angel was older than she was and had a career that was starting, and where was she in life? She was taking off her clothes to pay the bills while she went to school and struggled to keep her teenage sister in line. She was a mess, that’s what she was, and absolutely not something that a man like Angel would be interested in. This morning had been circumstances and that was all; she had to remember that, no matter how difficult it was.

“Buuuuuuufy!” Zach called as he raced towards his sister.

Startled out of her musings, Buffy looked up just in time to see Zach fall at her feet, face first, with what appeared to be a little help from his brother.

Buffy couldn’t restrain the giggle that slipped out at the devious smile she was getting from Angel. Apparently this behavior between the two boys was normal.

“You okay sweetie?” Buffy asked as she leaned forward to help Zach brush himself off.

Zach turned his head and scowled at Angel before turning his attention back to his sister, “Here, I found this for you!”

Buffy reached out her hand and took the offered gift. Zach had searched until he had found his new sister her own sand dollar. He was beaming.

“Do you like it? Angel said we were lucky to find another one there.”

Buffy fought back tears that were threatening to fall, “I love it, Zach. That was so nice of you.”

Angel offered her his hand to help her up so they could head back towards the car; falling in line Zach did the same. He was quite the copycat, but neither Buffy nor Angel cared. He was something special to each of them and whatever he did was nothing short of magical in both their eyes.

Angel had ordered a pizza from Zach’s favorite mom and pop joint on their way home from the beach and they all enjoyed it while watching their movies. Zach had giggled hysterically through ‘Madagascar’ and even once during one of his fits of laughter had managed to end up with some of his drink coming out his nose. Though the sight was less than appetizing, both Buffy and Angel smiled and let it slide, neither wanting to make issue of such a trivial event when all Zach was doing was having some fun.

Although Zach had every intention of staying up to watch both movies, he just couldn’t force himself to stay awake. He was by all accounts better, but still quite a ways from a hundred percent. Glancing into the kitchen Zach watched his brother talk on the phone, he had gotten up to make a call between movies and had said he’d only be a minute, but his minute was taking longer than the young boy could handle.

“Buffy, can you put me to bed? I’m tired,” Zach asked shyly.

“Sure sweetie, but what about Angel? I’m sure he’ll be done with his phone call soon,” Buffy answered as she flipped through the television stations trying to find something to watch until Angel finished his phone call and joined them again.

Zach shrugged, “I really want you to.”

Buffy smiled, “Okay then, you’ll have to show me where to go and what to do, but I’d be honored.”

“Cool,” Zach returned, and jumping off the couch, he grabbed Buffy’s hand and helped her up.

Leading her quietly down the hallway and up the stairs to the room that his brother kept just for his visits, Zach carefully eyed his sister to make sure that he didn’t walk too fast for her because he knew she still hurting from the procedure.

After the pair had finally reached the top of the stairs, they turned and headed down the hallway to the left; Zach pushed open the first door on the right. Flipping the wall switch on, his room lit up quickly like a Christmas tree. It was obvious by the decorations that lined each wall how much Angel thought of his younger brother. There were football jerseys and hockey jerseys hanging on two of the walls, and another was reserved for a poster of what Buffy assumed was the latest video game icon of the time.

Buffy moved further into the room and watched as Zach fished through his chest of drawers to find a pair of pajamas to wear for the night. It was no wonder he hadn’t brought his suitcase with him when he left the hospital earlier, heck this was his home away from home; he didn’t seem to want for anything.

As his sister walked around his room admiring all the stuff he had, Zach hurried and slipped into his pajamas. Buffy might be his sister, but she was still new in the family, and he didn’t think it would be right to just change in front of her. His mom probably wouldn’t have been very happy with him had he done that.

With a clean set of pj’s on and tired eyes weighing him down, Zach pulled back the covers to his bunk bed and climbed in.

“Okay, ready,” he announced.

Buffy was startled out of her musings by Zach’s voice. She had been so interested in studying every picture and souvenir he had accumulated during his short life that she hadn’t been paying attention to him at all. What a great big sister she was.

“Wow, that was fast!”

Zach giggled.

Buffy walked gingerly over to the bed and leaned over, pulling the covers up over Zach’s small body, “There you go. All tucked in.”

Zach smiled, “Thanks Buffy.”

“You’re welcome, sweetie,” Buffy answered, then moved towards to doorway to leave.

“Buffy?”

“Yes?”

“Are you going to live with Angel now?”

Buffy was taken aback by the question, it had seemingly come out of left field.

“Zach…I…no, why would you think that?” she questioned, brow scrunched in confusion.

“Well, you’re my sister and Angel’s my brother, so I just thought maybe now that you have a family you would stay here with us….so I can see you all the time.”

Buffy had to fight back the tears, he was so sweet, “I have a family, Zach, and friends, and they would miss me if I didn’t go back home. You know they were sick with the flu, and that’s why I’ve been staying with Angel.”

Zach sighed, “Yeah I know, but I like you, and so does Angel.”

Though Buffy was positive Zach meant Angel liked her in the platonic she’s-his-brother’s-half-sister kind of way, the statement still made her breath hitch.

“I like you too Zach, and just because I go back to Sunnydale doesn’t mean we can’t see each other. I’ll come out here and visit with you and maybe you can come to my house and stay with me sometime!”

“Really?” Zach asked excitedly.

“Really!” Buffy confirmed as she moved closer to the doorway, brushing a hand over the light switch to turn off the magical display her younger brother had lighting up his room.

“Night Buffy.”

“Good night Zach, sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!”

Buffy could hear Zach giggling as she walked down the hallway to the stairs. She had barely hit the first step when she saw Angel racing towards her.

“Is he okay? What’s wrong?” he asked in a panic.

Buffy smiled and put a calming hand on Angel’s arm, “He’s fine, just tired from all the excitement he’s had today. You know he can’t be back to a hundred percent already.”

Angel glanced down the hallway to Zach’s room and then back to Buffy, “Yeah, I’m sure he’s probably worn out. I probably shouldn’t have kept him at the beach so long, but he was determined to find you a sand dollar.”

Buffy grinned, “That was a very sweet thing for him to want to do.”

“Speaking of sweet things,” Angel returned, placing his large hand over Buffy’s tiny one that was still resting on his arm, “I would say walking up two flights of stairs to tuck Zach into bed was a pretty great thing to do too, especially in your condition.”

“You make it sound like I’m pregnant or something,” Buffy teased.

Angel suddenly scowled at her, “You aren’t….are you?”

“Pregnant?” Buffy asked confused, she’d only been joking.

“Yes, pregnant….you aren’t right?” Angel asked again.

Buffy almost laughed out loud; if he only knew how long it had been since she’d had a real date, let alone actual sex, he would be laughing hysterically at her. Just because she took her clothes off for money didn’t mean she was a great big ho.

“Not even a chance,” Buffy answered seriously.

Angel could have beaten himself for overreacting to her teasing. He hadn’t even realized he said it until she questioned him on it. Buffy probably thought he was some kind of nosey asshole for invading her privacy like that. If she were actually pregnant, it certainly wasn’t any of his business, unless she wanted it to be; but she didn’t and it wasn’t; and he really needed to get off that train of thought.

“You ready to watch ‘Friday the Thirteenth’ number five thousand two hundred eighty-nine?” Buffy asked, a teasing smile gracing her beautiful features.

“Sure,” Angel answered, “Can you make it down the stairs okay? I know you’re hip is still giving you some problems.”

Buffy stared down at the stairs and unconsciously rubbed her side at Angel’s comment. Though she would never have let Zach know it, trudging up all those stairs had not been easy for her.

Angel watched with concern as his houseguest contemplated his question. Without further discussion, or even permission, Angel simply scooped Buffy up into his arms and made his way down the steps. If she had to think that hard about it, then it was obvious she was in some pain.

“What are you doing?” Buffy asked, surprised with Angel’s sudden actions.

Though Buffy was as light as a feather, Angel was being overly cautious descending the steps, so as not to trip. Buffy was in enough pain as it was; she didn’t need to add broken bones and a concussion to the mix.

“If you had to think about it that long, then you’re in some pain. I’m making an executive decision.”

“You’re going to fall, and then we’ll both be in some pain. I can walk, I’m fine,” Buffy shot back quickly.

Angel simply smiled, but ignored Buffy’s comment until they reached the bottom of the staircase where he gently set her back on her feet. If she felt fine, she could walk back the few feet to the entertainment room from there.

With a light blush creeping across Buffy’s face, she shyly smiled, “Thank you.”

Angel shrugged and gave a shy smile in return. He didn’t know why he was acting so backward around this girl. It wasn’t as if she was one of the high-powered executives he had to cater to. Those women could intimidate Satan himself; Buffy on the other hand was so sweet and caring, beautiful and shy, yet somehow she made him more self conscious than any woman ever had before.

Buffy turned to walk to the other room, so they could start the other movie; maybe it would get her mind off the throbbing pain in her side or the fact that Angel kept eyeing her strangely. It wasn’t that ogling stare that some men had when they were trying to picture you naked, it was different.

Angel simply reacted without thinking it through, a curse his mother used to tease him about, which had been learned from his father. A light touch to Buffy’s arm, just enough to stop her in her tracks; Angel waited patiently for her to turn back toward him, and when she did he let the past few days of pent up tension drain from his body with a kiss.

It had started innocently enough, just a chaste kiss to say a thank you of sorts for all that she had done for his brother; what it led to though, was a thousand days of longing for one another that neither knew they had. The melding of two souls that had been waiting and searching for one another, and almost out of dumb luck were united as one.

The kisses became more passionate and desire ridden. Their hands that had so properly stayed within the confines of friendly were now roaming with wild abandon. Angel tried to regain some control, he didn’t want to push; he knew she wasn’t ready, but somewhere deep within his body that rein on which he held tightly was quickly slipping away.

As if on cue, the phone rang and interrupted.

“I need…” Angel started.

“I know…take your time,” Buffy returned.

When Angel finally returned to the entertainment room, where Buffy was quietly dozing on the couch, he had good news. He thought twice about waking her, but decided in the end she would want to know what he had done.

Kneeling on the floor in front of her tiny body, Angel gently shook Buffy’s petite form until her eyes fluttered open.

“Sorry…must’ve fallen asleep,” Buffy said, rubbing her eyes and pushing herself up to a sitting position.

“The phone call took a little longer than I anticipated, but I have good news,” Angel explained, “I’ve been working with one of the Senior attorneys at my firm, and with his help we have secured an agreement with Hank which bans him from any further contact with you and Dawn. He cannot and will not interfere with your or your sister’s life again. You don’t have to worry about your father trying to have Dawn taken away from you. It isn’t going to happen.”

“Angel…you didn’t have to…”

Leaning down he kissed away her words. Maybe he didn’t have to take care of this for her, but she didn’t have to save Zach’s life with parts of herself either. He had learned over the years, sometimes the hard way; that life was about give and take sometimes you gave and sometimes life took things away, but in the end it all evened out.

In his own life, Angel had had things taken from him, and he had taken some things for himself. Tonight though, it was about giving.

“You need to rest,” Angel finally said, pulling away from Buffy’s full lips.

Buffy fought the urge to pull him back to her. She needed him, she needed his touch like she needed air to breathe, but he was right that she needed to rest. She was exhausted, and no amount of making out with one of the most amazing men she’d ever met was going to change that. If he did truly like her, then there would always be tomorrow; if she were just convenient, well then he wasn’t worth it in the first place. Time would tell.

She nodded her assent and with that Angel scooped her up into his arms once more and carried her to her room. He gently laid her atop her bed and kissed her forehead; he would not push further. He knew if he did; if he allowed himself the contact which he desired there may be no stopping. Angel didn’t want it to be like that, not with Buffy, not ever with Buffy.

Three Years Later…..

Buffy stood at the kitchen sink and looked out through the window over the backyard full of guests. She couldn’t believe where all the time had gone; it seemed only yesterday that she was struggling to pay the bills, go to school, raise a teenager…oh, how her life had changed.

Today was Zach’s tenth birthday party, and they were celebrating it at her house with all of her friends and family, everyone important to both her and Zach. She looked on as Dawn did her best to keep up in a one-on-one game of basketball with Zach. Buffy couldn’t help but smile as she watched her sister plead with Graham, the acting official, that she was fouled, and he should somehow penalize Zach for such an offense. Graham just shook his head and laughed. It wasn’t his fault that Dawn didn’t know the first thing about sports.

Willow and Cordelia were sitting at the picnic table looking through bridal magazines with Kathleen. Even the Pope couldn’t argue that that woman deserved sainthood for all that she had both been through and was currently doing for everyone around her. The divorce from Hank had been ugly to say the least; but Kathleen did as she always did she got through it with her head held high, and in the end, gained more than she ever lost to Hank Summers.

With Willow’s parents traveling the world studying cultures in far off lands and Cordelia’s mother in rehab and her father in jail, neither of those girls had much contact with their parents, so Kathleen had stepped in and filled the position almost immediately, just as she had done with Buffy and Dawn. At the moment she was advising on wedding dresses since Cordelia and Graham’s wedding was right around the corner.

Buffy couldn’t help but smile at the warmness that filled her body as she thought about Kathleen and the many ways the woman had helped her and Dawn, stepping in and taking over where their own mother had left off, never crossing that fine line between real mother and surrogate.

Buffy’s smile grew wide as she felt a pair of warm hands snake around her slightly distended belly.

“Can’t we tell them to go home now? We had cake an hour ago,” Angel whispered devilishly into Buffy’s ear.

Buffy laughed, “Half of them live here.”

“Can’t we tell them to go to someone else’s home for the night?”

Buffy leaned back fully into her husband. It had been a struggle, but after a lot of long talks and thirteen months of dating, Buffy had finally agreed to marry Angel; something that surprised none of their friends or family. And now, in less than five months they would be adding to the family themselves.

“The little guy is active today,” Angel, mused as he felt the tiny kicks thump against Buffy’s belly.

Buffy smiled, “What makes you think it’s a boy?”

“I’m the dad, I know those things,” Angel answered confidently.

Buffy leaned forward and picked a piece of paper up off the counter and handed it to her husband.

“What’s this?” Angel asked as he leaned in over his wife’s shoulder to get a better view.

“Pictures of your girls….both of them.”

Angel was quiet for a long moment.

“I think we’re going to need a bigger house…and a security system, possibly some guard dogs, maybe some guards to go with the guard dogs.”

Buffy laughed out loud, it was the perfect ending to a perfect day and a wonderful beginning to the new lives that were about to join them. Although her life with Angel had not begun under the best of circumstances, it now seemed as if all the pieces to the puzzle were finally falling into place.

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: R
Summary: AU, all human fic. When Hank Summers suddenly reappears in his daughter’s life, Buffy thinks that all of her dreams were coming true. She is about to find out how wrong she was about that.
A/N: The idea behind this fic comes from Carol Ann, who graciously offered up this challenge to me! Thank you sweetie! It was written for the ‘IWRY Marathon’.
A/N2: Thanks to my wonderful betas stakeaclaim, ljgould and exposed1! Without you guys I’d be laughed right out of the fanfic world! Thanks to rozlyn14 and danishafer for being my faithful readers and sounding boards! My eternal thanks! Also, thanks to my fantastic webmistress flyergirl a/k/a isis blue! She’s the brains and the brawn behind my site! I’m eternally indebted to you!
A/N3: IMPORTANT….I have zero knowledge of the medical diagnosis, diseases or procedures contained in this fic. Understand that I have done *no* research on this topic either. All details are fiction and should be considered so. If you want your fic to include correct and specific details read elsewhere. This was written for fun not fact.

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