Closer

Closer

By Tango

Rating NC-17
Pairings: B/A as usual.
Notes: Nope. Don't own even a little of them.
Spoilers: Angsty AU
Dedication:: For Margriet & indie for the encouragement on this one.

***

Buffy woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with the blankets half on the floor and her feet twisted in the sheets. After two years, the nightmares should have stopped by now but they hadn't. As usual, she was freezing from the inside out, her hands were shaking and her head was pounding. The dull ache of emptiness sat inside her, still festering after all this time.

She pulled the worn quilt from the floor by her narrow twin bed and wrapped it around herself before padding to the kitchen. She used a frayed corner of the blanket to wipe her forehead and the tears that she barely noticed were there. Picking up her favorite glass from the dish drainer, she filled it with nearly cold water and gulped it down like she had spent the night in the desert.

The apartment was not her home even though she lived there and the chair she didn't feel like it belonged her even though it did. She bought it at The Salvation Army thrift store along with most of her furniture. Burrowing down in her brown corduroy arm chair, decorated with cigarette burns along one arm from the ghost of someone else's vise, she closed her eyes, shuddering when she thought of the expression on Angel's face in her dream. The same face she saw every night in her dreams.

She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and pretended she was curled up in Angel's flawless leather chair in the quilt her mother had left behind when she died. She missed being in that chair in that quilt, loving the clash of the two things owned by the people she loved most and the difference in their texture. She missed having Angel close by, missed burrowing in his arms or making love with him. Now all she had was the memory of her mistakes and how she had single handedly broken herself and took Angel with her.

His face loomed behind her closed eyes so she opened them again and tried to shake him off like the chills, but he stayed with her and strangely, she didn't mind the weight she bore. She still remembered the smell of the moving truck, which was a mixture of mothballs, cedar and stale air. She hired it mostly because of the two burly men that came with it. Angel had been hording her things and wouldn't let her leave with them.

"You can't move your stuff because you aren't leaving me," he said, his voice hoarse and sandpaper dry. She thought it sounded like he had screamed all night for how raspy it came out. When they fought, he hadn't screamed. Not once. Not even when she had. When the two callused moving men came in to move her things, they came back out bloody and angry. Angel attacked them both like a man defending his own life rather than a few chairs and some clothes.

She still shuddered when she thought of his eyes narrowing at them and the curl of his lips in mid snarl. She had never seen that side of him, willing to fight to the death. "You're not taking any of her things," he growled and then went about proving what he said the moment they dared to touch one thing that belonged to Buffy. She still thought it would have been easier to get all of his things out, rather than hers.

Once, long before, the sight of blood on their faces and the bruises rising on them would have upset her. But it wasn't a lot of blood - a dribble here and there. That was nothing compared to what soaked into their bed when she lost the baby. Writhing on the expensive silk sheets her future forced its way out of her womb. Angel could barely call the ambulance because she wouldn't let go of him. He finally gathered her into his arms along with the down comforter and drove her there himself. She held on to him and screamed, jerking painfully in his arms. The doctors had to give her a tranquilizer to get her to let him go and even then they pried her fingers away.

***

All of the employees were used to the fact that Mr. Angelus never went home. Ever. He lived at the office, had his mail and laundry delivered there, showered, ate and drank there. Everyone knew that he had a lovely home in one of the nicer parts of town where a guard stood 24 hours a day, seven days a week, waiting to protect the belongings of a wife that left one day and never came home.

The change in his behavior from the happy go lucky boss who had a beautiful wife and a deliriously charmed life to the dark, sardonic man he became could not go without notice. Angel never smiled anymore. He thought he did, but there was so no joy in the gesture. He simply bared his teeth.

So, it was not a rare occurrence for Angel to be in his corner office looking over the city with a drink in his hand at the wee hours of the morning. He hated his office, hated that he was trapped there, but it was better than going home. Not that he had a choice. He hadn't even so much as touched a pillow on their bed since Buffy left. He couldn't stand the thought of going every night to a house devoid of her presence.

Two years ago, if you would have asked him, he would have sworn on his life that she was going to come back. He would have killed anyone who said otherwise. She was not only his wife, she was his soulmate. They couldn't live without each other. He still clung greedily to the belief that she would show up and promise to stay forever this time.

The sound of the door opening broke into Angel's reverie. Whistler walked in without knocking, fixed himself a drink and sat down on the other side of Angel's desk, propping his feet up on the corner.

"How is she?" Angel asked. As usual, Whistler was wrinkled from being up all night. This visit was not the first for him but rather the last before he went to bed. He was a cheap looking private investigator, but he was great at his job. He also knew everything about how these two people had rotted away from what they had been two years before.

"The same," Whistler answered into his glass, "I hate to admit this, Angel, but you should probably stop paying me. Nothing new has happened for a very long time. She's exactly the same as she was last week and the week before that and the week before that."

"Just tell me," Angel snapped, "I'll decide when I'm done paying you to spy on my wife." He stood up and refilled his glass, walking very straight for someone who had been drinking all night as he did before every appointment with Whistler. He figured if he was not in his right mind it wouldn't hurt so much even though he knew nothing could stop it. He knocked back what was in his glass and sloshed more in as he grumbled, "The same. What the hell do you know about it? And give me the fucking pictures, Whistler."

Whistler sighed. He tossed an envelope on Angel's desk muttering under his breath, then he poured himself a few more healthy fingers of whiskey. He was going to need it. He carefully kept his eyes from straying to the door to his left. Behind the door, he knew was Angel's bedroom - what used to be his private conference room - and on the far wall was plastered ceiling to floor with the pictures Whistler had taken over the past two years. It was frighteningly similar to a serial killer's trophy wall. It gave him the creeps. In fact, the first time he saw it, he occurred to him that the bastard might even do something crazy some day if she didn't come home.

As he thought about it, he found his gaze straying toward the door and he snapped back to watch his employer. Angel had never meant for him to see that wall. No one should ever have to see that maniacal fucking wall. He nursed his drink as Angel tore into the envelope and pored over the pictures carefully, eyeing every detail quickly before looking back up at his employee.

"She's thinner and she's been sleeping less," Angel barked angrily, "These aren't the same as last week."

"Every week she's thinner and she's been sleeping less," Whistler groaned, "Man, you're crazy if you think she's just going to up and come home-"

"I don't pay to hear your opinion," Angel growled. "I don't care if you have one. Just tell me about her."

Whistler fidgeted in his seat. Every week it was the same. He watched Buffy, and then Angel wrestled every single detail from him with that look on his face, that suicidal, drowning man look. Whistler hated that godamn look. It made him want to slit his own throat or Angel's - anything to make it stop.

That, of course, was nothing compared to the wife. She looked like a light breeze would send her careening toward the ground and she had this haunted look about her, like she was already dead and now was waiting for her body to catch up with her mind. He had never seen two people more in love with each other and trying to die at the same time.

***

Buffy came home, opened her door and sighed wearily. Angel was pacing around her living room, touching things randomly. She didn't need to look in the refrigerator to know it was stocked with food again or that the drip in the bathroom sink was fixed. He had done this every other week since she left him two years ago. She was certain if she ever brought another man home, Angel would kill him with his bare hands. It didn't matter really. She didn't want anyone else. She still wore her wedding ring just like he did.

He stopped pacing and turned to face her as she walked in and her fingers flew to her ring like they always did. He glanced down at her shaking hand wiggling the diamond and she quickly allowed herself one little peek of him. He was thinner and he looked sickly - much as Angel could anyway. Of course, sickly thin for Angel was still broad shouldered and beautiful. He always looked strong and safe and dangerous to her. He looked like love, like the future - things she wasn't allowed to have. She took a deep breath and did what she always did. She ignored him.

Ignoring him didn't make him go away, but she always tried that first. She set her purse and workbag on the beaten up red chair just inside the door, then headed to the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and looked inside it. He had bought all the things she liked to eat most but she wasn't hungry. The thought of food made her want to vomit all over the kitchen floor even though she was willing to bet a ten spot that there was extra crunchy peanut butter in the cabinet.

She closed the refrigerator door and went into her bedroom, trying desperately to keep her lips from trembling, eyes wide to deny the tears that were already forming. At least she didn't have to look at him. She wouldn't have to see that look in those dark eyes. She already knew they were overflowing an indescribable amount of pain and love and it was too much to handle. She couldn't stand the thought of seeing her missing future in them, so she curled up on the narrow bed on her side and stared at the peeling paint on the wall with her back to the door.

It seemed easy enough to face the wall and block him out until he walked in. The cheaply crafted floor shook underneath his steps but when he came into the room, she didn't just hear him, she felt him. He made her apartment feel like a cardboard box when he was in it, like the walls would just tear away.

"I'm going to replace your deadbolt," he said, his voice low and pained. "It rattles and it took me under ten seconds to pick the lock." Silence. She didn't dare speak and he didn't dare acknowledge the fact that she hadn't. He sighed and continued. "I want you to pick up some carbon monoxide detectors at the store. This building looks iffy and the foundation isn't sound."

Deafening silence added to what was already there and Buffy continued to stare at the wall. Her heart was screaming for her to do something, anything but she stayed still. She would rather walk on hot coals than see that look in his eyes. She didn't want to see the hurt she saw in her dreams every night. She couldn't stand it.

"I miss you so much some days I think it will kill me," he whispered hoarsely. He was right behind her now and she knew he was kneeling on the floor beside the bed. She could almost feel his body heat. "You know the guard will let you in if you want to go home. I told him you could take whatever you wanted now. If you want something in particular, I can bring it over."

He waited. Buffy counted the heartbeats in between. 25 before he spoke again. He leaned over and laid his head in the curve of her side. She held her breath and tried not to shake. He was shaking enough for both of them.

"I love you," he said. His voice was muffled into her sweater but she could hear every word clearly, "I keep waiting for you to come home. I keep waiting. I'll wait forever. You know that-"

"Angel," she finally said when she couldn't hold her breath anymore and the tears forced their way from her eyes. His named cracked out of her dry mouth and splintered into the air. He stopped speaking and lifted his head. Now it was his turn to hold his breath. When she finally managed to speak again, her voice sounded shredded and raw. "Please don't. Just go."

"I'll just change your deadbolt and then I'll go." he answered, gulping back his emotion. He stood as if the action of standing would erase the weight in his heart. "I'm going to be in Europe next week on business but if you need me you can call my secretary or my international mobile phone. You still have both numbers, right?"

"Yes," Buffy croaked. There was no point in arguing. "Tell Whistler to stop following me so closely," Buffy said as he walked out of the room, "His aftershave smells like Giles' dead cat."

***

Angel dragged through the spacious, glittering lobby of Angelus Enterprises three weeks later and trudged to the elevators. Leaning wearily, Angel thought the elevator seemed to crawl up to the top floor before he could make it down the hall and through his secretary's office to his office and finally to his bedroom.

He had missed his bi-weekly intrusion on Buffy's little dingy apartment and three meetings with Whistler. Needless to say, business was great but it was seriously breaking into his brooding time, not to mention his stalker habits. He made a mental note to send one of his young executives next time. They could go and sit in endless meetings and hop planes and trains all over Europe. The only pleasure he got from these trips was buying Buffy her presents.

Carefully, he opened his bag and tossed clothes over his shoulder until he found the three packages he had brought back with him this time. He opened his closet door and placed them precariously on top of the pile with the rest of the gifts and souvenirs he had bought her since she left. One day he was going to shower her with them and tell her where he had gotten each.

When she left him and he reluctantly went on his first business trip a couple of months later, he bought her the first one, fully intending on giving it to her when he came home, only to remember that he couldn't go home. He tucked it in the corner of his closet that time and now her gifts took up over half of the space. Happily, he started throwing clothes out to make way for her treasure chest. He tried to stop at one point but instead of buying less presents, he bought her more. He was up to three now. Next time he might buy her four.

Wearily, he closed the closet door and tossed off his clothes before crossing the room look over the wall of pictures. The pain still looked new in her eyes just like it did in his every time he looked in the mirror. Maybe that was why he couldn't move on, maybe when Whistler came into his office and handed him just one picture of her smiling he would stop this whirling ritual of pain. Maybe if he saw just one twinkle in her luminous hazel eyes, he could believe in something else. Maybe.

But after two years he had yet to see anything remotely resembling happiness. That was why he hadn't cheated on her on his trip. God, he almost laughed at that thought. How could it be cheating when she'd left him two years before and hadn't looked him in the eye since? He still remembered clearly the look of love in her eyes, what it felt like to look at her and know where home was.

He had been in a pub in England when the girl - one of many over the years - had snuggled up to him at the bar and propositioned him. As usual, he had held his hand up and showed her his wedding ring. "Married," he grunted. The girl, however, didn't move aside as they generally did. She sighed for a moment and looked him over.

"I don't think you're very happily married," she said softly in her beautiful British voice, "Tell me, are you?"

Angel glanced up at her reflection in the mirror over the bar. She was beautiful with long copper colored hair that hung in long, thick silky waves over her back and bright blue eyes that looked sharp and edgy. She met his gaze, still clutching his arm in her hand.

"She's the only thing in this world that makes me happy," he answered truthfully.

"Pity," she purred before sliding off her barstool. Angel blinked back the memory and scanned Buffy's image in all those pictures. Yeah, it was a pity, he thought. He wanted desperately to go over to her apartment and explain why he hadn't been there the week before and why he hadn't called to tell her he wasn't coming, but he knew she didn't want him to be there in the first place. Instead, he crawled under the covers, closed his eyes tightly and forced himself not to get back up and have a drink before bed. He laid there in silence until he could almost smell her perfume, almost feel her presence in the room and that was when she spoke.

"You didn't come," she whispered from behind him. His breath caught his throat and nearly strangled him. He started to flip over in bed to face her, almost believing he had imagined her voice. "Don't! Please don't t-turn around," she begged. The desperate edge in her voice made him stop moving immediately. He settled back and stared at his wall of pictures instead. He could hear the tears in her wobbling voice as she spoke again. "Last Friday after work, I came home and you weren't there. Y-you didn't come. I waited."

"I'm sorry, love," he whispered, focusing on the newest pictures of her, ones he had taped up before he left for his trip. "I was stuck in London in meetings. I couldn't get away."

Her fingertips swept over his shoulder blade, making him jerk violently. It had been two years since anyone touched him there. She traced his tattoo lightly and he gripped the sheet that covered him from the waist down, shaking with the effort not to touch her back, not to turn over, not to fall to his knees and beg her to stay.

"I didn't want you to come see me," she explained finally and her hand dropped away from his shoulder. Just as easily, he jerked again and gritted his teeth. He wasn't sure which was worse - her touch or the lack of it. "I didn't want you to come," she announced again more strongly as if she was trying to convince one or both of them. Angel was already convinced, she needed only tell herself.

"I know," he mumbled regretfully. The bed dipped slightly under her slight weight and he felt her climbing beneath the covers to press her fully clothed body against his nude one. His breaths came out ragged and sporadic as she wrapped her arms tightly around him and pressed her face against the center of his back.

"I didn't want you to come, Angel," she whimpered, her voice muffled against his skin, "but then you weren't there and I…I just didn't know how to handle you not being there."

"I feel that way every day," he groaned. He clutched the hand that lay on his knotted stomach and pulled it to his lips. She started to pull away and he held it more firmly, refusing to let it go. "Please, Buffy," he said, kissing each of her fingertips, "Please just stay tonight. Just let me feel you there. I won't even turn over. I promise."

She flicked her tongue out to taste his skin before she could stop herself and then scrambled away. "I'm sorry," she said, running for the door, "I shouldn't have come."

***

The following morning, Buffy felt better and worse. She was glad that Angel was alright. She had been to his office so many times during the weeks he was gone, wondering if he was still in Europe, wondering if he was gone for good. She couldn't bear to ask Whistler even though she saw him as he followed her almost every day. He didn't bother to try and hide himself anymore. There was really no point. She thought about asking his secretary, but couldn't make herself do that either. Instead, she waited until she knew the building was empty and used her keys and magnetic ID passes to get into his office and always ended up in his bedroom.

She sat at her desk and worked diligently to try and forget about him but nothing was working. She shouldn't have gone there last night. She should have turned to leave the moment she saw him in bed, but the sight of his naked back beneath those sheets just destroyed her willpower. How many nights had she envisioned that exact same thing? He always had his back to her, she never had to look into his eyes. Safe, beautiful Angel.

She looked up from her laptop screen in shock as Snyder burst through her door, slamming it back against the wall so hard the walls shook. "You lost the Davidson account!" he screamed, tossing a sheath of papers at her that exploded across her desk. He swiped his bald head with his clenched fist as he shouted, "It was a TEN MILLION dollar account, Summers, a done deal, and you completely choked!"

"No, I didn't choke, Snyder, " Buffy answered calmly, leaning back in her leather office chair and looked up at him as if they were having a pleasant conversation. Angel could rattle her but Snyder could go straight to hell. She felt a good, healthy dose of anger coming on as he fumed on the other side of her desk. "That man propositioned me half a dozen times during negotiations," Buffy answered, "When he touched my breast last week, I asked him if he would prefer working with another member of our staff. He told me he wanted to have sex with me and I traded him off to Finn."

"It was YOUR account not Finn's!" Snyder shouted, clearly ignoring the sexual harassment part of the explanation.

"Not when I'm being sexually abused, it isn't," Buffy answered.

"Abused?" Snyder huffed, "You could have slept with him! For 10 million dollars, you SHOULD have slept with him! But no! All you young people do is think about yourselves, not my retirement! That was the account that was going to send me to an early life of ease."

"I'm a married woman, Snyder," Buffy reminded him, "And even if I wasn't, I still wouldn't have slept with that sorry excuse for a human being! Now fire me or get out of my office so I can work on other projects!"

***

Fifteen minutes after the delivery boy left his office, Angel was standing in the small glassed in doors which accessed Buffy's company's part of the large 20 story building. He clutched a large envelope in his fist, squeezing it more tightly with every second that passed. The tall and muscular guard standing in between him and the plain, but elegant lobby was a good head taller and almost twice as wide as Angel. Armed with both a gun and a club, the guard looked unnecessarily frightening for the unassuming consulting firm. Sadly, neither the club nor the gun was going to protect the guard from what would happen if he didn't let the him pass. Angel took a deep breath and tried on his most friendly tone of voice, "I'm here to see Buffy Angelus."

"Angelus?" the guard echoed, looking down on Angel in momentary confusion.

"Summers," Angel forced out through clenched teeth, "Buffy Summers, Executive Vice President of Marketing."

"Ms. Summers is not seeing visitors today, sir," the guard informed him, "but if you'd like to call and make an appointment-"

"I'm her husband," Angel continued, struggling to keep from killing the man. He was still reeling from the slight strain and stuffiness he had detected when he called to scream at her. It sounded like she had been crying. He knew from almost the first syllable that something was very, very wrong. In years she had worked for that company, she had never asked her secretary to tell him that she was in a meeting that was running over. Never. Not even after she had left him.

He narrowed his eyes at the guard. A low growl vibrated in his throat, just loud enough to barely come through in his words. "Martin," Angel said reading the guard's name tag, "I highly suggest you go in there and get my wife."

"She said to admit no one today," Martin said, crossing his arms across his chest and puffing his muscled chest out. Angel had to admit that the guy was built like a fucking diesel which is only part of the reason he smiled evilly when he snapped his foot into his knee and shattered his kneecap. Martin made a gurgling down in his throat as he hit the floor and then hit the steel frame of the doorway. Inertia was definitely working against him today.

***

Buffy leaned over and watched the blood drip from her nose, between her fingers and onto her wooden desk's shiny surface. Her curse of irritation was muffled from behind her cupped hand as she waited for her secretary to hand her a giant, ungraceful wad of paper towels.

"Sorry it took me so long," her secretary whispered fearfully as if loud noises would somehow disrupt Buffy's nosebleed further. "There's a…visitor."

"I told you no business when I'm bleeding to death," Buffy rasped jokingly, even though she did squeeze her eyes shut. She pinched the bridge of her nose with the forefinger and thumb of one hand while she pressed the towels against her face with the other.

"It's your husband," she whispered frantically, trying to get it all out at once, "He's out there and he just broke the guard's knee so please don't make me go back out there and tell me to leave."

Taking a deep breath, she looked up at the shy little brunette that had been her assistant for the past two months. "He'd never hit you," Buffy explained through her red soaked paper towel, "I promise. Just tell him what I said on the phone. Business meeting is running over." She couldn't let Angel in her office. Not like this.

Buffy watched her assistant hovered for a moment before fluttering nervously from the room. After Rebecca left, Buffy rose unsteadily to her feet. She was still bleeding. It hurt and her jaw was already beginning to swell. She couldn't even remember the last time something hurt like this.

Buffy leaned against the wall in her office for a second and grumbled to herself about the pain she was experiencing. Weaving drunkenly toward the door, she thought she may have a concussion.

"Uh…Ms. Summers," Rebecca called out. Buffy's head was spinning and suddenly the whispering she thought was annoying now seemed necessary. She leaned wearily against the door and faced her, pronouncing her tiredness by closing her eyes.

Part Two

Angel forced his way into the office and brushed past the secretary hovering in Buffy's doorway. A knot of twisted panic rested in his belly. He knew something was very far from being right. When he saw her, his suspicions were confirmed. In the background he heard the secretary still pleading for him to wait in the outer office. He shrugged her hand off of his arm and stepped toward his wife.

Buffy was standing in the center of the room, swaying back and forth with a wad of paper towels against her face. She looked at him straight on, wobbling on those beautiful, slender legs. Anything that would cause her to look at him without wincing and turning away was something that needed crushing. But first things first.

He crossed the room in a couple of long strides and caught her before she toppled over. The fluttering secretary buzzed around his ears but he couldn't hear her. He focused on the bundle in his arms instead. Blood had drenched the towels and Buffy's crisp white blouse. A splattering stained her charcoal gray skirt. He sat her down on his lap and cradled her there, checking her face for the damage and sliding that hem between his fingers. The same thing he did when he bought it for her.

It was loose and still must have been taken in, but the skirt was definitely part of the suit he had bought her when she got this job. The Power Suit, she had called it. He remembered that proud look on her face as she strutted around the bedroom in her new suit, trying on her new title as Vice President on for size. He would buy her a thousand suits now if he could have just one more second of that look - happiness, pride, love.

The champagne that night had gone straight to her head and halfway into the meal she was on his lap, giggling at the look on his face when she whispered naughty desires in his ear. If he closed his eyes he could remember just how she looked that night, fresh, beautiful and smiling, her eyes so full of love and happiness that it flowed into him and took over. She had changed out of her suit before dinner and worn her sexiest little black dress for him, swaying her hips dramatically as she made a suggestive display of her choice of clothing.

"That's a little fancy for dinner, isn't it, love?" he asked, eyeing every inch of her exposed flesh hungrily. Her hair hung freely down her back in big, silky blonde curls and he watched as she moved her head slowly from side to side making that mass of hair slide over her bare back.

"I love the way that feels," she answered, looking far more desirable that she realized at the time. Later, when she climbed in his lap in the restaurant with several glasses of sparkly under her belt, she had warmed into that dress and dripped over him like honey. "Take me home, Angel," she had whispered in his ear.

"Leave me alone, Angel," Buffy barked, bringing him out of the memory. She was squirming on his lap, preparing to escape and he pressed her harder against his chest to still her movements. "Hold still," he said, keeping his grip on her tight so she wouldn't notice his hands shaking.

"I'm fine," she complained, wriggling away again. She closed her eyes and pushed on his chest, wincing with her own exertions.

"You're not fine," Angel growled, tugging at the paper towels against her face. "You're going to let me see, love. Either we can look at your face now or I can go kill your boss and we can look before I go to jail. Your choice, really."

Buffy huffed a sigh and lowered the paper towels. She winced at the look on his face and the near growl that escaped his throat. Even though she consented to let him see her injuries, she tried to turn her head, shrinking under the weight of his stare. Gently, he turned her face toward him and without saying a word, he set her down and stormed out of the office.

***

Buffy scrambled up from the couch in the corner of her office and stumbled after Angel. Even if she hadn't been injured, she would have had to walk quickly to keep up with his long strides, but as it was, she was far enough behind him to hear Snyder's outraged shout and the sound of a fist hitting flesh.

"How dare you!" Angel roared, as Buffy skidded through the door. His fist was a blur as he punched Snyder again and again, holding him against the wall by a handful of tailored white button down shirt. "How dare you lay a hand on my wife, you little fuck!"

"Angel!" Buffy shouted and made her way across the room quickly, before tugging on the back of his jacket. She was so close behind him that he couldn't raise a fist without inadvertently elbowing her so he resorted to slamming Snyder into the wall again and again.

"Come on, baby," she insisted, wrapping her arms around him. She clasped her hands at his chest and tugged until he released her boss. Snyder crumpled to the floor and glared up at them through unfocused eyes.

"You're both pathetic losers," he announced in a muffled voice, "Neither of you have ever been productive members of society. You're both useless."

The last word came out croaked as Angel picked Buffy up around the waist with one arm and moved forward to press his foot against Snyder's bleeding face. His whole body was filled with a rage that came out of him in a fine tremor. Angel never wanted to kill anyone more in his life.

"She no longer works for you, understand?" Angel snarled, "If I catch you in a fifty mile radius of my wife, you'll find out just how useless I am."

***

Angel was shaking so badly, so filled with mixed but potent emotions that he couldn't extract himself from Buffy's arms. She protested at first when he carried her out of the office, strolling past the shocked secretary and the other employees peeking around office doors and cubicle walls to see the spectacle, but he couldn't seem to make himself put her down.

"I can walk," she argued, but he didn't respond. He couldn't. Driving back to the office was a memory he couldn't summon and he knew he retrieved the first aid kit to tend her wounds, but all of it seemed like it happened to someone else. The sight of her blood, the tears welling in her eyes and the fact that she never would have called him if he hadn't happened to come by frightened him to death.

Buffy quickly realized that he wasn't hearing a word she said, that he wasn't going to let her out of his sight, so she sat mutely and let him drive her to the office. She laid her head against his chest when he carried her into his office building, into the elevator, up to the top floor and into his bedroom. Closing her eyes, she let him wash the blood from her face and took the towel filled with ice he handed her. When he scooted her onto the bed and wrapped himself around her, she didn't even try to stop him.

"I don't want to hate myself anymore," he whispered against her hair and she shivered. Her eyes were welling up with tears that wouldn't allow themselves to be blinked away. His arms were around her so tightly that it was getting difficult to breathe, but she didn't speak. The air seemed to grow thicker until he spoke again as he curled himself around her more tightly. "If you would just…damn it, Buffy," he said, heaving a deep, shaky breath, "Just tell me what I can do to make this better. Just tell me what I did wrong and I'll make it up to you a thousand times over."

"You h-have to find someone else Angel," she finally croaked, knowing there was no way to speak without sobbing so hard that she was certain he would not understand her words. She pushed the ice away and covered her face with her hands. "If you would just start hating me instead-"

"Why am I supposed to hate you?" he demanded harshly against the shell of her ear, "For leaving me? For breaking my heart?"

"Yes," she rasped. Her whole body was shaking but the shivers seemed to dissolve into him. All the times she had lain with him, she couldn't remember a time when he felt like a sheet of steel wrapped around her, unmoving, unmovable, except for the slight tightening of his arms as if he was trying to crush the love out of her.

"That would be so easy, wouldn't it?" he sneered, "I'd hate you and you'd be free of me. I feel the guilt in you, my love. I feel it in every inch of you and I know it as well as I know my own."

"No," she sobbed brokenly, "I don't want you anymore. I l-left you."

"You still love me, Buffy," he growled. Flipping her over, he crouched over her shaking body. He pulled her hands away from her face and shook her roughly. "Look at me, godammit! You never stopped loving me."

"Let me go," she said, writhing beneath him to free herself. She couldn't even believe she had let herself get into this situation. He just held her in his arms and it had been so long. She wasn't trying to confuse him with mixed signals, but the truth was getting so hard to hide. She was really tired of hating herself too.

"When I hear you say you don't love me, I'll let you go," he growled, calling her bluff. He looked into her eyes, locking her gaze and stared as long as he could. She didn't say a word, didn't utter a single syllable, but her lower lip was bleeding because she was biting into it to keep from speaking. It was the perfect time to lie, the perfect chance to set him free once and for all, but at that moment, she had never loved him more.

He leaned in and nipped at her mouth until she released her lower lip from the clenches of her teeth. Laving it gently with his tongue, he tasted the tang of her blood in his mouth. He kissed her gently, caressing her swollen jaw with his fingertips and when her tongue tentatively caressed his, he groaned. Everything seemed to be moving so slowly, his mind relishing each detail - his fingers threading through her hair, his body sliding downward to press intimately against hers, her arms coming around him.

"Angel, please…" she whimpered, arching against his mouth, grinding against him. He ignored her plea, refusing to take the time to evaluate what it might mean. As long as she didn't say the word "No," he wasn't going to stop. Nothing but that word could keep him from finally making love to his wife again.

He took his time, inhaling her scent with every breath, tasting her skin with every flick of his tongue. Her body was so much more slender, almost frail, and he found himself keeping as much weight off of her as possible, afraid he might hurt her. Even with the changes that had occurred with both of them over the time they were apart, they still fit together perfectly. They had evolved together.

He licked and nibbled along her neck, tracing her delicate collar bone. When her blood spotted blouse impeded his journey, he tugged just hard enough for the buttons to pop off. He wanted so badly to spread her, rip her panties away and bury himself inside her. He wanted to rock with her until she shuddered around him again and again. There was nothing more beautiful than her face contorted in pleasure, her fingers digging into his shoulders and her little mewling cries as she climaxed, but the fool in him demanded that he take his time, that he give her every opportunity to push him aside.

He undressed her more gently than he ever had, branding each exposed piece of flesh with his mouth, making sure that each part of her was his and his alone as it always had been. Her nipples pebbled as he cupped her breasts, sliding the pad of his thumbs over them in slow circles before reminding himself of the sensation of his tongue against the hot little points. She arched her back and pressed her chest against his questing tongue. Her breath quickened and he closed his eyes to the sound, memorizing it again.

The little freckle on her inner thigh made them both sigh as he gave it special attention. He murmured against her skin. She didn't hear what he said but felt the movement of his lips, soft and light. She knew what he was thinking of that long ago night when he noticed it and mentioned that it hadn't been there before. She remembered clearly the sound of his chuckle when he told her he made it. It was his freckle, he had said.

Her beckoning heat carried him up to the apex of her thighs where his thumbs parted her. At the first taste, her back contracted and she moaned. Every muscle in her body concentrated on his lips, his teeth and their little bites and his tongue, tracing each part of her sex.

"Don't stop, don't stop," she panted and he had no intention of stopping. He stroked her lightly and slipped two fingers into her. Wetness poured out of her, begging for more and she raised her hips from the bed to encourage him. Just as release began to flow over her, he pulled away causing her to cry out.

As slowly as he had removed her clothes, he nearly tore his own from his body. He was half afraid she would bolt before he could make love to her. He looked over her, shaking from pleasure, golden hair tossed over the pillow, a light sheen of sweat covering her body and the rational part of his mind knew she wouldn't go. Not now. Still, he kept his eyes on her as he climbed back on the bed and held his breath as he cradled his hips between her thighs. When he opened his mouth to speak, she pressed her fingers against his lips and shook her head. He kissed her fingertips as if that was what he meant to do the entire time and entered her, hissing as he was enveloped in her silken warmth.

Only then did he kiss her again, this time more deeply. Every moment seemed to be well thought out, premeditated. The sun was setting outside as they made love, casting colors around the room and she wrapped her legs around his waist, rising up to meet his thrusts. She moved her hands over his back, arms and shoulders, mapping out a familiar route over his skin. When they finally tumbled over the edge together, they both screamed, forgetting they were in an office building or that they had been separated for so long.

For that moment and long moments surrounding that one, Buffy couldn't seem to remember the reason she had left him. The broken pieces of her were so adeptly melded with the shattered pieces of him, that she almost believed they were whole.

***

Buffy woke up in the middle of the night just like she always did, coming out of a violent nightmare, but this time she found herself anchored to the bed by her husband's body. His head was nestled against her breasts and his breath was puffing against her skin. She could tell by the rhythm of breathing that he wasn't asleep and he tensed when she tried to move. He pretended to be asleep though, keeping his eyes closed and his body draped over hers.

"You're not asleep," she said, trying to move but couldn't budge him. "Let me up." He raised himself on his elbows and didn't have the decency to be ashamed for trapping her there.

"If I get up you'll leave," he said accursedly. His eyes were already dark with that same look again. It made her panic. She looked away from him as she began struggling to get free. His body was not what weighed her down now, but that expression, that destroyed look in his eyes.

"Angel," she blustered, "Let me up. Let me up." She pushed against him harder and he moved back, startled by her reaction. She acted like she thought he was going to keep her prisoner, although admittedly, the thought had crossed his mind. While she been there underneath him sleeping, he knew it would have been so easy to tie her down and keep her with him. He could make love to her until she promised to stay, watch her experience pleasure again and again until she told him she still loved him. Unfortunately, force wasn't going to get it done. If it was the answer, he would have tried it long before this.

He rose naked and picked up the jacket he had thrown off earlier. Digging into the pocket, he pulled out the envelope he had brought with him to her office. "This came to my office yesterday," he explained as if she wasn't aware.

"Sign it," she said tiredly. She didn't look up at him, but occupied herself with finding her clothes around the room. All of them were ruined, so she laid them on the bed and stared at the rumpled pile, willing them to right themselves again.

"I can't sign this," Angel answered angrily. "I won't sign it!" He ripped the envelope in half and then in half again. The pieces fluttered around his naked body to the floor.

"Damn it, Angel!" Buffy blustered, picking up the nearest thing to throw at him, which happened to be her shirt. "What the hell is wrong with you? I want a divorce!"

"No, you want to escape," he growled. "Those said that we had 'irreconcilable differences.' How the hell can they be irreconcilable when I don't even know what they are? More like irrecognizable. You aren't getting a divorce. We're going to forget, just for a second, that you went to my best friend and had him draw up the papers and focus on the fact that I have the power to keep you from doing this. You can walk away from me all you want and talk to as many lawyers as you need, but I'm sure old Linds told you that I'd be able to stop it."

"Yes," Buffy snapped, "Lindsey told me that you wouldn't let me go and I told him that you would be an adult about it, that you would give me the freedom I'm asking for."

"Well, you were wrong, baby, cause you aren't getting out of this marriage until you look directly in my eyes and tell me you don't love me."

"Love isn't enough anymore," Buffy answered. She pulled on her panties and wiggled into her wrinkled and torn skirt just to have something to do. "We've been apart for two years, Angel! Divorce me and find someone else to be happy with. That's what I want. I want you to be happy. Find someone to grow old with and have a family with."

"I did that already!" he roared. Crossing the room, he flung the closet doors open. Several packages came tumbling out onto the floor. "I still buy you presents every time I leave this damn building. I love you, Buffy. You are free to walk out that door and move on with your life, but I can't. Seeing you tears me up inside and you know who I share that with? Me. Not another woman. Not anyone. YOU are my wife. Period."

"I'm sorry you can't move on, Angel, but I have," she lied adamantly. Crossing to the closet, she stepped over the fallen gifts and pulled one of his white shirts so violently that the hanger flipped off the bar and careened across the room. She didn't bother with her broken bra as she shrugged on the shirt. She buttoned it crookedly as she slipped her high heels on her bare feet. "I'm going to find someone else to spend my life with and I suggest you do the same thing."

Having spouted the biggest, most painful lie in her life, she strutted toward the door, but spun around when he grabbed her arm. "Just tell me one thing before you go," he said through gritted teeth.

"What?"

"Who was that woman making love to me last night? I don't know who you are, but last night - I'm pretty sure that was my wife."

"Let. Go. Of. My. Arm." Each word was it's own snarl and before he could even release her, she yanked her arm from his grasp. "I won't be back, Angel."

"I want my life to be with you," Angel blurted desperately, crossing his arms over his naked chest to keep from physically restraining her.

"I don't."

Part Three

When Angel saw Buffy for the first time, she was almost seventeen years old, working the counter at the Espresso Pump down the street from his office building. At 24, he was newly successful in the business world and the most recent in a long line of LA's sexiest playboys. One moment, he was thinking about how to finish his workload and still take one of his lovers away for the weekend and the next, he was tripping over himself to be closer to the teenager behind the counter. A short trip to the coffee shop to get a jolt of caffeine and he ended up with the love of his love and lukewarm decaf.

Normally he would have taken one look at he packed crowd inside that place and skipped the coffee so he wouldn't be late to his meeting, but that day he went in, stood in the inordinately long line, watching the little blonde slip of a girl behind the counter rushing around frazzled. Her hair bounced in its ponytail as she ran around trying to be polite while she hurried, her face flushed from exertion.

Angel had over a half hour to watch her, taking in every detail of her. He watched as the more upset she got, the further her lower lip would protrude and how she narrowed her pretty hazel eyes when someone was rude. He ordered the coffee of the day, accepted the wrong order with an absurd amount of appreciation and had to make himself step to the side when she moved on to the next customer. He was so completely taken with her, that he absentmindedly stuffed his change in the tip jar, not noticing that it was over eighteen dollars.

Before that day, he had never stayed there to drink his coffee. He wouldn't have been caught dead hanging out in the Espresso Pump when he had clients to meet and women to seduce. That day, however, he missed the client dinner because he sat down at the nearest table and sipped his coffee and four others just like it as he waited for her to get off work. All in all, he spent fifty-five dollars and sixty five cents in coffee and tips that night. When she got off work, he asked her out. Buffy looked up at him, smiled shyly and told him that harassment was illegal in all fifty states.

Now years later, Angel sat in the middle of his bed, on top of wrinkled sheets and remembered chuckling at her and being delighted by her irritation. He took a swig of the bottle in his hand and grimaced. He didn't even like to drink, but sometimes if he drank enough, he could pretend she was with him and make himself believe it.

It had been days since he had finally made love to Buffy again, days since she told him she didn't want him to be in her life anymore and he still couldn't believe his ears. Sure, she had left him and tried to divorce him, but she never said she didn't want to be a part of his life again. He took another drink and scrunched his brow in confusion. What the hell did she want anyway?

***

Buffy had been in the general vicinity of Wolfram & Hart for over two hours, walking around, dawdling at water fountains and bathroom mirrors. She had thought and rethought every detail of her plan for the past few days, but it still took every bit of strength she had to put a dazzling smile on her face and stroll into Lindsey McDonald's office.

"Be right with you," he mumbled, poring over what looked to be a contract of some kind. She waited semi-patiently and struggled to keep herself from prancing from one foot to another. The breakneck height of her strappy high heels helped in keeping her still as did the snug fit of her new dress. Pretending to be casual, she leaned seductively against the wall and burned holes into him until he looked up in her direction.

"Hello Buffy," he said, eyes widening. He looked her up and down twice, stopping along the way to take in the dangerous plunge of her neckline and the sexy expanse of bared thigh, before he managed to get another sentence out. "I wasn't expecting you."

"Your secretary said your last appointment canceled so I didn't think you'd mind if I filled in," she said, sauntering across the office with a sway that those high heels did a lot to accentuate. She circled his desk and leaned on it beside him, smiling down at him. "I was wondering if you had any plans this weekend."

"I have a big deposition on Monday," he said slowly, allowing her suspicious behavior to sink in, "So, it's going to be mostly research this weekend. Why do you ask, Buff?"

"I was just thinking," she answered, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder and giving him her best come hither look, "you have that big, empty house in New York and I really want to get away for awhile. What do you think about playing hooky with me?"

"Not that I'm not thrilled with idea, but Angel-" Lindsey began. Buffy placed a finger to his lips and shook her head. She looked down as she felt her eyes filling with tears and took a second to calm herself before meeting his eyes again. Sliding closer, she leaned in to Lindsey, tracing his sensual mouth with her index finger. "Just tell me you don't want me, Linds, and I'll leave," she said quietly.

"He's my friend," he said, sitting back in his chair and rolling a foot away. "To tell you the truth he's my only real friend. If we slept together..." he tapered off and shuddered at the thought. Shaking his head, he met her eyes.

"If you won't do this, I'll find someone who will," Buffy said quietly, no longer pretending to be the wild seductress. She knew he wouldn't be fooled. She just didn't understand why her mind and her heart wouldn't cooperate. When she thought about sleeping with someone else, even a man as attractive as Lindsey McDonald, she felt like her internal organs were collapsing. The idea of being naked with someone else, let alone letting that person touch her and enter her body, made her throat constrict.

She moved even closer to him and forced herself to slide into his lap. She perched there lightly and made an effort to breathe normally. "I need your help, Linds," Buffy said quietly, "I know you're attracted to me and I've always felt the same way. More importantly, I trust you and I know I'm a horrible person for asking this of you, but I need Angel to understand that I'm not going to continue this freak show of a relationship anymore."

Buffy had never felt quite so all alone when she was actually sitting on someone else, but he didn't touch her, didn't move…hell, he didn't breathe. Slowly, she started to rise and she gasped when his arm shot out and pulled her back onto his lap. He pulled her tightly against him, allowing her to feel his arousal. His breath was hot against her ear when he spoke.

"I've wanted you since the first time Angel introduced me to you," he whispered. His jaw was clenched as he spoke and he moved his hands to clutch the arms of his expensive leather desk chair. He was glad he didn't have to meet her eyes. He closed them and inhaled the scent of her hair, remembering being the best man at their wedding, remembered Angel's face when he married the girl of their dreams. Lindsey was sure that any love he was capable of belonged to her. Whether he slept with her or not, he already knew he would regret his actions for the rest of his life...however long that might be.

"He'll never trust me again," Lindsey said finally. He swiveled forward with Buffy and hit a button on his phone. A tone sounded before a female voice answered, "Can I help you, Mr. McDonald?"

"Yes, get me two first class tickets to New York City for tonight."

***

Angel paced up and down the sidewalk in front of Lindsey's house, wondering how long he would wait before he did something drastic. He wasn't sure how much time had passed but he knew he'd been in front of this house for at least eight hours. Maybe more and even though he knew Buffy was in there with Lindsey, he couldn't make himself believe that she was actually with Lindsey. Sure, she wanted him to think she was but he knew it wasn't true, which was why he hadn't broken down the door yet.

It had taken him all of the time since Whistler called until now to come up with that solution. When he first heard the news that Lindsey had run off to his home in New York with Buffy, Angel had torn the closet door off and thrown it out the window. By the time he was done destroying everything in his path, his secretary had run out of the building trying to escape his wrath and his desk was lodged into the wall of his office. Still shaking from the news, he showered, dressed and caught the first plane out in a rage that destroying his office hadn't fixed.

But the more he thought about it the more he realized what was going on. The last couple of weeks, despite her efforts, Buffy had proven to him beyond the shadow of a doubt that she still loved him. If she hadn't shown up and climbed in his bed after he had missed his bi-weekly break-in into her apartment, if she had told him she didn't love him, if she hadn't let him make love to her, he might have been able to entertain the idea that she was actually over him.

"Can't get rid of me that easily, lover," he muttered, continuing his pace in front of the house. It was either that or huddle on the porch, but it was so cold he couldn't sit for more than a moment before his teeth started chattering. He wrapped his thin leather jacket around himself more tightly and continued to pace, cursing himself for not planning ahead for New York weather. Living in sunny California had spoiled him.

***

Inside of the house, Lindsey and Buffy were skittering around each other like scared rabbits. They had hardly spoken over the dinner she prepared and he didn't mention the teensy nightie she had slipped into or the fact that her hands were trembling so badly he thought she was a step away from a heart attack. Instead they sat on the couch and watched late night television together, neither mentioning that Angel was pacing outside like a caged tiger.

It was well after one o'clock in the morning when Buffy knew she couldn't stall any longer. She faked a yawn and stretched before rising to her feet.

"Are you ready?" she asked without meeting his eyes. This all seemed like a good idea before Angel showed up. She had even talked herself into thinking it was an adventure of sorts, that she was broadening her horizons. After all, she had never been with anyone except Angel. Those thoughts just made her heart pound in her chest and made her tremors worse.

"Sure," he said, flipping off the television and rising to his feet. He turned off the light and followed Buffy up the stairs to the Master bedroom. Each step creaked in the old house, each stair took it's time moving beneath their feet. They both paused just inside the door, awkwardly looking away from each other for several moments.

"Do you still want to go through with this?" he asked finally, allowing himself the pleasure of raking his eyes over her body. "You can still back out."

Every instinct in her body told her to run screaming out into the cold and jump into Angel's arms. Instead, she bit her lip and nodded. She walked over to the window and looked down at her husband standing the center of the front yard.

"He's going to hate us," she whispered, choking on a sob as she looked down on his still form in the dark. "He already does."

"No, darlin'," Lindsey said, moving closer to stand behind her, "not yet. He doesn't think we'll go through with it. He's not going to just stand there if he thinks I'm really about to fuck you." Together they looked out the window at Angel. He looked like a statue barely illuminated by the streetlights. His head was turned up as he looked in the window, his fists balled at his sides.

"When I was seventeen," Buffy said quietly, keeping her back to Lindsey, "I used to sneak him into my bedroom at night through a second story window like this one. Almost every other night, he would undress me and make love to me while my parents were just down the hall sleeping, thinking their little girl was sound asleep as well. I'll never forget the night that Daddy found Angel in my bed. They didn't even know we were dating."

"What happened?" he asked quietly.

"It was horrible," Buffy said, wrapping her arms around herself. "Angel climbed out of my bed naked and while I huddled under the sheets knowing I was going to die. I thought that was the end of my life. I just knew my happiness was over. He faced my father and told him he was going to marry me. Daddy threw him out of the house and said if he ever caught him on his property again, he'd have him arrested."

"I know you love him, Buffy. I know nothing will ever change that," Lindsey whispered, his breath stroking her ear. Buffy almost flinched when Lindsey's hand smoothed over her back, caressing her skin before wrapping one arm around her waist and pulling her against him. "Do you still want me to do this?" he asked. He pressed his mouth against her hair as he waited, closing his eyes as he inhaled her scent.

"Yes," she whispered.

Looking directly out the window at the man who had been his best friend for longer than he could remember, Lindsey swept Buffy's long blonde hair to the side and trailed his lips over her shoulder. Despite his guilt and the knowledge that he was about to do the worst thing he had ever done, he couldn't stop himself from wanting her. He slid the straps of her nightgown away and let it shimmer over her body to puddle at her feet. Raising his hands, he cupped her bare breasts, pinching her nipples while he pulling her back against him.

Buffy whirled in his arms and moved them rapidly away from the window. Lindsey captured her lips in his, slowing down her movements and making it look like it's was Buffy's excitement to be in his arms and not her fear that made her run from her husband's glare. If she wanted Angel to be sure of what they were doing, he was now.

***

Angel froze outside of the window and watched in disbelief as Lindsey's hands moved over her shoulders, sliding her nightgown from her body. The ground was swallowing him up as she stood motionless for a moment and then, as if on cue, she leaned her head back on Lindsey's shoulder and let him touch her. Lindsey leaned forward and kissed her neck and shoulders, cupped her bare breasts in his hands. Angel's stomach lurched so hard, he thought he was going to vomit his intestines.

"Buffy!" he screamed, running down the front door. The screen door was locked and he kicked at it until the glass shattered before unlocking and slamming his body against the door as hard as he could, but the solid oak only shuddered against his weight. His body was almost completely numb from being out in the cold for so long and he found that he couldn't get the strength he needed to get the door to budge.

"Buffy, please!" he screamed, pounding against the door again as hard as he could. "God, baby, don't do this!" he roared, slamming against it again. Hot, enraged tears streamed down his face as he moved back and released a round house kick. The door frame splintered, renewing hope with the sound.

He heard footsteps coming down the stairs and kicked again. The door gave and he stumbled into the house to find Lindsey standing there bare chested with a baseball bat in his hand. "Buffy!" Angel shouted into the house as he looked past Lindsey and up the stairs.

"Just turn around and go home, Angel," Lindsey said quietly. He had never seen anything like what he was seeing on Angel's face. He looked like his heart had been ripped out and only rage was keeping his body alive.

"Did you really think I'm going to stand by and let you fuck MY WIFE?" Angel roared, moving forward. His movements were stiff from the cold, but he was warming quickly.

"Buffy's upstairs calling the police," Lindsey said tensely, not moving. "I don't want to fight you, Angel. Just walk away."

"I hope she does call them," Angel growled, moving ever closer, "They can identify what's left of you."

"Angel, think about this," Lindsey said, raising the bat protectively and backing up a step. "You'll go to jail and you'll lose us both."

"I've already lost you both," he answered in low voice, "The minute you touched her…" Angel clamped his mouth shut as he waivered between rage and utter sorrow. "I can't believe you betrayed me. Both of you."

Part Four

Lindsey kissed Buffy with as much passion as he could muster given his friend was just outside his house. He cupped her bare breasts in his hands and caressed them, relishing in how they felt just as firm and silky as he always thought they would. Tears were already streaming down her cheeks, but she said nothing as he peeled his shirt off and pulled her back into his arms, resuming the kiss.

Angel's scream did not surprise him in the least, nor did the sound of the screen door caving in. He buried his hands in her long blonde hair, pulling her more tightly against him. Lindsey knew he was doing the wrong thing, yet he couldn't make himself stop.

He had just made it to the bed with Buffy in his arms when Angel's agonized shouts came wafting into the house, "Buffy, please!" Buffy jerked so hard when his voice rang out that she bit Lindsey's lip and backed away.

"God, baby, don't do this!" Angel roared. He was only breaking in the door but the whole house seemed to be rattling from the force of the estranged lovers' emotions. Lindsey looked at Buffy who had pressed herself against the wall, naked save for her wispy nothing of panties. Her eyes were squeezed tightly closed but tears leaked from them in a rainfall of pure desolation. Her body shook with the force of her sobs and one hand flew to cover her mouth.

Lindsey knew it was already over. He knew his one chance to be with her was for naught. Striding to the closet, he opened it and pulled out the bat resting against the wall in the corner before he headed downstairs. He had ruined a friendship - probably two - and knew that nothing would ever be the same again. Even though he knew he had done the wrong thing, that Buffy had essentially trapped him by her little attempt at seduction, he knew if he had the chance to relive that moment, he would have done it again. She asked and he gave, just as he had with the divorce papers. He would never understand why on earth the only woman he couldn't refuse had to be his best friend's wife.

The heavy wooden bat felt strange in his hands as he headed out of the room, not bothering to glance over his shoulder at her. He walked downstairs as he was, bare chested and bare foot and prepared to fight Angel over a woman that he hadn't had and would never have.

***

Angel shook with uncontained fury as he charged Lindsey and blocked two swings of the Louisville Slugger. Most of the impact was on his elbow and lower arm. It might have even broken a bone or two, but he felt nothing but anger and ultimate loss. He ripped the bat from Lindsey's half-hearted grasp and swung, watching in slow motion as blood spurted from Lindsey's nose. Tossing the weapon away Angel, grabbed his arms and hauled him closer.

"Why?" Angel roared, sweeping Lindsey's feet out from under him and slamming him back against the wooden stairs. Lindsey groaned, breathing out blood as his head and shoulders violently impacted with the steps.

"Because she asked me to," Lindsey panted, fighting to get his second wind and possibly get away with no more blood shed.

"You're not worth it!" Angel raged. He released him and staggered back, leaning against the wall for a second. He took deep, ragged breaths and waited as Lindsey sat up and slid down to sit, wiping the blood from his nose with the back of his hand.

"Leave," Angel said, as if he weren't commanding someone from his own house, "You can't have her. Just go."

"You think you can have her?" Lindsey said, rising to his feet. "Did you miss the part where this whole thing was staged to give you the bright, flashing signal you've been missing for two long years?"

"It doesn't matter," Angel sighed, heading up the stairs. It might have been death row for all the enthusiasm he had for that trip. He looked as utterly defeated as he felt, but he went because there was no other place to go.

***

Buffy had stayed against the wall, sliding down to sit and curling her legs up to her chin. She didn't hear any yelling anymore, no sounds of fighting or even the sound of anyone's approach. All she could hear was her own heartbeat raging in her ears and the gasping breaths she was trying to make. Once the tears had started, she couldn't make them stop. In all her life she had never felt more like a complete failure until now, which was exceptional since the last two years had been hell.

"Can you explain it?" Angel asked quietly from the doorway. She looked up and saw him leaning tiredly there against the doorframe, lightly splattered in blood.

"Did you kill him?" Buffy managed to squeak out between harsh breaths.

"No," Angel answered flatly, "but I wanted to."

She flinched with his first step and looked firmly at the floor as he moved just inside and lowered himself to the floor across the room. He leaned against the wall and stretched his long legs out before him, crossing them at the ankle and folding his arms over his broad chest.

"My whole life," he said in a monotone voice, void of emotion, "all I have ever loved was you. I worked so hard for so long getting money and women because that was what I thought I wanted and then you came into my life and suddenly all I wanted was to make you happy. All the money I had was for you. The cars, the house...for you. I started loving things like rubbing your hands between mine when they were cold and watching you sleep curled against me. Buffy, I know you still love me. God, I wish I didn't know!"

Buffy didn't answer or look at him, but hugged her legs, resting her chin on her knee and looking off into the distance. She folded herself more tightly and waited for him to speak again.

"I want to know why," Angel said finally, "You never once told me why you left me and now I'm giving you the chance. I'm going to give you the choice that you never bothered to give me. If you don't tell me what I did to make you walk away from me, if you don't explain right now, then that's it, you'll have your wish. I'll leave your life for good. I'll fire Whistler and I'll stop buying you presents. The stalking will stop, the breaking into your apartment will stop and the guard at the house will be released. Tell me now, Buffy, cause I can't stand one more day of this."

Angel stopped speaking and started silently begging. As minutes ticked by he struggled to make himself wait just a little longer. Once he left, that would be it. He would lose her once and for all and he wasn't prepared to do anything of things he had just promised.

"Will you find someone else?" Buffy sniffled out finally, her voice strangled with emotion, "Will you divorce me and remarry?"

"If you want a divorce, I won't fight it," he said, rising to his feet as slowly as he could. She had already made her choice. If he thought she had ripped his heart out two years ago, he didn't know how wrong he was until that moment.

"But will you marry someone else?" She asked insistently. She raised her eyes to look at him and didn't turn away when he looked in her direction. For the first time since she left, she looked directly in his eyes and didn't turn away...and he was drowning in them. His throat tightened and he broke completely.

"No," he answered, locked in her gaze. "I love you, Buffy. There isn't room for anyone else."

"Never?" she demanded, rising to her feet. Her eyes blazed with the strangest sort of sadness and anger he had ever seen. It was almost insane in it's intensity and confusion. "You'll never meet anyone else? You'll never marry another woman? Do you plan to be a monk, Angel?"

"Do you want it written in blood?" He growled, forcing himself to stay glued to the spot. "What will it take to make you understand? I. Love. You. I don't want anyone else. Will I spend the rest of my life jacking off because I can't have you? Maybe. Or maybe I'll start fucking everything that moves like I used to. What the hell difference does it make, Buffy? The point is that I love you. No, I'm not marrying someone else! I don't WANT anyone else! I want the woman I married! I want my wife! I want you!

"You have to!" she screamed, rushing full force across the room at him. Her sobs returned with more vengeance than they had before as she pounded her fists into his chest, "You have to marry someone else, be happy and have babies! You have to or everything is useless! Everything I did, every moment of torture without you was for nothing!"

"Tell me, godamn it!" He shouted, shaking her so soundly her teeth chattered in her mouth, "For fuck's sake, love, just TELL me!"

"I lost her," she sobbed into his chest, falling forward, "I lost her and she's gone. You have to marry someone else." She looked up at him and grabbed his jacket, pulling at it so tightly, she nearly lifted herself off of her feet. Babbling through hysterical tears, she begged, "You have to. Promise me, Angel. Promise me because I'm not enough and you'll never have her with me. Promise me and you'll be happy, I know you will. I know it."

"Baby, what are you talking about?" he said, brushing her hair away from her tear stained face. Lifting her from off her feet, he crossed to the chair in the corner and sat down, cuddling her to his chest, convinced she had gone completely insane. He held her close and waited for her to stop crying, rocking her until she quieted. Softly, he tried again, "Who did you lose, Buffy?"

"The baby," she whispered, "I lost the baby and I didn't tell you that it ruined me. I couldn't."

"Ruined you?" he echoed, caressing her arm lightly, "You aren't ruined."

"I can't h-have children anymore," she choked. She tried to pull away, but he held her there, trapping her in his arms. "Let me go, Angel," she said, struggling.

"No," he answered holding onto her more tightly, "No, I'm not letting you go. Why didn't you tell me? You wouldn't even let me be there for you."

"You always wanted a family," she said as she realized her fight was useless. He wasn't going to let her leave until she told him. The only thing she had held on to for the past two years was not having to tell him. At least she had that, but not anymore.

"Did you honestly think I would find another woman because you couldn't have my children?" He asked incredulously. His soft caress stopped and he leaned back in the chair in shock.

"You always talked about it," she continued, "You and I, we'd have the family you never had. You'd know what it was like to have a father by being one. A bunch of babies, that's what you wanted. A whole house full of laughter and love like you always dreamed. Remember?"

"Yes, I remember," Angel answered in quiet anger, "but do you remember the part where the mother was you? If you can't give me children, Buffy, then I don't need them."

"You wanted a family!" she blustered, "That's all you ever wanted and I failed. I couldn't give it to you."

"No, you took it away from me." Her head shot up and she looked into his eyes. For the first time, she saw real tears in them and then he closed them, shaking his head sadly. "You are my family, the only family I've ever known. I wanted to be surrounded by love and I was. It was more than I ever expected to have in my life. Yes, I wanted children, but not without you, Buffy! Don't you understand, there's no point without you."

"I spent every penny I had to find you a score of perfect women," Buffy mumbled, leaning against him in defeat. "I found them in singles ads and in the grocery store, in bars and restaurants. I interviewed them and found loving people, light hearted and fun women who wanted a serious relationship and children. They all wanted children. Your secretary was one of them, but you didn't catch the bait."

"I wasn't fishing," he said, "and I hired the secretary because she said you sent her. She can't file for shit."

"But she's really nice and very pretty," Buffy grumbled, "Did you see her legs? I'd kill for long legs like that."

"You threw away two years of our lives for this!" he said, rising to his feet and setting her down so he could pace around the room, "Two years!" He continued his trek across the floor and back, shaking the floor with each step.

She sat down on the chair and watched him walk around the room. It was almost peaceful after the days and nights of festering guilt and sadness. If nothing else happened, at least now he knew. There were no more secrets to hide.

He moved toward her again and instead of turning to pace back across the room, he looked down at her. He lowered himself to his knees and looked into her eyes. Force of habit made her want to look away, but she stayed still, making herself look at him.

"I did it because I love you," she said finally, breaking the silence. "All I wanted was for you to be happy, Angel."

"In the future, love me a little less," he answered wryly, "I don't think I can take any more."

***

Nothing had worked out according to plan. If anything, life was more confusing than before. As much as they both wanted things to go back to the way they were before, two years makes a big difference. Angel and Buffy flew back to Los Angeles together, but they each went to their respective homes, if you could call them that. Neither of them spoke at all during the trip, both fighting with all the raging emotions in their minds. Angel had spent two years lost with no way to make things right and Buffy had spent the time plotting out his future behind his back. The lingering question of the future was left unanswered for the night. What neither of them realized what that they had switched places.

Buffy went home to her sad little apartment, which just looked cheaper and dimmer upon her return, and dropped her things. She showered, slipped into her favorite sweats and crawled into her bed. There was nothing left to plot out, no more women to interview and no more reason to make things seem normal. Just as she was about to go to sleep, she called sat up and picked up the phone, dialing rapidly.

"Yeah?" the voice on the other end answered.

"Whistler," she breathed quietly, "It's Buffy."

"Ah, the little lady," he said, yawning. "How goes it?"

"I just wanted to thank you for keeping your end of the bargain and not giving Angel the pictures of the interviews," she said, tiredly, "and I want to fire you. If Angel still keeps you on the job-"

"He fired me already too," Whistler answered, sounding like he was smiling on the other end.

"You sound upset," she quipped.

"I've been waiting for longer than I can remember for you two to fire me," he said chuckling, "You kids are crazier than any clients I've ever had. I'll miss the money, but not nearly enough. You guys suck the life out of a guy."

"Thank you, Whistler," she said quietly. Before he could say anything else, she hung up quietly and laid back down. Now it was finally over.

Or she thought it was. The sorrow she expected to drift away with the ending of this charade had not happened. Despite her struggle not to, she couldn't believe that Angel had just walked away and left her there. He didn't kiss her or hold her. He didn't tell her he loved her again as she got out of his car. He just drove away and she was fairly certain he hadn't looked back.

She tried to sleep, but couldn't. She told herself she wasn't waiting, but truthfully that's all she did. For two days she tried to figure out what she was supposed to do now. Angel was apparently so angry he couldn't stand the sight of her. He hadn't even called.

On the second morning, still wearing the same sweats, she trudged to the door when a knock sounded. She didn't look out of the peephole, but just opened the door. She was shocked to see him standing there.

"You usually break in," she muttered, standing aside to let him in. Instead, he took her hand and tugged her toward him. Obediently, she let him lead her out of her apartment even though she was filthy and wasn't wearing any shoes. Curiously, it didn't seem to matter. She followed him down the stairs and out into the street to where his car was illegally parked by the curb.

He tucked her into the passenger seat and put her seatbelt on as if she were a child and watched him as he walked around and got in. He started it and drove in silence. The cool hum of the air conditioning and the sound of traffic outside made his silence almost unbearable.

"Where are we going?" she asked finally when they were at a stoplight. The idea of one more moment of silence was unreasonable even to her. v"We're going home," he answered without hesitation, as if they had just been out to lunch and were enjoying the day together.

"You're still angry," she said softly. It wasn't a question, but he answered anyway. "You're damn right," he said, but offered no more information. Several more minutes of silence forced her to speak again. She was used to the love of a taciturn man but it was getting ridiculous.

"If you're still angry with me then why are we going home?" she asked, looking out the window rather than at him.

"I didn't say I didn't love you, I said I was still angry." He turned onto their street and pulled into the drive. He turned off the car and looked at her, "We're starting over. If you have anything else to say about finding me a woman or divorce or leaving me, tell me now, because I'm done with that part of our life. I am married to you and I intend to keep it that way."

"I can never give you children," she said, "You'll never have your own children if you stay with me."

"Yeah, I got that the other day," he said, "Anything else?"

"I'm not sleeping in that bed," she added.

He smiled. "That's good because I bought a new one." He got out of the car, walked around and opened her door. "And the bedroom walls have been painted. The carpeting was replaced. It's all new. There's nothing left from that night."

Taking her hand, he helped her out of the car and led her toward the house. She pulled back as he unlocked the door but he swept her into his arms and carried her inside. She swallowed the protest in the back of her throat and docilely allowed herself to be carried across the threshold.

Part Five

Angel felt like he had been holding his breath for hours. He had taken her home and bathed her, amazed at how she let him do what he liked with her. There was so much regret inside both of them that it seemed to coat the walls and hang suspended in the air, but he knew that it was necessary to begin again.

He dried her off, wrapped her in the silk robe he bought for her on one of his trips across the ocean and combed the tangles from her hair. The new bed was a beautiful four poster masterpiece he found in an antique shop and the sheets were brand new snow white silk. He pulled back the blankets and tucked her in before stripping and joining her. He curled his body around hers and buried his face in her damp hair, holding her closely to him.

"I love you," he whispered.

"I'm sorry, Angel," she whispered back, "I'm so sorry."

"I know."

She turned over and looked at him closely. "I can't make up what I've done," she said, "I can't ever make it right."

"I love you, Buffy," he said again, this time with more emphasis. "All I want is to be with you. That's all.It's not going to disappear just like that. It doesn't work that way. Two years is a long time to be miserable, but I'm willing to try."

"I love you too," she said, scooting closer to him, "And two years is a hell of a long time."

***

Buffy fell asleep in Angel's arms and woke a full 18 hours later to darkness in the new bed, shocked to see that not only was she still in his arms, but he was still sleeping. She tried to slip away and found that he tightened his grip on her and pulled her more closely to his side. Instead she eased herself to her other side to watch him while he slept.

His brow was furrowed, but he was sleeping deeply as if he hadn't slept the entire time they were apart. Honestly, if he had been sleeping anything like she had been, she wasn't surprised they had both been knocked out for so long. It was the same when he went on business trips or was working late some nights. There was no point in trying to sleep if she was without Angel. It was always restless and uncomfortable and when he returned, they both slept longer than usual wrapped in the other's safe embrace.

She lightly caressed his sleeping face and tried to remember how she lived day to day with this beautiful man in perfect happiness. She knew he was still angry with her and there was a long way to go before things were as they were, if that was even a possibility. She shuddered when she thought of Lindsey's hands on her body, his skin against hers. If there was any justice in the world, there would be a way to make Angel forget that had ever happened. Unfortunately, her possessive husband was not likely to ever forget that she had almost gone to bed with another man, not to mention that man had been his best friend.

Tears came to her eyes once again as she thought about how much she had destroyed in her path to make things better for Angel. Instead of giving him what he wanted, she took away his dreams. Instead of making him happy, she had taken his best friend, his home and his wife from him. And now she knew that there was nothing left to do but make it better...if only she could figure out how to accomplish the job.

It hadn't escaped her notice that aside from bringing her home, bathing her and putting her to bed, he hadn't kissed her or attempted to excite her in any way. He just wrapped himself around her and clung to her as he slept. For the highly sexual creature he was, it was strange to say the least.

A strange sort of anticipation started buzzing through her mind as she laid there in his arms, thinking about the goodnight kiss that she didn't get and hadn't for more nights than she could remember. She wasn't going to live the rest of her life in regret. She couldn't. Carefully, she eased out of bed using a skill she had acquired many years before and crawled from her warm husband's body. She kissed him softly, brushing her lips against his, before heading to the shower.

***

Angel woke alone just as he had every night but this time he was in his house, in the new bed he had bought for the new chapter of his marriage. Glancing at the clock, he had to do a double take to realize it was late at night but the darkness that usually shrouded him was absent. The bathroom door adjacent to their bedroom was open, filtering a wedge of light into the room. The soft, off key humming of Buffy's voice made him smile. For a second, he almost forgot that he was supposed to be angry.

He rose from bed and walked nude into the bathroom, finding her freshly showered, wearing one of his silk shirts and carefully applying her make up. He watched her for a moment, engrossed in the way she traced her lips with that shiny gloss stuff he liked so much and inhaled the scent of her perfume. Even as thin as she had become and with the dark circles still rounding her eyes, she was beautiful.

"Going somewhere?" he asked, frustrated immediately at how gruff his voice came out. She jumped and nearly poked herself in the eye with the lip gloss.

"Angel," she breathed, placing a hand against her chest, "You scared me."

"Sorry," he answered without remorse. He was furious that she would dress herself up after what had happened and then go traipsing to wherever she thought she was going to go. Did she think she was just going to jump back into the role of the little wife with no transition period? "Where are you going?" he repeated angrily.

"No where," she answered. Her lips trembled for a second, but he watched as she forced a smile on them instead. "I just was trying to cover up those dark circles."

"With lip gloss?" he grouched.

"Yes," she said, rolling her eyes. "If you're staring at my lips like that, obviously you can't see my dark circles. Now, you shower and I'm going to get some food. I'm starving."

He watched her closely, raising an eye brow at her feigned casualness. What the hell was she doing? Yesterday he had to force her into the house and today she was putting on make up when she wasn't going anywhere. He was throughly confused and at the same time intrigued. He missed watching her body drown in his shirts when she hung around the house. He missed coming into the bathroom and have it smell like her perfume. Just being around her was causing his body to react and he wished he had put on some clothes before coming into the bathroom.

"Okay..." he said, shaking his tousled head and immediately going towards the shower. He nearly jumped out of his skin when she touched him, given he had given her a wide berth as he passed. Just her hand on his arm on purpose was shocking to the system.

"I love you," she said, standing on her tiptoes and kissing him with those glossy lips. Her touch was light and feathery, but arousing all the same. "I'm trying to start over," she said softly, "I know you won't forgive me right away or, you know, ever, but I do love you and I'm going to make sure you know it."

***

A week passed, two weeks, a month and Buffy was thoroughly confused. She had tried everything to make things better. She went back to the things she used to do like dishes, house cleaning and the laundry. She got up every morning and made him coffee while he got ready for work and fed him not too burnt toast with his cereal. She went to the office and cleaned out his old bedroom, put all the pictures from his wall in a folder which she placed on his desk, had a courier take all of his belongings home and cleaned out the room. At night, she wore sexy clothes for him and tried to entice him and the most she got were chaste kisses before they went to sleep.

But she knew he still loved her, even more than he had before. While they slept he clung to her so tightly she thought she was suffocate and in the morning his arousal pressed against her, but instead of making morning love to her as he did so many mornings before, he took a cold shower and got ready for work. He thanked her politely for all she did and told her he loved her when she said it first. He carried on conversations with her about anything that didn't relate to them. It seemed like he was waiting for something, but she had no idea what.

She carefully stacked all of the presents he bought her in the hallway closet and didn't even peek inside them no matter how much she was tempted. With his permission, she had the bedroom outside of his office redecorated to be the conference room again and threw herself into the task of redesigning it to be an impressive centerpiece for visiting clients. Desperate for more tasks, she had his office and that of his secretary painted and some of the artwork replaced. For all of it, Angel thanked her politely for her hard work and took her out to dinner at an expensive restaurant as a treat. Even that night, he didn't kiss her as she hoped he would.

A month and a half into their new relationship with no consummation and no tender kisses, Buffy found herself in a depression that kept her in bed in the morning when he went to work. She slept through his leaving and didn't shower when she rose. What was the point? He didn't seem to notice whether she was trying or not. She dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and went to the grocery store, buying up half of the ice cream she found along with chocolate syrup and brought it home. She curled in Angel's leather chair that she longed for while she was away, wrapped herself in her mother's quilt and ate ice cream until she thought she was going to pass out.

***

That night Angel tramped home from work angrily. He was angry with himself more than anything. He tried to make things work with Buffy but every time he thought about touching her he saw Lindsey's hands on her breasts, his mouth against her skin. He wanted to kiss her so badly he thought he was going to have a nervous breakdown, but he couldn't start something he knew he wouldn't be able to finish.

It was insane. That's what it was. He had her back. Finally. She had done everything possible to try and get to him, took care of everything without him needing to ask and still he hid from her like a coward. If that wasn't bad enough, that morning she hadn't gotten up with him when the alarm went off. No coffee, no breakfast, no sweet little smile to tell him good morning.

He spent half of the day going through those pictures he once had on his bedroom wall, those pictures he had stared at when she wasn't in his life. Then he would have given anything to get her back. He would have climbed mountains to have her look in his eyes. Now she did. She never turned away from and what did he do? How did he treat the gift of his wife coming back home? He shuttered his emotions and let her see nothing, let her have nothing.

When he got home that night, he knew he was in trouble. She was dozing in his chair, a wrinkle of worry and sadness on her face as she tossed and turned the best she could under her mother's quilt. She was back in those sweats and the oak table by the chair was covered in melted ice cream leaking from the carton she had left there when she fell asleep. He cleaned up the ice cream and carried her upstairs drenched in remorse. How many times had she done that very thing in the past? A handful? Once when her mother died. Again with her father. A few other times when they fought and let the sun go down on their anger. This was a warning sign and he knew it.

Carefully, he gathered her into his arms and carried her upstairs to bed still wrapped in her mother's quilt. He laid down with her curled against him and listened to her breathing as she relaxed into a deeper sleep.

***

The following day when he went to work there was a beautiful woman in his office, a client there for strictly business reasons, of course. Then the next day there was another. They started coming in the droves that abated since Buffy came home and another warning signal flared in his mind. The third day his secretary started flirting with him again, moving a little too closely, wearing short skirts with those forever long legs. By Friday, he was leashing in barely reigned fury. She was sending women to him again!

He went home and found her in her sweats again. Ice cream. Quilt. She hadn't eaten anything but that godamn ice cream for a week. She still wasn't getting up in the morning with him and it occurred to him on the way home that she had managed to avoid him almost entirely. He wasn't sure she said a single word to him for five days.

That day, he didn't carry her upstairs. He didn't tuck her into bed and hold her. He shook her until she woke up and blinked at him sleepily. She tried to close her eyes again, but he shook her once more until she barked at him. "What?"

"Pimping for me again, my love?" he demanded and sat down in the chair across from hers, folding his arms against his chest.

"Well, I figured if you're not going to sleep with me, you might find enjoyment elsewhere," she said, flinging off the quilt and rising to her feet, "You'll need a warm body to cling to in bed. Do you have an order? I'm sure I can find someone with my body type so you might not even know she's not me."

"What? You're leaving?" he shouted, rising to his feet as well.

"Would you notice if I wasn't here?" she shouted back. "I mean, really, Angel, you work later every night. We haven't spoken in a week. Besides carrying me to bed, you haven't even seemed to notice I was there!"

"I thought we were going to try and work this out!" he roared, "I thought you were going to make an effort!"

"Me?" she screamed, "I need to make an effort? You know, you're right! I should make an effort. I'm attractive enough. I can find someone else."

"Well, I'm sure that Lindsey is still up for the offer if you want to crawl into his bed," he sneered coldly, "I'm sure he's been wondering when you'll give him another shot."

"Well, maybe I'll give him a call," Buffy shouted back, tears filling her eyes, "After all, he was there when I needed him." She hurried toward the door, trying to run and stumbling over her feet to get away but she didn't make it three steps into the hallway before he caught her. He pressed her against the wall and held her there.

"Maybe he was there when you needed him because you told him you needed him," Angel said, gripping her upper arms tightly, "Maybe it was because you gave him a chance."

"Why did you come for me, Angel?" she cried, "Why did you even bother? A few more days and I would have starved myself to death. It would have been better than dreaming of you every night. All I did while I was gone was think of you. Yes, I messed up, but you...you gave me hope. You made me think I was going to be with you again. You made me believe you were going to love me even though I'm ruined, but you're repulsed by me. You may love me, Angel, but you hate me just a little more."

"I don't hate you," he said digging his fingers into her arms, "I hate me. All I can think about is you with him and knowing that you went to him instead of coming to me. You trusted him when you couldn't trust me."

"I knew it!" she groaned, "I knew you wouldn't be able to get over the Lindsey thing. Do you think I enjoyed that?"

"Maybe," he shrugged, "I don't know. It sure looked like it from the cheap seats."

"I didn't sleep with him!" she insisted, "And, news flash, I wouldn't have. Every touch, every kiss, every second in his arms made my skin crawl. I knew it and so did he. Do you think I didn't know you weren't going to let me sleep with him?"

She ducked under his arm and fought her way free, heading for the stairway. Pausing at the first step, she looked back at him, resting his head against the wall where she had been. "I wanted to lose you, Angel," she said sadly, "I knew that you would never forgive me for being with another man. Guess I did succeed after all."

***
Buffy headed up to the bedroom and took a shower. She stayed under the warm spray until the water turned cool and then got out and toweled off. By habit she started to reach for her robe but when her fingers touched the silk, she backed away. The silk robe he got for her was going to have to stay behind as much as she really wanted to take it with her. If she was going to be without him, she had to be completely without him just as she was before. She lived without him for two years, didn't she? She could do it again.

Tucking the towel around her, she brushed her hair and teeth before heading out the bedroom. She was going to pack her clothes and get out before it was too late. Once more look into those deep chocolate eyes and she might change her mind. She couldn't let Angel keep her there until they hated themselves and each other more than they already did.

She was absently thinking about what she was going to take with her and what was going to stay behind, so she nearly slammed right into him. He was standing in the center of the room, blocking her path with his arms crossed defiantly across his chest.

"You aren't leaving me," he ground out through clenched teeth. "I won't let this happen again."

"Are you having flashbacks, Angel?" Buffy asked crudely, stepping around him, "Last time you loved me."

"This time I love you," he growled, pulling her against him. Lowering his mouth so quickly she couldn't turn away, he kissed her deeply, plunging his tongue between her surprised lips and tangling it with hers. They both groaned in unison as their mouths and bodies mashed together, clinging to one another in abandon. His hands smoothed over the space of skin between her back and her towel, brushing her hair aside to feel her. She kept kissing him, lost in his mouth and the memories of what had been when he tugged at the towel until it fell away.

She started to protest as he unbuttoned his shirt, but found herself kissing the patches of muscled chest as it appeared. She missed being able to touch him whenever she wanted, feeling every inch of him as often as she could. Their lovemaking had ranged from gentle and exquisitely slow, to rowdy tumbles that left them both breathless. How many times had they made love in his car in the park on their lunch hours like misbehaved teenagers? She missed those days when she knew that she would never be alone.

Now, she smoothed her hands over him as he stripped his clothes off as fast as he could. There would be no long kisses and playful touching tonight. He wouldn't focus on each part of her, exploring her breasts until she was arching against him, clamping her legs around his waist, begging for more. He wouldn't worship each part of her body, tasting her, memorizing the contours of her.

He tossed his clothes away and backed to the bed, tossing her against it diagonally before climbing between her thighs. He wasted no time guiding himself into her moist entrance and plunging inside her. They both hissed in pleasure as he filled her, her tight channel stretching to accommodate him. At that second, Angel realized beyond the shadow of a doubt that she had never slept with anyone else and Buffy knew she never would.

"You feel..." he gasped, as they began moving together. Memories of being together flooded back to their minds as they fused together completely. He groaned in conjunction with her airy whimpers of pleasure as she kissed him sucking his tongue into her mouth.

Losing herself in the feel of him, in the astounding awareness of love and inhibition once more, she washed all her fears and doubts away, languishing in Angel's love instead. As he felt himself nearing the edge, he slipped a hand between them and massaged her sensitive nub until she flew into her climax, pounding up against him. He joined her in release and when the shudders of pleasure left them, they were clinging to each other desperately, both terrified of losing the love of their lives.

"Don't leave me, Buffy," he groaned into her neck, still resting between her thighs. Her legs tightened around him, holding him captive inside her. "I love you," she whispered softly, running her fingers through his hair, "I love you so much I don't know how not to anymore."

"Stay," he said, raising his head and looking into her eyes. "We'll heal together," he promised, kissing her swollen lips, "Please don't leave me. I can't live without you again."

"Me too," she whispered, "I can't either." She gasped as he pulled away and rose from the bed. Biting her lip nervously, she looked over at him. "Where are you going?"

"Come on," he said anxiously, tugging her up from the bed and leading her out of the room, "I have a whole bunch of boxes for you to open."

"Now?" she laughed in confused surprise as he opened the hallway closet and began pulling presents out.

"Oh yeah," he said, raising an eyebrow at her, "Somewhere in here there's a little negligee that I can't wait to see you in." Laughing, she settled between in legs on the floor and began opening two years of gifts from all over the world.

The End

The End. Happy ending, folks. I hope that helps for all the GWA you've had to go through and I hope you enjoyed. I plan on working on my other WIPs soon, so expect more fic to churn out in the near future.

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