Falls Apart

by Isis FG

Feedback: vagabond_angel@comcast.net

Disclaimer: I certainly don’t own them, thank you for asking.

Rating: mostly R, but NC 17 for one sex scene (which can be skipped)
Pairing: B/A, A/?, B/?
Summary: Set a few years after ‘Chosen’...Angel’s gained his humanity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a happy reunion with his soulmate.
Spoilers: There’s really not that many, basically through BtVS s7 ‘Chosen’ (for mentions of the events in the finale), and some general for AtS s5 (mostly the W&H concept, and 1 other thing), but to be on the safe side, spoilers through AtS s5 ‘Smile Time’.

Distribution: my site (Vagabond Soul), and if you already have any of my fics, you may take this one, if not, please ask first.

Author’s Notes: This is a future fic/Shanshu fic. It seems as though most times Angel Shanshu’s then immediately goes to Buffy and everyone goes on their merry way. So with this fic I wanted to throw some angst into that scenario. There are actually two endings to this fic. The official one, and the one that I prefer, doesn’t end with B/A together, but there is also an alternate B/A ending too. I know everyone prefers B/A together after all is said and done, but I hope you’ll read both of them. This fic also has a rather unusual (though not unheard of in the fic world) pairing involving Buffy, but that’s all I’ll say about that. Oh, and also, yes Spike did come back as he did in AtS s5, but I’m just not going to deal with that.

Thank you: As always, to *Stars* for letting me bounce ideas off her and for beta’ing. And to Jade and Roz for doing a read through to let me know what they thought.

Warnings: angst (lots of it), one sex scene, and some bad language


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Part 1
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The taxi cab screeched to a halt, sending its passenger in the back seat lurching forward. Not caring about the annoyed glare from his fare, the driver mumbled the cost of the ride and grabbed the cash thrust at him. He didn’t bother to help with the bags, just sat there until the door closed. The moment it did, the cab pulled away in a screech of tires, leaving his former passenger coughing over the smell of burnt rubber.

On the curb, Buffy stood shaking her head. She hated cabs, or more rather, obnoxious cab drivers. It probably would have been safer for her to walk from the airport to her hotel than ride with that lunatic. At least she’d made it in one piece. If only she’d told Willow she was coming, she probably could have gotten a ride. Instead she’d let her trip remain a surprise.

Sure, Willow had told her not to bother coming, but Buffy hadn’t seen her best friend in almost eight months. The redheaded hacker was now living in Tempe, Arizona, working for an upstart software company. She’d taken the job about a year after the final battle with the First. It hadn’t come as a shock, really. They were all tired and worn out.

Once they’d left the crater formerly known as Sunnydale almost four years ago, the group of bedraggled slayers, witches, a Watcher, and several civilians had piled onto the bus and headed for the nearest hotel. They stayed there for several weeks. How? Buffy didn’t know. Giles had just told her he’d taken care of the cost but not where he’d gotten the money. She still didn’t know for sure.

The core Scoobies, or what remained of them, had spent many nights talking during those days. Where were they supposed to go from there? That was the question of the hour, or as it had turned out, many hours. Not long after their arrival at the hotel, Xander had taken off, boarding a bus to wherever. No one had questioned it, knowing he needed some time after having lost so much in the previous months. Every few weeks he would call one of their cell phones and let them know he was okay. It was obvious he never planned on coming back. Eventually, he settled in a small town in Colorado and went back to doing construction work. They still talked to him, and visited, but he’d distanced himself from anything demon related.

With the Watcher’s Council gone, Giles suggested finding a place to get things rebuilt. The slayers needed to be trained, and the few Watchers who hadn’t been killed needed a headquarters. Somehow, he’d gotten hold of a large, almost compound-like place in northern California. Again, he said nothing about where the money came from, though Buffy began to suspect he’d managed to gain hold of Council funds. So the group took off from their motel and traveled to the new headquarters.

They turned the place into what outsiders would think was an exclusive private school for girls. The entrance requirement was hefty: you had to be a slayer to get in. It was a bit picky, but it was necessary. Giles had high hopes for the new Council and the many, many Slayers. Having experienced so much during his tenure as Buffy’s Watcher, he’d gained much insight into what worked and what didn’t. The remaining Watchers bristled at his revised tactics, but without Travers’ control they were forced to change, or quit. Some stayed, some left.

The new slayers were trained and schooled on the premises of the new Council until it was deemed they were prepared for field work. At that time, they were assigned a Watcher and sent somewhere with demon problems. It was a bit hard on the girls, but most accepted it. They were all pretty much flying blind at the situation they found themselves in. Never had there been so many slayers, and never had the Council been in ruins. So they just tried to do the best they could, making changes as needed.

For a while, Willow had stayed and been part of it all. Then Kennedy was killed not long after going on active duty. Buffy supposed it was the last straw for the oft afflicted witch. The demon world had in one way or another claimed all of her partners. First Oz and his need to deal with the wolf in him, then Tara to wanna-be villain Warren, and finally Kennedy to a hundred-plus year old vampire. It was just too much, so two months after her lover’s death, Willow had come to Buffy and Giles to say she’d accepted a job at a software company and was leaving. On occasion, she returned when help was needed, but for the most part, she immersed herself in her new life.

As for Buffy, she too stayed for a while, not knowing what else to do with her life. She was the original Slayer after all. The life was wearing on her, though. Giles must have noticed because a year and a half after leaving Sunnydale he came to her one night and told her that maybe it was time she walk away. He stated that there were more than enough Slayers now, and that he hated seeing her forced destiny sucking the life out her. His words had shocked her and she didn’t know whether to hug him or cry.

With freedom staring her in the face, Buffy had found herself clueless as to what to do. Who was she if she wasn’t a Slayer? What was she if she wasn’t a Slayer? Honestly, she had no idea. The last few years of her life hadn’t afforded her a chance to be anything but a fighter. She wasn’t quite sure she was prepared to leave the only world she knew. It was a tearful phone call to Willow that had pushed her to take the chance, to make a life outside of battling evil.

The peace and happiness in the redhead’s voice as she spoke of simple things like going to work, watching tv, and hanging out with friends made Buffy yearn for what she had. She wanted to once again know what it was like to be just another person making their way in the world. The Slayer in her had been the dominant persona for so long, and she wanted more. She’d always been a Slayer, but there had to be more to life than that.

Unfortunately, the problem was that there didn’t seem to be anything she could do. She was a college drop out with a trouble-maker reputation. What did she have to offer? Again, Willow had come to her rescue, pushing Buffy to pursue a hobby that she’d picked up after leaving Sunnydale: photography. It hadn’t been an intentional hobby, rather it was something she stumbled into by accident.

Life on the Council compound had offered little privacy. Occasionally, needing time away from all the slayers, she’d begun taking long walks, and then at one point she’d started taking a camera with her because the grounds surrounding the ‘school’ were so beautiful. Willow apparently thought her pictures were great and told her she should find a job related to that. The hacker had then done what she did best; hacked. Buffy soon found herself with a college degree, and a rather nice resume. All courtesy of Willow.

Taking the opportunity presented to her hadn’t been easy, though. She’d have been lying if she said she wasn’t scared. It was ironic, really. She could slay a vampire, behead a demon, and other such stuff, but she was ~scared~ of going out, finding a job, and making a life. But she’d done it. Mere months after Giles’ initial push, Buffy had a job at a small magazine in San Francisco, a cozy apartment, and a car (which she absolutely hated driving). It was all so foreign, but in the end, she loved it.

There were no more nightly patrols, no more plans canceled because of demon problems, no more strange looks from people, none of it. Giles had firmly ordered her to leave it all behind. So she had. Well, as best she could. There had been two times she’d returned to the ‘private school for girls’ in order to help, but that was it. Buffy Summers, the Slayer, was of the past. Buffy Summers, magazine photographer and average woman, was of the present.

So that’s how she’d been living her life for the last two years. Adjusting hadn’t been easy, but her new life was now second nature. And now she found herself in Los Angeles to surprise Willow with a visit. Her best friend was in LA on business for a few days and Buffy had decided to fly down to see her. When Buffy had suggested to Willow she come down, the redhead had told her no, that she’d be too busy, but Buffy hadn’t listened and planned her little trip unbeknownst to her friend. She needed a few days off anyway. Work had been keeping her extremely busy lately.

With a final shake of her head, Buffy finally left her spot on the sidewalk where the cab had left her. She carried her bags into the hotel, checked in and paid for her room. Silently, she thanked her decently-paying job that allowed her to get a nice room to stay in for the few days she’d be in LA.

After unpacking, and taking a short nap, she decided to go for a walk since it’d been so long since the last time she was in LA. Grabbing her camera bag, she strolled out of her room and headed for a park that she vaguely remembered was nearby. Maybe she’d be able to get some shots for an article the magazine was working on about nature conservation.

Walking down the busy sidewalks of LA was strange, yet familiar. This place had once been her home, but that time seemed so foreign. Since then she’d only been back to LA three times, all because of Angel. His name brought a pause to her steps. She was back in his territory. She hadn’t really considered that before leaving San Francisco. Not that she didn’t think about him often, though.

They hadn’t spoken since just after the big battle had occurred. Before the group began their sojourn to the Council headquarters they’d stopped in LA to let him know they’d won the battle. They stayed only a few hours, during which Buffy spoke few words to Angel. As much as she wanted to take comfort in his arms then, she’d known it would only make things harder. They couldn’t be together, and as she’d told him before the battle, she wasn’t yet ready to consider the future.

Since then, she’d not spoke to him, hearing only occasional news through Giles about his triumphs in LA. Maybe she would stop in and see him while she was in town. Her life had greatly changed the last few years and maybe it was time for the two of them to face all of the things they continuously pushed aside. She’d have to debate that for a while, Buffy thought as she arrived at the park.

Wandering around the recreational area under the bright sun and clear blue sky was refreshing after the annoyance of traveling from San Francisco. Every so often, she took a few shots with her camera of the dichotomy between the busy city streets and the peaceful quiet in the seemingly out of place piece of nature situated mere feet from the hustle and bustle of LA. The kids playing and couples having romantic picnics also provided nice pictures, but she probably wouldn’t be able to use them without consent forms.

Watching the happy couples feeding each other strawberries gave her pause for a moment. A deep longing stirred within her over the blissful lovers. Her new life was great and all, but she shared it with no one, at least not on a romantic level anyway. Well, not that she’d tried to have a relationship, or even date. There just always seemed to be something holding her back, memories of true love and baking cookies, that prevented her from getting close to a man. It wasn’t exactly intentional, but it was done nonetheless. Who needed men anyway? All that angst, and hurt, and leaving. No, she didn’t need that.

Finding an empty bench, she sat herself down and gazed around the park. It was a pretty nice place for being in a city. A small pond sat off to her left, a playground directly in front of her, and then a picnic area to her right. The trees were kind of small, but that was to be expected since they were probably only planted a few years before.

As she let her eyes rove over the varying sights, she spotted a man taking a seat on a bench in front of the small pond. With casual interest, Buffy watched as the unknown man seemed to stare up at the bright mid-day sun glaring down at him. He looked so peaceful enjoying the simple pleasures of the natural world. It piqued her curiosity.

Slowly, she raised her camera, intent on capturing the image as it would go nicely with the article on the benefits of preserving nature. Snapping a few wide pictures, taking in the man and the elements surrounding him, she finally allowed herself to use her zoom lens to take a peek at the ‘sun-bather’. Just as she was focusing the camera, the man’s head turned and looked straight at her.

The stunned gasp that crept past her lips seemed inordinately loud to her ears. It couldn’t be. There was no possible way she could be seeing what it was that she was seeing. There had to be an explanation. She was going nuts. She just had to be. Maybe she’d spent too much time around the photo-developing chemicals. If she was hallucinating, though, it was a damn good one.

Unable to move, she just stared, completely not comprehending the reality of the moment. At least not until the man stood and began taking steps towards her. It was then that the truth sunk into her dazed mind.

“Angel?” she whispered in the barest of voices as her camera fell from her hands, held up by only the strap around her neck.

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Part 2
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“Angel?” she repeated louder this time, as though she needed to convince herself it was really him.

It couldn’t be him, she kept telling herself over and over. But it was, and he was walking closer and closer to her still form. He was really there. Angel, her Angel, was only feet away, standing unaffected by the bright light of the sun. The only thing she could think was, how? Then he was there, right in front of her in all his muscular, gorgeous glory.

“Buffy,” his sweet voice called to her.

“Angel?” What was she, a broken record?

“Hey,” he spoke also in shock at suddenly seeing his former lover.

“I...but...you’re...how?” she finally settled on, voicing the resounding question in her head.

Angel looked down, unable to meet her eyes. When he raised them again, he simply reached for her hand and lifted it until he could place it over his heart; the heart that was now beating. The unexpected finding made Buffy gasp and wildly pull her hand away. She took a step back from him, feeling suddenly faint. Nothing could have prepared her for the truth, that Angel was human.

Her body began to sway, overwhelmed by the vivid reality staring her straight in the face. The sun suddenly seemed too bright, the air too thick. She stumbled backwards in her need to find something to grab hold of, but came up empty.

“Are you okay?” the cause of her altered state questioned worriedly.

“I-I...I’m...fine,” she stuttered uneasily, practically unable to look at him. “J-just need to...sit down.”

Buffy nearly sighed in relied when her body came into contact with the bench she had previously been sitting on. Slowly, the world started to come back into focus, her heightened senses returning to normal. Her eyes followed Angel as he cautiously sat down on the opposite end from her, leaving plenty of space between them. She didn’t mean to stare at him, but it seemed like the only thing she could do.

A multitude of thoughts began racing through her mind. Angel was alive, truly alive, as in heartbeat, sunlight, normal food alive. And he was sitting right next to her. Once upon a time, her every teenage fantasy had involved this very occurrence. Now that it had really happened, she was awe-struck. There were questions she knew she should be asking, but they were drowned out by the sheer exhilaration of seeing Angel in the sun.

Ever so slowly, her hand crept forward until it once again landed on the steadily beating heart in Angel’s chest. It was a marvelous rhythm to her familiar fingers. She could still vividly recall the hollow silence that had once been there. How was she supposed to reconcile the idea that her vampire ex-lover was now human? Was there anyway to process that concept? If there was, her mind couldn’t seem to do it.

“How is this possible?” she heard herself ask.

If she’d been fully alert, Buffy would have noticed the guilty look that instantly spread across Angel’s face, and the downward direction his eyes went, but she didn’t. She was still stuck somewhere on Angel, sunlight, and heartbeat.

“It...I, uh, I earned my redemption...I-I did enough good that my humanity was returned,” he finally answered after debating the question for a short while.

“Human,” was the only word Buffy could force between her lips.

“Yes,” Angel answered although it wasn’t necessary. He wasn’t nearly as dazed as Buffy by their sudden meeting, but even so, he was utterly shocked by it all.

“You’re really human,” she spoke barely above a whisper, the hand that had been over his heart sliding upwards.

The moment her silky smooth fingers glided across his cheek, Angel was lost. The rest of the world dimmed out of view and all he could see was her: hazel eyes, golden hair, tanned, muscular body. So familiar yet so completely new. Vaguely, he thought he heard himself mumble that she looked even more beautiful in direct light, but he wasn’t sure. He was too focused on the sensual pull of her eyes to his.

His skin felt so warm and sun-soaked as her palm rested against his cheek. No longer was it so dissimilar to her temperature, but that realization hardly registered in her mind. Just as Angel was lost in her, she was lost in him. It’d been so long, too long, since she felt the all encompassing thrall of his presence, and now that she was near him again, it sensitized each and every part of her body.

In the back of his mind, Angel knew there was something he should be telling her, that they should be talking, but the feeling was fleeting. The only thought he could grasp was that Buffy was inches away from him, her soft, pink lips beckoning to him. Unable to fight the urge, he heeded the call, leaning over until his mouth touched hers the slightest bit.

Spontaneous combustion. That’s how either would have described it if asked later. The seemingly innocent brush of his lips upon hers set loose a firestorm of passion that quickly escalated. Mouths opened, tongues dueled, fingers tangled in hair greedily clambering for any touch to bring them closer. The camera that hung lazily around Buffy’s neck was haphazardly pushed around to her back, allowing their chests to press against each other.

Buffy struggled to be nearer, completely forgetting the public setting, swinging a leg over and straddling his lap. Their mouths continued to battle, breaking only to gather much needed oxygen. Angel’s arms pulled her against him, her aching nipples rubbing against his clothed chest. At the same time, Buffy ground herself down on him. She could feel the insistent bulge of his arousal between her legs.

“Angel.” The breathy moan encouraged him further as he trailed kisses across her chin and down her neck, stopping every so often to nibble on patches of her sweet skin.

“Beautiful. So beautiful,” he murmured between kisses, rocking her against him.

“Need you. Need you now,” was all she found she could say.

“Where?” He couldn’t very well throw her down right here in the park. He could, he supposed, but he didn’t want anyone seeing her in the throes of orgasm except for him.

“Hotel. Few blocks away,” she groaned as his fingers deftly pulled at her nipples through the light-weight sweater she wore.

He didn’t bother to ask ‘what hotel?’ just clutched her in his arms and stood. Those nearby watched the odd couple as they stumbled out of the park, some with amused smirks, others with wide-eyed shock. How they managed not to fall was anyone’s guess.

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The following section is rated NC 17.  If you don't want to read such material click the link below and it'll take you to the next section.  You won't miss any of the plot by skipping it.

SKIP OVER THE SMUT

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The second the door to Buffy’s hotel room slammed shut, they once again attacked each other. Angel’s fingers bit into her hips, pulling her tight against his body as her hands clasped around his neck. Lost in the endless kiss, Buffy never even noticed that one of Angel’s hands had slipped between them and began unbuttoning her pants. It wasn’t until the cool air brushed her skin that she realized they were already half way off. Wanting the cumbersome garment out of the way, she kicked off her shoes and stepped the rest of the way out of her pants and underwear.

Her nimble fingers eagerly reached to pull Angel’s shirt over his head. The smooth expanse of chest revealed once the cloth was gone mesmerized her lust-filled eyes. She couldn’t help but run her hands over the taut muscles. Leaning forward, she trailed her tongue up his chest, veering right toward one of his hardened nipples. The action resulted in a hoarse groan from Angel.

Lost in the heat of the moment, Buffy barely was able to pull away so that Angel could remove her sweater. She was suddenly glad that she had forsaken wearing a bra that day. No need to waste time removing more clothing.

Needing to feel her skin rubbing against his, Angel pulled her roughly against his chest, dipping his head down to capture her mouth in a fiery kiss. His fingers combed through her hair, down her silky back, coming to rest on her still nude bottom. He yanked her hips forward, pressing them tightly against his throbbing cock.

Buffy gasped at the feel of his engorged organ against her thigh. She wiggled her body closer, pressing harder over his wool covered erection. Her tongue tangled with his for a moment longer before she abruptly pulled away and dropped to her knees in front of Angel. Without pause, she reached up and unbuttoned his slacks and pulled down the zipper. Aiding her movements, Angel hastily pushed his pants and boxers off his hips until they rested on his feet at the floor.

He gazed down with heavy-lidded eyes and watched almost unbelievingly as Buffy’s pink tongue snuck out and lapped at his oozing cock. The moist, warm touch was his undoing. Not being able to take the tantalizing actions, Angel reached down and hauled Buffy up, barely conscious of his forceful movements. His hands clutched her ass, lifting her up against him.

Buffy readily complied and wrapped her legs around his waist. Without hesitation, Angel thrust fully into her welcoming heat. Both groaned at the sensations elicited by their joining. It had been so long, too long, and for nearly a minute they remained still, luxuriating in the feeling of being united once again.

A slight wiggled of Buffy’s hips brought Angel out of his trance. He raised his head and looked into her passion filled eyes before swooping down to capture her lips yet again. Their bodies staggered backwards, slamming into the door behind them as Angel plunged forcefully inside of her. The pain of her head banging against the wood never registered in Buffy’s mind.

Their peaks built quickly, too overwhelmed by the feelings within them. Angel hastily slipped a hand between their bodies until he reached the moist nest of curls above her sex. It took only a few pinches of her clit before he felt her sheath flutter as she reached her climax. The rhythmic clenching around his cock set off his release and he came deep inside her body.

They leaned against each other, panting in the aftermath of their orgasms. Angel carefully managed to lower Buffy to the ground before engaging her in another heated kiss. His shaft, still encased within her, hardened quickly as they once more lost themselves to the throes of passion.

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The following morning, Buffy slowly drifted back to consciousness. She was immediately aware of the feel of coarse hotel sheets against her naked skin. Naked? Since when did she sleep naked? Had she gotten drunk the night before or something and shed her clothes before going to sleep? No, she hadn’t gotten drunk. It was the or something. Images of the day before began flashing through her mind.

Angel.

Angel and sunlight.

Angel and sex. Lots and lots of sex. Everywhere.

Her body flushed, heat zinging through her veins at the memories. There probably wasn’t a surface in her hotel room that they hadn’t made love on, or in some cases against: the door, the floor, the bed, the shower wall, and probably a few others, some more than once. If she didn’t remember the whole sordid event, then the absolute soreness of her body would definitely clue her in. It was a good kind of ache though.

Yes, it was undeniably a good ache, one that caused her to smile in her still drowsy state. There was nothing for her not to smile about. Angel was now human, therefore curse free, and they’d spent many, many wonderful hours...reacquainting...themselves with each other. Not since the night of her seventeenth birthday had she felt so warm, complete, and well, satisfied.

This was it. They’d finally made it. No longer were they forced apart by their natures, or gypsy curses, or friends and family, or the need to grow as people. They’d made it past all that, and now was finally the time for them. For so long she’d believed that they would never get this chance. There was just always too much in the way. But not any more. Happiness was knocking at the door and she planned on answering it.

Starting right now.

Eyes still closed, Buffy reached out her arm to pull Angel closer to her. She was startled to find the space next to her empty and cold. Her hand grasped around the sheets, hoping to come into contact with her lover’s body, but to no avail. Buffy briefly wondered if perhaps it had all been a dream. She was sure it wasn’t, though. Angel had been there with her, had made love to her. And now he was gone.

Memories of her birthday came back vividly. The joy, the pleasure, and then the heart wrenching terror. It couldn’t have happened again. It just couldn’t. There was no way it was possible. So then why wasn’t Angel with her? Why wasn’t he holding her close? There had to be a reason.

Fighting off the nauseating fear, she finally peeled open her eyes. The harsh sunlight blinded her momentarily, but through the bright glare she could make out Angel’s form near the window. All the tension that had seized every muscle in her body relaxed. He was still there. He hadn’t left her.

Needing the reassurance of his strong embrace, she climbed out of the bed. The room was a little chilly so she pulled on the sweater she’d been wearing the day before which had been thoughtlessly thrown onto the desk chair. Once partially dressed, she padded silently across the room, coming to a stop just behind where Angel, dressed in only his navy blue silk boxers, was standing. In his quiet brooding, he hadn’t even noticed that she’d awoken yet.

“Morning,” she murmured softly, her arms slipping around his waist.

Angel startled at the contact, having been so lost in thought that he hadn’t noticed she’d snuck up on him.

“Sorry!” Buffy giggled unrepentantly, resting her head on his naked back. When Angel said nothing in response, she began to grow worried again. “Hey? You okay?”

Still not speaking, Angel carefully pried himself from her grip before turning and walking toward the bed. He sat down wearily, not looking at her as he finally spoke. “Everything’s...everything’s fine.”

Buffy’s arms crossed over her chest, her eyes boring into his retreating form. “Why don’t I believe you?”

The instant he raised his eyes, she knew. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know whatever it was that was bothering him. She just knew that it was going to shatter her heart and crush every dream that had taken hold inside her mind. The look on his face was enough to tell her that. She should have known that something would go wrong. It always did. She wasn’t meant to have this kind of happiness in her life.

Angel didn’t answer her. He just stared at her, waging, as she could tell, a mental war inside his head. The longer the seconds dragged out, the more she knew that whatever he had to say was going to be worse than she could have ever imagined. And suddenly she didn’t want to know. Just as soon as that thought came, he finally spoke.

“I’m getting married tomorrow.”

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Part 3
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Buffy was sure for a moment that she’d heard him wrong. Married? Angel was getting married? No, that couldn’t possibly be true. He hadn’t just said that. It had to be her fears getting the best of her. Deep down, though, she knew she was just lying to herself. But she needed to hear it again just to be sure.

“Y-you’re what?” she stuttered in a harsh whisper.

He didn’t answer right away. Instead, Angel stood from the bed and cautiously walked toward her numb body. When he was a foot away, he finally repeated the words. “I’m getting married tomorrow.”

This time she knew she’d heard him correctly. Angel, her Angel, was getting married. He’d made love to her all night long only to throw it back in her face by telling her he was getting married. How could he? How could he do this to her? How could he make love to her all the while knowing he was getting married? How could he get married to someone else?

“I’m sorry,” he reached his hand out to grasp her arm.

“Don’t touch me!” she snapped at him, trying to pull away but his grip on her arm tightened.

“Buffy, please! We have to talk-.”

“GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF ME!” Buffy screamed loudly, this time managing to twist away from him. She stumbled toward the bed, tears beginning to blind her vision.

“Buffy,” Angel stepped toward her.

“Get. Away. From. Me!” She backed up, her knees banging into the bed.

Wildly, her eyes scanned the room, searching for an escape. She didn’t want him anywhere near her. She didn’t want to look into the eyes of the man who had just betrayed every single dream she’d ever had. He was supposed to be hers. They were supposed to have forever together. Wasn’t that the whole point?

Obviously not if he was getting married. When had he given up on their hope? Why hadn’t he told her? How long had he been human? So many questions. So many answers that didn’t matter. He was getting married. To someone else. Period. End of story.

“Please, Buffy...we need to talk,” Angel ignored her plea.

“You fucking bastard! How could you?” Rage burned inside of her, blocking out any logical reasoning. Without thinking, she picked up the lamp on the nightstand and threw it at Angel’s head.

The projectile glanced off his temple, creating a small gash, before shattering against the wall behind him. Angel stumbled back a step in shock over the violent action before regaining his balance. His hand reached up to touch the bleeding wound and winced when his fingers came into contact with the cut. Ignoring the pain, he again focused on trying to calm the raging blonde.

“Buffy, pl-,” Angel hadn’t even finished the sentence when an alarm clock came flying at his head. This time he managed to duck before it connected with his flesh.

“GET OUT!” Buffy half sobbed, half screamed in anger.

Angel again ignored her words and walked toward her. He was only mildly surprised when her hand reached out and slapped him, causing his head to whip sideways. The Slayer strength blow on his very human body made his jaw ache, but he brushed off the pain. He knew he deserved it. He knew Buffy had every right to be furious with him. Still, he also knew they needed to talk. They needed to settle this

Seeing Angel’s continued approached, Buffy darted away. “Don’t come near me!”

“Buffy,” he sighed, running a distressed hand over his face.

“Get. Out!” she ground out forcefully.

“I’m sor-.”

“GET OUT!”

“Bu-.”

“I. Said. Get. Out.” Buffy repeated, her whole body trembling because of the rage inside of her.

Angel stared mutely at her for a minute longer for gathering his clothes and pulling them onto his body. Once dressed, he took a few steps towards the door before turning to face Buffy again. He didn’t want to leave things like this, but there didn’t appear to be any way of reasoning with her at the moment.

“I’m sorry,” he dejectedly mumbled one last time.

“GET OUT!” Her voice was hoarse as she screamed at him once more. “AND DON’T EVER COME BACK!”

Sensing it was hopeless to try and talk to her now, Angel finally relented. Staring at her for a few seconds longer, he bowed his head and walked to the door. He fought back the urge to say anything else and instead left the room without another word. Once out of the room, he slumped against the closed door and startled when he heard and felt something shatter against it from the other side. With slumped shoulders, and a guilt laden conscience, he slowly walked away from the woman whose heart he had just broken yet again.

Inside, Buffy collapsed to the floor sobbing the second the door closed. Her knees curled up to her chest as she cried for long held dreams that were forever shattered. She’d always hoped that they would someday have a chance. When he’d come to Sunnydale all those years ago before the big battle with the First she’d told him the truth when she said she needed to grow before she could think of the future. And now that she had finally begun to settle into life, now that all of the barriers that kept him from her were gone, now that all the doors were open to them, he was marrying someone else. She’d always thought Fate had it in for her, but this was the cruelest twist of the knife yet.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

An hour later, Willow stood outside the door to Buffy’s hotel room having gotten a phone call from Angel twenty minutes earlier. She raised her hand to knock on the sturdy wood and waited for her friend to answer. When the door didn’t open, the redhead knocked again, but still received no answer. She knew Buffy had to be in there. The clerk downstairs told her that Buffy hadn’t checked out and he hadn’t seen her leave either.

“Buffy?” Willow called out loudly. “It’s Willow.”

Still no answer. “Buffy, please open the door.”

Receiving no acknowledgement of her presence, Willow muttered a simple spell that unlocked the door and allowed her to enter. Upon moving into the room, an audible gasp fell from her lips. Everything was in tatters. Broken glass lay scattered around the floor, the small coffee table was tipped over on its side, what looked like sheets were shredded and piled on the floor in front of the bed, and her friend lay unmoving on the bed’s bare mattress.

“Oh my God! Buffy!” Willow raced to Buffy’s side. “What happened?”

The blonde neither moved nor spoke, causing Willow’s concern to increase. She carefully sat down on the edge of the bed and released a relieved sigh when she saw the steady rise and fall of Buffy’s chest signaling that her friend was still alive. The blank, empty stare of Buffy’s eyes, though, frightened her.

“Buffy?” Willow spoke softly, taking one of Buffy’s hands in hers.

For a minute, Willow got no response, but as she was about to speak again, Buffy’s eyes blinked and slowly moved to focus on her. “Willow?”

“Are you okay? What happened?” the redhead reached up and brushed some of the tangled blonde hair off of Buffy’s face.

“Oh, Willow,” Buffy started before sobs once again overwhelmed her.

She didn’t resist when her friend pulled her into her arms and cried against the soft material of Willow’s sweater. For long minutes, she clung to the redhead, saying nothing. Just as her sobs began to subside, a thought suddenly occurred to Buffy. Frantically, she scrambled out of Willow’s embrace, nearly falling off the bed in the process.

“Buffy? What’s wrong?” Willow quickly rose from the bed, not understanding Buffy’s actions.

“How did you know I was here?” Buffy swiped at her still falling tears and asked the question that had popped into her head.

“What?” Willow frowned in confusion.

“How did you know where I was?” Buffy repeated, nausea rising in her stomach, her suspicions growing.

“Angel called me,” replied Willow without really thinking. Though once the words left her mouth she realized what they meant.

“You knew didn’t you?!?” Buffy took a step back, anger once again beginning to take over.

Willow’s guilty, avoiding gaze was enough to answer her question. Willow, her best friend in the whole world, had known about Angel, had known about his humanity, had known about his upcoming marriage and had never bothered to tell her. Buffy’s very world was crumbling before her eyes. The anger that was running through her veins, slowly receded, replaced by a numbing cold.

“You knew and you didn’t tell me.” This time her voice was frigid, lacking any semblance of emotion.

“I’m s-sorry,” Willow stuttered, unable to meet Buffy’s eyes.

“Yeah, you’re sorry. Everyone’s sorry,” Buffy laughed maniacally. “I thought you were my friend.”

“I am!” Willow whispered, the pleading tone of her words lost on Buffy.

“Some friend,” snorted Buffy, shaking her head. “How could you not tell me?”

“I-I...” Willow trailed off having no clue how to answer. It had been her words to Angel about Buffy’s great new life that had made him feel the need to not tell her about his humanity and the engagement. She’d disagreed with his decision at first, but eventually came to believe it was best for Buffy.

“Who else knows? Giles? Xander?” Buffy bit out. When Willow made no attempt to deny the claim, she laughed again. “I see. This is some big ‘Buffy’s too stupid to know anything’ deal again, right?”

“Buffy, you have to unders-.”

“Shut up!” Buffy snarled at her causing the redhead to flinch. “I don’t have to understand anything!”

“We didn’t think...it’s been seven years since he left you Buffy,” Willow tried to defend not only herself, but the others who had known as well.

“You think that matters?” Buffy shook her head, fighting back another sob rising in her throat. “You don’t get it. None of you ever got it!”

“Got what?” Willow wanted to know.

Buffy continued on, Willow’s question not even registering. “He’s the one man I’ve ever truly loved. Why do you think Riley left me? Why do you think I’ve never dated since then? No one could ever take his place in my heart! It doesn’t matter how long he was gone or that he left me. It never mattered!” She fell to her knees, unable to hold back the sobs any longer.

“Oh, Buffy! I’m so sorry!” Willow knelt down next to Buffy and tried to comfort her, but Buffy would have none of it and pushed her away.

“Yeah, I’m sure you’re so sorry,” Buffy stumbled to her feet. “Poor, Buffy, too stupid and immature to make her own decisions!”

“No! Buffy, we don’t think that,” Willow cried desperately.

“Coulda fooled me! Or are you forgetting about the time I was kicked out of my own house?” Buffy snapped angrily.

Willow’s jaw dropped at the reminder of what had happened not long before the battle against the First. In all the years that had passed Buffy never mentioned the events of that night. It shocked her to hear it brought up after so much time.

“Nothing to say to that?” Buffy raised an eyebrow. “God, you all make me sick!”

“I’m sorry! I-I should have told you about Angel,” Willow admitted her guilt.

“You’re damn right you should have! I...I thought...” Buffy backed further away from Willow. The room suddenly felt like it was closing in on her. Memories of the previous night with Angel invaded her senses as her eyes darted around the room. “I can’t do this. I-I can’t be here.”

Before Willow could stop her, Buffy bolted from the room. By the time she made her feet move to take her out into the hallway, the blonde was no where to be found.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

For hours Buffy wandered aimlessly around the streets of Los Angeles having no idea where to go, or what to do. A dense fog had settled in her mind, clouding any an all judgment. More than once a perfect stranger had approached the teary-eyed, dazed blonde and asked her if she was okay, but Buffy always brushed off their concern. She didn’t want comfort. She didn’t want anything, well except maybe for the last twenty-four hours to have not occurred.

Her heart ached with everything that had been heaped upon her this day. The time spent with Angel and then his not so little revelation were enough to send her in a tailspin, but then to find out that Willow, and likely others as well, knew was just too much. She didn’t understand any of it. How could Angel have not told her about the changes in his life? How could Willow have hidden something so important from her?

The last two years had been spent building a life for herself, one outside of chaos, demons and death. She’d made a place for herself in the world. Maybe she’d never consciously thought about it, but in the back of her mind the whisperings were always there that this was her time to grow and be ready for a future that would hopefully include Angel. And now that dream was nothing more than a lonely girl’s fantasy that would never come true.

Everything around her seemed darker at that knowledge; the air a little less refreshing, the sun a little less bright. Every ounce of peace she’d built up over the last two years was suddenly gone. She couldn’t help but blame herself for believing in childish dreams of true love and forever. Real people didn’t get those things. They only existed in movies and fairy tales. She should have known that life wouldn’t give her the one thing she’d only ever truly wanted: Angel.

As the sun began to set, Buffy wondered what she was supposed to do with herself now. She didn’t want to go back to her hotel room. Someone would probably be waiting for her and she had no desire to talk to any of the hypocrites that were supposed to be her friends. Briefly she contemplated going back home; to San Francisco, but that idea held even less appeal. That place would only be a reminder of the life that now meant nothing. She needed to go somewhere that had no attachment to anything.

Without really thinking about her plans, Buffy made her way to the nearest ATM. She silently thanked herself for putting on the pants that her wallet was in and used her bank-card to withdraw almost everything out of her checking account.

Possessing only a hefty sum of cash, the clothes on her back, and her wallet, Buffy headed for the nearest bus station. Where she was going she didn’t know, and really, she didn’t care.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 4
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~New Orleans – approximately five years later~

Angel disinterestedly lagged behind Willow as she window shopped on one of the quaint New Orleans streets. He didn’t know why she’d made him come on this trip with her. She’d specifically flown up from Arizona and barged into his apartment telling him he was going to accompany her on the business trip she had to go on. When he asked why she told him he needed to stop sitting in his dark apartment brooding and get out for a little while. He tried to tell her no, but she practically twisted his arm and made him go pack.

So now he was stuck following her around New Orleans while she did a little shopping in her free time. The happy, laughing people that kept brushing past him made him nauseous. He didn’t like being in crowds. Staying back at the hotel had been his activity of choice for the afternoon, but Willow demanded he go shopping with her and pushed him out the door before he had a chance to say no. Why couldn’t people just let him brood in peace?

A burst of flirty laughter drew Angel out of his internal monologue and his eyes rose to land on a young couple sitting on a bench, locked in a loving kiss. His heart ached at the sight. They looked so happy. He couldn’t fight the pangs of regret that shot through him. Nor could he stop the little voice in his head that told him he could have been like that couple if he hadn’t made such a mess of his life. It wasn’t shocking, he supposed, that he’d screwed up yet one more thing in his pathetic existence. His life, dating back to his original human days, was rife with mistakes, and it didn’t seem like he’d be stopping that pattern anytime soon.

Nearly five years ago, despite all that happened, he’d gone ahead and married Nina anyway. In retrospect, it was the wrong thing to do. Not only had he cheated on her the day before the wedding, but he’d been forced to realize that his heart would always be with Buffy. Still, he pushed all that aside and continued on with the marriage. He thought he owed it to Nina not to back out.

The blonde werewolf had become a bright spot in his dark lonely world over the years. He helped her learn to cope with the demon inside of her, and then later she was there for him when his Shanshu finally occurred. His reward came with the final defeat of Wolfram and Hart and with that everything changed. Becoming human again hadn’t been an easy adjustment for him. He was no longer a demon, no longer drank blood, no longer feared sunlight, no longer had super strength, no longer fought evil, and so many other things. It overwhelmed him at first, but Nina was there through it all. She pushed him out into the real, human, living world and got him back on his feet.

Their friendship grew into more over the following months, and he allowed it. Thoughts of another blonde, a feisty Slayer, occasionally plagued his thoughts, but in those times he reminded himself of Willow’s words about Buffy’s new life. She was happy and settled. Her life, for so long had been a constant battle and had what he’d always wanted for her. She certainly didn’t need him barging in and ruining everything that she’d worked so hard for. So he focused his attention on Nina, and when his friends pushed and encouraged him to take the next step he followed, and proposed marriage. She happily accepted and they spent months planning a lavish wedding for their friends and families to attend.

Angel knew now he should have called it off. The encounter with Buffy just before the wedding changed everything, changed him. Feelings long buried once again rose to the surface and he was lost in the unconditional love she’d always bestowed upon him. He should have never let what happened with Buffy occur before they had a chance to talk, but they’d both succumbed to their passions before either knew what hit them. Then he’d broken her heart by telling her of his upcoming marriage.

Gods, he was stupid. He’d had every intention of going to Nina and telling her he couldn’t marry her, but then Willow’s call came explaining to him her encounter with Buffy. He knew then that it was hopeless. Any chance of making things right was lost. So instead of going to his future wife and breaking things off, he went to her and begged her forgiveness for cheating on her the night before. He never told her the specifics then and let her assume it was a drunken encounter at his bachelor party. She forgave his mistake, and the wedding went on as planned.

The marriage lasted not even two years. He stopped being the man she helped him become after his Shanshu and retreated into himself. Guilt ate away at him over his treatment of Buffy and marrying Nina even though he was never really in love with her. He didn’t know if she was ever in love with him, but they had always been comfortable with each other. Their relationship was one built upon deep friendship. After the wedding, though, even that disappeared.

She tried her hardest to make things work between them, but one night they got into a particularly loud argument over his lack of interest in pretty much anything. Everything came out that night; his one night stand with Buffy before the wedding, his returned feelings for her, his previous relationship with her, his thoughts of calling off the wedding, his guilt over getting married anyway, everything. Nina was utterly shocked by it all, never before knowing about the woman named Buffy, and she knew in an instant that anything she had or might have had with Angel was over. Three weeks later she filed for divorce.

They managed to part amicably, both agreeing the marriage should never have occurred. Once a month they still talked, but their friendship was irrevocably damaged by all that happened between them. A year ago, she married a writer and he was happy for her. The couple was now pregnant with their first child and Angel found himself glad that at least he hadn’t ruined her life.

His, though, was another story. The three years since the divorce seemed darker than any he spent as a vampire. His days were spent floundering in his apartment painting bleak visions on white canvases. If he wasn’t painting, he was sketching. Myriads of drawings, most of a certain blonde, littered the walls and floors of his apartment. And if he wasn’t sketching he was sitting in the dark brooding. It was a lonely life, but he felt he deserved it.

Not long after the divorce he tried to find Buffy. No one had heard from her or seen her since the confrontation two years earlier. She never returned to her hotel or her apartment in San Francisco. It was as if she fell off the face of the earth. A little hacking by Willow right after her disappearance revealed to them the large cash withdrawl at an ATM the night of their argument. From there, not a trace of her could be found. Willow actively looked for a year after their fight, and kept Angel informed, but eventually she gave up. He renewed the search for her after the divorce, but never found even the slightest clue as to her whereabouts. Buffy had managed to hide herself away some place where no one could find her.

That was close to three years ago and since then his life was a vast wasteland of loneliness, regrets, and guilt precipitating Willow’s little forced vacation. He didn’t want to be here in this city with all of its bubbling happiness. He wanted to be back in his apartment alone with a good bottle of Irish whiskey and his thoughts. Another two days of this annoyance and he’d be back in LA where he swore he was never going to answer his door again.

“Can we go back to the hotel yet?” he nearly whined to Willow who was gazing at a ruby necklace in the window of a jewelry store.

“In a little bit,” she sighed and rolled her eyes. “You really know how to suck the life out of everything you know that? No pun intended.”

“I don’t like it here,” Angel grumbled, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

“Fine. I just want to go to that toy store up ahead and pick up something to send to Xander,” she explained, referring to her friend who married three years earlier and had a two year old daughter.

Angel rolled his eyes and groaned but followed anyway. A toy store was the last place he wanted to go. The place was likely to be swarming with kids running up and down the aisles. Not that he didn’t love kids because he did, really. They were just another reminder of how empty his life was. If he hadn’t of royally fucked things up years ago he could be with Buffy right now and have children with her. But he had ruined everything, and now he was alone.

The two quickly reached the toy store and entered into the small shop. Angel was glad to find that the place wasn’t overly busy. There seemed to be only a few adults and children milling about. Not knowing what else to do in a place he had no use for, Angel merely trailed behind Willow as she searched for a gift to send to her friend’s child.

Willow turned to face Angel when she noticed that all he was doing was following her. “You could actually, ya know, look around.”

“Why?” Angel looked at her and frowned.

“Because we’re in a store. A place where people shop so you should...shop,” she told him as if it were obvious, and stepped backwards without paying attention.

“Willow, watch out!” Angel swiftly warned her when he saw she was about to walk into someone bending over looking at something on a low shelf.

“What? Oomph!” Too late. The redhead tripped over the other shopper kneeling near the ground, knocking him over but managing to keep herself from falling by grabbing onto the closest shelf.

“Oh, Goddess! I am sooo sorry!” Her face flushed red in embarrassment as she apologized and offered a hand to the man pulling himself up off the ground.

The man in question froze at the sound of her voice. His head shot up, eyes widened, as he took in the face of the person who had tripped over him. “Willow?”

“Oz?” the redhead yelped, stumbling back a few steps in shock. She was wholly unprepared to find herself face to face with her former boyfriend.

“Uh, yeah,” the stoic musician finished pulling himself up off the ground, warily studying the redhead. Unnoticed to her, his eyes nervously darted to the left for a moment before returning to meet her gaze.

“I...umm....hi...uh...look, Angel...it’s, uh, Oz,” she stammered uncertainly.

Oz’s head whipped around to face the person he hadn’t even known was there. He startled slightly at finding the former vampire fidgeting behind him. It took a moment for him to gather his bearings before greeting the other man. “Angel.”

The coldness in the werewolf’s voice was immediately obvious to Angel and his brow furrowed as he wondered at the unfriendly salutation. “Hello, Oz.”

“So, you’re, uh, here...in New Orleans,” Willow moved around to stand near Angel.

“Yeah,” Oz answered simply all the while wondering if he’d be able to get rid of the two before things got ugly.

“H-How long have you been here?” Willow asked for lack of anything better to say. She was still trying to get over the shock of the random meeting with someone from her past.

“Few years,” he shrugged in response. Every so often, his eyes would glance to the left as if watching out for someone.

“Oh, uh, we’re...well, me actually...I’m here on, uh, business...and, umm, I made Angel come along,” she babbled out the explanation for their presence in New Orleans.

“Cool,” Oz stated in his usual lack of words. His eyes suddenly widened when he heard giggling laughter reach his ears. Only moments later, the pitter patter of little feet followed and he felt something latch onto his leg.

“Wanna get ice cream now!” a child’s voice spoke causing Willow to gasp. She watched as her ex-boyfriend reached down to pick up a little boy who appeared to be three, maybe four years old.

“It’s a little early for ice cream, don’t ya think?” Oz ruffled his hair as the little boy settled into his arms.

“I-is that your...,” Willow trailed off, not wanting to say the final word.

Oz turned to face the two people from his past and looked at them for a moment before sighing. “This is Jared.”

The little boy clung to Oz as he noticed the strangers staring at him. He tugged at Oz’s sleeve and pointed to the new people. “Who they?”

“They’re some old...friends,” Oz hesitated in his answer.

“Oh,” Jared cocked his head and studied the two people for a second before smiling. “Hi! I’m Jared!”

“H-Hi, Jared. I’m Willow,” the redhead forced herself to say. When Angel said nothing, she elbowed him out of his trance. “Angel! Say hi!”

Angel snapped his mouth, which had been gaping, shut. The presence of the little boy had surprised him, but even more so there was something familiar about him. “Uh, hello Jared. My name is Angel.”

“Angel,” Jared giggled. “That’s a silly name!”

Angel couldn’t help but grin at the child’s exuberance. “Yeah, it is.”

“Jared!” a new voice, a familiar voice, sounded loudly from nearby. “Didn’t I tell not to run around the store?”

All four heads turned to watch as the speaker rounded the corner of the aisle and walked toward them. The female’s head was down looking into her purse so she didn’t notice all the eyes on her. They all noticed her, though, and the shock left them speechless.

“Oz? Do you-,” her words abruptly cut off as she finally looked up and found herself the focus of not just Oz and Jared’s attention, but also others. Two others who she dearly wished she wasn’t seeing. The stuffed dinosaur she held in one of her hands fell carelessly to the ground.

“Mommy!” Jared shrieked giddily and squirmed out of Oz’s arms. Once on the floor he picked up the dinosaur and reached for Buffy to pick him up. It took him a minute to get her attention, but she eventually complied.

Angel’s jaw dropped once again at the sight of the woman who forever haunted his memory. He couldn’t believe she was standing in front of him staring with the same level of shock in her eyes as his. She looked absolutely beautiful, as she always did. Her body was a bit fuller than before, but it looked good on her. His heart couldn’t help but clench as he watched her holding the little boy in her arms.

“B-Buffy,” he whispered hoarsely.

The stunned silence Buffy found herself in quickly wore off. Her shoulders straightened as she realized she had no choice but to face the two people from her past. “Angel,” she spoke not coldly, but not in a friendly manner either.

Willow had yet to say a word. Her mind was racing, her eyes darting between the people before her. Oz. Buffy. Child...Oz....Buffy. She didn’t like where her thoughts were taking her. But when Buffy raised her hand to shift Jared in her arms her suspicions were confirmed. A shiny gold band rested on Buffy’s ring finger. A quick check of her ex-boyfriend revealed that he, too, wore one.

“Oh, Goddess...you...you’re...but...” Tears formed in her eyes as she struggled to form a coherent sentence. Not able to face what was obvious, Willow turned and fled from the store.

It took only a moment for Angel to realize what had thrown Willow so severely. Even if he hadn’t seen the rings, though, he would have known. They were together, and obviously had a child. Any remaining whole piece of his heart shattered. Buffy was truly gone to him. Whatever passive hope he still had somewhere inside of him that someday they’d reunite was effectively crushed.

“I-I....I better go,” he stuttered uncomfortably. Being around Buffy when she was obviously happy was too much. “It was good to see you.” Without waiting for a reply, he followed Willow’s lead and left.

Oz and Buffy stood in silence in the aftermath of the unexpected confrontation. The last thing they thought would happen on their outing to the toy store was a chance meeting with their former lovers. It was a little unnerving to say the least.

“You okay?” Oz turned and faced Buffy.

“Yeah,” Buffy sighed, forcing a smile onto her face for Jared’s sake. “It’s just...well, you know.”

“Yeah,” Oz nodded his head in agreement. Seeing Willow again after such a long time wasn’t something he could just forget about.

“A-are they...together?” Buffy wondered out loud.

Oz thought for a second, relying on what his enhanced sense of smell told him. “I don’t think so.”

“Mommy! Ice cream!” Jared interrupted and lightly pulled on Buffy’s hair.

“Oh, yeah,” Buffy pulled herself out of her distraction and focused her attention on her son. “Let’s go pay for this, huh?” she held up the stuffed dinosaur Jared had picked out.

“Yay!” he cheered, hugging the animal to his chest.

All thoughts of their exes were pushed from their minds as they went and paid for the toy and then left the store. Neither Buffy nor Oz noticed as they walked down the street arm in arm, laughing over something Jared said, that they were being watched by two broken hearted people.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

THIS IS THE POINT WHERE THE TWO ENDINGS DIVERGE!  ONE ENDING HAS B/A REUNITE WHILE THE OTHER ENDING DOES NOT HAVE THEM WORK THINGS OUT. 

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT THE TWO ENDINGS: THEY ARE ALMOST COMPLETELY DIFFERENT IN EVERY ASPECT!

USE THE FOLLOWING LINKS TO GO TO THE ENDINGS:

NON-B/A ENDING

B/A ENDING

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

THE FOLLOWING IS THE NON-B/A ENDING!!!

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 5a – non-B/A version
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“Hey” Oz greeted Buffy as he walked out onto the back porch of their house.

“You’re back,” Buffy turned over on the lounge chair she was reclining on and faced her husband.

“Yeah. Here, picked up one of those mocha things for you,” he handed her the cup held in his right hand.

“Thanks. Just what I needed,” she smiled and pushed herself up further in the chair. “Did you get Jared settled in at your parents’ house?”

“Yup. He was excited to spend the night with them,” Oz took a seat on the chair by Buffy’s feet.

“Why am I not surprised?” Buffy rolled her eyes. “They love spoiling him.”

“And he loves being spoiled,” chuckled Oz while pulling Buffy’s feet onto his lap. “You okay?”

“I guess,” she answered noncommittally, sipping from her mocha.

“You knew you wouldn’t be able to hide from them forever,” he pointed out.

“I know. Doesn’t mean I didn’t wish I could,” her shoulders shrugged slightly. “And I wasn’t hiding necessarily.”

“No, you just didn’t tell anybody where you were,” Oz clarified with a raised eyebrow.

“Why should I have?” Buffy snapped at him and then regretted her harshness. “Sorry, I’m not angry with you.”

“No worries.” He picked up one of her hands and gave it a light squeeze.

“They gave me no reason to tell them anything,” she continued, old hurt resurfacing once again. “How can I let people into my life who don’t trust me?”

Oz said nothing in response. He knew Buffy needed to just talk and get all of it out of her system. The story was already familiar to him having lived through part of it and hearing about the rest, but he would happily sit and listen to her if it helped Buffy work through what she was feeling.

“I mean, first there’s Angel. He dumped me, in a sewer of all places, out of the blue on prom night. I’m not saying I don’t understand his reasons or agree with them, but he made a life altering decision for the both of us on his own. That’s hardly fair.” The last part came out in a slight growl. She took a deep breath before going on. “Then there’s the day he was human and took back, again making a decision involving the both of us without talking to me.”

“He doesn’t know you know about that, right?” Oz interrupted the frustrated rant of his wife.

“No. You’re the only person I told.” No one else knew about the memory that came back with her when she returned from Heaven. Things had been so messed up back then that the last thing she wanted to do was talk to one of her friends about something dealing with Angel, and then later it never seemed appropriate. So she held it in and kept it to herself.

“And again,” Buffy kept going. “I can at least understand his choice, but it should have been made by both of us.”

“Agreed,” he offered his support.

“But how could he turn human for good,” a stray tear fell across her cheek. “And not tell me?”

“To be fair, you never gave him a chance to tell you why.” He hated saying that, but it was the truth.

“No, I didn’t,” Buffy conceded. “But it doesn’t matter what his reasons were. He should have told me. Period. He owed it to me regardless of whether or not there was someone else in his life.”

“If he had told me then I wouldn’t have still hoped...” she didn’t finish the rest of her line of thinking. “Or maybe things would have been different. He just...he should have told me.

“Not gonna disagree with ya there.” When Buffy had first told him about all that happened back in LA he’d been shocked. He would have thought Angel would go running to Buffy after becoming human.

“But worst of all...he slept with me...made me think that everything we always wanted we were finally going to get, and then...then.” She couldn’t hold it in any more as soft sobs began to shake through her body.

Hating to see Buffy so upset, Oz scooted up the chair and pulled his wife into his arms. She rested her head on his chest and cried as he stroked her hair. It made her feel weak to cry over something that had happened years ago. But the pain and hurt from that horrible morning would always be there. It didn’t matter what her life was like now, she would never forget Angel’s rejection or Willow’s lies.

“Maybe you should talk to him,” he spoke softly, smoothing a hand down her back.

“Why?” she questioned after sniffling.

“Find out why he did it. Might help you put it behind you,” he explained gently though he wasn’t quite sure it was the best thing for any of them.

“Maybe,” Buffy mumbled uncertainly. “I don’t know if I want to, though. And then there’s Willow.”

“What about Willow?” Oz stiffened slightly at the redhead’s name.

“I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about her.” Buffy knew that mentioning Willow was as weird for him as mentioning Angel was to her. It was bad enough they had to run into one of them, but seeing both of them at once was overwhelming.

“No. It’s fine.” Well, it wasn’t fine, but they couldn’t avoid subjects. It wouldn’t solve anything to brush the past under the proverbial rug.

“Honestly,” she tilted her head to look up at Oz. “I have no desire to talk to her.”

“Understandable.” He really couldn’t blame her for not wanting to talk to Willow given all that went down between them.

“I just...” she sighed, gathering her thoughts. “I just don’t have it in me any more to trust her. She never really understood about Angel. She pushed me toward Riley even though it should have been obvious I wasn’t ready. It still hurts that she supported everyone when they kicked me out of my own house.”

Buffy reached up to wipe away her fresh tears. “And she knew...she knew about Angel...that he became human. And she knew about him getting...married. She didn’t tell me. She was my best friend and she didn’t tell me.”

“Shh,” Oz tried to comfort, placing a kiss on her forehead and holding her as she cried for trust lost.

“How could she do that to me?” Her voice was a mere whisper as she spoke.

“I don’t know,” he answered softly, brushing the hair off her face. “Maybe she just wanted you to be happy.”

“How was she supposed to know what would make me happy?” she yawned, exhaustion sweeping over her body.

The question was hypothetical and Oz knew that. He didn’t answer, just continued to hold and comfort his wife, wishing she didn’t have to deal with so much. Within minutes, he felt her breathing even out and knew she had fallen asleep. Opting not to wake her, he just pulled her tighter into his arms and stared up at the stars wondering how all of this was going to work out.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

“Willow,” Angel groaned in exasperation and grabbed the bottle of gin before it tipped over and fell to the floor.

The redhead was totally wasted. After seeing Buffy walk off arm and arm with Oz from the toy store, Willow disappeared. One minute she’d been standing right next to him and the next she was gone. He searched for her for two hours before deciding to return to the hotel. When he knocked on the door to her room Angel was surprised to see her answer holding a half empty bottle of vodka and eyes red from crying

The vodka was long gone now, replaced by gin. He honestly had no idea how Willow was still standing upright. One thing for sure, she was going to have a hell of a hangover in the morning and would most likely be puking her guts out at some point. He knew he should stop her, and had actually tried to, but when he’d taken away the second bottle of vodka she reached into a bag and pulled out the gin. So he figured if he couldn’t stop her from drinking he could at least make sure she didn’t hurt herself.

“Here,” she slammed an expensive crystal glass down on the counter in front of him. “Hava drink.”

“No thank you,” he pushed the glass away.

“Yer reeeally a mood killer ya know that?” she glared at him, her voice noticeably slurred.

“And you’re drunk.” Angel tried once again to grab the bottle but Willow clutched it tightly to her chest.

“Uh huh,” Willow giggled uncontrollably for a moment before bursting into tears and falling to her knees. The bottle of gin fell carelessly to the ground, spilling onto the floor. “Oh Gods.”

Angel quickly scrambled off the stool he’d been sitting on and ran to the bathroom to get some towels. Willow was still sobbing drunkenly on the ground when he returned. Sighing, he began cleaning up the spilled liquor. Once the spill was mostly dried he went and threw the drenched towels into the sink of the small kitchenette. Before returning to his friend, he stopped to pour her a glass of water

Her sobs had mostly ceased by the time he got back and not knowing what else to do he simply sat down on the ground and leaned back against the couch. He didn’t blame Willow for drowning her sorrows in booze. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but he could understand it. If he thought it would dull the pain he would do the same. But in the end it wouldn’t solve anything.

Willow hiccupped and took the glass of water from Angel. She drank nearly the whole glass in one gulp and set it down next to her. The throbbing in her head was starting to make the room spin so she clumsily laid down on the floor, pressing the side of her face onto the soft carpet.

“T-tell me is n-not true,” her broken words came out barely audible.

“I can’t.” Angel lowered his eyes and looked at Willow.

“B-but....but they...they,” she choked back a sob. “They can’t b-be...m-married.”

He wanted to tell her it wasn’t true. He would give anything to be able to tell her that, but he couldn’t. Sure he didn’t have confirmation that Buffy and Oz really were married, but even he couldn’t deny the obvious signs. They were out together, a child was with them, and they were both wearing wedding rings. There really wasn’t any other conclusion that could be drawn from that information.

Willow’s extreme reaction to the news was a bit shocking to him. She and Oz had long been separated. He didn’t know all of what happened between them in Sunnydale years ago, but he did know she had been in more than one serious relationship since he left and had been happy. Her drunken pleas made him wonder if she still had feelings for the quiet musician despite how long they’d been apart. He supposed her situation with Oz wasn’t really all that different than what was between him and Buffy. In that case, he had no trouble understanding why she was so upset.

“We don’t know for sure,” he tried to ease her pain, knowing his words were as close to a lie as they could be.

“They are and you know it!” she practically snarled, shooting up from her spot on the floor. The quick movement made her groan and nearly fall back down.

Rolling his head around in an attempt to loosen his muscles, Angel thought for a minute before speaking. “It’s her life, Willow. She can do whatever she wants.”

“But...b-but why Oz?” Willow buried her head in the cradle of her arms.

“She deserves to be happy,” Angel answered quietly. He really did mean his words, but it hurt more than he could describe to think about her with someone else. “Maybe he makes her...happy. If so then who are we to complain?”

Willow frowned at the rational statement. How could he be so calm about everything? She knew he’d spent years regretting what happened between him and Buffy in LA. She would have thought he’d be just as upset as she was right now. Then again, Angel was the master of hiding his emotions. It was entirely possible he was just as torn up as she was. If so, then he was doing a damn good job at keeping them in.

Her mind couldn’t seem to wrap itself around the concept of Buffy and Oz...together. Sure they’d been friends back in high school, but really they hardly ever talked. She just couldn’t picture them as a couple. But that was obviously what they were. She never admitted it to anyone, but Oz still held a large piece of her heart even after all these years. So seeing him with Buffy threw her quite a bit.

The two sat in silence after Angel last spoke, neither knowing what else to say. After a few minutes passed, Angel thought he heard something so he looked up and found Willow sound asleep on the floor where she’d been sitting. Shaking his head, he pushed himself up off the ground and bent over to pick Willow up. She never even stirred as he carried her into the bedroom and laid her on the bed. Thankfully, she was already in what looked to be pajamas because he had no intention of changing her.

Returning to the living room, he contemplated going next door to the room he’d rented but he didn’t like the idea of leaving Willow alone after she’d consumed so much alcohol. Instead he looked dejectedly at the fairly small couch and sighed. He kicked off his shoes laid down on the short sofa, his legs hanging off the end. Within minutes he was sound asleep, the exhaustion of the day’s events taking over his system.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

A shrill ringing sound awoke Angel late the next morning. His sleep addled brain tried to ignore the noise, but eventually he rolled over and opened his eyes. It took a moment to acclimate himself to his surroundings before he realized that the ringing was coming from the cell phone in his pocket. Digging around in his pants he managed to pull the device out and clicked the talk button.

“Hello?” he answered, his voice slightly groggy.

“Angel?” an all to familiar female spoke on the other end.

“B-Buffy?” Angel leapt from the couch the second he realized who had called him.

“Hi,” she said tentatively.

“How’d you get my number?” he asked in shock, then kicked himself for saying something so stupid.

“I...I called Giles. He gave it to me.” She didn’t even want to get into the conversation she’d had with her former Watcher whom she hadn’t spoken to in almost five years. Seemed she was having to confront all of the ghosts from her past at once.

“Oh, okay...,” he trailed off. He had no idea what to say. Buffy calling him was something he had not in the least expected.

“I, um...I called because I guess we should...talk,” she stated awkwardly. Honestly, she still wasn’t convinced this was the right thing to do.

“Buffy-.”

“Angel...just....listen to me for a second.” Her sigh could be heard through the phone. “I think we need to talk. Not that I really want to, but it would be best for both of us. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but I called to give you my address if you decide you do want to. Talk, I mean.”

“Uh...okay. Sure,” he mumbled, feeling a bit stunned.

“Okay.” She gave him her address and then paused for a second. “Are you going to come?”

“I don’t...maybe,” he stumbled over his words. Her proposal to talk caught him by surprise and he didn’t really know what he wanted to do.

“Fine. I’ll be home the rest of the day if you decide you want to come. Bye.” She hung up before he could say anything else.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

“What’d he say?” Oz asked as he walked back into the living room in his and Buffy’s house.

“Not much.” Buffy ran a hand through her long hair and leaned back against the couch.

“Is he gonna come?” He took a seat next to her.

“Don’t know,” she shrugged, leaning her head on his shoulder. “He didn’t say.”

“You sure you don’t want me to stay here?” He’d offered to be there when she talked to Angel, but she told him it was probably better if he wasn’t there. She was mostly likely right. It worried him, though.

“Yeah. I’m sure,” she repeated what she told him earlier. “Plus you have stuff to do down at the shop.”

“I can miss it. No big deal if I do,” Oz reminded her again.

“No, then you’ll be behind for the rest of the week.” Buffy was somewhat torn on if she wanted Oz to stay for her confrontation with Angel. On one hand, she wanted his support, but on the other she knew it was best for her to talk to Angel alone.

“Okay. Call me if you need me though,” he told her, standing up from the couch.

“I will,” she promised him.

“Good luck,” he bent down and kissed her cheek.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 6 – non-B/A version
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Angel stared out the window of the cab as it drove out of New Orleans and into one of its suburbs. He watched the terrain turn from busy city to comfortable residential neighborhoods, all the while wondering whether he was doing the right thing by going and talking to Buffy. Something inside his mind told him he wasn’t going to like what she had to say. He wanted to believe that things would go well and that maybe, just maybe, she’d come back to him, but instinct told him this conversation would not end well.

As the taxi screeched to a halt, Angel was pulled from his thoughts. He looked up to find the vehicle stopped in front of a medium-sized two story house with a one car garage, a lush green yard, and many brightly colored flowers lining a flagstone walkway. It was quaint, and peaceful, and exactly the type of place he always pictured Buffy living in. The only thing missing was a white picket fence.

A cough from the driver reminded him that he needed to get out of the car so he quickly pulled out some money and paid before stepping out into the bright midday sun. His steps faltered as he went to walk up to the house. He was suddenly unsure about what he was doing. Could he really walk in there and face Buffy? Was he really ready to hear whatever it was she wanted to tell him? He supposed he didn’t have a choice now. He was already at the house. Gathering up every ounce of courage he had, Angel finally approached the front door.

The knock came as only a mild surprise to Buffy. She knew immediately who was on the other side of the door. She wasn’t expecting anyone else to stop by so the only person it could be was Angel. Smoothing out a non-existent wrinkle in her calf length, blue floral skirt, she walked into the foyer and opened up the front door.

“Angel,” she nodded in greeting.

“Buffy. Hi,” Angel tried to smile, shifting nervously on his feet.

“Come in,” she stepped back and gestured for him to enter.

“You can, umm, go into the living room. I have some water boiling for tea so I’ll, uh, be right back.” Buffy hated babbling, but being around Angel made her uncomfortable.

“Okay, thanks,” he looked down, noticing Buffy anxiety. Once she walked away from him, he entered the living room.

The sight that greeted him made his heart twist. The room reeked of family and love. Pictures eyed him from every corner, almost mocking him. Despite the desire not to see the images, Angel found himself wandering around the room looking at each one. They were all of Buffy, Oz and their child: a family portrait, lazy days at a park, holidays, and every other pose imaginable. And in each one the subjects were smiling and happy.

Hearing Buffy reenter the room, he turned around thankful for the interruption of his perusal of their family photos. She carefully set a tray with a tea pot, cups, and accessories down onto the coffee table and then eyed him for a moment. Saying nothing, she simply sat down on one of the chairs next to the couch. He followed her lead and sat opposite her.

“You have a nice house.” He avoided looking into her eyes as he spoke.

“Thank you,” she smiled, but Angel could tell it was forced.

“How long have you lived here?” he proceeded with the generic conversation.

“We bought the house about three and a half years ago,” Buffy answered as she poured herself a cup of tea. “Want some?”

“No, thank you,” he declined the drink.

Buffy sat back against the chair and took a sip of her tea. “So I suppose you want to know how all this,” she motioned to her surroundings. “Happened.”

“You don’t have to tell me.” Angel tried to casually glance at her, attempting to decipher her mood. Her face was shuttered, though, giving him no idea as to what she was thinking.

“No, it’s okay. I guess it’s as good a place as any to start.” Buffy set her cup back down on the coffee table and then crossed her legs.

“Okay,” he agreed and sat further back in the chair, preparing himself for a story he knew he probably would rather not hear.

“Good.” Buffy’s hands fidgeted, tracing the seam of her shirt. “I, uh, know you’ll probably want to ask questions, but please let me get everything out and then you can say...whatever you want to say.”

Angel nodded instead of responding verbally. Their eyes met and held for just a moment before Buffy broke the gaze and looked down at her hands. She took a few deep breaths as she pulled all of her thoughts together in her head. When she felt as prepared as possible, she looked back up, though avoided looking directly at Angel.

“I’ll start, I guess with how I ended up here,” she began the story of the last five years of her life. “I left the hotel that day in LA and then wandered the streets for hours in a total daze. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I couldn’t go back to my room because I knew someone was likely there waiting for me, and I didn’t want to go back home. Somehow I ended up at an ATM taking out all my money and then at a bus station.”

“I got on the first available bus which ended up taking me to Las Vegas of all places.” The laugh that followed was not a happy one. She shook her head and went on. “Neat place. Somewhere I could get lost, which is what I wanted to do, but it was too close to LA. I stayed the night there and then got on the next available bus which eventually took me to San Antonio.”

Her nose wrinkled at the memory. “Not my kind of place. I missed the mindless crowd of Vegas and realized I wanted to go somewhere like that. When I went back to the bus station I saw one heading to New Orleans and it just seemed to call to me. So I bought a ticket and came here.”

She stopped to take a sip of her tea, licking her lips afterwards in a manner that made Angel bite back a groan. “The next couple months were a bit of a blur. I kind of...,” she paused and a hand nervously reached up to run through her hair. “I kind of went a little nuts. I spent every night in clubs and bars, dancing and drinking till dawn and then sleeping through the days.”

“I’m sorry,” Angel mumbled, his guilt clearly evident.

Buffy acted as if she never heard him speak and continued. “Oz says it was a combination of what happened and some sort of repressed youth thing. Anyways, I went on like that for a while. Then one night I was at a club and ran into Oz. Literally ran into him. And we just started hanging out.”

A minute passed while Buffy said nothing. Angel could tell she was thinking about something. He wanted to ask questions. He wanted to know more, but he wasn’t sure how responsive she would be. So he too remained silent, waiting for her cue.

“That’s how I ended up here,” Buffy finally settled on saying.

“A-and your...son?” he asked the foremost question on his mind.

Her lips pursed at the subject. She wanted to tell him it was none of his business, but she quickly realized she had no reason to hide anything. This was her life and she wasn’t ashamed of any of it especially not her son or her marriage.

“His name is Jared, which I guess you already know. He’ll be four years old soon.” A brilliant smile lit up her face, one that made Angel incredibly envious. “He’s a little darling. Right now he’s with Oz’s parents.”

“So you and Oz are...,” Angel couldn’t make himself say the final word.

“Married?” Buffy supplied for him, her voice even and calm. “Yes.” She wasn’t going to say more, but the look in his eyes made her volunteer the rest. “We’ve been married for three and a half years.”

“And since I know you’ve already done the math, yes Jared was born before we were married.” She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward slightly as she realized full disclosure was probably the best route. “Which means, obviously, that Oz and I were together beforehand.”

Angel’s eyes closed, little pinpoints of hurt stabbing at his heart with the knowledge of Buffy with someone else. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“No. I think it’s best if I do.” Her eyes studied him for a minute before revealing the last bit of her life he was unaware of. “Oz and I were hanging out a lot. It was nice to have someone familiar to be around, and we just sort of...connected...I guess because of our pasts.”

“He had a party at his apartment one night. We were pretty drunk by the time everyone left, and then we started talking about everything...Sunnydale, him leaving, Willow, you, what happened in LA...and we just got totally wasted,” she paused, almost as if for dramatic effect. “I woke up the next morning in his bed. Naked.”

The last part made Angel cringe. He really didn’t need those details. She hadn’t said it yet, but Angel had a strong idea of what was to come next. And he didn’t want to hear it; didn’t want to know that she’d turned to someone else because of his actions; didn’t want to know that a child had been the result. He didn’t want to know any of it. Unfortunately, Buffy had no thoughts of stopping.

“Neither of us were even sure anything happened until a month and a half later I realized I was pregnant,” she told him almost nonchalantly.

“You’d think, considering that situation,” she gave an unexpected chuckle. “That I’d have totally freaked, but I was happy. Ecstatic even. I don’t know why, but when I saw the plus sign on the test I just...smiled.”

“I...I’m happy for you,” Angel forced a smiled. The comment was out of place, and he knew it.

“Thanks.” Buffy shifted in her chair, suddenly feeling more awkward than she had been. “I didn’t know what to do at first. I knew I wanted the baby, but because of how it happened...it was...weird.”

“When I told Oz, though, he was just as happy as I was.” The smile on her face told Angel she was recalling a fond memory. “He just got this look on his face, and I knew everything would work out.”

“We talked about it and neither of us regretted it. So we decided to have the baby and see where things led,” she shrugged her shoulders slightly. “A few months after the baby was born we got married and bought this house.”

“Oz owns a music store a few blocks away, and I work in the photo department of the local newspaper,” she finished, her tone telling Angel that her story was complete.

He considered everything she said for a minute, a multitude of thoughts going through his head. In the end he settled for what he wanted to know most. “You’re happy?”

“Very,” Buffy replied in all seriousness.

The steady, honest answer wasn’t quite what Angel expected. Before he could stop himself, the next words were out of his mouth. “What about us?”

“Us?” her eyebrows raised noticeably in shock. She opened her mouth to speak again, then narrowed her eyes in a clear act of anger. “There is no ‘us’, Angel.”

“But I love you.” If she hadn’t been listening intently, she wouldn’t even have heard him.

Buffy’s face softened, but only minutely. “I love you, too, Angel. You’ll always be a part of me. But...,” she closed her eyes momentarily before reopening them and looking directly at Angel. Her next words would be hard, but she had to say them. “It’s too late. It’s just...too late.”

“It’s never too late,” Angel stated determinedly.

“Yes, it is, Angel.” Her eyes conveyed the truth behind her statement. “Too much has happened between us. Too much trust has been lost.”

“How can you say that?” He didn’t mean to sound pleading, but he did. It wasn’t over. It couldn’t be over. He just wouldn’t believe that.

“How can I...,” she snapped at him, anger suddenly rising. “I think the question should be how can I possibly consider even trusting you ever again?”

“You know you can trust me!” he growled at her, his own anger growing.

“Can I?” Buffy stood hastily as she spoke, moving to pace around the room. “I’m supposed to trust someone who continuously has made decisions involving my life without me? I’m supposed to trust you when you can’t even bother to tell me that you’ve turned human or that you’re getting married. Yeah,” she snorted. “That makes it really easy to trust you.”

“I did what I thought was best,” Angel defended himself.

“That’s beside the point,” she glared at him. “We were supposed to have been in a relationship, Angel. That means there were two of us involved. Two people. You and Me. We should have made decisions together. But no, you decided all on your own that you weren’t good enough for me. Maybe you leaving was the right thing to do, but that decision should have been made by both of us.”

“And what about you turning human?” Buffy kept going, finally getting to say all the things that had built up over the years. “What was your reason for not telling me about that? Oh, wait, I remember. I was supposedly off living the good life and you didn’t want to ruin it.”

“I didn’t,” he reiterated his reasons.

“Why is it that people think they can make decisions about my life?” she reached up and squeezed the back of her neck trying to release some of the tension she was feeling. “Shouldn’t it have been my choice? You should have told me. You should have come to me. And if you had and I didn’t want you in my life I would have told you to leave. Even if you didn’t want to be with me when you became human you still should have told me. But no, you chose all on your own to keep it from me. And don’t even get me started on the getting married thing.”

Angel looked down guiltily, understanding for maybe the first time the mistakes he made over the years. “I’m sorry.”

Bristling at the apology, Buffy marched onwards with her tirade. “Do you know I still hoped? All those years after we talked in the cemetery and you asked me about the future I held out hope in the back of my mind that someday things would change and everything that’d kept us apart would go away somehow.”

“I thought...,” she brushed away a stray tear. “I thought that morning in LA that finally...finally we had our chance.”

“We can still have that chance!” Angel nearly shouted at her.

“No, we can’t,” Buffy shook her head definitively. “I’m happy with my life, Angel. I’ve got a husband, and a son, and everything that I ever wanted...that normal life I never thought I’d have. And even if I didn’t...there’s no way I could ever put my faith and trust in you again.”

“So that’s it? You’re just giving up?” He couldn’t believe what she was saying, but in the very back of his mind, he did. Somewhere in his head, he understood and knew Buffy had every right to feel the way she did.

“I’ve accepted my feelings,” she corrected him. “If that’s giving up, then yes, I have.”

Angel felt tears welling in his eyes. In that moment, he knew it was really over and he couldn’t blame her one bit. The blame lay with him. He was the one to put the final nail in their coffin. If he had just gone to her after his Shanshu then they would be the ones married right now. They would have a child together. But he hadn’t, and now she belonged to someone else.

“Do you love him?” he asked, resignation clear in his voice.

“Yes.” Buffy was going to leave it at that, but she suddenly felt the need to say more. “Am I ‘in love’ with him? No, or at least not in the way I was with you. But I do love him, very much. He makes me happy. I trust and respect him, and he trusts and respects me.”

“T-that’s good.” Angel wanted to leave. He wanted to get away from her, and not hear any more about her happy life that wasn’t with him.

“You’re probably thinking it, so I’ll answer before you ask,” she sat back down on the chair she’d abandoned minutes ago. “I don’t feel like I’m settling. We may not have that all-consuming love, but there’s not a thing about my life I would change. I’m happy with my husband, and with my son. I’m happy with my house, and my job. There’s nothing I regret.”

“I...I need to g-go,” he stuttered out, quickly rising from his seat.

Buffy nodded, giving him a conciliatory smile. She felt bad about, well, everything, but she was only being honest. There was nothing wrong with that. She just wished she didn’t have to hurt him in the process. Despite all the pain he caused her, she didn’t have it in her heart to purposely do the same to him. But she needed to be honest with him.

Swiftly, Angel walked to the front door with Buffy following behind him. When he reached door he pulled it open and then turned to face Buffy again. “I hope you remain happy.”

“Thank you.” She placed a sympathetic hand on his arm.

Logic told him not to do it, but he didn’t listen. Slowly, he bent down and placed a feather-light kiss on her lips, remaining there fore only a second before pulling away. “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Angel.” A few tears fell, but she didn’t try to stop them.

As Angel walked slowly down the walkway, Buffy stood in her spot and watched. A small ache echoed in her heart at the sight. They never before said goodbye, but she didn’t regret her choices. She hadn’t lied when she told him she still loved him, and would always love him. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough. There were some things that love just couldn’t conquer.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

~a year and a half later~

“Are you sure you’re up to going in there?” Oz asked, Buffy’s hand in his.

They were currently standing a few feet away from the doors leading into the large ballroom of a hotel in Los Angeles. Since Sunnydale had turned into a giant crater over ten years earlier, the graduating class of Sunnydale High School 1999 never got to have a ten year reunion. It was kind of hard to have a celebration when your whole town was destroyed. Someone, however, decided that the class should have a fifteen year reunion and hold it in Los Angeles. Neither of them particularly wanted to attend, but after much debating, here they were about to go in.

“I’m fine,” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Stop worrying about me.”

“I’ll always worry about you,” he gave her hand a squeeze.

“Me too,” she kissed him lovingly. “All right, let’s go in. The sooner we do this, the sooner we can go home. I miss Jared.”

Inside the ballroom, Angel knew the moment Buffy entered. If he hadn’t seen Willow suddenly grow tense he would have known it by the tingle in his gut. Swiveling his head to the right, he saw her walking hand and hand with Oz toward the registration table. She looked radiant as usual, but that wasn’t what caught his attention; that was held by the immediately obvious bulge around her abdomen. Buffy was pregnant. Again. With Oz. He squeezed his eyes shut and quickly turned away from them.

Why, oh why, had he decided to come to this thing? Well, truthfully, he hadn’t. Willow had dragged him along as her date. Plus, he also felt like he was representing Cordelia. He wondered if she was looking down on him right now. If she was, she was probably scowling at him because he was sitting at the table brooding.

A bark of laughter, Buffy’s laughter, trickled through to his ears. He looked up and found her and Oz standing off to the side talking to a guy he thought was named Devon. Her head was resting on Oz’s shoulder and his arm was around her waist, the hand gently stroking over top of their unborn child. The glowing smile on her face told him she was happy. That’s all he ever really wanted for her. He just wished it had been with him that she’d found that happiness.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

THE END!!  (non-B/A ending)

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

THE FOLLOWING IS THE B/A ENDING!!!

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 5b – B/A version
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Angel didn’t return to his hotel room until nearly midnight. After seeing Buffy and Oz together he just needed some time on his own to think. Willow didn’t want to let him go, but eventually she relented. He had a feeling she needed some time to herself as well. Seeing their former significant others together was not exactly something they could just smile at and go about their business. Angel felt quite the opposite. He wanted to scream, and sulk over it all. Instead he settled for wandering around New Orleans brooding.

No sooner had he walked into his bedroom Angel heard a knock on his door. He knew without even checking that it was Willow. She probably waited up for him to get back. The temptation to not answer the door was strong, but he couldn’t do that to Willow, especially not after the shocking events of early that day. Begrudgingly, he wandered back through the living room and pulled open the door.

“Willow,” he smiled tiredly at her.

“Hey,” she pushed past him and entered the room. Angel could see the redness around her eyes telling him that she had been crying.

“I thought you’d be asleep by now,” he spoke as he closed the door.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep for a week.” When she saw Angel look at her oddly she explained. “I spent all day in a coffee shop. Me plus caffeine is a bad thing.”

“Oh.” Angel went and sat on the comfortable couch in the middle of the room.

“How are you?” she looked directly at him, daring him to lie.

“Been better,” he shrugged, not particularly wanting to have this conversation, but knowing it was inevitable.

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Willow sat and curled up in one of the room’s matching chairs. “I. uh, did some digging around on the ‘net.”

Angel frowned and wondered what she meant by that. What could she have possibly been researching on the internet that she would want to tell him about? Just as he was about to ask her what she was looking up, Willow supplied the information for him.

“I found a record of their marriage certificate.” The words were spoken softly, but Angel clearly heard them. “Buffy and Oz really are married.”

“Oh.” He had already suspected that, but to hear confirmation made the pain hurt even worse.

“Yeah,” Willow agreed, feeling exactly as Angel did.

“H-how long?” he wanted to know.

“According to the stuff I found, they got married four and a half years ago,” she relayed dejectedly.

“Four and a half years?” Angel questioned in shock. He certainly had not expected that answer. If that information was correct then it meant Buffy married Oz not long after their encounter in LA. She sure moved on quickly after being so upset with him about his marriage.

“Yeah.” She knew what he was thinking. The same thing occurred to her. “I found their address too. Looks like they live in a suburb outside of New Orleans.”

“Where?” There were questions to ask, and he intended to get some answers.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

The early morning sun felt good on Buffy’s back as she toiled around absentmindedly in the small flower garden in front of the house she shared with Oz. Gardening wasn’t particularly one of her strong suits, but it was relaxing and blessedly normal. And it also gave her time to think. Seeing Angel again after so many years, and after he had broken her heart, was plaguing her thoughts constantly. She never expected to see him again. Part of her actually hoped she never would.

Buffy sighed and ran a hand over her forehead not caring at all that she probably just got a huge smudge of dirt on her face. She didn’t want to think about Angel and she didn’t want to think about their encounter yesterday. Why did her life always have to be so damn complicated? For once, couldn’t things just be normal, and stay normal? No, she supposed not, her life seemed destined to be one big mess after another. And Angel reappearing had the potential to completely mess everything up.

Not for the first time, Buffy was immensely happy that she had Oz. He was so supportive about everything. Right now, he was playing with Jared in the back yard so that she could have some time to herself. As much as she loved and adored her son, there were times when she needed to be alone. Oz seemed to have sensed that and took Jared to play on the swing-set so she could brood under the guise of gardening.

A shadow fell across the area she was working on, and without looking up, she spoke. “Can you hand me the hose?”

Buffy reached up her hand blindly and felt the nozzle placed onto her palm. “Thanks, Oz.”

“Last time I checked, my named wasn’t Oz,” a deep voice spoke from the direction of the shadow.

The hose that had been in Buffy’s hand slipped and dropped to the ground, landing on the handle and shooting a small spray of water at her unexpected guest. Cringing over what she realized she just did, Buffy looked up hoping to not find what she knew she would. And she was right. There stood Angel, using his sleeve to wipe the droplets of water off his face.

“Hello to you, too,” he let out an unsure laugh.

“Oh my God! I’m so sorry.” Buffy jumped to her feet feeling like the biggest moron on the planet.

“That’s okay,” Angel shrugged, wondering what he was supposed to say now that he was standing right in front of Buffy.

“H-how did you find me?” Buffy babbled nervously, realizing that he shouldn’t have known where she lived.

“It wasn’t hard to find you once I knew what I was looking for, Mrs. Osbourne,” his tone suddenly became accusing.

Sensing the change in the direction of the conversation, Buffy grew angry. “Well, you’ve found me, and now you can leave.” She stepped around him and started toward the front porch of the house.

Not about to let her get away, Angel reached out and grabbed her arm, halting her steps. “You can’t keep running away, Buffy.”

“~I~ can do whatever the Hell I want to do!” she wrenched her arm out of his grasp.

“I didn’t come here to fight, Buffy,” Angel sighed and ran a hand through his hair. This was not starting off the way he hoped it would. Yes, he wanted answers, but he didn’t want to get into a big confrontation with her.

“Then what did you come here for?” she questioned, facing him completely for the first time.

“We need to talk,” he began gently. “I think there are things we need to say to each other.”

Buffy studied him for a long, silent minute, considering his words. She knew he was right. They did need to talk, but the question was whether or not she wanted to. This conversation would in all likelihood lead to things coming out that she didn’t think she was ready to deal with. No good could come from a ‘gab session’ with her ex-lover, but she could tell by the look in his eyes that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

“Fine,” she grumbled in annoyance and then headed up the stairs. “Well, are you going to come in or what? I’m not going to ‘talk’ on my front porch where all the neighbors can see.”

Stomping through the doorway, not even bothering to show Angel in, she continued past the foyer and into the living room. Before Angel even finished closing the front door, Buffy had practically thrown herself down onto the couch. When he finally did manage to find her, she was laying half on the couch with her left arm covering her eyes. She looked so damn cute and Angel just wanted to stride over there and....but no, he certainly couldn’t do that. Instead, he walked quietly over to one of the chairs and sat down. After several minutes of silence, he cleared his throat, hoping to catch her attention.

“Usually talking involves opening your mouth and speaking,” he said when she made no move to acknowledge his presence.

“You’re point?” she replied without removing her arm from her eyes.

“Buffy-.”

“Where’s your WIFE, Angel?” Her hardened voice interrupted him before he could say anything else. With this she finally uncovered her eyes and sat up on the couch.

Angel looked down guiltily knowing she had every right to be angry with him over that. “At home with her husband probably.”

“I don’t mean to sound like a blonde but...huh?” Buffy narrowed her eyes as she looked at him, trying to figure out what game he was playing.

“We’ve been divorced for over three years,” he told her with no emotion whatsoever in his voice.

“Oh...well...I’m sorry,” she bumbled over her words. The last thing she thought he’d say was that he was now divorced, and for so long. Over three years. That would mean they had been married for less than two.

“I’m not.” The serious tone as he spoke shocked her slightly. “We never should have gotten married in the first place.”

“I’m sure you’re...ex-wife...would love to hear that.” Buffy looked at him in disdain.

“She knows it and agrees.” He noted Buffy’s obvious surprise at the statement, but said nothing to explain yet. “Buffy, there are a few things I need to say and I’d like you to listen to me.”

“Fine,” she agreed even though she wanted to tell him to get out and leave her alone.

“First of all, I’m sorry.” She wanted to scowl at his apology, but there was a genuineness to his voice that stopped her so she kept listening.

“I’m sorry,” he continued, making sure to look directly at her. “For not telling you about my redemption and for not....for not telling you that I was getting married. You deserved to know. I should have told you.”

Buffy wanted to say so many things in response, but instead she settled for “thank you.”

Angel nodded at her small concession. “I know it doesn’t change things, and probably doesn’t mean much, but I really am sorry.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Instantly, she hated the fact that her voice wavered as she spoke.

“Because I’m stupid,” he stated only half joking. “Honestly? I just...I don’t know. I kept in touch with Willow and she was always telling me how well you were doing, that you had a great job, and were happy. I just didn’t want to come along and mess up everything you’d worked hard for. I know how much you always wanted a life like that.”

“Shouldn’t I have had some say in what did and didn’t happen in my life?” That was her biggest problem with all of it. She was so tired of everyone else deciding what was and wasn’t good for her.

“Yes,” he answered with one word.

“Well I’m glad you know that,” she snapped at him then forced herself to calm down. “We should have talked about it just like we should have talked when you decided to leave me back in Sunnydale, just like-.”

Buffy never got to finish her train of thought as the phone rang and interrupted her. “Excuse me,” she stood up and left the room to answer the phone.

While she was gone, Angel used the opportunity to look around the room to get an idea of the place Buffy lived in with her husband. The furniture was pretty standard, nothing too ritzy or too shabby. A large window in the front let a fair amount of natural light in. The walls were painted a soft peach and everything else in the room drew off that color. On various side tables and the mantle several pictures resided. Most of them were of Buffy and her son, and a few with Oz in them too. He was surprised to see one picture off in the corner of the Scooby gang; Buffy, Willow, Oz, Xander, Cordelia, and Giles. It made him happy to see that she hadn’t completely forgotten her past life.

A few minutes later, Buffy reentered the room carrying a tray with tea on it. “Sorry about that,” she half smiled and set the tray down on the coffee table in front of him.

“What the Hell?!?” Angel suddenly growled and grabbed her arm.

Buffy knew immediately what he saw. She tried to wrench away from him, but his grip was too strong. “Let go, Angel. Please.” The last word was whimpered.

He said nothing, only stared wide-eyed at what he saw. There were a multitude of scars on her inner arm around the elbow. He’d seen enough in all his years alive to know what they looked like. Turning over her arm, he saw matching marks on the back of her hand. He was horrified to find similar scars on her other arm as well.

“What did you do to yourself,” he whispered, his heart breaking.

“I-it’s not what you think.” He could hear the tears in her voice, and when he trailed his gaze up towards her face he saw yet another mark.

This one was circular and looked old. It was around her collarbone and was somewhat hidden by the strap of her tank top. The skin was slightly discolored and it was barely noticeable given the tanned skin surrounding it. His shaking fingers lifted, pushed the strap to the side, and touched the faded scar. He wanted to press a kiss to the once-wound, lave it with his tongue and ease whatever horror had caused it, but he knew he couldn’t.

“What happened?” he asked when he finally managed to find his voice.

“There’s more,” Buffy said instead of explaining.

He watched as she sat back down on the couch and raised the lower hem of her shorts to reveal another circular scar on her outer thigh a few inches below her hip. Once he’d seen that, she moved her hands to lift the bottom of her tank top and push down the top of her shorts slightly and he saw another mark except this one was a line maybe three or four inches long.

Before he knew what he was doing, Angel had dropped to knees in front of her and took her hands into his. “Oh Gods, Buffy. What happened?”

Tears fell from Buffy eyes as her mind drifted back to events she would rather forget. She knew, though, that the memories from over four years earlier would never leave her. That period in her life was one of the worst ever. She was lucky to have survived. Death had been knocking at her door once again, but by some miracle, she lived, and for that she would always be grateful.

“I-I...about...,” she stuttered tensely, trying to force herself to talk about something she routinely pushed out of her mind. “About two months after I found out I was pregnant, I started having nightmares.”

“What kind of nightmares?” He knew from experience what kind of dreams Slayers tended to have, and then add that onto a pregnancy...the thought made him shudder.

“Nothing concrete...pain, and blood...just feelings, but no a-actual images,” Buffy began the horrible story. “They just kept coming once or twice a week and I knew something bad was going to happen.”

“Just past the eighth month of my pregnancy, I had to go to the market downtown. It was dark, maybe around nine o’clock,” she went on, tears still falling. “I got the stuff I needed and got in line to pay. T-two guys wearing masks burst through the f-front door.”

Angel’s face grew pale as he listened. A sinking feeling in his gut told him what happened next.

“T-they demanded all the m-money. I....I don’t...” She reached up to push her hair off her face. “I guess someone t-tried to...to jump one of the guys...then the other one s-shot him. I-I guess I was in s-shock because I dropped my basket with my groceries in it. It made so much n-noise....and one of them j-just turned toward me and...and fired.”

“Oh, Buffy,” Angel’s voice broke as he spoke. Once again he raised his fingers to touch the scar on her collarbone, knowing now that it was from a bullet.

“I was hit twice,” she explained softly. “My s-shoulder and my thigh. B-but I must have fallen a-afterwards. I don’t really remember what exactly h-happened. The doctors said it was probably the shock of bullet wounds and the fall that m-made me go into labor.”

“They delivered the baby by caesarean. He was almost a month premature.” Her eyes drifted up to a photo of Jared on the side table by the couch. “They said he barely survived, b-but I don’t know all of what happened. I was in a coma for two weeks afterwards.”

“I started hemorrhaging following the caesarean, and combined with the bullet wounds it was too much for my body. The doctors don’t know how I survived at all with the amount of blood I lost,” she looked down to where Angel’s fingers were resting on her arm, finally gaining some control over her emotions.

“And these?” he questioned, rubbing his thumb over the marks on her inner elbow.

“They’re from all the IV’s and stuff.” She too touched the marks that were a permanent reminded of her experience. “I there was just too my stress on my body at once and my Slayer healing powers couldn’t heal them or the others.”

“And your son? He is all right?” Angel assumed he was since he met the boy the day before.

“Yeah. He has shown no effects from it at all. I think he inherited some of ou-...my strength,” she nervously tore her eyes away from Angel.

“I’m glad. He seems like a wonderful son,” Angel spoke genuinely, clasping his hands around Buffy’s.

“Yeah, he is. I don’t know what I’d do without him, and Oz has stepped in and been a wonderful father,” she said without thinking about her words.

“Stepped in?” he repeated in confusion.

Buffy looked away guiltily, kicking herself for her slip. She wasn’t ready to talk about this. She wasn’t ready to tell him. He was going to hate her for what she’d kept from him for so many years. But it was too late now. It couldn’t wait any longer.

“Oz isn’t Jared’s father,” she told him in a barely audible voice.

The news stunned him. Never in a million years had he expected to hear that. “Who is?” he asked though it occurred to him he had no right to.

Forcing herself to raise her eyes back to Angel, she took a deep breath for what she was about to say. “You are.”

She jumped as Angel dropped her hands and staggered backwards, almost knocking the table over. The hurt and betrayal in his eyes was like a knife to her heart. She’d kept the knowledge that he had a son from him for almost five years. More times than she could count she tried to make herself call him, but she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t face him after everything that happened between them. And now it was all coming back to bite her in the ass.

“H-he’s my...,” he mumbled more to himself than Buffy, and then turned an accusing glare in her direction. “How could you?!?”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered brokenly, shrinking under his heavy gaze.

“Five years...and I never...” Angel’s fist clenched at his sides, everything beginning to hit him at once; the pictures of the boy, his son, scattered around the room; a stuffed dog sitting on the window sill; a child’s laughter coming from outside that he hadn’t even noticed before. All of it closed in on him and his fury grew. He had to get out of the room, out of the house. He couldn’t handle it all so he turned and stormed out without saying a word to the sobbing woman on the couch.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^
Part 6b – B/A version
^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

For nearly ten minutes, Buffy stood staring at the door to Willow’s hotel room. It had taken her five minutes to get up the nerve to knock on the door to Angel’s room and she didn’t know whether to be ecstatic or annoyed that he didn’t answer. So now she was going to try Willow’s door. A small part of her, ok so a large part, was relieved to find out that Angel and Willow weren’t sharing a room. She didn’t want to think of her ex-lover and former best friend together.

That thought sobered her already dismal mood. Just suspecting that Angel and Willow were more than friends send pangs of jealousy to her heart and she couldn’t image what they were feeling knowing that she and Oz were married. The spiteful streak inside of her snickered and said they deserved what they got, but still, she didn’t want to purposely hurt them. She didn’t quite have it in her to set out to intentionally cause harm to someone, especially those that had been so important to her.

So now she found herself standing in front of Willow’s door hoping to talk to Angel. She didn’t blame him for walking out on her yesterday. She had done almost the same thing years ago after their encounter in LA. It seemed like one of them was always walking away when things got too tough. But she didn’t blame him. He had every right to be angry with her for keeping the fact that he had a son from him for so long.

On the other hand, Buffy had every right to defend and explain her actions. She knew what she had done was wrong, at least on some level, but she had her reasons. And Angel needed to hear them. Where things went from there, she had no idea. Whatever happened, she was aware that her life was about to change. Whether that change was going to be bad or good, she had absolutely no idea.

Finally halting her cowardice, Buffy raised her hand and knocked on the plain white hotel door to Willow’s room. Much to her chagrin, it took only a moment for the redhead to answer. The look on her face told Buffy that she was only mildly surprised to find her there, but for a long minute neither had the ability to say anything. Except for the unexpected meeting two days earlier, they had not spoken in five years and the situation was awkward to say the least.

“Um, hi, Willow,” Buffy managed to speak at last.

“Buffy,” Willow greeted her somewhat coldly.

“I’m, uh, looking for Angel. Do you know where he is?” She shifted uncomfortably on her feet as she tried to avoid the redhead’s penetrating gaze. This would have been so much easier if Angel had been in his room and she hadn’t have had to go asking Willow where he was.

Instead of answering, Willow simply opened the door wider and nodded her head in the direction of what Buffy assumed was the living room. Peaking inside, Buffy could see Angel sprawled out on the couch staring straight at her. His face was completely masked of any emotion so she had no idea what he was feeling. Given that, she didn’t know if she should enter the room, wait for him to come to her, or just turn and walk away.

“Can I come in?” she settled for asking.

Willow hesitated at first, debating about asking Angel, then shrugged. “Sure.”

Buffy entered cautiously, wondering what exactly she was supposed to do next. Angel was of no help. He neither moved nor made any attempt to speak to her as she stood just inside the living room. His unwavering stare was a bit unnerving. It felt like he was staring straight into her soul.

“What?” she snapped at him after he continued to stare.

“I see you found me,” he stated more calmly than she would have expected him to, and not really answering her question.

“Wasn’t hard.” She avoided looking at him and wandered slowly around the room.

“And you’re here because?” He sat up slightly and crossed his arms over his chest, looking at her expectantly.

“Because we’re not done talking,” she stated firmly, turning to face him.

“What? Got more secrets you want to lay on me?” Angel snapped harshly at her.

“Um, maybe I should g-go,” Willow interrupted, reminding them both she was still in the room.

“No,” Buffy waved her hand. “You might as well stay. At least to hear what I have to say.”

Angel made no move to say yes or no so Willow went and sat in one of the chairs. “Okay.”

Now that she had Angel’s, and also Willow’s, attention, Buffy had no idea how to start what she needed to say. Maybe she should have written herself a script or something, or at least some note cards with all the main points she needed to get to. She hadn’t really thought about what she would say. She’d just gone straight to the hotel once Oz had managed to find where they were staying via the computer. Glancing at Angel, she knew she needed to say something.

“I’m sorry.” It was the first thing that came to her mind, and was probably the most important thing to get out. “I should have told you about Jared.”

“You’re damn right you should have!” he shouted at her, coming to a full sitting position on the couch. “We didn’t even have any idea where you were!”

“You just ran off, Buffy,” Willow butted in, momentarily sidetracking the Jared-issue. “How could you just disappear and not tell anybody where you were?”

Buffy looked down in guilt. She knew it had been wrong to do what she did, but still she had her reasons. “It’s my life. I can do with it whatever I want.”

“Great, that’s real mature,” Angel snapped back at her. “What about all the people who care about you? Don’t you think they were worried?”

“So I should have told the ‘people who care about me’ where I was?” she enunciated slowly. “Right. Look who’s talking Mr-I-Turn-Human-And-Get-Engaged-But-Don’t-Bother-To-Tell-Someone-Who’s-Supposed-To-Be-Important-To-Me!”

“You know why I didn’t tell you!” he growled in frustration over the issue.

“Oh, right. I was off living the ‘good life’ according to Willow.” Sarcasm rolled off her voice as she spoke about their perceptions of her. “How do you know that was even true?! You never bothered to even call and see!”

“I could say the same for you!” he argued in response. “It’s not like you picked up a phone either to see how things were in LA. Maybe I would have told you if you’d have bothered to let me know how you were!”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault you hid things from me?!?” Her eyes were nearly bulging over the fact that Angel was placing blame on her. How had this conversation suddenly turned against her? “What good would it have done to call? Was I just supposed to pick up the phone and say ‘Hey Angel, just wanted to let you know I still love you, but it doesn’t matter because nothing’s changed’? Or at least I thought it hadn’t. Little did I know you went and turned human, got engaged and never bothered to fucking tell me!”

“You’re one to talk about hiding things!” Angel’s eyes narrowed over her accusations as he stared hard at her. “Or are you forgetting about the son you never told me about?”

“I told you I’m sorry!” Buffy practically screamed at him, her emotions overflowing.

“You had no right to keep that from me,” he stated definitively. “You should have told me.”

“I know,” Buffy voice dropped to a whisper, conceding defeat on at least that point.

Angel took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. As angry as he was, he didn’t want to argue with Buffy and so far that’s all they had done. “Why didn’t you tell me?” He forced himself to be composed as he spoke this time.

“It’s not a simple answer, Angel.” And it wasn’t. There wasn’t really one single reason why she never told him. She knew that she needed to try to get him to understand, though. So she set her purse down on the counter near the kitchenette and then took a seat on the remaining chair in the living room.

“I’ve got time,” he told her pointedly.

“Okay. I guess...I ended up here in New Orleans a few weeks after I left LA,” Buffy began the complicated tale of her life after leaving LA. “I ran into Oz about a month later at a club. He was doing work on the sound system there and I just needed to get out for a while.”

“We started hanging out. It was just nice to have someone familiar to talk to.” Buffy could see she had both Angel and Willow’s full attention, so she kept going. “About three months after I left Los Angeles I realized I was pregnant. I was in shock. I just didn’t expect it and didn’t know what to do.”

“You could have come to me.” The hurt in Angel’s voice wasn’t easy to miss, but Buffy tried not to let it get to her.

“I know I could have,” she conceded with only a small amount of conviction. “But, Angel, it was only three months after...what happened. I was still so angry with you.”

“So you did it because you were angry with me?” he bit out spitefully.

“No, at least not like you think,” Buffy corrected him. “Yes, I was angry with you, but I was also hurt. I didn’t think I could go to LA and see you with your new life and married to someone else. I just...couldn’t do it.”

Angel was somewhat mollified by her answer, but still did not accept it. “Were you ever going to tell me?”

“I don’t know,” she told him honestly. “Oz told me I should go to you, but I just wasn’t ready. And then the dreams started. They were...they were so horrible. I was completely thrown by it.”

“Everyday I worried and tried to figure out what going on. Everything else just fell into the background.” She knew her reason was only marginally acceptable, but she hoped he would try to understand. “I just knew something horrible was going to happen.”

Willow took this moment to speak up for the first time in a while. “Angel told me what happened, Buffy. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”

“Thank you,” Buffy accepted the sympathetic gesture, knowing that the redhead was being sincere despite the animosity between them.

“I was afraid,” Buffy started again. “That something would happen to me after the baby was born and that it would be left alone. I didn’t want it to have no one...so that’s why I married Oz.”

The gasps came from both of her listeners, but it was Willow who stood up and stared hard at her. “You used him?”

“No, yes...sort of.” Tears were threatening to fall down Buffy’s face once again, but she pressed on. “It was his idea. He saw what the dreams were doing to me and he knew my dreams often turned into something. So he said that he would marry me so that he could be there in case anything happened.”

“Are you saying that...that...,” Angel trailed off and frowned as he tried to ignore the small glimmer of hope he felt inside.

“That Oz and I are married in name only?” Buffy filled in for him, her cheeks becoming wet and hands trembling over the force of the memories. “Yes. He was there for me when I needed it most. He helped me through the recovery, taking care of the baby, and all my doctor’s appointments. I don’t know how I would have made it through without him.”

A multitude of divergent emotions battled inside Angel; anger over her concealment of his son, hurt of her lack of trust in him, jealousy that she went to someone else, and sadness that she’d had to deal with so much she didn’t deserve. It was the latter that seemed to resonate strongest within him. No matter how angry he was over the news of his son, his love for her was beyond reason and before he knew it, he was standing before her, picking her up out of her chair and setting her down on his lap. She didn’t fight the move, nor did she embrace it, just sat there crying into her hands.

“You could have come to me. I would have helped you whether or not I was married,” he cooed softly, tucking her hair behind her ear.

“I know you would have, and I-I wanted to,” Buffy sobbed, resisting the urge to fling her arms around his neck and bury her face against his chest. She wanted to seek comfort in him; let him wipe away the pain, but his actions in LA still rested in the forefront of her mind. “You hurt me, Angel. I’ve nev-...never felt as betrayed as I did that morning in LA. Over and over in my head I kept seeing you in sunlight and hearing you say you were getting married.”

“I’m so sorry, Buffy. I wish I could do it all over again,” Angel cried into her hair, losing the internal struggle over trying to keep himself from crushing her against him.

They sat there for several long minutes and cried in each other’s arms for the mistakes they’d both made. Neither of them even noticed when Willow quietly gathered her keys and left them alone in the room. They were too caught up in the memories of the past and all the pain they seemed to cause each other. It was a release of sorts; a release of all the anger, of all the spite, and every other emotion that was pent up inside of them.

“Why are we always hurting each other, Angel? Why can’t we just be happy?” Buffy’s muffled voice spoke after a while. “That’s all I ever wanted.”

“I don’t know.” He’d wondered the same thing. Nothing between them was ever simple. It seemed as though they were always causing each other pain.

“We’ve really made a mess of things, haven’t we?” she sniffled, swiping at the tears in her eyes.

“Yes, we certainly have,” Angel agreed quietly.

Buffy’s next question came out of the blue and surprised Angel. “Who did you marry?”

The next several hours were spent talking, really talking, for the first time in longer than either of them could remember. Angel held nothing back as he realized that if he had any chance of gaining Buffy’s trust ever again he needed to tell her everything. So he told her about Wolfram & Hart, and about Nina. He explained their relationship and why he married her, and how their marriage deteriorated so quickly. Buffy, for her part, tried to listen with an open mind. She, too, knew that these things needed to be said.

Angel also spoke about his regrets; how he realized he should have talked to her about many things. He told her tearfully about the Forgotten Day and faced her anger head on. He still believed he’d made the right choice, but he now understood that it wasn’t one he should have made alone, just as they should have talked about his decision to leave Sunnydale in the first place. It surprised him when she said she understood the choices he’d made, but that she wished he would have let her have an opinion in it all.

They also spoke of the years since their last meeting in Los Angeles. Angel told of the solitary life he’d lived since the divorce, and Buffy talked more about her arrival in New Orleans and the events of her pregnancy. She spoke lovingly of her son, their son, and Angel greedily absorbed every bit of information about the boy he barely knew.

By the time four hours had passed, both felt as if huge weights were lifted from their shoulders. Over the course of their relationship and the intervening years, so much had been left unsaid; so much done for what one felt was better for the other. Now, all the dirty laundry was being aired, and both would be hard pressed to say it wasn’t a relief. The secrets, the feelings, the sorrow, were now all out in the open. Where they were supposed to go from there, neither knew nor wanted to predict.

A glance at her watch shocked Buffy. She quickly climbed off the couch. “I better go, Oz is probably getting worried.”

“Oh, okay.” Angel was clearly disappointed that she had to leave. Even though they had said so much there was still a lot to talk about, and in all honesty, he just didn’t want her to go.

“Um, would you like to, uh, go with me?” Buffy half babbled, unsure of her words. “I’d like you to meet Jared.”

“Does...does he know about me?” It hadn’t occurred to Angel to ask that before, and now he wondered what her son knew and if he called Oz ‘Daddy’.

“He knows that he has a Father and that Oz isn’t him,” she relayed gently. “I-I told him a little about who you are.”

Angel smiled gratefully that Buffy hadn’t completely pushed him from his son’s life. “Sure, I’d love to go.”

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

A short while later, Buffy and Angel arrived at the house she shared with Oz. They were surprised when they walked out to the backyard to find Willow sitting at the picnic table talking to Oz. Buffy was glad to seem them getting along, though. From many nights of long conversation with her husband, she was well aware that his heart would always belong to his high school girlfriend. Their relationship was not all that unlike the relationship she’d had with Angel and she could understand the love he still had for the redhead.

Angel’s attention was elsewhere. Immediately after entering the backyard, his eyes were trained on the little boy sitting out on the grass, quietly coloring in a coloring book. Buffy could see the tears in his eyes as he looked at the boy as his son for the first time. It was something she’d imagined numerous times over the years. Whenever she tried to convince herself to find him and tell him, she would picture their first meeting in her head. The fantasies, though, were no match for the reality.

With everyone watching, Buffy walked over toward her son and knelt down next to him. “Hey, Jared.”

“Mommy!” he shrieked and threw down his crayons, leaping up to give her a hug.

“Hey, Sweetie,” she smiled at him, preparing herself for what was to come. “I have someone I want you to meet.”

“Who?” Jared looked up and stared wide-eyed at Angel who was a few feet away.

“Do you remember when I told you about your Daddy?” When he nodded, and chewed on his lower lip, a habit so much like her own, Buffy pointed to Angel. “See that man right there? His name is Angel, and he is your Daddy.”

Jared stood, his young mind trying to understand what his Mommy was telling him, and watched as Angel took a few steps toward him. “Are you my Daddy?”

“Yeah,” Angel smiled nervously and knelt down to his height.

Angel let out an ‘oomph’ and fell back on his butt when his son threw himself into Angel’s arms. He was shocked and awed by the action, and wasn’t able to do anything but wrap his arms around the boy and hold him tightly. Tears fell down his cheeks as he looked up to meet Buffy’s eyes and saw that she too was crying. There were no words to express what he was feeling at that moment. He wished he could hold his son forever, but he knew that they had all the time in the world to get to know each other. And he planned on doing just that.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

Later, after spending some time with his son, Angel approached Buffy as she sat at the picnic table alone where she’d been watching them. “I want to be a part of his life.” His statement was direct and to the point. He had no intention of missing out on any more of Jared’s life no matter what was between him and Buffy.

“I know.” Buffy gave a slight nod of her head. His demand was expected, even more so after seeing the two of them together for the first time. It was like she’d always imagined it. “I’m not moving back to LA.”

“What?” he questioned in mild surprise. Part of him had thought that now that they were working things out she’d return home so her announcement caught him a little off guard.

“I like New Orleans, and I have a life here,” she explained to him. “This place has nothing to do with slaying or demons. It’s just about my life. I’m happy here.”

“Oh,” Angel’s shoulders drooped.

“But I want you to be a part of Jared’s life,” she placed a sincere hand on his arm. “No matter what happens between us, he should know his father.”

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^

~a year and a half later~

Oz grinned as he sat on a couch next to Willow in the lobby of their hotel in Los Angeles. The past year and a half had brought about numerous changes for his life as well as Buffy, Angel, and Willow’s. His divorce from Buffy was finalized over a year ago, but they still remained close. For a while, they both remained at their house before they moved on to new phases in their lives.

Shortly after meeting his son for the first time, Angel packed up all his belongings and moved to New Orleans since Buffy wanted to remain there. He bought a large house just down the street from the one Oz lived in with Buffy. The first few months were awkward as they all tried to move on from the past and reacquaint themselves with each other. And for Angel, he had to get to know his son and become a part of his life. Jared accepted him with open arms, for which Angel was immensely happy.

Buffy and Angel used the time to rebuild the trust that both thought had been permanently destroyed over the previous years. Each day was a learning experience as they were allowed, for the first time over the course of their relationship, to be around each other without anything in the way. There was no longer the Slayer/Vampire dichotomy, or disapproving friends and family, or a Gypsy curse with loopholes. For once, they were just two people who just happened to have a complicated and painful past between them. Many days and evenings were spent talking and learning about the person the other had become.

They weren’t together, in the literal sense, those first few months. A relationship was never brought up, but slowly, they fell in love all over again. Actually, it was more like they rediscovered the love that was buried under years of hurt. It took a while for Buffy to allow herself to trust Angel once again, but Oz wasn’t surprised when she came home one day and told him she and Jared were going to move in with Angel. He was sad to see her go, and he would miss her and Jared, but he knew it was for the best. At least they would be close by.

From their long talks, Oz knew forgiving Angel wasn’t something Buffy had done easily. There was always a fear in her mind that something would come along to tear them apart or that past mistakes would be repeated. Buffy wondered more than once if it was something she’d ever be able to get over. She wanted to. She wanted to just fall into his arms and be with him, but the lack of trust kept her from doing it. Over many nights of drawn out discussions with Angel, though, she’d managed to look beyond the past and toward the future. True, she would never forget the years of hurt and distrust, but in the end, their love was too strong for the past to keep them apart.

Six months ago they were married in a small ceremony in the backyard of their house surrounded only by their closest friends. Oz couldn’t have been happier for her. She’d survived so much and now she was finally living the dream she’d had since she was a teenager. The emotional scars of the past were still there, but there came a time when the past had to be left behind and both Angel and Buffy realized that. They had the opportunity for true happiness, and neither was going to let it slip by them.

As for Oz, he and Willow followed Buffy and Angel’s lead and also reunited. Willow’s initial business trip to New Orleans had been successful and she was offered a promotion, which allowed her to move near Oz several months after her trip. Like Buffy and Angel, they too had a past to work through, though theirs wasn’t nearly as painful. But in the end, they both looked to the future. Willow moved into his house not long after Buffy left and they were married four months ago.

Willow and Buffy’s friendship had also been mended, at least somewhat. At Angel and Oz’s urging, the two had sat down to talk about the issues between them. It hadn’t been easy to dredge up the past, but it allowed them to have an understanding that hadn’t been there before. As close as they always thought they were, it seemed as though there was much they hid from each other for a variety of reasons. Both agreed that if they were to try and repair their friendship they needed to make an effort to communicate better. For a while, things were tense between them, but they managed to move on from the past. They were close again now, not as much as before, but at least to an acceptable level.

Now, they were in Los Angeles to attend their high school reunion. Fifteen years was an odd time for a reunion, but after Sunnydale was destroyed no one thought to have a ten year one. Apparently, and enterprising classmate decided to organize a fifteen year get together so they all decided to attend which was why Oz was sitting on a couch in the lobby of the hotel smiling at the sight a few feet away.

“If you two are going to do that all night you might as well have stayed in your room,” Willow teased loudly at Buffy and Angel who were practically necking on another couch.

“Party pooper,” pouted Buffy, tearing herself away from Angel’s lips.

“Should we go in?” Oz nodded toward the door beyond which their classmates were gathering.

“Yeah, Xander is probably waiting for us.” Willow took her husband’s hand and got off the couch.

“All right, all right,” Buffy whined, accepting Angel’s help to stand up.

“Come on, beloved.” Angel wrapped his arms around her from behind, his hands coming to rest over her enlarged belly.

His smile was blinding as he caressed the skin protecting his unborn child, and pressed himself against his wife. Life certainly had a way of working out, and he couldn’t have been happier about it.

^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^


THE END!! (B/A version)