Unforgettable

by Jill

Disclaimer: nope, still don't own them
Pairing: B/A eventually
Category: Romance/Angst/DramaRating: PG-13 (for now)
Summary: completely AU, no vampires, no slayers, no Sunnydale; the characters we love are either cops, lawyers or PIs or their spouses and wives/husbands... and they all live in Los Angeles
Feedback: oh yes, please!!! Connemara.Scarlets@t-online.de
Dedication: For Angie, the bestest BETA


1

Monday, August 14th, Los Angeles

Alexander Harris yawned when he pushed against the swing door marking the entrance to the police department. A check of his watch assured him that he had every right to feel tired. It wasn't even eight o'clock in the morning.

Damn Giles, he thought. Maybe it was a British thing to hold meetings at this early hour.

His eyes still half-closed he almost bumped into someone who was coming from the bathroom. "Riley," he greeted his colleague who was looking wide-awake.

How the guy always managed to be this alert was a mystery for Alexander Harris whom his friends just called Xander. "You're early as well."

"Yeah," the blond replied nodding towards Rupert Giles' office door.

"You're in the meeting too?" Xander raised his brows, "Oh man, must be something big."

Riley merely shrugged and went towards his desk where a steaming cup of coffee was waiting for him. "How's Anya and the baby?" he asked taking a sip.

A grin lit Xander's tired face, "Great. They're both great. The boy's growing so fast," he rolled his eyes, "And he eats... It's a miracle he isn't Schwarzenegger by now. And Anya just loves being a mother."

"Good to hear," Riley sighed and sank into his chair. A frown appeared on his forehead while he was sipping from his coffee again.

The same moment the door swung open again and revealed a striking brunette, dressed in the latest fashion, her makeup perfect, she lifted a hand to remove a strand of hair from her face, and the diamond engagement ring on her finger sparkled in the artificial light. Cordelia Chase was the new assistant District Attorney, and Xander Harris' high school sweetheart, although she sometimes tried really hard to forget about it.

"Good Morning," she addressed the two police officers, one looking at her through narrowed eyes, the other grinning as always.

"Cordy, darling," Xander walked over to her and greeted her with a friendly hug. After their breakup in high school they had been avoiding each other for a couple of years but now they had settled into a comfortable friendship, with Xander being happy in his marriage with Anya and Cordelia just recently engaged to a local PI. Alan Doyle was out of Cordelia's league as far as Xander was concerned, but they seemed to love each other and who was he to judge their choices. "I would say it's nice to see you, but considering the meeting the big boss has been scheduled for eight o'clock, I'm not so sure anymore."

"Relax," she said, placing her briefcase on his desk. "This is just an informal meeting to discuss a case and an addition to the department."

"An addition?" Xander raised a questioning brow.

"What kind of addition?"

She gave him a sweet smile, "Just wait and see," she said mysteriously. "You'll hear soon enough."

"What are we waiting for anyway?" Riley stood and looked towards Giles' office. "He's been on the phone for ages."

Now it was for Xander to narrow his eyes, "When exactly did you get up today?"

"I came half an hour ago and the Captain was already there, already on the phone and he hasn't stopped ever since," the blond answered.

"Morning," came a female voice from the door, sounding a bit breathless. "I'm not too late, am I," her eyes darted to the closed office door and instantly her posture relaxed, "Good. The traffic is absolutely terrible."

"Calm down, Willow," Xander smiled at the redhead who held a laptop under her arm. Willow Rosenberg Osborne was the computer wizard of the department and the wife of his best friend, who was the owner of a specialized computer shop in West Hollywood. Other than that, they knew each other forever.

They'd played together in pampers and Xander had been glad when Willow had joined the force three years ago.

"Calm down?" she parroted. "Do you remember when I was late for a meeting two weeks ago? Giles made me write all the overdue reports in one day. No thank you, not again."

"Well, you've already written them," Xander joked, grinning, "That means he can't really hurt you this time."

"I'd rather not test your theory," she replied.

"Where's Buffy?" she looked around, then her eyes fell on Riley.

"Hey, don't ask me? We're only married, but we don't live with each other anymore, so why should I know where she is?" he shot back, not willing to speak about his wife, especially not to Willow, who was her best friend and confidante.

"She should've dumped you a lot earlier, if you ask me," Cordelia said, her hip resting on the edge of Xander's desk.

"Fortunately nobody has asked you," Riley replied acidly, his coffee suddenly tasting like soap. He knew that everyone in the department held him responsible for the failure that was his marriage.

None of them had any idea what was really wrong with Buffy and he, but nobody was too shy to voice their opinion and that was, 'Riley is a bastard and Buffy a saint.'

So okay, he had been seeing other women during the second half of his four-year marriage to the blonde, but had anyone asked him why he had done it? No. They had just pointed the finger at him, called him unfaithful and that made everything Buffy did all right. Even for Willow and Cordelia, her closest friends, he was the one responsible for the mess, although they at least should know better. But of course, for women, the man was always the one to blame and Riley in particular was such an easy target.

Willow had been somewhat supportive to their relationship, at least at the beginning. Cordelia had called him a loser from the start. She had even refused to be a bridesmaid at their wedding, not willing to participate in something she was certain was doomed to fail. It really didn't help Riley to see that she'd been right. Cordelia Chase was a bitch. Period.

"No but she should have," the brunette said studying her fingernails. "Because if she'd asked me, I would've told her to keep her hands off you. Would've spared her a lot of pain and grief, wouldn't it?"

Riley clenched his hands into fists at his sides, "You think you're so clever, don't you," he hissed through gritted teeth, "I wouldn't be surprised to hear that you did everything to destroy our marriage."

Cordelia let out a short, amused laugh, "There was no need to do anything. You did that all by yourself, my friend. I thought you were a loser," she shrugged, picking up her briefcase when she saw Giles opening the door of his office, "well," she walked towards the Captain and passing Riley she added, "we have the proof of it now, don't we?" Then she reached out a hand to Giles leaving the blond police officer fuming behind her.

*

Rupert Giles looked at the faces assembled in his office. Xander Harris, Riley Finn and Buffy Summers-Finn all police detectives he knew for many years now, Willow Rosenberg, the department computer specialist, indispensable for research, Mike Harmon, a young officer, just out of Police academy, Kate Lockley and Darla Massey, his senior detectives, both highly decorated officers. With both he worked in the field before he became Captain of the department.

And there were more, Frank Williams, more a friend than just a co-worker, David Gadget, another long year police officer, and the most interesting pair of the department, Faith Henley and Drusilla Peterson, who were specialized in illegal substances. He trusted all of them with his life and yet, the Internal Affairs was sure that one of them was foul.

Two weeks ago he'd gotten a call from Brent Harley, chief of the IA, telling him that they had proof that one of his officers had been playing with the bad guys. They had no name so far, but the informant had sworn that it was an officer of Giles’ department and according to Brent Harley the informant was hundred percent reliable. That was also the reason the DA had sent his assistant to this morning’s meeting. Cordelia Chase was familiar with the problem and most likely would be the attorney to pursue the case as soon as they knew who he or she was.

But of course he couldn't tell them that they were suspecting one of them. Nor could he tell them the real reason they would get an addition to their team. "We need to talk," Giles began, looking at each one of them for a second. "The major is concerned about the increasing crime rate in this area," he said and ignored the sniggers coming from his officers.

The crime-rate had been increasing for years and so far nobody had been interested. But it was a good reason to explain the two new officers quickly and so the DA and Internal Affairs had used the story.

"I know, I know," he told them. "Big words and nothing happens, but not this time. It seems that at least someone understands that we need more officers to be more effective. So I wanted to see you in my office to tell you that we’re getting two new colleagues."

Surprised glances and murmurs were the reaction, Buffy looked at him quizzically, sensing somehow that it wasn't it. She was a lovely young woman who in Giles' opinion had married the wrong guy after being hurt by another and had paid dearly for it the last two years. She would hopefully be divorced soon, and even though Giles thought of himself as old-fashioned and liked marriages to last a long time, preferably forever. However in this case it was a blessing that they weren't living in the Middle Ages anymore.

For her and for her alone Giles hadn't been happy with the officers Internal Affairs had chosen to investigate. She'd had enough heartache to last for a lifetime and he wasn't sure she would be too pleased to see the man again who had been the cause for a fair share. But Internal Affairs didn't discuss their choices, and Giles knew he was lucky that they had even bothered to inform him so thoroughly about their plans.

"Do we know them?" Willow finally asked the dreaded question.

"Only one of them. They've been working in New York for the last years, but they'll be moving to L.A. and will start working here on Wednesday."

"Well," the redhead looked at him expectantly, "Who are they? What are their names?"

"Their names," Giles paused shortly, locking his eyes with Buffy's, "are William Stevens and Angel Reardon."

****

Monday, August 14th, NEW YORK

"I still can't believe you agreed to do this," William Stevens rubbed his forehead then reached for the coffee. "I always thought you were so glad to escape L.A. and all the mess there."

Angel frowned, closing the file lying on his desk, "I was. Or rather, I thought I was. But to tell you the truth, I'm not so sure going back is the best idea. But Internal Affairs calls and we go."

"Yeah, straight across the whole damned country. Why on earth did I ever leave England?" William, by everyone known as Spike, a remnant of his school days when he used to wear his hair in spikes, shook his head.

"Beats me," Angel chuckled, leaning back in his chair.

"Yeah, yeah," Spike reached into his pocket for a cigarette then remembered he wasn't supposed to smoke in the department. "Why are we doing this?" he leaned forward, looking his partner straight in the eye. "Tell me, why was Internal Affairs so after you in this?"

"Because I was close to the people there. I know the officers in the department, but I've been away for four years so they think I'm not too close either *and* they see you as a good addition being objective as you don't know a soul there."

"Still, I'm not really looking forward to those California Sunnyboys. New York is bad enough the way it is, but L.A.? If it was for a vacation I might even find the idea tempting, you know, lying on the beach, watching all those long, tanned legs and sorry excuses for a bikini, but this," he shook his head again, "This really sucks."

"You're incorrigible," Angel laughed and tilted his head. "L.A. isn't that bad, you know." Spike had been assigned as his partner shortly after he arrived in New York. Born in England, he had worked for Interpol for two years and got stuck in New York when he fell in love with a girl. The relationship was non-existent anymore but Spike had stayed in the Big Apple, already too addicted to the city. And Angel was glad, because the blond was the best partner he'd ever had and they had saved each other's hide more than once.

Spike smiled at him, then looked suddenly thoughtful, "And you're sure you're up to this?" he asked. "Seeing her again," he clarified. He'd wondered about the way Angel had avoided women, hadn't dated when they'd first met. Not that he dated a lot as it was, but at the beginning the dark-haired officer had been a recluse, a loner, not interested in a relationship at all, had even been distant towards his partner.

Spike had sensed that there had to be reason for his partner's behavior, and for the deep sadness in his eyes. But it had been more than a year before Angel had confided in him about the tragic love story in L.A. that had finally caused him to move to New York, far away from the woman he loved but could no longer have.

"It's been more than four years, Spike," Angel, replied, "Besides, she's happily married, so she's off limits to begin with. And maybe it's time to face all that again, to finally put an end to it and move on."

The blond officer tilted his head and studied his partner and friend for a long while, then he lifted his cup, "Alright then," he said, "L.A. here we come."

********

2

Friday, August 18th, Los Angeles

"There you are." With a heavy groan Willow let herself sink into the wooden chair of "Drinks and Kinks", the favorite snack shop of the whole department. The owner, Cara, a lady in her fifties, was an original, always dressed up as if preparing for an audition, but she served the best food around and the prices were still reasonable, which was practically a miracle. Willow looked at her best friend who was sitting across her, eyeing the redhead with an amused expression. "What?" she asked confused.

"Nothing," Buffy grinned. "You're just adorable if you look all messed up and upset."

"Oh, thank you so much," the redhead replied sarcastically. "I feel so much better now. God, it's hot today," she groaned again, then took her napkin and used it as a fan for some seconds. "What I really need is a shower, but of course no such luck. No, instead I'm stuck with this damned net search. It's amazing I could escape for lunch." She took a deep breath, then smiled, "And how’s your day?"

The blond laughed, "Not as bad as yours, but I’ve had better," she admitted, sipping her coke. "This Philips-case, you know, the woman was killed in her bedroom, everyone suspects the husband, but he swears he didn't do it." She shook her head and put her glass down. She saw her friend nod and went on,

"Well, the husband was - is - ten years younger than his wife who has grown up kids. Three of them. Women. No, let me rewind that. Bitches."

The redhead grimaced, "That bad, huh?"

"Worse," Buffy said, leaning back in her chair. "I-"

"Now, how are my favorite officers?" Cara came to stand beside their table and flashed them a big, wholehearted smile. The sturdy woman who had been born in Alabama had made L.A. her home 20 years ago, and Buffy honestly wasn't sure if the city would be the same without her.

"What can I get you? Are you up for some cholesterol-intake or on a diet again?"

"Aren't we always?," Willow sighed. "I just have to look at ice cream and gain a pound or two." Buffy nodded emphatically.

"Girls," Cara began.

"Girls!" both officers parroted. "Hardly," the blond said, making a face.

"We both hit the big three-zero this year. That means each pound counts twice."

"Girls," Cara said again, her voice firm. "I'm almost twice your age, so you two are just young birds for me, barely out of the diapers. But I agree, today isn't the temperature for some heavy, fatty, tasty," she grinned when she saw the other's were groaning, "Yeah, yeah, I've got it. Two salads for the police-ladies. Have a nice day you two."

"You too, Cara," Buffy smiled. "You're a jewel, you know."

The older woman laughed throatily, "Oh Buffy, besides my husband you always say the nicest things." With a swing of her full hips she made her way towards the kitchen.

"She really is something," Willow laughed as well. "What a woman!"

"Oh yeah. Cara is the greatest. Nothing would be the same without her. I don't even want to think she might be to old one day to do this," she motioned towards the whole restaurant.

"Unthinkable," the redhead agreed, then suddenly remembered their interrupted conversation. "So the wo- I mean the bitches make the whole thing difficult?"

"You can say that. Privately," Buffy leaned forward, her voice merely a whisper, "I think they have the hots for the step-daddy and who could blame them. He looks as if he's right out of one of these high-quality magazines. Anyways. I suppose they envied mom for being at the receiving end of his charms while they could only watch from a distance. If the neighbors are right, their... uh... bedroom was quite... used," she grinned and winked at her friend.

"Uh-oh, I see. So mom and step-dad weren't just platonic with each other."

"If we can trust the neighbors, quite the opposite. One of the old ladies living across the yard swears she even saw them going at it beside the pool. Of course she was embarrassed when Xander asked her how she knew about it. You have to know that lady is close to the eighties."

Willow burst out laughing. "If you should ever write your memoirs..." she joked.

"Oh yeah. That would be interesting, but I suppose most of it is not for public use," she sighed again. "Oh, Willow, it is so good to laugh with you."

"Not so much of it this week, huh?" the redhead said compassionately.

"Well," Buffy rested her elbows on the edge of the table, "First this little bomb Giles dropped on us on Monday, then a really nice meeting with Riley and his lawyer on Tuesday. I swear, if you had seen him there, all innocent and like the good boy from Iowa, you wouldn't believe he was cheating on me for over two years. This puppy dog expression - it's a miracle I wasn't arrested for murder so far."

"That bad, huh?"

"Yeah," the blond let out a long breath and played with the napkin. "Of course the fact that Angel will be coming back didn't help either. I think Riley dreads it more than I."

Willow looked at her friend with understanding. She'd been there when all the drama had been enfolding more than four years ago. Angel and Buffy had met when he was assigned to a case she'd been working on for weeks. And they'd fallen for each other hard and fast. But then things had happened that drove them apart and Riley, who had fallen in love with Buffy as well, had seen his chance and grabbed it with both hands. Buffy, vulnerable and hurt, had been in need of someone to lean on to and when Riley had offered help, she took it. Nobody had expected them to marry, but it had happened, almost over night. The day of the wedding Angel had left Los Angeles. And everyone had thought it was for good. But now he was coming back. More than four years had passed since they'd seen each other but nobody doubted that there was still something between Buffy and Angel. Their doomed relationship had been too intense, the sparks had been flying high and strong, nobody expected it to die that easily. Like nobody had expected for the marriage between Buffy and Riley to work. And they had been right. The divorce was only a matter of time and of working out the details, although Riley sometimes forgot about it and behaved as if he was still happily married to Buffy. Especially when other males seemed to be interested in her. Considering all this, the next weeks promised to become quite interesting.

"I wonder why he's coming back," Buffy mused playing with her napkin again. "I mean he left L.A. as if the hellhounds were after him four years ago and now he's coming back. Wham! Just like that," she snapped her fingers. "It just doesn't... I dunno, does it seem..." she shrugged, not finding the right word."Well, he's grown up here. Maybe he just misses home," Willow said thoughtfully. "I would miss L.A. if I had to move."

"But-," Buffy lifted her shoulders in a helpless gesture, "Do you think," she frowned, her eyes cast downward, "Do you think it'll be awkward?"

"Oh, Buffy," the redhead reached over the table and took her friend's hand. "Don't blame yourself again for what's happened. It's over and done with, no reason to dwell on the past."

"I know," the blond replied, "And we both made mistakes, mistook lust for love and stuff, but... well, the day of my wedding when he suddenly stood in my room in the church. God, he looked so... lost," she stifled a sob, and then took a deep breath to steady herself. "Do you think I did wrong?" there was a quiver in her voice.

"Wrong?" Willow tilted her head, then shrugged, "Marrying Riley you mean? Well, given the situation the answer isn't that difficult, but going back four years, I honestly don't know. The situation was complicated-"

"Complicated is a big, huge, understatement. I'd rather call it a disaster," Buffy interrupted her, and then released a heavy breath. "God, Willow, I just don't know how to act around him. How’s it going to be? Will he hate me? Despise me? Ignore me?"

**Please, I don't want him to ignore me. And where the hell did that come from?**

"I think we’ll just have to wait and see," her friend said calmly, studying the blond thoughtfully. Yes, the tension was definitely still there. Buffy had been a master of denial throughout the last four years, suppressing even the thought of Angel. Cordelia had once said that it was a sure sign she was far from over him, Willow hadn't believed her then, but now she wasn't so sure anymore.

At the beginning Riley and Buffy had looked right. She'd been down, defeated after all the drama with Angel and he seemed to be the right guy - at least in Willow's eyes. She had even liked Riley when all their friends had looked at him as if he was a bug. Especially Cordelia, Faith and Dru. The three women never left a good hair on Buffy's husband. Maybe she should've listened to them, Willow thought now with regret, maybe they all should've tried to persuade Buffy to wait. She should've particularly listened to Faith who had been Riley's girlfriend for three years before he had started to develop an interest in Buffy. Her theories about why Riley was courting the blond had been terrible and Willow could remember shouting at her, accusing her of being jealous. Faith had laughed, shaking her head. You’ll see, she'd said and now they did.

And how would Angel react seeing Buffy *and* Riley again. Willow had always guessed that part of his anger about what was going on between the two had been due to the fact that it was Riley in particular, who was going after Buffy. Maybe he wouldn't have reacted the way he had if it had been another man? But Riley? With an inward sigh she tried to push all those heavy thoughts aside.

"Here you go," Cara appeared at their table again, carrying two plates and placed in front of the women.

Buffy groaned, "How am I going to eat this?" she raised her brows at Cara.

"Hey, it's just salad," the older woman said, grinning. "And besides you could use a little weight on your ribs. Too much grief isn't good for you," she added with compassion in her voice.

"Anger," the blond replied tasting the salad, "Mmmm, good," she sighed contently. "It's anger, not grief," she clarified her first reply. "I've long ago stopped grieving over Riley."

Cara glanced quickly at Willow who was looking at the two other woman with interest, then she reached out and patted Buffy's shoulder, "It's not Riley I'm talking about," she said looking intently at the blond. Then she turned and left the two to their meals.

****

Saturday, August 19th, Los Angeles

"I can’t believe that you persuaded me to help you with this," Doyle groaned lifting another piece of furniture. "Where the hell is all this stuff coming from?" he asked while he squeezed himself into the elevator and pressing the right button.

"I had it all in storage," Angel replied, leaning against the wall. "I left in quite a hurry and there was no way I could take all this with me, so I rented some space for it."

"And why didn't you just leave it there?" the PI asked. "It's really old stuff if you ask me."

"It is," the other man agreed, "the chairs, the table, even the bed I inherited from my parents. And yeah, it's old-fashioned too, but I can’t just throw it away, there are too many memories..." he trailed off, suddenly feeling a bit embarrassed.

The elevator-door opened at the sixth floor and when the door was pulled open Doyle almost stumbled out, "Hey," he complained.

"Calm down," came the voice of his fiancée. "And don't be a wimp. Hi Angel," she smiled at the man. "Nice to see you again."

"Cordelia," he smiled back, not quite sure how to act around her. She was one of Buffy's best friends and knew all about their breakup. She hadn't said a word back then, but of course he had no way of knowing how she thought about the things that had happened between them. And now she was engaged to Doyle - something he hadn't expected in his wildest dreams - his best friend. If Cordelia blamed him for all the things in the past, this situation could become very awkward. More so as she was one of the few people who knew exactly about his job in L.A.

"How did you get here?" Doyle asked her, kissing her lightly on the lips.

"I used the second elevator," she replied, her eyes still fixed on Angel.

"My, my," she grinned, "you've certainly grown up," she said. "Working out, huh?"

"What?" Angel stared at her. Cordelia Chase had always been full of surprises and again she'd managed to confuse him. "Grown up? Hardly," he said dryly. "Considering the fact that I'm 35 years old, I was hardly a child when I left."

"I know that," she replied rolling her eyes, "but some people just get older," she remarked, "you on the other hand, *matured*."

Doyle looked back and forth between the two of them, "Is there a reason I should get jealous now?" he asked good-naturedly. "Because I don't know how much I like the idea of you adoring another member of the male species so openly."

Cordelia laughed slightly, then cupped his cheek in one of her hands, "Calm down, honey. I love you. But that doesn't mean I'm blind all of a sudden. I always thought Angel was attractive, yet I never even considered him as a possible candidate of my affections."

"I wonder if should feel insulted now," Angel joked.

"No need," she shot back. "The problem was you were always so wrapped up in Buffy, there just wasn’t a chance... and I just put my foot right into my mouth, didn't I," she said apologetically. "Sorry."

"It's alright," he touched her shoulder and squeezed it. "You don't need to avoid her name around me. I know she lives here, I knew it from the start, when I considered moving back here, working back here. She's with Riley now, she chose him, and she loves him. End of story. I have come to terms with that."

"Does that mean you don't know," she raised her brows, her eyes darting to Doyle who shook his head. "He didn't tell you?" she asked incredulously.

"No I didn't," Doyle confirmed, "We never talked about her, he never asked and I-"

"Would anybody please tell me, what this is all about," Angel said irritated, "What's the big secret?"

"No secret," Cordelia said with a little wistful smile playing around her lips, "It's just that Buffy is right in the middle of sending that little scum where he belongs or in more common terms, they’re right in the middle of a divorce. It's just a matter of arrangements, but it should soon be over. I guess in about four weeks she’ll be a free woman again."

********

3

Monday, August 21st, Los Angeles

Angel swore when the doorbell rang at seven o'clock in the morning. It wasn't that he was late, but half of his face was covered in shaving foam - he could never get used to automatic razors - and all that covered his naked body was a tiny sort of towel, carelessly slang around his waist after a long, refreshing shower. Summers in New York could be hot, but it didn’t hold a candle to heat of L.A. during the last few days.

The doorbell rang again, more impatiently this time, and he swore again, "Coming," he shouted from the bathroom. Emerging from it he ran over to his bedroom, fishing his denims from a chair and pulling them on. Not bothering to close the fly, he went for the door, the discarded towel now hanging around his neck. "Yeah," he said, the annoyance clearly audible in his voice when he pulled the door open.

And froze. "Cordelia?!" It wasn't so much the fact that the fiancée of his best friend was standing right in front of him, although that was usually irritating enough, but the fact that she was already perfectly dressed, her make-up and hair perfectly coiffed as if straight from one of the high-color fashion magazines.

"Good Morning," she smiled brightly, then without asking pushed past him and entered his apartment, the high heels of her shoes clicking on the wooden floor.

"Cordelia," he repeated her name.

"You said that before. Have I changed so much since Saturday that you've got difficulties recognizing me?" she raised one of her eyebrows, "Nice outfit," she remarked, her eyes roaming over his bare torso, the open fly of his jeans, and his bare feet, then back up to rest on his face that, one side shaven and smooth, the other white with the foam. "Not quite awake, are we?"

"Bloody hell, what's going on out there, what's with the commotion?" Spike stumbled from one of the bedrooms, eyes blinking sleepily against the morning sun, the only piece of clothes covering him a pair of boxer shorts. "Oh, what a surprise, the lovely Miss Chase," a grin spread over his face, while he rubbed his eyes.

"Now, there is a greeting I would call polite," Cordelia shot Angel a nasty look."You two can talk, I need to get the stuff from my face," the dark-haired man said, disappearing in the bathroom.

"He's always a bit grumpy in the morning," the blond remarked, letting his still tired body glide into a seat.

"Oh," Cordelia's eyebrow rose again, "Is that so?" Crossing her arms in front of her chest she said loud enough so that Angel could hear as well, "You know, I never pictured you living with a man." She grinned at Spike who laughed out loud.

"Really funny," Angel returned from the bathroom, now the other side of his face clean as well, the jeans closed up, but the torso was still bare. "Go and make yourself useful," he told his friend. "Make coffee."

"Yeah, yeah," Spike muttered and struggled to stand up, "You want some coffee as well."

"That would be very nice," Cordelia gave him a bright smile that made him grin and Angel roll his eyes.

"So," he grabbed a shirt from the sofa and pulled it over his head, then he asked, "Why are you here?"

"We need to talk," she replied, her face suddenly all business, "About the case. And I'd rather not do this at work. And as long as Mr. Stevens lives with you, I get you both at the same time."

"Call me Spike," the blond man returned from the kitchen. "Coffee's running,” he informed his friend, then looked back at Cordelia, "Each time you call me Mr. Stevens I tend to turn and look to check if my father's standing behind me."

"Spike it is," she suddenly frowned, "Spike? Is that actually your name? No," she shook her head almost talking to herself, "I remember reading William. So why Spike?"

"Long story," he shrugged, patting towards his bedroom. "I need to put some clothes on, can't have you drooling in public over my gorgeous body," he said, rummaging through his still not emptied bag to find something that wasn't in desperate need to ironing.

"Big ego, huh?" Cordelia turned towards Angel who was standing across the room.

"Not really," he grinned at his friend's bedroom. "He's okay. Best partner I ever had. But he’s a ladies man."

"What can I say," Spike returned wearing denims as well and a pale green shirt. Running one hand through his tousled hair, he went towards the kitchen and Cordelia could hear him getting cups and the coffee, "they love me. I always hoped it would be infective, but my friend Angel here," he came back carrying a loaded tray, "he's a lost case. The dates he had in New York I could count on one hand."

"I really don't think my dating-habits are of interest here," Angel shot his friend a warning glance.

"On the contrary," Cordelia directed interested eyes on Spike, "I think the subject is fascinating." **I wonder what Buffy says if she hears that. A guy like Angel, avoiding dating.**

"Possibly," the dark-haired man said, pouring first her and then himself a cup of coffee, then pointed at the sofa. "Sit down and then tell me what you want to talk about. What about the case? I thought we just go there today, see what's going on, and then find the bad guy."

"Yes, that's the plan," she agreed, "but I thought some more information might be in order."

"You were here on Saturday, why didn't you tell us then?" Angel asked.

"Oh, please. That was my weekend. My weekend is off-limits. No work on weekends, no talk about work."

"So you prefer to get up at, what, six on Mondays?" Spike raised an inquiring brow.

She shrugged slightly, and then sipped from her coffee. "Wow, that's good," she complimented.

"Not really surprising. If I can recall Doyle said your coffee could wake the dead, because of horror."

She narrowed her eyes, "He said that? Good to hear. Well, coming back to the matter at hand. There are some things you need to know. I informed Captain Giles about the real reason you're here, first because your job will be much easier if he understands what's going on and secondly, we’re sure he isn't the one we're searching for."

"I thought you didn't know who he or she was, how can you know then that he isn't," Spike raised his cup and watched Cordelia over the rim.

"No, I agree with her," Angel crossed his arms, "Giles is clean. He would never do something like that. He's... It's just not possible."

Cordelia smiled, "Plus we've checked all his accounts, his schedule. If he's the person, he would have to be supernatural. No, Giles isn't the one. But I am going to tell you we have several suspects. There's Frank Williams. His wife recently had very expensive surgery and needs physiotherapy now. Mike Harmon is new at the department. He's in love with the daughter of a rich man, maybe in need to impress his future in-law. David Gadget is in debt way over his head."

"I can't imagine David Gadget..." Angel shook his head, "but I suppose everything is possible if money is involved."

"Yeah, I suppose," Cordelia agreed, "Darla Massey had a huge sum of money transferred to her bank-account, just recently, although we think with her intelligence it's strange she wouldn't be more careful if the money wasn't clean. Still..." her serious eyes rested on Angel. "I know you and she were close."

"Emphasis on 'were'. Whatever was between Darla and I is long over and done with. It was that way even four years ago. After it was over we weren't even friends anymore. Just polite acquaintances."

"Good to hear," she took another sip from her coffee, "And then there's Drusilla Peterson."

Spike almost choked on his coffee, "What sort of name is *Drusilla*?" he asked with incredulous eyes.

"An old-fashioned one," Angel replied. "It's a tradition in her family."

"Angel took her under his wings when she was a rookie," Cordelia explained.

"Under your wings, huh? Attractive?" Spike wiggled his eyebrows, not hiding what he thought.

Angel narrowed his eyes at him, "I'm not you," he growled. "That might be your way, but it's certainly not mine."

"What did I say?" the blond man directed his gaze at the assistant DA,

"Boring. And now I'm living with this guy. I can only hope that *he* isn't infective."

"So, what's this about Drusilla? I will never believe she worked with the other side. She lost her parents in a car bombing from the drug mafia. She would never change sides," Angel put his cup down.

"Nothing is clear so far," Cordelia said quietly. "But she suddenly had new clothes, a new car, a brand-new apartment and we couldn't find the source of this new wealth." She frowned, not quite sure how to continue, knowing that the mere mention of the name could push Angel over the edge. "Uh... and there's Riley Finn."

"Finn?" Angel's brows shot up.

"Is it Finn these days? It was Riley four years ago," Cordelia tilted her head.

"A lot happened since then."

"Yeah, it did," she agreed. "I'm okay with Finn. It's not as if I like the guy. I never understood what Buffy saw in him," she raised her hands, "okay, okay, I'm not starting this. Not now anyway. But he's... I dunno... behaving strange lately. I'm not quite sure how to say this, but he had... ladies... over the last two years. Expensive ones."

"Ladies?" Angel's eyebrows almost touched his hairline.

"Whores, my friend or are you dense," Spike grinned.

"Whores?" the dark-haired man stood up in a swift movement, began to pace the room, "He had whores? For two years?"

"Yeah," Cordelia confirmed. "He used to visit certain... houses... with some friends. Used to blame it on her, you know, what they say. She wouldn't love him enough, care enough for his needs and this stuff. Slimy, little bastard. Oh, I would be so glad if it was him. Nothing more satisfying than to nail his sorry little ass."

"Wow," Spike grinned even more, "I really wouldn't like to cross you."

"Just so you know," she shot back, but grinned as well.

"God, I can't believe that," Angel stopped his pacing and ran a hand through his hair. "Did she know?" he asked.

"I thought you didn't want to talk about this," Cordelia replied, but when she saw his glare, she raised her hands again. "Okay, okay. No, not at the beginning. Or maybe she did, but didn't want to believe what kind of person he was. Riley is scum, Angel. I know he was your friend. I know you've known him all your life and -"

"That's the past," the dark-haired man said, reclaiming his seat, "I had the opportunity to have an insight into his inner-self. And believe me, it wasn't pleasant what I found. So, yeah, I thought he was my friend, I didn't want to believe Faith when she told me he was jealous of me, only to realize that he envied me all my life." He released a breath, ran his hand through his hair again.

"Alright," Spike looked back and forth between the two, "I know there was this thing between you and Buffy. And I know this Riley guy is married to her."

"That's only for about four more weeks," Cordelia threw in.

"Whatever," the blond man continued, "But you and him were friends?" he asked Angel.

"Yeah," the other man confirmed, "We've known each other all our lives. His family lived next door to mine. We went to high school together, played in the same football team-"

"Where Angel was the quarterback and Riley was just a substitute," Cordelia remarked dryly to make a point.

"I get the picture," Spike said.

"Yeah, well," Angel rubbed his forehead. "Then we went to college, to the police academy, then got to work in the same department, and I never once realized what was eating him up. The guy saved my neck time and time again."

"And you saved his," Cordelia reminded him.

"Wait a second," the blond man's interested eyes rested on his friend, "You said you were friends, but is there something I didn't know?"

"Yeah," Angel nodded. "What you don't know is that Riley and I were partners."

********

4

The precinct hadn't changed very much, Angel noticed the moment he and Spike stepped through the swinging doors, only half an hour after their unexpected meeting with Cordelia at Angel's apartment. She wouldn't meet with them in public she'd told them, and that they should get used to her dropping by like that. Angel groaned at the mere thought. Well, he would have to get used to it. Cordelia was the assistant DA and not some snotty law student anymore, he could tease. Plus she was still Buffy's friend and although she hadn't mentioned their break-up, he'd heard the underlying accusation that if it wasn't for him, Buffy wouldn't have looked at Riley Finn.

It wasn't fair, of course. Riley Finn had never been part of the deal, only later he'd become one. Unexpected and for that so much more painful. Angel hadn't just lost the woman he loved, but to a man who he thought to be his friend, whom he'd told about his feelings towards Buffy, whom he'd trusted and who had betrayed him. So much for friendship, Angel thought, frowning at the name tab on Riley's desk with disgust. Then a sardonic smirk crossed his features. His so-called friend had gotten Buffy, but he had lost her too, after only four short years. What a bummer.

The office rooms were still empty, but for the ever-present Captain Rupert Giles, who was already sitting in his private office, a lamp illuminating his desk, he was reading files, hadn't heard them so far.

"This is really a very... shabby... room," Spike remarked, crossing his arms.

Angel grinned at his comment, "Not that the one in New York was so much better."

"No," the blond sighed, and then nodded towards Giles' office. "That the big boss?"

"Yeah," his friend replied. "We really should say hello." Saying it, he already walked towards the closed door and after knocking he entered.

Giles looked up from the papers he'd been reading, his face breaking into a smile as if seeing a long lost son, "Angel, how good to see you," he stood and extended a hand, shaking the other man's warmly. "And that has to be Mr. Stevens?"

"Yeah, that's me," Spike said, extending his hand as well. "But please, everyone calls me Spike."

"Spike?" Giles raised a brow, but didn't comment it. "It's good you're early. I would like to have a word with you before everyone arrives. Please, close the door."

Grinning Spike sat, looking at the older man speculatively, "Which part of good old England do you come from?"

Giles smiled, "Oxfordshire," he replied, "And you?"

"What do you think? London, of course. No breed’s alike."

The Captain's brow rose again, "What brought you over?"

Spike shrugged, and then grinned, "Fell in love, didn't work out, got stuck. As simple as that."

"Or not," Angel said, giving his friend a long, knowing look. Spike's breakup with his girlfriend had been everything but easy. The blond might look like a womanizer, and he was certainly behaving like one too, but deep down he had been deeply hurt by Cathleen's refusal to marry him, and now avoided relationships that could become too serious. His entire flippant attitude, and his open charm was nothing but a shield to prevent himself from being hurt again.

"Yeah, or not," Spike agreed on a released breath, clearly not liking his friend's insight. "Well," his light smile back in place he looked at Giles, "What did you want to talk to us about?"

The Captain looked back and forth between the two men, and crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned back, "I'm not happy with this investigation," he began and when he saw Angel was about to speak he held up a hand, "but of course I understand it's necessary."

Releasing a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding, he shook his head, "I still can't believe that one my officers might be playing dirty. God, this makes me feeling so sick. Most of them I know many years, some of them," he focused on Angel, "are like children to me."

"I know," the dark-haired man nodded. This time a long look passed between Angel and Giles, a look Spike didn't quite understand, but he made a mental note to ask his friend later.

Taking a deep breath, the Captain took a file from the table and handed it two the two officers. "Maybe we should start with you reading this," he suggested.

*

"But this is good news." Buffy looked at her redheaded friend when they entered the precinct five minutes later.

"It is," Willow said hesitantly, "It really is, but... not now. You see Oz and I... we always... Buffy?" She stopped when she saw her friend wasn't following her anymore and turned. "What is it?"

Buffy stood very still, her body rigid, her breath shallow, her eyes fixed on Giles' office, where you could see the people sitting there in the light of his desk lamp. Willow followed the blonde's look and froze as well. "Oh Buffy," she sent her girlfriend a compassionate glance, then stepped towards her, "But we already knew he would be here."

"I know," Buffy managed to croak, "But... for the first time it's real. I can't lie to myself anymore and say it's just a bad dream."

"Yeah," the redhead agreed and took the blonde's arm. "Come on, let's get going. The others should be here in a moment and you wouldn't want anyone to find you staring like this, would you?"

"Staring at whom?" came a voice from behind them.

"What do you think?" Willow turned slightly and glared at her childhood friend. It had to be Anya's influence, the redhead decided. Xander's wife was the most tactless person she'd ever met, and somehow it seemed to rub on Xander as well.

"Oh, the ex is back," he said, his voice holding a certain note. "Who's the blond guy?"

"I suppose it's William Stevens."

"Oh, they're here," Drusilla, accompanied by Faith, were entering the precinct as well. The raven-haired woman's face lit up, while her brunette partner wrinkled her nose.

"Well, let the drama unfold, I say," Faith joked and sauntered to her desk, ignoring the newcomers completely. She wasn't the kind of person to participate in mass hysteria. Okay, so it wasn't exactly hysteria, four people staring through a glass window, but still she didn't like that. She would greet Angel later in private.

"Spoil sport," Xander grinned at her retreating back. She snorted over her shoulder, but he could see her shoulders moving with silent laughter.

"Hey," Drusilla put a hand on Willow's shoulder, "the guy with Angel, is that William Stevens?"

"I would think so," the redhead replied, eyeing the black-haired woman very closely. "Why?"

"Oh," Drusilla battered her lashes, then quickly looked to the ground, "No special reason."

"Drusilla?" Willow's voice held a certain warning.

"What?" the other woman asked. "I think he's cute, that's all."

"Cute?" Buffy and Willow asked unison, something similar to panic in their eyes. "Dru, you know, the last time you thought a guy was cute..." Buffy trailed off.

"You always think they're cute," Xander added pointedly.

"Oh, shut up," she said, "How could I know that last guy was a drug dealer? No, I couldn't." It hadn't been her fault, had it? So, okay, she fell in love easily, and out of it, and yeah, it had caused problems, mainly her crying the whole night, calling her friends at four o'clock in the morning, throwing away all her clothes, because they reminded her of her lost love.

But, hey, life was short, and where was the fun if no one was falling in love. Maybe, one day she would find the one who'd stick, she thought and couldn't help the bitter feeling that rose inside of her. She suppressed it quickly and tilted her head. "Still, he’s cute. He dyes his hair."

"You like guys who dye their hair?" Xander asked disbelievingly. "Don't you think it's a bit ... uh ... unmanly?"

"No, absolutely not," Drusilla replied, "It's fun and-"

"Cute, we know," Willow finished her sentence, making a dismissing gesture with her hand.

The same moment the three men inside the office rose from their chairs and only a second later the door opened and stepped out into the main room.

"Ah," Giles smiled at the officers who had arrived by now. "Good, you're here. Most of you will remember Angel, but this gentleman," he pointed at the blond, "is William Stevens who has asked to be called Spike," he added with a grin.

"Ooooh, that's so cute," Drusilla whispered, making the others roll their eyes.

*****

It was strange being in the same room with him again, Buffy thought half an hour later. Not that he was crowding her. Not at all. On the contrary, he was avoiding her. Well, not really avoiding her, but he hadn't talked to her so far. He had been talking to Faith and Kate, had embraced with Drusilla, shaken hands with Xander and the others, but there wasn't one word exchanged with her.

Well, it wasn't really right. He hadn't talked to Riley either. But then, Riley had ignored Angel from the moment he stepped into the precinct, and was glaring at him from time to time. Not that she expected them to shake hands. Buffy remembered Riley's face when Giles had told them about Angel's return to L.A. and to their precinct. To call it anger would've been too mild. It had been hostility, hatred, and another myriad of negative emotions she'd given up trying to count. It was hard to believe that Riley and Angel had once been best friends, almost as close as brothers. It had changed when Riley had shown an interest in Buffy. She hadn't known it at first, and it had needed two more years for her to figure out why Riley had been interested in her in the first place. It had been the beginning of the end of their relationship. Jealousy was never a good foundation for a marriage. And Riley had been so eaten up by it. God, she thought, running a hand through her hair and glancing quickly at Angel, who was currently talking to Darla. Darla?

Buffy narrowed her eyes, assessing the situation. They *had* been lovers once, so it could be possible that... And that's a very bad thought Buffy, she scolded herself.

Don't even go there. It'll just lead into dangerous territory.

"Hey there."

She jerked around and found Spike sitting at the edge of her desk, smiling at her. "Hey back," she replied and forced a smile on her lips. This was Angel's friend and she would keep up appearances in front of him - even if it killed her. "What do you want?" she asked a little bit too sharp, instantly scolding herself for it. So much for good intentions.

He raised a hand in a gesture of peace, "Maybe I should come back later?" he suggested.

She rolled her eyes, "Sorry, I'm just not at my best today."

"Yeah," he said, looking pointedly at Angel, "I know what you mean. He wasn't in a very good mood either this morning."

One of her eyebrows rose in understanding, "So you... know?"

"I do," he answered, "or rather, I know the facts. That you were together once, that you split and you married another guy who happened to be Angel's friend and partner. But that pretty much sums it up." He gave her a warm smile, "He isn't the kind of guy to run around and brag."

"I see," she smiled tightly, "It was quite messy," she said, busying herself with some files on her desk. "You know each other long?"

"Since the day he came to the big apple," he told her. "He's been my partner ever since." He paused for a moment, then added, "Never had a better one."

"That's... good," she replied without looking at him, but he could still see the frown on her forehead. She was so tense he was afraid she would crack if someone as much as touched her. Spike's separation from Cathleen had been messy too, mostly because he loved her and she - after two years - had discovered she didn't, but he sensed that there was a lot more to Buffy and Angel than he knew.

"And that guy is the one you married," he said casually nodding towards Riley.

She looked up, followed his eyes and nodded, "Not that it's any of your business, but yeah."

He knew a dismissal when he got one. Well, he'd heard enough for now anyway. But of course, being Spike, the guy who always had the last word, he couldn't just leave. So he put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it. Leaning forward he said quietly, "I heard you're divorcing him. Good for you." Then he turned and went back to his desk.

Buffy stifled a gasp and looked after him. Then her eyes wandered to Angel who was now sitting at his desk, reading a file Giles had given him, and was still ignoring her. It was hard to believe that a person like Angel, who had always been so quiet and earnest, could work with someone like Spike, but obviously they had - for a long time. Much longer than the time she and Angel had spent as a couple. And deep inside Buffy felt herself envying Spike for that.

*

She hadn't changed much. Physically. Angel didn't look up from the page he'd been reading for the last ten minutes. He hadn't understood one word. He didn't need to look at Buffy. He'd seen her before and remembered every detail. She was still incredibly beautiful. Her blond hair longer than it had been four years ago, her figure more mature, she had blossomed into a grown-up woman, a real knockout.

But he had also seen the sadness in her eyes. They were still those hazel-eyes that had haunted his dreams for so long, yet they were different, older, but it wasn't just caused by age. And Angel didn't like seeing it, he found himself wishing they hadn't changed at all. That they still shone with that innocent laughter that had drawn him to her, wishing to keep it there, to protect her from the rough reality called life.

Well, she'd chosen Riley for the job and regarding her eyes he'd done a pretty lousy job. Why did he care anyway, he asked himself. They hadn't seen each other for over four years. She wasn't his damned business anymore. Why would sad eyes threaten to make him throw all his resolutions out of the window? He had sworn to himself, not to fall for her again, not to care. But somehow that sadness was almost more attractive than her youthful innocence.

God, he was a fool.

Angel put the file down and looked up, catching her in a lively conversation with Spike. They were laughing, Spike leaning forward, his killer smile firmly in place. Angel could feel the irritation stirring in him. He didn't like seeing Spike with her, like two old buddies - or even more.

Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to stay calm. This was Spike. His friend and partner. Spike would never... And damn he was doing it again. Trusting a friend and partner. But Spike wasn't Riley and Angel certainly wasn't the gullible idiot anymore he'd been once. If nothing else, Riley's betrayal had taught him that even long time friends could be false and that a smile didn't have to mean anything. Angel had become a better detective for this, even if he hadn't become a happier man.

He saw Spike squeeze Buffy's shoulder, then leave her desk. He quickly looked back down onto the file. He could feel her staring at him. What had Spike said to her? His last comment had left her shaken and stunned.

His blond partner came over and sat down on his chair, whistling slightly. When Angel looked up, Spike grinned at him.

"What?" the dark-haired man asked.

"Oh, nothing," his friend replied, his face all innocence. "She's nice," he said and his grin widened when he saw Angel narrow his eyes. "Hey, I mean that in a strictly friendly way. I'm not interested in her that way. And speaking about interest," he tilted his head, his eyes wandering to a certain dark-haired woman who was talking to a blond. Then his gaze came back to rest on his partner, "Didn't you say you were once Miss Peterson's senior officer?" When he saw Angel raise his brows, he continued, "I'd really like to know more about her."

********

5

"Tell me again what we're doing here," Spike whined as he got out of the car Angel had parked in front of a nightclub called "The Splash".

"Investigating," the dark-haired man replied coming around the car and to stand beside his friend.

Spike's eyebrows rose, "Investigating?" he echoed.

"Yeah. The Splash is *the* bar all the officers attend after duty hours. No better place to meet everyone. Everyone is here. Or they were, but according to Darla they still are."

"Ah, Darla."

Angel gave his friend an irritated look, "What does that mean?"

"What?"

"The 'Ah, Darla' in that tone of voice," the dark-haired man clarified.

"Nothing," Spike shrugged, walking towards the entrance of the club. "She's a hottie."

"Yeah, she is, and she’s also old news. We were over long before I met Buffy. Now we don’t even qualify as friends any more. But we know each other and respect each other as police officers." At least that was what Angel hoped.

"If you say so."

Angel stopped abruptly, holding the other man's arm, "Would you care to explain?" there was a definite edge in his voice. He didn't like what his friend was implying.

"Hey, no need to get cranky," Spike raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, "I know that there’s nothing going on, from your side at least. But I also have eyes and she's far from over you."

Angel looked as his friend for a long moment, then frowned, "You have to be imagining things," he murmured. No way, could Darla still be interested in him. No way! He knew his former lover only too well, and if Spike was right, it would only complicate things.

"No, I'm not. I saw the way she was watching you this morning. Sure, she tries to hide it, but believe me, I see it if someone is interested."

Angel's frown deepened. Spike sounded sure and he had enough experience in that field to judge people, women in particular. "Oh shit," he muttered and ran a hand through his hair. "Just what I need." There was no way he wanted to get involved with Darla again. He met her on his first day at the Police Academy. She'd been an instructor and older than him. They had fallen in lust quickly and strongly and it had lasted for about three months. Then their ways had parted for a while, with her going back to active duty. They had met again when Angel had left the Academy, but none of them had been interested to repeat their former involvement, or so Angel had thought - until now.

Angel couldn't shake off the uneasy feeling of Spike's revelation all evening. Spike wasn’t usually wrong about these things. If Darla was still, or again, interested in him, it could mean trouble. The reason for their split-up had been her growing possessiveness of him. First Angel had felt as if she was watching him, and then there had been the incident with one of his classmates at the Academy.

They had been talking over a cup of coffee when Darla had entered the cafeteria and raged like a madwoman at him, implying he was betraying her. Angel was more than irritated by her behavior but she'd apologized and for two weeks everything had been fine. Then, Angel had found a bug in his phone and a little bit of investigation had revealed that Darla had planted it to check up on him. After that he had refused to see her again. She'd pleaded, whined, begged, and screamed but he didn't change his mind and a week later she'd been called back to active duty. Still, Angel wasn't able to shake off an uneasy feeling whenever he was around her. Although, as he'd told Spike, he respected her as a colleague.

"Hey, good to see you."

His head jerked around and a smile spread over his face when he saw who had been talking to him. "Faith," he said, hugging her close.

"It's good to see you," she grinned and pulled back. "It’s been freaking long since you left. I could hardly believe it when old Giles told us you'd be back. This town just wasn't the same without you."

"Really?" he grinned as well, noticing from the corner of his eye that Spike was just approaching Dru, who was sitting at the bar sipping her campari soda. He forced his mind back on Faith. Dru was a grown up woman, and it wasn't his job to look out for her anymore. After all she'd been fine the past four years without him. "I never thought you the type to settle on one man."

She laughed out loud, a throaty, generous sound, "Yeah, well, you know me. The world is full of men, why settle on one?" Her eyes sparkled with mischief and she nodded towards the bar, "Seems your partner has it for Dru. They'd make a nice couple, don't you think."

"Maybe," Angel replied evasively, then again forcing his mind away from the couple at the bar, nodded at the table, "You don't mind if I join you?"

"No," she shook her head, and gestured invitingly at a vacant seat, "On the contrary. Sit down."

After the waitress had taken their orders, Faith leaned back and crossed her arms, "Now, tell me, what have you done on the other side of the country. Solved a lot of cases? Broke a lot of women's hearts?"

"Yes and no," he replied, relaxing a little bit. He and Faith had never been anything but friends. He felt comfortable in her presence, and liked her from the start. "New York is really different from L.A."

"Yeah, I know," she said, and smiled at the waitress who was serving their drinks. "We went to New York quite often when I was still living in Boston."

"Yes, I remember," Angel sipped from his soda. He'd never been much for alcohol. A glass of wine here and there and a beer some times, but he had never cared for whisky or any harder drinks. "What about you? Lots of exciting men in your life?"

She raised a brow at him, "You were always good at evading questions," she remarked, "but I let it go - for now. The men in my life," she sighed dramatically, "let's put it that way. Mr. Perfect never came along."

"I see," he couldn't help the grin that spread across his face, "So you content yourself with investigation."

Her answering grin was matching his, "If you want to put it that way. Yeah. And it's rather time-consuming, you know. Lots of interesting subjects around." She wiggled her brows and winked.

He laughed good-naturedly, "Oh, it would never work with us, Faith. I’d never be able to keep up with your pace. I like my life quiet and steady. I like to spend evenings at home, watching a baseball game. You're too active for my taste."

Another dramatic sigh came from her, "Oh well," she shrugged, "That means I’ll just have to continue looking around." Her eyes fell on someone entering the club, and her expression sobered instantly, "Well, at least," she said, sipping from her drink, "I've been over the worst of them already. It can only improve after that."

Angel looked at her quizzically, and then turned following her eyes. It had been four years, and there had been times in New York when Angel had thought he could forget all the things that had happened before he'd left L.A., but now he was sure it was far from over. His body tensed the moment he discovered the subject of her words.

Riley sauntered into the bar, a curvy blond on his arm, her eyes adoringly on his face. She looked young and was obviously in love with the older detective. "Seems he's favoring kindergarteners these days," Faith said dryly, taking another sip from her drink. "No wonder. A grown up woman would figure him out in a flash. There's a nice body, I have to give him that much, but it's not worth it."

Angel turned back to face the dark-haired woman, the hair in his neck standing up straight. He would never be able to relax in Riley's presence.

Too much had happened between the two men. To think that they had once joked about girls, shared the first forbidden drive in his father's car, joined the police force together. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

"Ever seen the girl before?" he asked.

"No," Faith shook her head, "he changes them so fast, it's impossible to keep up with it. I think even babies like her find out quickly what sort of guy he is. Considering everything, it took Buffy a long time to realize what was going on." Catching what she'd just said, she reached out to cover his hand with hers, an apologetic smile on her face, "Sorry. I just put my foot in my mouth. This should be a relaxing evening, didn't want to remind you."

As if he needed a reminder. Buffy had never been out of his thoughts, not one day had passed in New York, that her image hadn't entered his mind. Her laughing eyes that looked so sad now, sometimes he even wondered if he could feel the silky strands of her hair with his fingers.

"It's okay," he managed to say, then took a large gulp from his soda.

"Uh oh, I'm getting bad vibes, here," Dru looked from Angel to Faith and back when she sat down at their table. "Are we interrupting something?" She gazed at Spike, who was sitting down beside her.

"It looks as if we just came in time," he replied grinning, "my friend Angel here tends to get too serious sometimes. I usually have to save him then."

"It's just the company in here," Faith said, nodding towards Riley and the blond girl, "Doesn't help to improve the evening."

"Ah," Drusilla nodded understandingly. "Don't let him spoil the evening, he's nothing but an idiot. Never understood what you found in him," she was looking at Faith now who groaned.

"Sure, remind me of that. Now *you’re* spoiling the evening. If I could cut out a part of my life, it would be definitely the part where I was too blind to see beyond a well-trained body. But, hey, look at the bright side, at least I'm over it, and unlike others I never married..." she trailed off, instantly wanting to kick herself for the slip when she saw Angel's face that had just been relaxing tense again.

Spike had seen it too, and he reached out, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder, "Don't let him get to you, man. He isn't worth it."

"My words exactly," Faith agreed, giving Angel another apologetic look. She was really doing it tonight. Now she only had to find a dog and kick it to make her performance perfect, she thought. "As Dru said, he's an idiot. Not worth another thought."

"Yeah," Angel released a breath. "I really thought I was over it."

"You never get over these things," Spike said, understanding in his eyes.

"They stay with you. All you can do is, live with them, learn and avoid the same faults in the future. But if it's any help. I really dislike the guy. There's something about him..." he trailed off, exchanging a look with his friend. There was a certain expression in their eyes.

They were looking for a dirty cop, and it could be Riley Finn. The problem was Angel wasn't sure if he'd really like it. Sure, lots of things had happened between Riley and he, Buffy being the most important of them, but there were those good times as well. Maybe it had all been a lie where Riley was concerned, but that didn't mean, you could just forget them and pretend they never had happened. There were all the evenings they had been studying together, the first night they'd gotten drunk at college. No, Angel wasn't sure if he liked the idea of Riley being the man they were looking for.

Forcing himself back to the present, he turned towards Dru, "You've grown up," he said, smiling, "Heard a lot of good things about you, officer."

"Oh," she raised a brow, "well, I had a good teacher," she said, smiling as well.

"Glad to hear that," Angel commanded his body to relax and to ignore the man still standing only a few feet behind him at the bar, "heard you received a commendation for rescuing a kid."

She blushed slightly at that, "Yes, I did. But it really wasn't anything big. I just did my job."

"She did a lot more than that," Faith disagreed, "You should have seen her, Angel, she wouldn't give up when everyone else thought the boy was dead. And she found him. It was great."

"Don't exaggerate," Drusilla said a bit uncomfortable with all the attention, "I'm just glad we found him and that he's now back with his parents. He was lost at the fair," she explained the two men who didn't know all the details. "The fair was near a river and they all thought he'd fallen into it and drowned, but I couldn't shake off the feeling that he was still alive. Finally we found him hanging on the roller coaster. He'd climbed up and couldn't get down again."

"So Dru just climbed after him and brought him back down," Faith added, giving her partner a sideways glance. "She really earned her commendation for the bold climbing. I think I'd have fainted up there."

"So you're not just beautiful and bright but brave too," Spike looked at Dru with admiration in his eyes, "What a combination."

She blushed again, this time delicately, "Stop that," she whispered. "I'm not worth all this. I'm just a woman who did her job. And I'm not beautiful."

"Leave that up to me," Spike replied with a wink, enjoying the fact that her blush deepened. God, but she was lovely. He felt the same stirring in his groin he'd already felt this morning, but now it was accompanied by something he had experienced once, and he wasn't sure he liked to feel it again.

Angel's voice was casual when he suddenly asked, "Buffy never comes here?"

"No, not anymore," Faith told him, "With their divorce going on and Riley hanging around all the time," she shrugged, "She doesn't really care to see him after work. Besides, I think she went to Willow and Oz's tonight with Xander, his wife and probably Cordelia.""Oh?" Angel raised a brow.

"Yeah. They're celebrating. Willow's just discovered that she's going to have a baby."

*****

"I'm so glad you all could come tonight," Willow exclaimed, her gaze wandering over the little crowd assembled in her and Oz's living room.

"We're glad to be here," Cordelia assured her with a smile. "It's what friends are for. To share the good and the bad times. And this is definitely a very good one. Do you know already what it's going to be?"

"No," Oz shook his head, "It's too early to say it. But we aren’t sure if we even want to know."

"Why not?" Anya looked at the expecting parents with puzzlement, "But if you don't know what you're getting how will you get the people buy the right things? I mean you don't want your little boy grow up in pink, do you?" She thought about her own baby that was being taken care of tonight by her mother-in-law and shuddered. No way she wanted to imagine him in pink.

Willow raised a brow at Xander's wife, "I really think that's old-fashioned. Like giving only dolls to girls or never one to a boy. Whatever the child is, it will have blue *and* pink clothes and it will get to play with whatever she or he prefers."

"Hear, hear," Doyle grinned at the redhead and raised his glass, "But congratulations, whatever it is. Maybe it'll get a playing pal soon," he added and wiggled his brows at his fiancée.

"Oh, no, buddy," Cordelia shook her head, "I just got the new job. No way I'm giving it up for a baby. I agreed to marry you, but a child will definitely have to wait for a while."Doyle looked at her, and then shrugged.

"Trouble in paradise already?" Xander inquired, raising a brow.

"Xander," Anya elbowed him in his ribs, making him yelp.

Willow watched her friends and smiled to herself when her eyes fell on Buffy who had been very quiet the whole evening. She was sitting in the back, sipping at her coke, not really following the conversation going on. The redhead exchanged a short glance with her husband who nodded at her and then left the table to join her best friend for a moment.

"Heavy thoughts?" she asked approaching the blond.

Buffy's head snapped up, her startled eyes on the other woman, and then she forced a smile on her lips, "No. Sorry, I haven't been real fun to have around tonight. I shouldn't have come."

"Nonsense," Willow said firmly and sat down beside her. "We love to have you around. What's the matter? Talk to me," she urged gently.

"It's really not important."

"But it is if it makes you sit quietly in the dark, zoning out everything and everyone."

The blond ran a hand through her hair, and put her glass down, "Am I that readable?" she asked, shaking her head, a sad laugh escaping her mouth.

"It's just hard," she admitted finally, "you're all so happy. Such wonderful couples. Anya and Xander are on cloud number nine with their little boy, Cordy and Doyle seem to be perfect for each other, as hard to believe as it is," she had to laugh at that for a moment, "and now you and Oz... It just shows me what a failure my life has been."

"Oh Buffy," Willow reached out, putting a hand over her friend's, "that sounds as if it's over already. You're just 30. Your life has barely begun."

"Oh yeah?" the blonde’s voice was full of sarcasm, "That's not how I'm seeing it. I screwed up royally, Willow. I pushed Angel away, and then I fell on Riley. What would you call it? Good judgment?"

"No," the redhead said calmly, but firmly, "No, I wouldn't. But that doesn't mean your life is over. You need to put it behind you and move on. It could be worse you know. You could have been one of the women who wake up at 50 only to realize the things you know at 30."

Slowly a smile spread over the blonde’s features, "You really know how to make me feel better, Willow. I'm sorry," she said, "sometimes self-pity overwhelms me."

"And rightfully so," the redhead assured her. "You had some very rough times. But now you're straightening things out. You'll be divorced soon. You're still young and have a lot to look forward too." She quickly looked down then back at Buffy, "And maybe there's even a chance to get things back together with Angel?"

"Angel?" Buffy considered it for a moment, and then remorsefully shook her head, "No, I don't think so Willow. Besides. It's been over four years. I hurt him. A lot. Why on earth would he still have feelings for me? No," she shook her head again, "whatever has been between us once. It's over. And we both know it. It ended four years ago, and it's the best for everyone if it stays that way. None of us wants to repeat past mistakes." She took her glass and sipped, missing the doubtful expression on Willow's face.

********

6

Tuesday, August 22nd, Los Angeles

Summer in L.A. could be nice. If you were rich, didn't have to work and could spend your days at the beach. If you weren't born with a golden spoon in your mouth it could be a bitch. The air was hot, the smog thick and you had to kick yourself to get up and things done.

Buffy Summers-Finn - for another four weeks - was no exception. The idea of getting up each morning, only to spend another day in a badly aired precinct or a police car that had seen better days, wasn't all that tempting. But as she wasn't one of the filthy rich people living at Beverly Hills she had no real choice.

At least she liked her job. Most of the time. She liked being a police officer, liked getting the bad guys. What she didn't like was typing reports, interviewing witnesses or interrogating suspects, although the latter could have its appraise. Especially if your mood wasn't the best.

She hadn’t been in a good mood for a long time, she mused while she tried to get the old percolator into gear. Riley had taken the new one the day he moved out of the apartment. No, her mood hadn't been good for a long time. Not for a very long time. More than four years, if she was brutally honest with herself. Yes, there had been times, right after she'd just married Riley where she thought herself happy and content, but looking back now she knew it had been nothing but fake.

Don't go there, she scolded herself and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. Four weeks, she had to get through four more weeks, not even quite, and then this nightmare would be over. Riley wouldn't be her husband anymore and she would be Buffy Summers again. She could go on with her life and pretend it never happened.Of course she didn't believe it for a second.

Nothing would be the same again. The scars the last four years had left on her were invisible but nonetheless deep and at the moment she wondered if they would ever heal. Willow had said she was 30 and still young, but she felt old, worn out and tired, oh so tired.

She felt tears welling up in her eyes and swallowed hard, her hands gripping the counter until her knuckles went white. God, she'd been such a fool. If she could just turn back time and change... But no, you couldn't do that, time moved on and so would she - maybe - eventually. She would leave all that behind her, and concentrate on her work for a while and maybe, given enough time, she would get her life back together.

With a sweep of her hand she wiped a tear away that had slipped from her lashes and determined, pushed herself off of the counter and poured some cereal into a bowl. She would get through this, she wouldn't break just because Angel had returned to L.A., looking as wonderful as she remembered him, and making her long for things she could no longer have.

The milk almost slipped from her hand when the doorbell rang suddenly. A frown appeared on her forehead as she gazed at the clock. Who in the hell was coming to see her at seven o'clock in the morning? Not that she was in a hurry. She usually left for work at half past seven, but she liked to have this time to herself, because the day was still young. A second ring told her that whoever was standing in front of her door would obviously not go away. With a sigh she put the milk down and went to open the door and almost fainted at the sight of Angel Reardon.

"Angel," her voice was strangely breathless.

No smile appeared on his face when his eyes wandered over her form, not missing a detail of her night robe, the bunny slippers she usually wore at home or the tousled hair. Neither did he miss the fact that she didn't wear anything underneath her robe. "Hi, Buffy," he said, his eyes locking on hers.

She felt a blush creeping up her neck and instantly cursed herself. She was thirty years old and was blushing at the sight of an attractive male. She was pathetic. But she wasn't the kind of woman who usually entertained lovers in her apartment and was used to meet men half-naked first thing in the morning. She almost laughed out loud at the thought. Lovers. Her sexual experience was almost non-existent.

Before Angel there had been her high school sweetheart who had persuaded her that sex after the prom was expected. And Buffy, being the idiot she'd obviously been all her life, hadn't had the heart to say no. In college there had been another - even more idiotic - sexual encounter, before she'd finally met Angel. He'd been the first lover to stay with her longer than one night. Then there had been Riley and then... nothing.

So she couldn't help the embarrassment she felt at finding Angel at her doorstep. "Well, hi," she managed, cursing herself again. **Great going Summers. Now he thinks you're a complete idiot.**

He cleared his throat, and then gestured at her outfit, "I'm sorry to disturb you this early, but... well, I thought we could... talk?"

"Talk?" she asked, raising a brow.

He had to grin at her confusion and Buffy almost fainted at the change in him when he did so. He was incredibly handsome but a smile on his face did things to it that made her heart beat faster and a familiar, but long forgotten, warmth began to settle between her legs.

"Yeah, you know," he said, jamming his hands into his pockets, "Talk. Moving lips with sound coming out of your mouth. Talk."

"Yeah, I know about talking," she replied, angry with herself. **Get a grip on yourself, Summers. You're a grown up woman. Grown up women don't drool over men on their doorsteps. Not even if the man in question is Angel Reardon. *Especially* not if the man is Angel.**

"Good," he slightly inclined his head and when she did nothing, he asked, "So, can I maybe come in? It's much easier to talk in private."

"Oh. Sure, come in," she stepped aside to allow him to enter, then closed the door behind him. **Casual, Summers. Act casual.**

Turning towards the kitchen she asked, "You want some coffee? I just started it, and if the machine did its work it should be ready by now. Otherwise I can only offer cereal. I forgot to buy bread yesterday."

"Just coffee, thanks," he replied and looked around. He had never seen her apartment before, but guessing at the size of it, she and Riley must have lived here. It was too big for one person, and maybe also too expensive? Angel pushed the thought aside. He hadn't come to investigate her, but - as he'd told her - to talk. Somehow they had to settle the tension that had been in the air the previous day or the coming weeks would be hell.

"Take a seat in the living room," she said from the kitchen while he heard her filling two cups, then loading a tray. "I hope you still drink your coffee black?" there was a slight question in her voice and so he took the cup with a nod.

"Old habits die hard," he told her, sipping from the dark, strong brew. Her coffee still tasted as he remembered. He'd always loved her coffee. But then he'd loved so many things about her, and was so madly in love, so blind and... "Nice apartment," he remarked.

She shrugged, "It's alright, but I'm looking for a smaller one. Too many bad memories," she said without a hint of self-pity, "and it's getting too expensive. Cops don't earn this kind of money."

So much for that, Angel thought, surprised by the relief he felt at her remark. He and Buffy were over, and he'd just come to make piece, so why was it so important to him that she wasn't involved in the case he was researching? Not that she was on Cordelia's list anyway. But Cordelia was Buffy's friend and certainly not objective where the blond was concerned.

"Don't I know it," Angel smiled and took another sip of his coffee. "My parents almost fainted when I told them that I was leaning towards law enforcement. But I was determined to become the best cop, there was nothing they could say to change my mind."

"Yeah," Buffy nodded, understanding exactly what he meant. God, this was so unreal. Here she was sitting, half-naked, in her living room talking to a man she never thought she’d see again. And now they were making small talk. "So why did you want to talk to me?"

He sighed and put his cup down. "What do you think? We didn't part on the best of terms four years ago and yesterday," he shrugged, "let's just say it was tense. So I thought, I'd come by to tell you that I'm not angry anymore. Or anything. Whatever happened between us four years ago is over. There's no sense in blaming anyone for it. It's old news. Over and done with. So maybe we can forget about it and just be... colleagues?"

If he'd stabbed her, he couldn't have hurt her more, Buffy thought. Old news. So that was how he felt about their affair, relationship, or whatever it had been. Old news. Over and done. But whom was she kidding? Of course it was over. Hadn't she told herself the very same just before. With some effort she managed to keep her expression blank, "Of course," she said and God, didn't her voice sound light and without emotion? Maybe she'd missed her calling. Maybe she should've become an actress instead. And maybe she could just lie down and die.

"Good," he smiled at her, "I'm glad you think so," he said, "It would've been awkward, to say the least, if we wouldn't manage to act like adults around each other. I'm glad you feel the same way."

**Yeah, sure. And maybe I could just try to not exist at all,** Buffy thought, surprised that she was still able to breathe.

What the hell was happening to her, she wondered. She had managed to avoid thinking about him for four years and now his words were cutting her soul wide open, and hurting her the way no one else could hurt her. "Yeah, I do," she managed, "Feel the same way, I mean."

Something flickered through his eyes, but it was gone so quickly that she had no time to discover what it was. With a nod Angel got up, "Alright. That was pretty much all I wanted to talk about," he said, "Thanks for the coffee." When she was about to get up as well, he shook his head, "No, just enjoy your breakfast. I'll find the way out. Thanks for your time." And then with a last nod he was gone, leaving Buffy to her coffee and cereal that suddenly tasted like sand.

****

Angel closed the door of his car then let his forehead fall on the steering wheel and exhaled a long breath. His whole body trembled with the effort the past few minutes had been. With the effort of being so close and trying keep his cool.

It had taken his breath away to see her standing in the doorway like that. Her skin still warm from a good night's sleep, her hair tousled as if a lover's hand had roamed through it. Only that there hadn't been a lover, she'd been alone and her eyes had again looked so sad, it was all he could do not to reach out, take her into his arms and hold her until all sadness was gone and replaced by the sparkle of happiness he'd seen in them all those years ago.

His body had hardened instantly at the sight of her, because sadness or no, she was still the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. He wanted to sweep her up in his arms and carry her to bed and make love to her for days and days. But of course that was nothing but a foolish daydream that would never come true again. Time couldn't be turned back, past mistakes were done and he had to live with them forever.

But, God, he wanted her. Still wanted her the same way he'd wanted her from the first moment he'd seen her. He would never forget the afternoon when she'd entered his office. He'd known he was lost then and obviously some things never changed. His mind might have made an effort to forget what no longer could be, his body certainly hadn't done the same.

The way she'd turned towards the kitchen, her hips slightly swinging under the morning robe, Angel had instantly wished he hadn't come at all. But it had been too late then and he had to go through with it. And boy, had he played his part well. He hadn't missed the hurt in her eyes. Or maybe it was just his imagination. Why would his words hurt her?

She preferred to marry Riley, to not give him a second chance when he'd gone to her in the church and pleaded her to listen to him.

No, it had to be his imagination. She'd chosen Riley after all. She had ended all their dreams with her final decision to marry his former best friend. She had given up on them long before he had. Not to forget that he'd done his part in all this as well. She'd lost far more than he four years ago. A young, smiling face briefly flickered through his mind, but Angel quickly pushed it away.Taking a deep breath, he started the car and his face hardened in determination. He might still want her, but he was an adult and he would be damned if he let his hormones rule his life. Wanting was one thing. It could be strong, but he had learned to control his sexual appetite. Love. Well, love was another matter. Love could be so strong, it could make a man do crazy stuff, and it could make a man lose control.

Pulling the car onto the road, Angel vowed that he would never let love rule him again.

*****

Buffy was still walking around in a daze when she entered the precinct about an hour later. She'd driven on autopilot and even her greetings to her colleagues and friends were automatic. Angel's words had hurt her more than she'd believed possible. Over and done. Old news. Her mind repeated it again and again, and by noon a severe headache was hammering behind her temples.

She was glad Willow had been busy the whole morning. The last thing Buffy wanted at the moment was to talk about Angel's early visit. All she wanted was to forget it ever happened. Of course, she never got what she wanted. With Angel only two desks away she had the constant reminder around all the time.

When a heavy file finally hit her desk she stifled a groan, only to stiffen when she looked up at the person who'd put it there. Her eyes narrowed instantly, "What's this?" she asked.

"A file," Riley replied acidly, "or does it look like something else?"

"I can see it is a file," Buffy gritted out, "What I want to know is why would you give it to me?"

"Maybe you should read it," he proposed and turned away, not bothering to explain.

"Jerk," she muttered under her breath, then reached for the file and opened it. Her breath caught in her throat when she read the first words. 'Case Mike Danicki' it said. Buffy felt her hands start to tremble and she had to force herself to breathe properly. Nervously she licked her suddenly dry lips and her eyes darted towards Riley who was smirking at her.

Attached to the file was a picture that showed a young, smiling man who was gazing up at her with the same hazel eyes Buffy used to see when she looked into the mirror each morning. Her heart clenched in pain, her stomach began to squirm and the pounding behind her temples intensified. Massaging them for a moment, she didn't see that Angel was watching her with concern.

With as much grace as her trembling legs would allow she stood and walked over to his desk, "Would you care to explain?" she demanded, her voice loud enough for the officers near by to hear. Faith stopped her typing and eyed Buffy curiously. Kate Lockley did the same and Angel didn't even bother to hide his interest in the scene. But Buffy didn't care. At the moment, she only hoped she would survive this moment.

Riley shrugged, "I had this old file in my desk. Thought I should give it to you first before turning it over to the archive," he said still smirking.

Her eyes narrowed another bit, "Maybe you didn't know it until now, but you are the lowest form of life on this planet, Riley Finn," she told him glad that her voice sounded cool and controlled although her knees were shaking badly.

He shrugged again, "I just thought it would be of interest for you. Never thought it'd get to you like this." But the expression in his eyes told another story. They were calculating, and he was obviously hoping to hurt her any way possible. God, how could she have ever thought herself in love with him?

And it had hurt her. He knew exactly how she felt about the Danicki Case, he'd been there after all, and later she'd emptied out her soul to him and he'd held her, told her he understood. Bastard. But, by God, she wouldn't give him the satisfaction to see her pain. Straightening her spine, she walked back to her desk, picked up the file, then returned to Riley's desk and placed it in front of him. "Thanks," she said, her voice carefully controlled, "How thoughtful of you. But this case is closed." With a last look she turned and went for the bathroom.

She was shaking so badly when she finally closed the door behind her that she sank to the ground, not able to stand anymore. She hated Riley so much, if she'd a gun she would be able to shoot him right now. And not care. To think she'd sent Angel away...

A sob rose in her throat, choking her, and in panic anyone might hear her, she pressed a hand to her mouth. No, she would not lose it in here. She had to keep control, keep her cool.

"Oh God." Her moan sounded like that of a wounded animal. "Oh God, oh God," she moaned again, hating her own weakness, her vulnerability. She closed her eyes, pressed her hand harder on her mouth, her whole body trembling, she was on the edge of falling apart.

And then suddenly there were arms around her, she was lifted off the ground and settled in someone's lap, a familiar hand was stroking her hair and pressing her head into a warm, hard chest. "Shhh," a once beloved voice soothed, while the hand continued stroking her hair. "It's okay, baby," the voice went on. "It's okay, I know. I'm sorry. That son of a ..."

One arm tightened around her and that drove her over the edge. The trembling increased and then sobs came from her mouth, only muffled by Angel's shirt and his chest. And he just kept holding her and continued stroking her, and speaking to her. "It's alright, baby, don't hold back. Just cry. I'm here," his voice whispered, "I'm here and I'm not going away. Just cry."

"Oh God," the words tore from here throat. "Oh God, Angel," she moaned, throwing her arms around his neck. She didn't care what had happened to make him materialize beside her this very moment, she just held onto him, to the man she'd once loved more than she thought possible, the man she'd sent away on the her wedding day. And maybe the only person who could truly understand what she was going through. "How could he?," she asked. "How could he do it?"

She didn't have to elaborate. Angel knew what she meant. "I don't know," he answered honestly. "I don't know him anymore. I thought I did once, but I was wrong. Maybe if..." he sighed. There was no point in maybes. "I would really like to beat him into a bloody pulp," he added savagely.

"Oh yeah?" she couldn't help the smile that was tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Don't make me laugh, Angel. You never were the violent type. Riley was, but he hid it perfectly," the smile was suddenly very sad again. "It seems like we all thought he was someone else."

"Yeah," he replied, looking at her with concern. "Are you feeling any better now?"

Sniffling, she wiped her wet tears, and nodded, "Yeah, better." Suddenly embarrassed she became very aware of the fact that he was sitting on the tiles in the women's bathroom and she was sitting in his lap. "I'm sorry," she apologized, feeling her cheeks grow hot. "I didn't intend to cry all over you," she tried to joke and gestured at the wet spots on his shirt.

"Oh well, I take it as a payback for my visit this morning," he gave her a half-smile that had her heart constricting painfully.

God, how she used to love to kiss his mouth when he smiled. And it would soon spin out of control and they would end... She closed her eyes for a moment and pushed the images of better times away.

"Okay, then," she managed one of her own smiles and scrambled away from him, then stood. He stood as well. "Thanks for coming to my rescue."

"No need to thank me." His eyes were sad and honest. "After all it was my fault you ever got into the position that Riley could hurt you today." He smiled sadly and was already turning away when she caught his arm.

"Angel..."

"No," he shook his head, "don't. After all it was the bullet from my gun that killed your half-brother."

********

7

//...// indicates dreams

Tuesday, August 22nd, 10.00 p.m.

"Did I ever tell you that I hate observations?" Spike asked while his hand was reaching into his pocket for cigarettes. They were standing in front of Derryl Chambers' house in Beverly Hills. He was a very rich film producer and he was also the father of the girl Mike Harmon intended to marry. Enough reason to keep an eye on the young police officer, whose engagement party was taking place tonight.

"And did I ever tell you that I despise smoking people in my car?" Angel replied casually, noticing the movement of Spike's hand from the corner of his eye. "I tend to become quite violent about it."

The blonde’s hand stilled in his pocket and with a little sigh, he reached for a bag of potato chips he'd placed on the ground for emergency purposes.

Spike really liked Angel. He liked working with the dark-haired man and he was glad to call him his friend, but his friend's attitude towards smoking left something to be desired. Yet, he had learned to live with it. "Even more I hate observing a colleague. This whole Internal Affairs business stinks," he said and ripped the bag open. "I have you to know that if I'm dying of a heart attack due to high cholesterol intake, it's your fault."

"At least I don't have to watch you cough to death with lung cancer," Angel replied mercilessly. "I wonder how a police officer like Mike Harmon ever got to meet someone like Simone Chambers. They hardly hang in the same circles."

"Maybe he gave her a ticket for speeding," Spike mused, munching his chips, "I'd say it's a good guess. Her nice little red sports car has a lot of power."

"Mike Harmon was already working for homicide when they met, hardly the department to give speed tickets to rich girls." With a disgusted look he watched his friend stuffing more chips into his mouth, "How on earth can you eat that stuff?"

"Better than starving to death," Spike shrugged, enjoying the spicy, fatty food. Once the bag was empty, he threw it on the ground and reached for the can of coke. "Talking about death. Who is, or rather was, Mike Danicki?"

He felt Angel instantly stiffen beside him, "Who?" the dark-haired man asked, his voice carefully controlled.

"Don't play games with me," Spike said, "The guy in the file on Buffy Summers' desk. The reason she ran into the bathroom this afternoon where you followed her only seconds later."

Angel didn't answer at first, if it hadn't been for his harsh breathing Spike would have thought he hadn't even listened. Then slowly, the dark-haired man put his hands on the wheel and gripped it tight. "Mike Danicki," he began in that same controlled manner, "was a young police officer who was killed four years ago in a crossfire. He was also Buffy's half-brother."

"Her half-brother?" Spike's eyebrow rose, but he didn't turn his head. "Younger or older?"

"Younger by six years. He was only twenty when all this happened. Buffy didn't even know he existed until he was 14. He was the result of an extra-matrimonial affair of her father. She had a hard time accepting him. But finally she did. With all her heart and when he chose to become a police officer, she was so proud," his voice cracked.

"And he died in a crossfire?"

"Yeah," the answer came out with a harsh breath, "He was shot. Straight through in heart. With my weapon."

"Son of a..." Spike bit out, his head jerking around. "You shot him?"

"No," Angel's voice was sharp, "I didn't kill him. Although she never believed me. He was killed with my weapon, but I hadn't used it the whole night. There was a... 211... two men had taken hostages in a bank. The moment the men came out they started shooting. Mike was hit by accident. But I didn't do it. I only used a riffle that night."

Angel's hands hurt from almost crushing the steering wheel and he forced himself to loosen his fierce grip. It had all happened what seemed like an eternity ago and still it hurt. He swallowed hard remembering Buffy's eyes when the ballistic report came in and said it had been Angel's weapon. The way her shoulders had stiffened, the moment she turned away and never looked back. It was imprinted in his mind as if it had happened yesterday.

"And she thought you had," Spike shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, "Oh, man."

The laugh that came in reply wasn't a happy one.

"Yeah. Oh, man. The only ones who backed me up were Faith and Drusilla. They said, they'd seen the weapon lying on the ground beside me, Drusilla even swore that I had not even once put the riffle down and so I was cleared. Buffy was devastated. She refused to talk to me, refused to see me. That’s the end of the story." He laughed again, "That day when the call came in about the bank robbery, Buffy and I were on our way to a date. We only went because we were so close. And I had a diamond ring in my pocket."

"Oh man," Spike said again, then nothing for a long time.

People still arrived at the huge three-story house. From time to time Mike or his future father-in-law appeared in the doorway to greet some of them. Once or twice they caught a glimpse of Simone, a fragile looking redhead in expensive clothes and high heels.

"And I suppose Riley seized the day and began holding out his hand," the blond finally broke the silence.

"Ten points," Angel replied sarcastically. "I had no idea he had the hots for her. He never once..." he shook his head. "He had been supportive all throughout our relationship, I never guessed... Then he couldn't get into her pants fast enough. Only four weeks after Mike was killed they announced their engagement and two weeks later they were married."

"And then some people say, police officers don't work fast," Spike remarked, his voice holding the same sarcasm. "What a friend."

"Oh yeah. My good friend Riley. I tried to talk to her," he said suddenly, looking at the blond, "I went to the church, tried to talk to her. But she sent me away. Told me that now she knew real love thanks to Riley. I left L.A. and never looked back. Until now."

Spike was about to reply when it suddenly hit him, "Wait a minute. You said you were cleared. But you didn't tell me who shot her brother."

"No I didn't, simply because I don't know. The case was never solved. We never found out who accidentally killed Mike Danicki."

Spike was about to reply when suddenly a large car with coloured windows came to a halt in front of the house. The door opened, revealing a voluptous blond and a rather meaty looking man. Angel whistled through his teeth, the moment he saw them, "I'll be damned," he whispered, barely able to believe his eyes.

*****

// It hurt to look at him. He was so young and carefree and he was smiling at her, the Californian sun highlighting his blond hair.

So young. Mike was waving now. And grinning, "Hey, Buffy. Don't look so serious. Life is fun. California is full of sun, sand and pretty girls."

She laughed at that, "It must be a guy thing," she joked. "Do guys think of anything but pretty girls?"

"I only think of one extremely pretty girl," a voice whispered in her ear and a pair of arms circled her waist, while a chin was laid on her shoulder.

"You guys are so boring," Mike rolled his eyes, "I'm never going to fall in love. Just to think that I'd have to spent all my time with one girl. What a waste."

"Big Ego, huh?" Angel tightened his hold on Buffy's waist, he smiled and his eyes were looking at the sea that glittered in the sun. "Just you wait. Love's going to find you soon enough."

"Me?" Mike laughed aloud and shook his head, "Never. I'm just going to enjoy life and lust."

Now it was Buffy's turn to roll her eyes, "I can't believe you're my brother. The way you think about women is disgusting."

"Uh-huh," her brother's grin widened, "Sure it is. But they love me anyway. When are you guys going to tie the knot?" he asked out of the blue.

"Oh, that's the way it goes," Angel raised a brow, "You are allowed to enjoy women the way you like, but I'm not."

Mike's eyes narrowed a bit, "Hey, we're talking about my sister here."

Buffy giggled, snuggling back into Angel's chest, "My hero. But you don't have to worry. You'll be the first to know if we decide anything. Until then, I'm your big sister, Mike. No need to protect me." She stifled a moan when Angel bent his head and kissed a particular sensitive spot behind her ear.

"Please," Mike groaned, "not in public and not around me. It's hard enough to imagine what you're doing with my sister as soon as the doors are closed. I don't need a demonstration."

"The boy's just jealous," Angel, whispered in Buffy's ear, "should we get rid of him?"

"Get rid of him?" her body tensed and she turned her head to look at her lover. His face changed all of a sudden. It wasn't the face she loved anymore. It was different. Hateful. Evil. And now it laughed.

"Yeah, get rid of him," Angel said, pushing her away, drawing a gun without warning.

"No," Buffy screamed, knowing what was going to happen. "No, please."

"Go way," he warned, pointing his gun at Mike, who had stepped back, his both hands raised in defense.

"Hey, man, it was just a joke," his voice sounded frightened.

"A joke? I’ll give you a joke," Angel said and pulled the trigger.//

"NOOOOOOO," the shout tore from her throat and sounded through the dark, quiet apartment. Buffy bolted upright in her bed, her whole body bathed in sweat, she was panting heavily. Oh God!

Ohgodohgodohgod.

The dream. She hadn't had that dream for years. She closed her eyes against the images that were still burning in her mind. Damn Riley. Damn him. Why had he done this to her? Of course that was a dumb question. She knew exactly why he did it. He wanted to show her that he could still get to her. And maybe he wanted to show something to Angel, too.

Angel.

She rolled out of her bed and walked to the kitchen. Opening the fridge she pulled out a bottle of milk and drank thirstily, then put it away. Leaning against the closed door she thought about the way Angel came to her aid this afternoon, the way he held her, soothed her. All she wanted was to curl up in his lap and stay there. It was so safe and secure in his arms, she'd felt so loved and treasured. Something she'd missed for a long time.

She wanted to tell him. Tell him, that she didn't blame him anymore for her brother's death. Tell him that she was wrong. Oh so wrong. Wrong and stupid and stubborn and...

With a heavy sigh she pushed herself away from the fridge and walked back to her bedroom. The bed was large, for a while she'd shared it with Riley, now it was empty. And cold. And lonely. But then, it had been lonely for even longer. Even with Riley's large body beside her she was lonely, silently longing for another, she could no longer have.

What was he doing this very moment, she wondered? Was he lonely as well? Was he lying awake thinking about her? Or would his arms hold another? Would his mouth kiss another? Would his lips whisper of love and a future, the way they'd done to her so long ago?

The sudden pang of jealousy she felt at the image made her gasp. The feeling was so violent, she felt herself shudder. She had no right to be jealous. She had given up that right four years ago when she'd sent him away, when she'd ignored the pain in his eyes and thrown him out of her life. She had been the one who married his best friend and made the break up final.

No she had no right to feel that way. Even more so she had no right to hope he would ever forgive her. Still, she found herself hoping he would.

********

8

Wednesday, August 23rd, 11.00 a.m., Los Angeles

Cordelia tapped her perfectly manicured fingernails on the table and let out an exasperated sigh. Studying her hands for a moment, she frowned and looked back at the man who was sitting opposite to her in the Internal Affairs inquiry. The room was not very big, sparse furnitured with three chairs and a table and one wall was covered with mirrors. They weren't the regular kind you could buy in a store, but a one-way mirror, those that were mirrors on the one side, windows at the other.

Behind them, protected against discovery were standing Rupert Giles, Brent Harley and Timothy Philips, the District Attorney. And they were all observing the proceeding on the other side of the window.

"You know, this is getting old," Cordelia leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms in front of her chest, her eyes on the face of Riley Finn, who was scowling at her.

"Oh, so this is boring for you?" he said, rubbing his eyes. "Well, it's not boring for me. In fact, it's rather annoying. Being summoned before the Internal Affairs at the break of dawn and being interrogated for more than an hour by my wife's best friend."

"Soon to be ex-wife," she countered without blinking. "And that's not the point here. I'm here because I need answers. Answers you might have."

"And I already told you that I never had a connection with David Griffin. Of course I've heard his name. Who hasn't? He's the new big gun around. But fortunately I haven't had the pleasure to meet him."

He was cool, Cordelia decided. Cool and controlled. Too cool and controlled? Yesterday evening her boss and Brent Harley had decided to start interrogating all the officers of the 9th department. Timothy said it might be more effective to start the inquiry from two sides.

And it would also help to avoid officers to become suspicious of Angel and Spike. With pleasure Cordelia agreed to start with Riley Finn. Interrogating the bastard was like receiving a Christmas present.

She cleared her throat, and then casually flipped through a file she'd opened on the table. "As I can see here, you have an interesting variation of female companions," she looked up, nodded, "Very impressing. Tell me Riley-"

"Detective Finn for you," he hissed.

She smiled; glad she was getting at him, "If you wish. So tell me, *Detective*, how do you pay for them? Some of them look rather... expensive."

"Fuck you, bitch," he spat, glaring at her, "Is that your way of getting it done?"

"Watch your tongue, officer," Brand Harmon warned from his seat beside Cordelia. Brand Harmon was working for Internal Affairs and had been advised to take part in this interrogation as well. He was used to officers acting offended, but he was old-fashioned and didn't like men to use foul language in front of women. And Brand had always had a weak spot for Cordelia.

"Thank you, Brand," the brunette gave him a particularly grateful smile, then shook her head, "But I'm used to this. Some of us aren't as well mannered as others." She sighed heavily at the end of her sentence and shook her head again, then smiled inwardly when she saw Brand nailing Riley with another hard glare.

Flipping another page, Cordelia looked back at Riley, "Now, tell me *Detective* Finn, where do you get the money to pay for all those expensive ladies?"

"I don't have to pay for female company, Miss Chase," he hissed through gritted teeth. "Usually my body is enough for them."

"Oh really?" she raised a surprised brow, "Oh well, people have different tastes," she remarked. "Okay, but you don't deny your... let's call it encounters with different women over the last two years."

"No, I don't," he hissed again. "I suppose Buffy told you all about it."

"In fact, she has," Cordelia smiled again, "but coming back to that," she pointed at the file, "Your current bank account shows more than ten thousand dollars, and you drive a new car. An expensive, European car," she raised her eyebrows, "Tell me, how you managed to pay for it?"

"My mother died," he said, controlled again, "But you should know that. Buffy's lawyer knew it instantly."

Yes, she knew, it was in the file in front of her, and still it made a grand opening for her next hit, "Well, if you’ll allow a personal remark, I think Buffy earned each penny for all the time she stayed with you," she raised a hand when he was about to reply, "Sorry, I got sidetracked," she smiled sweetly, "A last question, Mr. Finn," she said almost casually, closing the file, "Have you ever heard the code 'Operation Delta'?"

There was a flicker of recognition in his eyes, she noticed, but he covered his reaction quickly, and when he finally looked at her his expression was completely blank, "No," he shook his head. "I've never heard of it. What about it?"

"Nothing that concerns you," she replied, busying herself with opening her briefcase and pushing the file inside. "Thank you, Mr. Finn," she said without looking up. "That's all. You can go. Thank you for your cooperation."

"F..." Riley started, then caught Brend Harmon's gaze, and his lips drew into a thin, angry line. He cursed inwardly and wished, not for the first time, that Cordelia was just some bitch and not the assistant DA. There was no way he could get to her, without endangering his own career. "Ma’am," he said instead, then turned and left the room.

As soon as the door was clicked shut Cordelia closed her briefcase, leaned back and released a long breath. She turned when she felt Brand's hand on her shoulder, "Well done, Miss Chase," he complimented.

"He’s right," came her boss' voice over the speaker. "You did a good job. And I'd say your personal... er... relationship helped in this case."

Cordelia grinned at the mirror, "Thanks. And yeah. I really hate the guy."

"Who would've guessed," Timothy replied, his voice full of sarcasm. "Take a break," he said, "We'll meet in about half an hour to discuss this. Drink some coffee." With that the speaker went off.

"Drink some coffee," Cordelia muttered, standing, "If I drink any more coffee I'm going to jump up the wall."

"Then what about some home baked muffins and a nice cup of tea?" Brand offered with a fatherly smile, "My wife made them yesterday and I have no problem sharing."

The brunette looked at him with gratitude, "Brand, you're saving my life," she said and followed him to his office.

*****

"So, how do you feel, being pregnant and all?" Faith asked, plopping on Willow's desk beside the computer screen.

"And all?" the redhead raised a brow at her.

"Yeah, you know, morning sickness, cravings, that sort of stuff."

The other brow came up as well, "What do you know about morning sickness?" she inquired, suddenly curious.

"Hey," Faith looked as if insulted, "don't look at me that way. I'm not pregnant, but I wasn't raised in limbo either. And I read. Books, you know."

"Yeah, I know books," Willow said on a chuckle. "What about them?"

"Duuuh. They tell you stuff. Explain things." When Willow's expression didn't change, Faith sighed dramatically, "So much for small talk."

"So much for it," the redhead agreed. "So what was the real reason you wanted to talk to me? Do you need a day off or what? Then go to the big boss, I'm just the computer specialist."

"No, I don't need a day off. This is more a... uh... personal matter."

"Personal, huh?"

"Yeah. It's... about Buffy," Faith admitted.

"Buffy?" Willow eyed the brunette curiously. Her relationship with Buffy had been strained at the least. With Faith being Riley's former lover, the women didn't get along well. Since Buffy's breakup with her husband things started to get better, but they still weren’t back to normal.

So Willow couldn't quite grasp what this was all about.

"How is she?" Faith asked.

Willow turned in her chair and gestured towards the desk where the blond was sitting and reading a new file. "She's right over there. Maybe you should go and ask her."

The brunette rolled her eyes, "I know she’s there, but I need to hear it from you. So how is she?"

"She's been better," the redhead admitted finally.

"The divorce is getting to her and with Angel around..." she trailed off.

"Ah, Angel," Faith said, glad Willow had given her the entry. "I met him Monday night. At the Splash."

Now the redhead's eyes widened, "Angel? At the Splash? But he doesn't drink."

"So what?" Faith snorted, "They serve non-alcoholic drinks as well."

"Yes, yeah, I know. But Angel just isn't the type for bars and clubs. He never was."

"He said so much himself, but I think he was just seeking for some company."

Willow's eyes narrowed instantly, "And so you thought you'd give him what he needed? Is that what you're saying?"

"No," Faith said in sudden anger. "I'm not a slut you know. I don't just jump on men as they come." She saw Willow raise a brow, and threw her hands in the air, "Okay, think what you want. But the point is, we were talking about Buffy."

"You were talking about Buffy?"

Was Willow dense, Faith thought? "That's what I said, wasn't it? And you know, you might call me utterly romantic, but I could swear he's still got it bad for Buffy. I mean, he didn't say it exactly, but a girl with my experience just knows things. Wouldn't it be fun if they got back together?"

Willow's expression changed rapidly, suspicion and anger were gone, and replaced with excitement. "You know," the redhead said, smiling, "it's interesting to hear you say that, because I have a theory myself. Are you interested in a cup of coffee?"

At that Faith smiled as well. It would be nice seeing Buffy and Angel back together, she thought. But even more so, she could hardly wait to see the expression on Riley's face when he lost his wife to her former lover.

*****

"Oh," Drusilla's voice sounded a bit breathless when without warning a body collided with hers. But she smiled when a heavily British accented voice suddenly said.

"I would say, I'm sorry, but I'm not. Well, not really." Spike put a hand under her elbow and smiled.

"Spike," she said, shifting the files in her arms. "Aren't you a bit late?" she asked and glanced at the clock.

"Observation," he answered. "We were out half the night, so the big boss gave us the morning off."

"Ah," she nodded.

"Ah, what?" he asked.

Quickly glancing down, she laughed a bit uncertain when she looked up again, "Oh, nothing. I just thought you'd be at the Splash again last night." As soon as the words were out, a blush crept up her cheeks. Spike thought she looked incredibly sweet.

"So you... missed me?" he said, cocking a brow.

"I... uh... well, I wouldn't go that far," she stuttered, "I just... I feel comfortable in your company," she admitted.

"You do?" he liked the idea. "Only comfortable?"

Comfortable was good. Comfortable was fine, but friends felt good in each other's company, and what he felt for Drusilla was already far beyond friendship. God help him.

"Not only," she replied and glanced down again. Then - almost angry – she frowned, "This is not... I'm not used to this, you know," she admitted. "The last guy... my last... you know," she gave him a look, hoping for understanding and when he nodded, she continued, "We found out he was a drug dealer. It wasn't nice."

Compassion rose in him, "I understand," he said, lying his hand on her forearm. "Would you like to go on a date? With me?"

She stared at him at first so that he almost thought she had lost her voice, but then suddenly she said, "Yes. I'd like that. Very much actually."

His answering smile was slow, but sweet, "Well then. How about tonight? No observations tonight."

"Okay," she laughed a bit breathlessly, "Is eight alright for you?"

"Eight it is," he agreed. "See you then."

She nodded, and was about to turn when his voice held her back, "Where do you live? I need your address."

This time her smile was pure female, and Spike felt his body tighten at the sight, "You're a police officer," she said, "You should be able to find out."

Then she turned her hips swinging and left him breathless for a moment.

********

9

Thursday, August 24th, 7.00 a.m., Los Angeles

"So what you're telling me is that the girl of the night, the girl - or rather the woman - accompanying David Griffin to the Chambers' engagement party was Diana Massey?"

"That's what I'm saying," Angel said, picking up his cup of coffee and carefully sipping at the hot brew. These early morning meetings with Cordelia Chase were going to be fun, he thought acidly. It’s not that he wasn’t a morning person. Actually he was, but he still liked his mornings more private, not completely taken over by business.

She was all business, sitting opposite to him, dressed in a conservative navy suit, from head to toe screaming that she was the assistant DA. Not the sassy fiancée of his friend who was - no doubt - still sleeping like a baby in his satin sheets. Doyle, as Angel recalled, wasn't a morning person and it would be fun to see those two married for the next fifty odd years.

"And may I ask why you didn't tell me this yesterday?" the brunette asked.

"Or did you just think, 'hey this isn't important. Why bother Cordelia with this development about my ex-lover’s sister.'?" Her voice had risen during the speech and her eyes were blazing.

His narrowed in reply and an expression entered them who was more than just a simple warning, "Be careful," he said slowly, his voice low.

She looked at him for a long moment, and then threw her hands up in defeat, "Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I'm just," she paused and sighed. Then took a sip from her coffee. Putting the cup down she gazed back at him, her voice and eyes apologetic, "I'm really sorry, but this business isn't any fun for me either. I had a rather annoying interrogation yesterday with our beloved Riley Finn. If I hadn't know it already, after yesterday I'd swear he's the lowest form of life on this planet. A definite..." she trailed off, but of course he knew what she was thinking.

"I see," he replied, choosing his words carefully. He knew that Cordelia wouldn't tell him what had happened during the interrogation, and he wouldn't ask, but, "So he wasn't quite the gentleman, I assume?"

"Gentleman," she echoed, and the disgust so thick that, that one word held said more than a whole novel ever would. "I asked him about Operation Delta and there was a flicker in his eyes, you know. It was quick, but it was there. I have no idea what it means, but my boss certainly has Finn on his list. And believe me, you wouldn't want to be on Timothy Philips' list."

"Well, I for once don't care if he's got Riley on his list or not," Angel said and meant it. Lists were just that, lists. He was more interested in finding out if Riley had his hands in shady business - or if it was Riley at all. And besides, he thought, this wasn't about Riley. This was about finding a foul egg. "And I have no idea if the fact that David Griffin is dating Diana Massey has anything to do with Darla. They never really got along. At least not while Darla and I were dating. I saw Diana, once, twice max."

"But you're sure about her? I mean you're sure it was her?"

"Oh, yeah," Angel nodded and ran a hand through his hair, "It's not really complicated," he told Cordelia, "If you know Darla, you know Diana. They're twins."

Cordelia almost choked on her coffee and was about to say something, when the door of a room opened and a sleepy eyed and rather groggy Spike stumbled into the living room, only wearing his boxers – the same way he had a couple days ago. Blinking against the Californian morning sun, he cast his eyes on the brunette, "Oh, Miss District Attorney," he grinned, although it was rather lopsided, due to the fact that the whole left side of his face was covered with interesting colors.

"What the..." Angel was on his feet in an instant, eyeing his friend closely, "Whatever happened to you last night?"

Spike's smile changed into a pain-filled grimace and he touched his cheek gingerly, "I... uh... had an argument with a local shi... idiot, so to speak."

"Some argument," Cordelia commented sarcastically. "I'd say it grew rather out of hand."

"Not really," the blond replied, groaning when he touched a special spot near his eyebrow. Glancing sideways at Cordelia, he said, "I had a date with Drusilla last night. We went to a nice club. I found it yesterday when we drove by and thought it might be a nice change to the Splash. So I took her there," he sighed deeply, "big mistake. Next time remind me not to chose a club if you're not familiar with the town."

"So what happened?" Angel wanted to know, sitting down again and crossing his arms in front of his chest, watching his friend expectantly.

"Well," Spike began while he was walking to the kitchen and back, completely unconcerned about his lack of clothing, to get an empty cup, "seems the club belongs to the brother of an asshole Dru dated before. He wasn't the nicest guy, she told me. Crossed Vice. So there we are and as soon as the asshole's brother spots Dru he begins to taunt her. Gentleman I am, I couldn't just sit by and watch, you know."

"So you... um... decided to save the lady's honor, right?" Angel said, now grinning.

"So to speak," Spike replied, pouring himself coffee. Caffeine was a necessity. His head was pounding from a mix of alcohol and being beaten up by two gorillas and the fact that he'd been the noble one and just brought Drusilla home instead of trying to get her between the sheets - preferably his. And that alone was enough reason for a severe headache. Because it pointed out that Drusilla wasn't just some casual fling. The blond groaned inwardly. Not that he hadn't already noticed the problem. But it was the absolute wrong time to fall in love with a possible suspect. Sure, Angel swore, Drusilla was clean, but Spike was a cop and as a cop he knew you had to expect the unexpected.

When he looked up he saw Cordelia's gaze resting on him, "What?" he asked.

"Isn't a guy allowed to play the protector?"

"Some protector," she snorted, shaking her head. "From the looks of you I'd say you ended up in the gutter. Or do the others look worse?"

"No, not really," he admitted rather quietly. "But hey," he glanced at Angel, "they were two, with really big muscles and really mean faces."

"Oh, this is just great. One of my internal officers goes out and lets himself be used as a punching bag. Wonderful." Cordelia glared at him.

"Hey, lady. I was out with a girl," Spike wasn't looking at his coffee anymore. No, his eyes were solely directed at Cordelia and they were rather angry now, "A guy insulted her. What should I do? Just sit there and watch? In your dreams." With a last look he stood up and walked into his bedroom, slamming the door in her face.

"Explosive character, your friend," Cordelia remarked, turning back towards Angel.

"Not really," he replied and tilted his head. "He's just protective. He always was. With women and with his partner and I'm more than grateful for it."

"Yeah, I heard," she said, all humor vanished from his face. "He saved your life one night. I read the reports. It's rather impressive. He carried you on his shoulders for over six miles. Regarding your height and weight and his, it's very impressive."

"He's my friend and my partner. I would've done the same for him. But yeah, it's impressive and I owe him."

This was becoming far too personal, Cordelia decided, "What impression did you get of Mike Harmon and his girl? Is this relationship real?"

"It looks like it," Angel was grateful for the change of subjects. He wasn't comfortable talking about Spike and his relationship with him with Cordelia.

The things they had done for each other were between them - and that meant private. "He couldn't keep his hand off the woman. And she was smiling at him like he'd hung the moon."

"Good for him," Cordelia commented. "And for us. If it's love, I highly doubt the money is important. Mike doesn't strike me as the type who needs money to impress a woman. He isn't self-conscious."

"No, he isn't," Angel, agreed. "I like him actually. He's got a great sense of humor and he's got a lot of experience for his age. Besides, Derryl Chambers has money, and yeah, David Griffin was a guest at the party, but that doesn't really mean anything."

"I know," Cordelia sighed again, "It's just... I hate this. You know, digging through our own trenches to find a traitor."

"Yeah," he agreed again. There was nothing worse than a dirty cop. Cops were meant to protect and to clean up, not to change sides. Oh yeah, a dirty cop was definitely the worst.

"So who will you be watching next?" she asked.

Angel shrugged, "We haven't decided yet. Maybe Kate Lockley. We'll have to see. We have to decide what the best opportunity is. Spike’s going to shadow Darla today," he then added, "We need to find out if she'll contact her sister. We already watched her yesterday, but nothing so far."

Cordelia nodded, and then changed the subject again, "Buffy told me what you did for her. When her oh so wonderful soon-to-be ex was behaving like the asshole he is."

He gave her an irritated look, "Yeah, and?"

"And nothing. You did good," she smiled, "She had and sometimes still has it rough, you know. Riley wasn't just cheating on her. I'm certainly not supposed to tell you, and she never told me, but women just know some things."

"Cordelia," now he grew even more irritated.

"He beat her," as if the words hurt her mouth, she spat them.

Angel stared at her, then was on his feet in a flash, his motions jerky, he ran a suddenly trembling hand through his hair, "Jesus Christ," he muttered, beginning to pace the room. "You're sure?" he asked, stopping shortly to glance at her, then continued pacing.

"Yeah," she replied. "Makeup can't cover everything. I'm sure the others were completely oblivious, but I always had a thing for makeup."

"No kidding," he remarked, but it didn't sound funny. Actually it sounded as if he was ready to hit something. Really hard.

"Yeah, well, anyways. I noticed that the color of the eye shadow on her left lid didn't really match the one on her right. I never asked, knowing how uncomfortable women are about it. And as Riley moved out of their apartment the same afternoon, it didn't happen again. But of course I'm not sure if he ever did it before."

"He's lucky I wasn't around," Angel hissed through gritted teeth. He had stopped pacing, his fists clenching and unclenching in a steady rhythm. "I would've beat him into a bloody pulp. God," he asked nobody in particular, "Did I ever know him at all?"

"Seems Spike isn't the only one with a protective streak," Cordelia said as she came to stand beside him. Tentatively she reached out and touched his arm. When he turned his head to look at her, she gave him a warm smile,

"It's over," she said slowly. "She'll be divorced soon and all this will be nothing more than a bad dream.”

"You're wrong," he replied, not heeding to her smile, "those things never leave you. You can get divorced. But things like that will change you forever." Turning to look out of the window again, he frowned and Cordelia wasn't sure if he was just trying to blink the tears in his eyes away. "Did you ever look into her eyes? Really look? They're so sad. So lost. They used to sparkle with mischief. They used to laugh. Almost all the time. Sure, a part of this was vanished when Mike was shoot and she thought I'd killed him," he suddenly laughed harshly, "Geez, for all I know she still blames me."

"No," Cordelia said firmly, her fingers on his arms tightening, urging him to look at her again. "She doesn't blame you for her brother's death. She probably never did." She saw the incredulous expression in his eyes and shook her head, "Angel, she was devastated when Mike was killed. You know how long she needed to finally accept him. He was the embodiment of her father's failure to love her mother. But then she loved him. She really loved him. And then he was killed, and with your weapon.

"From there everything fell apart. *She* fell apart. I saw her, Angel. She couldn't eat or sleep. After a while she couldn't even cry anymore. She certainly couldn't think clearly. By the time she woke up she knew she was wrong, that you wouldn't have shot Mike, not even unintentionally. You're a too good cop, and I know you loved her." She tilted her head, "Probably never stopped loving her."

He just looked at her steadily, his expression not changing and she wanted to scream. One thing she'd always hated about Angel Reardon was his ability to hide his feelings. Damn the man. "Anyways," she continued, "As I said, she woke up. Unfortunately she found herself married to Riley and you were already gone to New York. You don't just throw your marriage away and run after a guy whom you just hurt by rejecting him."

Now his eyes widened in surprise. His expression was a little dazed when he whispered "I always thought you saw me responsible for all this mess."

She couldn't help it, but she had to laugh, "Sorry," she said instantly. "I know this isn’t a laughing matter. But no, I never thought you responsible for it. Or only a little bit. Maybe I blamed you for not fighting harder, for not being a bit more stubborn."

"I didn't want to cause her more pain." His voice was still not more than a whisper. Then it hit him, "She really doesn't blame me?"

Her smile warmed even more, "No," she assured him. "So maybe knowing that, you could... well, try to right the wrong?"

"Cordelia," he sighed loudly, "I... I just don't know. It's been four years. A long time. A lot of things happened. I don't even know how she feels about me. If she's still interested."

"Well," she let go of his hand, her smile turning a bit wicked, "As I see it, you'll never know until you try."

********

10

The same day, 11.00 a.m.

"So you see, Detective Summers," Giles was saying, "We need this report by Monday - and that's the last possible date..." Buffy nodded absentmindedly at his words, tuning out from time to time, her eyes repeatedly flickering to Drusilla's desk outside the lieutenant’s office, her irritation growing by the second.

Angel was there with the raven-haired woman, he was sitting on the edge of her desk, laughing from time to time, leaning forward toward her. They made a picture perfect couple. She couldn't hear a word they were saying and it was very likely the whole scene was completely innocent, but she couldn't help the distinct pang of jealousy she was feeling at the sight of them so close.

There never had been anything between Angel and his rookie four years ago but that didn't mean it couldn't happen now. But hadn't she noticed that Spike had shown interest in Drusilla? Angel wouldn't try to hit on his friend's love-interest, not after what he'd been through himself. Buffy was sure of that, if nothing else. And why the hell did she care anyway? She had no claim on Angel Reardon, with his deep brown eyes you wanted to drown in, his sensual mouth, the well muscled body and... God, just shoot me, she thought. She had no right to feel this way, she told herself firmly. Not after she'd sent him away, when he came all but begging her to rethink her decision, not to throw their love away and she'd told him she hadn’t known a thing about love, until Riley had come along and shown her the real thing.

Real thing, my ass, she snorted inwardly. Yes, Riley certainly had shown her the real thing. But it hadn't been love. Far from it. As far as Riley was concerned, love could've been a word from old Egyptian it was so foreign to him. Jealousy, anger, bitterness. Those were more the words he was acquainted with. And violence.

Now Angel was leaning forward and one of his hands came to lie on Drusilla's shoulder. She had to turn away, not able to watch any longer and she started when her gaze landed on Giles who had stopped talking and was eyeing her closely, speculatively. "What?" she asked, trying to shake off the images that were running wild in her head. Angel kissing Drusilla, undressing her, making... God, maybe she was finally going to lose it. But she could still feel his hands on her, stroking her, his voice soothing her, telling her everything would be all right after Riley had tried to hurt her in the worst possible way.

"I was just wondering where you were," Giles said gently, then turned his head, nodding pointedly at Angel and Drusilla who were now laughing wholeheartedly. "Of course it wasn't hard to figure out."

"I'm sorry," she replied, the fingers of her right hand playing with her long, blond hair. "I seem to have problems concentrating today. Didn't sleep well, I guess. With the upcoming divorce and all," she added.

"Yes, sure, the divorce," Giles said mildly, not hiding that he didn't believe one word she was saying. There was no denying what was disturbing his officer this morning. Not that he thought for one moment that Angel Reardon was even slightly interested in Drusilla Petersen. He was too old not to see the way Angel was looking at Buffy every time he thought she wouldn't see.

Their love affair may have been over for a long time, but Giles was sure the love wasn't - not by a long shot. They just came with a lot of baggage, and regarding that fact it was a rough road they had ahead of them. He admitted to himself that he was wrong to think that it wouldn't be good for Buffy to see Angel again. Reassessing the situation now he was sure it was quite the opposite. For the first time in years Buffy looked more than just plain mentally dead.

"Yeah," the blond replied, glad he didn't insist on talking about Angel. No way she would talk with her boss about Angel, "it's rather messy." She inhaled deeply, "But of course this isn't something that belongs here."

"Oh, I wouldn't agree," he said, giving her a smile, "You and your soon-to-be ex-husband are both detectives of this precinct, so maybe the private parts of the divorce aren't my business, but if it intrudes work it sure as hell is. He's giving you a hard time?"

She looked at him and hesitated for a moment, before she sighed, "Well, he's just Riley I guess. I didn't realize what kind of guy he was when we got together. And I didn't know for a while after we're married. But soon," she sighed again. "This really isn't fun. And now he just behaves... typical, I suppose. Don't get me wrong, I still think he's a good cop, his record is proof of that, but... maybe, we just didn't match."

"Or the situation was wrong," Giles remarked, understanding in his eyes. "You married him when you were very vulnerable, when you thought you'd been betrayed by a man you thought you loved."

There was such deep knowledge in his words that Buffy shivered involuntarily. Her own problems forgotten for the moment, she asked, "Who was she?" Startled by her blunt question, he drew a sharp breath, and she held up a hand, "You don't have to tell me. It’s not any of my business," she said, smiling apologetically.

"No, it isn't," he replied, his smile incredibly sad, "It happened a long time ago. I loved her, very much. But then I found out that she just used me by forwarding all the things I thought were said in private to her brother who happened to be deeply into drugs. So you see, I can relate. Only that Angel didn't do anything."

"No, he didn't," she agreed. "But when all the stuff happened, I wasn't... I couldn't..." she stopped, not really knowing how to explain her feelings the days and weeks after her half-brother had been shot accidentally in a cross-fire with Angel's weapon.

"Think straight?," he asked, his eyes warm and understanding.

All she could reply was giving him a small, miserable nod.

"You don't have to tell me," Giles said gently, "And this," he pointed at a file on his desk, "can certainly wait another day. We could meet tomorrow after lunch to talk about it."

"Thanks," she smiled gratefully, "Thanks, Giles."

"No problem. Maybe you should just talk to him," he suggested.

Now her smile was sad, "I think it's much too late for this. I missed my chance for," she shrugged, "Well, I missed it."

"If you say so," he said, not quite believing her. She was already at the door, when his voice made her turn around, "And Buffy, there will never be anything but friendship between Drusilla Peterson and Angel," he was smiling in the end.

"Yeah, I know," she said, but the sadness was still present, "But that doesn't mean, he's going to risk his heart again with me, does it?" With this she slipped from his office, her gaze instantly turning towards Drusilla's desk, but there was only the female officer, Angel Reardon was nowhere in sight.

*****

17.00 p.m.

Not only Spike hated observations, Angel mused while he was sitting in his car that was standing in front of a huge brick stone house that looked as if it should be standing in Boston. It looked so completely out of place that it was almost funny. Almost.

And the reason Angel was sitting in his car in front of the out-of-place house was that it was another of Derryl Chambers' properties. Simone Chambers had entered the house, and Angel was sure it was to check out the place. What he hadn't expected was for Riley Finn to arrive only minutes afterwards. This had been about an hour ago and neither Mike Harmon's fiancée nor the detective had come out again. Angel couldn't be sure what was going on inside the walls, but it sure was suspicious as hell.

He glanced to his side and sighed at the sight of several empty cans of coke and some other stuff littering his car, all leftovers of Spike's presence during the past days. Not today though. The blond was - as Angel had told Cordelia - following Darla Massey and Angel couldn't wait to hear what he would have to say in the evening. Diana Massey was dating David Griffin. He shook his head. Jesus, this case was certainly complicated.

Despite the litter that was covering the floor of his car, Angel missed Spike today. He missed his cocky retorts and comments, his dry humor and the way he could see things clearly as glass. And he could certainly use that now, when the observation of Simone Chambers had suddenly turned into an observation of Riley Finn as well.

Angel had planned to leave Riley to Spike, as he'd done it with Darla, but now fate had decided against it and although Angel didn't like the situation, there was absolutely nothing he could do to change it. He could hardly call Cordelia and refuse to investigate Riley. Nope, no way he could do that. The brunette would laugh - not in a friendly way - and just slam the receiver back down, thinking he'd lost his marbles.

None of them could understand - maybe not even Spike - how he felt about Riley Finn. His feelings were so mixed up he had a hard time understanding them. When Cordelia had told him about Riley beating Buffy anger had been the dominant one. Not just anger, rage. It had been all he could do not to leave the apartment, search for Riley and beat him up the way he did to Buffy. God, just thinking about it, made Angel's stomach churn.

What on earth had happened to the Riley Finn he'd known almost since they'd played together in pampers? If, and that was the really painful question, he'd ever been there at all. Could all their times together just have been a clever disguise? No, Angel dismissed the thought quickly. No way, a little boy could be that twisted. No, their friendship had been genuine. They had laughed together, joked together. Like the night, after the first football game in their sophomore year in high school when Riley had fallen for Lucy Turner, two years his senior and in the blonde's eyes extremely hot...

##"Man that game's a bitch," Riley slid down along the wall in the boy's locker room, completely exhausted, bruised and hurting, but grinning nonetheless.

"Yeah," Angel agreed, opening the door of his locker and throwing his sweaty sneakers inside. Turning his head he was grinning as well, "But we won."

"We sure have," the blond was wiping his dirty face, a blue bruise already showing under his right eye. "Did you see the huge giant they had in their defense line?" he asked.

"I did," Angel, commented, his grin never wavering, "Got you straight."

Riley chuckled at that and struggled to stand up. Playing high school football could be fun, but he would give a lot for a hot bath now. Tomorrow his body would be hurting like hell. He groaned when he already cold muscles protested against a certain movement, "Don't laugh," he warned his friend, "This isn't funny."

"Oh, but I think it is," the dark-haired boy replied, chuckling as well.

"And don't think I didn't see Lucy Turner following every of your moves."

The blonde's head jerked around, "She did?" he asked, wondering why his voice was suddenly sounding so breathless.

"Yeah," Angel chuckled again, incredulously shaking his head, "Although I still can't see why you have the hots for her."

"You can't?" now it was Riley's term to look incredulous. "Do you want to tell me, you haven't seen her great ass and tits? I would bet she needs a D-cup already."

Angel groaned and rolled his eyes, "Is there anything else you are interested in a woman besides her body?"

"Nope," the blond grinned wickedly and pulled his dirt stained shirt over his head, "A great body is pretty much everything. Hey, I'm young. I want to enjoy myself, celebrate live. If not now, I wonder when it's going to happen."

"God, you're gross," his friend said with disgust. Riley could be such a jerk. Ass and tits - hardly the only important attributes of a girl. Not that Angel didn't appreciate certain attributes, but he preferred a girl who could also talk about interesting subjects anytime. Wham-bam in bed might be fun, Angel guessed, but there had to be more. Of course he had no way of really knowing it. He was, much to Riley's amusement, still a virgin.

His friend, of course, wasn't. Not that it was something special to not be a virgin as a sophomore in high school. Angel's mother had been shocked to the bone when he'd told her that most of the guys in his class had already slept with a girl. The world would come to an end, she'd said and it had been so typical for Carmen Reardon, the Mexican girl that had married his thoroughly Irish father. It was her whom he had to thank for his first name, the cause of lots of laughs throughout the years. But his mother was proud of it, always smiling and stroking his head, saying 'you're my Angel. You never brought anything but joy to this family.'

"Gross, huh?" Riley interrupted his musings, "Well, not everyone can be as holy as you, Angel." ##

Had there been an edge in his voice all those years ago, Angel tried to remember now. It had been 20 years ago, too much to be sure he remembered correctly. But maybe even then Riley had been eaten up with the sort of jealousy Angel had experienced in full four years ago.

And that was the worst, the fact that he doubted everything now. Every gesture, every friendly arm around his shoulder, every pat on his back - what had been genuine and what... not?

Running a hand through his hair he exhaled a breath he didn't even know he'd been holding. God, he hated this. Hated all this stuff being dragged up again. He thought he had left it all behind when he'd moved to New York, burying all his dreams of love and a future in the process. Burying Riley with them. But of course he'd been lying to himself.

Things like these had a way of haunting you and he knew there hadn't been a day when Buffy hadn't been on his mind at least for a moment - several times a day. You didn't just leave the love of your life and forget about it. She might have done that, but he had never been able to - although if he believed Cordelia, he hadn't been far from Buffy's thoughts either.

He looked up when the door of the brick house opened and first Simone and then Riley appeared again. There was nothing indicating that it had been more than just a business meeting - even though that was quite strange, regarding the fact that Simone was the daughter of one of the richest men on the west coast and Riley was nothing more than a police officer, the son of poor Irish immigrants.

Angel would have sworn that Simone was in love with Mike Harmon the night before. The way she had touched him, had smiled at him, looked at him. She was jerking her arm away now from Riley who had tried to touch her, glaring at him, her eyes narrowed and full of hate. What the hell was going on here? Angel wanted to jump from the car and ask them, but of course there was no way he could do that.

Riley was shouting at her now, but they were too far away for Angel to hear what they were saying. She was shouting back, her whole body trembling with rage, her eyes blazing. Then she turned round, slipped inside her car and drove away, the wheels burning the asphalt. She couldn't get away quickly enough.

Riley turned and now that Angel could see his face. He could also see the smile on his face. And it made his blood freeze. It was an evil smile, the smile of a man who held power - over a woman. The woman in question undoubtedly had been Simone. And she hated the blond. But why on earth then had her face been flushed in a way that could only mean one thing? Damned, if Angel just knew what the hell was going on.

*****

18.30 p.m.

"Welcome in my humble home, my friend and," Doyle paused when Angel just breezed past him without any greeting, then shut the door behind the dark-haired man, "just make yourself at home," he added, certain that Angel hadn't listened to one word he'd been saying.

"Doyle did you remember to put the white wine into the fridge and..." Cordelia was just coming out of the kitchen and stopped dead in tracks when her eyes fell on their visitor. One of her perfect eyebrows rose in a mixture of surprise and indignation, "And what brings you here?"

"The job," Angel said curtly, not even bothering to greet his friends.

"That's too bad," she replied, already turning towards the kitchen again, "because as I already told you, this is job-free time. No work in my free time. We can talk tomorrow, come to my office at noon."

"Screw that," he told her, his voice holding definite anger and annoyance.

Not used to Angel using that kind of language around her, Cordelia froze for a second, and turned back to him - almost in slow motion. Then her eyebrow rose again, "Excuse me?"

He looked at her steadily, "I said screw that. And don't use that attitude on me. For once we know each other too long and too well, secondly I really don't give a damn about your free time. You tell me I have to get used to you showing up at my doorstep at 7.00 a.m., so you have to get used to the fact that important news won't wait until *you* have office hours. Understood?"

Cordelia could only stare at him. From the corner of her eye she saw Doyle was trying to suppress a grin that was threatening to spread across his lips. Of course *he* was enjoying the situation tremendously. Leaning against the wall, his arms crossed, he had the best view of this completely humiliating situation. Well, she knew when she'd lost, she thought. Closing her eyes for a moment, she took a deep breath, and in opening her eyes again, she said, "Understood."

Doyle almost did a double take at that, and this time the brunette had to suppress a grin. He had expected her to shout and spit at Angel, certainly not to give in like that. But when she looked at him again, she could see the shine of pride in his eyes at her reaction and she knew again why she loved Doyle more than anything in the world. Oh yes, their marriage would be far from boring, but God, she could hardly wait to become Mrs. Doyle.

Angel, obviously as surprised as her soon-to-be husband, had to clear his throat, before he said, "Good."

"Now that we understand each other," Cordelia said, proceeding towards the kitchen to save her Beuf Bovignon from burning into something unrecognizable and definitely un-eatable, "why don't you tell me why you came. What is so important that couldn't wait until tomorrow?" She took the spoon to stir the sauce, not looking at the door, but sensing the movement announcing Angel's presence.

"Actually there are two things I wanted to tell you, and if you remember, it was you who were bitching this morning about not telling you the things a.s.a.p. So here I am."

He was leaning against the doorway now, almost casually, making her blood boil. She really liked Angel Reardon. She really did. Most of the time. But at certain times he could be the most infuriating, most annoying best friend of her soon-to-be husband. On the other hand he was also the best cop she could get for the job and so she swallowed an angry retort, took another calming breath, "I guess I have to accept that," she replied slowly.

He actually had the guts to grin at that. Of all the annoying guys in the world... "I know how difficult this was for you," he said then, surprising her completely. "And I apologize for it. But coming back to the more important subject-"

"Yes, that would be too nice," she retorted sarcastically.

He grinned again, exchanging a wink with Doyle, who was by now sitting on the sofa, sipping at a glass of obviously nice Brandy, still enjoying the exchange, tremendously. "Well, first off, Spike called. Darla met her sister Diana twice today," he told her, "something that's strange enough, but Spike swore that the second time an envelope was exchanged."

Cordelia put the spoon aside, turned to the fridge and holding a cup of cream in her hand looked at him, "Hmm. Interesting. Any ideas what was inside the envelope?"

"None," Angel replied. "But it wasn't money," he added. "Spike is absolutely positive about it and he's the best cop I know."

"Besides you, of course," she remarked, smirking, then poured the cream into her sauce.

"Thanks for the compliment," he said, grinning, but was serious again in an instant, when he continued, "I was following Simone Chambers. I got a phone call late this morning and so used the opportunity to check her out. Turns out that she has some very interesting... acquaintances."

Cordelia turned her head and raised her brow again, "Oh?"

"Oh, yes," he retorted. "She disappeared into a building in West Hollywood and you have three guesses who arrived there just ten minutes later and then stayed with her inside of the house for about an hour."

"I never liked guessing games, Angel. So just tell me."

"Riley Finn."

The spoon she'd just picked up to stir her sauce clattered to the floor, her gaze flew around to him, and from the corner of his eye Angel could see that Doyle had left his spot on the sofa as well and was now joining his fiancée and friend in the kitchen. "Say that again," he demanded, not sure he had heard correctly.

"Riley Finn," Angel repeated, uncrossing his arms and bending down to pick up the spoon. Placing it in the sink, he looked back at Cordelia. "And do you want to hear something even more interesting? When they came out, they were arguing, heavily. I've seen angry women, and I can tell you this woman hates Riley Finn, but the really disturbing part is, that I could swear she looked remarkably like someone who just had sex with him."


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