Toxic Past

by Kristi

Summary: AU Everyone’s human. Angel’s life is in a downward spiral until he meets an angel of his own but life proves once again it’s not always a bed of roses. B/A

Disclaimer: I don’t own anything and it’s beginning to really upset me *pout*

A/N written for Isis and Stars Whedonverse ficathon for Karina (the_sooth_sayer) Requirements given at the end of the story. Special thanks to my lovely betas Ashley and Torey. They helped soothe my nerves about writing AU and let me bounce ideas off of them.


Chapter One

            Oz steps through the shattered window of the warehouse and pulls the filthy curtain hanging in front of it back in place. He holds the paper bag over his head and shakes it. Gunn, Fred and Angel all look up from their position huddled around the fire barrel.

            “Hell yeah, took you long enough,” Gunn says.

            “You want the sneaky bastard job next time, be my guest,” Oz says.

            Angel snatches the brown paper bag from the shorter man’s hand and rummages through it. “ Okay, so we’ve crack, smack, krank, speed and X, which would be great if we were planning a fucking orgy. If I wake up naked next to you or Gunn I’m beating your ass, Oz.”

            “You wake up naked next to Fred, I’m beating yours” Gunn says.

            Angel snorts. “You can try.”

            “Guys, don’t fight. No one is gonna wake up naked next to anyone. There’s a rave tonight. We can sell the X there make some money for some food “Fred says.

            “Girl’s smart, got a head on her shoulders, knew there was a reason we keep her around,” Angel says.

            “We keep her around because she’s my girl” Gunn says bowing up toward Angel.

            Angel pulls a folded square of aluminum foil out of his pocket along with a small glass straw like tube and a silver Zippo. He gets a rock out of one of the small plastic baggies and places it in the foil. He places the glass tube between his lips and thumbs the Zippo. He holds the flame under the foil for a second and vapors start to rise. He sucks up the vapors through the glass straw and keeps the flame under the foil until the rock is reduced to little more then burnt goo.

            “Damn, this is good shit. Where did you find it this time, Candy man?” Angel asks.

            Oz shrugs. “New dealer in town, Diesel, haven’t hit his place ‘til now.”

            They call Oz the Candy man, or sneaky bastard, because he provides most of their recreation. He steals it from anywhere and everywhere, all over LA. He hasn’t found a lock he can’t pick, yet or a crack house that has security enough to catch him. He is 5 foot nothing and weighs a 100 nothing. He is the sneakiest little bastard Angel has ever met and that’s saying something.   Oz has had offers for big time burglary jobs but they generally want him stone cold sober to do the jobs and that is something Oz just isn’t willing to do.

            Everyone gets stoned on crack and they gather up to go to the rave. It’s in an old warehouse basement and Angel’s not sure how they expect it remain on the sly. Music rattles the broken glass in the windows near the basement entrance.

            “Let’s get in, sell this shit and get out. It’s gonna start smelling like bacon around here anytime,” Angel says.

            Oz nods. “So Fred?”

            “Yeah, Fred” Angel agrees.

            Oz digs in his pocket and hands a plastic baggie to Fred. She licks her lips nervously and takes it.

            “You’re gonna be fine, Girl. You’ve done this one a dozen times and you’re good at it” Gunn says.

            Fred nods. “Ya’ll coming with?”

            “No way I’m lettin you walk in there alone” Gunn says.

            “Us neither, but get in there, get it sold and let’s get the fuck out. I’m not going down for dealing a hundred bucks worth of X,” Angel says.

            Oz nods his agreement and they start for the warehouse together.  Once inside the basement they fan out away from Fred. She does her best work if the guys she’s selling the X to think she’s a single girl. Angel chuckles to himself watching as Fred blushes and shrugs a little. She pockets the wad of money the guy in the Blink 182 shirt trying to look oh so cool hands her. She shakes her head a little and then tiptoes, whispering something in the guy’s ear. He nods and leaves. He returns in a few moments with some more of his friends.

            Angel circles a bit closer and watches the boys she’s selling to. They’re rich kids, probably living in Beverly Hills off Daddy’s money slumming it for the weekend, if parking the Beamer two blocks away in a secure garage and wearing last year’s brand names can be called slumming. Angel grits his teeth, anger washing over him. Ungrateful little bastards, he thinks. He smirks at the idea of them having to call Daddy for bail money should things go the way he thinks they will tonight. He’d like to be around to hear the stuttering and lying.

            Fred pockets the last of the money and gives a shy little wave. She catches Gunn’s eye and heads for the door. They all converge out there.

            “Two hundred bucks,” Fred says digging the money out of her pocket and proudly displaying it.

            “No fucking way. That shit had a street value of a hundred, tops” Gunn says.

            “Yeah but the street doesn’t deliver it with a pretty smile, a giggle and a blush. Good job, Fred” Angel says.

            Fred blushes under his praise and scuffs her foot in the dirt. “Kay, I’m starved. Can we go by Ralph’s Supermarket before heading home?” She asks.

            “Anything for you, Girl” Gunn says draping his arm around her bony shoulders.

            Fred runs through Ralph’s like a kid in a candy store, which technically she kind of is. Gunn pushes her around in a grocery cart through the snack food aisle. Her peals of laughter echo through out the store.

            “Oz, you go with them. Get some food. Don’t let them blow it all. I’ll be right back” Angel says.

            Oz nods and Angel heads back outside to the pay phone. He dials 911 and waits for an operator to pick up.

            “911 what’s your emergency?”

            “Yeah, I don’t think it’s really an emergency but I just picked up my little brother from a rave on 16th and Lincoln in an old warehouse. They’ve got minors running all over the place and my little brother is stoned out of his mind on something. Someone really should check it out” Angel says into the phone receiver.

            “Thank you for reporting that Sir, we’ll get someone on it. Can I get some personal information from you?” the operator asks.

            Angel hangs up the phone and stands out side waiting for the others.

*

            Back at their own little slice of paradise Fred divies up the Twinkies and Doritos.

            “Fred when I said get food, I meant something that wasn’t sugar” Angel says.

            “I did!” She squeals and holds aloft a bag of Doritos.

            Angel rolls his eyes and digs in the stash for the crack, his personal poison of choice.  After he’s smokes a good amount of crack, Fred’s choice of groceries doesn’t seem as important. In fact the Twinkies look pretty fucking good, he thinks as he grabs one and unwraps it, stuffing the entire thing in his mouth.

            It’s nearly dawn before everyone settles down in their own bed. Angel curls up in his corner on some couch cushions he’s scooted together to form a bed. He gives his little gang a glance over. Oz is curled up on one side of the fire barrel, a voluminous coat wrapped around him. Gunn is curled around Fred. The only thing Angel can actually see of the girl is her curly brown hair.  He closes his eyes, secure in the knowledge that his family is as safe as it’s going

Chapter Two

            The alarm clock is blaringly obnoxious at five in the morning. Buffy rolls over with a groan and smacks the clock hard with the palm of her hand. She gets out of bed, running her fingers through her sleep snarled hair and lets out a jaw cracking yawn.  She flips the radio in the bathroom on and climbs into the shower. Fifteen minutes later she gets out, horrified to realize she has just been singing and dancing along to Brittany Spears “Toxic”.

            “Stupid addictive songs that I don’t wanna like,” she mutters under her breath and brushes her teeth.

            She throws on a little bit of makeup, mascara and blush, and twists her damp hair into a knot at the nape of her neck. She wraps the towel tighter around her and walks through the bedroom and the living room into the laundry room. She pulls a clean pair of jeans out of the dryer and tugs a tattered, gray sweater that was once upon a time Lindsey’s down from a hanger. She slips the sweater on and attempts to pull her jeans on while walking into the kitchen.

            “Shit!” Buffy exclaims loudly as she hits her shoulder hard on the corner of the wall. She clamps a hand over her mouth. Lindsey is probably still asleep. She curses under her breath this time and stops to pull her loose jeans over her hips.  She hits the switch for the coffee machine and goes back in her bedroom to search for socks and her Doc Martens.

            “No sense dressing up when I’m very likely to be trying my hand at plumbing later today,” Buffy grumbles to herself. She locates a pair of socks and the boots. Both get tugged on hurriedly and she rushes back into the kitchen. She pours a big stainless steel commuter cup of coffee and is pouring crème and sugar into the cup when Lindsey walks in. He’s shirtless and wearing the Sponge Bob Square Pants pajama pants Buffy got him for Christmas last year.

            “I don’t know why you don’t have just sugar and hot milk” he says with a yawn.

            “Because I need the caffeine” she says. She leans in and kisses him on the cheek. “Good luck with your trial and should it be dismissed I’ll be at the shelter reading Plumbing for Dummies.

            “Don’t count on it, Darlin and don’t wish too hard for it. Trials are what pay for this pretty apartment and the expensive coffee you like to drink” Lindsey reminds her.

            “I know, I know. I’m gone” she says dashing out the door.

            Buffy pulls her SUV into the parking lot of the shelter. She gets out and locks it with the remote. It’s not fashionable to have an SUV in LA now and the environmentalist tend to target this side of town but the SUV is very handy for hauling things the shelter needs. Buffy carries her almost empty coffee into the shelter. Everything is still dark and quiet but she can smell bacon cooking. Anne is already up and working.

            Buffy walks in the kitchen and stows her jacket and bag in a locker there.

            “Morning” she says.

            “Morning, Buffy want to try your hand with the eggs today?” Anne asks.

            “No, thanks Buffy and cooking are very non mixy things” Buffy says and starts hand washing the dishes Anne has piled in the sink.

            “Okay, I thought you might prefer it over dish duty though” Anne says.

            “Well I would but I prefer dish duty over burning down the shelter duty” Buffy teases.

            Anne chuckles. “Okay, but lets get a move on. I think they’re beginning to wake up.

 *

            Buffy sits down in the floor with an “umpf”. She rakes her fingers over her head. The tight knot she tied her hair in this morning has become loose enough to let an army of stray hairs out.  She rubs a hand over her face and turns the book, Plumbing for Dummies, upside down.

            “You realize it’s upside down” a man says walking into the room.

            She glances up and smiles ruefully. “Yeah but it wasn’t making any sense right side up so I thought it couldn’t hurt to get a different perspective on it.” She gets to her feet and dusts her jeans off “Buffy Summers.” She introduces herself.

            The man sticks his hand out and shakes hers. “Frank Smith from Frank’s Plumbing. Lindsey sent me. He said there was a potentially big job here.” Frank glances at the exposed pipes. His watery blue eyes follow the pipes until they run into the wall.

            “Yeah but I’m going to have to check with Anne before I let you do any work here. I don’t know how much we have in the budget for maintenance” Buffy says. It’s a lie she knows exactly how much the budget has for maintenance, nothing.

            “Oh, no Ma’am don’t worry ‘bout that. Lindsey said to send him a bill no matter what the costs were. Something about a promise he made to his sister” Franks says.

            Buffy laughs. “Sometimes he’s not bad for a pain in the butt older brother.”

Chapter Three

Angel ducks through the curtain shielding the broken entrance to the warehouse. He carries a paper bag of groceries.

            “Oz, you still got that pot you used to make krank the last time?” Angel asks.

            Oz nods, never one for words when a gesture will do. He rummages around in the army bag he carries with him everywhere and produces a tall, metal cook pot. He passes it wordlessly over to Angel.

            Angel fills the pot with water from their drain barrel and adds several packages of Ramen noodles. He sets the pot on the grill inside the fire barrel.  It doesn’t take long for the noodles to cook. He doles them out into clean discarded cans. Fred’s can is a Chicken and Stars can because when she was little it was her favorite. Gunn’s can is Chef Boyardee and Oz’s is an old corn can. Angel’s can is so old the label has washed off and he can’t remember what it was, maybe green beans.

            “Damn, it’s cold” Gunn says.

            Angel just nods. He doesn’t tell Gunn that it’s only going to get colder or that he spent the last of the money Fred got them on food, whiskey and crack. He pulls out the bottle of cheap whiskey and unscrews the top. He takes a swig and passes it around. It helps to chase away the cold. The crack he pulls out of his pocket helps even more. They cook up the crack and talk.

            Fred lies on the old couch that Gunn dragged up here a few days ago. He found it dumped on the side of the road.  Her head hangs off the end of it so that she is looking at them upside down.

            “When I was little, my big sister wanted to be a ballerina. Know what I wanted to be? A physicist, all my life. Then the world fell down and I ended up here, long way from a physicist.” Fred says.

            Everyone is silent. They all had their own stories about how they ended up here. Some of them had shared, some of them hadn’t. Fred’s story was simple. Her entire family had been killed in a car wreck while she was away at college, studying to be a physicist. She took a break from college after the car wreck, and never went back.

            “So Gunn, what did you want to be when you were little?” Fred asks.

            “Shit, Girl, where I come from I just wanted to be alive. Never figured I’d actually make it to twenty, you know? But sometimes at night when I couldn’t hear the police sirens or gun shots I’d think it’d be kinda nice to be a lawyer, someone who could help people like the kids in my neighborhood that didn’t have the money to pay for an expensive lawyer to fix the lives they’d messed up” Gunn says.

            “Oz?” Fred says.

            Oz shrugs. “Came out here to be a musician, found out that’s what half of these guys were out here trying to do. I had this sweet Fender, pearl white. Curt Cobain from Nirvana signed it at a show I went to in Seattle, hocked it after eight months here. I wanted to smoke more then I wanted to play.”

            Angel is surprised to hear Oz confess so much. He’s fairly sure it’s the most he’s heard the red head say in the three years he’s known him.

            “Your turn Angel” Fred says.

            “Nothing,” Angel responds.

            “Come on, we’ve all told. You had to have dreams when you were a child. Everyone wants to grow up to be something” Fred says.

            “Not everyone” Angel says.

            Later that night Angel thinks about what Fred said. “You had to have dreams when you were a child. Everyone wants to grow up to be something.” Angel wonders if he ever had dreams, if he was ever a child. He’s been out here so long he doesn’t remember.

*

            Its two weeks before Thanksgiving and the temperatures at night are getting close to freezing.  Angel sits in his corner in the warehouse on his makeshift bed. He's got a sketch pad and a nub of a pencil he carries with him everywhere.  He bends low over the pad, carefully capturing the image of his little family huddled over the fire barrel, the way the shadows accent the hollows under Fred's cheekbones, the way the firelight gleams off Gunn's skin and makes it shine or the way Oz's red hair catches the orange in the flame and intensifies it. Fred is shaking so hard he can see her from here. Angel carefully tucks away his sketch pad and pencil in his pack.  He stands up and slips his threadbare black coat off. He walks up behind Fred and drapes it over her shoulders. She shivers and looks up at him gratefully.

            “Won’t you get cold?” She asks.

            Angel shakes his head. “The cold doesn’t affect me as much as it does other people” he says honestly. Maybe it’s spending so many years sleeping in the elements, but it’s true the cold doesn’t seem to affect him. It is cold enough in just his ripped sweater and tee shirt that he stays next to the fire with the rest of the gang. He shoves his hands in his pockets and tries to ignore the gnawing hunger in his stomach.  His fingers find one large rock of crack. He pulls it out and holds it victoriously up for the others to see. Oz grins. Angel gets his square of aluminum foil out, along with the lighter and the glass pipe. He hands it first to Fred, because she’s the coldest. She smokes some of the vapors and passes it to Gunn and then Oz. When it comes around to Angel there’s not much left except residue but there’s enough.

            “I’m going to try and nab some stuff in a couple of days. Everyone is being real touchy with their shit lately” Oz says.

            Angel nods. “Not worth you getting thrown in the slammer, or worse.”

            “You say that like you don’t need it” Gunn says.

            “Nah, I need it like I need food but you live out here as long as I have, you learn to go without a lot of things” Angel says.

            Fred’s voice trembles when she speaks. “But it hurts so much too without it.”

            “I’ll get some as soon as I can. I promise” Oz says.

            Angel looks around at each person and nods to himself. “Come on guys, we’re spending the night at the shelter tonight. At least we can get some real food and have a warm place to sleep. They might even have some extra clothes.”

            “Nah, man, you don’t have to do that. I know how much you hate those places” Gunn says.

            “We’re going, grab your coats” Angel says and walks over to his own bed, searching through his meager belongings.

Chapter Four

“Why did God have to make me so short!” Buffy howls in frustration. She is standing on the highest “safe” ladder rung and still she can’t reach the small length of Thanksgiving garland that refuses to behave and hang properly.

            “Do you need some help?” Anne asks from the kitchen. She is busy preparing dinner for the residents, most of whom are gathered in the common room.

            “Nah, thanks though” Buffy says and climbs up one rung to the lowest “unsafe” rung. “Why do they even have unsafe rungs?” she grumbles to herself and tiptoes. Her fingertips just brush the piece of garland she is trying so hard to get to, but it’s not quite close enough to fix it. She sighs and steps up on the top platform of the ladder, the one that is labeled with a warning label to never stand on this step. She tiptoes and leans out as far as she can.

            “Yo, Blondie, better watch out” a voice says.

            She starts and it’s just enough to throw her off balance. It seems an awfully long way to fall, even though logically she knows the ladder is only eight feet high. She grabs wildly for the ladder and then resigns herself to her fate. She closes her eyes and vaguely remembers reading something that says you should relax. How are you supposed to relax when you’re falling? She tightly closes her eyes. Maybe it won’t hurt as much if she doesn’t see it coming.

            There is a grunt and she’s not lying on the floor. She’s lying on a warm body.

            She opens her eyes. The warm body she fell on is a man dressed in layers of rags. His hair is uneven, long, and tangled.  He’s got several days growth of beard, not enough to call it a beard but enough to be beyond scruffy.  He looks like every other homeless person they get in here until she looks at his eyes. He’s stoned out of his mind she notices but his eyes are the color of dark chocolate, the kind her grandmother used to put in German Chocolate cake.

            Catching her seemed like a good idea at the time. He gasps for breath and the only thought he has is that this tiny blond should not be able to knock the breath out of him. He fails to realize she had eight feet of gravity to help her. He glances down at her lying on top of him and he wonders if maybe the crack he smoked earlier is making him hallucinate. He knows a man who swore some LSD made him see angels once.

            “Shit” Buffy whispers

            As far as he knows angel’s aren’t allowed to say shit.

“Actually, I’m Angel” Angel says.

            “Oh God I’m so sorry. I just-the garland was twisted and I could almost reach and I thought-I’m sorry. Are you okay?” she says pushing herself off of him.

            He sits up and takes a moment to take stock of any injuries.  ”I’m okay. Are you? I thought I could catch you.”

            “Yeah, I’m fine. I was lucky I had you to catch me, or break my fall” she says.

            He grins at her and she can’t help the flip flop her stomach does of its own accord. She admonishes herself. He’s a resident here, and stoned out of his mind. She doesn’t go out with homeless, unemployed, addicts. Hey, a girl has to have some standards.

            He gets to his feet and holds out a hand to her. He tells himself it’s because he remembers a grandfather a very long time ago that tried to teach him to be a gentleman. He knows it is because he wants to touch her again. He wants to feel the way her skin tingles against his and makes him shiver, the way he feels when he thinks he’s going to have to go a whole night without a hit of crack and then he finds a rock in the bottom of his pocket.

            She takes his hand and he struggles for breath. He pulls her to her feet before he’s left standing there feeling like an idiot. She lets go of his hand and he is nearly knocked off his feet with the need for another hit in the absence of her touch.

            She brushes her hands over her jeans. “Oh God, and rude much, I nearly knock you out and don’t introduce myself. I’m Buffy.”

            “Buffy, that’s a nice name” he says.

            No it’s not, it’s a silly name she starts to say and then realizes it doesn’t sound that way, not when he says it.

            “Oh, thanks but your name, hey Angel that’s a good name to have” she says.

            He chuckles. “Not really. I got teased a lot in school before I dropped out” he says.

            “Oh yeah, you dropped out. I mean-yeah-kids can be mean” she stammers.

            He nods and looks down at his feet. His long, tangled hair covers his face.

            “So I’m going to help Anne, in the kitchen” she says.

            He nods and saunters off to the common room where Gunn, Oz and Fred are. He punches Gunn in the arm and crouches down next to him.

            “The rock you’ve got in your pack, let me have it” Angel whispers.

            “Hell no. That’s my last rock and we don’t know when we’re getting more” Gunn says.

            “Come on. I need a hit real bad” Angel says.

            “Shit you just had a hit an hour ago” Gunn argues.

            “I don’t give a fuck. I said give me the rock” Angel hisses between his teeth.

            “Fuck you” Gunn says.

            “Give me the damn rock or you and Fred find your ass out of the warehouse so fast it’ll make your head spin” Angel hisses.

            Gunn growls and grabs his pack. He throws the entire thing at Angel.

            Buffy tells herself she’s only aware of Angel leaving the shelter because of the blast of cold air that shoots through the dining room. It has nothing to do with the shiver that licks at her bones as he walks through the room.  She shakes her head and walks into the kitchen to help Anne and the others serve dinner. She tries to deny the fact that she knows the second he walks back into the dining room

            Angel makes a point to get his tray from Buffy. His fingers brush hers as he takes his tray from her and he wonders why he needed the hit of crack badly enough to threaten Gunn.

Chapter Five

    “Angel, man we’re spending a lot of time at the shelter, more then usual. What’s up?” Gunn asks.

            “I decided eating on a regular basis was a good thing” Angel snaps.

            “You sure it don’t have something to do with a certain blond that knocked you on your ass a few days ago?” Gunn asks.

            “Fuck you. You don’t wanna eat. You don’t wanna sleep in a heated building, go back to the warehouse. I don’t give a fuck” Angel growls.

            “Yeah, except its kind of seeming like you do” Oz says.

            “Fuck you too” Angel snarls and stands up. He stalks up the stairs to the upper rooms of the shelter, ones that aren’t used much. He will be lucky to find a quiet place. It is Saturday afternoon and the halls of the shelter are buzzing with volunteers working to get the place nice before Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He smirks to himself, no matter what they do it will still be a shelter. It will still smell like unwashed bodies and cheap alcohol.

            Buffy sits her paint roller in the pan. Her arms ache from being held over her head. The room is half way finished though. She admits the soft silvery blue is nice and it won’t show the dirt like white does.  She opens the window and leans out as far as she dares, taking in great gulps of fresh air.

            “I might be able to get down there to catch you if you let me know you intend to fall ahead of time” a voice says.

            Buffy jumps and smacks her head on the window casement.

            “Ouch, sorry” Angel says.

            Buffy laughs softly and rubs the back of her head. “No, if I weren’t such a klutz I’d be okay.”

            “I didn’t mean to interrupt I was just wandering around looking for a quiet spot and I saw you in here” Angel says.

            Buffy smiles at him and he wonders why he never realized he couldn’t breathe before her smile.

            “Please interrupt other wise I’m going to feel guilty about taking a break from this” Buffy says.

            Angel glances around the room and shoves his hands in his pockets. If he doesn’t he’s going to end up touching her or running out of the room looking for something to smoke. He can’t do either. “You’ve been working hard. This looks good” he says.

            Buffy nods. “One of the local home improvement stores donated a bunch of paint so Anne went down and picked out the colors. She thought this would be soothing and easier to keep clean then the white.”

            Angel nods and wonders how anything can be soothing when she’s around. He swallows hard and tries think of something to say, some reason to stay in the same room with her for the rest of his life.

            “So, have you worked here long?” He asks.

            She shrugs and rests her hip against the window sill. “About a year” she says.

            He nods. “I haven’t seen you here before.”

            “Do you come here often?” She asks.

            He shakes his head. “Nah, I don’t like all the rules and shit Anne has.”

            Buffy arches an eyebrow at him. “She doesn’t have that many. No fighting, no alcohol, no drugs-“

            “That’s the one” he says unapologetically.

            “Oh” Buffy says. Her mouth forms a round O and she falls silent.

            “You don’t have to be embarrassed. I’m not” he says and yet it’s not true. He never has been until now.

            “Its just-do you know-you can die taking drugs” she says.

            He shrugs. “You could have died falling off that ladder the other day.”

            “That’s different” she says.

            “To you” Angel says.

            “You know, I’m not going to argue this with you. I’m not a counselor, that’s not my job” Buffy says and she hates the way her voice is tight and filled with so much bitterness and resentment toward his decision.

            He steps further into the room and bends down to pick up the paint roller.

            “What are you doing?” She asks.

            “You look tired. I thought I’d help” Angel says.

            “No, you don’t have to. This is my job” Buffy says and grabs for the paint roller. Her hand brushes his and they both freeze. She steps back, breaking the connection. Her hands fall to her side as uselessly as the words she finds she can not form.

            She watches silently as he rolls the silver blue paint across the dingy white of the walls.  She watches him unabashedly, aware that his attention is on the walls and not her. He is tall, well tall to her, at least six feet. He’s made use of the shelter showers and has washed his hair. It falls thick and uneven almost to his shoulders.  He is much too thin and she knows it is because he would prefer getting stoned to eating. She has seen a thousand addicts come in and out of this shelter. She wonders why this one is different, maybe it’s just because he didn’t look past her, maybe.

            His arms are growing tired with the unaccustomed activity but he can feel the weight of her gaze upon him and he’s afraid if he stops she will send him out of the room. He would do almost anything to remain in this room with her right now.

            “So what does your boyfriend think of you working here? I mean he can’t like it around all the users here” Angel says to the wall.

            “I don’t have a boyfriend. They take too much time and I haven’t found one that was worth making the time for” Buffy says.

            “Oh. So the drug thing is just a personal issue with you?” He asks.

            She shrugs and watches him through narrowed eyes. “Yeah I guess so. I’ve seen it ruin a lot of lives around here and I guess I don’t see the point in it.”

            “The point is the way it makes you feel, or sometimes the way it doesn’t make you feel” he says.

            “What do you mean?” She asks.

            “Some people do it to forget how to feel. Some use because they want to feel” he says.

            “And how does it feel?” She asks.

            The room grows silent and he wants to say like touching you but he doesn’t. He chuckles dryly. “I’m one of the ones who use to forget how to feel.”

Chapter Six

                    Buffy sits across the table from Lindsey. They are almost finished with dinner and Buffy has yet to broach the subject she intends to talk to him about.

            “So, Thanksgiving is just a week away. Any plans?” She asks.

            “I don’t know. Delia is after me to go to her families in Beverly Hills. You’re invited of course. I told her I wouldn’t spend Thanksgiving without my best girl” Lindsey winks at her.

            “I’m working at the shelter on Thanksgiving and we’re eating there. We’re allowed to invite family” Buffy says.

            “Don’t you ever take a day off from there?” Lindsey asks.

            “I do and I did, today. Thanksgiving is just one of our bigger days. Everyone feels a little lonely this time of year. You can even bring Cordelia with you” Buffy says.

            Lindsey laughs. It reverberates throughout the restaurant; even his laugh has a drawl. “That might be worth it to see Delia’s face when I tell her we’re having Thanksgiving with homeless people and addicts” Lindsey says.

            “So is that a no?” Buffy asks.

            “I’ll try to make it before Cordelia’s shindig or afterwards. If you change your mind about working you can come with us” Lindsey says.

            “Yeah, Thanksgiving in Beverly Hills with people related to Cordelia. No thanks. I’d rather be run through with hot pokers. I won’t be alone anyway. Willow and Anne are working on Thanksgiving” she says.

            “Three people to handle one of the biggest days of the year?” Lindsey says.

            Buffy shrugs. “Like you said, it’s Thanksgiving. People want to be with their families. You could come volunteer you know.”

            “Buffy, you know that place makes me uncomfortable ever since…” Lindsey trails off and for one moment his carefully constructed façade falls. It is back within the space of a breath.

            “We’ll handle it. Don’t worry. One of the restaurants is donating most of the food. A bakery is donating pies and bread. We just have to get it all out to the people.” Buffy says.

            “Cordelia has been after me for months about Thanksgiving” Lindsey says.

            “It’s fine, really. I don’t mind spending it there. I’ll bring home turkey and we can have our own little Thanksgiving celebration later that night and watch It’s a Wonderful Life together” Buffy says.

            Lindsey groans. “You’ve seen that movie hundreds of times.”

            “It’s not Christmas without Jimmy Stewart and angel’s getting their wings” Buffy says.

            They fall silent both lost in their own thoughts. Everyone deals with grief differently. Buffy works 80 hours a week a shelter and gets paid 40 for it. Lindsey makes lots of money as a lawyer and ignores his grief.

            They walk out of the restaurant together. Lindsey walks her to her car and kisses her on the cheek.

            “I’m staying at Cordelia’s tonight. She’s got a party she wants me to go to but I’ll keep my cell on and if you need anything call me” Lindsey says.

            “Okay, have fun and I’ll see you in the morning or whenever” Buffy says.

            Lindsey waits until she gets in her car and cranks it. Buffy starts to drive home and decides she just isn’t in the mood to go back to an empty apartment. She drives by the shelter. Willow, one of her best friends, is working the graveyard shift tonight. She might as well spend the rest of the evening with her and the people at the shelter she’s come to call friends.

            Mr. Giles greets her when she walked in. He is an older man with an English accent that wears his tweedy rags like they are fine clothing. He is forever cleaning and adjusting his little round glasses. He swears that he was once been a curator for the British museum. Buffy can never be sure if he iss telling the truth or not. So many people here have fried their brains and memories with years of drugs and alcohol that they can’t separate truth from fiction anymore. Mr. Giles is no different. He is an interesting man to talk to though. The stories he tells, whether fact or fiction, are always entertaining and informative. Buffy has never asked what happened to him. She knows his story wouldn’t differ much from any other person here, only the details. Drugs or alcohol, maybe both, had happened to him.

            Willow is in the office trying to get some work done for Anne who is on vacation until the day before Thanksgiving. Buffy walks in and sits down in the chair. Willow looks up and smiles. She puts her papers down on the desk.

            “Hey, Buff, wow look at you!” Willow sounds impressed.

            Buffy grins. She stands up and twirls around. She is wearing a pretty pink dress by Betsey Johnson. It is unusual for her to dress up at all. “I had dinner with Lindsey at Spago so I had to ditch the jeans and sweaters.”

            “You look great. What are you doing here?” Willow asks.

            Buffy sits back down and shrugs. “Just checking in on things. Linds is going to some party with Cordelia and then spending the night at her place. Didn’t want to go back to an empty place, you know?”

            Willow nods. “I think it’s a by product of working here, you know ‘cause it’s never lonely here.”

            Buffy nods. “Maybe”

            “You sure your stopping here doesn’t have anything to do with the guy out there who hasn’t taken his eyes off you since the moment you stepped in here?” Willow asks.

            Buffy has no need to ask who the guy is. She knows from the tingling heat in her bones that the guy is Angel. Over the past several days she’d come to associate the feeling with him.

*

            He can see her sitting in the office. He grins when she stands up and twirls around, a laugh he can’t hear playing around her lips.  She is wearing something pink and floaty that shows her legs. She has fantastic legs. Her long blond hair falls in loose waves around her shoulders. He knows it is dark outside but looking at her he’d swear the sun was shining.

            Angel’s muscles twitch and his skin crawls. He needs a hit bad, at least that’s what he tells himself it is from. The deepest part of him knows a touch from her will quench the need inside of him. He watches her dry mouthed. She glances toward him and he looks away. He glances back as soon as he dares, unwilling to let her out of his sight for a moment. He hasn’t had a fix since mid morning. He’s been waiting to catch a glimpse of her and it was worth it. Anne doesn’t allow drugs inside the shelter at all. It is one of the few rules she is extremely strict about. Angel was afraid if he left the shelter to have a fix Buffy would show up and he’d miss her. His luck works like that.

            “She showed up” Oz says in his understated way.

            Angel nods, too taken by the sight of her to speak.

            “She’s pretty. I’ll give you that” Oz says.

            “And so fucking far out of his league she might as well be a goddess” Gunn says dropping to the floor beside Angel and Oz.

            “Fuck you” Angel says and pushes to his feet. He stalks out of the shelter, slamming the door behind him. He needs a fix and he is going to find something to drown the need inside of him.

*

            Buffy watches as Angel storms out of the building. His friends don’t go with him which is intriguing in itself. From what Buffy can tell Angel is the leader of the small gang and where he goes they go.

            “Someone must have made him mad” Buffy says.

            “Queen of stating the obvious there Buff. He asked about you earlier you know. I told him it was your day off but that you were likely to stop by sometime during the day anyway. Who is he?” Willow asks.

            Buffy sighs. “He’s-he’s Angel, just this guy that showed up here several days ago. I fell of the ladder. He broke my fall. He helped me paint some of the upstairs rooms. He’s a druggie like a lot of them. He freely admits it too, doesn’t seem to see a problem in wanting to smoke crack more then he wants anything else. “

            “I think he may have found something he wants more” Willow says.

            “What? No, he’s just a guy” Buffy says.

            “You like him” Willow teases.

            “No! Okay well yes, but that doesn’t matter. He’s-I don’t go out with users, you know that” Buffy says.

            “So you’ve said but you know what they say” Willow says.

            “No. What do they say?”

            “The heart wants what it wants or something like that” Willow says.

            “There are no hearts!” Buffy says.

            “Sorry Buffy, but there’s at least one. His heart is in his eyes every time he looks at you” Willow says.

            Before Buffy can respond the phone rings. Willow snatches it up. “St Christopher’s Shelter.” The little red head’s eyes go wide and she grows pale. Her hand shakes when she replaces the phone.

            “Will, what’s wrong?” Buffy asks.

            “I-my mom was in a car accident. She’s hurt. I-I need to call Anne and go to the hospital” Willow says.

            “Oh God, Will, I’m sorry. Go, I’ll stay here and take grave yard shift” Buffy says.

            “You sure?” Willow asks.

            “Yes. Go” Buffy points to the door.

            Once the red head is gone Buffy picks up the phone and leaves a message for Lindsey in his voice mail letting him know she would be spending the night at the shelter. Anne usually lives there in a small apartment upstairs but she is in Sacramento visiting her family before Thanksgiving.

            Buffy walks into the Common room. They have some old Beverly Hillbillies re-runs on the TV.  She sits on the couch and talks to Giles for a little while. The man is telling her about a Napoleon exhibit he helped organize in the musuem.

            “Quite an epic love story you see,” Giles says.

 Buffy nods and smiles but she keeps one eye on the front door of the shelter. Angel’s friends are still here. It is likely he is going to return.

            Finally at ten thirty Buffy locks the doors of the shelter. Angel hasn’t come back yet but the doors officially close at ten and Buffy waited a whole half hour past that. Most of the residents bed down pretty quickly. Buffy isn’t much in the mood to sleep yet so she goes upstairs and through the room with the balcony. She pulls a folding chair from the room and sits down.  She wraps her arms around herself and stares off into the stars she can’t see. LA is always so filled with smog it is hard to even see the moon much less the twinkle of stars. She doesn’t know how long she sits there like that, the cold of the night shivering her skin but she knows the moment he walks in even before he drapes the blanket from the common room around her shoulders.

            “I locked the doors. Do I even want to know how you got in?” She asks.

            Angel shrugs. “Let’s just say locked doors don’t pose much of a problem to Oz.”

            “Did he lock them back and am I going to have to pay for a lock smith to fix them?” She asks.

            “Yes he locked them back and if he were that bad at unlocking them he’d have been in jail a long time ago” Angel says.

            Buffy nods. She shivers and she tells herself it is from the cold.

            Angel shoves his hands in his pockets and he tells himself it is from the cold.

            Buffy risks a glance at him. She smiles before she could stop herself. “You cut your hair.”

            She isn’t sure if he cut it or had someone do it. It is spiky, tousled and it looks good on him. It shows off chiseled cheekbones and brings those dark chocolate eyes out. She bites her lip noticing he had a beautiful mouth. Angel’s name suits him.

            Angel shrugs. “It was too long. I thought maybe-I decided it’d be easier to keep out there this way.”

            Buffy nods and the silence lies thick over the balcony again. Angel doesn’t mind. He is content to breathe the same air she does. Buffy is surprised she doesn’t mind. Usually she hates silences. Lindsey isn’t much for them and the rest of her family has always been talkative.  The silence doesn’t feel uncomfortable with Angel. It feels kind of nice.

            “I don’t do this you know” Buffy says.

            “Sit on balconies in the cold?” Angel asks.

            “I don’t get involved with users” Buffy says.

            A shiver runs through Angel’s body that has nothing to do with needing a fix.  He starts to speak and finds he can’t. He has no words.

            “It’s not you. It’s-a long story” she says.

            “Do I look like I have any where to go?” He finally manages.

            “I have an older brother, Lindsey. I had two. Xander, he was younger then Linds but two years older then me. He-our parents died in a car crash when Linds was just eighteen. Xander was sixteen. Linds took care of us all. Without him they’d have separated us and thrown us into foster care. I was just fourteen. I didn’t know what was going on. Xander kind of lost it. He got involved with some people at school. He started taking drugs, heroine, cocaine, crack, acid. You name it my big brother took it. Sometimes I think he wanted to kill himself. He succeeded a couple of years ago” Buffy says.

            Angel doesn’t say anything. He isn’t sure how Buffy expects him to respond. He wants to say that won’t happen to me. I’m smarter then that but he knows he isn’t. He’s seen people die of overdoses more times then he wants to remember. He knows how easy it could happen. Hell he’s nearly over dosed a time or two, landed in the hospital once.  He knows when his body is screaming for drugs he won’t deny it regardless of what he’s taken before or what he’s been drinking.  He knows he’ll take anything to push the pain back where it belongs.

            “So I don’t get involved with users. I don’t want to lose anyone else like that” Buffy says.

            “Who do you get involved with?” Angel asks.

            Buffy shrugs and chuckles a little. “Truthfully, not much of anyone. There was a guy, Parker, before Xander died. He couldn’t handle the whole Buffy grieving show and took off.  Since then I avoid involvement.”

            “So if I got clean?” Angel says.

            “Angel, you’re a user. Do you really think you can get clean just because I might let you get close?” She asks.

            “I can do anything I want to, if I want it bad enough” Angel says.

Chapter Seven

Angel paces back and forth across the warehouse. His skin is crawling and his muscles are twitching. He cradles his head in his hands trying to stop the screaming inside. Oz, Gunn and Fred are sitting less then 50 feet away smoking their morning fix of crack. Angel grabs handfuls of his hair and growls to himself. He knew this was a bad idea. He hasn’t had a hit since last night after talking to Buffy.

          “Angel, dude, you okay over there?” Gunn asks.

          “Do I look like I’m fucking okay?” Angel snarls.

          “Guys, maybe we should go do this somewhere else” Fred suggests.

          “Uhm, not to be discouraging but we can’t exactly go sit on the street” Oz says.

          “Or Angel’s new favorite hangout, St. Buffy’s shelter” Gunn says.

          Angel snatches Gunn up off the floor by his throat and slams him into the wall. “Leave her out of this” he growls, his face centimeters from Gunn’s.

          Oz pulls on Angel’s shoulder. Fred tugs on his other arm.

          “Angel, come on the man is turning colors” Oz says.

          Angel drops Gunn as quick as he snatched him up. He whirls on his heel and stalks out of the warehouse. He takes great gasps of the cool air and leans against the chilliness of the brick wall. He closes his eyes and tries to make his hands stop shaking, tries to slow down his racing heart. The urge to walk back inside the warehouse and have a fix is so overwhelming it aches. He pushes himself off the wall and walks back toward the shelter. There’s no way in hell he’s going to be able to do this if he’s here at the warehouse with Gunn, Oz and Fred.

*

          Buffy smiles at the tugging, tingling feeling at the base of her spine she’s begun to associate with Angel. She turns to see him walking in through the door and the smile fades. Worry creases her forehead. He looks bad, more so then the usual too skinny, too pale look that many users seem to have.  She intercepts him on the way to the door and reaches out to almost touch him and then draws back.

          “Angel, what’s wrong?”

          He shakes his head and retreats to the corner of the commons room. He sits on the floor there, knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs. Buffy watches him from the other side of the room.

          Angel thuds his head gently back against the wall, never taking his eyes off Buffy.  “Keep your eye on the prize, keep your eye on the prize, keep your eye on the prize” he chants to himself.

 Is she worth it he wonders? He watches her, remembers the way she looked in the cold night air, the way it feels to touch her. There’s no doubt in his mind she’s worth it. That doesn’t mean he can do it. It’s a long way from meaning he can do it.

          “Worried about your fellow there, are you?” Mr. Giles says to Buffy.

          She glances up from her straightening and smiles. “Who?” she asks.

          Mr. Giles takes his glasses off and uses them to gesture toward Angel. “Your fellow there” he says.

          “Oh, he’s not-we’re not-he’s just a friend” Buffy says.

          “He doesn’t quite seem to agree with you” Giles says.

          Buffy glances at Angel. He seems paler, shakier then he did when he first walked into the shelter. “I am worried though” she says.

          “Trying to go clean cold turkey like that’s hard. I expect it will get worse before it gets better. Might want to isolate him, it’ll get rather messy” Giles says.

          “Go clean?” Buffy says.

          Giles nods. “I strongly suspect that’s the cause of the shakes and the cold sweat. He’ll need a hospital or someone to watch over him.”

          “Oh, God” Buffy says and covers her mouth. Their conversation from the night before comes back with perfect clarity.

            “Yes, well perhaps getting someone here to help you would be a good idea” Giles suggests.

            Buffy walks across the room toward Angel. She crouches down next to him. She rests her hand on his arm and he looks up at her with wild, haunted eyes.

            “Let’s take you to the hospital” She says.

            “No,” he shakes his head vehemently.

            Buffy sighs. “Angel, I don’t know how to help you. The only user I’ve ever been close to didn’t come clean, ever. He died. I don’t know how to help you.”

            “Stay with me. Don’t. Stop. Touching. Me.” He says his eyes boring into hers.

            The intensity in his voice is a little scary. She’s never heard such need, such raw hunger in someone’s voice. She nods slightly.

            “Okay, let’s get you upstairs away from all these people” Buffy says.

            Angel nods. She grasps his wrist and helps him to his feet. She feels a bit odd walking through the shelter holding his hand but he has a death grip on her fingers so she doesn’t have much of a choice.

            “Don’t worry, Buffy. I’ll watch over everyone, make sure they act properly” Giles says as they walk past him.

            Oh God, I’m so going to lose my job over this. I’m leaving a homeless alcoholic in charge of the shelter while I help a homeless druggie detox, Buffy thinks. She wants to just bury her face in her hands.

            “Uhm thanks Giles. I’ll call someone in just a second to come help” she says.

            “No worries. I worked in the British Museum, I think I can handle a few people for a few hours” Giles says.

            Buffy just nods. There’s not much else she can do.  She and Angel walk up the stairs together. His entire body is shaking. Buffy leads him down the hall from Anne’s room to a small bedroom Anne has set up. It’s bare, containing only a twin bed and one comfortable chair.

            “Go ahead and lay down on the bed. I’m going to go to Anne’s room and use her phone. I need to get someone down there watching everybody besides Giles.  Will you be okay?” Buffy asks and tenderly runs her hand along Angel’s brow.

            He closes his eyes reveling in her touch. He wants to grab her and pull her to him. If she would just keep touching him this would all be bearable.  Instead he nods and curls up on the bed.

            Buffy walks out of the room with a backward glance at Angel. She leaves the door open so that she can hear him. Buffy unlocks the door to Anne’s apartment and walks in. It’s a comfortable, neat, simple space. Anne doesn’t keep it cluttered up with things, a few pictures of her and her family, and some books. Buffy picks the phone up and sits down on the loveseat. She buries her head in her hands. There is no one to call and she can’t get the haunted look Angel gave her out of her mind. She knows he’s doing this because of their conversation the night before and she’s glad. No one should lose people they love to drugs or alcohol but it presents quite a problem for her.

            Buffy takes a deep breath and places a call to someone who won’t want to help but will.

            “Linds, I need help”

*

            “This had better be good, Sweetheart. I canceled a client meeting and a meeting with the partners for you” Lindsey says.

            “I wouldn’t have called if there had been anyone else. Willow is staying with her mom at the hospital and Anne is in Sacramento for three more days. Most of our volunteers are forced to be here by community service. You’ve worked here before-“Buffy starts.

            “Under duress” Lindsey reminds her.

            “And you’re a registered volunteer. Besides that I can trust you with Angel if I need to” Buffy says the last in a rush of breath.

            “Angel? Who is that and is that who this is about?” Lindsey says.

            “He’s a friend trying to get clean-“Buffy starts.

            “He? Wooo weee this just gets better and better” Lindsey tucks his thumbs in his front pockets and grins.

            Buffy puffs up and crosses her arms over her chest. “He needs my help” she says defensively.

            “Isn’t there someone more qualified to help him?” Lindsey says.

            “Lindsey, he’s homeless, broke and has no insurance. Where do you want me to send him? Maybe Cordelia could suggest a detox center in Beverley Hills!” Buffy says, her voice rising.

            “Actually I meant someone who had done this before” he says.

            “Oh,” Buffy says. She uncrosses her arms and bites her bottom lip. “He doesn’t want anyone but me” she directs to the ground.

            Lindsey cocks an eyebrow at her. “Darlin, what are you playing at?”

            “What do you mean?” Buffy asks looking up at him.

            “Maybe I should ask what he’s playing at,” Lindsey says, a hint of anger creeping into his southern drawl.

            “Yes, Linds, because I’m sure he got addicted just so he could insist on going through withdrawals with me” Buffy says.

            Lindsey watches Buffy in silence a moment. He recognizes the stubborn set her of her jaw, the hardness in her chameleon hazel eyes, which are a flinty gray right now. He shakes his head. “Alright, what do you want me to do?”

            “Right now, nothing. It’s pretty empty just the regulars. Talk to Giles you’ll like him.  The teenagers will be here after school put them to work in the kitchen getting dinner ready. Most of them have done it before and know exactly what to do. When it starts to get cold and dark outside we’ll see a lot more people come in. I’ll be upstairs if you need me” Buffy says.

            “I’m canceling dinner with Cordelia tonight. You owe me, Darlin” Lindsey says.

            Buffy smiles sweetly up at him. “You’re the best big brother ever” she says.

            Lindsey chuckles. “You’re gonna owe me more then simply stating the truth” he says with a grin and a wink at her.

            “I’m gonna go…” Buffy trails off and points upstairs.

            Lindsey nods. “If you need anything, if  he tries anything, scream.”

            “Lindsey he’s sick. He’s not going to try anything” Buffy says.

            “Druggies can be aggressive when they aren’t getting what their body is screaming for. Just be careful and remember I’m here if you need me” Lindsey says.

            Buffy smiles at him and hugs him. “You’re always here when I need you, Linds. That’s why I called.”

            Angel sits on the bed curled up as tight as he can get. His hands are over his ears and he shakes so badly he can barely keep them there. Every nerve ending in his body screams for just one hit of crack. He pushes his hands hard against his skull. If he can just crush it between his hands maybe that’d get the need out and he won’t feel it anymore.  Where is she? Everything screams at him. He’s afraid she’s left him up here and if she’s left him then there’s no reason to deny himself everything he so desperately wants.

            She knocks softly on the door before she walks in, like the room is his and he has a right to be here. He can’t help the fury and aggression that bubble up inside of him.

            “Where the fuck have you been?” He snarls.

            Buffy swallows hard and bites back a nasty reply.  “Giving instructions to my replacement so I can be here with you” she says and sits down in the chair across from the bed.

            Angel buries his head in his hands. “God, I’m sorry. I-fuck- Buffy, I’m sorry. I want the damn drugs so fucking bad it hurts” Angel says.

            “Shhh, its okay” Buffy says and leans forward in the chair. “Let’s just try to get you to focus on something else.”

            “Touch me, please” Angel pleads.

            Buffy moves from the chair to the narrow bed he is sitting on. She takes Angel’s hands in her own. He concentrates on the feel of her hands and smiles slightly. She has tiny hands. They look even tinier wrapped around his own large ones.

            “Little hands,” he whispers.

            She smiles. “Yeah, they’ve always been little. Most of my rings have to be specially sized because my fingers are so skinny. I guess it comes with the territory of being five foot two.”

            He swallows hard and closes his eyes. She can almost see the inner struggle he’s going through. She racks her brain, trying to think of anything to say, anything to keep their minds off what’s happening.

            “I used to play piano before Mom died. She insisted me, Linds and Xander take piano lessons once a week, something about learning the finer arts.  I hated piano lessons and Xander always tried to stick me with most of the piano time. Linds, he always tried to get me out of it. He’d play the entire hour Momma paid for and never complain even though I know he didn’t like piano either. Sometimes I couldn’t reach the notes of the piano for certain combinations because my hands were too little” Buffy rambles.

            “Used to listen to a piano player in church when I was very little. I went with my mom every Sunday” Angel says and the words sound tight and strained, as if he’s speaking them under torture.

            Buffy scoots closer to him on the bed. “Yeah? What was your favorite song?”

            “Amazing Grace, I know that’s everyone’s favorite song, but my mom sounded like an angel when she sang it” he says between gritted teeth.

            Suddenly Angel lurches off the bed, shoving Buffy to the floor. He runs toward the bathroom and slips on the rug in front of the bathroom door, falling hard on the hardwood floor. He starts to push up from the floor and throws up.

            “Fuck” he mumbles.

            Buffy is beside him.  “Oh, Sweetie, it’s okay. Are you alright?” She asks her voice tender with concern.

            He shakes his head. “Gonna throw up again” he manages.

            She helps him to his feet and into the bathroom. She rubs his back in slow circles while he throws up and then gets a cold washcloth. She presses the cloth to the back of his neck.

            “Romantic bastard, aren’t I?” He says glancing up at her.

             “I’m not running”

 Chapter Eight

     A lazy smile plays across her mouth and the sun streaming through the window warms her face. Realization creeps in and Buffy’s eyes fly open. It’s morning. She slept here all night. She left Lindsey here all night. She starts to sit up and Angel’s arms tighten around her instinctively. Buffy is in the process of untangling herself from Angel’s arms when Lindsey pokes his head in the door.

            “Maybe I should have knocked” he drawls.

            Buffy stands up blushing slightly. “No, it’s fine. We fell asleep. We were talking or I was talking to him and we fell asleep last night. I’m sorry I didn’t intend to leave you here alone all night.”

            “I handled it. I’ve already called in. I figured you’d need a couple of days at least” Lindsey says.

            “Thanks, Linds” Buffy smiles at him.

            Angel sits up in bed and scrubs his hands over his face. He looks up blinking at Buffy and Lindsey. Lindsey steps forward and holds his hand out. “I’m Lindsey, Buffy’s older brother.”

            Angel glances at Buffy and then shakes Lindsey’s hand. “I’m Angel, Buffy’s crack addict.”

            “Funny, in the way that’s completely not” Buffy smirks.

            Lindsey grins and shrugs. “I found it mildly amusing.”

            “I’m a funny guy” Angel says and looks to Buffy.

            “Buffy, why don’t you go eat breakfast. I saved you a plate, it’s in the oven. I’ll stay with Angel” Lindsey says.

            Buffy smiles at Lindsey. He has spent so many years taking care of her it has become second nature to him. “Thanks.” She turns to Angel. “Do you want something?”

            “Crack” he says with a pathetic grin.

            “I’m going to take that as a no. Linds, be nice. I’ll be back in just a little while” Buffy says. She pauses at the door, glancing back into the room. She is hesitant to leave Lindsey alone with Angel. He scared off enough boyfriends in her youth that she knows what he can be like when he fears his little sister will get hurt.

            “Go on. I’ll be on my best behavior,” Lindsey says almost reading her mind.

            Buffy cracks a smile at him. “You’d better be.”

            Lindsey eases into the chair next to the bed.  He places his hands behind his head and lets his eyes rake casually over Angel. He doesn’t see the attraction. Angel looks like all crack addicts, almost corpse like. The boy is too skinny, too pale and he’s got that look in his eyes that says he grew up way to fast. Lindsey sighs. Buffy has that look sometimes too.

            “So, do you come here often, Angel?” Lindsey asks.

            “Nah, I was never one to frequent the shelter” Angel says. He stands up and starts pacing, clawing at his arms.

            Lindsey has seen people go through withdrawals before. He knows that Angel’s condition could go from bad to worse at any moment.

            “Why now? Why do you want to get off drugs now?” Lindsey asks.

            Angel continues to pace and claw at his arms. He glances over at Lindsey.

            “Talking will help keep your mind off wanting it so much” Lindsey says.

            “Sounds like you’ve been there,” Angel comments.

            “Personally no, but I’m a lawyer. I’ve had clients that we had to clean up to take to court. I got the position of babysitter. I’ve done this before. Buffy hasn’t” Lindsey says.

            Angel nods and clears his throat. He sits down on the bed only to get back up again.

            “Would you believe me if I said I’ve seen the light, been shown a better path?” Angel asks.

            “Yeah, and I’d say that light is my sister” Lindsey says.

            “You wouldn’t be wrong” Angel says.

            Any further confrontation is cut off by Angel rushing for the bathroom. He hits his knees in front of the toilet and spends the next several minutes puking up the very little that is in his stomach. When he collapses back against the bathroom wall, Lindsey is there with a cold washcloth and a cool bottle of water.

            Angel takes small sips from the water bottle, careful not to take too much and have it come back up. When he stops panting for breath, he takes the washcloth from Lindsey. He lays it on the back of his neck and looks up at the lawyer. There isn’t any resemblance between Lindsey and Buffy. He wonders briefly if they’d had different fathers, but then it is none of his business.

            “Look, we can have this whole don’t break her heart speech after my body isn’t screaming for drugs. Right now, I’d appreciate it if you’d just help me back to the bed because if I stand up right now, my knees are going to buckle” Angel says.

            Lindsey leans down and grabs Angel around the upper arm. He hauls him to his feet and helps him back to the bed. Lindsey shrugs off the denim button down shirt he has over the black tee shirt. He hands it to Angel.

            “Put that on and button down the sleeves. It will keep you from making a mess of your arms” Lindsey says, indicating with his eyes to Angel’s arms which are raw from being clawed at.

            “Thanks,” Angel murmurs. He slides the shirt on. It’s a little tight through the shoulders. Lindsey weighs more then Angel in his malnourished state but Angel’s naturally got broader shoulders. He paces and fidgets with the buttons on the shirt.

            “What kind of law do you work in?” Angel asks, more to get his mind off the way his blood is screaming at him for crack then an actual desire to talk about Lindsey’s job.

            “Criminal. I work for Wolfram and Hart” Lindsey says.

            Angel nods. “Been down there a couple of times, not for business. The guards are vigilant they don’t like bums sleeping in the alley.”

            Lindsey nods choosing to remain quiet. He’s not sure what to say to that. Part of him feels for Angel and the other part, the lawyer in him, doesn’t feel for Angel. That part thinks no matter what, Angel had a choice. It wasn’t like Lindsey got an easy life.  At eighteen his parents had died. He’d raised two kids, put himself through college and then law school. He’d also put Buffy through college, not that Buffy chose to do much with her degree but she had one and he’d done that. He hadn’t turned to drugs or let the landlords kick them out. Sure they’d eaten so much rice that he didn’t eat it now on principle alone, but he hadn’t ended up where Angel is right now and he could have. They all could have.

            Both men are relieved when Buffy comes back through the door.

            “I checked on everything, Linds. You’ve done a good job. Thanks. Willow’s mom is better and she’ll be back in the afternoon to relieve you,” Buffy says.

            “It’s not a problem, Darlin. Things are under control at the office,” Lindsey says.

            “Well, thank you anyway,” Buffy says. She impulsively throws her arms around Lindsey and hugs him.

            Buffy lets Lindsey go and walks over to sit in the chair next to the bed. She smiles at Angel.

            “How are you feeling?” She asks.

            Angel shakes his head. “You don’t wanna know” he says.

            Buffy nods quietly.

            “Darlin, I’m going back downstairs. If you need anything just holler, I’ll hear you” Lindsey says. He glances at Angel when he says it. Lindsey may not be giving Angel a hard time but that doesn’t mean he trusts him with his sister, not now and maybe not ever.

*

            Buffy washes the last of the dishes and puts them in the cabinet. She leans against the sink and ruffles her fingers through her bangs. She is exhausted. She knew Thanksgiving would be crazy but crazy hadn’t begun to describe what today was like. On the upside Lindsey had shown up for a few minutes before he went off to Cordelia’s house.  Everything is quiet and dim. Most of the residents here have turned in for the night, their bellies full.  Anne is in her office doing some kind of paperwork and trying to work out her budget.

            Buffy dries off her hands again and folds the towel neatly. The lights in the kitchen are off. She likes to do dishes in half light. It’s an oddity Lindsey is always ribbing her about.  She walks into the dining room silently and is surprised to see Angel bent over one of the tables. He has the nub of a candle lit and he’s concentrating intently on something.

            “Hey,” she says softly.

            He jumps slightly and glances up. He scrambles to cover up whatever he is working on.

            “Buffy, hi. I didn’t know you were in there. I mean I thought everyone had gone to bed,” Angel says.

            “I’m a freak. I like to wash dishes in the dark,” she says.

            He smiles. “That’s not-okay that’s a little odd,” he says.

            She grins at him and walks closer to where he’s seated. “What are you working on?”

            “Oh, this is-nothing. It’s nothing,” he says.

            “Come on, Angel, let me see,” Buffy says, sitting in the chair across from him.

            He reddens but slowly pulls his hands and arms away from the table. He’s torn away a large section of the paper cloth that was used on the tables earlier. The candle light flickers over the sketch and makes it almost seem to come alive. It’s a sketch of Buffy asleep in a chair. She bites her bottom lip. She wonders if this is how he sees her and if it is…if it is, no I’m not falling in love. He’s-I’m not falling in love, she thinks.

            “This is amazing, really, Angel. It’s beautiful,” Buffy says.

            Angel shakes his head. “It’s just something I do to keep my mind off of things like being hungry.” Or wanting crack he adds silently.

            She nods and seems to consider something for a moment. “I’m about to leave. I’m supposed to take some leftovers home to Lindsey so that we can do the Thanksgiving thing together. We’re going to watch It’s a Wonderful Life which is this really silly Thanksgiving tradition thing we do and if you want to come you can. We’ve got an extra bedroom you could stay in and I’d bring you back here in the morning when I come to work,” she says in a rush.

            Angel swallows hard, not sure he heard her right. She’s inviting him to her home to spend an evening with her. It’s so close to an actual date that it scares him. “You really shouldn’t invite homeless men into your house,” he says.

            “I don’t invite everyone. I’m inviting you, but if it makes you uncomfortable, it’s fine. I understand. I’ll just see you tomorrow,” she says and starts to turn to retrieve the plate of food in the kitchen and go to her car.

            He grabs her arm, halting her retreat. “No, I’d like to,” he says.

            She smiles. “Let me just tell Anne I’m leaving,” she says.

            He nods. “I’ll wait here,” he says.

            Buffy walks out of the dining room into the hall and knocks on Anne’s office door. She pokes her head in.

            “Hey, I’m going to go on home. I’ve got a date with Jimmy Stewart and my brother,” she says. She isn’t sure why she omits the part where Angel is going with her, but she does.

            Anne smiles tiredly. “Okay, thanks for all the help today and Buffy, be careful,” Anne says.

            “Careful of Jimmy Stewart?” Buffy jokes.

            “No, be careful of the guy,” Anne says.

            “Which guy?” Buffy asks, deciding that playing the dumb blonde might be the route to go here.

            “The one that’s making you smile so much lately,” Anne says.

            Buffy bites her bottom lip. She hadn’t realized it was noticeable. She smiles at Anne. “I will. Thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            The ride to Buffy’s apartment is largely spent in silence. Angel watches her as she sings softly to the radio and drives.

            “I’m scaring you. Am I scaring you? Lindsey says I’m an awful driver,” Buffy says.

            Angel grins. “No, you aren’t scaring me. You’re a fine driver,” he says.

            “Okay, good. I mean that I’m not scaring you,” she says.

            Oh God, I am such an idiot. Some one please strike me down in my idiocy, Buffy thinks. She is glad when she pulls the SUV into the apartment parking garage.

            “We’re on the top floor. The apartment complex calls it a penthouse but it’s not really. It’s just a big apartment on the top floor but then maybe that’s all a penthouse is,” Buffy says.

            Angel grins. He’s not used to this Buffy, the one that rambles and seems nervous. He’s afraid to hope that’s she’s nervous because she likes him.

            “So, what’s this movie about?” Angel asks.

            “Oh my God, you’ve never seen It’s a Wonderful Life?” Buffy says.

            Angel shakes his head. “We- the TV we had when I was little pretty much stayed tuned to what my dad wanted to watch which was football, baseball, basketball or hockey depending on the season,” he said.

            “It’s a great Christmas movie about a guy who doesn’t think his life matters and he gets this chance to see how much his life really does matter, how much he affects the people around him. It’s been a tradition in my house to watch it on Thanksgiving evening for as long as I can remember. When my Mom was alive she used to watch it four or five times before Christmas Day. She loved the movie” Buffy says. Her face gets soft and nostalgic talking about her mother. Angel stows that look in his memory so that he can draw it later.

            Buffy unlocks the door and casually throws it open. She walks in and takes her coat off, hanging it on the coat hanger near the door. She doesn’t notice that Angel is standing just beyond the threshold, looking in.

            He’s never seen a place like this. It’s not that it’s ostentatious. It’s just simple and clean and very evidently expensive. Everything in it screams quiet money and it makes his skin itch and his blood scream. Angel swallows hard and considers turning and running, running back to the warehouse and the life he belongs in. He has no place in a world like this. He has no place in Buffy’s world and that scares him.

            “Angel, you can come on in,” Buffy says.

            Angel shakes his head. “No, I-I shouldn’t be here.”

            “Of course you should. I invited you and it’s my home. If I say you can be here, you can be here,” Buffy says.

            Angel shakes his head. “No, I don’t belong here. I don’t belong in this world and I never will,” he says.

            “Angel, you belong anywhere you want to be,” Buffy says quietly. She holds her hand out to him and it draws him in. He can’t resist touching Buffy, even when he knows he shouldn’t. She smiles at him and takes his hand.

            “I’m just going to put this in the fridge and check the machine for messages. I thought Linds would be home by now,” she says.

            “Do you want some coffee or hot chocolate or anything at all?” Buffy asks as she walks into the kitchen to put her leftovers in the fridge.

            “No, thank you,” he says. Angel stands awkwardly in the middle of the living room.

            Buffy presses a button on an answering machine and lets the messages play. There aren’t many. The last one is from Lindsey.

            “Hey, Darlin, I’m at Delia’s. She wants me to stay the weekend, ‘parently her family does some kind of something over Thanksgiving Weekend. If you want to come up here you’re still welcome, just call and get directions or I’ll come get you. I promise we’ll do the movie thing when I get home,” Lindsey’s distinctive southern drawl fills the small kitchen.

            Angel wouldn’t have noticed the flash of hurt that comes over Buffy’s face if he hadn’t been watching her so closely. He also notices how quickly she covers it up with a too bright smile.

            “I guess it’s just you and me here then,” she says.

            “I can go if you want. I mean if you’re uncomfortable with me here without your brother. I understand and I don’t blame you. I mean maybe you shouldn’t trust me,” he says.

            Buffy looks at him oddly a moment before she speaks. “Why would I feel uncomfortable around you? You’ve never even hinted that you might hurt me,” she says.

            Angel shrugs. “Most people do feel uncomfortable around a druggie,” he says.

            “You’re not a druggie anymore,” she says.

            But I still want it, every single second of every single day, I want it he thinks.

            “Okay, I’m going to have some hot chocolate and we’ll start the movie,” she says.

            He watches as she fills a kettle up and sits it on the stove.

            “Who’s Delia?” Angel asks.

            “Oh, Cordelia Chase, Lindsey’s girlfriend. She’s all snooty and rich. Her parents live in Beverly Hills and she owns this art gallery her parents bought her when she graduated,” Buffy says.

            “You don’t like her?” Angel asks.

            “It’s not that. I mean I don’t love her and I think Linds can do a lot better but-I don’t know she just doesn’t have any respect for what Lindsey’s background is. She likes that he’s this big time, rich lawyer. She doesn’t care about all the hard work it took him to get there. I mean if it was her, her parents would have just bought her a law degree and a law firm to go with it,” Buffy says with a sigh.

            “You don’t like her,” Angel says and this time it’s a statement.

            “Well-I guess not,” Buffy grins. The tea kettle whistles loudly and Buffy turns her attention to the mug of hot chocolate. Once it’s done she walks around the bar and beckons Angel over to the couch.

            “Come sit, watch the movie. You sure you don’t want something? We’ve got cokes and coffee, hot chocolate. I think Linds has some Shiner Bock in the fridge. He has it imported from Texas,” Buffy says with a roll of her eyes.

            “What’s Shiner Bock?” Angel asks.

            “Oh, it’s this beer that you can only buy in Texas. It’s made there,” Buffy says.

            Angel nods. “Uhm, I guess maybe a coke,” he says.

            Buffy gets a coke from the fridge and hands it to him. She gets a DVD out of the entertainment system and puts it in the player. She sits down on the couch on the opposite end from Angel.

            By the time Jimmy Stewart is standing on the bridge, Buffy has scooted closer. Angel’s attention flits back and forth between the movie and Buffy. His heart is hammering in his chest. She’s so close he thinks he can feel the heat radiating off her body and he aches to touch her.  A little longer and Buffy has scooted closer.

            “You know, it’d be okay with me if you pulled that guy move and stretched and put your arm around me,” Buffy says. She wants him to touch her so badly she can hardly breathe.

            “It would? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable,” Angel says.

            “I’m a lot more uncomfortable sitting here waiting for you to touch me then I would be if you were actually touching me,” Buffy says. Oh God, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I am not doing this. I’m not doing this. Oh God, I am so doing this. What the hell is my damage?

            Angel tentatively, carefully drapes his arm over her shoulders. She snuggles into him and he is amazed at the way she fits right there next to his body like it is where she has always belonged.  They watch the rest of the movie in silence, both of them afraid to move, almost afraid to breathe. He smiles as tears shine in her eyes and as she mouths the words with the little girl at the end of the film.

            “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets their wings,” she whispers along with the movie.

            They wait until the credits roll and Buffy glances at the clock on the wall.

            “Oh, I’ve got to get to bed. I’ll never make it up in the morning,” she says and stands reluctantly. “Come on, I’ll show you where your sleeping.”

            He follows her through the living room and down a short hall. The guest room is the smallest of the three bedrooms. It is still larger then any single room Angel has ever stayed in. It’s also nicer with a queen sized bed, chest of drawers and a small desk. 

            “The bathroom is down the hall. It’s just a half bath but you can use Lindsey’s shower in the morning. I’ll wake you up when I wake up, if that’s okay,” Buffy says.

            Angel smiles and nods. “Yeah that’s fine and you’re sure you don’t mind me staying here? I can walk back to the shelter or find some other place to stay the night,” he says.

            “Oh God, no you’re not doing that. I want you to stay here. Sometimes it feels creepy in the house by myself,” she says.

            He doesn’t tell her that lots of people would feel creepy with him in the house. He just nods and mumbles his thanks.

            “I’m in that room just across the hall if you need anything,” she says and points to a door that is slightly ajar.

            He nods and watches as she disappears across the hall and into the room.  He sits on the bed and tries to remember how to breathe. This whole house smells like her. He imagines her lying in the bed just across the hall and he wonders what kind of pajamas she wears or maybe she doesn’t. He closes his eyes at that thought and tries to banish it from his mind. That’s not the sort of thought that just goes away though. He gets into bed and lies there staring at the ceiling. It’s a long time before he drifts off to sleep. He doesn’t even notice that he went almost two hours without thinking about wanting a hit of something.

 Chapter Nine

     When Angel wakes up, Buffy is already gone.  She left him a scribbled note and taped it to his door.

Angel,

I went to the shelter. Stay here, I’ll be back mid afternoon. Make yourself at home. There are towels and stuff in my bathroom. I put some clean clothes on the chair and there are leftovers in the fridge.

B

            Angel walks around the apartment a bit lost. His stomach grumbles and he rummages in the fridge. There is so much food he can’t decide. He can’t remember having so many choices. He finally pours a bowl of cornflakes and fills it with milk. He cuts up a banana and adds it to his cereal. A big, goofy grin spreads over his face as he sits down in the breakfast nook with his cereal and a newspaper.  He feels normal. Yes his blood is still boiling and screaming for drugs but it’s become so constant that if he has something else to do, something else to think about, it’s like white noise.

            After breakfast Angel takes the chance to snoop around the house.  Everything in the house is simple, done in natural tones of beige, brown and russet. It’s a beautiful apartment but it doesn’t reconcile what Angel knows of Buffy. When he walks into her room he knows that Buffy didn’t choose the colors in this house. Her room is all white and cool blue.  He sits down on the white iron double bed. There is a blue and white striped blanket on it. He runs his hand over the pillows. He can almost see her lying here. He takes a deep breath. It smells like vanilla, like her. 

            He stands up and runs his fingers over the books on her shelf. They are mostly romance novels. He smiles. Among all the grown up romance novels there is a copy of The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  

            He takes a shower in her bathroom. She uses Herbal Essences shampoo and vanilla scented body wash. There is bar of Ivory soap in the dish and towels laid out on the top of the toilet tank. Buffy laid out an extra razor and shaving cream by the sink. Angel wraps a towel around his waist and shaves. He walks back into the guest room. He unfolds the clothing Buffy left for him, black sweat pants and a white tee shirt and finds that she left a drawing pad and some pencils underneath the clothing. He slips the clothing on. The tee shirt is a bit tight across the shoulders letting him know that it is Lindsey’s. He’s fairly sure the pants are probably his also. He picks up the drawing pad and takes it out to the breakfast nook.

            Angel lays out the pencils on the table. He’s used to having access to only a snub of a pencil or even a piece of charcoal. He picks up one of the long slender pencils and turns it over between his fingers. After a brief moment he begins to sketch on the paper and slowly the soft look Buffy gets when she talks about her mother takes shape on the paper.

*

            Buffy pokes her head in Anne’s office door.

            “Hey, Anne, do you mind if I get out of here early? It’s quiet and Willow is coming in before the dinner rush,” Buffy asks.

            Anne smiles and looks up at her. She lays her pen on the desk.

            “Yeah but why? You haven’t cut out early in the last three years you’ve worked here,” Anne says.

            Buffy shrugs and flushes slightly. She glances down at her hands which are fidgeting nervously. “I just-I wanted to take a friend to dinner and a movie tonight and I need to get some things done first,” Buffy says.

            “You’ve got a date?” Anne asks.

            “No, no not a date-a-just a friend,” Buffy says. She blushes furiously and fidgets.

            Anne laughs. “Whatever you want to call it sweetie. Go have fun and tell me the details later,” she says.

            Buffy smiles tightly and nods. “Okay, thank you,” she says.

            Her next stop is a department store. By the time Buffy gets out of the department store she remembers why she hates holiday shopping. Her next stop is the apartment. She parks the SUV in the parking garage with a smile. It’s nice to be coming home to someone besides her brother and of course Angel doesn’t live there. It’s not their apartment but it’s still nice to be coming home to him.

            She takes the elevator up and unlocks the apartment door silently. She places her bags on the floor next to the couch and smiles at the sight in front of her. Angel is hunched over the table in the breakfast nook. He found her paper and pencils. The light plays over his face, his body. He is so pale he seems to glow like something ethereal. The sunlight filters through his spiky brown hair, picking out the red highlights in it. She swallows hard. He is beautiful, despite being too skinny and neglected, he is still beautiful. She watches him a moment longer, not wanting to disturb him, not wanting to fracture this moment.

            “Angel,” she whispers.

            He jumps slightly and looks over his shoulder, almost instinctively hiding what he is working on.

            “Buffy, sorry I didn’t hear you,” he says.

            Buffy smiles and moves closer to the table. “It’s okay. Can I see what you’re working on?”

            “Oh, it’s…” he starts.

            “Nothing,” she finishes with a smile. “I’d like to see anyway.”

            He shrugs and slides some pieces of paper across the table to her. There are several drawings, including one of Buffy.  Her favorite one though is a silhouette of a man and woman. They are locked in an embrace, their lips a whisper away from each other. Buffy smiles and traces the image with her fingers.

            “You like that one?” Angel asks.

            Buffy nods. “They look so in love. I don’t know how, I mean they’re silhouettes but they look like they’re in love.”

            Angel nods. “They are,” he says quietly.

            She wants to know what his hair feels like. Is it soft or stiff? Does he put lots of gel in it or does it kind of just stick up all over naturally? Her hand is half way to his hair before she realizes it.  He glances up at her and she stops in mid air. She falters and lowers her hand.

            “Sorry, I-“ she stops, thinking it sounds ridiculous.

            “What?” he asks.

            She shrugs and blushes. “I just wanted to know what your hair feels like,” she says sheepishly.

            He gives her a little crooked, half grin. “Go ahead and touch it,” he says.

            She laughs and buries her fingers in his hair. It’s thick and silky but she can feel the gel he put it in earlier.  He leans into her touch like a cat or dog craving more. She withdraws her hand after a few seconds.

            “Does it feel like you thought it would?” He asks.

            She shrugs. “I don’t know. I didn’t know what to expect. You’ve got really thick hair,” she says.

            He nods.

            “Did you have a good day?” She asks.

            He grins. “I had cornflakes and bananas for breakfast.”

            She giggles. “You like cornflakes?”

            He nods. “I haven’t had them since before I left home. We used to eat them a lot.”

            “Oh! I almost forgot! “Buffy exclaims and hops up to retrieve her bags. She hands one to Angel.

            “What’s this?” He asks.

            “I want to take you to dinner and a movie tonight,” she says.

            Angel pulls a pair of jeans and a dark blue sweater out of the bag.

            “I had to guess on sizes. I buy Lindsey’s clothes sometimes so I’m pretty good at it and the color, if you don’t like it we can stop buy and exchange it before dinner if you want. I just thought the blue would look nice on you,” Buffy says.

            “I can’t take these, Buffy,” Angel says.

            “Of course you can. I bought them for you,” Buffy says.

            “No. I won’t take it, not from you,” he says.

            “Angel, that’s silly. I want us to go out tonight and I want you to have new clothes to wear out. Why is this an issue?” Buffy asks.

            “Because I don’t want you giving me things, it’s enough that you’re letting me stay here for the weekend,” he says.

            “Alright then, you can just wear that to the movies and I’ll donate the clothes to the shelter,” Buffy says with a sigh.

            Angel shakes his head. “No,” he says.

            “Okay, you don’t want to go out with me. I’m sorry, I assumed-“ Buffy started.

            “No, it’s not that. It’s- you don’t let the girl you like buy you clothes. I’m supposed to buy you things, not the other way around,” he says.

            “Where do you get that antiquated viewpoint?” Buffy asks.

            Angel shrugs. “My father might have been a bastard but I had a nice grandfather with antiquated viewpoints,” he says.

            “Okay, give up your antiquated viewpoints for just a little while. Let me take you out, let me help you. You can pay me back later, once you’re on your feet,” Buffy says.

            “Compromise, I’ll let you help me but we stay in and watch movies here tonight,” he says.

            “God, have you always been this difficult?” Buffy asks with a grin and a teasing roll of her eyes.

            “Yeah I have,” he says.

            “Alright, we stay in and watch movies. I’ll order pizza,” she says.

            Later curled up on the couch, Angel is watching Buffy eat pizza and laugh at American Pie. Her nose wrinkles when she laughs.  She turns to him.

            “You aren’t watching the movie,” she teases.

            “I am,” he protests.

            “It’s a funny movie,” she swears.

            “It is. See compromise is a good thing,” he says.

            Buffy smiles at Angel. “You’re right,” she says. She glances down. “Can I ask you something I’ve been wanting to for a while?”

            “Sure, you can ask,” he says.

            She nods. He means he might not answer her. “Well, how did you end up here?”

            “I rode home with you,” he says.

            She grins. “I know that. I meant-“

            “I know what you meant. When I was four my mother died from a rare blood disease, before she died my father was prone to temper tantrums. Even as a child I remember them having screaming fights. He never hit her, at least not that I know of. I think he loved her in his own way, as much as he could love. When she died, he just lost it. I was difficult, hard to raise. I was six the first time he beat me, not bad, not at first. He broke my arm when I was ten. He broke ribs and my wrist that same year. When I was fourteen he beat me so bad that I was in the hospital for a week. I walked out of the hospital and never went back to his house again,” Angel says.

            “Your grandfather, the nice one with the viewpoints-“ Buffy starts.

            “Died when I was thirteen,” Angel says.

            “I’m sorry,” Buffy says.

            Angel shakes his head. “No, it’s-I mean shit happens. Both your parents died.”

            “Yeah but I was lucky. I had Lindsey and Xander, if I hadn’t who knows what would have happened to me,” Buffy says.

            “You were lucky. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. Maybe that’s why I’m so protective of Oz, Fred and Gunn,” Angel says.

            “They don’t like the shelter, do they?” Buffy asks.

            Angel smiles. “Not particularly, it’s the same rule I had a problem with.”

            “And I’m guessing they don’t want to go clean,” Buffy says.

            “They don’t have a reason to change. Everybody needs a reason to change,” Angel says.

            “What’s your reason?” Buffy asks.

            Angel hesitates and swallows hard. Finally he glances up at her, looking straight in her eyes. “My reason is you,”

 Chapter Ten

“Come on, Lindsey. I’m not asking you to make him a partner in the firm. A mail room position would be great,” Buffy says.

            “Buffy, if I recommend that Wolfram and Hart hire this guy and he ends up getting busted for drugs or anything else, my ass could be on the line,” Lindsey says.

            “He won’t screw up, Lindsey. He just needs a chance. I want to give him one,” Buffy says.

            Lindsey sighs and scrubs his hand through his hair. “Alright, but if you start picking up strays like this, I can’t give them all jobs,” he says.

            Buffy chuckled. “Angel is not a stray,” she says.

            “You know what I mean,” Lindsey says.

            “Well, I have another favor to ask,” Buffy says.

            “Well spill it, Darlin,” Lindsey says.

            Buffy chews on her lower lip and Lindsey knows he’s in trouble. He has an idea of exactly what Buffy wants but he’s going to make her ask.

            “Angel wants to make something of his life. He wants something better then what he’s got. He can’t live in the shelter and walk all the way to Wolfram and Hart everyday. I’d like to let him live in the guest room, temporarily, until he can get together enough for an apartment. It’ll be a few months at most,” Buffy says.

            “No, Buffy, that’s not happening,” Lindsey says.

            “You always say this is my home too but the first time I want to help someone and lend a spare room that we never use, you don’t even consider it?” Buffy says.

            “I’m not home enough. I can’t trust you here with him,” Lindsey says.

            “He was here the entire weekend while you were with Cordelia! Angel would never hurt me,” Buffy says.

            “He was here?” Lindsey asks.

            “Yeah, he slept in the guest room and was a complete gentleman. Lindsey, please,” Buffy says.

It is almost, almost, subconscious when she starts pouting. Her bottom lip trembles. Lindsey crosses his arms over his chest and maintains his best stony lawyer face. He gives it a few more seconds before caving.

“Oh for God’s sake, stop with the trembling lip. He can move in here but I swear if he hurts one hair on your head, I will need a lawyer and he will need a coffin; also no drugs in the apartment, ever. If he starts using again, he’s out. I can’t afford to have some druggie die in my bathroom,” Lindsey barks.

Buffy tries not to grin. Lindsey always did go over board with the gruff when he was giving into her. It makes him feel less like a softy.

“So I can tell him he can move in tomorrow? I mean it’s not like he’s going to clutter the place up with a lot of stuff,” Buffy says.

Lindsey growls in answer. “I’ve got to get back to work,” he says.

“Thank you, Linds. You’re the best big brother ever,” Buffy says.

“Yeah, yeah, you only say that when I’m being a pushover,” Lindsey says.

“But I mean it, even when your being a hard ass,” Buffy says.

            Lindsey chuckles and shakes his head. “I’m never a hard ass where you’re concerned,” he says.

            “Oh, I don’t know, remember that D I got in math. You were pretty hard assed there. I think I was grounded for four weeks until I pulled it up,” Buffy says.

            Lindsey grins at her. “Tell your stray he can move in tonight but lay down the ground rules, same ones I have for you and me and he will sleep in the guest bedroom. There’s not going to be any pouting your way out of that,” he says.

            Buffy smirks. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says.

            And most of the time, she thinks she wouldn’t but if she’s honest with herself, in the dark of night when Angel was staying here, she wanted it the other way. She wanted him in her bed. She wanted to know what his lips felt like. But Buffy isn’t honest with herself and she isn’t ready to admit that she feels that way. He is a friend. She is helping him and that’s all it is.

*

            Angel is sitting upstairs in the room with the balcony. He has come to think of it as their room. Almost every day they meet here and talk about everything. She tells him about her childhood. He listens. He doesn’t talk much about his life. It’s not something he wants her to know about him. As far as he’s concerned, his life started when he met Buffy. His past isn’t important now. It’s the future he’s worried about.

            He feels her coming before he ever sees her and it’s an odd feeling. He didn’t realize you could feel a person and certainly not the way he feels her, in his bones, in his blood, in his soul.

            “Hey,” she says walking into the room. “I thought I’d find you here.”

            He smiles. “Yeah, I was just thinking, hoping you’d show up.”

            “I practically live here so it’s a good bet that I’ll always show up,” she says.

            “True,” he says.

            “I’ve got a proposition for you,” she says and sits down on the balcony beside him. “Remember how you said I could help you?”

            He nods.

            “Well, I talked to Lindsey and he’s going to try and get you a job at Wolfram and Hart. It won’t be great or anything, just like the mailroom, but it’ll be a job,” Buffy says.

            “I don’t know. Technically that’s Lindsey helping me, not you and that’s a whole other story,” Angel says.

            “No, it’s me helping you. Lindsey wouldn’t do it if it weren’t for me, so it is me helping you,” Buffy says.

            “You’re stubborn, aren’t you?” Angel asks.

            She grins. “Very and you’d do well to remember it. There’s more though. How would you feel about having me as a house mate?” She asks.

            He quirks a brow at her. He can’t think of anything he’d like better but somehow he doesn’t think she’s proposing that they move in together.

            “Until you get on your feet and get your own apartment, you’re welcome to stay in the guest room at my apartment,” she says.

            Angel pulls his mouth into a thin line and looks down at his feet. He clears his throat and tries to keep tears back. He’s never had anyone trust him this much, believe in him this much and how can this little slip of a girl instill so much hope in someone? He knows she is waiting for an answer but he can’t find one. He just nods, unable to voice how grateful he is to her.

            “Is that a yes? I mean does that mean you want to stay in the guest room?” She asks.

            His chuckle comes out choked and a little teary. “Yeah, I’d love to stay in your guest room. Thank you,” he says.

            “Good. We’re expecting you tonight then. I’ll warn you, Lindsey isn’t there much. He’s either working or staying with Cordelia,” she says.

            He clears his throat again. “So it will be just you and me most of the time?”

            She blushes. “I-yeah. I hope that’s not a problem,” she says.

            He shakes his head. “No, it’s not a problem.”

*

            Buffy unlocks the apartment door. Angel follows her inside. She places her bags on the floor by the door. She wipes her hands on her pants, suddenly very nervous.

            “Uhm, it’s kind of early for Lindsey to be home. He usually comes home after work and showers and changes before he goes over to Cornelia’s place or out to eat or whatever but you know where your room is and the bathroom and kitchen. Help yourself to anything you want to eat or drink or whatever,” Buffy rambles.

            “Kay, thanks,” Angel stands near the door with his hands in his back pockets, suddenly quite uncomfortable.

            “Okay, uhm I don’t cook, I mean like ever. I could burn water so I’m going to call food in. What do you want?” Buffy asks. She places a hand on the bar and then takes it off, places a hand on the chair and removes it. She rakes her fingers through her hair.

            “Okay, God, if we’re going to live in the same apartment we can’t be uncomfortable. I want you here, Angel. Do you want to be here?” Buffy asks.

            “I appreciate you and your brother doing this for me, Buffy but I’m not comfortable taking charity from someone I know. It’s different at the shelter, they help everyone but it’s not likely you’d let just anyone move in here so yeah it makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel like crap because I should have more to offer you. I should be more for you and I don’t have anything. All I have are the clothes on my back and those are shitty clothes,” Angel says.

            “Angel, I didn’t invite you to move in here because of your clothes or because of what you can or can’t do for me. I asked you to move in here because I really, really like you and it’s my way of circumventing the fact that I have this little rule where I don’t go out with homeless druggies so if you’re not homeless and you’re not a druggie anymore then I can allow myself to admit that I’m falling in love with you-Oh God,” Buffy slaps her hand over her mouth.

            A small smile plays over Angel’s lips. “If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been in love with you since you knocked me on my ass in the shelter dining room,” Angel says.

Chapter Eleven

Angel sits on the bed in the guest bedroom. He can’t think of it as his room. The door is shut. It’s the first room he’s ever had with a door. The only room he remembers in his father’s house had a threadbare sheet on a piece of string across the shattered door frame, a door frame his father shattered to get to him the night he broke his arm.  He swallows hard, working past the tears in his throat. He can’t get over the blond in the room across the hall, the one that is trusting him with everything she has, maybe even her heart. He hasn’t earned that trust. He doesn’t deserve it and yet she’s so willing to give it to him. He’d forgotten there were people like that in this world. He’d forgotten there were people like Buffy Summers, or maybe there aren’t maybe there’s just one person like Buffy Summers.

            There’s a soft knock on the door. Angel clears his throat and stands up.

            “Yeah,” he says.

            The door is cracked open and Buffy peeks around it.

            “Hey, can I come in?” She asks.

            He nods. “Yeah, it’s your house,” he says.

            She shakes her head. “It’s your room. If you don’t want me in here, just tell me. I’ll understand,” she says.

            It’s a lie. She wouldn’t understand. Her feelings would be hurt. She steps inside and thrusts a pile of clothing toward him.

            “It’s not much, just some old things of Lindsey’s that I was going to take to the shelter. I go through all of our clothes around Christmas time and give away some of the older things. Anyway, if you want them they’re yours,” she says.

            Angel swallows hard again. It’s becoming a habit lately. He wishes he didn’t have such a hard time taking things from her. He wishes he didn’t have to take things from her.

            “Thanks,” he mumbles.

            She shrugs. “It’s fine, like I said I was going to give them to the shelter anyway,” she says.

            He nods and puts the pile of clothes in the dresser.

            “I’m going to-“ Buffy starts.

            She’s interrupted a yell from the living room.

            “Darlin! I’m home!”

            Buffy grins and chuckles a little. “Uhm, that’s Lindsey.”

            Angel nods. “I figured,” he says.

            Buffy turns and walks in the living room. Angel follows her more to avoid being rude then anything.  Lindsey is setting a bag of food on the bar when they walk into the living room. He’s dressed in a charcoal gray Armani suit. He loosens the knot in his tie and looks from Buffy to Angel.

            “I was giving Angel some of your old things from the shelter box,” Buffy says.

            Lindsey nods. “I’m going to take a shower. We’ll eat when I get out,” he says.

            Buffy gets plates, plain white, from the cabinets. She sets them on the bar and slides open the silverware drawer.

            “Can I help?” Angel asks.

            “Yeah, you can get drinks. Linds always has a beer when he comes home. I want a glass of sweet tea. It’s in the pitcher in the fridge and you can have what ever you want,” Buffy says.

            “Sweet tea?” Angel asks.

            “It’s a hold over from when we lived in the South,” Buffy says.

            “Lindsey has the accent, you don’t. Why?” Angel asks. It is something he has been wondering since he met the two of them.

            “When we moved out to LA, I was just ten. Lindsey was fourteen, the accent was more deeply rooted I guess. If I drink too much, the accent creeps into my voice,” Buffy says.

            Angel grins. Buffy tipsy with an accent is something he would like to see. He gets glasses out of the cabinet and fills two of them with ice and tea. He leaves the third empty and sets the bottle of beer next to it.  Buffy adds a pile of cloth napkins beside the white plates and bundle of silverware.

            Lindsey walks into the living room dressed in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. His hair is wet and his feet are bare. He grunts and grabs a plate.  Buffy follows his lead and Angel hers. They pile their plates with Thai food and then sit around the tiny table. Lindsey and Buffy talk about the weather, the traffic and the owner of the restaurant where Lindsey bought the food. They are half way through dinner when Lindsey turns to Angel.

            “I’ve got you a job in the mailroom at Wolfram and Hart, if you want it. Starts day after tomorrow,” Lindsey says.

            That feeling of being overwhelmed washes over Angel again. He nods his head.

            “Thanks. I appreciate it. I-I appreciate it,” he says.

            “Thank Buffy. She’s the one who got it for you. I’m just the one who looked into it. You’ll have to fill out some forms,” Lindsey says.

            Angel nods. “No problem, I actually can read and write,” he says.

            Buffy shoots a glare at Angel and an apologetic glance at Lindsey.

            “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-I appreciate the job and the place to stay,” Angel says.

            Lindsey starts to speak and stops with a glance toward Buffy. Angel knows he is spared any further argument only for Buffy’s sake.

            “So, how is work, Linds?” Buffy asks.

            “You hate to hear about my job, Darlin,” Lindsey says.

            “It’s because you hate your job,” Buffy says.

            Lindsey chuckles. “You’d like for me hate my job,” he says.

            “You come home every night and take a shower because you think you’re dirty from your job. You’re a lawyer, you don’t get dirty,” Buffy says.

            Lindsey chuckles. The playful look leaves his face and for just a moment he looks pensive. “I’m always dirty, Darlin” he almost whispers. He shoves himself back from the table and takes his plate to the sink. He rinses it and dries his hands.

            “I’m supposed to go to Cordelia’s. I can stay in if you like,” Lindsey finally says.

            “No, Linds, it’s fine. I think TNT is having a Law and Order marathon. Angel and I will be perfectly fine here with the tube and the leftovers,” Buffy says.

            Lindsey turns and the cocky grin is in place. “Tomorrow I’ll bring home a tree and we’ll put it up,” he says.

            Buffy nods. “Are you going to be here for Christmas?” She asks.

            The implication that he will be at Cordelia’s hangs in the air.

            Lindsey nods. “Yeah, Cordelia’s family goes to Aspen every year for Christmas. She’s leaving in a couple of days,” he says.

            “You weren’t invited?” Buffy asks.

            “I was,” Lindsey says.

            Buffy bites her bottom lip and nods. “I wasn’t,” she finally says.

            “You won’t believe this, but it’s not Delia. Her family-“ Lindsey stops.

            “Its okay, Linds and you can invite Cordelia for Christmas if you want. We’ll do the same old same old, the more the merrier,” Buffy says.

            Lindsey smiled and kissed Buffy on the cheek. “You’re a peach. Cordelia will be going to Aspen with her family. We’ve already discussed it,” he says.

            Buffy nods. “You better go. I don’t want you facing the wrath of Cordy if you’re late. Go, Angel and I don’t need to be babysat,” Buffy says.

*

            “Doink, doink,” Buffy says under her breath.

            Angel glances over her confused. “What?”

            “Oh, nothing, it’s the intro to the show, the doink doink,” Buffy says feeling acutely embarrassed.

            “You are the strangest girl,” he says. Angel can not help reaching out and just brushing a strand of her golden hair behind her ear.  Her skin still feels so hot to his that it sends a tingle up his arm and down his spine. He jerks his hand back suddenly. Touching her is too much, too overwhelming.

            “Why do you do that? Pull your hand back like I burn?” Buffy asks.

            Angel swallows hard and looks down at his feet. He hesitates a moment before speaking. “Because you do, but-“ he stops.

            “But what?” She asks.

            He shakes his head. “It’s a good thing. It’s like…this shock of electricity but I can only take so much…if I touch you for too long, I can’t breathe,” he almost whispers.

            “Oh,” Buffy breathes.  She bites her lip and looks up at Angel through the fringe of her lashes. She has no idea how breathtakingly beautiful she is to him in that moment.

            “So, if I kissed you, it would be a bad thing,” she says.

            He gulps and finally finds the voice to say “No.”

            She leans in toward him and wraps her hand around the back of his neck. Her lips touch his, just barely brushing. His arms wrap around her, pulling her closer, deepening the kiss. His teeth nip her bottom lip just slightly and she moans softly into his mouth. She grabs a handful of his shirt and tries to get closer to him.  His hands slide up her shirt, caressing the bare skin of her back. He tilts his head a bit more and slips his tongue in her mouth. Buffy moans his name softly. She tugs his shirt up, pulling it over one shoulder, her palm smoothes over his shoulder blade and he shoves her away.

            Buffy catches herself before she falls on the floor. She shoves her hands through her hair and takes ragged, panting breaths.

            “God, I’m so sorry. I don’t-your first night in the house and I practically molest you. I’m so sorry,” Buffy says.

            Angel buries his head in his hands. His entire body is trembling and he can barely catch his breath. “I- wow. That was-wow,” he manages.

            Buffy grins at him and shakes her head. “I really don’t usually do that,” she says and flushes to the roots of her hair.

            He nods. “I know. I mean I didn’t think you did,” he says.

            Buffy sighs and leans back against the couch. She steeples her hands over her eyes and reclines there like that for a moment. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Angel,” she says.

            “Why do you have to know? Why do you have to be in control all the time? It’s okay to let go. I’ll catch you,” Angel says.

            “Promise?” Buffy asks without looking at him.  He can hear the tears in her voice and he knows if she’d move her hands he’d see them pooling in her eyes.

            “See the last time I let go and I relinquished control, my parents died and my world just went…nothing will ever be the same again. That’s what happens when I let go, Angel. My world changes forever,” she says.

            “Not all change is bad, Buffy” Angel says.


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