How To Banish Moping and Pests In Eleven Easy Steps

By Felicity and Serena


Prologue

Buffy sat in the kitchen of the beach house, idly eating icing fresh out of the carton and feeling sorry for herself. She and Willow had made it a rule to always have icing in the house for depressing moments, and this definitely constituted as one. Perched on a stool with her bathrobe cinched loosely around her waist, she sat in the darkness reminiscing. Remembering Angel, feeling the pain he had inflicted and the joy he had brought her. It had been five months since he had left her, and all she had gotten was a letter. One measly letter, telling her briefly how he was and giving her his phone number and address, should she ever need to call him. She hadn’t, needless to say, it was just too painful. After all this time, her windpipe still constricted when she thought of him and she had to fight the tears that always threatened to overflow. She couldn’t remember the last time she had truly laughed...

The darkened beach house was quiet. Buffy gazed around as she ate, looking at the different shadows the light from the moon cast on it. It had been a graduation present from her father, he had felt horrible at not being able to attend the ceremony and had given her the house to make up for it. <Ah, the benefits of having a wealthy father who feels guilty> she thought to herself. It was designed in the tradition of The Real World houses, bright IKEA furniture all over and bizarre paintings on the walls. A spiral staircase stood in the corner. The downstairs was all open except for the bathroom and the little light that entered the house accented certain things and hide others. It was gorgeous, but she felt strangely out of place.

Her friends were all happy, and she was not. That’s what it boiled down to. Heck, even *Anya* was having more fun than Buffy. When she wasn’t complaining about having lost her powers, anyway. Buffy tried, for their sake, to put on a happy face and go with the flow, but it got tiring after a while. They thought she was fine, had gotten over Angel and was looking for someone new. What a joke. She didn’t give them any reason to think otherwise, though. When she dreamt of him and their times together, she was always silent. She never woke up calling out for him and never let them see how hurt she really was.

Buffy brought the spoon to her lips, slowing licking the white icing off. It was three in the morning and she had class tomorrow. Instead of sleeping, like she should have been doing, she was sitting in her kitchen feeling sorry for herself. A lone tear trickled down her cheek, and she hastily wiped it away. Crying wouldn’t help any. But at least when she was awake she could control her mind. It was in sleep that it hurt her the most. She had no protection and was assaulted with images and memories. Pounding on the door interrupted her thoughts. She frowned as she set the container and her spoon down on the counter and stood, making her way over to the door. Peering out of the side window, she opened the door and stared in shock at the person standing in front of her.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"That’s not a very nice way to greet a guest," the slender, blond (and rather drunk) vampire informed her. Buffy blinked in astonishment. Not as nice way to greet a guest?

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you know," she told him. "And I’ll think about it." Spike tilted his head, thinking, then grinned suddenly.

"I’m here to help!" he informed her. Buffy bit back a laugh, surprising herself. Usually Spike just annoyed her, but at the moment he was so very un-threatening it was almost funny.

"I don’t need your help," she informed him tartly, beginning to close the door. He caught it and held it, peeking through the crack.

"Sure you do. Angel’s not around anymore, the Hellmouth’s acting all spazzy lately. I’m just the vampire to help." Buffy’s eyebrows arched.

"Are you drunk?" she inquired.

"A bit. Aren’t you going to invite me in?" Spike asked in return. Buffy blinked, wondering if she was awake. This was just too odd. Maybe she dozed off over her frosting. He waited expectantly. Buffy groaned and stepped back, opening the door wide again. Might as well.

"Come in," she grumbled. Spike grinned and sauntered in, looking around. He gave a low whistle as she shut the door behind him.

"Nice digs you got yourself here," he said, taking a seat on the couch without invitation.

"Yeah, it’s a graduation present from my dad," she said, sitting down on the arm of the couch.

"Bloody nice dad you got! So, how’s stuff around here?"

"Fine," Buffy said shortly, remembering that he knew Angel was gone. She changed the subject abruptly. "Did you find Drusilla?"

"Nah, she and that Chaos Demon were off having fun," Spike sighed, a teary look coming to his eyes. Buffy nearly groaned. The last thing she needed was a pathetic, drunk vampire on her couch! Why had she let him in again? He roused himself though, "What about Angel? Why’d he leave? I always figured you two for the inseparable sort." Buffy stiffened.

"He didn’t want to be with me," she said coldly, though the chill in her voice wasn’t for him, or even for Angel. Maybe for herself. To her surprise, Spike scoffed.

"That’s not the reason and you bloody well know it. Soul Boy’s got a one track mind and you’re on it," Spike muttered. Buffy gave him a sharp look.

"What do you know about it?" she demanded, then stopped, a soft sigh escaping her lips. "He didn’t think it would work out. He wanted me to have a ‘normal life’ and ‘be happy’." As if she could, without him. Spike gave her a sympathetic look.

"What a drag. True love hurts, y’ know? But you never feel anything like it anywhere else, so you keep going back anyway. You keep holding on, even though it makes it hurt worse. Can’t help it, not when it’s really love. One person’s always holding on, even if the other one’s left. Hurts like Hell though," Spike said pilosophically. Buffy bit back a stinging retort.

"What do you know—" she began, then stopped. He did know. It was true, all of it. Every single word. She’d never felt anything like what she had with Angel. When she was with him…nothing could even come close. And nothing had ever hurt as much as losing him, either. Yet she still held on, she would hold on forever. She couldn’t stop, she couldn’t let go.

Beside her, Spike’s thoughts ran along the same lines. He’d given up following Drusilla, but that didn’t mean he’d given her up. He still loved her. His sweet, innocent, crazy Dru. He glanced at Buffy, who looked miserable. Poor girl. She looked over at him, and started when she realized she was sitting there in the middle of the night, beside Spike of all people, actually…bonding.

"What am I doing?" she muttered to herself, standing up and shaking her head absently. She began to walk over to the staircase.

"Can I sleep here?" he called after her.

"Yeah, sure, whatever," she called back, firmly convinced that this was a dream. It was just too weird for reality. The Slayer ascended the stairs quickly as Spike watched. When she dissapeared he began shaking his head and lay down to go to sleep.

Part One

A scream shattered the stillness of the beach house. Seconds earlier former-demon Anya had wandered into the living room, yawning and fussing with her rumpled brown hair. She walked to the window to open the curtains, blinked at the extreme brightness and wandered idly over to the couch.

Where she happened to sit on a drunk, slightly smoking vampire.

Anya screamed. Spike sat up and yelled, clutching at his head and pushing her off him to try and escape the sunlight.

Anya kept screaming.

"What’s going on?" Buffy deamanded, running down the stairs, her robe hastily flung over a small silky pajama set. "Spike?!"

"Who the bloody hell did you think it was?" he cried, clutching at his head. Anya was still screaming. Buffy gave her a look and Spike spun. "What do you think you’re doing? Stop that bloody noise! Oh god my head! And what are you trying to do, fry me alive? Bloody shaggin’ American!"

Before this onslaught Anya fell silent, her eyes wide. Buffy winced, still trying to figure out what was going on—Spike was actually here? She though it was a dream…Spike continued to yell at Anya while Buffy walked to the window and closed the shades. She wasn’t sure what she wanted out of spike, but burning him alive wasn’t it—yet.

"What’s wr–Spike!" Willow’s voice exclaimed. Buffy looked up to see the redhead appear at the top of the stairs, Oz right behind her.

"It’s okay Will," Buffy assure them immediately. "He’s not dangerous. And he says he’s here to help."

"Here to help?" Willow squeaked. Oz frowned.

"Remember the whole kidnapping thing?" he said. Buffy winced.

"Okay, so I let him in at three in the morning laat night. It thought it was a dream. Besides, he won’t try anything while I’m watching," Buffy assured them, casting a glance at the enraged, hungover vampire.

"Don’t worry, I’m here!" Xander exclaimed, appearing in the door from his downstairs room. Buffy sighed.

"Hi Xand," she said, watching his eyes widen as he took in the scene.

"You wanna explain to me why Peroxide Boy is in our living room?"

"Well it’s kinda a long story," Buffy said nervously, glacing over at Spike.

"Why don’t you start talking?" Oz suggested kindly, his hands tightening reassuringly on Willow’s arms. She was watching Spike with an extremely apprehensive look.

"He came in the middle of the night last night," Buffy told them.

"And you invited him in why?" Xander demanded, torn between the desire for scathing comments and the fuzziness of just having woken up. The yelling stopped and Spike shot a look at Xander.

"You have a problem with that?" he asked in a menacing voice. Xander’s eyes widened and he almost looked to challenge him, then abruptly backed away. Buffy, in turn, stepped forward.

"Kindly cease threatening my friends. I might be forced to do something we would both reg—no, make that you would regret. Something possibly involving lots of sunlight, your lungs ripped out of your body, or maybe something wooden and pointy. Get the picture?"

"No need for threats," Spike grumbled, but shut up at her look.

"So what are you doing here?" Xander demanded, turning to Spike. The vampire shrugged.

"Nowhere better to go. Besides, I was drunk."

"How did you know where we lived?" Willow asked, gaining courage.

"She’s the Slayer," Spike stated, as if that were an incredibly obvious answer in and of itself. Or an answer at all.

"Yeah, we knew that," Xander replied. "So?"

"Come on Sit ‘N Spin, share," Buffy coaxed. He almost growled at her, but apparently thought better of it.

"Everyone knows where you live. Every vampire in town." Buffy winced. She should have known.

"I still don’t understand why you would want to come here. Didn’t you think you’d be meeting a couple of sharp stakes?" Oz asked. Buffy watched as Anya nervously inched around the vampire that was currently ignoring her, suddenly making a dash to Xander, who shook her off impatiently. Buffy stifled a giggle.

"I just thought I’d see how you were getting’ on, without Angel and all. Pardon me for bloody caring!" Buffy went white at this revelation, not even pausing to think of the oddity of Spike’s statement. Willow bit her lip and Oz rested his head against hers. Xander watched Buffy with concern and Anya rolled her eyes and sighed.

"So what do you want?" asked Xander finally.

"Can’t a vampire just come to visit?" Spike demanded. Their looks answered for them. "All right, all right. I don’t have anyplace to stay and I thought maybe…"

"You want to stay with us?" Willow nearly squeaked.

"Does this look like Hotel Slayer to you?" Buffy demanded, angry that he had thought he could just come and crash. Well, actually, he had, but that wasn’t the point.

"Actually..." Spike said, trailing off. Buffy’s icy glare silenced him. "Aww, c’mon Slayer. Help an old friend out?"

"You got the old part right," she retorted. Spike grinned rather sheepishly. The others stayed quiet, watching their friend and her nemesis bicker. It would’ve been funny if it had been anyone but Spike.

"Just wait till I get on my own two feet again," Spike said, his lower lip jutting out. Buffy tried to ignore his puppy dog eyes.

"So we stoop to begging. This puts an interesting twist on things," she replied smugly. Spike gave her a look and she returned it with equal ice. His pitiful stare returned and she glared for another second before rolling her eyes and sighing.

"Fine, you can stay. No eating the residents, though," she grumbled. Spike smiled triumphantly and grabbed her head, placing a kiss on her cheek. She glared at him.

"And no girls, either. I don’t want dead bodies lying around here," Xander said. Spike’s face twisted in distaste.

"Aw, go and spoil my bloody fun. Can I at least threaten the residents?" Spike asked Buffy with a gleam in his eye. Her look spoke volumes.

"Oh great," Anya moaned. "This is just what I need! You never said anything about vampires *living* here." Spike gave her a look and she inched closer to Xander, who moved away. Buffy swallowed, recovering herself.

"Well, I’m surprised it’s me and not Angel," Spike told her. Buffy froze.

"That was a tad bit below the belt, even for you, William," Buffy said evenly, desperately trying to force down the memories his name alone evoked. Spike looked sorry. For about three whole seconds.

"Okay, as much as I’d love to see Buffy kick your ass, we have that little thing called school. And Xander has that thing they like to call work--"

"It’s more like slave labor," Xander said. Willow ignored him and continued.

"Now, just in case you’re thinking of trying anything, I’ve perfected the spell for turning someone into a rat. Problem is, I can’t turn them back," she said, waiting for her meaning to sink in. "Questions?"

"Wow, Red’s finally gone and got herself some guts," Spike said sarcastically. Buffy gave him a hard look.

"Okay, we have school. You can stay in Xander’s room," Buffy said, pointing to the stairs that led down to the room. It wasn’t part of the main floor, but it wasn’t part of the basement either. Xander had claimed it, saying it reminded him of the Bat Cave. His lips formed protests that died before they took form as Buffy gave him a look. "Don’t break anything, don’t touch anything, don’t even breathe the air down there. Seeing that you’re a vampire, I doubt we’ll have that problem though. We’ll talk to Giles about your little proposition."

"Bloody wonderful," Spike grumbled.

"I have a class at nine so I have to get ready. Don’t eat any of my food, either," Buffy said, disgusted that she was actually letting him stay with her. He couldn’t leave, though, not without getting a nice tan in the process.

"Hey, Slayer," Spike called after her as she walked up the spiral staircase. She looked at him questioningly. "You got any Tylenol? My bloody head is about to explode and the nice little drummer man won’t be quiet," Spike moaned, holding his head to emphasize his point. Buffy sighed.

"In the bathroom cabinet. I swear, Spike, if one thing is out of place in this house..." she said, not finishing her threat. She though better of it and decided to. "Let’s just say, a stake will be placed where a stake has no place being."

She smiled smugly as she turned and walked up the stairs. Spike glared at her receding form.

"Nothing like a Slayer nursing a broken heart and a hangover to wake up to," Spike grumbled as he made his way to the bathroom. "Bloody priceless..."

****************

The book that had been resting in Giles’ hands fell to the floor, pages flapping wildly. He stared at his Slayer, allowing what she had just told him to sink in. "You do realize you’re harboring a vicious killer in your house, I hope," Giles said as he bent to retrieve the old book. Buffy sighed.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. C’mon, Giles, it was *three o’clock in the morning.* I wasn’t exactly the wakey girl. I thought he was a dream," Buffy said as she perched on one of the desks in the college classroom. Willow and Anya sat next to her.

"He said he was there to help?" Giles asked incredulously, all hints of his trademark stutter gone. It had been since Wesley had shown up.

"Yeah, plus he was drunk off his ass," Buffy replied as she dangled her legs from the desk top. She played with the strap of her bag as she waited for Giles to reply.

"So what do you plan to do with him?" Giles questioned as he walked around to the back of his desk and shuffled his papers. Buffy shrugged.

"He’d better not stay," Anya said in a menacing tone. "You never said anything about bringing your work home."

"Yeah, well with this job and all the crazy hours pretty much anything I say about slaying is not to be taken seriously. The only sure thing is what’ll kill vamps," Buffy replied hotly.

"Getting back to the subject at hand," Giles said, steering the conversation back. "I don’t like what you’ve done, but I suppose there’s nothing more that can be done as of now." Giles removed his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose lightly. "Are you sure he gave no other explanations as to why he wants to help?"

Buffy paused, not sure she wanted to bring up the true reason for his stay. She didn’t know if she’d be able to talk about it and not get choked up. Deciding her emotional stability was less important, she answered Giles’ question.

"He said the Hellmouth has been acting spazzy lately and someone needed to watch my back, now that Angel’s gone on his redemption binge or whatever," Buffy said, swallowing back the lump in her throat. She was proud of herself, her voice hadn’t even cracked that time. What an improvement.

"He said he came to check up on you," Willow reminded her. Buffy nodded in agreement.

"I feel so loved," Buffy said sarcastically. She was about to continue when the door to the classroom popped open and college students began filing in. They took their seats as Giles finished their conversation.

"We’ll discuss this later, Buffy. I just want you to be extremely careful," Giles said cryptically so the other students wouldn’t know what exactly they were talking about. Buffy slid backwards gracefully into the chair and pulled out her mythology textbook. A tap on her shoulder caused her to look up.

A gorgeous guy stood above her, smiling slightly. "Is this seat taken?" he asked in a smooth voice. Buffy shook her head, brushing the guy off. He flashed her another perfect smile and slid into the seat next to her. "My name’s Riley Finn," he said, holding out his hand. Buffy smiled slightly.

"Buffy Summers," she said, reaching to shake his hand. Surprising her, he brought it to his lips and lightly kissed the back of it.

"I’ve been wanting to introduce myself since this class first started, but you’ve always been busy," Riley said, trying to strike up a conversation. Buffy smiled despite herself.

"Freshman year is a lot harder than it looks," Buffy replied.

"I’ve been there," Riley agreed. "Junior year is a pain, too."

"What’s your major?" Buffy asked.

"Government and Physics," Riley replied.

"So what’re you doing in a class that studies demons and myths?" Buffy asked, somewhat mystified. Riley laughed softly, again displaying his perfect white teeth. His blue eyes were serious and focused, and the planes of his face weren’t as broad as Angel’s. Buffy couldn’t help comparing Riley to her love, it was a bad habit she had developed.

"This is my fun class. I don’t need the credit, I just thought taking it would prove enlightening. I’ve always loved studying myths," Riley said. Buffy nodded. "What’s your excuse?"

"Um...I don’t know, I was just...I thought it would be interesting," Buffy stumbled. In actuality, it was a perfect excuse for her to research demons and prophecies.

Giles called the class to order and their awkward moment ended. Buffy pushed all thoughts of Riley and Angel to the back of her mind and concentrated on what her Watcher was saying.

"Now, I hope you all enjoyed our African unit," Giles said, eliciting a groan from the class. There were enough differen religions and demons in Africa to take up three years and they had to memorize them all. Buffy had seriously begun to regret the class, but now they were moving on to Europe, which was more her area of expertise. "Now we’ll begin on another kind of thought. In Europe, the beginning of the world was viewed quite differently, to say the least, and demons in European legend are of an entirely different sort, though the relations can be startlingly similar for such different cultures, leading to many speculations of the truth of various lege—" he cut off as Buffy gave him her "can-you-be-more-boring?" look. He took a deep breath. "Uh…right. We’ll be studying vampires and other European demons. According to ancient text," Giles said, speaking from memory, "The world wasn’t always what it is today. For untold millennia, demons—"

"Walked the Earth, partying and making it their own personal hell," Buffy cut in, having heard the speech endless times. "But their time was up and man began to evolve and the demons and other baddies lost their touch on reality. Before they were all banished from the earth, some demon drank the blood of a human, making him a vampire."

"No, he mixed their blood and that’s how vampire’s were born. Remember, they have to suck your blood and you have to suck their blood," Willow said. Buffy shot her a look. "It’s a whole big sucking thing?"

"As if I could forget," she said under her breath. Giles cleared his throat as the other students turned to stare at the two girls.

"Well, it looks like some of you, uh…read ahead a bit," he said. "As Miss Summers put it, the demons lost their grip on our reality. All that remains of their rule are old vestiges, some spells, a few forgotten languages and a few hybrid demons. Does anyone know why they’re hybrids and not total demons?"

"They’re hybrid because they had to mix themselves with humans to stay in our world," Anya stated, saying it as if it was common knowledge. "Giles, we know all this stuff. Why do we have to keep learning it?"

Giles gave her a hard look. "It’s called review, Anya, and not everyone knows everything about demons like you do. So do sit still and be quiet while I finish," Giles said harshly. Anya rolled her eyes and began doodling in her notebook. "Now," Giles said, continuing with the lesson. "We’re going to begin a research project, looking for different prophesies and such. There will be groups of four. Now, against my better judgment I’m allowing you to choose your own groups. This project, by the way, will count as your first Europe exam. Here are the requirements," Giles talked as he handed out pieces of paper. "Choose your groups and come up to me when you’ve decided."

Buffy turned to Willow and Anya, knowing they’d form a group. "Mind if I join?" Riley asked. Buffy shrugged.

"You can join us, sure," Willow said brightly, winking secretly at Buffy. Inwardly Buffy groaned. Willow was going to try to set them up, she just knew it.

"I’ll go tell Giles," Buffy said, rising and moving away before anyone could protest. Sure, Riley was nice and everything, he seemed a little on the boring side, but a relationship was definitely something Buffy was not looking for. Ever again. "Giles, we have our group. Me, Anya, Wills, and Riley."

"This assignment will be useful to us, Buffy," Giles said in a low voice, conscious of the other students. "Signs point to a prophecy springing up in the next few weeks and I want to make sure we are prepared for it."

"Great, a new baddie and a research project. I’m having a weird sense of deja vú. High school revisited," Buffy grumbled as she moved away from the desk and back to her group. They were in an intense discussion about which prophecy to research and Buffy sat quietly, contributing when she was asked, trying not to think about Angel. It wasn’t working.

"Giles, after school," Buffy reminded him of their training session as she exited the room with her class at the end. He nodded, absorbed in his book. "I don’t know if he actually ever listens to me."

"How come you guys call him Giles and not Professor Giles?" Riley asked as they stepped out into the bright California sun.

"He was our librarian in high school and that’s just what we called him," Willow supplied after a short pause.

"Oh. And how do you know so much about demons and that sort of thing? You guys are experts on it," Riley said. The question had implied all three, but it was directed at Buffy. She thought quickly, a task that took her mind off Angel, and fought the anxiety that shot through her.

"We...we had a class in high school a-about mythology and stuff," Buffy said quickly. She shot a glance at Willow and she jumped into the conversation.

"Yeah, a...high school. Just for a year, though. Um...right, mythology class in high school," she said, her cheeks becoming bright red, a sign the gang associated with Willow-nervousness.

"Oh, that sounds like fun. I have to go, I have a meeting with my English Lit teacher. I’ll talk to you later about setting up a time for us to study," Riley said to Buffy as he gave her one last charming smile before disappearing into the crowd of students. Buffy smiled halfheartedly and sighed inaudibly. Such fun.

"Ooh, I like him, Buffy. He’s really cute and he’s so nice. Great choice as a Rebound Guy," Willow squealed as the three girls headed for the cafeteria for mochas. It was a tradition.

"He’s okay, I guess. For a guy, anyway. I wasn’t called to get any revenge on him, so that’s a good thing, right?" Anya asked. Buffy nodded slightly.

"I guess," she said in a small voice.

"You guys have to help me. Why won’t Xander notice me?" Anya whined as the girls ordered their mochas and found a table.

Willow began chattering on about Riley and giving Anya tips as Buffy silently sipped her drink. She was so confused about everything, and she ached to be held in Angel’s arms and told everything would be all right. But that wasn’t in the script for these days, so she sat and moped, hoping her friends wouldn’t notice how truly unhappy she was.

Part Two

"And this is supposed to be a good?" Buffy inquired, wandering idly through the gravestones. Wandering through gravestones…her life was so strange. Even after years of this, it still gave her a headaches to actually think of about the weirdness that was Buffy Summers’ life.

"Well it bloody well beats studying!" Spike exclaimed. Buffy laughed softly, surprising herself. She tossed her hair back.

"Oh yeah? And does a hangover beat studying?" she asked sweetly, remembering his anguish of that morning. He scowled at her and she grinned, shrugging lightly. "What, I was just asking!"

"If it wasn’t for that bloody demon—why do you put up with her anyway?" Spike demanded. Buffy gave him a look.

"This from the vampire that sent assassins after me, tried to kill my boyfriend, tried to bring about the destruction of the world several times and is now living in my house? The irony’s just waiting around the corner to knock you in the head Spike."

"Yeah, but I’m not half as annoying as that-that—"

"Wordless? It’s gotta be a first," Buffy remarked. "Maybe I should bring up Anya more often. At least I would get some peace and quiet around here! How’s a girl supposed to concentrate on patrolling?" Spike snorted.

"What a bloody waste of time anyway. They’ll come to you eventually," he pointed out.

"Yes, after they kill a few innocent townspersons." At his look, she held up a hand. "Don’t even say it Spike. At this point you’re living on my good graces, so don’t push it." He turned away grumbling.

"Well what’s a townsperson here and there?" he asked under his breath and she arched her eyebrows at him. He changed the subject quickly. "Well why is Anya living with you?"

"Well, she helped with the Ascension," Buffy said, then frowned a little. "Okay, she left before the actual thing, but she kinda helped prepare…" He gave her an incredulous look. "Well she had nowhere to stay, and she’s going to our school, so it’s easy to give her rides and all…Mostly she offered to pay rent, and even though it was a gift from my dad, I have to buy groceries and stuff, so I figured a little money would be nice."

"Not worth it," Spike sighed. Buffy’s mouth quirked.

"Maybe not to you. Anya’s not that bad…except when she’s ‘borrowing’ my clothes. And complaining about Xander. And coming on to Xander. And trying to be like me to attract Xander…the whole Xander thing gets old," Buffy said. Spike gave her a lopsided grin.

"I was beginning to get that," he replied. Buffy glanced over at him with a grin. There was a growl and she spun just in time to guard herself from the attack of one large, irate vampire.

"What’s your trauma?" she muttered as it started hissing at her. He didn’t see fit to reply (very rude!) just attacked. Buffy easily fended him off…emotions were assets, but they could go too far. Angry was good, but wacko wasn’t.

Buffy delivered a solid kick to the vampire’s chest and prepared for follow-up, but before she knew what had happened the vampire was dust…literally. The kick had taken him right back on to Spike’s stake. The other vampire yawned, before sharing her grin. It was a lot easier not to dwell on…certain things…when she had someone with her. Patrolling always brought back memories. Usually memories that were way too good. They turned and kept walking.

After a moment, Spike glanced over at Buffy, an odd look on his face. "So, do you miss Angel?" He knew at once it was the wrong thing to ask—Buffy stiffened and her face went white.

"What?" she demanded. He shrugged uneasily.

****************

"Hey Wil—" Buffy began, setting down her purse on the couch. She stopped as the rest of the room came into view. The rest of the room being Oz, sitting beside Willow and in a chair nearby, Riley Finn. Riley. "Uh…hi," she said, feeling about as idiotic as she looked, standing there staring. He didn’t seem to mind. He smiled and stood, walking towards her.

"Hi," he said softly, his blue eyes capturing hers. She took a deep breath and forced a smile.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, her eyes darting to Willow, who looked extremely pleased with herself.

"Studying. Didn’t Willow tell you?" he asked, glancing over at the redhead.

"I guess she forgot to mention it," Buffy said, her voice sharp in it’s sarcastic blandness. Willow looked a little sheepish and shrugged.

"Oops," she murmured. Buffy smiled at Riley.

"That’s okay then. I’m sorry I was out, if I’d known I would have been more help…you’re working on the project, right?"

"Right," Willow piped up. "And you can still help."

"Definitely," Riley said with another gorgeous smile. "We’re having trouble with this one passage…"

"I’m not very good with the researching stuff," Buffy said immediately. "In fact, I kinda suck at it. Ask anyone. Definitely not my field."

"Buffy goes for snacks," Xander remarked from the kitchen. Buffy rolled her eyes. Spike sauntered over to the kitchen and opened the fridge, surveying the contents. He made a sound of disgust.

"Where do you buy your food I’m-a-bloody-American-and-I-eat-bloody-healthy-mart?" he demanded. Riley blinked, his eyes going to the blond vampire—not that he knew Spike was a vampire, but he was definitely getting that he was odd.

"That’s Spike," Buffy supplied. "Spike, Riley." Spike glanced over his shoulder at the college junior.

"Pleasure," he muttered and turned back to the fridge.

"Uh, nice to meet you," Riley called. Spike didn’t turn.

"He’s an old friend," Buffy said quickly, at his confused look.

"Very, very old," Xander put in. Spike snarled at him and he escaped the kitchen as quickly as humanly possible. Riley frowned and Buffy took his arm, steering him away from the scene. The last thing she needed was him figuring out she was living with two hundred year old vampire…not to mention a werewolf, a witch, a former demon and…well, Xander.

"So, you guys are researching," she said, trying to distract him. He smiled at her, losing the confusion. Nope, nothing at all like Angel. Where had that thought come from? And why was she even comparing them?

But he was cute. And blessedly alive.

"I actually am having some trouble with Bio and Oz said he would help me, so maybe you two could work on it for a while…" Willow said, trialing off. Riley looked enthusiastic at the thought.

"I’d love that," he said, casting a sidelong glance at Buffy, who smiled over the sudden lump in her throat. What was Willow doing?

"What about Anya?" she asked.

"Oh, she’s changing," Willow said dismissively. Buffy’s eyes narrowed, but Riley looked eager and cute, so she sighed and turned to him.

"Why don’t we sit down. Did Will bring out the books?" she asked.

"Yeah, where did you guys get all these?" he asked, sitting on the loveseat and hefting a large, ancient volume. Buffy winced at the casual handling of one of Giles’ books. When lending them to her for her project, he’d been very adamant about their fraigility…and what he would do to her if they were damaged.

"Um, they’re borrowed. Could you be careful?" she asked. He nodded and set it down carefully.

"Sorry about that." He caught her eyes and she drew in a deep breath, wondering why she was having such a hard time with this. He was there to study. That was all.

She’d just managed to convince herself of this when he reached up and grabbed her hand, pulling her down to sit beside him. His hand was large and firm, and softly caressing. Her knees felt weak and she sat abruplty, her leg brushing his. He let go of her hand, as if he’d just wanted her to sit down so they could get to work, but she knew she’d felt more. She looked up and saw Willow grinning at them. Her best friend winked and Buffy’s lips tightened. She didn’t mind studying with Riley, but Willow playing matchmaker was just getting on her nerves.

"Where do we start?" Riley asked. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy noticed Spike sauntering into the next room. Well, one less thing on her mind.

"You know, I think we have more books up in my room. You guys could go study up there. Then you could concentrate better," Willow said suddenly. Buffy glanced up and froze at her friend’s look.

"Willow, can I talk to you?" she asked quietly, her voice just this side of deadly. Willow glanced at Xander as they stood, who quickly walked over to distract Riley while his friends had a little talk. Buffy dragged Willow over to the corner by the stairs.

"What exactly are you doing?" she hissed.

"Well he’s nice and cute and you really shoul—" Willow began and was cut off by Anya’s entrance from upstairs.

"Xander, I was wondering, there’s this really great band at the Bronze tonight and—" Buffy blinked and then made an inarticulate sound of annoyance. She walked forward, leaving Willow behind her and grabbed Anya’s arm.

"What do you think you’re doing?" she asked.

"Going on a date! Which is more than I can say for you," Anya replied snidely. Buffy gasped.

"You little—! Actually, that wasn’t what I was referring to at all. I was speaking of the fact you happen to be wearing my new dress," she pointed out. Anya glanced down at the silvery, slinky dress.

"Am I? Oops. I guess it’s too late to change though. Xande—" Buffy cut her off.

"It certainly is not too late to change!" Buffy exclaimed.

"God, get off it! Who do you think you are anyway, some high and mighty Sl—smart girl or something?!" Anya exclaimed, barely stopping herself from declaring Buffy’s secret identity for the world—namely Riley—to hear. Buffy glanced over at Riley. Xander had given up any pretense of distracting him

"Uh, no, but that is my dress, and I don’t recall giving you permission to wear it. In fact, I don’t recall you asking," Buffy exclaimed, her anger stemming more from frustration and general unhappiness than actual annoyance at Anya wearing her dress.

"Yeah, well it looks better on me!" Anya cried.

Buffy gasped, "If you think for one moment it even looks half as good on you, you’re just a bit loonier than I thought!"

"Who’s talking about looney? You’re the one still mooning after your boyfriend after he left you five mon—" Anya cut off suddenly. Buffy spun, white at the words, to see Spike leaning in the doorway, watching the former-demon with dangerous dark eyes. Buffy seized the opportunity and grabbed Anya’s ear (she wasn’t risking stretching her dress) and hauled her up the stairs to make her change. The room was totally quiet. Spike laughed and followed the girls upstairs.

Willow took a few steps toward where Riley was sitting with a stunned, blank look on his face. She gave him a faltering smile. "It’s not always...she’s not usually so..." she tried, then trailed off at his blank look and tried to smile again. "Yeah." She looked to her boyfriend for support. Oz arched his eyebrows.

"Yep," he said lightly, "It’s a funhouse around here."

Riley gave them weird looks before shaking his head and returning to his book. Willow and Oz exchanged a glance and went back to their work. The bottom floor was silent.

Upstairs was a different story.

"I can’t *believe* you wore my dress without asking," Buffy complained as she forced Anya to change. "Geez, Buffy, no need to get your panties in a twist. Riley could do that just fine," Anya shot back. Buffy glared at the ex-demon, speechless.

"UHH!" she cried, throwing her hands in the air. "You’re so impossible."

"It’s part of my charm," Anya retorted.

"And we can all see how well that’s working on Xander," Buffy said under her breath. Anya caught it, though, and spun around as she pulled a scoop neck shirt on.

"He’s just playing hard to get," Anya said, a hurt look on her face. Buffy sighed.

"Whatever," she said as she left the room, stopping by the door to pick up a weird metal object. It looked like a bat, only there were little thorns dotting the smooth surface. Buffy groaned. "I *had* to get the one with the weird accessories, didn’t I."

She slipped from the room, closing the door to give Anya her privacy. Spike was on the phone at the end of the hall, hunched over in the chair next to it and speaking in a low voice. Curious, Buffy walked silently up to him.

"I’m bloody *trying.* The girl’s too stubborn to admit anything," Spike growled into the phone. Buffy moved closer. "Yeah, yeah, I know...is he really? Stupid wanker, I still don’t see what this is about. But I’ve got her, it’s just a matter of time--"

"Business call, Spike?" Buffy spoke up. Spike turned and flashed her a dashing smile, which faded as he saw her leaning against the wall, arms folded and a dangerous gleam in her eye.

"I’m calling for pizza," he returned, a smirk on his lips. Buffy glared at him.

"Why do I not believe you? Hmm, maybe because I know you’re lying to me," Buffy said as she walked forward, arms still crossed.

"Oh, go play footsie with that Riley character. I ask you, what kind of name is Riley? Really, Slayer, you could’ve done a hell of a lot better," Spike said. The cold fury in Buffy’s eyes faltered at the mention of Riley’s name. Confusion set in, and Spike noticed it. Buffy looked away.

"If it’s long distance, you’re paying for the damn phone bill. And if you try anything..." she threatened as she turned and walked towards the spiral stairs. "And I’m not going to play footsie with Riley! We’re studying."

"Is that what they call it these days?" Spike shouted after her. When he was sure she was gone, he turned back to the phone. "I’m working on it, luv, I just need more time."

"Yeah, well, time isn’t something we have a lot of, considering what you’ve told me. Work on it," Cordelia’s voice said before a click ended the conversation. Spike glowered at the phone and sighed.

"Why do I always get the crappy jobs?"

Part Three

Upon opening the door to Angel’s apartment, Cordelia could do naught but groan softly. She always did when she entered. The place was really depressing. She had hoped some of her good sense would wear off on him, but as of yet it hadn’t. He *insisted* on having dark, brooding colors adorning his apartment. The only color in the whole place came from his bedroom, where a framed picture of a certain blond Slayer sat on his nightstand. There was that, and the red satin sheets and blanket that covered the bed.

She walked silently and stealthily through the apartment, despite her platform shoes. Angel owed her more credit than he gave her. She had picked up the stalker act from him quite well. Coming to his bedroom door, she shook her head at the sight, not alerting him to her presence. The dark haired vampire sat on his bed, the picture of Buffy, smiling in the sun, in his left hand.

His right hand slowly traced the outline of her golden face, as if he was running his hands over her skin instead. Angel was hunched over, barely siting on the red satin. He stared with such longing and heartache that Cordelia felt pity for him. He had suffered so much and this self-inflicted exile was *not* what he needed. He needed to be in Buffy’s arms, healing both of them.

That was Cordelia’s job. To get them together. It was proving difficult, but she would work at it. Angel brooding all the time got really annoying and it always got her into a bad mood. No one should have to work with a guilty, heartbroken, lonely vampire with a soul. Even her. Nothing she had done had ever been evil enough to get this punishment.

"That’s not gonna make her suddenly appear, Angel," Cordelia said. The vampire looked up guiltily and sighed. He replaced the picture.

"The frame was dusty," he replied defensively. Cordelia gave him a look.

"Do I look blond to you?" she demanded. "I hear your little Slayer’s been getting cozy with someone new. A real honey from what I’m told. How’s that for some news. I personally couldn’t believe it, I had thought she would be mooning over you almost as long as you will her. But people surprise you."

Angel’s face remained a blank mask as Cordelia spoke, barely containing all the emotions that he felt. Anger. Jealousy. Rage. Heartbreak. Anguish. They assaulted his soul, taunting him and making his heart ache. He had known this was coming, he had known one day she would find another. He just hadn’t thought it would be this soon.

The room was quiet for several minutes as Angel fought an inner struggle. He should be glad for Buffy, she was doing what he had wanted. The reason he had left was now sweeping his love off her feet. The one who could give her children and walk in the sun and do all the things he never could was now there in his place. With the love of his life. Oh, God, it hurt too much to bear. Finally, he looked up at Cordelia with such sadness and pain in his eyes she took an involuntary step back.

"What’s his name?" Angel croaked, his voice cracking slightly as he uttered the words. Cordelia’s heart went out to him.

"Riley. Riley Finn. Geeky, I know. Poor kid, he must’ve had some trauma growing up with a name like that," Cordelia babbled, trying to make Angel feel a little better. Her attempt went unnoticed.

"Where did they meet?" he asked, meeting her eye.

"College, Giles’ mythology class. He’s a junior, blond hair, blue eyes, major babe-type. He’s majoring in Government and Physics. Talk about Mr. Fun."

"Wow, he sounds exciting. Does a pocket protector come with that?" Angel said, his voice bitter. Cordelia rolled her eyes.

"Don’t worry, Spike’s watching out for her," Cordelia said, leaning against the door frame.

"Spike?! What the hell is he doing there?" Angel snorted. He ran a shaky hand through his hair, trying to calm himself down.

"Well, since you’re two hours away *someone* needs to watch your precious Buffy. Spike just happened to be there at the right time," Cordelia said. Angle gave her a look.

"I know Spike better than that. He was probably drunk off his ass and got himself into a mess," Angel said as he stood and grabbed his duster. He needed to get out and vent his anger on some poor, suspecting demon. Cordelia moved as he walked past and spun around to watch him pace the living room, grabbing a few stakes. A smile was on her lips.

"Yeah, actually that’s what happened. He said he would help if he could crash there for the night," Cordelia said as she pushed off from the wall and walked slowly towards Angel.

"How come you know all this?" Angel demanded, turning to stare at Cordelia. She smiled secretively.

"I have my sources. Let’s just say they’re reliable," Cordelia replied offhandedly, shrugging. Angel looked at her, but she didn’t reveal anything else. "So, what baddie’s gonna get a dose of jealous vampire tonight?"

Angel glared. "I’m not jealous," he said through clenched teeth.

"Yeah, and tight jeans are back in style. Please, Angel, give me some credit here," she retorted.

"I’m not jealous," he said, pausing. "It’s just that college guys can’t be trusted. Especially *older* college guys. They tend to take advantage of beautiful freshmen."

Cordy snorted. "Oh, this is priceless. A two hundred and forty four year old vampire is talking about college juniors taking advantage of freshmen. Hmm, how old was Buffy again, Angel? Sixteen?" she laughed. Angel glared at the brunette.

"How’s Xander? Has he hooked up with Anya yet?" Angel asked, changing the subject.

"You’re evil, you know that?" Cordelia shot back, venom in her voice. "The little bitch actually thinks Xander wants her! As if. Why would he want an ex-demon who tortured men for a living? Does anyone else see the logic?" Cordy whined. Angel grinned.

"Look who’s jealous now," Angel said. She shot Angel a look that would’ve turned him to dust.

"But we weren’t talking about me, were we? We were talking about Buffy and Riley. Who’re probably having major smoochies right about now."

"So?" Angel growled, the thought of Buffy kissing anyone but him making his stomach churn. Cordy grinned.

"Oh, you care and you know it. You’re so in love with the girl you can’t even see straight. Just admit that it kills you to think of her with someone else," Cordelia said without thinking. The hurt expression on Angel’s face made her regret her words. "Sorry," she apologized. "The platform was too big, I couldn’t get it out of my mouth in time."

"It kills me to think of her with him. To think she’s looking at him the same way she used to look at me makes my heart bleed. To think she could love someone else like she loved me...I don’t know if I can stand it, Cordy. I really don't," Angel said softly.

Cordelia frowned. <Talk about uplifting> she thought. She sighed and gave him a sad smile. "You and me both, Angel. You and me both. Let’s go take some of that jealousy out on someone who deserves it," Cordelia said as she moved to the door.

"I’m *not* jealous," Angel growled. Cordelia laughed.

"Whatever, Angel."

****************

"So no hard feelings right?" Buffy asked in a teasing voice, leaning against the doorframe. Riley grinned, his eyes never leaving her face.

"Why should I have hard feelings?" he asked, putting a hand to the porch rail. Buffy’s eyes avoided his deftly, moving beyond him to the star-sprinkled sky.

"Um, well there’s that whole going wicked-looney and leaving you to work alone," she reminded him, her voice cracking a little nervously.

"Oh, that," Riley said softly, his voice a carress. She dared a look at him and stiffened slightly at the look in his eyes. Her eyes darted away again.

"Wow, it’s, um, late," Buffy murmure nervously.

"Yeah, I should get going," he replied, his voice absolutely not in a good-bye kind of tone. She licked suddenly dry lips. This wasn’t the end of a date or anything. He’d just come over to study and now he was going home. It wasn’t like he would try to kis—

Riley’s lips came down on hers. Buffy stiffened in shock for a moment, surprised at the softness of his mouth. She desperately tried to push away memories of Angel as they overwhelmed her and suddenly she pulled away, giving him a slight push. She took a long, deep breath and pushed a hand through her hair, avoiding his eyes again.

"I’m sorry," he said softly after a moment. She shook her head.

"No, no, it’s okay, I just…Good night," she whispered, and fled inside, closing the door behind her. She leaned up against it for one second, trying to get control of her racing heart and the inflicting emotions pounding into her. She realized her friends were watching her and she made a mad dash for the stairs, taking them two at a time and running into her room where she slammed the door behind her and collapsed onto the bed. Thank god Anya wasn’t there.

Buffy curled up on the bed, trying to sort out everything crashing through her. The kiss had been nice…more than nice. But every part of her screamed that even thinking that was betraying Angel…as if Angel hadn’t left her! Tears welled up as she thought of him, thought of him walking away. He just left and she should be over him, she should be able to let go and she couldn’t. Not only was Riley handsome and sweet and a good kisser, he was precisely what she needed.

So why did it hurt so much to even think that?

Buffy turned her face into the pillow, encountering Mr. Gordo and hugging him. A sad smile tugged at her lips as she remembered coming into her room one night to find Angel there, looking at her stuffed pig. Instead of helping, it made the tears come harder. If she could qualify Angel, put him in a little box, it made it easier. If she could say, Angel was brooding and cryptic and depressing then it was just that much easier to tell herself she could move on, she could find someone who was fun and human.

But Angel was more than that.

Buffy moaned softly, trying to sort out exactly what she felt. Guilt mostly, because she did like Riley. Anger at herself for feeling guilty even though Angel left her and obviously wasn’t coming back. Overwhelming grief, like she’d felt every day and every night for months. Since he left. She pulled herself up to a sitting position and wiped futiley at her eyes. Anya would probably come sauntering in any minute and the last thing Buffy needed was for the former demon to find her looking like this. Even if she felt ten times worse.

There was a soft knock on the door and Buffy frowned. She glanced in the mirror by her head. Her eyes were a little red, but she didn’t really look like she’d been crying. "Come in," she called. The door opened slightly and Willow peaked in. Seeing Buffy sitting on the bed she smiled and opened the door the rest of the way, coming inside and shutting it behind her. She sat on the bed, across from Buffy.

"So?" Willow asked. Buffy blinked.

"So what?" she replied, confused. Willow sighed.

"So what happened? With Riley? Isn’t he a cutie? And he’s so sweet too! Plus he’s really into you, I can tell. He’s exactly what you need!" Willow exclaimed. Buffy eyes her with shock. Here was her best friend, instead of asking if she was all right, how she felt about finding a possible new boyfriend, how she felt about Angel…trying to fix her up?

"Nothing happened!" Buffy snapped. "And I would appreciate it if you would keep your nose out of my business!" Willow blinked, looking surprised and then hurt. She stood up slowly.

"I’m sorry," she murmured, turning away and walking to the door. She cast one last look at Buffy before closing the door behind her. Buffy stared after her, remorse hitting her suddenly. Oh great, now she felt even worse than she had before! It was too late to do anything, and she was too tired and emotionally overwraught. She’s talk to her tomorrow, Buffy decided.

Weariness overwhelmed her suddenly. Without bothering to change, Buffy crawled under the covers and switched off the light. Anya could manage without it, and Buffy needed the sleep. Maybe it would help clear things up. Like what she actually wanted, besides Angel, which was impossible. What she actually wanted that she could actually have.


With that thought firmly in mind, Buffy slipped away into sleep.

Light danced over the water, making Buffy sigh at the beauty. Arms slipped around her, soft lips kissed her neck. She melted into him. "I miss you."

"And I you," he whispered softly into her hair. She tensed and the peace was lost for a moment.

"Why did you go away?"

"You know why."

"But I love you," she protested softly…everything her was soft, in this place in the sunlight, with his fingers curling round hers and his arms enveloping her.

He sighed softly and replied, "Love will not make a life." She shook her head, closing her eyes, letting herself feel him near her.

"Should I go with him then? Should I forget you?" she whispered, a bitter tone in her voice. His was pained when he answered.

"Yes."

"No!" Her voice rose despite where they were. "Love is enough."

"I wish it were." His lips caressed the nape of her neck and—

And then darkness and pain. He watched her with mocking eyes. "You were great, really."

"I love you Angel!" she cried, not knowing yet what had happened, not understanding.

"Love you too," he laughed and was gone. And the pain in her stomach, in her arms and legs and heart and head was too great to bear—

"It’s over," he whispered, back in that safe, beautiful place. "Over." She shook her head, shaking and shaking.

"No, no, no, no," she sobbed. "It’s never over." Gradually her breathing calmed, her breathless little sobs quieted. He held her tightly, loving her absolutely—

"I love you," he whispered. "I try not to, but I can't stop."

"Me, me, too," Buffy replied, never knowing how much more she should have tried. "I can't either." She kissed him and he kissed her and it was beautiful…she never suspected.

But he did.

"Buffy, maybe we shouldn't..." he said, cutting her off. She shook her head and put a finger to his lips, silencing him. And she said it.

"Don't. Just kiss me." And he did—

"It wasn’t your fault," he said firmly.

"It was," she denied. "It was my fault."

"You couldn’t know."

"I should have."

"I love you," he told her. She shivered in his arms.

"So come back." He shook his head and didn’t need to answer in words. She whimpered.

"I love you. Remember, it’s just a curse," he whispered, his voice fading away until she was alone, and then she wasn’t even there anymore.

Buffy whimpered and took a deep breath, forcing her eyes open. He was gone. He’d never been there in the first place.

Whatever sleep had done, it hadn’t cleared her mind. If anything, it had fogged it up more.

She glanced at the clock. 3:37. She had school tomorrow, being up at three in the morning two nights in a row was probably not a good idea. Feeling restless and afraid, she turned over and snuggled into her pillow, his words echoing in her head.

It’s just a curse…

Part Four

Patrolling with a depressed and distraught Slayer was something Spike loathed. She was in such pain and he was feeling all these fuzzy feelings towards her, compassion and empathy. They made him want to puke. And the Higher Powers seemed to be enjoying his pain, for patrol didn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. The two blonds walked through the cemetery before Buffy stopped at a tombstone and perched herself on it, legs dangling freely.

Spike leaned up against it and they waited for some poor, unsuspecting vampire to appear.

Buffy froze when a memory suddenly shot through her mind. This grave...she and Angel had had one of their hot and heavy make out sessions on it. Peering down, she read the inscription in the cool stone. In Loving Memory. Oh, God, how perfectly tragic. She sighed, a sound that was not lost to Spike.

"So, we still pining for away hopelessly for Angel? Or has Riley become the object of your bloody affection," Spike said, breaking the quiet of the dark graveyard. Buffy looked up at him sharply.

"I don’t pine. I simply long for every now and then. Excuse me for being heartbroken," Buffy retorted. "God, do you always have to bring him up? I mean, I know you love causing me pain and all, but it’s getting old fast, Spike."

Spike remained silent for a moment, drinking in the sight of her. Her hands rested on the light stone and she was leaning forward, her body rigid and tense. "You know, Slayer, you don’t always have to be so strong."

Her reply was soft and laced with sadness and regret. "Yes I do."

"Why?" Spike asked as he lit a cigarette. He knew Buffy hated when he smoked. Which was pretty much the reason he did it.

"Because if I don’t I’m gonna die from the pain!" Buffy cried. "You have no idea what it’s like to love someone so much and have them suddenly decide to leave you so you can have the fairy tale life. Which is kind of on the impossible side, since it’s your destiny to spend nights sitting around in graveyards, protecting the world that doesn’t appreciate you. I have to be strong, otherwise I won’t be able to survive."

Her voice was cold and hard, with the tone of someone who had seen too many horrible and terrifying things in their life. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, calming herself from her outburst. She stole a glance at Spike, who was watching her intently.

"Angel was a fool to leave you, Slayer," Spike said quietly. Buffy gave him a look.

"I don’t need your sympathy, Spike," she snapped, then instantly regretted it. She took another deep breath. "I’m sorry. I didn’t sleep well last night, I was having all sorts of dre--I mean, there was a cat outside my window," she covered up lamely. "I guess I’m just on the jumpy side." Spike gave her a knowing look.

"I’d kill the ‘cat’ if I could. Only for you, though, Slayer," Spike said sweetly.

"Isn’t that a lovely sentiment. I feel so special, knowing you’d kill for me," Buffy said sarcastically. She jumped off the tombstone. "C’mon, I need something to hurt. Gotta get rid of all that hormonal angst." Spike grinned as he matched her stride.

"So what happened with Riley last night?" Spike asked curiously. Buffy’s head turned sharply. She moved her gaze past him up into the starry night, silently worshiping the beauty of it. The same starry night she had kissed Riley under. Guilt flooded her as she thought of the kiss and her strange feelings from it.

"Nothing that you need to know," Buffy retorted hotly. Spike stopped and kept staring at her. "What?" she demanded. "It’s none of your business what happened! Can we just drop it?"

"We could, except you don’t want to," Spike pointed out. She cursed under her breath.

"How do you *do* that? Okay, okay. Riley kissed me...and I kissed back. Only for a second," she rushed, "I had all these memories of Angel and I and it was just too much. But it actually felt kinda nice...which in turn made me feel like I was cheating on Angel. And don’t even say it," Buffy said, holding up a hand when Spike opened his mouth. "I know I’m not with Angel anymore, it just felt like I was cheating...on our love."

Spike nodded. "Did I just make any sense at all? Or was it just some major babbling?" she asked, shaking her head. A breeze picked up, ruffling her hair like Angel had and kissing her cheek like Angel used to. She shook off the longing and looked at Spike. <Used to. As in, in the past. Get over it, Buffy> she thought.

"I get what you’re saying, pet," Spike said as they continued through the darkened, abandoned streets, headed home.

Buffy and Spike didn’t encounter any vampires on the way home, so when they got to the beach house Buffy began training. Using Spike as a punching bag was more like it. She grinned as she offered her hand to get him up.

"Geez, Slayer, you sure have a lot of bloody issues," Spike grumbled, cracking his neck and rubbing his sour shoulder. Buffy took a swig of water.

"Yeah, tell me about it. I’ve got enough issues for a small nation’s population to each have their own," Buffy remarked as she flopped down on the couch. Spike wandered into the kitchen and pulled out a diet soda, making a face.

"Why do you buy diet? It’s got that nutrasweet that can kill ya. You’re so health-conscious, and yet you buy diet. Why not pick up some of that sea weed cola while you’re at it?" Spike growled as he sat next to Buffy. He yawned and lifted his arm, placing it comfortably behind Buffy’s head. She gave him a look and he grinned innocently back.

"You’re really pushing it, Spike. One day my stake is gonna meet your undead heart and it won’t be pretty. I’ll make sure to have the Dust-Buster on hand," Buffy remarked as she stood and walked up the stairs, intent on taking a shower. She wondered where everyone was. Walking past Willow and Oz’s room, she saw the Oz strumming his guitar softly and Willow lying on the bed. Knocking quietly, she was told to come in.

"Hey, Buffy. How was patrol?" Willow asked.

"So non-eventful. It was totally dead out there, pun intended," Buffy said as she leaned against the wall. "I’m sorry for snapping at you, Will. I was just really tired and confused and stuff."

"Hey," Willow said, smiling, "Don’t worry about it. I shouldn’t push so hard. I just hate seeing you unhappy, Buffy."

"You and me both, Wills. We cool?" Buffy asked, brushing a stray piece of blond hair out of her face.

"Cool as Spike’s skin," Willow smiled. Buffy returned it and left, giving them their privacy. She walked out into the hall and headed for the shower. She didn’t notice the blond haired vampire who was hunched once again over the phone.

"So tell me about this Riley Finn," Cordelia said on the other line. Spike sighed, which was unnecessary because of his lack of a need for oxygen.

"I don’t bloody like him. Bad vibes and all. Living with Dru for a hundred years, you pick up on that kind of stuff," Spike replied, running a hand through his blond hair. He knew it would need to be dyed again soon. He was getting the funny looks again.

"Angel’s so jealous he can’t even see straight," Cordelia told him as she carefully applied nail polish to her toes. "I’m surprised he can still pick out matching clothes. Well, ya know,with his all-black wardrobe it isn’t too hard, but still. Any demon that gets in his way is instantly sorry, he attacks them all with a vengeance."

"It’s good to know someone’s really upset about this," Spike grumbled. He thought he heard something behind him and turned to find nothing but the plant they had placed in the hallway with him. "Little Slayer’s all confused. She doesn’t know how she feels about Soul Boy and this Riley. Whatever happened to true love, ya know? Where ya pine and moan and only look at one person. It’s all that bloody TV people watch. And that wanker of a president."

"Okay, are you done insulting my country?" Cordelia asked haughtily. Spike sighed. He wanted to kill the brunette sometimes.

"For the moment," he replied smugly. "But at least Buffy’s ‘confused’ about Riley. She kissed him, though."

"She kissed him?!" Cordelia repeated. "This is not good."

"Tell me about it," Spike grumbled into the phone. "It’s royally screwing things up."

Cordelia sighed and tossed her hair. She thought for a moment. "We can’t let little Miss Chosen One get with Riley, it’ll totally kill Angel even more. Spike, you’re supposed to be handling this!" she shouted as an annoyed sigh escaped her lips. Why did Buffy have to choose *now* to get a new boytoy?

"I’m bloody well trying. It’s not exactly easy, luv," Spike replied, exasperated.

"You’d better not be trying anything," Buffy’s voice said from behind him, her voice hard and fill with unspoken threats. She stood, wrapped in a fluffy towel, her hair still wet from her shower. Spike flashed her a grin.

"Hiya, Slayer. Have a nice shower?" Spike asked.

"Get her out of there! We’re not done," Cordelia snapped. Spike rolled his eyes.

"Shut your trap for three seconds, will ya?" he said into the phone. Buffy gave him a look that could’ve reduced him to ashes.

"Who’s on the phone, Spike?" she asked coldly.

"That pizza delivery again. They have the funniest people working there, ya know. I started a conversation with the delivery boy," Spike replied, fiddling with the phone cord. Buffy gave him an incredulous look.

"Well, fun time’s over. Get off the phone, I need to call my mom," Buffy said hotly as she spun around and walked to her room.

"Hey, Slayer, you look really sexy in a towel. New fashion statement?" Spike called after her. She ignored him and slammed her bedroom door shut.

"Keep them apart," Cordelia said as she hung up. Spike glared at the silent phone.

"You’re just lucky you’re in L.A., little Prom Queen. I’m supposed to be calling the bloody shots around here," Spike grumbled as he stood and replaced the phone in its cradle. He needed to get out, he was starving. Plus the house was so full of goodness he was gonna puke if he stayed there any longer.

****************

Buffy tossed restlessly, punching at her pillow to try and get it into some semblance of comfort. She sighed, knowing it wasn't the pillow. It was her. Part of her didn't want to sleep, because sleep meant dreams and dreams, nowadays meant Angel. The exact person she was trying not to think about. And the only person she could think about.

The words from her last dream swam in her head. It's only a curse. She groaned slightly, trying to think of what that could possibly mean. It's only a curse? So what. She'd always known that. Was he trying to imply it could be changed like any curse? And could curses be changed? Buffy really wasn't too clear on the subject. And why was she assuming he meant anything by it? It was a dream! And even if they could change it, that would require someone who knew an awful lot about curse-

Buffy sat up, glancing at the lightly snoring lump in the other bed. Anya. Of all the people in the world, she had to be one of the foremost experts on curses. If anyone could help Angel, it was Anya.

Without stopping to think Buffy leapt from her bed and walked over to the other one, shaking Anya. "Wake up!" she hissed. Anya moaned and turned over, glaring at her through tiny slits of eyes.

"What do you want?" she demanded in a barely understandable, but plenty menacing voice.

"You know about curses, right?" Buffy asked. It took Anya a moment to realize she was serious.

"You woke me up for that?" Anya demanded. Buffy's eyes narrowed.

"Just answer the question," she instructed.

"Yes," the former demon said through gritted teeth. "I know about curses."

"Do you think you could alter one? Take out a clause maybe?" Buffy asked.

"Like Angel's?" Anya asked, catching on quickly despite her tiredness. Buffy took a deep breath and the nodded.

"Yes, like Angel's."

"What's in it for me?" Anya demanded, startling Buffy. The Slayer' s eyes narrowed.

"Well I would promise not to murder you in your sleep, which is something I can't guarantee at the moment," Buffy replied. Anya did not look impressed.

Buffy sighed and silently promised Xander she'd apologize later before saying, "I'll help you get Xander." Anya brightened.

"You got a deal," she said, then turned over, away from Buffy. "Now let me sleep!" Buffy sighed, wanting to know precisely what Anya was planning, but knowing that was all she would get from her roommate that night. She would ask her tomorrow...if she could pry her away from Xander!

****************

Xander gave the old woman-God she must be ninety!-a thumbs up and yelled the order back to Jeff on the fry-machine. Xander suppressed a sigh. He wanted to be on the fry machine. But no, he was stuck up here where people could see him wearing the dorky little hat. At any moment Buffy would walk in. Or worse…Cordelia! Xander shuddered slightly at the thought.

"Here ya go, Burger Boy," Jeff laughed maliciously. Xander glared at him but took the tray. The old woman-should she even be eating this stuff? Did she have teeth?-was there only costumer. Xander never could figure out how the business managed to stay open, not to mention with several employees. If only it was nearer the campus...Xander stopped that thought and gave another shudder. All his friends coming...all the students...he could feel the humiliation already. Luckily, it was across what little town they had, and since the food sucked, not many made the trek.

"Number 63!" Xander called. They made up the numbers randomly, since it sounded pathetic to say number four, even if she was the fourth customer they'd had all day. Really, he should be enjoying this...it wasn't like there was a lot of work. But Jeff just got to him, and besides, he could think of a lot of places he'd rather be.

Like L.A.

Like anywhere but there when he saw who was walking in through the door. Wearing Buffy's skirt and tank top. The Slayer was going to kill her.

Not if he did it first though.

Oh, Anya wasn't all bad. She had good moments. And the whole big crush on him was a great ego booster! It was just...well, she didn't care. About anything. It probably came from hundreds-make that thousands-of years of seeing only the bad parts of society, the evilness of men. She'd never gotten a chance to get in touch with her emotions or make friends. Xander felt her pain, really, but that didn't mean he was going to be the guinea pig for her first actual non-vengeance related relationship. And even if she did care about him, he knew she didn't care about anyone else. Like his friends for instance. Or the rest of the human race.

She spotted him and smiled brightly. He winced, but smiled, waving to her. The old woman gave them an interesting look. Oh great, just what he needed. Some granny spying on him. "Hi!" Anya said when she reached the counter.

"Hey, what's up?" Xander asked nonchalantly.

"Well I had lunch so I thought I'd stop by," Anya said, trying for innocent sweetness and failing miserably. Not that he didn't appreciate the effort it was just...well, he had so many friends that did it so perfectly, not to mention one ex-girlfriend. His standards were high. Which was kind of funny, considering the fact that the one ex-girlfriend was his only ex-girlfriend.

"Can I get you something?" he asked when she showed no sign of ordering. She started.

"Um, do you have anything non-fatty?" Which was where he got the clue that she hadn't come for the food.

"Possibly our salad, though I wouldn't vouch for it," Xander replied with a grin, Anya smiled, the expression slightly strained. She didn't really appreciate his humor. In fact, she didn't appreciate much about him, except the fact he made her feel queasy, so he couldn't really understand why she hung around so much.

"I'll have that. So how are you?" she asked intently. Over the past few months she'd started to get the idea that Xander liked it when she admitted he had feelings. He also liked to talk, so she tried to indulge both whimsies.

"Well, you're our fifth customer of the day! You win a free..." he searched around for something he could give her and grabbed a pen from the counter, "Burger Boy pen!" Anya accepted it with another unamused smile. Hey, at least he was trying.

"Uh, thanks." Jeff handed Xander the salad, who promptly gave it to Anya. She eyed it with distaste.

"Um...you wanna come eat with me?" she asked hopefully.

"Well sure, but gosh darn it, I gotta work so I have money to build that pig sty," Xander said with a southern accent. Anya bit back a retort.

"Couldn't you take your break?" she asked, obviously annoyed with him, but determined to get him to ask her out nonetheless. Xander opened his mouth to respond in the negative, but Jeff spoke before he could.

"Sure. I'll cover for you buddy!" his co-worker said. Xander glanced at him and his eyes narrowed at Jeff's malicious smile. Xander forced a nice one and turned back to Anya.

"Great! Let's sit down." Anya nodded happily and Xander came out from behind the counter to sit down with her. She picked up a fork and poked at the salad for a second before turning her attention solely on him. "So I have like no homework this weekend, and there's supposed to be this great band at the Bronze on Friday..." Anya said, trailing off. Xander tried not to sigh.

"Yeah? Sounds like fun," he remarked. Her eyes flashed but she kept her voice controlled.

"Yeah, I thought so too. Are you going to go?" He shrugged laconically. Her mouth tightened. Well?"

"I think I might be enjoying the manly activity of napping at that time," Xander replied.

"On Friday night?" Anya demanded, her voice becoming slightly screeching. Xander winced.

"You know, all this hard work really gets to a guy. It's exhausting."

"You think you know exhausting?" Anya demanded, really pissed off at this point. "Try having to listen to and pretend to respect all these teachers who are idiots and I've been around twenty times as long as they have and they just sit there and lecture all the time! And they make me do homework! And then try coming home and being yelled at and having to avoid a really irate vampire-and nobody ever said we'd have a vampire living with us!-and then fit into these tiny clothes and get yelled at more and come here and get brushed off! What's wrong with you?" Xander sat in stunned silence.

"What's wrong with me?" he asked, arching his eyebrows. Anya jumped to her feet.

"Well I didn't want to go anyway! In fact, I wouldn't go with you if you were the last man on earth Xander Harris! You're-you're stupid and annoying and not even that hot!" she snapped. Xander blinked at the last one. She thought he was hot? His brows arched at the possibilities. Too late, he forgot the former demon who was watching him with fury in her eyes, waiting for his reaction. When he glanced up, startled, she nearly shrieked with anger and frustration and stalked off toward the door. She stopped almost there and turned around.

"So are you going to take me?" she demanded. Xander stared, blinking. The old woman began to laugh and promptly lost her dentures.

Part Five

"I have another project for you all," Giles said the next day in mythology class. Collectively the class groaned. Giles gave them a slight smile before continuing. "Yes, well, I’m glad you’re all so enthusiastic about what I have in store for you. I’ve come up with partners for you all. Each pair will receive a prophecy to decipher. This is due next week," Giles said as he began passing out papers with the students’ names and the names of their partners on them. As the name on her paper came clear to her, Buffy froze.

Riley Finn. Great. Just peachy.

She was already super nervous about being near him after their kiss two nights before. And being near him didn’t actually involve speaking to him. Which was now what she would have to do. She glanced sideways slightly and saw him smiling at her. She felt her cheeks grow warm under his gaze and she smiled back despite herself. Glancing up, she saw Giles also smiling at her.

He set her up. She could tell by the way he was looking at her, like a proud father who’s just set his daughter up with the town geek. She gave him a sharp look and he shook his head slightly, removing his glasses to polish them. She’d get her revenge next training session...

"Looks like we’re stuck together again," Riley said, flashing his dimpley smile once more. Buffy couldn’t help but melt a little at his cheerfulness. She nodded.

"What do you know? It must be fate," she said pointedly, glancing directly at Giles, who was now engrossed in one of his many books. Buffy sighed inaudibly and pushed a stray hair behind her ear. "I hate prophecies, they never tell you everything. And they never just come out and say what they mean."

"I know," Riley agreed. "A candle in a prophecy could mean the world will catch on fire in ten minutes." Buffy laughed and relaxed slightly, feeling at ease with Riley. It felt...nice. And he was successfully taking her mind off Angel for the moment, so extra brownie points for that.

"Okay, let’s see what our candle is," she said as she slid her pen under the lip of the envelope that was attacked to her assignment and tore through it easily. She pulled out the piece of paper and unfolded it, staring down at the words as they hit her.

"And the Dark One shall be chosen in the time of the Light’s untold weakness, concealed in shadows not known to the Light. The Dark has one task--distinguish the Light from Mother Earth and lock redemption away from the one forced into darkness, who shall in turn be sacrificed as a gift from the Shadowy One. The Dark One shall receive the ultimate reward in return--every man’s weakness."

Buffy passed it wordlessly to Riley and folded her hands on the desk. Why did she have to get the hard one? This did not sound like a fun prophecy, and definitely not one she wanted to see come true. She could feel that it concerned her, just from reading the written words silently.

Buffy was so engrossed with her thinking that she did not see Riley Finn’s face pale as he read the sketchy forecast of the future. His hands closed into fists involuntarily and he had to unclench them from the now wrinkled paper. Smoothing it out on the desk, he took a deep breath and turned back to the Slayer.

"You know what you were saying about them not saying what they really mean?" Riley asked. Buffy nodded, twirling her pen around in her fingertips.

"This definitely constitutes as one of those times."

"Totally. I mean, ‘The Dark One?’ " she said, gesturing to its place on the paper. " ‘The Light?’ These could mean anything. Names and specific dates would have been a lot better than ‘in the time of the Light’s untold weakness.’ Any thoughts?"

"No, none I’d care to share," Riley said with a sly smile. Buffy blushed and tucked another stray hair behind her ear. His smile reminded her of Angel’s...

Oh, God, she *really* didn’t need to go there right now. Pushing all thoughts of Angel to the corner of her mind where they whispered to her hauntingly, she turned back to the task of decoding the impossible prophecy.

"Okay, so the Light and Dark ones are obviously people," Buffy said, plucking the paper out of Riley’s hands.

"How can you be sure?" he asked too quickly. Buffy looked up at him, surprised.

"I’ve had a lot of experience with prophecies, why don’t we just leave it at that," she said with a small smile adorning her lips. She pointed to the white paper again as she began trying to read the prophecy. "See, this Dark One wants to get rid of the Light so it can get its big almighty reward or whatever. And in the process, the one forced into darkness--"

"Will you go out with me tonight?" Riley asked suddenly. Buffy looked up him, shocked. The paper fluttered out of her hands, forgotten, as her mind raced. She tried to clear her head and looked away from his handsome face as she gathered her thoughts.

No, you have Angel.

Angel left you and he told you to move on. Here’s your oh-so brilliant chance.

You love Angel, you’ll be betraying your love if you go out with him.

It’s one date, it’s not gonna kill you or anything.

The angels that sat on her two shoulders bickered for a time as she tried to figure out what to say. She ducked her head and replaced the hair that would stay in place, then looked back at Riley.

"I...I don’t know what to say," Buffy said at last, mentally chiding herself for sounding so lame.

"Look, I know you just got over a bad breakup--"

"Bad doesn’t even *begin* to describe it."

"--but it’s just one date. I won’t take no for an answer," he said with another charming smile. Why did his smile have to look so perfect? And why did she have to feel so torn between the man who had left her so brokenhearted and the man who was so sweet? She smiled back and sighed.

"Sure, I’d love to go out with you, Riley," she said, and it was done. A small shriek of joy was heard next to Buffy and she spun around to see Willow and Anya smiling broadly at her.

"Sorry," Willow apologized. "There...was a spider."

"I’ll bet," Buffy said dryly as the bell rang, signifying the end of class. Buffy stood and gathered her things as Riley leaned over to her and spoke.

"I’ll pick you up around 7:30?" he asked. Buffy nodded hesitantly. "Great, we can go out to eat and catch a movie. See you then."

With one last perfect smile he was gone and Buffy let out the breath she didn’t know she was holding.

"This is so great, Buffy! I won’t push or anything, I learned my lesson, but yayness for you!" Willow said happily, clapping her hands together excitedly. Buffy glanced at Anya, who had her eyebrow raised at the red head.

"The mocha we had before class looks to be kicking in," Buffy offered as an explanation. Giles walked up to the three girls and cleared his throat.

"Training at 5:00, Buffy?" Giles asked. Buffy winced.

"Sorry, Giles, looks like your set up worked. Riley and I have a date at 7:30," she said less than enthusiastically. Now that her surprise was wearing off it didn’t sound all that great.

"My set up? I would never..." Giles trailed off as Buffy gave him a sharp look. He looked away sheepishly before changing the subject. "Yes, w-well, why can’t you still train at 5:00 if your date is at 7:30?"

"Because I have to look presentable," Buffy said, exasperated. "Giles, I can’t just get ready in half an hour, it’s impossible."

"Ah, yes, the quirks of being a woman," Giles said wryly. "But who will patrol?"

"Spike. He needs to get out of the house, spend some quality time with himself before he drives us all insane. I swear, nothing’s worse than a mopey vampire," Buffy groaned, thinking of the platinum vampire.

"Except a mopey, heartbroken Slayer," Anya said under her breath.

"What was that, Anya?" Buffy asked.

"Sorry, I had something in my throat," she replied sweetly. Buffy had heard her perfectly but decided not to push the issue.

"Buffy, I’m not sure having Spike patrol alone is the wisest," Giles said. "Perhaps-"

"Look," Buffy said, interrupting him. "*You guys* were the ones telling me I need to get back into that wonderful game called dating. Now that I do you think a patrol around the cemetery is best? Geez, I can’t make you happy."

The two other humans and one ex-demon stared at the Slayer.

"Have fun tonight," they said simultaneously. Somehow she knew she would have anything but.

****************

Ding-dong went the doorbell. "Ooh, I bet that's Riley!" Willow exclaimed, peeking out down the stairs just as Xander opened his door and demanded, "Who is that?" Anya perked up at the name "Riley" and leapt to her feet.

"I'll be down in a minute," Buffy called, making the former-demon grimace? How come Buffy had a date? She smoothed the expression and opened the door with a bright smile.

"Hi Riley!" He gave her an easy smile, his eyes darting past her to see if Buffy was there.

"Anyanka, right?" he asked. Anya made a face. She really needed to get that changed on the role sheets.

"Anya," she said firmly. "Why don't you come in?" She stepped back and he followed her.

"Um, is Buffy-"

"She'll be right down," Anya said quickly. "So, is government exciting?" She heard the slam of a door and grimaced when she realized Xander had retreated back into his room. He was supposed to be getting jealous!

"It's all right," Riley replied, looking a bit distracted. There was a footstep on the stair and Anya looked up to glare at Buffy, who was just descending. She was wearing a strapless almost-silver, almost-lavendar dress with tiny pink flowers on it, reaching to her knees and silvery heels. Her hair was swept up loosely, a few tendrils falling across her neck. Behind her, Willow peeked out, grinning broadly. Riley looked stunned. Anya looked annoyed. Buffy forced a smile and took the rest of the steps quickly (no mean feat, considering the size of the heels).

"I hope I'm not overdressed, Willow picked out my outfit," she said, walking over to him.

"No, it's perfect," Riley breathed. "You look beautiful." Buffy blushed slightly and Anya began to look murderous. Glancing up, Buffy saw Willow on the stairs, looking triumphant in the extreme.

"Thank you." Riley offered her his arm, looking the perfect gentleman. Buffy took it with a smile, trying to repress memories of Angel doing the same.

"Shall we go?" he suggested. Buffy nodded at once, determined that she was going to have a wonderful time.

****************

Buffy had never realized it was possible to fool someone into thinking that you were paying attention with your mind was thousand of miles (or more accurately, several months) away. She's heard of the theory of course, and Xander swore he was an expert on it. She'd just never had much luck. Teachers always seemed to notice and call on her at the most inopportune moments.

"Buffy?" Riley asked, making her start. She gave him a brilliant smile, grasping for the subject they were on.

"Hmm. Yeah I…agree?" Riley grinned and she sighed in relief.

"I figured you would. You don't really seem like the Republican type."

"Oh no definitely not. Witness little ol’ Democratic me," Buffy said quickly, relieved that she once again knew what they were talking about. And the topic was refreshingly devoid of anything remotely related to Angel. Buffy was pretty sure vampires didn't vote. One of the many things they didn't do. Like go sunbathing. Buy convertibles.

Speak to the women that loved them.

Buffy snapped back to attention as the waiter arrived with their salads. Buffy picked up her fork and pushed hers around halfheartedly, wondering how vampires digested food. She knew Angel could eat, she just didn't know how.

She also hadn't the slightest idea of what joke Riley had just made, but he was chuckling so she laughed automatically. What was wrong with her? She was an attractive, at least relatively intelligent young woman with her whole life ahead of her. She was out on a date, having dinner at a very nice restaurant with a very nice, very attractive, very smart young man.

And all she could think about was her undead ex-boyfriend. What did that say about her?

Buffy was trying so hard to pay attention, that she never even noticed the shadows outside the window.

****************

Spike winced at yet another idiotic joke. What did Buffy see in this guy? And why was she laughing? He'd never heard a worse joke, and two hundred years gave a lot of opportunities. Then he saw it, the slight glimmer in her eye. He inched closer to the open window (luckily for him Buffy and Riley had been seated merely a foot or two away so he could easily hear their conversation). As he got closer he easily identified the false note in Buffy's laughter, as if she hadn't the slightest idea what she was laughing at, and moreover, she didn't feel like laughing at all. Spike nodded in satisfaction. So the Slayer wasn't going to disappoint him after all. Though the fact that she was sitting there pretending to laugh at a stupid joke was almost worse. What was she doing?

He nearly groaned aloud when Riley something-or-other (it was something fish-like. Scale or something) turned serious and began very earnestly sharing his views on the relationship of science and government. This was all Angel's fault. Stupid wanker, leaving her like that. And Cordelia certainly hadn't helped. At first it was been all right, she'd kind of gotten him out of a slump, but then she had all these plans and she wanted Spike to help…what did he care if Angel was too stupid to keep a good thing when he saw it? But before he knew it, there he was on the Slayer's doorstep, and then somehow he'd even let himself be caught up in her poor pathetic plight, She just looked so miserable whenever anyone mentioned Angel…

Spike cut that line of thought abruptly, cursing them all. So here he was, skulking outside a restaurant, listening to some idiotic college boy's views on the nature of life and infantile attempts at humor. He could be killing something. Buffy never let him kill anything. She wouldn't even let him bring blood into the house unless he could prove it was animal. He hated pig's blood. Even on patrol it was to be "clean". He was getting bloody disgusted with the whole thing!

He would have stood up and walked off that minute. He would have. Instead he glanced in the window at Buffy, who's sweet face was clouded with a mixture of confusion, grief, longing and fear for just one moment before she remembered where she was and smiled sweetly at Riley, hiding herself away. Reassured, the young man cracked another horrible joke. Spike winced, disgusted with Angel for leaving, Buffy for staying and himself for caring.

But he didn't walk away.

****************

Buffy and Riley walked back to his car--a convertible, no less--after their movie. Riley had his arm around Buffy's shoulder and to all who saw them they made a handsome couple. Blond and blond, blue and hazel. Not as good as light and dark, chocolate and hazel...

Riley was trying to make another joke, Buffy's laughing at his earlier ones had seemed to make him think he was funny or something. Buffy groaned inwardly, the guy was *too* lame. He was commenting on the movie, the movie that she hadn't paid attention to. What a perfect waste of nine dollars. At least she hadn't paid. She couldn't even remember the *name* of the damn thing. It had been some chick flick that had immediately made Buffy think of Angel.

Angel, the vampire she loved.

Angel, the vampire who had left her.

She kept trying to remind herself of that as Riley graciously opened the car door for her and she slid in. Tugging at her skirt to make sure nothing was revealed, she sat in silence as Riley chattered on about something...government maybe? Or was it science... Buffy had barely *passed* physics, she had no clue what he was talking about. So she smiled and nodded and looked interested, all while her mind was about eighty five miles north of their location.

After what felt like an eternity they reached the beach house. Riley walked Buffy up to the door, and although her mind was screaming at her to ditch now, she was rooted in place. He flashed her a sexy smile and she swallowed, not liking or understanding the feelings that shot through her. This was Riley. The only person who had evoked these feelings before was Angel...

"I had a great time tonight," Riley said softly, bringing Buffy out of her thoughts. She smiled at him and decided telling another little white lie wouldn't hurt.

"Me too," she said, wincing at how hollow her words sounded. Riley paid her tone no mind.

"Maybe...we could do it again," he said. At her look of hesitation, he hastily continued. "Sometime...if you want."

"Yeah, maybe...it's not like it'll kill me or anything," she joked, suddenly squinting when she saw his expression flicker. Did something just pass over Riley's features when she had spoken? She shrugged as he laughed at her lame joke. Picking up things from the master...

He glanced around self-consciously. Seeing no one, he leaned in for a second attempt at a kiss. Buffy was surprised at how good his mouth felt against hers, his tongue gently massaging her own lips open. She closed her eyes and breathed in, a sign Riley took to continue his ministrations. Buffy's brain had shut off, too many conflicting thoughts bombarding her. She pulled him closer by the lapels of his jacket, a face and a thousand memories suddenly surging forward. She was tricked into thinking it was Angel's lips she caressed with her own, the result of her lonely heart. Suddenly she was brought painfully back to the present, and she gasped when she remembered it wasn't Angel's cool mouth she kissed, but Riley's hot one. Buffy pulled away suddenly, horror and regret marring her pretty face. Riley stared at her with a confused expression, watching as she struggled to tell the difference between the past and the present. Not being able to deal, she turned and fled into the safety of her home, leaving a stunned Riley on the stairs.

"Whoa...dèja vu..." he said as he stared at the closed door. He didn't notice the figure that stood in the shadows, regarding him with anger. Spike had watched the entire scene unfold and he was disgusted that the Slayer had actually kissed the human...and had continued to for several long moments. That was until, of course, he had seen her face and known she had thought she was kissing her beloved Angel. Spike had felt a surprising anger surge up at his sire for hurting the blond Slayer so deeply that she was about to crack. As much as he tried to deny it--he *was* a demon after all and needed to keep his rep intact--he had begun to care about the Slayer. She was so young and had been hurt so deeply, the part of him that was still William, the young man who had been turned to be Drusilla's play thing, felt for her. Spike was jarred from his thoughts by Riley's whispered words. "Why is she making this so difficult?" he asked the wind, which didn't respond. It only blew around him lazily. Spike wondered at his words as he watched Riley's retreating form.

Part Six

Buffy walked quickly into the room, wanting to avoid any and all questions. When she saw Giles and Willow sitting in the living room, she knew she was trapped. Sighing, she walked over to where they were, books strewn all over the place.

"So?" Willow asked, repeating the beginning of a conversation they had had nights before.

"So, what?" Buffy shrugged. Willow gave her an exasperated look.

"How was it? Was Riley a total muffin?" she asked, her eyes sparkling. Buffy didn't have the heart or the energy to tell the truth.

"Yeah..." she said, adding the next part under her breath. "The stale kind."

"See!?" Willow squealed, oblivious to her friend's comment. "I *knew* you'd have a great time."

Buffy nodded halfheartedly. "Yep. You should look into a job as one of those psychics on TV," she joked. Willow beamed, pleased the date she had helped fix had been a success. Or so she thought. She obviously didn't see Buffy's eyes and the haunted look they held. Not that Buffy allowed her to.

"We're researching this new prophecy, Buffy," Giles said. "Would you like to help?"

Buffy shook her head. She was too confused to worry about some hidden person or whatever. "I'm kinda beat, I'm just gonna go to bed," she said with a note of sadness in her voice. Giles nodded and bid her good night.

" 'Night," she said as she warily climbed the stairs, her heels in her hand. Five inch platforms and wooden stairs *did not* mix. She prayed Anya wouldn't be in the room...

No such luck. Anya lounged on her bed, flipping casually through the latest Cosmo. "Do you think Xander will like me better if I take up Tae-Bo?" she asked.

Hello to you too," Buffy said sarcastically as she rooted around for her pajamas. Anya ignored her. Buffy sighed as she slipped out of her dress and pulled on her silk p.j.'s.

"How was Riley?" Anya asked, her voice mocking. She hadn't looked up.

"He's the most boring guy alive," Buffy replied. She carefully replaced the tube dress on its hanger. The dress she had bought because she had known Angel would have liked it...

"That's nice," Anya said, obviously not listening. Buffy rolled her eyes and climbed into bed. "Do you think Xander'll like me if I get breast implants?"

Buffy had had enough of Anya and her little infatuation with getting Xander. She glared at the ex-demon. "I don't think all the plastic surgery and clothes in the world will help you get him. If he doesn't want you, he doesn't want you. End of story. There's no way to change that, Anyanka," she yelled, Anya's name a point. Anya stared at her with rage in her brown eyes.

"God, Buffy, just because your corpse of a boyfriend left you doesn't mean you have to take your anger out on me," she snapped, jumping up.

"Xander wants me...he just doesn’t know it yet."

Buffy snorted from under the covers. "Yeah, Anya, and Angel's gonna be coming back to me," she retorted. Anya shot daggers at her with her eyes.

"When I get my powers back..." she said menacingly. Buffy waved her hand.

"You'll pull my innards out through my nose and boil them. Have fun," Buffy said. Anya spun on her heel and marched from the room. Buffy sighed and leaned back into the pillows, her body too exhausted to get up and turn off the light.

Anya slammed the door and muttered as she walked away. "Anyanka...hello, not my name right now. What is it with blondes and getting my name wrong..." she trailed off, suddenly remembering that Riley had called her by her real name. How the hell had he known that? She was listed as Anya...

Her thoughts were interrupted by the body she slammed into. Glancing up, she saw it was only Spike. "Oh, great, Peroxide Boy."

"You know what I hate?" Spike mused. "Bloody annoying ex-demons who moon over loser humans."

"Go find a stake and fall on it," she snapped as she stalked down the stairs. Spike grinned at her back.

"Slayer: one, Anya: zero."

****************

The sound of flesh hitting flesh radiated in the dark alleyway. A groan escaped the victim's mouth as his head was snapped back. Angel was relentless, he rained punches down on the vampire as if there was no tomorrow. And for him, it felt that way.

A date. She had gone on a date. With Riley Finn. Punch. She had betrayed him. Punch. She had kissed another man. Punch. She had moved on.

That had been what Angel had wanted four months ago. Of course, it had all been theoretical back then. He had never known it would hurt this much. He snarled as he pictured her lips on someone else's, ramming the demon into the brick wall. He advanced, his coat swirling at his feet, punching and kicking, throwing all his anger into his blows. He took another swing and connected with nothing but air as the vampire dissipated into the night. Cordelia stood in front of him, a stake in her hand. She quirked her eyebrow at him.

"Wow, remind me never to make you jealous. It's really not attractive, Angel, the whole 'I'm really pissed and am taking all my anger out on some demon just because my ex-honey is moving on like I told her to' thing," Cordy said as she dusted herself off. Angel glared at her and rammed his hands in his pockets.

"I. Am. Not. Jealous," he said with short, tight breath. Cordelia just laughed.

"You're not jealous," she repeated. "Okay, so care to share why you were pummeling some vamp into a bloody pulp? I mean, I know beheading will kill them, but it's usually done with something pointy."

"Shouldn't you be shopping or something?" Angel muttered as he pushed past her.

"Mall's all close at ten, my dear eighteenth century boy. You should know that by now," Cordy chided.

"Just stay out of my way," Angel snarled as he stalked away.

"Whatever. Angel, you've got some *major* issues you need to work out. Why not just rent a nice hotel room for a weekend and bring your precious Slayer there and work out all your frustrations? I'm sure she'd appreciate the gesture," Cordelia called to his retreating form. Silence answered her and she frowned.

"*Major* issues," she muttered as she followed her boss out of the dirty alley.

****************

"I had a really great time last night." Buffy forced yet another smile as she glanced up at Riley and accepted the Coke he brought her.

"Me too," she lied yet again. His smile widened, by far not for the first time and he sat down next to her.

"How’s that Calculus going?" he asked, peeking over at her papers. He’d come over to work on their Mythology project, but Buffy was having trouble with her math homework (as in, it wasn’t done yet), so she’d been workingon that instead. She had to give it to him, at least he was smart. And adorable.

And nothing like Angel. Damn. There she went again. She’d been getting on three minutes. Had to be a record.

"I think it may have a defective motor," Buffy replied with a sigh. He laughed and she had to smile at the light in his blue eyes. Across the table, Willow yawned and glanced at her watch.

"I’m gonna go to bed. Will you tell Oz that he has to finish his Theory of Music homework when he gets home?" she asked, standing up. Her werewolf-boyfriend was at band practoce. Buffy directed a glare at her best friend, who looked carefully innocent and exhausted, then gave Riley an uneasy look.

"Yeah sure. I’ll leave a note if I go to bed," Buffy promised.

"Thanks. Good night," Willow said cheerfully, going to the stairs. Buffy and Riley sat in silence for a moment. Buffy made a show of looking at her watch.

"You know, I’m tired too and I have an early class tomorrow…" He gave her a blank look and she stifled a sigh. For an intelligent guy he could be remarkably dense. He finally got it and nodded.

"That’s okay, I’m walking home so—"

"Wait, you’re walking home?" Buffy demanded, scared suddenly. Riley being killed was the last thing she wanted. Well, maybe not the last thing. Hell on Earth, the Master coming back, failing to protect her friends or family…Angel dying…That wasn’t the point, she told herself sternly. The point was she wanted Riley safe and the streets of Sunnydale at night were definitely not conducive to that.

"Um, I’ll be right back," Buffy told him. He gave her a puzzled look, but nodded. She dashed up the stairs and walked into the den, rollingher eyes when she saw the scene.

Spike and Anya were nose to nose, barely controlling themselves from shouting at each other. Buffy nearly giggled as Anya snapped an insult to Spike’s parentage and the vampire’s eyes began to bulge.

"Could I interupt this lovely little tête-a-tête?" she asked. They turned to glare at her, but after a moment spike relaxed and stepped forward, crossing his arms.

"What do you want?" he asked. Buffy arched her eyebrows at him, thinking of scolding him for the insolent tone, then thinking better of it.

"I’m too tired to walk Riley home and—"

"No way. Absolutely not. Not a bloody chance!" Spike exclaimed, interupting her. She glared at him, then said sweetly.

"Spike, who is it that’s staying at my house, that I haven’t yet killed even though I’ve had numerous opportunities? Who have I not yet even mentioned rent to?"

"You don’t charge him rent?" Anya shrieked, outraged. They ignored her. With extreme annoyance showing in every line of his body, Spike shrugged. Buffy let out a sigh of relief, knowing she’d won.

"Now tell him you’re going the same way and suggest you go together," Buffy instructed, leading spike back out to the big front room. She stopped suddenly and caught his eyes with her own hard ones.

"No threatening," she told him, "No bullying. And absolutely no biting. Do you understand me?" Spike shrugged off her hand.

"Yeah whatever," he replied. She frowned but knew he knew she would dismember him if he touched a hair on Riley’s head. She nearly pushed him down the stairsand he went reluctantly, Buffy following right behind to make sure he stayed on good behaviour.

"Hi," Riley said, eyeing Spike. Buffy poked the vampire. He nearly growled at her, but stopped himself in time.

"Hey," he replied. Buffy poked him again. His expression darkened. "Buffy says you’re going home? I’m walking that way anyway on some…errands and I thought we could…" Spike stopped, gritting his teeth, but a glance at Buffy made him keep going. "I thought we could walk together." Riley glanced at Buffy with a slight frown.

"I thought Buf—" Buffy yawned largely, cutting him off, frantic suddenly. It wasn’t that she was actually that tired, she just couldn’t handle walking alone with Riley. He would undoubtedly try and kiss her again, and without a house to flee into, Buffy didn’t real feel ready for that.

"Sorry," she said when she was done yawning. "I’m just so tired. And Spike’s going that way anyway." Spike nodded reluctantly. Riley shrugged.

"Okay," he said, picking up his jacket and his back pack. He walked over to her and Buffy took a step back automatically, tripping over one of Anya’s torture devices. She winced and tried to regain her balance.

"Good night," she said, leaning down to pick the thing up. Riley watched her with regret and a little confusion.

"Good night." He turned away towards the door. "I’ll see you tomorrow." She nodded and waved a little, shooting a warning glance at Spike as he followed Riley out.

"Bye!" she called. The second the door closed she slumped down on the floor, wondering what the hell she was doing.

****************

Spike would have been perfectly happy to walk the whole way in complete silence. But no, that damn Fish Boy had to talk.

"Buffy’s great. Playing hard to get of course, but don’t all girls do that?" Riley asked (the first time Spike had actually been called on to make a contribution to the conversation). He grunted in reply. "She’s not as bad as this one in high school. What was her name? Miranda. She was all high and mighty, pretending she didn’t want me, but I turned her around."

Spike wanted to break something. Preferably Riley’s head. "Right. High and mighty huh?"

"Yeah, Buffy’s just pulling the little innocent thing. I can see it in her eyes, she wants me." Spike really wished he had a tape recorder. It would be extremely amusing to see how long Riley lasted after Buffy hear this conversation. Not as amusing as say, breaking his fingers, but still pretty good…or puncturing his vocal cords. Yeah, that was better. Then he couldn’t talk anymore.

"Hey, how do you know her anyway?" Riley asked. Spike smiled.

"We’re old friends," he replied. "Actually, I’m related to her fiancée." Buffy would kill him, but he didn’t think Riley would be mentioning it.

"Her fiancée?" he asked in a faint voice. Spike grinned.

"Yeah…actually, according to one custom, they were married. Unfortunately, that’s in the past. And now she has you." He had never seen someone look so relieved. Well, a couple times when Dru was playing with her food maybe…before they realized that when Spike told her to stop he meant stop playing.

"Yeah, she didn’t tell me she was engaged. Anyway, I’m sure she’s over him," Riley said with what sounded like actual confidence. Had there ever been a denser guy in the history of the planet?

"No," Spike told him abruptly. "Actually, she’s not over him at all. She’s still completely in love with him." Riley laughed, thinking it was a joke, and stopped when he saw Spike’s dead serious face. "Yeah, that’s right. She’s still in love with him and she’s still missing him all the time. She doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you. So you better leave her alone and stop making it harder for her than it already is."

Riley looked extremely uneasy for a long moment, then suddenly he flushed slightly and looked annoyed. "That’s none of your business. Buffy and I are fine, you’re wrong about her." Spike smoldered, then sighed suddenly. Not that he needed to breathe, or had much air to sigh out with, but he sighed anyway. Sometimes human gestures were nice, if pointless. He’d done his best though. He’d warned Riley. Now the little bugger deserved what he got and if he got dumped for Angel, that was his own fault.

Spike just had to keep Buffy from actually getting attached long enough to get Angel back. What, his job wasn’t bloody difficult enough?

Before Riley could start saying annoying things again, a vampire attacked. Spike rolled his eyes. Just what he needed.

Actually, maybe it was.

The vampire leapt at Spike, who stepped aside deftly, thinking about the possibilities. The attacking vampire (Spike thought he recognized him, though he couldn’t remember the name. Another one of those annoying minions. Lucifer, he was just surrounded by idiots) rolled to his feet and went for Riley, realizing Spike was a much harder kill (and possibly recognizing him). Riley stepped back, his blue eyes wide with fright, and something else. Spike didn’t stop to analyze. The minion was nearly on the college student. Spike glanced at his watch. Another minute or two and Riley wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

Of course, Buffy would murder him. And after that, Cordelia would probably re-burn his ashes for messing up her plans.

Spike growled, more annoyed at Riley for existing than the vampire. He pulled a stake out from his duster pocket and jammed it into the minion’s back just as it picked Riley up by his shirt. Riley fell to the ground as the vampire burst into dust. Spike grinned. At least Riley didn’t get off totally uninjured. Though he still had to explain the bursting into dust part.

Or not. "It must have been some kind of hologram," Riley breathed, beginning to search the street for some kind of projector. "That’s amazing…it looked so life like."

"And wow, it managed to pick you up," Spike muttered.

"I wonder how they timed it. That’s some really sophisticated equipment. Probably some college gu—"

"Why don’t we just go on?" Spike suggested in the nicest tone he could muster. Riley gave him a startled look, but shrugged. They started back down the dark street, Riley prattling on about the different ways it could have been doneWhen he started to suggest maybe it was something else entirely, Spike began to think letting the vampire have it's way would have been a service to humankind.

Part Seven

Buffy sighed as she scooped Rocky Road ice cream into her bowl. It was a Friday night and she was home. A Friday night and she was getting ready to watch a sappy chick flick and feel sorry for herself. She could’ve been out, Riley had asked her out again, but she had feigned sickness. She didn’t think she’d be able to handle another date with the most boring guy alive.

So there she stood, ice cream in one hand as she moved to the couch. She was dressed for comfort, gray flannel pajama pants, oversized sweater and tube socks. Settling herself on the couch, she flipped on the television and channel surfed before finding one of her favorite movies of all time. Ghost. Man, was she gonna lose it tonight.

The house was unusually quiet, even though everyone was home. Willow and Oz were up in their room and Xander was in his Bat Cave, as he had dubbed it. Anya was studying in the den and Spike was nowhere to be found. A blessing in itself.

About a half hour into the movie the doorbell rang. Buffy looked up in fright. What if it was Riley, coming to check up on her? She looked like hell, so she didn’t think she’d really have to pretend a whole lot that she was under the weather. Sighing, she stood and shrugged off the warm blanket she was wrapped in, placing the empty bowel on the counter as she made her way to the door. Taking a deep breath, she swung it open.

Giles was pacing on the front step and he looked up sharply as the door was opened. Without so much as a hello, he strode past his Slayer and she stared after him, bewildered. Rolling her eyes, she shut the door.

"Hello to you too, Giles. I’m great, thanks for asking," she said sarcastically as she took her seat on the couch once again, legs crossed Indian-style. Giles had resumed his pacing...back and forth, back and forth. "Sit down, you’re making my head do wacky things."

Giles suddenly looked at her, as though he hadn’t even realized she had let him in seconds before. Confusion quickly replaced annoyance as she wondered what had gotten into her Watcher. "Rough day at the office?" she asked.

"I’ve deciphered the prophecy, Buffy," Giles said, his voice grave. Her eyes grew wide.

"No more research project for Buffy?" she asked hopefully. His gaze quieted her. "It was a joke, Giles," she muttered. He sighed.

"Someone is trying to kill you, Buffy," he said. She looked up at him with her eyebrow quirked.

"And it’s really working, ‘cause I’m still breathing and all," she said sarcastically, not really paying attention. She just wanted to mope and feel bad for herself and try to figure out her feelings towards Riley and Angel.

"This is serious!" Giles cried. Immediately she became solemn, her attention on her Watcher. "Someone in disguise is trying to kill you. The conclusion I’ve come to is someone was sent to kill you and has been lying low, possibly gaining your trust somehow. When you die, this person will receive unimaginable power."

"Every man’s weakness..." she echoed from the prophecy. She nodded and knitted her eyebrows. "Okay, so who’s this person who was shoved into darkness or whatever? The one who’ll be sacrificed, who I’m supposed to save or something..." she trailed off as it suddenly became crystal clear to her. Lock redemption away from the one forced into darkness... "Angel."

"My suspicions as well," Giles informed her. She sighed warily. Great. Someone was trying to kill her and was going to sacrifice Angel for their own power. She couldn’t just be left alone to wallow in her misery, could she?

"Okay, well, thanks for the tip, Giles. I’ll be sure to be on the lookout for this incognito guy," Buffy said as she turned back to her movie. Giles stared at her incredulously.

"Buffy, you don’t seem to be taking this the right way,’ he said carefully. "You’re acting rather flippant about this whole thing, don’t you think?"

No, she didn’t think that. Her thoughts were running along the lines of Riley and Angel and why she felt attracted to Riley at all in the first place. Some power-hungry demon or whatever trying to kill her and her undead ex-boyfriend was pretty much the furthest thing from her mind. Call her childish.

"Giles, I’ve been hunted before. It’s no big. When this person shows up I kindly tell them I really don’t feel like being buried right now and kill them instead," she said matter-of-factly. Giles sighed and tore his glasses off, rubbing the bridge of his nose in thought. Buffy had her ‘normal girl’ problems on her mind right now and nothing Giles said would sink in until she had sorted them out. He wondered idly if any other Watchers had to contend with a Slayer who wanted to have normal things, like dates and trips to the mall.

Knowing trying to make anymore conversation was useless, he replaced his glasses. Buffy was curled on the couch again, her blanket securely around her legs and a box of tissues by her feet. He pitied her beyond words, knowing she was not anywhere near over Angel. He felt rather bad about trying to set her up with Riley, but he thought going out with the junior was just what Buffy needed.

But since when had she ever listened to him?

"Be extremely cautious, Buffy," Giles said. She nodded absentmindedly and waved, indicating he should let himself out. With a sigh, he turned to go.


Buffy was trying very hard to pay attention to the movie. She wondered if Angel would ever come back from the dead and watch over her. Well, he kinda had...but if they had been two normal people in love, would he come back to keep her safe? Would Riley? Would Riley?! Where had that thought come from?

She sighed in frustration. Why did Angel have to leave? This was all his fault. If he hadn’t been trying to be so noble she wouldn’t have even looked at Riley. And now she didn’t know how she felt anymore...

Loud footsteps on the staircase broke Buffy’s train of thought. Anya glided down semi-gracefully, fully decked out in Buffy’s clothes. She wore her red halter dress and four inch matching platforms. Smoothing the material, she smiled at Buffy.

"What do you think you’re--" Buffy started. Anya cut her off with a glare.

"The curse for your help, Buffy. I haven’t forgotten and neither should you. Besides, I look better in it," she said smugly. Buffy sighed. If Anya didn’t try so damn hard, maybe Xander would actually like the evil genie.

"Whatever," Buffy muttered as she flopped back into the couch cushions. Anya strode purposely to Xander’s room and knocked on the door. A second later he stuck his head out and groaned.

"Hey, Anya," he said in a deflated tone. She took no notice. <Why is Anya wearing another one of Buffy’s dresses? And why is Buffy not caring?> he thought. Anya smiled broadly at him.

"There’s this cute little Italian place that just opened up and I thought maybe we could go. You know, on a date," Anya said, her tone hopeful. Xander sighed.

"Sounds...fun, Anya, but I...uh...don’t feel too good," he said, faking a cough. "Work’s really tiring and I don’t want to get sick or anything."

Anya’s smile turned to ice. "Tiring? Xander, you flip burgers for a living! What, your hands cramped or something? C’mon, you backed out of the Bronze," she whined. Xander’s gaze darted to Buffy, who sat limply on the couch, silent tears pouring from her eyes. Maybe Buffy could help...

"I promised Buffy I’d watch that chick flick with her!" he cried. Anya rolled her eyes.

"She’s so wrapped up in feeling sorry for herself, she won’t notice. Do you really want to be someone’s tissue when you could be out having fun?" she demanded. Xander hid his grin. <Yes...>

"It won’t kill you, I promise!" she shouted. "I won’t bring up any torture techniques or anything!"

Xander rolled his eyes. "What I wouldn’t give to be in L.A. right about now..." he said. <With Cordy>. Anya gazed expectantly at him and he caved.

"Okay, okay. Let me get my keys and--"

"I’m not driving around in that disgusting car of yours!" she cried. "We’ll take Buffy’s Jeep."

"I kinda doubt Buffy’s gonna let me use it," Xander argued, annoyed. What the hell was wrong with his car? It was his thing. "She only lets Will drive it."

"She’ll let you. Go ask Willow, I’ll wait down here," Anya said firmly, dragging Xander out of his room and throwing him in the direction of the stairs. He stumbled slightly and righted himself, fixing his shirt. Man, she was strong. Why was he surrounded by strong woman all the time? Made him feel kinda puny...

"And...I don’t know. She just seems unhappy," Willow was saying. Xander stopped outside her and Oz’s door, eavesdropping. "Is it just me?"

"No," Oz told her. "It’s not just you. She seems to be off in her little Buffy-world a lot lately. I think it’s that Riley guy."

"Yeah, I don’t know if Riley’s exactly what she needs right now," Willow agreed. "I mean, it seemed like a good idea at the beginning, but she looks so sad..."

"She needs Angel," Xander said as he entered and shut the door behind him. "As much as I hate to admit it--and believe me, I do--she needs Dead Boy."

Willow gazed up at him from the bed. "You’ve noticed it too, huh?" she asked. He nodded and plopped down on the bean bag in the corner, glancing around at the room. It was weird, seeing Willow's stuff here. He'd spent so much time in her room as they were growing up, that he knew all her stuff, and here it was...and so was Oz's. There was Willow's pink fan next to Oz's black light, Willow's teddy bear collection on the shelf above Oz's lava lamp. It worked though. Somehow, it worked. And even Xander had been surprised at how not-jealous he was when Willow and Oz announced they'd be sharing a room.

"I’m Mister Oblivious and I noticed. It’s like there’s a big neon sign over her that says ‘I want my undead boyfriend back and I’m going to mope until I get him.’ I don’t get it," Xander said. "I mean, here’s her chance at a normal life and all she can do is pine away for Angel."

"I don’t think she wants a normal life if it means she can’t have Angel," Oz said, stroking his hands through Willow's hair. Xander grumblingly agreed.

"So what do we do?" Willow asked. The guys shrugged.

"Knock him out, chain him up and drag him here?" Xander asked.

"Somehow I think you’d like that a little too much," Willow teased. Xander grinned, shifting on the bean bag and was about to speak when someone began pounding on the door.

"Willow? Oz? Is Xander in there? He was supposed to get the keys and come right back down!" Anya shouted. A panicked look crossed Xander’s face and he jumped up.

"Hide me. She wants to go on a date and I told her I was sick and she didn’t listen and I was supposed to come up and get the keys for Buffy’s car even though I know she won’t let me drive it but Anya wouldn’t listen and made me come up anyway and I’m rambling and this is not good," Xander said in one breath.

Thinking quickly, Willow shoved him into the bathroom and hissed, "Pretend to be throwing up or something!" She slammed the door shut and rushed to open the bedroom door before Anya knocked the stupid thing down.

"Hi, Anya," she said cheerfully. Anya brushed past her, entering the room and looking around for Xander. Oz barely contained his laughter.

"Where is he?" the ex-demon demanded. Willow pointed to the bathroom.

"Puking his brains out as we speak," she said. Anya moved closer to the door as though she would open it. Xander’s fake sounds seemed to change her mind and Willow relaxed slightly.

"We were supposed to go to that new restaurant," Anya whined. "I got all dressed up and everything."

"I’m sure you can go another time," Willow said soothingly. She squinted at the dress. "Isn’t that Buffy’s?"

Part Eight

Moonlight poured over the trees, filtering through the golden leaves onto the nearly silver pavement. The sky was peppered with shining stars, thousands of them, millions, dancing in the darkness. Below, the street was quiet, the town was serene, poised on the edge of sleep, floating in the darkness before dreams come.

Spike kicked a trash can, shattering the stillness. A light came on in one of the houses and someone peeked their head out the door, shouting at him. He ignored them, looking around darkly for something else to damage. This town was no fun anymore. Angel wasn’t around to torment, the Slayer was all mopey and could care less if he decided to have some fun. Well, he amended, she would care enough to make him dust, but wouldn’t want to waste the time to actually have some fun in the process. It was pity, she’d had so much spirit. Spike always liked fighting the spirited ones. Kept him amused. Even Dru was gone.

Someone turned the corner onto the street, walking casually in long strides. The moonlight caught his blond hair, and without though, Spike grinned. Maybe there was some fun to be had after all.

"Hey!" he called, walking forward at a quick saunter. Riley swung around to look at him, a moment of apprehension replaced by an extremely unconvincing smile. Spike didn’t let that deter him; he continued to grin as he approached.

"Spike. What are you doing out here?" Riley asked, obviously hoping it was something important so Spike wouldn’t be able to stay and talk. The vampire’s smile widened. No such luck.

"Just taking a walk. And you?" he inquired kindly.

"Uh…the same," Riley muttered.

"Well, fancy meeting you then. I thought for sure you’d be out having fun," Spike suggested. Riley shrugged absently.

"Well, without Buffy…"

"Yeah. Without Buffy indeed. What did I say about Buffy?" Spike inquired with mock sterness. Riley smiled a little as he glanced up, an odd glint in her eyes.

"Buffy will be fine," he replied. Spike rolled his eyes.

"Well she’s got you now after all," he muttered. Riley didn’t seem to notice the sarcasm dripping from the statement. He clapped a hand on Spike’s shoulder.

"Yes she does. I’ll make her very happy," he said enthusiastically. Spike wondered idly if Riley knew how to make a woman very happy. He could just imagine them faking— Spike’s thought was cut off as Riley continued. "You know, I’ve been researching holograms and I don’t see how one could have seemed so real. Technology isn’t that advanced yet, no projection should have been capable of—"

Spike lost his temper. He didn’t do it often, but it happened sometimes. It happened then.

"Oh bloddy shaggin’ hell man! It was a vampire! A friggin’ VAMPIRE, do you understand? And I bloody well should have let him kill you!" Riley’s eyes widened and he took a step backward. Spike’s anger turned to disgust and he muttered, "For god’s sake, how bloody stupid can you be?"

"A…vampire?" Riley inquired, sounding slightly odd. Spike fixed his dark gaze on the college junior and a slow smile began to spread over her face.

"Yes Riley, a vampire. See, there’s lots of them in this world, nasty things." As he spoke, Spike walked closer, smiling broadly. Riley eyed him with unease. Spike’s grin widened and he put an arm around Riley’s shoulder. "They like to kill things. Usually, they suck their blood. Food and all, they need it to survive. Sometimes they do other things, like torture. I knew a vampire once who…well, we don’t want to scare you, now do we?"

Riley already looked scared. He looked mighty scared. Spike was beginning to get that warm tingly feeling in his stomach. No, this night was definitely not going to be without fun.

"Uh…vampires are mythology," Riley said. Spike laughed and gave his shoulders a slight squeeze.

"It’s nice to believe that isn’t it?" he said kindly. "Makes you feel more secure. But unfortunately, with a girlfriend like yours, you sometimes have to face up to the truth."

"A girlfriend like…Buffy?" Riley asked in an extremely confused voice. Spike slapped him on the back again, making him stumble forwards. Spike grabbed his arm before he could get far away.

"Good man. Yes, a girlfriend like Buffy. You see, Buffy is the Vampire Slayer." Riley’s eyes widened even more, if possible. "She slays vampires for a living. She’s about ten times as strong as you’ll ever be. Oh, and that old boyfriend I told you about. He’s a vampire too. You see, Buffy likes it rough."

If the Slayer ever found out he said that, he would be toast crumbs. Of course, there was no way she would ever find it, since he would never tell her…

"Rough?" Riley echoed faintly. Spike grinned evilly.

"Rough," he confirmed. "And she’s very strong…" He let Riley draw his own conclusions, and chuckled. By the look on Riley’s face, they were very nice conclusions. Then suddenly the younger man’s face cleared and he frowned.

"You’re just trying to freak me out," he said. "I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation for that man and—" Spike interupted, laughing.

"I was hoping you’d say that," he chuckled. Riley’s determined expression faltered for a moment.

"Why?" he asked, confused again.

"So I can convince you."

Before Riley could reply, Spike had morphed completely, his handsome face assuming the mask of a vampire, his grin turning evil and cocky. He growled and Riley went white. "See, isn’t that convincing?"

Riley was shaking his head…probably from fear, and not actually denying the reliability of Spike’s assertion. But Spike didn’t have to admit that.

"Then we’d better try something better," Spike purred, and grabbing Riley’s shoulders, pulled him close. Having more fun than he had in days, Spike lowered his head to Riley’s neck and began to feed.

A moment later Riley’s body dropped to the ground. "Bollux," he muttered, a distasteful look on his face. "Where are after dinner mints when you need them?"

He toed Riley’s limp body. Nothing. He bent down a little, narrowing his eyes. Bloody hell, he’d killed him. Double bollux. Buffy was going to use that chainsaw of Angel’s. On his wrinklies.

Not if she didn’t find out though.

That was it, there was no way the Slayer was finding out about this. He’d just have to make it look like something else had killed Riley. Something in no way related to Spike. Who would kill Riley? Anyone that ever met him perhaps?

A burglar.

That was it, Spike decided. He’d take Riley back to his apartment, make it look like someone broke in, and then make Riley look beaten up. He could do that. He had no problem with beating Riley in any form, even as a corpse. Man that guy was annoying.

Now he just had to figure out where the hell the kid lived. And there was always the getting him there.

Spike grinned as he kneeled down next to the body. Who cared about the problems? It had been worth it. Even if Riley did taste rotten. The man did make the blood after all.

****************

THUMP! Spike kicked Riley once, just for the annoyance he’d been to carry, then looked around the small apartment. Thank god Riley didn’t live in the dorms. Not that there’d been a lot of clues either way. His drivers license was out of state, which seemed really odd if he went to college in Sunnydale, and Buffy assured him he did. He’d finally found the address scrawled on a piece of paper in his wallet. Spike didn’t bother with the key. After all, he was supposed to be breaking and entering.

Spike glanced around, looking for anything valuable he should take. It looked like a regular college kid’s apartment. Except the chains in the corner were a little odd. They were odd weren’t they? Spike wasn’t really connected with college kid’s these days. Maybe chains were a regular fixture? Did they have them at Buffy’s house?

He glanced at the TV. Pretty nice for a college junior. And he had a great stereo. Spike wondered briefly if there was something worth watching on, then remembered it was Friday. There was never anything on on Friday. Besides, one of the neighbors might hear. Besides the stereo and television there was a small couch, a couple chairs and a desk. The desk was covered with papers, though he didn’t see many things that looked like homework. Idly, he ruffled through them and stopped, seeing a letter. He let his curiousity get the better of him and picked it up and began to read.

My dear Mr. Finn,

You’ve been warned. Time is of the essence and you, my boy, are letting it slip through your fingers. My sources tell me the Slayer is within your grasp, but sooner or later, she will start thinking and realize what it is you are. She has read the prophecy, she has been warned. She is not stupid and soon, she will begin to connect you with that which was written. You cannot wait that long.

You have one week. If by the end of the week Buffy Summers is still living, I promise you, not only will you never have that which you thirst for, but your time in Hell will be long and exceptionally painful. I will see to that myself. Remember, one week and she must be dead. I don’t care how, but get it done. This is your last warning.

"That bloody bastard!" Spike cried, wishing he could kill Riley again. How dare he try and kill the Slayer? And how could he be stupid enough to try?

Which was when Spike remembered how many times he had tried to kill Buffy. But that was the past now anyway. And he’d never gone behind someone’s back. Spike had always been honest about his emnity at least, things were more fun that way.

Spike cursed stupidity in general. How could Buffy let him get that close, especially if she had been warned? Of course, Spike knew how. She’d been distracted. She’d been mooning over Angel. And wouldn’t he love to hear how close he’d brought his one true love to death? Spike smirked at the thought. He’d have to let Angel know personally.

Spike’s smile grew wider as he realized he now had the perfect excuse. Not even excuse…the perfect reason! Buffy could never be angry at him now, he’d saved her life!

Lord, he’d saved the Slayer’s life…he was never going to live this one down…

Spike shook the thought off. He’d figure something out. He’d maim a few people and get his standing back in the vampire community. The thought made him brighten further. This was turning out to be a wonderful night. He killed the twit, earned Buffy’s eternal gratitude, and finally had some fun again…

Spike walked out of the apartment, not bothering to move Riley’s body. The police would make up some cover story, they were bad at that, but they did it a hell of a lot. He kicked the door shut behind him, grinning and walked down the hall, whistling a jaunty tune…

****************

Spike's whistling ended on the last bar of 'God Save the Queen.' He was home. Or, rather, at the Slayer's house where he had just crashed one night and never left...she grew on you. The bickering, the cute little remarks...if she wasn't so bloody heartbroken they might've been more often.

He didn't know how he would be breaking the news to the blond. You don't just go in and say to an already-brassed off Slayer "Sorry, pet, I killed your little boytoy because he was bloody annoying. Oh, and by the way, he was planning on killing you." Not if you value your life in any way, that is. Or even your un-life.

Humming now, an old song that had been popular when *he* had been alive--a few centuries old, sure, but it had such a catchy tune--Spike let himself in to the beach house. The house was unusually quiet, that annoying Anya was nowhere to be seen--or heard. Shrugging his duster off and hanging it on the coat rack next to the door, he turned back to the couch and froze. Buffy sat curled up, her eyes swollen from crying. Discarded tissues littered the immediate area around the couch and some cheesy commercial for a crappy mattress outlet store blared from the big screen TV. Cheesy commercial could only mean one thing--the eleven o'clock news. Not the best way for Buffy to find out her boyfriend had been murdered by a vicious bloodsucker out for some fun--no, wait. Robbed and killed. That was the story...

"Pet, I can explain," Spike said, his hands up in defense as he rounded the couch and plopped into a blue chair that had yellow stars all over it. Buffy looked up at him with red eyes, confusion etched on her sad face.

"Explain what?" she asked, suddenly suspicious. Spike's face was the epitome of innocence...all the more reason she was curious. Bloody hell, she didn’t really know?

"Umm...why there's no more diet soda in the house?" he said, suddenly unsure. Buffy clicked off the television and glared at him.

"What did you do?" she demanded. Another angelic look from Spike. "Spike..." she threatened. Willow and Oz chose that moment to make their entrance, following each other down the stairs. Willow opened the refrigerator and removed two Pepsi cans as Oz took a bag of chips out of the cabinet. Buffy was momentarily distracted by her friends, something Spike was grateful for. He wanted to treasure these last few moments he had before a sharp pointy object was thrust into his chest.

Admonishing himself for his nervousness, he leaned back into the chair, his cocky demeanor shining through once more. He had done the Slayer a favor. She owed him. Big time. No rent paying for Spike.

"How was your movie, Buffy?" Willow asked as she flipped up the tab on her soda can. Buffy smiled and dried the last of the tears from her hazel eyes.

"It was just as good as always, I don't really remember too much, paying attention while bawling hysterically *does not* work well," she said. Spike frowned.

"Movie?" he echoed and groaned. "Oh God, Slayer, were you watching one of those bloody chick flicks?" She glowered at him.

"It was either that or go out with Riley again. And since I didn't feel like acting tonight, I stayed in," she retorted and sighed. Standing, she folded the blanket carefully and picked up the used tissues. "Speaking of Analytical Guy, I should probably call him and see how he is. Actually," she frowned, "I'm surprised he hasn't called yet."

"Yeah, uh, Slayer?" Spike said. "About Riley..."

"I know he's really boring and thinks he's the funniest guy on Earth and is pretty much a pain 24/7, but he's nice and kinda, sorta my boyfriend, so kindly keep all snide remarks to yourself tonight," Buffy said, sighing. Spike arched his eyebrow at her and was about to continue when Anya chased Xander into the room.

"You lied to me? You lied to me!" she demanded. Xander winced, feeling the wrath of the ex-demon.

"Uh...I don't really see it as lying...sort of changing around the details," Xander said lamely. Anya stood in fury gaping at him.

"I hate you, Alexander LaVelle Harris!" she shouted at the top of her lungs. Spike winced. She would be the next to go...

"How do you know my middle name?" he cried. Spike burst out laughing, but was quickly quieted by Buffy's stern look.

"Cordelia told me, back when she actually still cared about you. You know, right after you cheated on her with your best friend?" Anya retorted. Xander glared at her, glancing around. He really wanted to throw something at her...maybe knock her out for a while. At least it would shut her up. The only thing he could see were some musty old books of Giles' and a vase that Buffy's mom had given her. No options there...

"Okay, I'm going to call Riley," Buffy announced, tugging at her tube socks. As she stepped over Spike's propped-up legs that rested on the coffee table, he caught her wrist and looked her hard in the eye.

"Just the topic I was about to get into," Spike said as he swung his legs down and looked up at her. Buffy, seeing he was serious for once, waited. "I ran into Fish Boy tonight while I was looking for some bloody excitement and it turns out your Romeo was sent here to kill you."

Buffy stared at him before bursting out laughing. Spike, startled by her reaction, pursed his lips. "S-sent to kill me?" she repeated, shaking with laughter. "Good one, Spike! Although I'm sure you could've come up with something better, like he was a demon who ate people's livers to stay alive or something. Losing your touch, William?"

"Slayer, this is bleedin' serious!" Spike told her sharply. At once she quieted, her eyes darting to Willow. She shrugged and Buffy turned her gaze back to the platinum haired vampire. "I found out and did the only honorable thing...I drained him."

Buffy stood in shock, her eyebrows raised. Spike had drained Riley? No way. He had more common sense than that. Well, maybe he did. He had made the mistake of coming back to Sunnydale *twice* after promising to leave town... Seeing she was confused, he pulled the letter he had taken out of his pocket and silently handed it to her. She took it with suddenly shaky hands and read over it several times, making sure the words written were real.

Riley had come to kill her. He had been close, too...how could she have been so stupid? God, she was the Slayer. Why hadn't she seen this coming?

"How did you know?" she asked, her voice slightly cracking. Spike ran his hands through his hair.

"He, uh, said something that was...suspicious. I cracked him and found out. Then I killed him," Spike rushed. Buffy nodded slowly, absorbing the knowledge. The letter crumpled in her fist as she tried vainly to stop the sudden tears that welled. Gazing up and seeing her friends' sympathetic faces was too much. With a muffled sob she fled up to the sanctuary of her room.

The others watched her go in shock.

"Riley...was evil?" Willow asked in disbelief.

"Looks that way," Xander said. "I'm not surprised, that guy just screamed 'I'm just getting to know you so I can kill you.' Anybody up for some Bagel Bites?"

"So, Spike," Willow said suddenly, turning to face the demon. "Bet you were pretty scared you'd have to make up something to tell Buffy after you killed Riley, huh?" Spike's eyes grew large as he once again feigned innocence.

"I have no bloody idea what you're talking about," Spike said firmly.

"You killed him before, didn't you," Willow said. It wasn't a question, it was a statement. After a moment, he replied.

"Oh, bleedin' hell. Yeah, I did. The guy was trying to tell me the vampire that nearly killed him the other night was a bloody hologram! Jesus, can you be stupider?" Spike demanded. Xander smiled at him and Spike got his answer.

Willow gazed up the stairs, making a decision. Buffy didn't need to be alone right now, she needed to talk. Whether she wanted to admit it or not. She started up them and heard Anya's voice filter up as she ascended.

"I *still* can't believe you lied!"

Part 9

A soft knock on the door interrupted Buffy's thoughts. Willow's red head peeked through a moment later as she opened the door fully to reveal Buffy curled on her bed, Mr. Gordo held firmly to her chest. A few stray tears had wetted the pig's pink skin and she clutched him as if he was a lifeline. Walking in and shutting the door, Willow took a seat on her best friend's bed.

"How are you holding up?" she asked. Buffy shrugged.

"How are you supposed to hold up when the guy you were dating turns out to want to kill you and your ex-boyfriend so he can have ultimate power or whatever?" she asked. Willow winced at her sullen tone, something she had strangely gotten used to. The witch took the Slayer's hand in her own.

"Well, when you put it that way you're entitled to break down," Willow said lightly. Buffy turned her gaze from her best friend's kind eyes to her room. Her butterflies had been hung on the walls, bright spots of color against the light blue background. Different pictures of her friend covered one wall, each telling a unique story. There were no stakes or brass knuckles or jars of holy water visible. Here, in her own room, she was just Buffy.

"God, Will, I was so stupid! I put everyone's life in danger, Angel's included," Buffy cried. "And all because I miss him so much I don't know how I go on each day!"

Willow pulled Buffy in for a hug. "It's true. I realize that now. I never felt anything for Riley...I just missed Angel so much. I can't stop thinking about him, Wills. Every second, he's there. Riley was just a welcome distraction. I didn't feel so alone," Buffy said quietly as she held her friend close. Pulling away, she wiped her tears on the back of her hand and played absentmindedly with Mr. Gordo's ear. She remembered when she had come home from patrol one night to find Angel spending some quality time with him...there she went again. Somehow every thought she had zipped back to him and she was powerless to stop it.

"Buffy, you're never alone. You have us, your fan club," Willow told her firmly. Buffy gave her a watery smile.

"I know, Wills, I know. But as much as I love and appreciate you guys, Angel's the only one who ever really understood me. I guess I'll never find that kind of comfort again. I'm stuck pining away for my undead ex-boyfriend for the rest of my short Slayer life," Buffy said, her voice dead serious. Willow smoothed a hand over her hair.

"You should get some rest," she said firmly. "I'll call Giles and let him know the prophecy's taken care of."

Buffy nodded gratefully. All she wanted to do was escape...and sleep was the best way to do that. Slipping in between the covers, she snuggled closer to her stuffed pig as Willow kissed her forehead lightly and moved away from the bed, the crumpled piece of paper in her hand. The room was bathed in darkness, the light from the moon and the stars above the only protection against the black of the night.

Buffy closed her eyes as she silently belittled herself for ever getting involved with Riley in the first place. She shouldn't have taken the risk. A broken heart was better than having an unbeating one.

Wasn't it?

Buffy fell asleep with that thought in her mind, her dreams immediately filled with Angel.

****************

Back downstairs, things were rather grim. "She's not of the good right now," Willow informed them as she slid into one of the empty chairs.

"Gee, I would've never guessed," Anya said sarcastically. Willow ignored her.

"We need to get Angel here. Pronto," she said firmly. The others, though some loathed the idea, nodded.

"And the million dollar question is...how? I mean, Dead Boy was pretty adamant about leaving town for good. I kinda have a feeling we won't be able to convince him to come back," Xander said. Oz raised an eyebrow.

"Adamant? Sneaking around with a Webster's behind our backs, Xander?" Oz asked. Xander blushed slightly.

"Some lady said it at work today. I had to look it up and use it, it makes me feel smart," Xander replied.

"Gotta preserve those moments, you sure don't get a lot of them," Spike muttered. Everyone's gaze turned to him.

"What was that?" Xander asked. Spike sighed. Why did he put up with these mortals again? How he longed for the good old days, when he and Dru and Angelus had wreaked havoc and mayhem everywhere and had a bloody good time.

"Getting back to the whole Angel thing," Willow said with a pointed look to Spike. "How are we gonna get him here?"

"Your little Prom Queen and I have a plan," Spike announced. The others stared at him, surprise and shock easily identified.

"You and Cordy?" Willow squeaked. Spike nodded and looked rather proud of himself. "Plotting to bring Buffy and Angel back together? You suddenly feeling the urge to brood and feel sorry for yourself?" she demanded.

"No, I don't have my bloody soul back, thank Lucifer," Spike said.

"Lucifer?" Xander echoed. Spike rolled his eyes.

"You don't think I'd actually thank God, do you? That's sacrilegious."

"Okay, you just made a whole sense that doesn't resemble sense at all," Xander said. Willow, wanting to get everyone back on track, began to pace.

"I can't believe you'd actually do something like that for her. maybe there's hope for you yet," Willow teased. Spike grumbled.

"Yeah, well don't let it get out. Got a rep to protect and all."

****************

BRRRINNNGGG.

Angel groaned slightly and opened his eyes, blinking for a moment in the darkness before his night vision adjusted and the room became as clear as it would be for a human in the sunlight. He glanced at the clock, then cursed and threw off the covers. 11:30. Cordelia had let him sleep in.

Usually he wouldn’t need anyone to wake him up. He only needed a few hours of sleep and he got them in the middle of the day, spending the rest of the time waiting impatiently for night, when he could patrol. Usually, he spent them thinking of her. Lately though, he’d been having nightmares. His sleep was restless and hard to come by. He hadn’t even been able to get to sleep that day until nearly 5:00. Still, he shouldn’t have slept this long, a couple hours was usually sufficient. And Cordelia should have woken him by 9:00 at least.

BRRRIINNNNG, the phone rang again. Rubbing at his eyes, Angel reached for the phone. This was probably Cordelia herself, though she usually just walked down to his apartment and banged on the door until he woke up and let her in.

"Hello?" he asked, trying to clear his mind of the images of his dreams. Images of her.

"Angel?" He blinked, waking up really quickly.

"Willow?" he ventured. There was a little sigh on the other end of the line.

"Yeah, it’s me. Um…Angel, something really horrible happened and—" Angel felt his entire body, his soul, his heart, his mind, freeze in terror.

"Is Buffy all right?" he demanded, his voice harsh with fear.

"Oh, yeah, she’s fine," Willow replied quickly. "Physically anyway." If he was human, he would have breathed a sigh of relief. As it was, he relaxed slightly.

"How did you get my number?" he asked.

"Oh, Sp—Cordelia," she said quickly. He frowned slightly. Well, that must be where Cordelia was getting all her gossip from. He didn’t know she and Willow were on such good terms.

"What happened?" he asked, dreading the answer. If Buffy was hurt, at all, in any way…

"Do you know who Riley Finn is?" Willow asked. Angel’s heart seized again, at the name. Riley Finn. The guy that was giving Buffy everything he could not. The guy that took Buffy out on dates, that kissed her good night. When Angel answered in the affirmative, it sounded suspiciously like a growl. "Well, we just found out that he…he was trying to kill Buffy. He was sent by some kind of demon or something. And he’s dead. Spike killed him."

Conflicting emotions ran through Angel. On the one hand, he had no reason to be jealous anymore. On the other, Buffy had to be in great pain. To find out the man she was dating had been trying to kill her, and to lose him…Angel ached to comfort her. Of course, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know how much she was hurting. That would tell him how much she had cared about Riley. And then there was the pure, murderous rage. How could anyone dare try and kill his Buffy?

But she wasn’t his anymore. He was the one that walked away.

He wanted to rip Riley Finn apart with his bare hands. Apparently, he was a little late. How could Spike kill him? It was Angel’s right. Angel’s kill—he cut that thought off abruptly, recognizing the blood lust rising in him. It didn’t matter. As long as he was dead, it didn’t matter. Though he couldn’t figure out why Spike would go to the effort to kill him. Angel had always had the impression Spike would like Buffy better not breathing.

"Angel?" Willow asked hesitantly. He started, remembering the witch on the phone.

"Sorry. Yes?"

"Well, Buffy’s really upset. She really needs you," Willow said softly. For the third time, he felt a chill through him. Of course. She needed him, and he couldn’t go. He couldn’t do that to her. In the end, it would only hurt her more. She didn’t deserve that. His eyes found the picture of her, smiling and laughing, the sunlight dancing in her hair. She was so beautiful. She deserved so much more than he could ever give her.

"I can’t," Angel answered in a firm voice. Willow made a little sound.

"But Angel, she feels really guilty and she misses you so mu—"

"I can’t," he repeated. "I’m sorry Willow. I have to go." Before she could say another word, torture him with more images of Buffy suffering, he hung up the phone. Moving slowly, as if in pain, he stood up and walked over to his closet, throwing it open. He had to get out, he had to spend the pain somehow, and beating up vampires seemed the option of choice lately. He’d stop and tell Cordelia on the way out.

Just as Angel walked towards the door, fully dressed and armed with stakes, the phone rang.

He glanced at it, then realized he couldn’t very well ignore all his phone calls. He doubted Willow would try again, after all. "Hello?" he asked, picking it up.

"Hey, Dead Boy."

Angel stifled a growl. Xander. Not who he wanted to talk to right now.

"Don’t call me Dead Boy," Angel told him menacingly.

"You don’t frighten me!" Xander exclaimed, then added in a subdued tone, "So, why aren’t you coming? Buffy needs you. And I’m the last person who wants to admit that, believe me."

"Xander, it’s better this way. I’ll only hurt her more if I come back," Angel replied, then hung up the phone. He turned on his answering machine, in case they tried to call again before he could get out the door, or Cordelia finally remembered his existence, then walked out the door, slamming it shut behind him.

****************

"I can’t believe you won’t go back! I mean, hello, how would you feel if you found out your new boytoy…I mean, girltoy or whatever…had been plotting to kill you? Pretty darn bad, I’ll assure you!" Cordelia exclaimed, emphasizing her speech with pokes to Angel’s chest. He turned away and opened his door, walking into his dark apartment. Cordelia followed him, turning on a light, and making a face at his décor as she did every time she came to his apartment.

"I told you, I’d just make it worse," Angel said firmly. Cordelia rolled her eyes and wandered over to his beeping message machine. Her eyes widened suddenly.

"Wow, Angel, popular much?" she asked. He frowned and walked over to her. His dark eyes widened slightly. Thirteen messages? In five hours? He pressed the play button and asked Cordelia if she wanted a drink. She got a Coke from the fridge and sat down to listen.

"Hi, Angel, this is Oz. Buffy’s upstairs locked in her room. You should come."

Beep.

"Man of many words," Angel said.

"Oh, and you’re so talkative," Cordelia replied. He waved her silent as the next message came on.

"Um, this is Anya. Remember me? Anyway, Buffy won’t come out of her room now and she won’t let any of us in and well, it’s my room too! Anyway, everyone says she would let you in, and then maybe you could get her out and I could get to my clothes? So please come, okay? Otherwise I have to share a room with vampire-guy!" There was a snarl in the background and a slight yelp form Anya, and then the machine cut off.

Angel arched his eyebrows at Cordelia, who’s eyes were narrowed in hatred.

Beep.

"It’s me again," Willow’s voice said. "Please Angel, I know you’re probably out patrolling, cause Cordelia’s not home either, but I’m getting worried about Buffy. I can hear her in her room, but she won’t acknowledge us or unlock the door. Please, I know she’ll listen to you. Please come."

Beep.

"Hey, how many messages is this now? It’s getting kinda late, but luckily we have no school or work tomorrow, so we can keep calling till you get home. It would be a big help if you’d come. For Buffy, of course, but well, Anya’s trying to weasel her way into sleeping in my room tonight, and if you can prevent that, I would be eternally grateful. Even to you. This is Xander, signing off."

"What?!" Cordelia shrieked. Angel smirked.

"Guess you know how it feels," he told her. She glared.

Beep.

"Angel, this is Whistler. Bad news about the Slayer. Call me."

"Well at least one wasn’t from them," Angel muttered.

"Out of thirteen," Cordelia replied, taking a sip of her drink. "Unlucky number."

Beep.

Willow. Beep. Oz. Beep. Anya. Beep. Xander. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

"Angel, this is Willow. We’re going to bed. Please come as soon as you can? Buffy’s really miserable, we don’t know how to help. We can’t. Just, please come. For Buffy. Good night."

Beep.

"End of messages," the machine said. Cordelia untucked her legs (she’d curled them up beneath her while listening to the stream of messages). Angel looked away.

"You should go," Cordelia said, standing up. He didn’t look at her. "I’m going to bed. I’ll stop by tomorrow before I go to work." She had an audition the next day, he thought vaguely. An important one. How could he remember that? Buffy needed him.

"Good night," he said dully. She paused in the doorway, watching him with compassion in her eyes, then shook her head.

"Good night," she replied, and left the dark, dreary apartment. Angel walked into his bedroom and sat on the red satin sheets of his large bed. He sat that way a long time, looking at the picture of her.

Part Ten

BRRRINNNNGGGG!

Angel moaned and turned over, glancing at the clock. 11:30. In the morning. Why was someone calling him during the day? They knew he slept. He’d already talked to Cordelia, and wished her luck at her audition. She really wanted to be an actress.

BRRRRINNNGG!

He remembered the night before and sat up, reaching for the phone. Maybe it wasn’t them. "Hello?" he asked.

"It’s Willow," she said at once. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the headboard.

"Yes?"

"You’ve got to come Angel, she’s still in her room and she won’t come out. Plus Spike and Anya are driving the rest of us crazy, they’re constantly bickering. Please help?"

"I’m sorry Willow, I can’t come," Angel told her and hung up. That had to be the end of it. They had to know they weren’t going to change his mind. He lay down and closed his eyes, willing sleep to return.

Just as he hovered on the brink, the phone rang again. Cursing, he sat up. "Hello?" he asked roughly as he picked up.

"Hey! What’s the up?" Xander asked cheerfully.

"Xander, I’m trying to sleep," Angel told him with barely supressed annoyance.

"Well none of us can, since Anya’s locked out of her room. Not to mention the fact that how well do you think Buffy’s sleeping right about now? I mean, really. How well would you sleep in her position?"

"Xander, I’m not coming," Angel nearly growled. "Good bye." He hung up heavily and lay back down on his back, staring up at the ceiling. Slowly he closed his eyes and tried to beckon sleep back. It came slowly, sliding over him like the shadows of twilight over a picnic on a sunny day.

BRRRRINNNGG.

Angel growled and fumbled at the phone, managing to switch off the ringer. The answering machine would pick it up, in case anyone other than the Scooby Gang called. He turned onto his side, but somehow, this time, sleep took a long time returning.

****************

"He’s screening his calls," Oz reported. Willow sighed with discouragement, then brightened up a little.

"Well, at least that means he’s listening, right? So we just have to keep calling. Eventually he’ll get the message."

"What planet are you living on Will?" Xander inquired, sitting down at the table with a bowl of cereal, looking mighty bleary eyed. Anya refused to sleep in the living room, insisting that Xander had plenty of room for both of them. So when she finally managed to weasel her way into his room, she then spent the entire night trying to throw Spike out. Xander hadn’t slept in two days. He was seriously considering moving to the den, though Anya would probably follow him and being alone with her would probably be just as bad, or possibly worse. It would help if Cordelia wasn’t making amused comments about it every time he talked to her about Angel’s reaction (Spike had been calling every few hours in case Angel changed his mind, and sometimes the other Slayerettes called while Spike was otherwise occupied).

"Come on guys, you gotta have energy. And faith. He can’t ignore us forever. Besides, Buffy needs us. She needs him, but she needs us to get him."

The Slayer had come out once, the night before, for dinner, but she’d hardly talked to them. She’d looked…empty. It was frightening to see, and had renewed their determination.

"Well…" Xander said, then suddenly his face brightened. "Hey guys, I got a plan!"

****************

Angel looked up from his book as the phone rang again. He paused a moment, then went back to reading. Since the day before he’d been screening his calls. The portable phone sat nearby in case it was someone he wanted to talk to.

Beep.

"Hey Angel," Xander’s voice greeted him. "How are ya? I know you’re listening, so I’m just gonna talk to you for a while. How does that sound? Pretty darn good, I’d say. Let’s see, what to talk about?"

Angel moaned softly and tried to focus on his book. "Ooh, I got it! You’ve never heard about my old dog, Crinkle. Do you like dogs? They probably have some kind of un-dead sense though, don’t they? So they wouldn’t like you. Dogs are great though, they’re loyal and fun, and hey, they chew up all the furniture! You gotta love them. Anyway, my dog Crinkle. We got him when I was seven. Crinkle—you’ll see why the name in a minute—was a puppy. He was a labrador golden retriever mix. You know, I’ve always liked labrador’s. They’re big, and black, and enthusiastic. Always a good quality in a dog."

Angel shifted irritably, wishing that Xander would shut up. He couldn’t even talk about something vaguely interesting? No, he had to interupt Angel’s life talking about his dog. His fake dog. Buffy had told him once that Xander had never had any pets. That didn’t stop Xander though, who continued prattling, "So when I was eight, we went to the…uh, to this house where they had a bunch of puppies. Yeah. I knew Crinkle right away—have I told you yet how he got his name? That’s a great story! Anyway, I knew him right away. See, he peed on me." Xander laughed loudly. "Yeah, that was funny! Mom wasn’t too happy though. Anyway, am I boring you? I’m sure I couldn’t possibly be. Besides, I have to tell you how he got his name, it was the funniest story. It all started the day after we got him…"

****************

"…so Willow slapped Jesse upside the head, cause you know, he was being stupid, and then I stepped in and told them to make up, cause they were both sorry. Plus, Willow had already slapped Jesse upside the head. So they made up and we were all friends again. Until your girlfriend turned Jesse into a vampire and had to kill him…but that’s a different story anyway."

Angel glanced at his watch. Fifty-two minutes. Xander had been talking for fifty-two minutes. Every time the answering machine cut him off (about every ten or fifteen minutes) he called back and started right where he left off. Angel was going insane.

"So Angel, you want to pick up anytime soon?" Xander inquired. "Cause I have all day." Angel growled and stood up, throwing down his book. It was still bright sunlight outside. He had nowhere to go. What he wouldn’t do to get his hands around Xander’s skinny neck right that moment…

He wouldn’t go back. That was what he wouldn’t do. He wanted to, so much. He wanted to run back and hold Buffy tightly in his arms and tell her it was all right, it would all be all right. But he couldn’t. If he went back, he’d never be able to leave again. And if he couldn’t leave, then Buffy would never have the life she deserved. He couldn’t go back.

"Well, okay," Xander said after a moment. "I guess you’re not gonna pick up. You really should come though, Buffy needs you."

Click.

Blessed silence.

BRRRINNNGGG.

"Oops, I forgot one thing…just kidding. Did I scare ya?"

Click. Angel glared at the phone. There was silence, complete, utter silence and finally he sat down, picking his book up again. He found his place and began reading again.

Five minutes later, the phone rang again.

"Hi, Angel, I’m not gonna talk forever like Xander, I promise," Willow’s voice said hesitantly. "I just…well, I really wish you would reconsider. You’re hurting Buffy more by staying away than you would if you came back, I know it. Bye." Angel sighed. She didn’t know how much he longed to go back. She didn’t understand why he couldn’t, none of them did. None of them understood why he’d left in the first place. He glanced at his watch, then went back to reading. He wasn’t really tired enough to go to bed yet.

Ten minutes later, the phone rang again.

"Um, Angel, it’s me again. I’m really sorry to bother you. I just thought you might like to know that Buffy never really liked Riley very much. If that’s what’s bothering you. We kind of all fixed her up, cause we thought it would be good for her, but she didn’t like him. He was kind of boring. Very boring. Anyway, I thought you might want to know. Sorry to disturb you."

Angel brightened a little at the news. Cordelia had said something about Riley being boring, but Angel wasn’t so sure that was Buffy’s opinion. Well, small mercies anyway. He couldn’t stand the thought of her being in love with someone else. Just the thought of her dating someone else was enough to make his blood boil with jealousy and pain. He loved her so much.

But he shouldn’t be thinking about Buffy. That way led to trouble. Angel focused on his book again.

Ten minutes passed. The phone rang.

"Okay, I know, you’re probably trying to sleep or something, but none of us are getting any sleep either! Anya and Spike are still bickering and you can hear them all the way up in my room—Oz and my room, that is—so last night I couldn’t sleep hardly at all and I went and sat outside Buffy’s room and I could hear her in there, she didn’t sleep. She was just pacing, and crying sometimes and please, Angel, I can’t help her but I know you can! Please?" Angel blinked at her impressive lung capacity, trying to ignore the content of the message. Except he didn’t want to ignore it, he wanted to go to her.

Why did it have to be like this?

"I thought I was past regrets," Angel murmured, standing up and putting down the book. On the answering machine, a shriek and a masculine bellow of rage—Spike’s, Angel identified—sounded.

"Um, I have to go," Willow said. "Please come Angel."

Restless, he began to pace, grabbing a random remote control from the table and switching on the stereo. Some random pop song assaulted his ears and he changed it to a classical station and turned it down, wondering if he should turn it up, try and drown out their calls. Turning suddenly, he strode over to the answering machine and hit play. It began with the day before. He made himself listen to them, one after the other, until he couldn’t take any more. He hit the delete button, and they vanished. Just like that. If only it was so easy to make them stop coming.

BRRRRINNNGGG.

"Okay, I understand that you might not want to talk to me, and you might even be annoyed with all of us for calling constantly, but think about Buffy!" Willow’s voice shrilled into the machine. "Okay, you vow your undying love and the one time she needs you you can’t even face her? I mean, you’re never gonna die, you could take time for a little road trip! She deserves that much! How dare you do this to her!"

Angel blinked, stunned. Willow was angry. At him. Willow was furious.

There was a pause. Silence.

"Um, okay, I’m done now. But I’m still angry!"

Click.

More silence. Angel heard the accusing words again, over and over in his mind. How dare they accuse him of callousness? They were the ones interupting his life, invading his home. He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t read, he couldn’t even listen to music!

Before he could stop himself, Angel found himself yanking the phone out of the wall and hurling it against the door. With vampire strength, that did a lot of damage. As in, little pieces of phone scattered around the room.

"Um, Angel, are you going to throw something else at me if I come in?" a voice asked hesitantly from the other side of the door. Angel blinked and moaned softly.

"Come in Cordelia," he murmured. The door inched open and she peeked her head around, eyeing him warily. Satisfied that he had no possible projectiles in his immediate reach, she opened the door the rest of the way and stepped inside, carefully avoiding the broken plastic all over the floor. She arched her eyebrows at him.

"Now now, aren’t we a little old for temper tantrums?" she inquired. Angel growled. She compressed her lips. "Or not. Is there any particular reason you decided to utterly destroy your phone? Is the mob hunting you down? Or those telemarketers, they can really be a pain but I don’t thi—"

"Cordelia," Angel said in a dangerously low voice. She faced him with her hands on her hips.

"Don’t you ‘Cordelia’ me! You’re the one leaving the love of your life in severe emotional distress!" she exclaimed, her eyes flashing. He watched her wearily, wishing he had more resolution than he’d ever been able to find. They were wearing him down, and if he gave in…no, he couldn’t think about that. He had to be strong. For Buffy.

"What do you want Cordelia?" he asked quietly, all anger dissapearing. She lost the indignation and eyed him with something akin to pity.

"I just wanted to see how you were," she replied in a similar tone, then found herself again and rolled her eyes. "Nice to know you think I’m worth a phone. Even if it is sent towards my head."

****************

"He destroyed his phone?" Willow squeaked. Spike winced at the sound and eyed her with annoyance.

"What did I just say?" he demanded. She took a step backwards into Oz’s comforting arms.

"So what do we do now?" the sometimes-werewolf asked. Spike shrugged.

"How the bloody hell should I know?" he muttered. "You might be able to use Queenie’s phone to reach him, but I doubt it’ll help. He hasn’t seemed to receptive as of yet."

"Not when we’ve tried," Xander said suddenly. They all turned to look at him.

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Anya demanded, before remembering who she was talking to and smiling sweetly at him. She darted a venomous glance at Spike, just because. He growled at her, before turning his attention back to the matter at hand.

"It means," Xander replied, "that others might have more luck. People Angel’s known for longer." His dark eyes shifted to Spike. One by one, they all followed. Spike groaned.

"I get stuck with everything! I have to kill that shagging idiot, Scale, I babysit the Slayer, I work with Cordelia, I have to put up with Demon Girl over there, and now you want me to try and talk sense into Soul Boy?"

The group exchanged glances. "Uh, yeah." "Pretty much." "Uh huh." "What do you mean Demon Girl? If I had my powers—"

****************

"This so isn’t going to work," Cordelia informed him for the umpteenth time. Spike supressed a growl, something he was doing an awful lot lately. And why was he doing it anyway? He should grab his chance while the Slayer was holed up in her room and do some quality snacking…starting with Anya. But then again, knowing Anya, she’d probably taste particularly foul.

"It wasn’t my idea," he snapped.

"Yeah, you already told me. It’s not like a don’t want it to work. Oh man, you better not talk for a long time, this is gonna rack up my phone bills," Cordelia sighed. Spike could hear her foot tapping as she waited for the elevator to Angel’s rooms.

"Well if you hadn’t let Soul Boy break his bloody phone, we wouldn’t have to use your cell phone," Spike sniped back. He was really not looking forward to this, since it meant revealing actual feelings to Angel, of all vampires. Or people, he supposed.

"I did not let him break the phone. He threw it at my head…or, at the door, and I was behind the door. What do you think, I invited him to almost cause me extreme bodily harm?" The elevator dinged and Cordelia’s heels tapped as she walked on. Spike flopped onto the couch, putting his feet up on the table and earning a reproving look from Willow, who had adopted the role of House Mother while Buffy was otherwise detained. He gave her a look right back and covered the reciever of the phone.

"Uh, could you all clear out?" he asked, shooing them away with one hand.

"Your nail polish is chipped," Anya told him snottily as she huffed out of the room. Willow went reluctantly, making him promise to call her if anything happened. Xander took one look at Anya, poised at the door of his room, and followed Willow and Oz upstairs. Anya gave them a disgusted look and followed. Spike shook his head and returned his attention to Miss Prom Queen USA.

"Spike, what did I tell you about the nail polish?" Cordelia asked, obviously trying not to laugh. Spike did growl that time.

"Less commentary please. Just take the shaggin’ phone to Angel and get lost," he told her. He could almost see Cordelia rolling her eyes.

"And how come you’re suddenly Boss Guy? Excuse me, who is orchestrating this whole thing? Who’s been putting up with Angel’s moping for months, just so we know he’s not off doing something stupid? Hello, a little credit please?"

"Whatever," Spike grumbled. "You haven’t got him here yet, have you?"

"Hey, this is not an easy guy to manipulate! He cares nothing about what I wear! It’s depressing! He never even compliments my new hairstyles! It’s Buffy this, and Buffy that…You try to get him to do anything!" Cordelia exclaimed. Spike leaned his head back against the couch and closed his eyes, shaking his head. Very slowly, with extremely clear enunciation, he said,

"That’s. What. I’m. Bloody. Trying. To. Do." The elevator dinged again and Cordelia’s heels began clicking again.

"Well you don’t have to go all postal on me. You know, you screwed up big time on your end, so stop lecturing me. Buffy isn’t supposed to be holed up in her room, getting more and more depressed," Cordelia said.

"Just give Angel the phone," Spike replied between gritted teeth. Deathly silence, broken only by the click of heels on the halls of the apartment building. Moments later there was a knock. Spike relaxed slightly, waiting.

"Cordelia," Angel said, his voice faint.

"Hi Angel. There’s someone that wants to talk to you, and since you broke your phone…um, could you not take to long? Cause I’m expecting an important call from my agent," Cordelia said, her voice faint as well, as if her hand was pressed over the receiver. Spike gritted his teeth again.

"I don’t want to tal–"

"It’s not Willow or Xander," Cordelia cut Angel off. "Please, just for a minute?" There was a pause and then Angel made a noise of agreement. Spike waited.

"Hello?" Angel asked.

"Angel, long time no talk you bloody bastard. What you been up to?" Spike asked in mock-cheerfulness.

"Spike?" Angel demanded. "What the Hell–"

"That’s a great way to greet a friend," Spike admonished easily.

"Let’s not go that far," Angel replied. Spike dropped the façade and sat up, bringing his feet ot the floor abruptly.

"No, Angel, let’s not. You’re currently destroying a young woman’s heart and soul, you know that? And you say you’re doing it for her. At least without the soul you admitted you were evil," Spike snorted in contempt. Angel was taken aback, and the pause after Spike’s words showed it.

"What do you know about it?" Angel asked finally, his voice getting that anguished, soulful tone that disgusted Spike so much.

"A hell of a lot more than you do, obviously. You know, I’ve only been here for what, two weeks or something? Less. And it didn’t take half of that to figure out the Slayer is doing really badly. You know what she was doing when I got here? Eating icing in the kitchen at 3 a.m. You may not know much about women Angel, but I’m here to tell you that’s not a bloody good sign."

"Buffy can eat icing in the middle of the night without me coming back to ruin her life," Angel replied through gritted teeth. Spike nearly grinned. Angel was angry, that was a good sign. Spike could use anger.

"Now, see, that’s where you’re wrong Soul Boy," Spike remarked, standing up and circling the couch. "Cause you wouldn’t be ruining her life. She’s doing a good enough job of that on her own."

"You’re one to talk Spike," Angel snapped. Spike tapped his fingers on the living room table.

"Now, let’s take Riley Finn for incidence. Dense, boring as Heaven–Lucifer I don’t know why anyone’d want to go there anyway. Where’s the fun in sitting around playing shaggin’ harps all day?–talks like shit, oh, and planning to kill her. Buffy in her right mind wouldn’t have looked twice at the guy, but Buffy sick with missing you–now, I can’t personally attest to why, but she does–would look at just about anyone. What if I hadn’t been here? The guy might have actually had a chance at her. She could have died. Even if she managed to defend herself, or dumped him before that, this would only be the beginning. Any guy that so much as asks for her number is gonna find a very depressed Slayer on their hands, willing to do anything to try and forget you. Except it won’t work. She’ll just keep sinking lower and lower until she’s dating some sixty year old sleezeball that works at the local gas station and only has ten teeth!"

Okay, so that might be a slight exaggeration. But he was getting his point across.

"Buffy’s not stupid, she wouldn’t do that," Angel said tightly. A ghost of a smile crossed Spike’s face. He was getting to him.

"Well, maybe not. But maybe she would. Anyway, let’s move on, shall we? Let’s tackle the issue of why you were idiotic enough to leave in the first place, and why you won’t come back," Spike suggested.

"It’s none of your busi–"

"It is now," Spike said, interupting. "The sooner you tell me all about it, the sooner I’ll leave you alone to your little framed picture of Buffy, all right?"

Angel nearly growled. Definitely a good sign.

"I left because she deserves a normal life. She deserves kids and sunsets and to grow old next to someone. I’ll never grow old." Spike snorted.

"Oh, yeah, I’m sure she’d regret walking around with you on her arm when she’s fifty and telling everyone you’re married. I can just see her hating that one."

"That’s not the point," Angel said stiffly.

"Right. Kids. When exactly do you think she’ll be having these kids? Perhaps when all the nice little demons decide to go on back down to Hell for nine months? Oh, and there’s always the nursing, and I’m sure those little tykes would do just great on her back while she patrols. And the whole marriage thing? One, she’s never gonna get over you. Two, she couldn’t very well marry someone that didn’t know what she was, it might be a little suspicious if she disappeared every night, you know. And it’s not every day she meets some guy that’s totally all right with the fact she goes out and fights vampires every night."

"You don’t understan–"

"I understand perfectly well. You’re bloody scared Angel. You’re scared and you’re putting it on her. Well that’s a load of bulshit. Come on, you’re 244, you can’t face a little fear?"

"You can’t let me finish a sentence?" Angel snapped.

"But they’re such stupid sentences," Spike replied airily.

"Are you done yet?" Angel growled.

"Sorry, no. Where was I? Well, I think we’ve covered that topic. Let’s move on to Buffy."

"I’ve heard about Buffy," Angel said quietly, in a heavily controlled voice. Spike sat in one of the chairs at the table.

"No, you’ve heard about the fact Buffy’s locked up in her room. That’s just the tip of bloody iceberg my friend. In fact, that’s like a centimeter of the bloody iceberg. You see, Buffy isn’t just upset by the fact her new boytoy was a homicidal looney. In fact, I doubt that bothers her much at all. She never liked Riley much. Mostly she’s up there because every moment she’s reminded of how much she misses you. Every time she sees anything, or does anything, it somehow takes her mind straight to you, and she gets all mopey and depressed. Personally, I don’t find you that loveable, but whatever floats your boat…"

"How do you know any of this? Buffy just told you?" Angel demanded in an extremely unbelieving tone.

"As a matter of fact," Spike replied quietly, "yes." All bravado vanished from his voice. "She misses you Angel. It’s like a sickness. She hardly functions anymore. All she can do is think about how much she misses you. And if you don’t show up–and bloody quick–I might add, it’s gonna eat her up."

"Why do you even care about this Spike? Why do you care about Buffy?" Angel asked quietly. Spike shrugged, then realized Angel couldn’t see him.

"Who knows? I guess I feel sorry for the chit. She’s got so much on her shoulders, you know? And now, to top it all off, she’s miserable. Poor girl’s never known anything except destiny, and you can’t even stay around to help her out?" Without meaning to, Spike’s voice had grown soft and sincere. Bloody Hell, had he just admitted true feelings to Angel?

He glanced up and his eyes met Anya’s soft brown ones. The former demon was standing at the top of the stairs, watching him with an odd look in her eyes. It changed suddenly when she realized he saw her, and she fled quickly into the den. Spike’s eyes narrowed, but he turned his attention back to Angel.

"I have to go Spike," Angel said quietly, his voice full of pain.

"No," Spike replied, "You have to come."

There was silence, and then the click of a phone hanging up. Spike stared at the phone for a moment, then switched it off and leaned back in his chair, putting his feet up on the table. If anything was going to do it, that should be it.

Still, he hated telling the truth. Especially to Soul Boy.

Part Eleven

The door to Cordelia’s apartment opened with a bang as Angel stormed in. She had...accidentally left it unlocked. Better to be robbed than not have a door. Angel would've ripped the stupid thing off its hinges before he waited for Cordelia to unlock and open it. She was seated on her couch, the television blaring on in the background about some psychic group.

Angel was practically fuming as he strode up to her and tossed her cell phone at her. She caught it with ease and glared at him.

"Could you try *not* to keep throwing stuff at me? Particularly phones. Call me crazy, but I really don't feel like being beheaded by you, Angel," she snapped as she placed the phone on the end table next to her. Angel gave her a look. "So? What's the verdict?"

"I'm leaving at sunset. You can come if you want," he said shortly.

"And you say Oz is a man of many words..." she muttered. Angel shot her another annoyed look. "Wow, Spike must've really ruffled your feathers, Angel. Haven't seen you this worked up in a long time," she said.

"This has nothing to do with Spike," he told her.

"Right, it's all about your precious Buffy. I know," she replied as she picked up a nail file and inspected her manicured nails. "Spike just helped you change your mind?"

Angel was silent for a moment. "Yeah, I guess he did. I mean, if *he's* feeling sorry for her, it must be bad. I just want to go and let her know she's not alone."

Cordelia smiled. "Isn't that sweet of you," she commented as she worked on her nails.

"So are you coming?" he asked, beginning to pace. Cordelia laughed at the distress he was obviously in.

"Anxious to leave, Angel?" she replied. He swung his head to her and met her shining eyes with his brooding ones.

"Are you?" he asked again between clenched teeth. She sighed and nodded.

"Sure, I might as well pay them a visit. I've heard their house is absolutely yummy," she said. Angel was instantly suspicious.

"From who? Last time I checked, there wasn't any love lost between you and all them," Angel said. She laughed and brushed his comment off.

"I have my sources," she said.

"And you say I'm cryptic," he muttered. Smiling sweetly, she gazed up at him with innocent eyes.

"You wouldn't believe it if I told you, Angel. Leave it at that."

Angel stopped his pacing and stared at her for a moment, trying to figure her secret out. Her eyes gave away nothing. She barely contained the excitement she felt at her plans finally coming together, but she couldn't let Angel know anything about them. Yet. Shaking his head as thought to clear it, he sighed.

"You know, Angel, you don't look too good. Maybe you should go sleep before we leave," she suggested, biting back a grin. Angel shot her a venomous look.

"I wonder why," he said sarcastically. "I've just been kept up for the last day and a half by everyone I know calling and leaving messages. Xander talked for an hour. *One hour.* About nothing! And then Willow got mad and Spike called and I'm about to go crazy," he growled.

"Well," Cordelia said, her laughter almost coming out. "Your phone is now scattered into little pieces all over your apartment so I don't think you'll be disturbed." Angel gave her a look and shook his head as he backed towards the door.

"Call Doyle and tell him what's going on," Angel told her.

"Do I have to? You know how I feel about hi--" At Angel's look she shut up.

"I'll meet you outside in two hours," he told her as he turned and left.

Cordelia stared at the door after it was closed. Smirking, she turned back to her nails. "Finally he listens. Gotta give Spike some credit, whatever he said was good. Of course, I get most of it, it *was* my idea after all..."

****************

Angel winced as Cordelia swerved around yet another car on the highway. "Could you try to get us there in one piece?" he asked. From the driver's seat, Cordelia glowered at him.

"Relax, Angel. Even if we were in an accident, you have nothing to worry about. You can't be killed by reckless driving," she said as she hit the gas once more. Angel unconsciously gripped the armrest of his convertible.

"I don't need that Whedon guy getting angry at me for letting you kill yourself before your big break," he told her. She grinned brilliantly at him at the mention of her good news.

"Okay, okay, I get the picture. If I die now, I don't get to make my new movie and Cordelia Chase doesn't become a household name," she said with a grin. "But I haven't crashed yet, Angel. And I've been driving for three years."

"It's not you I'm worried about, Cordy," Angel told her teasingly. "It's my car."

"How very guy-like of you," she replied. Angel laughed softly and glanced out the window. Highway stretched for miles in both directions, short trees on either side. The stars sparkled like gems in the night sky and the moon shone brightly in its fullness. The air seemed to cackle with excitement at the two lovers being reunited once more and Angel couldn't help but feel nervous.

"Angel, this movie is gonna be it. I'm gonna be huge. Everyone will want to work with me because I'll be so good. No more secretary job--no offense, you know I appreciate it but it’s just not for me--no more not being able to make rent. This'll be it," Cordelia was babbling. When she started talking in depth about the plot of her new project Angel tuned her out.

He honestly didn't know what would happen when he saw Buffy again. She probably wouldn't be too happy to see him. He *had* kind of abandoned her, after all. Angel wasn't sure what to expect, but he knew he had to face this. Face her. But he was scared. Scared that she didn't really love him anymore, scared that she wouldn't forgive him. He didn't know what he would do if she didn't want to see him.

But wasn't that to be expected? He had left her without giving her a say in it at all. He had listened to her mother, someone who should have had no say in what happened to their relationship, instead of listening to her. Something that was meant to be for her own benefit had seemed selfish when it had played out.

Angel frowned at his brooding thoughts and tried to focus on the scenery. It didn't change, there were no houses along the road, just concrete and short, stubby grass and small trees. The radio blared some teenybopper song, some guys singing a sappy song about puppy love and always being together. With a frown, he switched to an alternative rock station, the hard, biting music and lyrics matching his mood perfectly.

"Practicing for the Olympics, Angel? I hear they're adding Brooding as a new category. You'd be a shoo-in," Cordelia said over the loud, pulsating music.

"Concentrate on the road, Cordelia. You don't have enough money to buy me a new car yet," he retorted and crossed his arms in front of his chest, sinking into the seat once more and letting thoughts of his love consume him.

"You know," she remarked, interupting his thoughts, "I still don’t understand why you bought a like forty-five thousand dollar car anyway. One, it’s a convertible, so you can’t drive it during the day, and two, you don’t even want to drive!" Angel glared, annoyed at her for breaking him away from his melancholy thoughts.

"I would drive, if you weren’t coming," he informed her coldly. Cordelia rolled her eyes.

"Okay, but don’t snipe at me about the car!" she snapped back.

"So why do you want to come anyway? Hoping for a little reunion with Xander?" Angel demanded, his eyes laughing at her.

Cordelia shut up.

They drove on through the darkened night until Cordelia got off at exit 66. She followed the directions Willow had given her, pulling up in front of the beach house only a few moments later. Lights blazed inside and shouting could be heard as they sat quietly in the car, Anya and Spike once again at each other’s throats. Cordelia turned to Angel and looked at him, concern on her face.

"You ready, Angel?"

The look on his face answered for him.

Buffy's face firmly implanted in his mind, he took an unnecessary breath and opened the car door, his gaze fixed on the door leading inside.

To her.

****************

The sand held the last little bit of warmth from the vanished sun as Buffy dug her toes in. It wasn’t like the night was cold; nights never got very cold in Sunnydale. But she was shivering.

Buffy wrapped her arms around her torso, rubbing absently at her arms in an attempt to warm up. The last little glow had just about vanished from the sky, though the sun had set over an hour before. The picture was gorgeous, the blue of the ocean against the purple twilight of the night sky, stars shimmering into existence as she watched. The water shimmered, lapping up, closer and closer to Buffy’s feet. She didn’t move, didn’t step back. Didn’t care. She’d kind of gotten past the point of caring in the last few days. When Angel hadn’t come.

It wasn’t like she’d expected him to. When he left, she knew in her heart that it was the end. He was gone and she was going to have to live with that. She just wasn’t doing a very good job of it. When she heard them discussing it though, she’d begun to hope. The house was pretty airy, sound carried well. From her position curled up on her bed, wishing she could dissapear, she could hear them talking about calling him, discussing how they would bring him around. Spike and Anya’s bickering had almost made her smile. Almost. But they’d given her hope, only to have it dashed every time the sun came up and he hadn’t come.

He wouldn’t come. Of course he wouldn’t come.

She snuck out at sunset, past the den where her friends were gathered, watching MTV and shushing Spike. She walked down the stairs and out the door and out to the beach, wondering what she was doing, why in the world she wanted to be outside. Why she couldn’t just go into the den and smile and laugh and sing along to the Sugar Ray’s newest single on TRL.

She missed him so much. She loved him so much. And she was ruining her life.

Looking back on the whole Riley debacle, she could see the signs. If she hadn’t been so wrapped up in Angel missage, she would have seen through him right away. She probably would never have talked to him at all. But with Angel gone–

"It’s beautiful, isn’t it?" his voice asked from behind her.

Buffy’s knees collapsed. Seconds later, she was sitting on the sand, blinking in shock.

"Buffy?" he asked quietly, squatting beside her. She turned to look at him, not sure whether she was dreaming or not. She’d dreamt this so many times. In fact, the whole being on the beach thing, that was a big factor in her dreams. She had to be dreaming.

"Angel?" she whispered, her voice holding hope and fear and misery. Their eyes locked, the darkness in his reflecting the ocean waves. Without another word, he enfolded her into his arms, comforting her with his presence, with the love that radiated through him. She hesitated a second, and then turned on the sand, tightening her arms around his neck, until he tumbled to a sitting position, never loosening his hold.

"Oh God, I missed you so much Angel! And I was so stupid, how could I have been so stupid? He was trying to kill me and all the time all I could think about what you and how it should have you there with me. And I almost got myself killed and Giles said he was after you too. I almost got you killed Angel! Oh, I’ve been so lonely! All my friends are here of course, but none of them understand and I missed you so much! I’ve just felt so alone!" Buffy sobbed, her words tumbling over themselves in an effort to get out. It was like she had to tell him, had to let him know it all. And then she couldn’t speak anymore, just cry.

The tears came. Finally, the tears came. All the heartbreak and loneliness, all the guilt and frustrated longing poured out until Buffy felt like her soul was pouring itself in a river down her face, onto his chest. Angel. He echoed through her entire being, filled all the parts of her that had been hollowed for so many months. Buffy let herself cry finally, because he was back. It was over.

Or was it?

Buffy thrust herself away abruptly, sending Angel tumbling onto his back with her Slayer strength. He sat up, looking confused. "Buffy?"

"What are you doing here?" she demanded, feeling the urge to throw something heavy at his head. All she could find was sand. She didn’t even have a shoe.

"They said you were in pain, I couldn’t stay away, Buffy–"

"Oh, and this is helping? Just showing up, having me cry all over you and leaving again?! You think that’s gonna make it better?!" Buffy yelled, leaping to her feet. Angel followed, running a hand through his hair.

"Buffy, you don’t understand, I–"

"Oh, I understand a lot more than you think!" Buffy shot back, her eyes blazing furiously. "I understand that you listened to my mother instead of me, dumped me in a sewer the night before my prom, because you are frightened that somehow I am going to suddenly do an about flip when I turn thirty and kick you out! Believe me, Angel, I understand exactly what you’ve done! I understand that you couldn’t handle the thought you caused me pain, so you came charging back here, thinking you can just fix it and leave again, as if you won’t hurt me ten times as much when you leave again!"

Angel stood dumbfounded, obviously unsure as to what to say to appease Buffy in her current tirade.

She paused and glared at him. There was a pause and she opened her mouth (no doubt to yell at him some more).

"Uh, Buffy, I was planning to stay," Angel said quietly, before she could say anything. "If you’ll have me anyway."

By the time Buffy’s tired mind processed what he had said, she had pushed him backwards into the sand again and was kissing him passionately.

****************

Two figures stood in the window watching the star crossed lovers reunite. For once, Anya and Spike were not fighting. He wasn’t complaining that she was breathing and she wasn’t complaining that he needed a heartbeat. They were silent, observing the two on the moonlit beach. The house was calm and still, Cordelia had gone upstairs with Willow, Oz, and Xander to catch up and joke around. Spike and Anya stood, Spike holding the thick curtain aside casually. He had a cocky grin on his face, admiring his handiwork.

“You know, sometimes men amaze me,” Anya commented, breaking the quiet. Spike looked at her, his eyebrow quirked.

“Coming from your line of work, I’m guessing that doesn’t happen often,” Spike said wryly. Anya glared at him and turned her attention back to Buffy and Angel, who were sitting together on the beach, Angel’s arms wrapped around Buffy’s small frame and her blond head tucked into his chest. They looked so peaceful and happy together, Anya couldn’t help but feel jealous. She had only been exposed to the evil side of men. Seeing two people so content together was a shock to her. Of course, it had been the same way with Willow and Oz.

“I mean, Angel was a jerk for leaving, but when he heard Buffy wasn’t doing well he came back. I think it’s kinda...sweet,” she said, choosing her words carefully. The former demon glanced sideways at the vampire, trying to stop the budding feelings she felt toward him.

“Is Miss High and Mighty having actual feelings now?” Spike asked sarcastically, his gaze meeting hers. “Alert the bloody media.”

“You know, you don’t have to be such a jerk all the time. Men just like you are the reason I punished your kind,” Anya retorted hotly. Spike laughed.

“Kind? What, I’m a bloody stereotype now?” he asked, shaking his blond head in disbelief. Anya sighed, frustrated.

“Well, when you act like a macho pig, you get branded one,” she said.

“Been watching reruns of Saved By The bloody Bell lately?” Spike asked. Anya looked at him, confused. “Geez, Anya, I’m surprised you’ve never heard of the show,” Spike said, pausing. “No, wait, I’m not.”

“I’m sorry if I have better things to do than watch some TV show,” she said hotly.

“Yeah, pulling men’s entrails out their eyeballs really classifies as entertainment,” he replied sarcastically.

“As a matter of fact--” Anya said. Spike cut her off before she could continue.

“The bloody wanker’s been back three minutes and they’re already going at it,” Spike commented, shaking his platinum head and gesturing to the beach. Buffy and Angel were lovingly kissing, small butterfly kisses under the starry night. Anya rolled her eyes.

“True love is too complicated for me,” she said.

“That’s because you’ve never felt it,” Spike replied in a bored tone.

“Oh, and I suppose you have,” Anya said as she looked at his chiseled face once more. Spike caught her staring and she looked away, her cheeks glowing.

“As a matter of fact, pet, I have. Surprising, huh? A big, bad vampire can actually still feel,” he said in a cocky tone.

“Somehow I doubt that,” Anya shot back, her gaze once again on the spectacular view before her. Spike chuckled.

“For an eleven hundred year old demon you sure are dense,” he told her. She gaped at him, her mouth opening and shutting when no sound came out. “True love isn’t something you can fight. It blinds you and makes you weak and vulnerable. But to have someone depend on and love you more than anything on this annoying world is bloody wonderful,” Spike said. Anya raised her eyebrow.

“Spike, getting all mushy on me now? What happened to the leather-wearing, bad-ass vampire I know and hate?” she teased. Spike growled at her.

“He’s spent too much bloody time around annoying ex-demons who bores him to death and fights with him every second of the bloody day when he could be sleeping,” he said sarcastically. Anya scowled at him.

“You just wait until I get my powers back,” she said menacingly. “I’ll--”

“You keep bringing up the whole powers thing. Last time I checked you’re still a college student with a crush on a wanker of a human and a paper due Monday,” Spike said. Buffy and Angel once again caught his attention, each getting up and brushing stray sand away. They joined hands and began slowly walking down the beach.

“There they go. Making up like those cheesy romantic movie couples,” Spike said sarcastically.

“You know, you could be happier for them,” Anya bristled. “You’re the one who got Angel back here and actually got Buffy out of our room. I can finally go change!”

“Into what?” Spike asked. “Your demon costume? You gonna go scare Cordelia away from Fast Food Boy?”

Anya’s shriek of fury echoed through the beach house as she launched herself at Spike.

****************

Cordelia looked up sharply from her vantage point on Xander’s bed when Anya’s scream pierced the peace of the house. She quirked her perfectly sculptured eyebrow at the closed door, catching Xander’s attention. He was seated in his old recliner and he too looked with interest at the door. It faded when no yelling and insults followed and he shrugged back at Cordelia.

“Anya and Spike, round eight hundred and five,” he joked. Cordelia rolled her eyes.

“God, I don’t even live here and I can’t stand the girl. Or ex-demon or whatever she is. How do you put up with her?” Cordy asked, flinging her dark hair over her shoulder. Propped up on her elbow, she gazed around Xander’s rather dark room. The two of them had crept downstairs during Spike and Anya’s conversation, leaving Willow and Oz alone.

“I finally learned how to count to ten when she came. She’s more annoying then those little mosquitoes that are determined to make your life miserable,” Xander replied with a grin. Cordelia laughed, feeling oddly comfortable with him. She and Xander had made their peace the night of Graduation and were now back to being bickering friends.

“Why in the world did Buffy let her live in this amazing house?” she wondered aloud. Xander shrugged.

“She had a lot of money and no place to live. She doesn’t know it, but she pays most of the rent around here,” Xander told her with a sly smile on his face. Cordelia laughed.

“Is it really worth it though? I mean, she must be all over you,” she said, her voice casual but her eyes betraying her emotions. Xander cracked a knowing smile.

“Still as blunt as ever, Cor,” he teased. She blushed and looked away for a moment before her dark eyes once again found his. All traces of laughter were gone as they stared at each other.

“You must really love all the attention, huh?” she asked, her voice holding a trace of sadness that Xander could barely detect. He shook his head.

“I didn’t really notice it. Between walking around in Buffy’s clothes and acting like Buffy and trying to work her demonic charm on me, I learned to ignore her. I had other things on my mind,” he said pointedly. Cordelia licked suddenly dry lips and sat up, her eyes curious.

“Really?” she asked. “And what were you thinking about? How you could use Buffy and Angel’s breakup to your advantage and finally get with her?” Her voice was bitter, and Xander swallowed at it. This conversation was getting incredibly serious. But it was inevitable and he went along with it.

“Nah, Buffy didn’t look twice at me. She was too busy sulking and trying to make eyes at Riley,” Xander said, his voice withdrawn. “I was thinking about something that’s been bothering me for a long time now.”

Cordelia couldn’t help the leap her heart took when he spoke. His eyes were so serious, all kidding aside. She didn’t dare hope that he was talking about all the unresolved matters between them. He was searching her face intently, regret trying to stay hidden on his own. He stood suddenly and walked over to the bed, plopping down next to her. Cordelia scooted her legs around so they sat side by side on the bed.

“Did you forget to turn the fat fryer off again?” she asked, determined to keep her cool exterior. Xander took her hand in one of his own. Startled by the contact, she looked sharply at him.

“Cordy, shut up,” he said teasingly. She half-smiled at him, waiting for him to continue. “What I meant was...I never apologized.”

“Apologized for what?” she asked, her voice a mere whisper. She would not get her hopes up, she would not get her hopes up, she would not get her hopes up...

“For betraying you,” he said softly. Unexpected tears sprang into her eyes at his words, uttered so sincerely. She tried valiantly to keep them at bay, but couldn’t help the one that slid leisurely down the plane of her high cheek, pausing before dipping lower to rest at the corner of her mouth. Xander brought a hand up to tenderly wipe it away.

“You...” she said, stopping before she even began. She had no clue what to say to him.

“I never got to say it...after what happened. But if I could, Cordy, I’d take it back,” he said, his eyes almost pleading. “I never loved Willow. It was you...and I never got to tell you.”

Cordelia sat in shock as Xander spoke. He loved her. Xander Harris loved Cordelia Chase. Loved, as in the past. Her unasked question floated around the room, written plainly on her face.

“No, it’s not a past tense, Cor. It’s a present one. I think, anyway,” he grinned. “English was not my strongest subject.”

More tears slipped from her eyes, all going unnoticed. “All the time Anya was coming on to me, I would think of how much I wished I was in L.A. With you,” Xander told her. Seeing her tears, he rooted around on the floor, finding a clean shirt. Handing it to her, a goofy smile on his face, he waited for her to accept it. “Not as good as a tissue, but it’s clean.”

She laughed at that, taking the garment from him and wiping her eyes on it. When she was finished, she looked back at him. “Xander...I thought about you too,” she confessed. “When Spike told me about Anya, I was so incredibly jealous. I didn’t want to admit it, but Angel pointed it out to me and it’s true. I still loved you and--”

“Say it again,” Xander said quietly.

“What, that I was jealous?” she asked.

“No. Say that...”

“I love you,” she told him, a slight smile playing across her full lips. His hand came up to caress her cheek softly.

“I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness, Cor. I just wanted you to know,” he said. Cordelia was struck by how much he had grown up in the past few months. He was no longer so insensitive. He had become the man Cordy had always known he could be. She silenced him with a finger to his lips.

“Shh. I forgive you, Xander, I forgave you long ago,” she told him seriously. Hope fluttered in his eyes.

“I love you, Cordelia,” he said, his lips centimeters from hers. They met in a soft kiss, full of forgiveness and love. Pulling away, Cordelia gazed into his dark eyes once more.

“So what do we do now? I mean, I’d love to move back to Sunnyhell and all, but I just got a part in a major movie and--”

“Congratulations!” Xander said, pulling her in for a fierce hug. “I can just see it now. When you get that star in Hollywood, remember the little people. Namely me. You know, if you ever get the urge to do something good for humanity, send me a check once in a while,” Xander joked.

“Come to L.A. with me,” Cordelia said suddenly. Xander looked at her with questioning eyes.

“You sure?” he asked.

“Way. I’m not letting you stay here where Anya can get her demon hands on you,” Cordy joked. Xander smiled. “You can get a job up there. We can make it work.”

“But, Cor, I was just about to be promoted to assistant manager at Burger Boy!” Xander whined. Cordelia gave him a look. “But I’d rather be with you than flipping burgers for little old ladies whose teeth fall out.”

Cordelia leaned over for a kiss, sealing their decision.

****************

"Um…could you get off me?" Anya asked, trying to pull her arm free from Spike’s bulk. He moaned and rolled over, away from her, pulling his arm from behind her neck. She stilled and fixed her eyes on the ceiling. They lay, side by side, staring at the ceiling.

"Well, it wasn’t that bad. Though I really don’t know what everyone’s talki—" she began. Spike growled, his eyes darting over to her. Nervously, her eyes shot over to him, then fixed on the ceiling again. She cleared her throat. "That is, it was actually pretty…great…" Spike smiled smugly and rolled onto his side, eyeing her. She looked annoyed and pulled the sheet higher.

"What?" she demanded, looking defensive. Spike smiled lazily. "What?!" He laughed.

"Nothing. I just didn’t have a bloody idea I would be here of all places."

"Oh yeah, like I was planning this!" she exclaimed, rolling her eyes in annoyance. Spike shook his head and lay back, giving up. Suddenly he thought of something and sat back up.

"You’re not still going after Xander, are you?" he demanded. Her eyes darted around, finally catching on his smooth, muscled chest. She licked her lips nervously and looked up to his lazily smiling mouth. She swallowed hard.

"Uh…well, there’s no reason not to…" she began, finding it hard to form an entirely coherent thought. She grasped desperately for an insult as Spike’s dark eyes narrowed.

"No reason?" he growled, grabbing her wrists and holding them above her head. Her eyes widened and she struggled futiley.

"Let me go!" she exclaimed. He grinned down at her.

"Not just yet luv. We need to have a little talk. Because I happen to know that someone a lot more worthy is currently making good with the object of your obsession. And if you try and mess that up—"

A hurt look crossed Anya’s face, quickly hidden. "That’s the only reason you don’t want me to go after Xander?" she asked. Spike looked slightly nervous all of a sudden.

"Well maybe not the only reason…" he murmured. She smiled smugly and he shook his head in annoyance, releasing her hands and flopping back down on the bed. Glancing around he saw a piece of paper on the bedside table and picked it up, frowning at the odd words.

"What bloody language is this?" he demanded. Anya pulled herself into a half-sitting position, keeping the sheet carefully over her and glanced at the paper.

"Romanian," she replied in a bored voice. She eyed Spike’s bare chest, wondering how much time they had before Buffy came back to the house. From the scene she and Angel made on the beach, it would probably be a while.

"Romanian! What is this thing?" Spike demanded. Anya rolled her eyes, bored with the subject.

"Angel’s curse," she muttered.

"Why the bloody Hell do you have Soul Boy’s curse?" Spike asked, his curiousity ignited.

"Well if you must know, I made a deal with Buffy that if she helped me get Xander, and I would see what I could do about making it permanent." Spike stilled suddenly.

"Did you?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah, it was easy. Not that it’s worth a lot now! She could have warned me about Cordelia!" Spike wasn’t listening.

"You made Angel’s curse permanent," he said in a quiet, even tone, trying to make sure he’d heard correctly.

"Well I haven’t cast the spell yet…Buffy hasn’t done her part of the deal." Spike eyed her, realizing what she was talking about.

"Do you want her to?" he asked, his voice suddenly dangerous and sexy at the same time. Anya swallowed.

"Um…no?" she managed. Spike gave her another lazy smile.

"Good. I’ll just take this," he said, hefting the curse.

"Hey, that was a lot of work! My work!" she protested, snatching at him as he got out of bed to put the paper with his clothes. She stopped, stunned at the lean view of his naked form. He shot her a glance over his shoulder, grinning, then put the paper down and came back to the bed, climbing in beside her.

"Well, let’s see what we can do to make it up to you," Spike murmured. Anya blinked and forgot abruptly how to argue.

****************

The ocean was calm and soothing that night. Water lapped lazily at the sand, slowly eroding the sand. The moonlight glittered across the water and a soft breeze floated through the air, a lover’s caress against bare skin. The beach had long since been deserted by the sunbathers and the surfers. The two figures who stood admiring its endless beauty were alone, save for the warm company of each other and the love they shared. The night was their protector, the moon their defender. They were quiet, their only connection the hands that were linked and held loosely at their sides.

Buffy closed her eyes, tilting her head up to the moon. Although it didn’t give off the warmth of the sun, its light made her skin tingle nonetheless. She was nearly giddy with excitement, for the first time in months her heart felt alive. She wasn’t just a shell anymore, she was someone again. Someone who could laugh and cry and feel. She turned her head, glancing to the side at the vampire who had stole her heart years before.

He too was paying homage to the beauty of the white crystalline ball hanging eternal in the night sky. Sensing his love’s eyes on him, he turned and smiled down at her. She returned it and breathed a sigh of contentment out.

“So, do you like saving souls?” she asked, breaking the quiet between the two. He shrugged.

“Sometimes. When they aren’t grateful it’s not as fun,” he replied, tightening his grip on her small hand. She squeezed his in reassurance as they began to walk back to Buffy’s house.

“Meet anyone interesting?” she asked, her voice casual. Angel looked sharply at her.

“No. I was busy,” he replied, his gaze lingering on her face before he studied the sand in front of him.

“Saving souls was a 24/7 gig?” she asked, her tone light and playful.

“I was busy missing you,” he said softly. Buffy sighed and leaned into his arm, finding comfort in the contact the share. He pulled his hand away, wrapping his arm around her thin shoulders.

“I missed you too, Angel, so much that I thought I would die. I thought I liked Riley but I realized it was just my way of not missing you so much,” Buffy said as they glided through the soft sand. Up ahead, the beach house glowed with lights. The night air was becoming chilly, but neither one noticed. “Wow, it’s a miracle. Spike and Anya aren’t screaming their heads off at each other,” Buffy remarked.

“Neither are Cordy and Xander,” Angel said. “Although I have a feeling Cordy didn’t just come down to say hi. She wants Xander back.”

“She’ll have to pry Anya away from him first,” Buffy giggled. “That girl won’t get a clue that Xander doesn’t want her.”

“I take it she’s been trying to get him?” Angel asked. Buffy looked sideways at him with a look of exasperation.

“Trying isn’t the word. Annoying the hell out of him--and the rest of us--until he gives in is more like it,” Buffy replied. The ex-demon was on her last nerve.

“Sounds like I missed a lot,” he chuckled. Shaking his head, he said, “Although I don’t understand why she would want Xander of all people. He’s got the maturity level of a five year old.” Buffy shrugged.

“Her and her raging hormones. She’s not exactly used to them,” Buffy said. Angel nodded. “But he doesn’t have the maturity of a five year old, Angel. It’s at least a thirteen year old.”

“Buffy, he called and talked to my answering machine for an hour the other day. He talked about absolutely nothing for *one hour.* It was horrible,” Angel said. Buffy stopped and turned to him.

“Is that what made you come back?” she asked, her eyes searching his pale face. The moonlight casted shadows on it, accentuating some planes and hiding others. The moon itself was reflected in his dark eyes as he gazed down at the blond in his arms.

“Part of it. It was actually Spike,” Angel said, shaking his head in wonderment. “I don’t know who was more surprised during that conversation, me or him. Talk about conflicting issues.”

“Spike?!” Buffy repeated. Angel laughed at the look of suspicion on her face.

“He said you were incredibly sad about the whole thing and needed me. He also put an end to my denial ways of thinking.”

“Denial ways of thinking. Sounds deep,” Buffy teased.

“He told me you couldn’t have kids because of being the Slayer and that I should give you all the happiness I can while I’m still able to. Sounded to me like he was getting soft,” Angel said, a hint of humor in his voice. Buffy laughed.

“So he’s the reason you came back?” she asked.

“I missed you more than anything in the world, Buffy. When I heard about Riley, I was so jealous,” Angel said softly, his words carrying on the breeze. “And then I heard about everything that happened and I knew you needed me. But I didn’t want to hurt you again by showing up. Spike showed me I needed you and you need me.”

“I think you’re giving Spike a little too much credit,” Buffy said. “You figured it out, Angel. Spike just pointed you in the right direction. He’s never gonna live that one down, either,” she giggled. She looked up into Angel’s dark eyes, becoming instantly drawn into their deep depths. She was hyponotized by him, lost in his soul. She swallowed and blinked. Buffy had forgotten how strong the bond they shared was. She licked suddenly dry lips and steadied her fluttering heart.

Angel’s hand came up to trace the outline of her golden cheek. She nuzzled his plam, his hand cradling her face as she closed her eyes and allowed herself to fully feel. Angel leaned down, placing a soft kiss on each of her closed eyelids before finding her mouth and pressing his lips against hers.

Buffy pulled away, a trace of a smile on her face. “I love you, Angel,” she whispered.

“I love you too, Buffy,” Angel replied, spinning her in his arms. He pulled her waist close to him, his arms resting around it. Buffy leaned into his broad chest, her head perfectly tucked under his. They stood, facing the neverending ocean.

“It’s so beautiful,” Buffy whispered. She felt Angel’s head move as it rested on her shoulder.

“It pales in comparision to you,” he replied, his closeness affecting Buffy greatly. She sighed happily and leaned into his shoulder, feeling at home.

“Are you sure you didn’t do an ensoulment spell on Spike?” she suddenly asked. Angel’s soft laugh warmed her to the core of her soul. Everything was going to be alright.

Epilogue

Buffy had never felt such complete overwhelming thankfulness to anyone in her entire life. Which was slightly disturbing, considering who she was thankful to.

"I could kiss you!" she told Spike in an enthusiastic voice. Angel’s growl coincided with a menacing look from Anya. Buffy paused a moment in her happiness to wonder what that was about, before turning to Angel with a silly grin on her face. "But I won’t. I’ll kiss you!" she exclaimed in a much more enthusiastic tone, linking her arms behind his neck and doing just that.

After they didn’t come up from breath in about sixty seconds, Cordelia (sitting on the couch beside Xander) remarked, "You know, that this isn’t effective yet."

Reluctantly Buffy and Angel broke apart—a few centimeters.

"Thank you!" Buffy exclaimed, turning away from Angel just enough to see Spike.

"Hey, I was the one that did the work!" Anya put in. Buffy took a deep breath, remindering herself how happy she was, and smiled very graciously at the former demon.

"Thank you too. Very, very much!" Anya looked slightly appeased…only slightly though. Buffy and Angel had reluctantly come inside fifteen minutes earlier. Xander and Cordelia had just come up from Xander’s room and Buffy had run up to Willow’s room to inform her best friend that Angel was staying. Willow opened the door in her pajamas, running a hand through her hair and looking a little on the bleary side.

"What were you doing?" Buffy had demanded. Willow blinked.

"Sleeping," she’d answered. "It’s three o’ clock in the morning." Buffy had grinned.

"Really? I didn’t notice! He’s staying!" Oz joined them in time to hear her announcement and smile. Buffy wanted to thank Spike and Cordelia said she heard Anya and he arguing in the den. All three couples paused, waiting for some kind of shrieking. Nothing. Intrigued, they’d gone in to find a very pale Spike and a very flushed Anya on opposite sides of the couch, very involved in their magazines.

Spike had been reading "Seventeen"…without any sarcastic commentary.

Before Buffy could demand what was going on, he presented her with a revised version of Angel’s curse, and at this point, she could care less about his reading habits.

"That’s really great," Cordelia said warmly once Buffy paused in her excited jumping up and down. Xander looked slightly dubious.

"How do you know it’ll work?" he asked suspiciously. Willow sighed and opened her mouth, but Anya beat her to it.

"I’m 1120 years old! I can change one simple little curse! Yeesh!" The room grew silent, waiting for Anya to realize she had just yelled at Xander of all people and give some kind of annoyed apology. Silence. Spike, for some odd reason, looked smug. Anya just looked annoyed. "What?!" she demanded after realizing everyone was watching her.

"It’s just you…" Willow began, then lapsed off, leaning back against Oz. Better to leave well enough alone. Buffy was still hopping in excitement, turning eveyr few seconds to eye Angel, just to make sure he was really there. His face wore an expression of amazed shock, as if he really couldn’t believe it wasn’t all a dream, and his hands tightened around her waist just as often as she turned to look at him. Eventually she noticed that Xander and Cordelia were sitting kind of close for mortal enemies.

"Hey, am I sensing a reunion here?" she demanded, watching them closely. Cordelia nearly blushed, but took a deep breath and managed a dignifed nod. Xander did blush.

"I--uh…well, I’m moving to L.A. guys!" he stammered, a silly grin spreading over his face. Cordelia caught an equally silly one coming onto hers, and straightened her face, giving another nod. Buffy squealed slightly and started jumping again.

"This is perfect! Now we can move into Xander’s room!" she exclaimed to Angel. "There’s only one window, so you’ll be fine!" Behind her Xander and Cordelia laughed.

"Nice to know you’re happy for us," Cordelia giggled, losing her dignity.

"I’m happy for you!" Willow exclaimed. She’d never gotten over her guilt for breaking the two of them up, but now all seemed to be right again.

"Thank you Will," Xander replied. "I’ll miss ya guys, but you know, I think it’s time I moved on from Burger Boy…" He glanced over at Anya, hoping she wouldn’t make a scene. She seemed singularly unconcered with the fact he was moving out. And going to live with Cordelia. Or at least near her, they hadn’t figured that out yet.

"Spike’ll have to move out," Buffy said, her mind still on living arrangements. She glanced at the bleached blond vampire. "Not out of the house…you could move into my room?" Spike shrugged.

"Sounds fine to me," he said nonchalantly. They all glanced uneasily at Anya, who was suddenly very interested in her chipping nail polish.

"Well then it’s all perfect," Willow said happily, smiling. Buffy’s mouth curved into a teasing grin as she turned back to Angel.

"Not quite perfect," she murmured into his mouth. He still looked stunned. Happily stunned though, so that was something. Buffy pulled his mouth down to hers for another kiss before turning her head to regard her friends. "So, when do you think we can perform that spell?" she asked plaintively.

****************

"That’s the last box," Xander said, setting it down on top of the rest of the pile. He glanced down the stairs to his old room. "It’s all yours!"

"Yeah, you can stop waking the rest of the house up!" Anya muttered. Buffy grinned, uncaring of what anyone thought now that Angel was really hers again. A whole week they’d had together since Anya cast the spell. And now they were getting their own room. With a king size bed Angel brought back from L.A.

"Hey, you’re one to talk!" Buffy exclaimed, arching her eyebrows and looking between Anya and Spike, who found a convenient newspaper to study. Despite all their trying to conceal it, they’d been found making out in the pantry.

Anya had the grace to blush.

"You guys!" Willow scolded. Buffy rolled her eyes affectionately, eyeing the pile of boxes.

"I guess you expect us to carry these out to the car…"

"Like the other fifty," Angel finished with a smile.

"Hey, is it my fault you guys have super powers?" Xander asked. "Come on, I helped you move out Angel…kind of…"

The four of them (Angel, Buffy, Xander and Cordelia) had made several trips to and from L.A. in the last few days, moving Angel’s things out of his apartment. It was all paid up for a couple more months so Xander was going to use it as storage space until he could wheedle Cordelia into relinquishing some of her closet space and letting her perfect décor be ruined.

"Don’t worry about it," Angel said with another smile. Xander had finally gotten over the whole "Dead Boy" thing, and Angel was just enjoying it while he could.

"But you know who else has ‘Super Powers’," Buffy said in a wheedling voice, strolling over to the couch and leaning over a certain blond haired vampire who pretended not to know what she was talking about.

"Go away," he muttered. "Lucifer, haven’t I done enough for you people?"

"Spi-ike?" Buffy pleaded in a sing-song voice.

"No bloody way!" Spike yelled, slamming the paper down onto the couch.

Twenty mintues later, Spike loaded the last box into the car and crossed his arm, glaring at all of them. Buffy patted his arm before going to stand in the circle of Angel’s arms.

"Call the minute you get there," Willow said sternly. Xander grinned at her, a promise in her eyes. The friends had never lived in two different towns and Buffy had a feeling the phone bills would soon be racking up.

"Bye Xand," Buffy said, hugging her friend, then turned to Cordelia and hugged her too. "Thank you Cordy. Thank you so much." Cordelia schooled her features as she pulled away.

"Well you know, it was really annoying watching him brood 24/7," she said softly. Buffy squeezed her hand and Cordelia turned to hug Angel.

"Thanks Cordy," he said.

"I’ll miss ya Angel. Look what I’m getting instead," she laughed, poking Xander.

"Definitely the bad part of the deal," he said good naturedly, catching Cordelia’ waist and pulling her close for a kiss. They didn’t part for a very long moment. Spike made a sound of disgust.

"Why do I stick around here?" he muttered. Buffy leaned back on Angel as she laughed.

" ‘Cause you love us," she suggested playfully as Angel bent to kiss her chin.

Spike’s snort of disgust was just about the least convincing thing any of them had ever heard. Except maybe Riley trying to be funny.


END.