Title: Thread of Hearts

Rating: M

Author: the mean kitten

Plot: this is an AU story where Buffy and Angel are childhood friends, who fall in love very young, and are separated by circumstances, more so, Buffy suffers from a terrible heart defect and is living every day as if it was her last, Angel is a rich boy, who wants to be doctor once he grows up, so he can save his best friend…

AN: there is an nc17 prologue you know where! In case you want to read it…

Chapter 1 "Scars"

A tread is by definition an act of walking, of leaving footprints on something, of leaving a mark behind. That's exactly what happened in this story…

Once upon a time, in the city of Los Angeles, lived two very young friends, a boy and a girl. It was the year 1996; March was just starting to bring the beautiful spring to town. Rain was threatening the inhabitants with its earthly fall.

Buffy Summers and Angel O'Quinn, our heroes, had met when they were starting elementary school, he had been in 5th while she was entering 3rd. Buffy had been born with heart problems that required many interventions, she was skinny and couldn't do much exercise, but, she was really smart, Angel had been the bully of the class.

They had crashed together instantly. She had been the moon to Angel's sun.

Angel's mom died when he was in 7th grade, a car accident. Leaving him with his baby sister Faith O'Quinn just entering 5th grade, same age as Buffy, though in a different crowd.

Mister Connor O'Quinn, Angel's dad was an extremely wealthy man, he owned a yacht factory in Ireland. He came home occasionally, just to look after them, but they were mostly raised by nannies.

Buffy's mom was also home absent; she ran an art gallery on Rodeo Drive. Buffy's dad was a lawyer, but he never paid attention to her, or her baby sister Dawn. They worked outside LA most of the time.

So our heroes had in common the lack of consistent parental figures and the responsibility of being the oldest sibling in the harsh city of Los Angeles.

Angel and Buffy had grown to be close friends throughout their lives, until he passed to high school and became a heartthrob. He started dating around, going out with all the pretty girls, becoming a football quarterback, eventually meeting Darla Delaney, a senior who was renowned for her dirty reputation. They started sleeping together, and then they became boyfriend and girlfriend officially soon after, but that was only until Buffy grew older and Angel started noticing her again.

By that time Buffy was taking extra credit to graduate earlier, along with her best friend Willow Rosenberg. When Darla graduated from high school and was received at UCLA to study an MBA, Angel decided to cool their relationship until he could decide better if she really was the woman of his life. Meanwhile Buffy became friends with Angel's best buddy, William 'Spike' Frazier, another student from abroad. He was from England and had moved to LA with his also rich parents to make shows, his parents were TV producers.

Spike became infatuated with the little feisty blonde thing called 'Buffy Anne Summers' awakening the sensation of jealousy in Angel. After years of following Buffy around, Spike realized she was going to be his platonic love forever. He would never have her, not as long as Angel was in the same room with them.

To further complicate matters, Faith O'Quinn was deeply crushed by Spike, had been forever, admiring him since she was a kid in pigtails. Unfortunately, Faith was unstable and fragile ever since their mother had died. She had been in and out of therapy for most of her existence, and although Spike had always been kind to her, he viewed her as his little sister, caring as much, and exactly the same, as Angel did.

All things and details important about our heroes and their friends said, we must begin now to tell our story, which will initiate at the point where fate made a turning point in their lives.

zzz

September 2005

Nine years have gone by since Angelus O'Quinn graduated from High School. His sister Faith, who was mentally unstable, had recently been seen drinking and driving near Santa Monica.

zzz

"Good morning, dear." Darla wasn't much of a morning person. When she awoke she jumped into the bathroom, overtly conscious of her disheveled looks. She had never been the kind of lover who could be spontaneous about sex…or anything else for that matter.

Her favorite times were too elaborate; candles, dinner, champagne, naughty lingerie, hours of foreplay, a detailed schedule, and always at night. It was never more than once and rarely more than once every couple of weeks.

Angel, on the other hand, was Mr. Spontaneity. A sweet romp in the middle of the night, a little office action, or even a bathroom quickie, anything that happened without setting a date a week in advance was perfect in his mind. They were at different ends of the spectrum and Darla's methods were constantly killing his sex drive. Angel constantly wondered exactly why he had married her.

By the time he was married and thoroughly shackled to the woman, he just didn't have the energy to get a divorce. Money and assets were not very important to either of them—they had them in abundance—but, he wanted children, he wanted a family. Basically he just wanted someone that was on the same page as he was.

He had thought that in time Darla would realize how good he was, how much he cared about her. How he'd given her a second chance to redeem herself in his eyes for all the trouble she caused before they were even married. Either she didn't realize it, or she wouldn't admit it. Either way, things just went downhill from the very beginning of their marriage.

Darla cheated on him and he knew it. In the last six months they had intercourse four times, a record of celibacy for Angel. Yet every week she had new jewelry, expensive clothes, and waves of sudden happiness that were too obvious to conceal. And it wasn't his money she was spending.

"You are going to be late for work." She was curt as usual, but something about her was different, she looked as if she was hiding something.

"I don't have any appointments in the morning, just surgery at two o'clock in the afternoon. I was thinking we could take a short trip to the beach, get some sun?" Angel replied.

She looked sincerely outraged. "Are you nuts? Heard of skin cancer? Besides I have an appointment with my manicurist, she'd kill me if I cancelled. Sorry honey, you'd have to give me a rain check."

Angel knew he would never be satisfied with Darla. But the idea of dating again was thoroughly daunting. The idea of being single, and all that came with it was such a sobering thought for him, that it was depressing. What was that old saying: 'better the devil you know, than the one you don't?'

"I didn't think you'd go anyway." Angel muttered under his breath. Walking over to his closet, he took out his slacker outfit; faded old jeans, a light blue t-shirt, a khakis jacket and some sneakers. He didn't bother shaving; he'd do that later.

It was such a nice sunny day, that he decided to take a stroll down the street, all by himself. He never would've imagined a life of that much loneliness when he was younger. His dreams always consisted of being surrounded by loved ones. Even when he was a kid, he could picture himself playing ball with his son, going together to the beach or just hanging out. But, it just wasn't his reality. This was. Angel sighed; maybe he should get a dog.

"See you later then. Wear a hat it's really sunny out there. We wouldn't want you to get all wrinkled." He listened to her superficial advice and grudgingly put on the baseball cap and a pair of sunglasses.

The street was busy with kids waiting for the school bus, people walking their dogs, riding their bikes, some skaters scraping the asphalt with the sound of silicon wheels, all so natural to a good family neighborhood, an all American suburb. He felt choked, short of breath. He wasn't getting any younger and life just seemed to be passing him by. Kind of like that Jewel song "Standing Still."

He wondered how other people could be so happy. Or more importantly why wasn't he happy. But he knew that answer. He had let her go. He knew even then that he would never be as happy as he was in the days that he spent with Buffy, all those years ago. He remembered how much she loved Jewel. Her favorite song had been "Foolish Games", so classic, just like her.

He needed this walk. He needed to breathe the fresh air, to clear his mind. After the dream all he could think about was how miserable and depressing his life was. How unloved and cold he felt and how everything reminded him of Buffy, his long lost love.

zzz

"I'm sorry to call you Doctor O'Quinn, but you have to come to the hospital right away, it's an emergency" He had just walked back in the door when the phone rang. The nurse didn't give a reason for her urgency she just said that it was an emergency. Since he was on call he didn't hesitate or ask questions, time was of the essence. He grabbed his car keys and headed to the hospital.

zzz

Angel was a Cardiologist and he was the head of the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery at UCLA Santa Monica. He was a full time physician and surgeon with lots of money and old Hollywood charm. He was, for all intended purposes, quite a catch. In fact, if it weren't for his nasty temper and his almost neurotic sense of professionalism and perfectionism, he would probably have a string of nurses as lovers crawling at his back—which he had had—just that it didn't do it for him anymore. He wanted more. But, his overbearing attitude overshadowed his good looks, so he didn't exactly shine at the dating department.

He didn't know where his bad reputation had come from. He hadn't always been like this. Yes, he was a perfectionist when it came to his job. But he had to be. People depended on him; their lives depended on him. Didn't people realize that? But for whatever reason, he was labeled the black devil at the hospital. He knew the only reason he got anyone to assist him, was because they were all afraid to deny him anything.

They were too afraid that he would rip their heads off. Oh! They respected him greatly as a doctor, but as a human—as a man—they thought he was nothing but cruel and mean toward anybody that wasn't his patient.

It always baffled him, this contradiction of who and what he was. Because he knew that he was not that person. He was capable of love and kindness. He was a passionate person by nature; he had just been denied an outlet for that passion for way too long. And perhaps that had tainted his soul. Tainted how he treated people. He wished things would change for him. He just never imagined it would happen the way it did.

His sister Faith was the driver of a fatal car accident. The police told him she was arrested a week ago for driving under the influence of alcohol. He knew Faith, and he knew that she was just crazy enough to do something stupid like that. She never stood a chance. She had been driving an old car that didn't have airbags and when she drove into the tree, her body was propelled out the front windshield. Her neck snapped the moment her body hit the ground.

Thankfully, paramedics arrived just in time…to collect an organ donor.

He watched with a blank expression as they rolled her in on the gurney, a white sheet pulled over her body. She was connected to several machines. She had a pulse only because of the respirator machine. She had already been declared brain dead. The cold hard truth of the situation hit him in the face…he was alone, literally. Faith had been his last surviving family member. Their father died the year before—a heart attack—Angel had told him over and over again to take care of his high blood pressure. But he never listened.

He had no other siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles. He never knew his grandparents. And he and Faith never had children. And he knew that if he stayed with Darla he would never have any.

Inside, his heart was heavy with loss and loneliness yet outside he was still the impeccable young doctor who thought only of his patients. It was so much a part of him that his first thought was that Faith was young, and physically healthy. She was a good candidate to be an organ donor.

He knew that there was always a dire need for organ donors and healthy organs, so when the nurse handed him the consent form, he signed it. He knew deep in his heart that Faith would have wanted it that way. People could be given a second chance at life from her healthy organs.

People like Buffy.

He signed the forms and silently said goodbye to his only sister. He always loved Faith, even when she was being completely unreasonable, which she often was. But she was his only blood relative, at least in America. So he was basically alone now. Yes he had Darla, but their relationship wasn't warm and intimate. His job consumed so much of his time that he didn't even have friends, at least not outside UCLA. Years back he had been close to Buffy, Willow, and Spike, but they had found their own path. He didn't know anything about them now. Of course he couldn't help but think of Buffy when the nurse handed him the organ donor consent form.

He sighed heavily, his sister was dead and it saddened him. The only thing that sparked some sense of peace was the knowledge that she was better off where she was. She could finally be at peace, something that she had never been able to do while living.

He was so miserable that he actually thought of calling Spike. But the thought of Spike was accompanied by the thought that he could possibly be married to Buffy. And that was just too cruel for his aching heart.

Putting his thoughts aside, he stood up straighter and walked down the hall. There were more pressing matters to think about now, such as surgery.

Being the Head of Cardiovascular Surgery, he was pressed upon the matter. Not that he had to be the doctor actually cutting, but, he did have to supervise, not only because of his role in the hospital but because it was his baby sister's heart. The single last second of supported life she'll ever have on this earth. Yes, he was dully pressed to have a role in the matter.

Another patient was being prepped for heart surgery. Ironic that it would be Faith's heart that she was getting. Thank god he didn't have to do the surgery himself. He didn't know if he could cut into his own sister. He just had to be there and make sure that everything went well.

Then he could go home to his cold and miserable life.

zzz

The Scar

He walked into the O.R. without conscious thought of the blonde woman on the bed, who was already intubated. His only thought was that he was on time for the surgery. His shrewd eyes noticed that the thorax was already open, the ribs were cracked open with the separators and the various instruments were ready.

The weight of the small silver plate filled with ice seemed to increase—Angel was carrying the heart between his hands, inside the metal box. Incapable of letting someone else do it. That was his sister's heart, a physical part of her that would carry on living regardless of her nonexistence.

"Doctor O'Quinn, how gracious of you to drop by!" Said John Carter, the surgeon who was about to perform the heart transplant. Angel was only there to supervise. He would advise if a procedure could be improved upon, or fix it, in case the lead surgeon made a mistake or couldn't handle a complication. In general he was the most experienced doctor in the room—not to mention the Head of Cardiovascular Surgery—quite a personality at the hospital. The big bad boss, so to speak.

Yes, it was very gracious of HIM to drop by. There were a number of surgeries being performed at the moment where he should have been, but he had chosen to be at this one, to be the one who brought Faith's heart inside his very own hands, not because it was a part of his job, but, because he wanted to hang on to the last living part of his sister, he was doing what a paramedic would normally do, or a nurse, or even just another surgeon, but, he was doing it because he felt he had to, Angel was just personally involved on seeing the surgery through. He meant to be sure that his sister's heart was indeed ready to be given to save somebody else's life. Not just be a convenient replacement.

Said in a nutshell, he just cared too much. This operation had to be successful, for his sake and hers as well.

The anesthesiologist, nurses, instrumentalist, and residents, gathered around the gurney waiting for the donated heart to arrive, so they could connect the heart and lung machine. Then Doctor Carter could start the surgery and remove the sick organ.

"The donated organ belongs to my sister" He should have said 'belonged' but he couldn't, and the people kept quiet while Angel prepared. It was an explanation of sorts. But it still felt awry to have a doctor of Angel's stature supervising, whatever the reason. No point saying out loud that it was quite a sorrow to lose one's sister in a car accident, been such a hot-shot doctor as Angel was. Really, it was quite the irony.

"We have a long procedure ahead of us, so let's begin." Doctor Carter said as he made the first internal incision.

The girl had been long intubated, her head turned to a side, with her eyes taped to protect them from the strong lights at the OR, her hair almost completely covered with a blue disposable cap, in her forehead, was attached a thermometer, one could hardly recognize who she really was, only that her eyebrows were light and her skin was white.

Dr. Carter took his time severing each vein and artery very carefully. It was obvious to all who stood in the room that this was not the first surgical procedure that the patient had endured. The tissues surrounding the heart were severely callous and the scars were hard. To the untrained eye the heart had a very Frankenstein look about it. The ribs were the same, broken and fixed so many times already.

And the girl…She had been skinny, Angelus couldn't remember ever seeing a girl that thin before, all bone and a few escaping hairs of blonde hair coming out of her cap. Around 20 years old, he thought. Not even a hundred pounds of weight, just a bit less than his sister.

The aortic valve had been flawed, born out of the wrong ventricle, the oxygenated blood mixed with the dirty blood on the incorrect ventricle and retreated into the aortic valve retro flushing, causing severe problems inside the lungs and very poor peripheral circulation.

It was called Transposition of the great vessels, with a septal defect. Something extremely rare, congenital…and deathly.

The solution was a major corrective—open-heart—surgery. But, after having received several of them already, the heart had developed an accurate arrhythmia, inducing heart failure episodes—hence the major need for a heart transplant. It was a shame that it was arriving twenty years too late, after her poor body had already been ravaged by numerous surgical procedures.

Angel stood by and watched as the surgeon performed all the steps of the tricky procedure perfectly. In no time at all and thankfully with no major complications, the old heart was successfully removed.

There was silence in the room as the empty cavity waited for its salvation. The patient lay still on the table, seemingly forgotten in the scope of the procedure, and the magnitude of the outcome.

Minutes later…

"How's the pressure?" The machines started beeping as the new heart began to beat again on its own, the heart/lung machine was disconnected and the blood pumped in and out of the ventricles with thunder strength. Minor stitches were done around the tiniest arteries and veins. Oxygen saturation rose, color returned to the limbs, all cyanotic signs retreated on the spot. Several minutes later the heart was pumping strongly and the entire team sighed with relief. The patient was sewn-up and the surgeons were satisfied with their work.

A life had been saved and many more would be saved from Faith's other organs. Faith's death hadn't been for nothing. So, Angel left the O.R. with some semblance of peace similar to vacuity. Everything seemed to float around him from there as he made his way to his office.

Sitting down at his desk to do some paperwork, he noticed the name on the treatment form and insurance card. He blinked, unsure of the words displayed. He read them over and over again. It wasn't a delusion. It was really she.

'Buffy Anne Summers'

He almost fell to the floor, his own systolic pressure dropping as shock filled him. He couldn't believe his own eyes!

He had supervised surgery on his long lost high school sweetheart, without even knowing it! He walked quickly to the observation room in ICU, oblivious to any thing that stood in his way.

When he got there he saw her charts in the medical stand. It was her. The story matched perfectly, age, constitution, heart defect, valve replacements, everything.

It was just her.

Angel had to pinch himself twice just to be sure he wasn't having a nightmare.

"Good Lord! What have I done?" he said with as much uneasiness, as he had never felt before in his whole life. He dressed himself properly to go inside the ICU and entered it, feeling mighty queasy for his dreadful luck. Had to be her? Of all the women in the world, it had to be Buffy?

He walked slowly to the bed, one step at a time. Sure that his heart would melt when he saw her. He could barely breathe as his throat constricted with his anxiety, anxiety for her well-being and her ill existence.

The constant beeping and the general sounds of the life support machines reassured him that she was okay. But he still felt as if his heart was going to pound out of his chest. It was as if he was the one hanging in the thread…instead of hers.

The oxygen saturation was normal, the pressure was a perfect 110/60, and everything seemed to be working alright. Though it gave him little confidence Angel knew anything could go wrong in a patient with Buffy's medical history.

And, he just wasn't satisfied, state of the art equipment and a throng of medical staff wasn't enough…it was his long lost Buffy lying on the cold bed in the ICU. With her breastbone fractured completely apart and stapled back together and her body pulled together by seventy-seven stitches across her chest.

He couldn't understand how he didn't recognize her before…and that killed him. If he had known, he would never have done it. It would have been horrible if she had died beneath his hands. Thank God the operation went smoothly and she didn't die.

"Buffy" He saw her hand, small and delicate…perfectly ring-less. Unmarked. Single.

He saw her arm. Slim, and covered with downy blonde hairs that were almost invisible to the eye, and poked with the IV that was transferring plasma, drugs and fluids to her body.

"How could I?" He saw the central line hooked on her jugular with such dread, as if he had put the catheter in there himself. That alabaster column that was her neck, covered with stitches, adhesives, tubes, all so painful he shuddered to think how uncomfortable she would be when she awoke.

He saw her face then. Pale, older, prettier, different…so different and yet still his very same Buffy. It hurt him so much to look at her like that and he wasn't sure if he would ever recover from the sting. Suddenly she woke, her eyes opening slowly and laden with hope. His face was covered with the surgical mask and all the swathes required when you where in the ICU. She wouldn't be able to recognize him. Weird how that made him feel better.

"How am I, doc?" that voice, raspy with so many hours of intubations. He thought he would meet his maker then, the pain in his chest made him feel like he was going to have a heart attack.

"F-Fine, you're fine." He didn't say anything else he just left. He was too unprepared to think of it. Shocked. Numbed. Speechless. Impossibly traumatized with the situation he found himself in, that he couldn't process coherent thoughts.

"Nurse, give the Summers patient 30 mg of morphine, she must be in a lot pain. Make sure she's asleep … all the time." The nurse was stunned to see him so late in the ICU looking after a patient that wasn't even registered as his.

"Yes Doctor O'Quinn I'll see to it" He signed the order and went home with such lack of focus he thought he was lucky not to have an accident himself.

Buffy was alive.

Buffy had his sister's heart.

Buffy was single.

Buffy had been under his hands… dying.

Buffy was his patient, here in L.A.

Buffy was back home…

zzz it will continue en chapter 1partB zzz

Chapter 1 part B…

The Past (Angel's Pov, event took place in March 1996)

I arrived home with a headache. But, it was forgotten when I saw her, leaning on the car hood. Wearing a lovely blue dress and drenched by the rain.

Every delectable curve was outlined and enhanced by the clinging wet cloth. She had that habit. Whenever it was raining hard, she would stay outside until she was totally soaked. She said it made her feel like a part of nature. Of how it would feel when she came back as a tree. Living most of her life with a serious illness, Buffy was just macabre about dying. Every Halloween she'd be a corpse and every birthday she would let the candles burn out and melt thoroughly. Never wishing for anything.

At the moment I loved her eccentricity.

Every curve of her body was drawn perfectly, as ripe as forbidden fruit. Her makeup, which was a mess, only made her sexier, pulling me to her with the force of small planets.

I felt the pull of blood to my genitals making me shiver all over. I swear to God I wished it would rain everyday Buffy came home.

Mmm, talk about forces of nature.

zzz

"Angel! Come on! You can't be that stupid. It's a formula…and there's like 3 ways of solving it!" I wasn't but I loved to see her mad. Her face flushed, her breasts erect, her eyes wide open and her mouth exaggerating every gesture.

"I love you, Buffy Anne Summers." I didn't think. I just kissed her. I took her perfect face between my hands. Closed my eyes and leaned in to her and mashed her face with mine. Not much technique just lots of passion.

"What did you just say? Have you gone completely out of your mind?" She turned pale, but I just kissed her again, slowly this time. Taking time to savor the texture of her lower lip, the taste of her tongue, the softness of her cheek beneath my hands, and mostly the soft whimpers escaping her throat.

"I'm crazy about you, Buffy." When I let her go we both sighed. She was flushed and I was painfully erect. The room felt small and suffocating.

"What—what the hell did you just say? Can you repeat that" she furrowed her pretty brow to me, and all I wanted was to kiss her a million times over.

"I said I love you. I don't know why I kept it hidden so long. But I'm sure it was love at first sight." I said. She placed her hands around her face, breathing slowly, not looking at me anymore, thoroughly shocked.

"Since elementary?" Now I was blushing.

"Yes…since then."

She stood up, then I stood up, and we walked around the studio. I pressed a cold can of soda to my forehead. But it didn't curb my feeling of uneasiness. She hadn't said 'I love you too'. And she was pacing the room like a caged animal.

"I got to go home." She jumped out of the room and ran for the door, her books, purse, and shoes all forgotten…including me.

Of course I followed her.

I found her standing by the car, drenched by the rain again. She turned around slowly, the car keys frozen in her hands. She had an expression of been totally and completely lost.

As I came closer, I noticed she was crying. Her body shook with every sob; she was emotional like I'd never seen her before. I took her in my arms and hugged her tight. She felt young and fragile to me as she cried her eyes out. What else could I do but hug her?

"What is it, baby?" I kissed her nose when she turned her eyes to look at me.

"I-I love you, Angel…I shouldn't…but I do." I still didn't understand why she was weeping.

"Am I that bad, honey?" She laughed pitifully hugging herself closer to me, burying her head in my chest.

"No, you're great but loving me…that's very bad." She spoke the last part so low that I hardly understood what she was saying.

"Why would you ever say that?" Standing on the tips of her toes she looked me in the eyes, steadying her heart before speaking. Her eyes were swollen with tears and her nose was red and snotty but she never looked more beautiful to me.

"Because…I-I'm going to die. Don't you see? This is never going to work! Isn't being friends enough anymore?" As far as I was concerned, she still had the rest of her life ahead of her but I could see her point of view was extremely different from mine.

"It never was, I don't care about anything else. I love you. And I will until I'm dead. Do you hear me, Buffy? I will love you till the day I die!" I kissed her then. Strong and urgent, barely letting her take a breath. Tasting the deep recesses of her mouth, biting her lips and letting her bite mine, kissing her all over her face, her neck and down to her long angry-red scar.

"Heaven help us, Angel. I do love you too! I can't stand being just friends either." I caressed her back and just felt the warmth of her body as she melted into mine, committing that beloved body into memory…for the rest of my life.

I don't know how long we stayed under the rain making out or what time it was when I let her go home that night. But long after dawn, alone in my bed, I was still reeling from her kiss, feeling the taste of rain and Buffy Summers deeply imbedded in my bones.

zzz

Angel knew he had been dreaming about Buffy and the night when he first kissed her. All those words of undying devotion left between them made him feel as if time had stood still for them. Just ten years ago wasn't that long for the heart's memory. He could swear he smelled the essence of vanilla soap on his sheets, so much as if Buffy had been sleeping in them …with him.

He obviously couldn't go back to sleep after that. So he just decided to go back to the hospital. Faith's funeral had to be arranged, calls had to be made and he just wasn't capable of doing all that. All his mind could process at the moment…was Buffy.

Darla hadn't been home that night, as usual. And when she finally did come home, he wouldn't be there. He would have no one to walk him through the grieving process.

A thought occurred to him, Buffy had the rest of her life now and so did he for that matter, but when he tossed and turned in bed the figure sleeping next to him would still be Darla, his very unreasonable wife and not his long lost darling.

Buffy. There was so much he didn't know about her any more and some of the biggest questions were: What had she done with her life? Was she with Spike? Was she with another man? Did they have kids? Was she happy in her marriage? What did she work on? Where did she live? Had she ever missed him? What would she do when she saw him again? Could she ever see him as a friend? Did she still love him? So many questions left unanswered on such a long night.

He knew only one thing for sure and that was that if he ever wanted a second chance with Buffy, which he did, then he would have to get a divorce from Darla.

Needless to say with all that was running through his mind, he didn't get much sleep that night.

zzz

The morning after

The unit was extremely cold and Buffy couldn't help but shiver constantly as she drifted in and out of consciousness, because of all the drugs, which also had her hallucinating. She thought that Angel came see to her…several times over the night. But that could never be, she was just losing it. She decided to ask the nurse to lower the pain medication or she might have a heart attack. Just the thought of seeing Angelus was too damn nerve-racking for her current state of mind.

Willow came around to visit her at ten am and the ICU resident, as a courtesy, let her into the unit. She saw Buffy's charts first and was satisfied she was doing well so soon after surgery.

"Hello, darling! You don't look like somebody who just had a heart transplant! …So, how are you really feeling?" Buffy made a gesture like so-so with her hands. She wasn't feeling real pain just some discomfort.

"Will, come closer I can't raise my voice. I'm losing it. Last night…I could've sworn I saw Angel in here. Can you believe it? Some drugs they have here!" She whispered as Willow leaned in closer to her.

"Get out!" Willow exclaimed. Buffy laughed and pulled the oxygen mask off her face.

"I swear it! Girl Scout honor! Cross my…new heart over." Willow sat at the side of the bed and took Buffy's hands between her own, warming them. The room was awfully cold and Buffy had nothing but the sheets on her. She had Goosebumps all over her arms and she was shivering thoroughly.

"You're crazy! Jesus, it's freezing in here. You okay? …Want me to call Angel to get you a blanket?" Willow was a pediatrician so she had a lot of experience in caring for little ones and Buffy's current state was calling to her sympathetic side. But, she also had a sense of humor, so, not joking Buffy about her hallucination was impossible.

"Stop mocking me! I'm bloody serious…he was here…or I'm suffering side effects from the anesthesia, either way, I'm happy…Man, it feels so good to be alive." Willow sighed and the nurses came over.

"I'm so happy for you." Willow said cheerfully. She, Buffy and Giles had come to California from New York, where they lived with Spike and Patrick, to celebrate Joyce's 60th birthday. Buffy thought it would be her last trip ever. So Willow was relieved that the surgery had gone well and hoped that now Buffy would be able to make many more trips.

"I'm afraid your five minutes are almost up Doctor Rosenberg say goodbye and come with me." Willow kissed Buffy on the forehead and hugged her goodbye.

"Wait, Will. How's Patrick? Is he alright? Does he miss me? Does he ask a lot of questions?"

"Well, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it? He's alright; yes he does ask quite often where you are, why he can't talk to you, and when you're coming back. But other than that annoying tendency to ask too many questions, he's okay. He's behaving well and yes he misses you a lot! Happy?"

Buffy shook her head 'no', looking ashamed.

"Thank you…anyway, that's not what I wanted to ask you."

"Spike is fine, your Mom and Dawn are fine too, Giles will be coming in here soon and yes, you still got a job, is it that?" Buffy had been living in Manhattan since she was 16, studying at NYU and working as a student counselor. She became a therapist. It was funny, really, all of her high school friends worked in the medical field. She a psychologist, Spike and Willow Pediatricians, and…Angel, Angel was a very prominent Cardiologist. That much she knew.

"No, it isn't. Do me a favor, ask if doctor Angelus O'Quinn works here, I need to know if I'm losing my mind, please?"

"Sure Buffy, but, just so you know I don't think he does. A surgeon like him must work at Cedars Sinai."

That didn't calm Buffy; she was positive that she had seen his beautiful eyes and heard his voice several times that night. That deep, velvety voice and those soulful brown eyes, she sighed, she was not crazy…Angel had been there standing by her bed.

zzz

The waiting room

The first thing Willow saw outside the ICU was Angel, looking mighty fine in scrubs and a white robe, tall and dark, with a five o'clock shadow and stylish silver rimmed glasses. She thought that it was no wonder that Buffy had fallen in love with him. Still theshock of finding out Buffy wasn't delusional had been great.

"Doctor O'Quinn, there's a Doctor Rosenberg over there and she was just in with your patient." Angel turned around as he saw his old friend Willow. She had gone pale all of the sudden. They hadn't seen each other in years. She didn't know what to say to him. Or more importantly, what not to say to him. She realized he was intimidating. With an air of arrogance that befitted a man that knows himself good-looking and is also filthy rich.

She turned around with the intention of escaping through the closest exit. But, he was just five steps away from her. He caught up with her in no time, leaving Willow cornered and anxious.

"Hello there." Willow said with shyness, wondering how she could evade putting her foot in her mouth in less than ten words.

"Well, hello there Willow, or should I say Doctor Rosenberg? It's so nice to see you again. How are you?" He hugged her without even shaking her hands first, feeling very comfortable with the red head's warm if slightly maniacal smile. She looked pretty in jeans and a sweater, vintage Willow, as usual. She had been trying to avoid physical contact, but with him cornering her in front of a door it had proved impossible.

She had laughed nervously, incapable of saying something rude like 'stay away from me' she kept her hands pressed to her thighs and her face as blank as possible, but the force of all the staff and Buffy's family staring at her was too much to handle.

"Nice to see you too, Doctor O'Quinn." Coming closer, Willow noticed he had really short hair and was remarkably skinny for such a tall, bulky man. It gave him the appearance of a man with rough charm, kind of like a sexy lumberjack or a jagged intellectual. Such lusty thought went unbridled through her head, until the reality of the situation hit her. She had to keep her mouth shut and give-in the least possible information about Buffy and her son.

"So, how's Buffy?" His eyes shined when he said her name, and Willow thought he said Buffy with the oddest hilt at the end. Like he said it chopped…Buff. It was almost like it gave him pleasure to say it that way, like it was his way of taking possession of Buffy herself. She smirked to her insides, some things never changed. Thinking about her girlfriend Tara back in New York, she realized she missed men. Having come out of closet years back, a threesome had crossed her mind more than once.

"Better, way better actually, she's in magnificent shape. In fact I've never seen her any better." Willow felt mildly overwhelmed by his intimidating presence looming above her. He looked as if he was hunting for something. He did always have a predatory quality about him. Willow thought he could have been a vampire, if such creatures really existed to begin with.

"I can see that, I guess I agree with your diagnostic." He touched her arm and she nearly jumped. He was working her to get to Buffy, and she felt damn uncomfortable to be in that position.

"So…how's Darla? The kids? The rest of your family okay?" His face changed immediately. The air of playfulness was completely gone and replaced with guarded distance.

"Darla is fine…actually, we're getting a divorce. We never had kids, so it should be easier. How are Buffy and Spike?" He decided not to tell her what happened to Faith and that Faith's heart was in Buffy's chest. And Willow decided not to tell him about Patrick.

"Oh, they're okay, not together 'okay' though, just okay. You okay too?" Willow cursed herself for being so spastic with her words. She didn't want to say something suspicious but deep down she wanted him to realize what an ass he had been in the past.

"My sister Faith died recently, so, you might say I'm a mess."

"I'm so sorry, you know…Buffy is a therapist. You should talk to her!" Willow thought briefly of biting her tongue before muddling the issue even more than it already was. But her instincts were telling her she was doing the right thing.

"I will. God you haven't changed a bit! It's so refreshing. I can see Giles, Dawn and Joyce from here. I'll talk to them after I talk to Buffy. Would you cover for me?" Willow felt that he was acting strangely. But she didn't want to stay another second there. So she agreed, even though she knew it wasn't right to ignore the family. She didn't know why she wanted to cover up for him, except, her own guilt for the things she had done to keep Buffy's secrets. She guessed some part of her wanted him to know about Patrick, but how could she be the one to tell him?

In her heart she had always wanted Buffy to be happy with the love of her life. As happy as she was with Tara.

"Alright but just this once, as a favor. Oh by the way, Buffy told me to tell you to go down on the painkillers, she says she's feeling too groggy, and I think she needs food and an electric blanket. It's so cold in there, oh plus some underwear too that would come inhandy." She was pushing it.

"Alright, alright! Go now. I'll make sure she's fine." Which was the purpose of his mind, body and soul anyway.

Upon hearing Spike and Buffy weren't exactly together, Angel felt his heart swell with emotion. He had a chance. If he played his cards right he could have Buffy again. In a far distant possibility, after he resolved his situation with Darla, and convinced Buffy he was worthy of a second chance. But still, hope is hope, and is the last thing an aching heart lets go of.

zzz

"Willow, how is she?" Willow answered the question said in unison by Buffy's family members.

"She's fine. She's recovering very quickly and you can see her later. At least when the specialist permits it." Giles pulled Willow over to the side before speaking again.

"Did I see you speaking to Angel?" Willow noticed how very uncomfortable the man made Giles. And no wonder. Even though he had never actually met him. He had seen pictures.

Buffy and Giles had a history of discussions about Patrick's best interest; about Spike's true duties and responsibilities as a legal guardian. Unwittingly Giles had sided with Angel, only because he knew what it was to grow up with a lie wrapped-up around your face.

"Yes, you did. Turns out he's a cardiologist…he's been looking after Buffy." Giles was stunned for a moment but recovered quickly; he remembered Buffy had said that Angel always wanted to save her.

"Does he know about the past?"

"Of course not! Neither does Dawn or Hank so be careful about your words. Buffy will kill us if he finds out." Secrets were too wild to be unleashed when Buffy was so weak.

"That reminds me, Patrick has been driving Spike crazy, he says he wants his mommy back by Sunday, …or he'll come over with his daddy Spike and take her home." Willow sighed, Spike was working at the ER, and he couldn't afford to take a paid vacation in September.

"Don't tell Buffy that, she's already feeling the umbilical cord pulling her towards her son. She's doing better but she's not fine, and she can't leave the hospital until she's totally stable. And whatever you do, …don't speak about Patrick out loud."

"I'll go tell Spike the good news." Giles said. He cared for Buffy more than he ever thought was possible, especially considering that she wasn't even his biological daughter. And he would never betray her or leave her son alone. But, he wouldn't tolerate deceit either.

"You do that. I'll go do damage control." Willow went to explain to Joyce, Dawn, and Hank, that their girl was ok, getting better every minute, having received a successful transplant, her life held all the promise of a bright…and long future.

zzz

The end of chapter 1…