A/N: Though I may not like celebrating New Year's Eve myself, that does not mean that I don't enjoy writing about characters who do. (Gotta love those dichotomies, huh?) Anyway, this is a completely AU, human one shot pertaining to Buffy and Angel. Though I've written them in human form before, I have yet to post those stories, so this is the first time you'll be reading one of my non-supernatural flavored B/A tales. Let's hope you like it. Thanks, everyone, and, following a few more holiday related posts, I'll get back to updating Blind Love. Be safe tomorrow night.

~Charlynn~

Seventeen Minutes in Heaven

Contrary to both the written and the unwritten rules of his profession, he had no qualms about dating students. Of course, one had to be discreet, but he was young and attractive, as were they, and, due to the amount of hours he worked, there weren't enough hours in the day for him to find a social life outside of the campus. That didn't mean, though, that he didn't have standards for himself.

For one, he didn't date undergrads. That pretty much guaranteed him that he'd never actually have a woman he went out with in one of his classes and that the students he dated would, in fact, be women and not fresh-faced, idealistic girls. Though he had nothing against youth, that didn't mean he wanted someone confusing his girlfriend for his younger sister or, even worse, his daughter. Secondly, he also avoided seeing women from his own department. Graduate student or not, he didn't need his indiscretions to get back to his colleagues as they inevitably would if he dated a fellow literary enthusiast.

Plus, as the age of thirty-six, he had to be a realist. Despite the fact that he rather enjoyed the single life, he knew that, eventually, someone would enter his life who did more than just scratch that old itch. He'd fall in love, and he'd settle down, and he'd actualize his own version of the American dream, and, when he did so, he didn't want his wife to have the exact same interests as he did. He wanted there to be variety in his marriage which meant that he didn't want to marry a carbon, female copy of himself.

So, when he saw her for the first time, Angel was shocked that his first thought didn't immediately order him to scan his memory for recollected pretty faces. As he watched her, he wasn't concerned about how old she was, or what she was studying, or even if she was available. All he knew was that he wanted her, wanted her more than any other woman he had met in all his woman-filled years. However, that also might have had something to do with what she was doing in that moment. He wasn't certain.

Smirking, he leaned against his car, enjoying the show. Five minutes earlier, he had been in a rush to leave campus. With a briefcase full of final papers to grade for his Eighteenth Century Irish Poetry class to grade, the last thing he wanted to do was spend a single moment longer on campus. Unlike most of his colleagues, he preferred to take his work home, to put on some classical music and nurse a stiff scotch as he reviewed his students' course work, lounged comfortably in front of a fire instead of a creaking, old fashioned radiator. But, now, the last thing on his mind was proper grammar, research sources, and MLA documentation. All he could see, want, smell, crave was the petite blonde before him.

She was obviously in a hurry. Though attractively well put together, she appeared rushed. Her long, loose hair was pushed back off her face with her sunglasses, and, as she struggled to get out of her car in her super high heels and pleasantly short skirt, she also attempted to juggle two large tote bags, one he guessed to be a purse and the other stuffed to overflowing capacity with books, her keys, her cell phone, and a cup of coffee. Surprisingly, she was successful... until it came time to shut her car door.

Because of her skirt, she couldn't lift a foot high enough to kick the door shut, and, because her hands were entirely too full, she couldn't possibly free one without dropping something. He had to stifle a fit of laughter as he watched her stomp a foot in frustration, pout, and then swear softly under her breath. What she said, he couldn't make out, but he appreciated the range of reactions anyway. Finally, the woman resorted to bumping the door closed with her hip, only succeeding after she managed to catch her pantyhose on the edge of the door and giving herself a run.

That time, when she swore, he could hear her. "Cheese and rice, this is all his god damned fault!" He found the contradiction of the innocence and ire in her words intriguing. "It's December, Buffy. You can't go without pantyhose in December. Didn't your mother teach you that? What I want to know," she complained to herself as she meticulously unloaded her arms, piling her things on top of her car, "is why the hell his mother taught him that. Hello, he's a guy. Wouldn't it be more of a Midwest sin for guy to wear pantyhose than for a woman not to? Stupid people from Iowa with their stupid, prudish rules," she groused as she finished with her previous task and lifted her hands underneath her skirt to shimmy her way out of her hose. When she was free of their confining ways, she rolled them into a ball and shoved them in her purse. "The only good thing I can say about hose is that, when you wear them, you don't have to worry about underwear, but, then, where does that leave you when they get a run? In slutville," she declared, answering her own question and making him even more attracted to her.

She was obviously in a relationship, and she was obviously there to meet someone, but he still wanted to meet her, to ask her out, to distract her from going to the guy from Iowa that she was apparently involved with, but, as he took a step towards her, he changed his mind. If he approached her then, she'd know that he had been watching her as she stripped in the parking lot. Despite her seemingly forward nature, he didn't think she would appreciate his peeping tom ways. Plus, he would need more ammunition to sway her away from a committed relationship than an aversion to pantyhose and a charming grin.

So, he let her reload her arms, and he observed her silently as she walked off, remaining hidden behind his vehicle the entire time. It was only when she was completely gone from sight that he moved, whistling to himself as he placed his briefcase in the passenger seat and then jogged around the front of his SUV to jump into the driver's side. Lucky for him, while Sunnydale might have been a college town, it wasn't a big place, and the campus tended towards the modest end of the spectrum. While he had never seen the beautiful blonde before, he knew he would see her again... and soon. He'd make damn sure of it.

# ~ #

As she slid into the seat next to her boyfriend, Buffy plastered a fake smile on her face in an effort to cloak her annoyance, offering him a kiss on the cheek before she said, "sorry, I'm late. I had a little snag in the parking lot... literally."

He returned her smile, his, though, bright and warm with genuine cheer. "It's fine. I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of ordering for the both of us. I need to get back to the base, and the cafe's busy this close to the holidays."

"Sure," she readily agreed. They were meeting for lunch to discuss their plans for Christmas. "What'd you get for me."

"You're favorite," Riley revealed. "A chicken salad croissant with a spinach salad, red wine vinaigrette on the side." Punctuating his words, he reached across underneath the table and squeezed her knee softly, affectionately. It wasn't actually her favorite, but she had neither the inclination nor the ambition to inform him of that fact. What was more, she didn't even care to find whose favorite it really was. Tearing her from her musings, her boyfriend complained, "Buffy, your legs are bare."

"And freshly shaved, too," she informed him. Most guys would have taken advantage of her lack of hose. Most guys would have smiled devilishly while they slipped their hands under her skirt and copped a feel, thrilling in the taboo nature of their very public actions. Most guys wouldn't have been censuring her for her lack of clothes, but Riley Finn wasn't like most guys... even when she wanted him to be.

"That's not the point. I thought we talked about this."

"We did, and I thought I just told you that I had a little snag in the parking lot. I chose those words purposefully." She watched as his mouth open, as he prepared his next protest, but, before he could say anything else to further irritate her, she simply held up a hand and warned, "can we please not do this now, here? I know how you feel about the issue, and I'm trying to respect that, but something happened, something I didn't anticipate, and I had to roll with the punches. Sue me."

"Buffy, you live with me, you drive a beater, and your college loans exceed my yearly salary. I think I'll pass."

She rolled her eyes. Riley just didn't appreciate sarcasm properly. "And shoes. Don't forget my rather impressive collection of designer shoes. Not many woman my age can claim ownership of as many Christian Louboutins as I do."

"Speaking of which, your credit card bill came in the mail today. I really think you should..."

"Oh, look," Buffy interrupted. "The food's here." Despite the fact that she didn't particularly like chicken salad, she reached for her croissant and took a large, conversation halting bite. The last thing she needed that day was for her boyfriend to lecture her about her spending habits. Yes, she had a bad tendency of exercising her plastic money too much, but school was hectic, and studying to be a psychologist was stressful. The only thing that seemed to relax her was shoe shopping. After all, Riley with his wholesome, Iowa-raised ways certainly wasn't much help in that area.

Appreciating her enthusiasm for the interjection it was meant to be, he let the conversation drop... which she was thankful for. If only their other issues were as easily avoided.

# ~ #

There was no place he felt more at home than in a book store... well, except for his actual home. He liked how quiet book stores were. Unlike any other shopping establishment, they didn't play elevator music or generic soft rock ad nauseam until their customers were ready to stab their own eardrums. He liked how the sales associates allowed him to browse for hours on end without interruption or useless offers of insincere help, the smell of books, how most book stores had a cafe conveniently located inside its four walls, and, most of all, he just loved books. He loved the classics, both prose and poetry, and newer, modern works, he loved fiction and nonfiction, and he even enjoyed nontraditional literature – graphic novels, instructional manuals, and magazines, too.

When the campus was practically shut down for the holidays, and he was on break, Angel spent much of his free time browsing at the book store. He would buy a cup of coffee, amass a stack of books to sort through, and then a read a chapter or two of each to determine whether or not he wanted to purchase them. By the time he left the bookstore hours later, he would have at least one new work to finish that evening before he started the process over again the next day. When one lived by themselves and had relatively limited communication with their family, it allowed for a lot of free time during the holidays.

On that particular afternoon, he was browsing through wellness books. Although most were pretentious, at thirty-six he had learned how important it was to take care of his body and did so accordingly. And, as it just so happened, the wellness section of the bookstore was located directly in front of the sexual appreciation and instructional tomes, and, as he worked his way through the books on the shelves before him, he couldn't help but glance over the center divider to see if there was anybody shopping on the other side. As his luck would have it, there was somebody there, and, though he couldn't see her face, he would have recognized the woman's... posterior... from one hundred yards away instead of just one.

She was engrossed by what she was reading, so much so, in fact, that she had no idea that he was hovering behind her. Seated on the floor, her jean covered legs crossed and folded innocently at the knees, she rested her chin in the palm of her hand, her elbow placed securely upon her thigh. With his own browsing forgotten, Angel observed her carefully, greedily.

Though he couldn't read the small print of her book from so far away, he had no problem seeing the bold, bright photograph displayed when she turned the page. Craning his neck just as she angled her own, he had to bite his lip to stifle a groan at the very thought of having the pretty blonde before him in a similar, compromising position. The groan, however, turned into a swallowed chuckle when she started to speak softly to herself.

"Oh boy," she gulped. Although he couldn't see her expression, Angel imagined her eyes were wide with both wonder and curiosity. "Well, aren't they just some eager beavers. A little too adventurous, though, maybe for Riley. Besides, he'd have a shit fit if he saw these pictures, knew that I saw these pictures. It's a shame, though," and he could hear the regret in her voice. "It does kind of look fun."

Fun didn't even begin to describe where his thoughts were zigzagging towards.

As the book went back on the shelf and she started to trail her thin, delicate fingers over the spines and titles of others, he heard her suggest, "maybe I should look for something less... challenging."

Slipping away, Angel left the store that afternoon without a book. His coffee, cooling by his favorite complimentary leather chair, forgotten, he went home with the beautiful stranger on his mind. If nothing else about her current relationship was apparent, he could tell that she was being held back, restrained sexually, and it would be his pleasure, nay his duty, to help unleash her full potential. She just didn't know it yet.

# ~ #

They were in bed later that night when Buffy brought up the topic she had been both dreading and anticipating all day. While she painted her nails, Riley lounged beside her, playing video games. It was a typical evening in for the two of them.

Nonchalantly, she mentioned, "I stopped by the book store today."

"Uh huh."

She could tell that he was distracted and not exactly interested in what she had to say. For now, that worked well with her agenda. "Picked up a few things."

"Christmas presents?"

"Not exactly."

Pausing his game, her boyfriend turned to look at her. "You're being awfully cryptic, Buffy."

Biting her lip, she decided to just show him her purchases without any more preamble or introduction. Setting aside her bottle of polish, Buffy waved her hands to finish drying her nails before picking up the plastic bag which held her new books... their new books.

Nervously, she started to ramble, "now, I know you've probably never looked at anything like this before, but we're in a committed, stable relationship, we're both adults here, and I think this is something we're ready for."

Without meeting Riley's gaze, she shoved the guides into her boyfriend's hands. After several tense, awkward moments, he finally asked, "is this some kind of sick joke, a gag gift for a bachelorette party I didn't know you were invited to?"

"No," Buffy answered succinctly. "None of my friends are getting married, and these aren't a joke. In fact, there's some pretty serious stuff inside of them, but, in a way, I guess, they are sort of a gift."

"We are not giving these to anybody we know. That's just embarrassing."

"Well, that's good, because they're not for anyone else; they're for a us... They're a gift for us."

Silently, she watched as Riley stood from the bed, muted the television, and strode across the room to dump her purchases in the trash. Meeting her gaze, he said, "I don't want these in my house. They're disgusting."

"It's just sex, Riley," Buffy challenged. "So, what? You can have sex, but you don't like to read about it, and you won't abide us talking about it? That's a pretty steep double standard."

He ignored her complaint. "What I don't understand is why you thought we needed books like that in the first place. Just what exactly are you trying to say, Buffy?"

His outright horror towards the very idea of bettering their sex life suddenly made her feel ashamed which was ridiculous, because she knew there was nothing wrong with either her desires or the books she had purchased in an attempt to satisfy those desires. But, still, as with all their confrontations, she backed down. Because Riley was her boyfriend, there was a part of her that didn't want him to know how she really felt about their current fight, for, if he did, what would he think of her then?

"I just thought that maybe you'd like some of the things they suggest," she explained, "that maybe you might want to make things... spicier between us. I mean, we have been together now for a few years, and..."

With a comforting smile, Riley crossed the room and sat back down beside her. Reaching for one of her hands, he squeezed it carefully between the both of us. "And you thought that I might be bored with our sex life, but nothing could be further from the truth, Buffy. I am completely and totally satisfied with our sex life, with you."

Barely, she managed to return his grin. "Well, that's... a relief then."

"And, honey, the next time you're unsure about something, just come to me, talk to me, and I'll reassure you."

With that, Riley pulled her into his arms, and she went willingly, too disappointed to resist. After turning off the TV, he flipped the switch on the bedside lamp, casting their bedroom into utter darkness. For a moment, Buffy was temporarily buoyed by the fact that she thought she'd get makeup sex out of their confrontation, but, instead, her boyfriend simply pulled her down into the bed with him and held her while he fell asleep. Frustrated, she laid there in his arms, feeling absolutely misunderstood and miserable, unable to fall asleep. At least, mediocre sex would have been better than nothing, but Riley didn't even offer her that.

She would have simply initiated it herself, but he didn't like it when she took control, especially not in the bedroom, and she was too emotionally exhausted that evening to try anyway. Besides, she wouldn't have been able to handle another disappointment. It was one thing to have her idea of more adventurous sex denied, but it would have been a completely different story to have her needs denied, too. In her book, one humiliation per outing was enough. However, even if she had to hide the instructional manuals, she was keeping them. Riley might not be interested in bettering their physical relationship, but she sure as hell was... even if she had to do all the work by herself.

# ~ #

He was sitting alone in a coffee shop, reading the paper, when he heard her voice behind him. Interest piqued, Angel stopped reading and simply used the newspaper as a cover while he eavesdropped. It'd been almost a week since he had surreptitiously watched her browse for sex books, and, as the days advanced towards Christmas, he found himself craving the little blonde more and more with each passing mark on the calendar.

"Ugh, I can't believe two weeks of break has already gone by. Soon, it'll be the new year, and I'll have to go and pick up my last semester's worth of books. It's depressing."

"But just think," a voice Angel didn't recognize responded. "Soon, you'll be graduating, and you'll be going out and getting a job. You've worked hard for this, Buffy. Enjoy it; savor it."

"Oh, I'm not lamenting the fact that I'm almost done with school. I just don't want to do anymore work. Why won't they just let me graduate now." With a slight whine to her voice, he listened as she added, "I think I've learned enough."

"It shouldn't be too bad," her friend said. "After all, you'll be interning, right?"

"Yeah, at the police station, working on criminal profiling. At first, I thought I might want to open up my own practice after graduation, but now I'm not sure. I think I might get bored listening to other people's relationship problems all day long. Besides, how am I supposed to fix other people's relationships when I can't fix my own?"

"So, things with Riley still aren't getting any better?"

Buffy sighed. "It's not like they're any worse either. I just think I'm starting to notice more problems the longer we're together. Maybe I'm getting the three year itch or something."

Her friend giggled. "I didn't realize there was such a thing. Aren't you jumping the gun a little bit there?"

"Seven years, three years, what's the big diff," she questioned. "With the rate in which relationships progress today, it's no wonder I'm feeling so disenchanted with Riley after only two and half years, and I guarantee that I'm not the only woman out there with these problems either."

"Actually, you might be. I don't think I've ever heard of a guy who turns down his girlfriend's suggestion of trying new things in their sex life."

"Yeah, but you're also more familiar with the woman's point of view when it comes to relationships," Buffy teased, "especially considering the fact that you are a woman and you date women."

"Touche."

For a few moments, both girls laughed, and Angel found himself snickering quietly along with them. In their own way, they both had a point. Eventually, it was the object of his infatuation that broke through the silliness. "So, what about you, Wills; what are you thinking about doing with those duel masters of yours come May?"

"Oh, I don't know," Buffy's friend sighed. "I really like computers, and I find internet forensics fascinating, but a part of me misses the chemistry lab, and there's another part of me that misses logarithms. I'm actually thinking about switching gears and going back and getting another bachelors degree, maybe this time something in either the science or the math realms of study."

"If you keep this up, you're going to be a professional student. It's a good thing you're a genius and you get all those grants and scholarships. Speaking of which, Riley was just giving me a hard time a few weeks ago about all my student loans... and my credit card bills."

"Buffy, while the two of you might live together, that's still none of his business. As long as you don't ask him to pay your bills for you, then he has no right to make judgments."

"I know, I know, you're right..."

As the two women continued to discuss the orgasm-stingy, financially judgmental boyfriend, Angel zoned out for a few minutes. There was something about Buffy's friend that he found extremely familiar. He was pretty sure that he recognized her somehow, not physically but the idea of her, and he was no stranger to fiercely independent women who loved to learn and hated most men. The only thing that was throwing him off was the fact that Buffy had called her Wills. He knew for a fact he had never met anyone with that particular name.

Needing more information on the woman he was obsessed with and wanting to further attempt placing an identity to her friend, he refocused upon their conversation. "... and it's not your fault that you alleviate stress through shopping. I mean, you wanted to try tantric sex instead, but somebody whose name starts with an 'R' and ends in iley was too much of a fuddy-duddy."

Giggling, Buffy exclaimed, "wow, Willow, you really kept that identity cloaked and daggered."

Folding his newspaper with a self-satisfied smirk, Angel stood up from his table, tossing a tip down as he left. Wills, apparently, thankfully, was just a nickname; Buffy's best friend was actually a fiercely independent, lesbian intellectual, one who, though he didn't know personally, was certainly well known by someone he, in fact, loved. Striding confidently out of the coffee shop, Angel knew exactly what his next move would be.

# ~ #

Getting ready for bed simultaneously, she was washing her face and putting her overnight moisturizer on while Riley brushed his teeth. "So, Willow and I met for coffee this afternoon. I told her about how I'm not sure now what I want to do after graduation in the spring, but she thought my idea about maybe working as a criminal profiler sounded exciting. She kept saying 'Buffy Anne Summers, FBI Psychologist' in this deep, television voice. It was ridiculous, but, at the same time, tempting."

After rinsing out his mouth, Riley stood to his full height which, in her boyfriend's case, was nothing to slouch about. Leaning over, he kissed her hair. "Whatever you decide, I'm sure you'll be great, honey, but does it really matter?"

Now, that was surprising. Usually, Riley was all about the planning. Since he was child, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He had everything – his career, dating, his marriage, retirement – all mapped out on paper down to the finest detail. He had showed her once, six months into their relationship, and she had laughed for hours at how rigid and meticulous he was. Unfortunately, she no longer found that particular quirk about her boyfriend to be amusing, but Buffy was curious as to why he reacted so blithely about her own lack of direction.

Rushing her nightly facial process, she ran after him into their bedroom. "Excuse me?"

Grinning openly, Riley repeated, "I said it didn't really matter."

With hands on hips, she demanded to know, "and why exactly the hell not?"

"Well, no matter what you end up doing, Buffy, you'll be giving it up anyway in a few years when it's time for us to start having kids."

Taking a step towards her boyfriend, she further tightened her already narrowed gaze. "I will?"

"Of course," he offered affably with a smile to boot. "My mother gave up teaching when she found out she was going to have me, and I'm sure your mom quit her..."

"My mom went back to work exactly six weeks after giving birth to me. At that time," Buffy explained, "she didn't own her own gallery yet, so she only had so much maternity leave available to her. When she had Dawn, she did the same thing. My mom worked during my entire childhood."

"Oh, well, if your parents couldn't afford for your mother not to work..."

"My dad had a good job," Buffy interrupted him before he could say anything more. "My mom simply wanted to work. She wasn't defined by her role as a mother, as a wife. She liked what she did, and she enjoyed having a career."

"Well, no matter what, you won't have to worry about things like that. I'll be able to support us, so, once we have our first child, you'll be able to stay at home and raise him or her."

While she knew Riley's words were meant to be reassuring, all she found them to be was infuriating, not to mention demeaning, sexist, and unbelievably naïve. It was like her boyfriend didn't even know her. "Except for that I won't be. I didn't go to college for seven years just to give up my career whenever you decide it's time for me to push out a kid. I will continue to work if I someday become a mother, and, while we're on the subject, we're not even engaged, Riley, so why the hell are you planning my future retirement already?"

"I just thought..."

"No, actually, it sounds like to me you didn't think at all."

"Buffy," she could hear the chastisement present in his tone, and it simply enraged her even more. "There's no reason to get catty. If you can't have this conversation like a mature, rational adult, then..."

"Then maybe we don't need to be having it at all," she finished for him. Without waiting to experience his reaction, she turned on her heels and simply walked away.

"Where are you going," Riley called after her.

"I'm sleeping in the guest room tonight," she answered, "just in case you get the not-so-bright idea to put the little woman in her place by attempting to knock her up... not that, when it comes to sex, you're that inventive."

She knew it was a low blow, but she didn't care. For years, she had been the one to give in whenever they fought but not that evening, not on that particular issue. As she walked away, though, Buffy wondered if her docile nature had less to do with keeping the peace in their relationship, though, and more to do with simply avoiding the responsibility of fixing what was wrong. If she allowed their differences to mount, and mount, and mount, then, eventually, the mountain between them would be too difficult to either bypass or traverse, and they'd be forced to simply turn around and give up. While she wasn't sure if she was ready to break up with Riley yet, she did know that something desperately needed to change between them, or, maybe, she just needed to change the him in them instead.

# ~ #

His sister, so much like him – she loved books, she was quiet and introspective, and she dated women, was already seated at their usual booth, her nose buried in a novel, when he approached her that Christmas Eve. As per their tradition, neither of them cooked for the other on the holidays. Instead, they went out to eat, usually opting for their favorite family owned and operated Greek restaurant located in the historic part of town. Sliding into the side across from her, Angel said nothing. Rather, he simply placed an envelope in front of his younger and only sibling.

"You're up to something," she murmured without glancing away from the page she was currently on.

"Can't a brother just show his sister how much he loves and appreciates her?"

She said nothing, simply snorted, and he waited patiently for her to finish what she was reading and mark where she left off. "You're late."

"I was at the travel agency," he revealed. "Go ahead," Angel nodded towards the envelope. "We both know you want to look."

"I don't need to look to know that it's a bribe, a bribe to make me either do something or look the other way and allow you to do something you know I won't approve of, so why don't you save us both some time, because, personally, I'm starving, and just tell me what you're plotting this time."

Annoyed with her perception, he sat back in the booth, crossed his arms over his chest, and glowered. "Maybe I just wanted to get my baby sister a Christmas present."

"We don't buy each other Christmas presents, because I spend all my money on school, and you buy me too much as it is without using a holiday as an excuse." Pushing the envelope back towards him, she pressed again, "now, we can either order, or you can cut to the chase."

"They're plane tickets," Angel revealed.

"And like I couldn't figure that one out on my own what with the travel agency clue and all," his sister teased. "Why are you trying to give them to me?"

Smiling brightly, he offered, "because I love you."

"Try again."

"Because you work too hard and deserve a break."

Smirking, she guessed, "maybe the third time will be the charm, big brother, because, while I might be eleven years younger than you, I'm not that young to fall for your practically senile, old man tricks."

"Alright, fine," Angel relented. "I need you to do me a favor, but, if you agree, that means that you won't be able to spend New Year's with your girlfriend, and I know how important the holiday is to you, so, to make up for the inconvenience, I bought you two tickets to Ireland for the week before you go back to school."

Despite her best intentions, he could see the pure excitement rush through his sister's gaze when he announced the destination he was prepared to send her and her girlfriend to. However, when she spoke, she still sounded cool and detached. "This must be one hell of a favor, because, unlike me, you don't put much stock in New Year's Eve, so, whatever it is you want me to do, you must think that you'll really need to suck up to get me to agree to it."

Without explaining the circumstances behind his question, Angel asked, "do you know what a swingers party is?"

"I'm a lesbian not a leper," his sister joked. "Of course, I know what a swingers party is."

"Anyway, I need to go to one, but, to go, I need a partner."

"First of all," she argued, "you don't need to go; you want to go, and, secondly, why can't you just ask a date to go with you... say someone who is not your gay sister." Before he had a chance to respond, though, she answered her own question. "Oh, I get it, and the answer is no."

"Tara!"

"I'm sorry, Angel, but I won't help you break up a couple's marriage."

"What if I said they're not married?" Seeing that she was slightly starting to thaw towards his idea, he pushed, "and that she's unhappy with him but just needs an excuse to leave."

"And you want me to do all of this just so that you can scratch an itch and have another one night stand?"

That question he didn't have a prepared answer for. After several moments, Angel finally said, "actually, no, I don't think so. I think that I might want more from this one."

"Do you actually have feelings for this woman," his sister questioned. He would have been offended by the disbelief peppering her voice if he had not given her plenty of reasons to doubt him in the past.

Laughing, he defended, "now, I wouldn't go that far. I don't even know her yet, but I'm intrigued by her, and I think there's a possibility for feelings. They'll only have a chance, though, if you agree to do this for me."

"So, let me get this straight," Tara said. "If I do this for you – go to a swingers party and pretend to be your date, you'll give me those two plane tickets to Ireland for me and my girlfriend."

Smiling crookedly, Angel waved them in front of his baby sister. "Did I mention yet that they're first class?" Before he could jerk them away from her, Tara had them snatched right out of his hand, making Angel laugh. "I guess that's a yes then?"

"We better have a good time, and this party better have good champagne, and you better believe you're buying me a new outfit to wear to it, and you better end up married to this woman with a dozen children."

"Anything else?"

Grinning with unabashed affection for him, his sister simply laughed. "Just that, if Willow gets upset about this, I'm making you deal with her, and, trust me, nobody likes an angry lesbian."

"I'll take your word for it."

Tara's only response was to kick him underneath the table, making Angel chuckle. He hated tricking his sister, but desperate times called for desperate measures, and he was definitely desperate to get Buffy – and to keep her – in his bed.

# ~ #

"You know, someday, your face is going to freeze like that... or, at least, become prematurely wrinkled. Why the huffy, Buffy?"

Despite her dour mood, Buffy found herself offering her best friend a small grin. "I swear, it doesn't matter how old we get, you'll always be ten."

Willow beamed. "It's a part of my natural charm. Men seem to find it off putting, but the ladies seem to dig it."

Giggling, she teased, "which works out quite nicely for you." Willow shrugged modestly. "So, how was your Christmas? By the way, just for the record, I find this whole every other year switch off of your winter holidays you and Tara have going to be very mature."

"It was good," her best friend shared. They were meeting the day after to hit up the post-Christmas sales. "I missed my menorah, but you gentiles definitely have the better songs. Oh," Willow added enthusiastically. "And I can't forget the fact that her brother is sending us to Ireland in less than two weeks."

"Whoa, back that caboose up, Wills," Buffy ordered her. "Did you just say Ireland?"

"First class."

"That's quite the Christmas present."

"It wasn't a present," Willow replied. "Tara and her brother don't exchange gifts."

"He's a Grinch?"

"No," her best friend laughed. "Totally the opposite, in fact. When it comes to Tara, he'd do anything for his sister, buy her anything, and he does... all year long, so she refuses to accept any presents from him when he already gives her so much during the rest of the year."

"So, then, where do these first class tickets come in to play," Buffy wanted to know.

"They're Tara's payment for giving up her New Year's Eve and going with her brother to this swingers party."

"That's rather... West Virginian of them."

"No, it's nothing like that. He's just chasing after this woman who's going to be there, and he needs Tara to pretend to be his date. There will be no sibling hillbilly hospitality shared between them." Suddenly, causing Buffy to jump, Willow started to wave her hands up and down in front of her as she shouted, "oh, oh, oh!"

"Did I not get the memo that said we were going to play random rounds of charades today?"

Ignoring her sarcasm, Willow said, "you and Riley should totally go to this party."

"While I might feel cheated by Riley, Wills, I'm not ready to cheat on him," Buffy defended, lifting her left hand to tuck an errant lock of hair behind her ear.

Just as she was about to reply, her best friend froze and stared at her hand. "What's that?"

"Uh..."

"Buffy!"

"I'm sorry, Willow," she apologized loudly, uncaring that they were attracting several displeased glares from the other patrons sitting in the food court. "But it's a diamond, and it looked too pretty on my finger to say no to."

"So you got engaged?!"

"Look, while my relationship with Riley might not be perfect, it's not terrible either. Now, granted, it definitely needs some improvement if I'm going to go through with marrying him, but I also wasn't ready to give up on it yet either, and, if I would have said no to him, we would have definitely broken up."

"Well, then, you definitely need to go to this swingers party," Willow informed her.

"I don't get it. How will providing us with the opportunity to have sex with other people fix our problems?"

"Not only will you be able to spend some time with some married couples, because, let's face it, I'm gay, your other friends are single, and Riley's friends are too... Iowan... is that even a word?," her best friend questioned, "but you'll also have an opportunity to make Riley jealous. Maybe if you go to this party, put this idea in his head that you're interested in other men, look but don't actually touch when you're there, you'll spark a flame under his boring ass, and, when you get home from the party that night, he'll ravage you like a formerly caged mountain lion of a man who's just been unleashed."

"You found another site with free soft porn romance novels, didn't you?"

"Guilty as charged," Willow admitted, blushing slightly. "While I might not dig the girl on guy action physically, I still enjoy reading about it for some reason. Weird, right?"

Buffy's answer was to giggle. After several minutes, she finally got herself back under control. Taking a deep breath while she smoothed out imaginary wrinkles from her blouse, she said, "you know, I think you might be right about this. I think I will make Riley go with me to this party... whether he wants to or not. It'll be good for us, one way or another. It'll either wake up our sex life or show me that it's past the point of resuscitation." Standing up, she announced, "now, all I have to do is find a dress. You, my Harlequin reading friend, should be just the woman I need to find the perfect outfit."

"One libido booster coming right up!"

"Willow," Buffy begged once her best friend was standing beside her and they were headed towards Neiman Marcus. "Do me a favor and never say that again."

"It'll be my pleasure."

# ~ #

Her adrenaline was pumping, her palms were sweaty in both anticipation and anxiety, and she knew that she looked hot. As she stood there next to her boyfriend as they waited for the door to be answered, Buffy felt, for the first time in her life, like a rock star... despite the fact that she could neither sing nor play an instrument. It was just the surge of invincibility that jettisoned its way through her blood stream that evening, sparking every last nerve in her body. She felt more alive than any one woman had a right to.

"I can't believe you wore that," Riley sniped underneath his breath. From the moment she walked out of the bathroom that night, ready to go, he had been glowering in her direction and making caustic remarks about her choice in dresses. "If my mother ever saw you in something like that..."

"Well, I guess it's a good thing your mom's back home in Iowa, tucked safely into her single bed then, isn't it?"

"There's no reason to insult my parents' relationship, Buffy."

She couldn't help herself. While she knew it was petty, she taunted back anyway. "Maybe if they actually had one, then what I'm saying could be considered insulting."

With both of them frowning in annoyance, they stood side by side, untouching, as the door was opened. Though the hostess of the party had never met them before, she greeted them warmly, kissing Riley hello on the cheek and complimenting Buffy on her outfit. Once the overly enthusiastic pleasantries were exchanged, though, she disappeared back into the room, leaving the bickering couple standing in the still open doorway.

"Remind me again why we're here exactly," her fiancé demanded to know.

"I came to have a good time."

"And how did you even find out about a party like this, Buffy," Riley whisperingly wondered.

Glaring at him, she answered while handing him her coat. "Willow told me about it."

He shook his head in feigned amusement. "Of course, she would know about something like this."

"And just what exactly is that supposed to mean," she bit out harshly, fisting her hands upon her hips.

Snidely, he said, "if you think you're mature enough to handle a party like this responsibly, then I'm sure you're mature enough to figure out my inexplicit connotations about your precious best friend."

It took her several moments of utilizing a deep breathing exercise to calm down enough to respond. "Look, why don't we mingle? I'll go one way, and you can go another, and, at midnight, we'll meet back up here. Alright?"

"I highly doubt I'll be able to stand the company here that long, but whatever you say. After all, this is how you wanted to spend our first New Year's Eve together as an engaged couple. I just hope you get all this rebellious curiosity and experimentation out of your system before we're married, because I will not subject our future children to such detrimental behavior."

"Oh, just get off your moral high ground already, General I'm-a-Judgmental-Ass," Buffy snarked. With that, she pivoted around on the heels of her gold, t-strap Christian Louboutins, walking away in a blur of blue, gold, red, green, silver, and purple, her dress glittering in the light with the sudden movement.

Needing to get as far away from Riley as she could while still managing to get some fresh air, Buffy headed towards the back of the house, hoping the owners had a patio or porch she could hide on for several quiet, private moments, but, when she found the sunken family room which, through a set of open French doors, went out to a well lit, landscaped veranda, she knew there would be no alone time that evening until she went home hours later. Refusing to be intimidated, though, she squared her shoulders and marched out into the well dressed, socializing crowd.

For several minutes, she made small talk, answering compliments and handing out her own, sharing a laugh here and a laugh there when some ridiculously not funny joke was told, and smiling politely whenever someone offered her a similar gesture, but the fake pleasantries were exhausting, and she soon tired of the effort it took to fit in. Buffy was just about to temporarily give up and seek out a bathroom when she spotted the bar across the yard and, instead, made an immediate beeline towards it.

"Martini, dirty," she ordered when the server approached her. Without a word, he turned away and started to prepare her drink.

With a single foot raised to rest against the bottom rung of a barstool, Buffy leaned against the tile counter of the bar. The already warm night arm was further heated by the large outdoor fireplace, and she sighed blissfully as a slight breeze brushed against her face and the loose tendrils of hair clinging to her neck. She was so relaxed in that one still, solitary moment, that she allowed her heavily, darkly shaded lids to fall shut and smiled.

Making her jump in shock, a smooth, confident, decadent voice whispered past her ear, teasing her flesh into goosebumps and thrilling the light hair along her neck into rising. "Brave choice," the sinfully deep words washed over her.

Buffy smirked and opened her eyes to find the face of a man who fit the rich tone that had just accosted her while unaware and unprepared. "Excuse me?"

"On a night like this, at a party like this, with people like this," he glanced around the garden, his gaze both observing and dismissing the other guests. "Most would start with something a little lighter, working their way up to the hard stuff as the evening became more and more insufferable."

"Maybe I needed some liquid courage."

"You're already here which means you're courageous enough," the sexy stranger purred. "Now that you've seen who else is here, though, I'm guessing that you need your beer goggles on to go through with it. Lucky for you, I'm an excellent judge of alcoholic beverages."

"You're a lush," Buffy suggested, teasingly.

"Irish," the man answered with a straight face, making her laugh sincerely for the first time that evening.

Holding out her hand, she introduced herself. "I'm Buffy, by the way, since you seem to be attempting to pick me up."

"Liam Angelus," he returned with a wide grin. "And am I succeeding?"

Waving off the bartender, she dismissed her order and, instead, wound her right arm through her new friend's left one before leading them off to an even more shadowed, discreet corner of the yard. "That remains to be seen. The night's still young."

"Would it help my chances if I were to tell you that I really like your dress?"

Tipping her head to the side to observe him, she asked, "don't you mean my lack of much of a dress?"

"It's revealing. I'll grant you that, and I'm certainly not complaining about the fact, mind you, but I also think it counts as clothes. Everything that is supposed to be covered in polite society is, and you definitely have a knack for pulling the dress off. Now, admittedly, I could pull the dress off, too, but we wouldn't be talking in colloquialisms anymore then."

"There's a five dollar word."

Accepting her compliment without explanation, he offered, "I also really like the fact that you went without pantyhose. They're so... puritanical."

Stopping their progression, Buffy let go of the man's arm and turned around so that they were facing each other. "Just so you know, I'm not going to sleep with you tonight."

"I never sleep with a girl on a first date."

Frowning, Buffy argued, "this is not a date."

"There's flirting, conversation, drinks, and music for dancing. Where I come from, that's a date."

Narrowing her gaze, she accused him, "you're good with words. I'll grant you that. You twist them, use them to your advantage, manipulate them so that they fit into your agenda, but your little tricks are not going to work on me."

"Ah, but that remains to be seen. After all, as you told me just a moment before, the night is still young, Buffy."

As he said her name, as the two syllables she was most familiar with in the entire English language slipped past his full, tempting lips, she knew she was treading dangerous ground. The man before he was seduction personified, and, if she wasn't careful, she would find out that evening just what it was like to relish surrendering to a conquerer. Even with this realization, though, she couldn't walk away from him. For the first time in years, perhaps ever, she felt both challenged by a man and as though she had found her equal. He had her completely unbalanced but, at the same time, totally sure of herself as well. The sensations he created inside of her were entirely too addicting, too, to be either good for her or legal, for that matter, but she didn't care. It was a rush, he was a rush, and they were a rush together.

Buffy was falling, and she had a sneaking suspicion the only person who would be able to catch her was Liam Angelus – a perfectly imperfect stranger she wanted to know so well and for so long that she'd never know him entirely before he learned, or did, or thought of something new.

# ~ #

Twenty minutes into their conversation, Buffy told him not to let her forget to meet up with her fiancé at midnight; when the countdown started, he pulled her into the nearest closet, locked the door from the inside, and shoved her roughlygentlyeagerly up against the back wall. With the voices of their fellow guests surrounding them from outside the small room and a curtain of their hostess' coats shrouding them within, he silenced any protests she might have had by kissing her.

The first touch of their lips together wasn't sweet, and it was anything but tame. Angel had barely tasted her when he was using his tongue to pry her mouth open, pushing his way inside the hot, moist recesses of her mouth to tangle, sweep against, and twist around her own. Their embrace was desperate and bruising, and he used its intensity to distract her while his hands had their way with her body. It wasn't enough though; touching, tasting, tempting her wasn't enough. He needed more.

"This is wrong," she managed to mumble around his kiss.

And he couldn't agree with her more. Lifting an arm, Angel tugged on a hanging chain, illuminating the small space with the bright, overhead light from a bare, uncovered bulb. It would have been wrong to not see Buffy as he claimed her, as she possessed him.

Through the open, loose cowl neck of her dress, he went to sweep his hands inside, dying to caress, pinch, flick what he knew to be the hard beads of her aroused nipples only to find that he couldn't push aside the light, revealing dress. Unbelievably frustrated, he growled into Buffy's mouth before releasing it harshly, trailing his lips, tongue, teeth down her jaw and neck until he latched his mouth onto the burning, throbbing skin of her pulse point. Suckling her greedily, knowing that his efforts would leave a mark, Angel listened as the woman in his arms first groaned in annoyance at the loss of his mouth upon hers, then sighed in blissful delight as he kissed her throat, and then finally, raggedly, brokenly answered his silent question.

"Tape," she panted, "double sided.

He dipped his head once again, moving his lips to the delicate flesh of her chest. Though he wasn't licking her breasts like he wanted to, while he thought about what he should do next, Angel savored the taste of her skin, nipping each slight indentation of bone down the center of her body, bending so that, by the time he could descend no further, his nose and face were pressed intimately against the revealed flesh of her abdomen.

While he wanted to explore every single tempting inch of her divine form, he wasn't sure if he could be that patient the first time he was with her, and, to remove the tape holding her dress up, he would either have to slow down his attentions and risk her mind catching up with her body and denying them both their pleasure or hurt her which he absolutely refused to do. Desperate, he paused only long enough to breathe her in. She smelled like desire, a combination of both his and hers, mangoes, and a heady combination of spices he was too far gone to separate and identify. Despite his lack of conscious thought, though, it reminded him of the three other times he had secretly been near her, and, with a smirk, he knew exactly what to do.

Standing, Angel brushed the front of his aroused body against Buffy's quivering one, making sure to push himself into the juncture of her thighs. As she gasped in awareness, he took advantage of her delighted distraction and twisted her around, stunning her as he pressed her face first into the back wall and spread her legs a shoulder width apart. Neither of them said a word; the only sound they heard, besides the suddenly incomprehensible voices from outside the closet, was the steady, greedy inhalations of breath Buffy rhythmically took.

Without warning, he broke the silence by unbuckling his pants, the slight noise seeming much louder in the otherwise still space. Unbelievably hard and ready for her, Angel wasted no time in baring Buffy to both his sight and his body, simply choosing to push the hem of her dress up above her waist. Stepping into her awaiting body, he positioned himself at her center. He didn't ask for permission, and she didn't offer it. Joining their hands together, he lifted them above their heads and placed their palms flat against the wall. Braced, he surged forward, thrusting his way completely inside of her, stilling only once they were thoroughly connected.

Despite the rough nature of their position, he moved softly, liquidly, pulling out slowly before just as smoothly sliding back home. His efforts were rewarded when Buffy almost immediately began to rotate her hips in unison with his own, her actions complimentary in nature. As soon as they found their rhythm, their bodies fitting together almost as though they knew they never should have been apart, he dropped his head to her shoulder and attached his lips, once more, to her neck, branding the back of it, just as he had done with the front, as his own.

Their coupling was languid, the silk of her womb welcoming his satiny hardness effortlessly. They didn't talk. They simply breathed in each others pleasure, tasting, treasuring it while it lasted. Eventually, though, their movements became more hurried. As they each neared completion, Angel began to thrust deeper and faster, the skin of his hips slapping against the firm, round flesh of Buffy's backside, and she began to squeeze him from inside, using the muscles of her sex to begcoaxplead their releases from both of them.

It wasn't until he heard Buffy breathe his name in sated climax, calling him "Angel," though he had never told her of his preferred moniker, that he was able to let go completely and fall off the precipice of orgasm. Closing his eyes, he came desperately, shooting his seed into Buffy's oh-so-welcoming body. Behind his shuttered lids, he saw lights exploding in bright bursts of confetti, and his mind went dizzy from both bliss and a momentary lack of oxygen. It was some time before he was able to reopen his eyes and pull out of Buffy's warm, wet heat, turning her around, once more, to face him.

"We," she started only to pause, take a deep, gulping breath, and begin again. "I can't go back out there... like this."

Looking down at where he gaze was directed, Angel saw what she saw. The combined essences of their pleasure was smeared across her sex and thighs, wetting them deliciously as they slightly glistening in the glare of the overhead light. As soon as he released her dress and allowed it to fall back over her, the material would stick to her legs, and everyone would know exactly what the two of them had been doing behind closed doors. Though he certainly wasn't embarrassed by their actions, he knew Buffy would have been both physically uncomfortable with the situation and socially as well.

So, without a word said between them, he simply smirked and dropped to his knees, using his mouth to clean off the evidence of their coupling, though, in doing so, he only managed to arouse them both once again. Finished, he stood, prepared to simply grin and bear his own stickiness only to be pleasantly surprised when Buffy lowered herself down to return the favor. By the time she had him tucked back in his pants, he was painfully straining against the zipper... almost as if their interlude in the closet had never taken place at all.

He left first, though, wanting to find his sister. Despite the fact that he would risk revealing his machinations, Angel, for some reason beyond him at that point, wanted Buffy and Tara to meet. If nothing else, he knew his earlier declarations to be true. Though he had slept with Buffy, he wasn't going to be satisfied with simply a one night stand like he had been with so many other women from his past. Whatever it was that was happening between them, at the moment, fiancé or not on her part, he wanted her in his life and that meant getting his sister's seal... or, at least, wink of approval.

Five minutes later, he found her hiding in the kitchen. As he went to hug her, though, she stepped away, holding up a hand to ward off his hug. "You look too cocky not have recently had sex, and you smell like a woman."

"Thank you," Angel said cheekily, earning a mock glare from his only sibling. In an attempt to appease her, he turned on the sink, found some dish soap, and washed his hands. Once he was finished, he quirked a brow in Tara's direction. "Happy now," he asked before reaching for her hand and pulling her after him. As they made their way back through the house and towards the foyer where the closet he had only just recently vacated was located, he explained his actions. "I want you to meet her."

While he expected some quip about how this woman really was different than all the rest or some teasing remark about how he must have ate something funny and not be feeling well, his sister, instead, started to talk softly under her breath. "Not only do you smell like a woman, but I know that scent, that perfume. I've smelled it before."

"Millions of women wear the same perfume, Tara."

"Yeah, but it's the unique combination that I recognize. It's not only the perfume but the mango shampoo and the cinnamon body wash as well. It's... Buffy!"

Whirling around, he gawked at his sister. "What... how did you... just how serious is this girlfriend of yours?" Glancing back at Buffy, his gaze swept between the two gaping, shocked women, both of them obviously astonished by the revelation of who the other was. "Evidently, you two know each other. Your girlfriend, her best friend, has introduced you to each other... which, by the way, I didn't realize, because I'm the brother here, and I've yet to meet Willow."

"Uh, actually," Tara challenged, "apparently you have."

"No," he excused. "I just saw her with Buffy."

"You've seen me before tonight," she asked, sounding suspicious and annoyed. Realization dawning, she accused, "you've been stalking me, haven't you?"

"I have not," Angel defended. I've only seen you once... maybe three times."

"When?"

Turning to face her, he answered Buffy's question, his sister's presence already forgotten temporarily. "The first time was a few weeks ago in the campus cafe parking lot."

"Oh," she replied automatically, coloring brightly moments later as she breathed out, "oh," again, the second time recalling just what she had been doing in the campus cafe parking lot that particular day.

"I also saw you in the book store a week later. You were... browsing." If possible, Buffy's blush deepened several shades. "And then I overheard some of your conversation with Willow in the coffee shop a week and a half ago."

"That's when you figured out who Willow was and her connection to me. You recognized her name, and then you set me up by begging me to come with you to this party. I should have known better," Tara realized. "My brother would have just come here tonight without a date, but you needed to invite me so that I'd have to tell Willow why I couldn't spend New Year's Eve with her, knowing she'd tell her best friend and, perhaps, planting the idea of the party in Buffy's mind as well. I always knew you were suave, Angel, but I guess I never knew just how much so."

"So, let me get this straight," Buffy said, bringing his attention, once more, back to her. "You did all of that just for the chance to see me here tonight. What if you had gone to all that trouble for nothing; what if I wouldn't have come?"

"Then I would have tried again as soon as I possibly could."

Despite the frown she was attempting to wear, he could see that she was flattered by the amused, appreciative light shining within her expressive, hazel orbs. "Well, now that you've been caught, I just have one question for you," Buffy prefaced. "What exactly do you have to say for yourself?"

"Right now," he answered. "I'm wondering if you'd be willing to go home with me tonight."

"I thought you didn't sleep with girls on the first date, Angel?"

Sauntering across the few steps that separated them, he pulled her against him, uncaring of who could see. With a crooked smirk, he retorted, "for you, I'm willing to make an exception just this once."

# ~ #

With the blankets kicked to the floor, and their black satin sheets slick under their damp skin, Buffy, flat on her back, was sprawled across their king sized bed while her husband lay exhausted and heavily breathing beside her on his stomach. Without words, she watched him, watched as his toned, tanned ass rose with every inhalation of breath he took, watched as a bead of perspiration trailed leisurely down his muscled back to pool in the shallow dip of his hip.

Despite the fact that his eyes were closed, he could apparently feel her gaze upon his heated flesh. "Can't a man retain at least a modicum of modesty around here. Remove thine eyes, woman, and let me rest in peace."

"Nope," she denied him pertly. "If you want me to close my eyes, you'll have to do a better job at exhausting me."

Making her laugh, he sprang up from where he lay and landed so that his hands and knees were positioned on either side of her. "Was that a challenge?"

"Take it however you want. Just lower that body of yours closer to mine and realign your..."

Her words were stymied by the touch of his lips upon hers. Greedily, she returned his kiss, moaning into the embrace. Breathless, nearly a minute later, he finally pulled away. "Tonight's New Year's Eve. You're not going to make me take you to some ridiculously inappropriate party, are you, in an effort to spice up our sex life?"

"Very funny," Buffy pouted, hating that he was teasing her about the swingers party they had attended the year before. "However, I think this," with that, she dropped her gaze to her gently rounded stomach, "is proof that our sex life is spicy enough." She was six months pregnant, well into her second trimester, and horny as hell.

Angel simply laughed, slipping easily inside her previously pleasured but already aroused again body once more.