A/N: And, with this post, Storm Clouds Gathering comes to a close. Thanks for reading, thanks for being patient with me during the lulls of this fic, and, as always, enjoy! As for my next story, it's a full length fic, and it's called The Price We Pay for Love.

~Charlynn~

Part Eight

"You know you're not losing your job, right," his boss said in lieu of an actual greeting. Although Angel didn't shift his attention towards the hospital room's entrance at all, keeping his focus entirely on a still unconscious Buffy, he knew the other man was there, had known before he spoke. "I figured I'd better say something before I knocked if I actually wanted to be invited in."

Without waiting for a response, the Seattle police chief rapped twice on the door's jamb before gingerly stepping into the room, pulling the remaining chair to the opposite side of Buffy's bed, and sitting down so that he was positioned directly across from Angel, maintaining an appropriate amount of distance between himself and the patient. After all, they had never met before. Just when Angel was about to respond, the older man held up his hands in a gesture to ward off whatever it was he wanted to say and continued to talk himself. "I know it's not an excuse, Kelly, but I had no idea you were seeing anyone. No one did. I asked around."

"Yeah, well, we... It's complicated."

"Isn't it always?" To conclude his rhetorical question, the chief of police simply raised a meaningful, heavy brow and smirked. Whether he actually understood the situation or not, Angel wasn't going to question him. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

"I am, too. Trust me, it wasn't easy to disobey your orders, and it certainly wasn't easy to walk away from all those people who needed my help, but she..." By re-including Buffy in their conversation, he returned his gaze to the prone woman in the bed before him. "She needed it more."

"No apologies necessary, Officer," his boss reassured him, "especially in light of what happened to her. I read the report you filed. The cop who did this will be going in front of the review board. However, I would like your in-put as to what you'd like to see happen to him. A probational period? Temporary suspension? Permanent suspension?"

"That shouldn't be up to me," he answered soberly. "That should be up to Buffy."

The police chief nodded in both recognition and acceptance of his statement. "I spoke to her doctor before coming in to see you. Granted, I'm not family, so he might not have been telling me everything, but getting information from reluctant medical professionals is one of the perks of my job. He said that she should make a full recovery?"

"Yeah, right now we're just waiting for her to wake up. She suffered from a pretty serious concussion. A blow to the head from steel-toed boots tends to do that, but there shouldn't be any lasting neurological damage."

"And the rest of her injuries?"

"She's got several broken bones in both hands – defensive wounds from attempting to shield herself from the officer's attack, a broken wrist that may eventually need surgery to heal properly, a broken collar bone, and four broken ribs which, luckily, somehow managed to not puncture either of her lungs, not to mention considerable bruising and more lacerations than I've been able to count so far. Her abdomen is slightly tender, too, the doctors think from the rubber bullets being fired at her from such a close range. They're watching that, too, to make sure that she's not bleeding internally, but they're optimistic."

"Jesus."

Bitterly, Angel snapped, "and just think what might have happened to her if I hadn't been searching for her, if I hadn't gotten there in time to intervene." As if to reassure himself that she was, in fact, alright and was really going to make it through her injuries just like the doctors promised, he picked up her left hand and held it between both of his own, his thumbs lightly caressing her silky soft skin, making sure that his ministrations were tender and gentle so as to not exasperate her injuries or cause her more discomfort and pain. After several moments, he glanced back up at his boss. "She was doing nothing wrong, too – just trying to stop others from vandalizing yet another storefront, and he still did this to her; we – the cops – still did this to her. So, thank you for not firing me like you originally threatened, but I'm not sure that I can come back to work, at least not right away."

"After all that we just witnessed, experienced, you're not going to be the only one needing some time and therapy, Kelly. That's nothing to be ashamed of."

"I'm not, but I'm also not talking about therapy, Sir. I knew before this morning that our job can sometimes be ugly; I just never thought that we'd ever knowingly contribute to that ugliness. No, I'm just not sure that I want to be a cop anymore."

"Well, take some time off... with pay, of course. I'm sure you have quite a bit of backed up vacation time coming to you. And, while you're off, figure out what you want to do. If you're going to walk away from the job, Kelly, the time to do it is now... before you settle down, get married, have kids, and, from the looks of things, those steps might be coming faster than you previously thought."

With a nod of acceptance, Angel moved their conversation on. "So, tell me what happened? I haven't wanted to turn the TV on – didn't want to disturb her, but I have managed to pick up some bits and pieces from the staff as they pass by and in and out of the room. It sounds like you guys finally got things back under control."

"The estimates range from there being 50,000 to 100,000 protesters on site when the march started this morning, but we'll probably never have a more accurate number at this point, people being too afraid to come forward, but, considering that, there really was only a small group that actually turned violent."

"That's how it usually is, protest or otherwise."

Though he didn't comment in response, it was obvious to Angel as he observed the Seattle police chief that the older man agreed with him. "At last count, we arrested approximately 600."

Wryly, he pointed out, "the courts are going to be a mess. The judges are not going to be happy about this."

"Too bad. We're prosecuting... eventually."

Glancing away from his boss, Angel scowled. Disgustedly, he knew what the other man's words meant. Even as they spoke, lawyers were being denied, turned away, and he would bet everything he owned that there were people sitting in jail who had bloody wounds and broken bones still going unattended. While the Chief of Police might have been ready to admit he had acted rashly in connection with his treatment of one of his own officers, he was not ready to forgive and forget those he had fought against and detained that morning; he was still taking advantage of his position, bullying, and flouting the law, further proving to Angel that his decision to reconsider his job had been a sound one. No matter how strongly he disagreed with the actions of his co-workers, again, he did not have the power to change anything or make a difference. Never before in a single day had he ever felt so ineffective.

After a considerable stretch of silence between them, the other man spoke up once more. "There's another reason that I wanted to stop by and speak with you this evening. That girl that you arrested and then turned over into another officer's custody – Willow Rosenberg, I've already been personally contacted by her family's attorney. How the man managed to maneuver that, I have no idea, but..."

"The Rosenbergs are wealthy, influential doctors from Southern California who have some pretty important friends."

"You mean politically connected friends. I should have guessed, the fucking liberal yuppies. Anyway," the older cop scowled, continued, "what do you want done with the girl? If you want the charges to stick, then they will, or we can let her go with a slap on the wrist. It's entirely up to you, Officer Kelly."

"Throw the book at her," Angel answered, unable to mask his bitterness towards the girl in question. "This isn't the first time she's gotten into trouble at a rally. However, this is the first time, as far as I've been able to discover, that her actions have ever turned violent. I'd like to make sure it's the last time, too, so, whatever you do, all I ask is that you make sure she can't walk on some bullshit technicality. I want her case handled to the letter, as professionally as possible. No screw ups. No ignored civil rights. Kid gloves, you got me." Remembering his place, he hastily added, "Sir," to the end of his commands.

Standing, the police chief nodded and said, "I think that can be arranged," before moving his chair back into its former position. Halting by the room's doorway before leaving, he added, "I know it doesn't make up for what occurred, but I want you to know that I truly am sorry for what happened to you and Miss Summers today. Whatever the future holds, no matter what you decide... good luck, Liam, and take care of that girl of yours."

He tilted his head in recognition as he watched the older man turn around and leave, waiting until the last sounds of the seasoned cop's steps faded away entirely before returning his gaze to the woman in the bed before him and smirking. "You can open your eyes now. He's gone, and I know you're awake."

"Sorry about the eavesdropping," Buffy whispered, the sound of her voice raspy from thirst. Before she could continue, he poured her a cup of water from the bedside table and held it for her as she drank. Surprisingly, she didn't fight him on the assistance which told him just how much pain she was in. Once she had finished drinking the entire glass, Buffy explained, "by the time I started coming around, you guys were getting to the good stuff, so I didn't want to interrupt."

Though his words held no rancor, he teased, "for future reference, are you always so nosey?"

"Yes." When he laughed, Buffy said further, "when it's about someone that's important to me, then I'll do whatever I have to do to find out anything and everything I need to know."

"So, you must have woken up while we were discussing Willow," Angel surmised. "Look, I know she's your best friend, but I couldn't just..."

She interrupted him. "Or maybe I woke up a little earlier than that."

That stopped his apology immediately. "How much earlier?"

"You're quitting your job," Buffy answered his question with one of her own.

"I'm not completely decided yet, but, yeah, I'm definitely thinking about it."

"You're not just doing that because of what happened to me, right? I mean, don't get me wrong. That's pretty flattering, but I don't want to be the reason that you go and throw away ten years of your career."

"Yes, you're a big part of it, but you're not the only reason," Angel responded. "Buffy, the things I saw today..." His voice trailed off, and he swallowed audibly past the sudden lump in his throat. "Needless to say, it got pretty horrible out there, but it's more than just my disillusionment that's making me want to rethink my life. I know I didn't tell the chief any of this, but, frankly, I don't think that it's any of his business."

"Oh, well, in that case, I shouldn't have asked. I do that, too... for future reference – ask too many questions, some of which are none of my business."

"No, it's fine," he reassured her. "The reason I didn't tell my boss is because those other reasons are personal, and you... well, you're personal, too."

"Angel, I'm sorry, but I don't really understand what you're trying to say." And the adorable frown marring her forehead and scrunching up her nose proved that very fact to him.

"Look, about what I'm going to tell you in a few seconds... I don't want to scare you off."

"You're not going to," she told him resolutely. He could hear the conviction in her voice. "Besides the fact that I'm pretty sure I couldn't walk right now let alone run away, I don't think you could ever scare me... about anything."

"Oh, you say that now..." Allowing his remark to trail away, Angel took a deep breath before plunging into a confession he couldn't have possibly imagined making even twenty-four hours before. "I like you, Buffy. I don't think I've made that a secret at all, but it's more than that. I've liked women in the past but never to this extent and certainly never so much so quickly."

Grinning brightly, warmly, despite the obvious bruises marring her delicate skin, Buffy confessed, "I like you, too."

He pressed on, not allowing her words to actually sink in, for fear that they would boost his confidence and hope only to have them crash and burn when he finished telling the woman before him how he felt. "Before last night, I mainly just had flings, one night stands even sometimes. In fact, the idea of settling down, of wanting kids was completely forbidden, not because such thoughts scared me but because I just didn't think those were things that I wanted. However, now, I've changed my mind. You've changed my mind."

"Wow."

When she said nothing else for several minutes, Angel prompted, "is that 'wow' good or 'wow' bad, because I have to tell you: right about now, I could use a little encouragement." Practically thinking out loud, he added, "at least, you're not screaming in panic and using your call button to bring a nurse in to remove me from your hospital room. That's a positive sign... unless you're too in shock to even react which then would be..."

"Wow good," Buffy stopped his rambling, once more offering him a smile with her words. Although her second grin since waking up wasn't as wide as her first, it was somehow more intimate, more caring. "Sorry about the delay in responding, but I was just trying to figure out a way to both shock you in return and show you that I've been having similar thoughts... not about the kids part, though, because, frankly, I'm just twenty-one, and my dad would kill you and then have a Hamlet-Ophelia-Nunnery moment with me." Taking a deep breath, she pushed on. "How do you feel about spending my holiday break with me at my home... with my parents and bratty little sister? I think a change of scenery and a break from his damn, infernal rain would be just the thing you need to get some perspective, to figure out what you want to do next."

"Speaking of your dad and bratty little sister, he's on his way up here as we speak. The first time I called your house, your sister Dawn answered and, when she didn't recognize my name, hung up immediately."

"She a little territorial with the phone."

"So, I had to call back and use my official cop voice and badge to get her to actually put your dad on so I could tell him what happened to you."

"Did he freak," Buffy asked hesitantly, visibly curving in her shoulders and folding in onto herself out of concern.

"A little bit, but I reassured him that you were going to make a full recovery, and he seemed to relax some when he realized that you weren't going to be alone, that I was going to be with you the entire time until he got here."

"And then?"

"Then," Angel responded, smirking. "Then we hope that he doesn't mind me hanging around some more." Shifting gears, he continued, "also, your new and let me say tenacious friends from Berkeley found out who I was, located me, and checked in to make sure you were okay. I wouldn't be too surprised to see them stop by, too, before they go back to school."

"That'd be nice. I'd like to exchange information with them so that we can stay in touch."

"And not plan more protests, right, because, if you think you're going to participate in any more marches any time soon..." His empty, teasing threat died away as Angel had nothing to finish it with.

"Well, I might have to hold a demonstration - and it could get violent, too – if you don't tell me and soon what you think about my idea of you spending Christmas with me and my family."

"I think," Angel started, drawing his words out for as long as possible as he leaned down so that he and Buffy were nose to nose, brow to brow, mouth to mouth. Instead of finishing his thought, though, he simply kissed her. The embrace was soft and gentle, for he didn't want to hurt her at all, a mere introduction of their lips, a whispering together of their tongues. Ending the kiss but refusing to pull away from her, so, in effect, their mouths still brushed together when he spoke, Angel murmured, "does that answer your question?"

Giggling, Buffy replied, "wow good," before kissing him once more.

Their second embrace was less tentative but no less sweet and tender, igniting a tempest of longing inside of him. With the clouds of their emotions gathering, Angel wasn't sure how long they'd be able to keep the storm of their feelings at bay.

Frankly, he couldn't wait to be drenched by the downpour.