The first time she saw him after Sunnydale, she was with a bedraggled crowd of slayers and couldn't go after him- though back then, she hadn't thought of it like that. They'd barely managed to drive back the First, Willow's spell the only thing that could turn the balance in their favor, and even then it hadn't been enough to stop the Turok-Han. There had been countless casualties, not the least of them poor Anya, a mob of potentials whose names eluded her, swimming just out of reach and taunting her for her failure to care, and…

Spike. Her heart ached with the memory of him, warding off a crowd of ubervamps and assuring her he'd be right behind her. And then he was struck down moments later, his head torn from his body, the dust settling on the ground before her. She'd wanted to weep for him, but then the explosives Kennedy had thoughtfully brought along went off and the school and most of the town went up in flames, consuming their foes and exposing the Hellmouth to the sunshine. They'd won.

But it hadn't felt like a victory, not when so many were gone, and so she gathered up the slayers solemnly and let Giles take them to LA.

He'd been there then, watching her, and though the teenage girl within her fought fiercely to reach him, she chose to ignore the tingle that indicated his presence and continue moving. She was far too heartsick for someone he'd never understand and as long as he wasn't going to come out of the shadows, she wasn't going to start a confrontation.

She nearly regretted it when Giles informed them that they'd be staying at the Hyperion Hotel with Wesley and him, wondering if he'd known that she knew he was there, and how awkward it would be to see him again now. But the hotel was empty, devoid of life- or unlife- and she brushed the memory of his eyes on her from her mind.

They found Faith's body in one of the third-floor bedrooms, mutilated and bloody and artfully arranged on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.

The next time she sensed him, she froze in her place and waited until he prowled over to her to spin around and pin him to the wall behind them. "Angelus."

He grinned at her, eyes malicious and mocking. "Buff! How's it going at the old homestead? You find the gift I left for you?"

Her stake was in her hand and at his chest in a split second of action. "What did you do with the others?" she demanded, pressing the point of the stake into him. Her hand barely wavered, and she was glad. It had been a long time since she'd been a quivering, heartbroken child before him, the girl who'd lost what she'd seen as everything. No, she thought grimly. Now she knew what it meant to lose everything."Where are they?"

He shrugged, unfazed. "What, you mean my dear old friends? We've rented an apartment together in the city and are living productive, useful lives." He snorted. "They're all dead.

"I did Cordy first," he continued, and Buffy could only stare at him with grim comprehension as he confirmed what she'd suspected the moment she'd seen Faith. "Got rid of that Beast character and then tore out her throat." His lips curled into a sneer. "I've finally learned to get rid of the girls that damned soul loves before they stick a sword through my chest."

She pushed the stake inward a little further. "Oh, I think you missed one." Her heart was pounding with horror, and she knew he could hear it, saw the way his lips curved into a confident smirk again. She wasn't ready for this, wasn't ready to watch another vampire she loved crumble to dust in front of her so soon after the first.

Angelus smiled knowingly, as always a step ahead. "And how is my boy Spike?"

She reared back to slam her fist into his face and he took advantage of it to swing around, dodging her fist, and slam her facefirst into the wall. He held her still, his legs against hers, his hands on her own, like he was a cop frisking her for drugs.

She struggled and he laughed, amused. "Dear little Buffy, you know that's not how this ends." He ground against her and she closed her eyes, willing herself not to think about the hardness pressing into her back or the condition they'd found Faith in. She could feel his face move closer and tensed imperceptibly, preparing to throw him off of her.

But instead, he kissed the curve of her face where jaw hit neck and pulled away, and when she tried to smash her head into his chin, he was already gone again.

"I'm having Angelus problems," she confessed aloud later that night. She was alone in her room, and the idea of speaking to one of her friends never even occurred to her. She'd been confessing to a dead man for two years already, and she had no intention of changing that just because he wasn't around anymore.

She could see Spike's face in her mind's eye, scowling at her with distaste. She bit her lip. "It's not like that. You know it. You know it's not Angelus I love." A hand went up unconsciously to stroke the bite mark on her neck. "Willow's been trying to redo the curse, but she can't find his soul. It's kind of wiggy, huh? That Angel's trapped somewhere and he might never..." She wrapped her arms around her knees, retreating into herself. "I miss him." I miss you. Her two vampires, one gone forever, the other...

"I hate this," she whispered, closing her eyes. But where she meant to visualize her dusted lover, Angelus's face swam into view, his sneer cold and mocking.

Her dreams that night were harsh and fractured, Angelus and Spike and Angel all featuring and fading away each time she reached for them.

When she woke up, there was an envelope half-sticking through the window next to her bed. Inside was a sketch of Faith as they'd found her, the only differences the chains attached to her wrists and the fact that she wore Buffy's face.

She took Xander hunting with her the next few nights. Something had stirred within her, reminding her how Xander had once been the only one she could count on for comfort around Angelus; and even though Giles gave her disapproving looks and muttered that she was needed for loftier endeavors, she kept doing it for nearly a week. Angelus never showed and she and Xander were awkward and uncomfortable around each other, their once easy camaraderie gone with those last few days in Sunnydale. She didn't argue when he suggested she bring some of the new slayers with her instead.

She went alone the next night and was unsurprised to find Angelus waiting for her almost immediately. He regarded her with annoyance. "I'm disappointed in you. Now you need Xander to fight your battles?"

She quirked a mirthless smile. "Nah, I just thought he'd want to watch you get dusted. He really doesn't like you, you know?"

"You wound me." He clasped a hand to his chest, unworried. "You're not going to stake me."

"Aaand...fortune telling, not your thing." She lunged at him, brandishing her stake, but he caught her midway and she froze, staring up at him with wild, uncertain eyes.

"You've lost too much to give up on me, too," he said quietly, and for a moment, she thought saw Angel in the understanding in his eyes. Then he laughed nastily and it was gone. "You're a piece of work, aren't you? Loving a soulless demon?"

"He had a-" she protested, and fell silent at the expression on his face, her blood running cold. "I don't love you."

"Oh, but that's the best part." He cupped her cheek with one hand, tightening his grip painfully when she recoiled. "You love Angel, and I'm still him. Just the better model." His hand slid downwards, running over her neck and shoulder under the material of her top. "And're not that little bastion of righteousness anymore. The couldn't handle it." He moved closer, his lips brushing against her ear as he spoke. "You want the demon, you twisted little slayer, you."

She was breathing hard, flushed and unnerved as Angelus's fingers continued to trace circles against her collarbone. There were few demons she'd let touch her neck the way his knuckles were brushing against it now, his lips still very close. In fact...

She smashed a foot into his shins and a knee into his gut, watching with satisfaction as he stumbled backward. "Nice idea. But so far from the truth it's not even funny." Her stake was halfway to his heart when he caught it, twisting her wrist so it buried itself in the right side of his chest instead.

She didn't process what was happening until she was lying on the ground beneath him, pinned in place and his mouth millimeters from hers. "And you know, that just makes it even better," he breathed, and then his lips crashed against hers and she was gone.

When was the last time she'd been kissed? She had a fuzzy memory of that boy with a jacket from Dawn's school, but that had been nothing like this, nothing compared to- Angel, oh god, Angel again- this...thiscoming home, back to the place where she belonged.

But home was different, dark and dangerous where it had once been soft and loving, the hands on her tearing through clothing without a second thought to her propriety and the lips on her own vicious and unyielding. And while teenage-Buffy would have crumpled with the force and the twisted, corrupted love above her, adult-Buffy recognized and embraced it instead, needed that monstrous, dangerous passion. Once she'd thought it meant that something was wrong with her, that she had become a sad, inhuman creature, but she'd since come to terms with it and her desires.

This, though...this she couldn't come to terms with, couldn't reconcile it in her mind. So instead she closed it off, shut out everything but the sensations, andohgodsomuchneedthissomuch- Angel, and love unconnected to this perversion.

When it was over, he smirked at her and licked his lips lasciviously. "Delicious," he breathed, and went for her neck.

She struggled for her stake and found that it was gone, and instead flipped him over, glaring down at him in all her naked glory. "You're going to be dust," she told him, careful not to let her eyes leave his. Where had he put the stake? He'd shredded her clothing and tossed them aside, and she couldn't reach the pile, not while keeping him firmly in place.

He just sneered up at her, his face a mask of brash overconfidence and his hand sliding along the inside of her thigh. She let out an unconscious whimper and his smile broadened, a second hand moving to slide within her again.

She pulled away, shaken, and he rose, yanking her close for a savage kiss that brought her back to a darkened hallway and a broken spirit the day after her seventeenth birthday. "I could always count on Spike to get my women ready for me," he said reflectively, and she choked back a gasp at his name. You've gotten over the 'making love' phase," he finished mockingly. "This Buffy might be worth keeping around."

She punched him hard, and he laughed again, pulled up his leather pants and exited the alley they'd ended up in, leaving Buffy angry and frustrated behind him.

Well...not completely frustrated.

She stifled a sigh as she inspected her clothing and tried not to think about the fact that Angelus had lumped her with 'his' women.

He left her sketches of her naked body for the next three nights until she finally asked Willow to extend the shield she'd put up over the hotel another few feet. She'd tried to be casual, but Willow had given her a compassionate look that had spoken volumes.

No one asked, but she knew what they suspected, knew that they thought Angelus was haunting her. She never admitted it to them, only whispering it at night to Spike's disapproving expression in her mind. And once she'd ventured one question to Willow, and the answer gave her hope she knew was probably unfounded that had given far too much away.

Angelus tracked her down two days later in a deserted graveyard, and this time she kept her clothes on and climbed up onto the closest mausoleum to contemplate him. He wasn't Angel, but at the same time, he was nothing but Angel, Angel without the burden of a soul and redemption. An Angel who wasn't afraid to show her how he felt. She remembered suddenly a time, years before, when they'd accidentally gone to a dirty movie, the way Angel had tensed and stared ahead at the screen the entire time, flinching at her touch. Angel couldn't afford to be exposed like that, not without losing himself.

But Angelus…he was an Angel who was open to the world with a wicked smirk and a sadistic bent. Essence of Angel's same packaging, same inside, but somehow warped at the same time. Like spoiled milk.She nodded sagely.

"I can't tell you how much I'm wondering what's going on in that little head of yours," Angelus commented from behind her, and she flipped backward so she was standing facing him. "Don't tell me you're still mourning that idiot."

"He's you," she said crossly. "How can you-"Oh. Spike. She flushed. He leered.

"Buffy," he whispered, the smirk gone and his face falling into tortured remorse. "Oh, Buffy, I love you so much!"

"Shut up," she growled, her fingers tightening around her stake.

He quirked an eyebrow. "Would it help if I said 'bloody' a lot?"

Her hand lashed out so quickly that she barely realized it was happening until Angelus's hand was at his chest, the stake protruding from his heart.

"No!" she cried out in horror, but Angelus was already opening his hand where he'd stopped it from penetrating and letting the stake drop to the ground.

She stared at the ground, refusing to meet his laughing eyes. "I hate you."

"So, you're going to stake me now, are you?" he spread his arms wide mockingly. "What's stopping you, the soul? The soul's gone for good. I made sure of it."

She suppressed a shiver at the blithe statement and looked at him again. "Angel's still inside you."

He groaned. "Oh, don't give me that-"

"You love me. You hate it, but you do." He reeled, and she suppressed a smug grin at the hit. "That's Angel."

"Demons don't love," he sneered, but there was something darker and uglier than before in his eyes, something that unnerved her even more than usual.

She countered that one easily. "Spike did."

"Spike was the bastard child of a psychotic vampire!" he snapped, and she took a step forward, unconcerned again. It was always a better method to deal with an angry Angelus than a calm one, she'd long ago learned. Angelus with a plan was far more dangerous than Angelus uncontrolled and wild.

As if he could sense her thoughts, his eyes narrowed and he calmed himself visibly. "What gave you the idea that Angel loved you?" he asked silkily.

She wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of that question, but something coldly triumphant in his eyes made her freeze. "How do you think I lost my soul?" he asked softly, and she staggered backward, her eyes wide and hurt.

He laughed scornfully. "Oh, don't give me that. I'm sure you were thinking of me all those times you were banging Spike, huh?"

She reddened, wrapping her arms around herself protectively. "That was different."

"Why's that?" Angelus twirled her stake between his fingers. "I know he's a good lay, but-"

"Stop," she whispered. "Please, just stop."

He approached her for the first time since they'd crossed paths in the cemetery and she leaned forward against him with heavy weariness, letting him attack her neck with typical vampire gusto.

He paused when he noticed that she wasn't stopping him. "Don't tell me you trust me," he said disbelievingly.

She shrugged, finding it easier than she had ever suspected to go with her original plan for the night. "Less than three weeks ago, my best friends all kicked me out of my house and found new leadership. The only one who stuck with me is now dead. Er. My hometown is gone, the slayerhood isn't just my responsibility anymore." She bared her neck to him again. "I've got nothing to lose."

He shook his head. "How disgustingly pitiful." She didn't respond, not even when he slung her over his shoulder and leaped off the crypt, heading out of the west exit of the cemetery.

To her surprise, he took her to an area of ritzy downtown, where stately skyscrapers were tastefully arranged and where, once they entered the building marked as Wolfram and Hart, the night guard said, "Good evening. Mr. Angelus, Miss Summers," as though they were a common nightly sight.

She wriggled from his grasp, dropping to the ground hands-first and landing in a crouch. "What is this place?"

"Evil law firm," Angelus grunted in explanation, hitting the button for the elevator.

"And you- what? Have an apartment here?"

"Penthouse," he corrected her. "They've got some ideas about an apocalypse that they think I'll be fighting on their side for. I liked the perks."

"Perks?" she repeated.

He showed her his penthouse and she began to understand, and when two young girls were delivered to the apartment within a few minutes of the arrival, she swallowed her bile and sent them off. He sat back on a couch, amused. "You. Come here."

She climbed onto his lap and closed her eyes, trying to bring back Angel in his kiss. He had none of it, forcing forward animal ferocity and wild hatred, and she was soon panting for him and crying out his name as he retook his domination of her.

"Angel would be disgusted by you," he hissed in her ear. "Taking two soulless vampires into your're no better than us anymore, are you?"

"I'm a slayer," she retorted, yanking at his clothes. "I'll never be like you."

Their coupling was fierce and angry this time, desperation gone and replaced with the desire to hurt, inflict pain on their natural enemies, the ones who made them feel- hatethishatethishateyou- ways they were never meant to. When it was over, Angelus tossed her to the side of the couch, sending her sliding to the floor, and headed toward the shower without a word. She watched him cautiously.

The moment the door closed, she sprang into action, tearing open drawers and cabinets, searching closets and even the bedroom. It had to be there, somewhere. Angelus would never let it leave-

-His hand. He held out the glowing jar, rivulets of water still running down his arm from the shower and coating it with moisture. "Looking for this?"

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, she snatched it from him and hurled it against the floor with all her slayer strength. It bounced against the couch, rolled down its expanse, and landed in Angelus's outstretched hand. He shook his head. "Really, Buff? Did you think I was that dumb?"

She remembered suddenly that she was still naked and crossed her arms defensively. "Worked until now, didn't it? What is that, a decoy?"

He smirked. "Oh, not in the least bit. It's the real deal. Soul and all, wrapped up in a pretty little jar…and one that's completely, magically sealed. Wolfram and Hart took care of that." He moved closer until he was standing over her, looming above and dripping water down her upturned face. "Sorry, lover. Your boy ain't coming back."

A wave of despair hit her, and she grabbed the jar from him again, yanking at the lid with no success. "Why'd you let me in here, then? What are you playing at?" she demanded furiously, banging it against his chest.

He lifted her up again, a glint of amusement in his eye. "A good fuck?" he suggested, laying her down on his bed. It was covered in royal blues, tasteful and regal, and she lay spread-eagled upon it, watching him crawl up to her. He paused between her legs and dove deep, and she writhed beneath him helplessly at he brought her to new levels of ecstasy.

The pleasure reached a crescendo and fell, and she rode it down, legs clamped around Angelus's head and chest heaving with short breaths until she finally melted bonelessly into the comforter. Angelus sat up. "You're going to work with me," he told her.

She blinked up at him. "You…you don't make my decisions…" she started weakly.

"Wolfram and Hart has taken something of mine. I want it back." He attacked her flat stomach, licking a trail up it. "You with me?"

"Why should I?" she demanded, flipping him over so that she was on top. "What did you think, that I'm going to switch sides and promise you my everlasting loyalty because you gave me a few-"

"Oh, come on." He pouted at her mock-pleadingly. "Aren't you my girl?"

Always. She pushed aside thoughts of Angel and glared down at him. "Like hell I am."

He paused, considering her thoughtfully. "It's a kid."


"A kid. Little boy, eighteen- Hey, isn't your sister around there? How is good old Dawnie?"

She climbed off of him. "Threatening my family? Not the way to get my help, Angelus."

He shrugged carelessly. "Just asking. You've got keep your eyes on those little ones. Never know when they might run off to some wild hell dimension and lose their minds."

"You don't scare me," she scoffed. "Look, you've spent the past few weeks stalking me for some grand purpose, and what have you done? Taken me back to your love nest and asked me for help fighting evil lawyers." She turned on her heel, heading for the couch where she'd left her clothes. "You've gone soft."

His eyes flashed dangerously. "It's you or a massacre," he said coldly. "Think about that."

She tried not to as she left, and tried even harder the next day, when one of the potentials turned up murdered in the plaza outside Wolfram and Hart.

She was in a rush to leave for patrol the night after that when Xander waylaid her at the entrance to the hotel. "Buffy, can we talk?"

"Maybe later," she mumbled, brushing past him.

He grabbed hold of her wrist and she had to stifle the urge to flip around and punch him in the gut. Old slayer habits died hard, and she was on edge all the time now, aware that she was being perpetually watched and considered by both friends and enemies. "Buffy, please. I know that you've been…distant lately, and I thought-"

"What?" She turned to regard him wearily. "Look, Xan, I really don't want to talk about my feelings. I just want to go patrol."

He chewed on his lip uncertainly. "I know that Spike wasn't my favorite person in the world, but if you want to talk about it, I'm here for you. I know what it's like to lose someone…and I swear, I won't judge."

She arched a brow. "You'll just go after him with an axe?"

His face fell. "That's not fair, Buffy. I did my time for that, and you know it."

"Yeah." She sighed. "We'll talk later, okay?"

"Okay." He smiled tentatively at her, and she forced a return grin before she made a hasty retreat and headed for the cemetery where she'd last seen Angelus.

He didn't wrap his arms around her, just stood directly behind her, so deep into her personal space that when she turned to meet his gaze, their faces were millimeters away. "Hey, Buff. You ready?"

"Why do you want to save this kid, anyway?" she wondered.

Angelus shrugged. "He's mine. I don't need Wolfram and Hart breaking him when I can do it myself."

She rolled her eyes. "Yours? What did you do, kill his parents and vamp him?" She frowned at the thought. "Because I'm not helping you save another vampire. Not unless I get to stake you both afterwards."

"His mother's already been staked," Angelus informed her, and there was a sort of wry…not quite sadness, Angelus didn't do sorrow, but there was a certain melancholy to his tone, one that spoke of something that was nearly regret. She gaped at him, stunned at the emotion behind it. "He's not a vampire, though," Angelus finished briskly. "Just a screwed up kid. You'd like him."

"How flattering," she mumbled, quickening her pace. "Where is he being held?"

"That's the question, isn't it?" He shrugged, unworried. "We just need some leverage with the right lawyer. They're not very helpful to me when it doesn't suit them, but you…you might be persuasive enough." His hand moved to rest on her rear, rubbing it almost fondly. She swatted it away. He smirked. "And you won't believe who I found working in the LA branch just after my boy went missing. Newly from Spain, actually. Can you believe he didn't call his daughters to check in after the Sunnydale disaster?"

"No." She turned away from him, unwilling to hear any more. "He's not-"

"Oh, he is." She sneaked a glance at Angelus, saw that he looked nearly as displeased as she did. "Piece of trash, but it looks like good old Dad is finally going to serve some purpose here. "

"No," she repeated. She'd been willing to help him, mostly out of curiosity about a human Angelus seemed to want alive, but this…this was too much. "Absolutely not."

"It's not that bad," Angelus murmured. "He's a pretty new transfer. Might not even understand the whole forces of evil thing yet. He probably doesn't even know that you're the slayer."

She stared at him. "So instead of being an evil lawyer hoping for an apocalypse, he's just a slimy jerk who's abandoned his family? I feel much better now."

He snickered. "Come on, lover. You know you're going to go see him anyway. Might as well do it before I tear out his throat."

She stared at him for a moment, gauging his seriousness. He was moving at a steady pace, his face smooth and unworried, and she wondered for a moment if he'd meant it. "If I asked you to…would you do it?"

He waved his hand carelessly. "Sure, Buff. I kill dads for all my women."

"And if I asked you not to?"

He stopped short.

"If I asked you not to hurt him," she repeated patiently. "What would you do?"

His features settled into a deep grimace. "What do you think this is? Did you think we were star-crossed lovers, that I'd convert to the light side of the force for you?" He sneered at her. "You're a diversion while I get some work done. Nothing else. And when I'm done with you, I'll bathe in your blood and the blood of all your friends and laugh at the idea that you loved me."

"I don't love you!" she hissed.

"And I don't love you!" he snapped.



They stared each other down for minutes, and then he yanked Buffy to him, vamped and angry, and when he buried his teeth in her neck, she was somehow unsurprised. He took only a little blood, forcing his dominance over her, and she refused to react, denying it with all her being, denying being anyone's but herself. And when he parted from her with a frustrated roar, she spun him around and slammed him to the ground, stake in hand.

"Let's get one thing straight," she ground out. "I'm not damaged little Buffy, who you could take apart with a few words. I'm the new and improved model who's been through far worse than you could dream up. I've faced down a hellgod, a dark witch with enough power to destroy the world, and the First Evil. You're nothing compared to them, you know that? And I'm in charge now, and if you touch my neck again, I'm going to stake you, Angel or not. Got it?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Feisty, lover. I like it."

She poked the stake at his skin warningly, and he heaved a sigh. "Yeah, you got it. You're the boss, I'm the peon," he said blandly, and even though it sounded more like an empty reassurance than anything, she accepted it and rose haughtily, spinning around and continuing on the way.

And when she glanced back for a moment, he was still lying on the ground, his eyes glued to the sway of her hips.

"It should be simple," Angelus told her. "You go in, keep your father busy, and I'll get the files from his computer while he's making excuses to his prodigal daughter. At this time of night, most of the day office is packing up and the overnighters are coming in, so there shouldn't be anyone else around. If there is…"

"I'll take care of it," she said confidently.

"Good." He paused as they entered the building, smiling charmingly at the female security guard who greeted them. "Ready?"

No. "Yeah."

Hank Summers had an office on the second floor, probably just high enough to be making the money to treat his secretaries to trips cross-country and send his struggling daughters absolutely nothing.No, I'm not bitter or anything, she reflected wryly. It was the way things were, and she'd come to terms with it long ago.

It didn't stop it from stinging, though.

And when he opened the door to his office with a smile, there was still a part of her that wanted to leap into his arms and pour her heart out to him. "H-hi," she said tremulously.

He stared at her for a moment, running his eyes up and down her body. "Yes?"

She blinked at the lack of recognition on his face. "It's me. Uh…"

"Oh!" His eyes brightened. "You must be the new intern I've heard so much about. Come on in." He waved her inside, but she didn't move, shell-shocked. "Miss…?"

"Rosenberg," she lied automatically, her eyes still wide and stunned. "I…"

"Is everything all right?" he asked sympathetically, and then he was guiding her into the hallway waiting room by the small of her back, and as he seated her on the couch, Angelus slid into his office. She couldn't speak. "I am going to ask you to wear appropriate attire to work from now on," he continued, his eyes running over her tank top and jeans. And then back over her top, straight down to her…

She couldn't breathe, couldn't think, not when her own father was checking her out, when he didn't recognize her as anything but a sleazy new intern to fuck between cases, to… Oh, god. I can't…I can't…

"…And I'm sure we'll work together just fine," he finished a spiel that she hadn't heard a word of, his hand moving down to squeeze her knee intimately.

She recoiled, pushing him away and standing just as Angelus emerged from Hank's office. "I can't," she choked out, and hurtled away, running for the elevator as the tears began to fall, barely noticing when Angelus took off after her, pushing open the elevator doors as they shut and stepping in.

"What the hell was that?" he demanded, irritated. "You could have botched the whole mission there. If they find out what we're up to…" His voice trailed off as she looked up at him, tears still streaming down her face. "Buffy?" he asked curiously, and she might have dreamed up a note of worry in his voice.

She couldn't stop herself, not when she was in pieces, when the concern on his face made him indistinguishable from her onetime lover, and she fell into his arms, clinging to him as she cried out the sorrows of years lost and a father who'd forsaken his children, a father who didn't know them anymore. As she cried for the men who had left her and were now gone for good, replaced with monsters she loved too much to fight. She wept, blind to her surroundings and the vampire who held her, unnoticing of the way he lifted her into his arms and took her into his home and onto the couch, where he muttered sulkily about evil and hatred and damned needy slayers.

She didn't see him leave, so wrapped up was she in her pain, and she didn't notice when he returned ten minutes later, his mouth bloody and his eyes very dark. And when he dumped a blanket on her prone figure on the couch and snapped at her to stay put, it never occurred to her not to oblige.

She awakened with a splitting headache and a pain in her side from where she'd been lying on the couch. It was nearly noon. "Crap," she moaned. "Oh, crap, crap, crap."

Angelus looked up from where he'd been leafing through a pile of documents. "What?"

"I never came home last night." She worried her lip nervously. "They're going to think that you killed me."


"Good?" she echoed incredulously. "Do you realize the kind of lie I'm going to have to come up with to cover my ass? We're talking drunken one-night stand here! They'll be trying to have meaningful talks about Sunnydale for the next week once I go back!"

He turned his attention back to the papers. "So don't," he said reasonably.

She stared at him. "Don't?"

"Don't go back there. They don't need you anymore, do they? They've got a bunch of shiny new slayers to keep them occupied. And it's not like you need them, either, is it?" He shrugged. "You're probably better off on your own."

"On my own," she repeated slowly. "As in, with you?"

He snorted. "Aren't you clingy. Just like the old days, huh?"

"Shut up," she retorted, stung. "You're the one who's been begging for my help. And no one asked you to take me here last night. You could have dumped me by the hotel and skipped all this crap."

"I need you for this job, that's all," he snapped. "Don't mistaken it for affection. I'm not your precious Angel."

"Oh?" She stood up, stalking over to the table. "You needed me to distract my…to distract Hank Summers. You've got the papers, you've got the information. You don't need me anymore."

He was silent for a moment. "No, I guess I don't." With one hand, he yanked her down to plop on his lap, running a finger down the side of her neck. "I might as well get some entertainment value out of you before I kill you, though."

She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him, slow and languid and sweet. He pulled away immediately. "What the hell was that?"

She met his eyes calmly, unafraid. "A thank you. You didn't…have to…help me at all. And the fact that you did…it's…thanks."

He swung a fist out, sending her flying to the floor. "Stop that," he said through gritted teeth. "Stop acting like we're…in love." He spat out the last word with extra venom, but she wasn't fazed. Not anymore, when they were trapped together in a setting that would end in someone's death, either his or hers, and she had nothing to lose. She was tired of hiding how she felt, tired of denying emotions when the end was nigh, and if nothing else, Spike had taught her that even the immortal had expiration dates. And as much as it had horrified her at first, the creature before her was exactly what he had claimed to be.

"Aren't we?" she countered softly, and he raised shaking fists to attack her again. "You said it yourself. You're still Angel. And somewhere in there, you love me so much that it terrifies you."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you," he said silkily, his face a mask of cold fury. "You'd love to have another tamed demon under your belt. But that's not going to happen. I'm not Spike."

"No," she agreed. "You're really, really not." She stumbled to her feet, reaching out for him to cup his chin in her hands. "But it doesn't mean I love you any less," she whispered, and kissed him again.

This time, he didn't push her away, just buried his hands in her hair and yanked her closer, giving her a kiss both hard and punishing that she accepted with the same tenderness with which she'd kissed him. And slowly, slowly, he softened, his lips gentling against hers and dipping lower, brushing his mark on her neck. She tightened her grip on him, whispering words of love and affection and desire as he continued his ministrations, and while he never responded in kind, he'd ostensibly given up on stopping her. She curled into him, seeking affection where none existed, until he finally caved and became what he needed to be for her.

And when they came together this time, he still stubborn and silent and she pleading and loving, it was no less passionate than before; but now, they were at last making love. He hated her for it, she knew, hated what she was doing to him, but she plowed on, determined to make it work, to make itreal, and when they had finally finished, she burrowed into his chest and went to sleep, certain that he wouldn't turn her away.

He didn't.

That night, they took a car from Wolfram and Hart and drove out to the suburbs where Angelus's boy was supposed to be. They didn't speak, but when Buffy ventured a hand out to rest on top of his, he only flinched slightly and then outwardly ignored it. She wondered how long it would take him to decide that she wasn't worth the bother.

His hand slid down her thigh moments later and slipped under her underwear, and she let him play idly with her, focusing on his hands and not his thoughts. That way led to madness that even she hadn't reached yet, and she instead closed her eyes, drinking in the sensations gladly.

"We're here," he said at last, and she gripped his arm as they left the car, stepping out onto the curb on the side of a nondescript, suburban home that looked exactly like the others around it, nothing special or unique. But Angelus froze at the sight of the porch and the boy who sat there.

He was about eighteen, sort of good-looking in a sort of dorky way, sitting with a man whom she assumed was his dad. "I'll be good, I promise," he teased, slapping the man playfully on the back. "Study hard and get all the girls."

"At the same time?" The man laughed. "Connor, I know you. You're never working when there's a pretty face in the room."

Connor smirked, and right then Buffy understood what couldn't be possible, saw what she'd grown so skilled at during her time with Angelus. Saw the Angel in his smiling eyes, so obvious that she couldn't come up with a convincing argument against it. Saw the Angelus in that smirk.

Connor was speaking again, but now she fixed her gaze on Angelus instead of listening, watching the tension that built on his face as he eyed the boy and the man with him. Angelus's face tightened, and for a moment, she could see the hatred, the bitterness, the anger…and that pesky last emotion he would never admit to possessing.

"Dad?" Connor said quietly, and Buffy's heart ached at Angelus's stony gaze. "This is going to sound cheesy, but…I love you. Thanks for everything."

"Love you too, son," the man said with a smile, and Angelus turned abruptly, pulling Buffy with him.

"Ow! Angelus-"

He kissed her hard against the side of the car, forcing her lips apart and her tongue on his, his arm tightening around her and his eyes cold and empty. She didn't close her eyes, forced herself to meet him halfway and be whatever he needed.

Angelus needing Buffy. There was a frightening concept. But she smiled at him anyway, ran a hand over his face, and watched with affection as he nuzzled against it. No, he'd probably never say anything to confirm it, or admit it at all. And she didn't know what was going to come next. Compromise was one thing, but she was as certain that she couldn't allow him to feed as she was that he wasn't going to stop. And even if she really didn't return to her friends, it didn't preclude the fact that she had a duty first to goodness, and second to the evil creature beside her.

But she'd spent too long charting her course by apocalypses, planning her life based on the slayer's responsibilities. It was time for her to take control of herself and her destiny, and return to the side of the man she'd always been fated to be with. It wouldn't be easy. It wouldn't be right. But it was what she deserved, wasn't it? She deserved love and happiness, and if the only two good beings out there who could give it to her had both been cruelly snatched from her grasp, well, she was going to go with the third choice.

And she was beginning to suspect that her third choice wasn't the least, not by far.

She broke the kiss to smile up at him, and he walked her back to the car, only one glance cast back at Connor before he pulled the door open for her and murmured, "Let's go home."