Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any of the characters mentioned in the cannon.

A/N: A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to review last chapter. I'm once again starting to get out review replies after having been very lax in this department for a while due to a busy schedule (hangs head in shame) so over the next couple of days I'll be working on getting those out. Anyway I hope that you enjoy this lengthy chapter.

CHAPTER 17

Buffy shifted nervously as she stood apart in an antechamber in the Aurelius mansion, the other occupants in the room merriment setting her teeth on edge making her want to rip all of them apart with her bare hands! Her gaze flicked about the room taking in the portraits that were hung in the room all of them famous vampires of Aurelius, her eyes focused on one of Angelus standing alone, the familiar cocky expression staring blindly down at those in the room. The entire chamber would look much better covered in the blood of the happy occupants that were all here to wish her well on the first of her trails. Buffy's eyes closed when she felt the presence that had become all too familiar. When she opened them a moment later she wasn't surprised to feel his strong hands on her shoulders. "What are you thinking?" He asked, his breath whispering against her ear.

Buffy gave a little shrug. "Honestly? That I'd very much like to see all these vampires blood decorating these walls."

Angelus chuckled amusedly. "Ah, bloodthirsty. I like that." He murmured, pressing a kiss into her hair and breathing in her sent.

"Of course you do." Buffy muttered, her eyes focusing on the door that she would be walking through in a few moments to face the first trail. "Aren't you supposed to be taking a seat or whatever? You do want a good seat don't you?" She asked sarcastically.

Angelus' hands tightened on her shoulders. "Well, that depends. Am I going to be given a good show?" He asked.

Buffy gave a small shrug trying to seem nonchalant through the bundle of nerves that were attacking her stomach mercilessly. "That really depends on what you consider a good show." Angelus chuckled and his hands moved up into her hair. Buffy leaned back into the touch her eyes closing as she took comfort in his familiar strong hands on her, before she even realised that she was going to do it. Her eyes snapped open and she frowned, annoyed at herself and more than a little worried at her reaction to his touch. There hadn't even been a fight within herself, she'd just leaned back and enjoyed it… was enjoying it. "If you don't want to miss all the good seats you should really get going." She muttered as she gently pulled away from his hands, not feeling up to causing a struggle, not right now. Not when she had to go out there and face three trials in front of an entire Order that was mostly completely unfamiliar to her. Angelus looked at her, taking in her stiff shoulders and the tenseness that was practically radiating off her. He wrapped his arms around her tense form, pulling her up against him. "Angelus?" Buffy asked, feeling uncomfortable but at the same time comforted in his arms.

Angelus nuzzled his little mates neck in an attempt to comfort her. "Just relax, Buff. A little stubborn spitfire like you will have no trouble acing the trails." He kissed her cheek.

Buffy's eyes closed involuntarily at the touch of his lips, her body craving it as much as she didn't want to. "That's not the point!" Buffy grumbled, forcing her eyes to open. "It'd be nice if I'd actually been given a choice in all this.

Angelus frowned annoyed, feeling anger rise at the memory of her choices. "You did have a choice. You chose to break my trust…"

Buffy struggled in his arms not wanting to hear him finish that sentence, she might just blow a gasket! "Whatever, Angelus!" Buffy growled and wiggled, her hands coming up to touch his arms to push them from around her. Angelus sighed, his anger leaving as quickly as it had come and he opened his mouth to sooth her ruffled feathers, but she beat him to it. "Just go already!" Angelus sighed again and slowly slid his arms from around her and took a step back. "But I want to see my friends. Friends as in plural!" Buffy said without turning to look at him, her eyes focused stonily on the door as she tried her utmost to ignore the bond that wanted her to simply turn around and step back into his embrace.

Buffy felt him leave and breathed a sigh of relief, the stiff muscles in her shoulders that had knotted up whilst in Angelus' presence immediately seemed to loosen allowing her relax a little more. She ignored the stare that the obviously tense interact between herself and Angelus had garnered, as well as the less then quiet whispers about it. As if her subjugated mating to Angelus was the most exciting thing to happen in the Order of Aurelius in over a century. Which shouldn't be possible in such a big and powerful Order… Buffy took a deep breath trying to steady herself as in that moment she wished that she had someone… a friendly someone here with her! Out of this whole Order she felt like she had no one. The bond told her that she had Angelus to have her back, but everything that he had done proved otherwise! He wasn't in her corner, he was in his own! Everything he did was about what he wanted, and sure he was right that everything he had done was within his rights as a strong alpha male , but he could have done things differently… done something anything to show that he cared about her feelings, her welfare… but there was nothing that even hinted at that. The only welfare and happiness that mattered was his own.

Buffy fisted a hand over her heart as the bond violently disagreed with her assessment. Rubbing the spot over her heart in an attempt to ease the feeling that had suddenly overcome her, and for now she decided that it would be best if she focused her thoughts away from Angelus to a safer subject like… what kind of trails she may be facing in the very near future.

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

Faith sat at the bar of Willy's Place, wishing that it was still the rundown bar that would have matched the foul desolate mood that she was in. She'd left this little dead end town for herself, but she never would have done it if she thought even for a moment that Angelus would have suddenly taken such a sudden and violent interest in Buffy! Faith growled lowly, her hand tightening around the glass she was holding. The fragile material threatening to crack and splinter under the pressure. She should never have left! The only thing she had succeeded in doing was being lonely and heartbroken in another town, if she had stayed here at least then she might have been around to help save Buffy from what had happened to her.

Faith jumped up from her stook in frustration, her body swaying only slightly in comparison to all the alcohol she had consumed since arriving in the bar just after nightfall. With a sloppy arm she threw the half empty glass at the wall behind the bar, the glass hitting a bottle full of liquor breaking that, and causing a couple of other bottles around it to fall with a loud crash, the glass bottles shattering on impact with the ground. "Hey, hey!" Willy yelled angrily as Faith sat herself back down on her barstool. He had luckily been at the other end of the bar serving a drink up to one of his few human patrons when Faith had thrown her glass projectile. "Faith, how many times do I have to tell you? This is a classy place now. You can't go throwing glasses and things at walls or people anymore. You'll scare away my valuable paying customers." Willy grumbled as he bent down and carefully began picking up the broken glass that was scattered amongst the liquor, the different types giving off a strong odour that was so powerful that he thought for sure it was singing his nose hairs, and throwing them in the cloth he had been holding in his hand.

Faith merely snorted drunkenly, his fine paying customers meant nothing to her, Buffy did and she'd let her down after 50 years of friendship and having each other's back she'd dropped the ball… let Buffy down when she'd needed her the most. "Just poor me another drink, Willy." Faith demanded, cutting off the steady stream muttering that she could hear coming from behind the bar.

Willy straightened up, eyeing Faith nervously from across the bar, knowing from experience that the length of the bar wasn't protection against any angry demon… unless they were small. Then it could do a little. "Should you really be having another one, there Faith?"

Faith glared at him. "I said pour me another drink!" She demanded, her fist coming down against the bar. "Unless you want to add another tooth to that prosthetic plate of yours." She threatened with a dark growl.

Willy half raised a hand to his mouth self-consciously his tongue running over the metal bar of the plate that ran against the roof of his mouth. Most of his teeth were fake ones, only a precious few where still real, and most had been lost; sad to say, by overzealous vampires instead of old age something that would have been far less painful in his opinion. "Coming up." He muttered dejectedly as he reached underneath the counter for a fresh glass for her.

Faith stared glumly at him as Willy searched for another bottle of the liquor she had been drinking. A strand of her hair falling into her vision as she wondered if Angelus had indeed found Buffy yet and subjugated her into mating him. She growled angrily, making Willy hesitate for a moment before beginning to pour the liquor into the glass he had set reluctantly down in front of her. "I just thought that you might want to be there for, Buffy." He murmured, risking a glance up at the brunette as he finished pouring.

Faith looked up at him with wide eyes that were doing their best to pierce through him, as shock slowly pierced through her drunken fog. Willy had only just straightened up and about to take the step back that would put him out of arm reach of the sitting vampiress when in a swift precise movement that shouldn't have been possible for a drunk; not even a drunk vampire. She reached out with an arm, her fingers curling in the cream white shirt he was wearing under the dark brown jacket. Faith pulled him closer, so close that Willy was forced into a very awkward position, his feet lifting off the grubby floor behind his bar. "What?!" She growled, her eyes flashing a terrifying shade of amber that had Willy's knees knocking together behind the bar.

"B-Buffy," Willy gasped around the terrified lump in his throat. "Angelus brought Buffy back to town to-to complete the trails to make their mating legal in the eyes of Aurelius." Faith's hand tightened further in Willy's shirt making him gasp for air. "I-It's rumoured th-that, Angelus doesn't want anything standing in the way…" Willy trailed off as Faith cut off his air completely, threatening to choke him to death.

"I've been here for hours, Willy!" She growled. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?!" She demanded to know as she slammed his head against his bar, staining the clean surface with nose as the fracture he sustained to his nose burst a few vessel with an explosion of pain that seemed to lance upwards into his brain.

Faith pressed his head harder against the thick wood of Willy's bar, before shooting up from her chair and hurrying as fast as she could out into the cooling night heading directly for the mansion of Aurelius. The only place she could think of that the trails of a new members initiation would be held. Willy fell back clumsily landing in the spilled liquor. "I thought you knew." He muttered as a hand came up to his nose wiping gingerly at the blood that was dripping from his nose. "Always good to see you, Faith." He grumbled as he clambered slowly to his feet, ignoring the curious gazes of his patrons as he grabbed a clean tea towel and started filling it with ice to press against his nose to help prevent swelling, wanting to be able to breathe out of his nose if at all possible while the damage healed.

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

Buffy took a breath as she rose up on her toes for a moment as the rattle of chains and pullies jerking into motion filled her ears. She was entirely alone in the room now, her well-wishers having slowly filtered out moments ago signalling the start of her first trial. As the door steadily moved up, Buffy's eyes widened slightly as the room she was to enter and face her first trial in came into her view. She slowly let out the breath she had taken in, her eyes moving from left to right taking in the wicked looking blades that were hanging from the ceiling, blades on both sides of the walls held back by rope, rope that she had a funny feeling where about to be released to allow the blades to swing freely across the room…

Buffy took a step forward so that she was standing in the doorway and immediately she could see the vampire's looking down into the room from the large open windows that lined either side of the wall each one of them filled with more vampire's than she had ever seen in one place before. And to her young mind it didn't seem possible for that many vampires to belong to one Order… it was no wonder that they had managed to overthrow Cardonis from his throne. Buffy's gaze whipped from window to window, for some reason she felt the need to find Angelus in amongst the crowd. It didn't take her long as he stood in the box with the other high ranking vampires of Aurelius. As her gaze met his she felt a sudden sense of calm sweep over her, as if she suddenly felt that nothing could go wrong, that she wouldn't fail no matter how fast the blades swung or whatever surprises the room may throw at her. As she stared up at him Angelus gave her a small smile, something she supposed he meant to be comforting and reassuring… and in a way it worked. Buffy turned her gaze from him, one of her hands clenching into fists in annoyance at not feeling the anger and hatred she normally felt when she laid eyes on him… it was as if the bond was slowly eating away at the angry emotions that he inspired in her, but she'd fight it to the very end!

He'd caused her nothing, but pain! Everything that had happened to her was because of him! Nothing he'd done had been for her, it was all because he couldn't take no for an answer, couldn't accept that not every woman would fall at his feet and beg him to have her. Buffy saw Nest give a small signal with a wave of one of his hands and immediately there was a collective whoosh as the rope holding the blades was pulled away releasing the deadly weapons. Weapons that could do her serious harm or even kill her if one managed to strike off her head. She stood completely still as she studied the swinging blades. She jumped a second later as a loud thick heavy thud reached her ears and she did her best to look past the blades that kept swinging faster and faster as they picked up momentum. Her eyes landed on what appeared to be to large block shaped boxes of thick wood attached to a thick wooden log, there was two of them one coming down just as the other went up, sharp tooth like blades shining menacingly at the underside of both blocks.

The jeering of the vampire's filled her ears, her spectators getting impatient to see her run the course that had been set up for her, the voices baiting her to risk the course. Unwillingly her eyes went to Angelus again, seeing him for a moment before the blades swung blocking him from view for a moment. When she could see him again she saw him nod in encouragement, Buffy lowered her gaze from his, her eyes coming to rest on the swinging blades, the ones she had to outmanoeuvre to start the trail. Letting out a breath Buffy stepped into the room completely, she let out a soft determined growl as she ran across the small distance, her steps light and graceful as she practically flew over the distance.

Angelus held his unnecessary breath as Buffy jumped agilely into the air thinking for a moment that she was trying to jump through them and had timed her moment wrong as the two blade were coming together and would be sure to skewer her if she attempted to slip between them. Buffy landed on top of the first blade her feet settling on either side of the pole that connected the blade to the axis that allowed the blades to swing. Angelus let out his breath and smiled proudly as he watched his mate angle her body so that she could see the other blade as they swung apart, before without hesitation she swung herself around just as the blades began to swing back towards each other. Buffy bit her lower lip in concentration as she watched the blades get closer and closer, doing her best to time her moment.

With a swift movement she reached out and grasped the pole of the other blade and leapt to it with an agile movement. Swinging herself around the pole almost immediately, she began looking for what would be her next best move. Flipping down, she had to duck the swing of a higher swinging blade, before she quickly stepped out of the way, before it came back, narrowly avoiding being sliced by the sharply honed blade. Too late she realised that she had stepped directly into the path of a spiked ball that was coming right at her. Her eyes widened in surprise for a moment, before she turned and ran from it, heading directly for the wall. Running up it she pushed off against the wall and flipped over the attaching ball landing clear of its path, she was just a touch to close as one of the spikes sliced into her arm and she winced in pain as she continued on, her eyes focusing on her next obstacle.

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

Faith punched the vampire that had dared try and stop her entrance into the mansion, Willow kicking the other in the gut, before the two of them hurriedly pushed open the overly large showy doors and hurried in not wanting to waste time with the two vampire's unlucky enough to be put on guard duty. Faith pushed the two doors shut with a bit of effort as the two vampires's got to their feet and ran towards the door that was shutting in their faces. She managed to get them shut her eyes going to Willow as she pressed her back against the door and dug her heals into the stone underneath her feet as she watched Willow hurry towards her the barricade in her arms. Faith jumped out of the way and helped Willow shove the wood in the brackets. Successfully locking out the opposing vampires the two invading vampiress' hurried deeper into the mansion of Aurelius heading towards the faint sound of voices that reached their ears that was coming from somewhere much deeper in the mansion.

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

Buffy panted as she stood against the wall in what appeared to be a safe spot to rest for a moment, there was a cut just above her left eye that had left her with blood drying down her face and a few dark bruises to add with the cuts she had already sustained. She looked around trying to decide what was the best way to get passed the last few obstacles that prevented her from just walking out the door that led to safety… at least until she had to start the second trail. 'Come on, Buffy. You can do this! It's nothing more than another one of those stupid obstacle courses you had to do in school.' She thought determinedly, wanting to prove to herself and everyone that was watching that this room full of swing blades that wanted to gut her wasn't going to get the better of her… as more than half the crowd watching her seemed to have begun to believe.

Shoving some hair out of her face, forcing the errant strands back behind her ear, silently wishing that she had thought to tie her hair back… With a sound of effort Buffy took a quick step and jumped up and over a swinging blade, tucking herself into a roll as she met the ground, rolling right under another blade as it came down, barely missing her. She jumped to her feet pulling herself up onto one of the wooden blocks as it was about to go up again, one of the teeth like blades cutting into her leg, making Buffy cry out as it bit into her flesh. Gritting her teeth she forced herself to pull her legs up. The blade ripped harshly through her flesh before cutting its way out of her. She panted as she struggled to her feet, her hands gripping tightly to the pole, her grip so tight that her knuckles where white.

Buffy stood still as the block she was standing on moved up and down in its powerful rhythm, every time the blades hit against the stone floor she winced as it sent a powerful jolt through her body that made the deep wound in her leg pound all the more painfully. When she finally felt that she could safely trust her legs to carry her weight she jumped from one block to the other, her hand gripping the pole in time to steady herself, her injured leg not liking the jolt the landing sent through it. Buffy smiled triumphantly as she jumped from the block and through the open door to safety, the first trial over at last!

She walked into a small ante chamber, her eyes immediately fixating on the door opposite her, where she had no doubt the next trail was waiting for her. "Buffy!" Two voices cried in unison, drawing Buffy's gaze away from the ominous looking door and she smiled in delight as she saw the familiar faces of her friends. Her pains forgotten she ran towards them, throwing her arms around the both of them.

"I can't believe it. You guys are actually here!" Buffy cried in delight, the sting of happy tears burning against the backs of her eyes.

"Oh, Buffy." Willow said, her voice tight with tears as she hugged her blond friend tightly. "You look awful! What happened in there?"

Buffy pulled back slightly so that she could look at her friends. "You mean you guys didn't see?"

"Well, we had one of those minion type vamps show us the way here, but he flat refused to let us inside that room, said it wasn't our place to be inside as we weren't part of this all so lovely Order." Faith said with a little sarcasm. "No matter how many times I introduced him to my fist."

Buffy looked at Faith surprised and a little worried, not wanting anything to happen to her friend. "Faith, please tell me you didn't kill the minion."

Faith gave Buffy a smug cocky look. "Nah, I just gave him a free ticket to the land of dreams. If he's put to death after he wakes up… well, that's his problem not mine."

Buffy shook her head at her friend as a huge smile curled up her lips the largest she had in a long, long time. "Buffy, I'm sorry I wasn't here for you earlier." Willow apologised, hanging her head in shame. "But, Oz wouldn't let me. Said it was too dangerous."

Buffy pulled Willow into a hug once again. "Don't worry about it." She assured Willow. "It's Oz's job to protect you and I would have beaten him up if he had let you get yourself involved." Buffy said seriously, causing Willow to smile in relief, despite still feeling bad that she wasn't there when Buffy needed help the most. Buffy moved from Willow to Faith, giving her another hug. "I'm just glad that your back."

Faith patted Buffy on the back. "I'm glad to be back to. Another city just wasn't the same without you guys."

"Aw…" Buffy began, but trailed off as she heard the sound of the chains beginning to move at the far door and she turned to face it once again.

Faith frowned at the interruption to their reunion. "Already? They haven't given you much time to rest."

"I guess, once they decided to start they wanna get them over and done with." Buffy muttered as she went to move towards the opening door.

Faith grabbed her arm, halting her mid stride. "Buffy there's still time. No one but a couple of low ranking vampires know that we are here. We could just go…" She trailed off as Buffy shook her head, much to the brunette's surprise.

"As tempting as it is, Faith… I'm already mated to Angelus. Running away again would only serve to make him angry… probably more angry than the first time, not to mention I'd be a fugitive in a way… besides I'd at least like to make my life with him… bearable… at the very least." Buffy said a little sheepishly, she was sure a flush would have been colouring her cheeks if she'd still been able to produce one, at the small hope, that she was sure was all to do with the mating bond, that her life with Angelus would turn out to be better than bearable. Faith sighed, but nodded her understanding as she reluctantly released Buffy's arm and watched her walk towards the opening door, her eyes widening in shock and horror and she felt Willow grasp her arm, her hand squeezing almost painfully. Raising her opposite arm she placed her hand over Willow's the only source of comfort she could offer the red head as she watched Buffy walk towards the room, a proud feat to be sure when every instinct should be telling her to run in the opposite direction.

Buffy felt her legs trembling slightly as she walked towards the opening the door the bright light the was streaming out from under it looking suspiciously like sunlight… she wasn't sure when the sun had risen, she hadn't thought that much time had passed, but obviously it had and the light was penetrating the room she was supposed to enter for her second trial, making it terrifyingly obvious just what the next trail would involve. Buffy came to a stop just outside of the line of sunlight, her eyes squinted pain lancing them at the bright sunlight, the first she had seen in fifty years and it terrified her. She could feel the heat of it against her cold skin without even being in its direct path, the heat warning her that she wasn't welcome under its bright rays. Apart from the sunlight the room was empty the door on the other side closed, where the other one had been left wide open. 'Was it locked?' She thought nervously as she hesitated at the edge of the safety of the shadows.

She took in the black thick glass that was covering the windows of the room protecting the vampires that were no doubt watching from behind its safety easily peering out whilst it was impossible for her to peer through. Her hands clenched into tight fists, her healing wounds pounding painfully as suddenly an almost desperate need to see Angelus' face, to see something in it that would assure her that this was all to plan… that walking into that room wouldn't kill her… like every instinct in her body told her that it would… but she couldn't see even a glimpse of him. Swiftly she turned her gaze away from the glass to focus on the room once again, suddenly ashamed of the fear that she knew must be shining out of her hazel eyes as she searched for him… for anything to give her a hint…

Buffy closed her eyes as she fought to calm herself… as she reminded herself that this was a trial it wasn't meant to kill her, it was meant to test her to see if she was worthy… and now that this had started now that she had no other choice, despite the fact that she had threatened Angelus with deliberately bombing out of the trials, she found that her pride wouldn't let her fail the trails. Not even to get back at Angelus for everything that he had done to her since she'd met him. Opening her eyes again she stared determinedly at the door that stood exactly opposite her at the other end of the room. The distance wasn't all that far something she could cross easily in a few seconds with her preternatural speed… but she'd never tried to under the suns deadly rays before…

Buffy glanced back over her shoulder at her friends, who were staring at her with wide eyes that were filled with concern and fear for her safety if she should attempt to enter the room. "Buffy," Faith began, but Buffy turned her gaze away from her friends and the moment her eyes locked on the room again, having gathered courage from the knowledge that her friends where right there with her she entered the room… Faith growled and immediately turned and raced for the door, determined to be in the next antechamber waiting for Buffy when she reached the other side, Willow following hot on her heals.

Buffy did her best to move as quickly as possible and at first it had been easy. She'd cleared a quarter of the room, before her body really started to feel the effects of the harsh rays of the Californian sun that was beating down on her. Her skin started to burn and she felt her clothes begin to catch light and her movements began to slow as pain racked through her already weakened and wounded body protested being under the deadly rays. Buffy took an unneeded breath, a breath that burned as if she was sucking in the sun along with the air. She forced her body to keep moving, to speed up, she couldn't slow down not whilst in this chamber of death. If she slowed or worse came to a stop there was no doubt in her mind that she would burn to death, not the easiest or prettiest way for a vampire to die.

She gritted her teeth tightly as she forced herself to keep moving, despite the flames she could see coming from her in the corner of her eye. She didn't want to look at it, she didn't want to give into panic something she was afraid that she would do if she paid the flames licking her body; coming from her body to much mind. 'I'll make it across.' Buffy thought determinedly. 'Just keep going, don't slow down.' She thought desperately, tears of agony pricking at the backs of her eyes and beginning to trail hotly down her cheeks, something that seemed to give the sun more focus as almost immediately the tracks the tears made burned away leaving gaping vulnerable flesh exposed. Buffy fought the urge to scream out her pain, she had to remember that she had an entire Order watching her, waiting to see if she would rise to meet their approval or fall at their feet in the attempt.

Angelus watched Buffy continue to battle her way across the open room, the sun beating down on her burning the flesh off her, igniting her clothes. He could see the agony on her face and it ripped at him in a way that he couldn't remember anything ripping at him before… not even his Sire's betrayal as she left him to die to save her own skin… his hands curled into tight fists as he forced himself to remain stone faced to not give a hint of the turmoil he was feeling to the room full of powerful members of the Aurelius, each and every one of them wouldn't hesitate to find some way to use it against him if he gave them even the slightest chance. His gaze slid over to the button that was on the wall he was seated next to, just sitting there ready for him to push it the moment he had to… the moment it looked like Buffy wasn't going to make it across alive. The trails where a test after all not meant to kill… at least not kill a vampire's mate… if she was a loner… none of them would have cared if the trialee lived or died… But even with knowing that he could put a stop to it at any time… it was still the most difficult thing he had to sit through.

Buffy kept moving through sheer force of will the door getting closer and closer with every step she forced herself to take, despite her best efforts she had slowed, but she was still walking, still taking each and every painful step she needed to keep getting closer to the door that would see to her freedom and the safety of the antechamber. And for a moment her fear returned, her fear that the door would be locked in some form of curl joke! She wouldn't put it passed the blond that had stared at her so hatefully the couple of times she had been brought before Nest, the much older blond vampiress had almost snarled at her she had been that angry… or had at least looked that angry and her manner hadn't done anything to change her mind about just how pissed she was that Angelus had scorned her… nothing else she could think of would put a woman in such a foul mood when a man came home with a woman even an unwilling one…

Still Buffy forced herself to put one foot in front of the other, it felt like she was moving at a crawl, each step felt like agony. She was gritting her teeth so hard now that she was sure that they would crack under the pressure… or maybe even the heat that she could feel coming from her body. Finally after what felt like an eternity she reached the door, the door that was closed. Now more than ever she wished that it was standing wide open, so that she could just run straight through it and into the safety that she knew had to be waiting for her on the other side of the door. Reaching out she grasped the handle and pushed, to her relief the handle twisted easily and the door pushed open. Buffy let out a breath as she rushed through the open door, throwing her arm back with as much force as she could muster the sound of the door slamming behind her on that hellhole comforting her. she moved away from the door walking into the antechamber itself her hands beginning to bat at the flames that were starting to die down now that she wasn't exposed to direct sunlight.

She needn't have bothered though as she was dowsed in cold water that immediately put out the flames and made her hot aching body feel a touch better. "Fucking bloody Jesus, Buffy!" Faith growled as she dropped the bucket she had picked up the moment she had seen Buffy come through the door alight. "I swear I'm gonna kill that wanka when I see him next!" She growled angrily as she looked over the condition Buffy was in. Beside her Willow did her best to calm her down, knowing that Faith going up against Angelus wouldn't end well… and would cause Buffy even more pain… the mating bond being broken by death was a painful experience… or so she'd heard… some vampires, she'd been told, even went mad afterwards.

Buffy paid the both of them no mind, her attention having been caught by the smell of fresh blood as it pumped away in the veins of four terrified humans that having been tied up like sacks of potatoes. She stumbled towards them on weak legs, her body craving the blood that would speed up her healing process after all the abuse that it had taken. Without preamble or finesse she fell on them, greedily draining each one in turn, each gulp making her feel stronger as the pain receded as her wounds began to heal faster as the blood she had lost was replenished. Draining the last one Buffy stumbled back panting slightly as the last of the skin she had lost grew back leaving her looking as if she hadn't just taken a frantic run through the sun. Now that it was over she knew what it was; the first trail had been about agility, the second about endurance… the question that remained was… what the third trail would be and after what the second had put her through she was a little scared to find out…

She turned away from the dead bodies, her eyes going to her two friends a smile curling up in a smile as she saw the way they were bickering… swiftly her smile turned into a laugh causing the both of them to stop and look at her with confusion. "Calm down you guys. I'm alright." She assured them. "Though I don't think I'll be making a habit of brisk morning jogs." She quipped. Willow smiled in relief, whilst Faith crossed her arms over her chest as she looked Buffy up and down, looking her over to see if there was any permanent damage done by the trail… apart from her clothes that would have to be thrown out.

"Here," Faith muttered as she began shrugging out of her jacket. "Take my jacket, it'll help cover you up some after your pyrotechnic display."

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

"Are you sure you want to be the one?" Nest asked as he walked beside Angelus, he could feel Darla's gaze boring into the backs of them. He knew that she was hoping that the girl would fail the trials, giving her grounds to petition for the mating bond between Angelus and Buffy formally of Cardonis to be broken, but so far… she had far surpassed his expectations of one so young… so far she was turning out to be everything that Angelus had promised… which was enough to put him in a good humour, despite being in such close quarters with the arrogant young buck.

Angelus nodded and gave Nest a look. "I'm the best one for the job." He promised.

Nest gave the boy a somewhat disbelieving look. "You can't go easy on her. Something you'll be inclined to do now… I think we should send someone else in your stead." He insisted as he turned his gaze about the most powerful members of Aurelius wondering which would be the best to carry out the job.

"I'll do it." Darla offered suddenly as she sped up her pace a fraction to walk on the other side of Nest, pushing aside the other vamp that had been walking there, ignoring the annoyed growl that he gave. Knowing that she'd be fine, Nest wouldn't let anyone hurt his favourite Childe.

Both Nest and Angelus turned their gazes towards her. "No." They said in unison, for once in perfect agreement over something. Darla looked taken aback, her steps slowing once again allowing the vampire she had previously pushed aside to retake his position walking beside The Master of Aurelius. A place that was Darla's as his favourite, but she was a bit to peeved to utilize it. Little Fluffy's success so far had put her in a black mood… a very black mood; one that had her wanting to rip something to shreds, manly the blond bitch that was stealing her boy right out from under her. "We want her tested, not killed, Darla." Nest said with a soft chortle, earning the full weight of Darla's glare for a moment, before she looked away again.

"I'll be fine, Nest. You worry too much." Angelus said with his usual cockiness that set Nest's teeth on edge. He clapped Nest on the shoulder in a mock display of comradery as he went to go down the hall that would take him where he needed to go.

"Don't go easy on her, Angelus. It won't be you who suffers if you do." Nest warned him as he levelled a stony gaze at the younger vampire.

Angelus gave Nest another cocky smirk. "Since when have I ever gone easy on anyone?" He enquired rhetorically, before turning away completely and heading swiftly down the hall and disappearing into a room.

Darla watched him go until he was out of sight, her un-beating heart feeling heavy in her chest as it was filled with sadness, anger and no small amount of jealousy. She could feel her boy drifting further and further away from her, something that had only gotten worse after his latest toy came into the picture and now, he was going to give that little bitch that which he hadn't even considered giving to her. And she was his Sire! She'd given him everything, so many years of her life and he was going to trade her in for a younger model… an idiotic younger model, that didn't have a clue what she had. She forced back a growl as they preceded down along the hall they were walking entering the viewing area where they would watch Buffy face her last trial, a moment later.

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

"Good luck, Buffy." Willow murmured as the sound of the chain and pullie system reached their ears, not sure what she should be feeling for Buffy, whether she should be feeling sorry for her, or proud, or if she should be knocking her out and slinging her over her shoulder and making a run for it with Faith, after all the last trial had almost killed Buffy there was no telling what this one would do to her.

"Stay alive." Faith said seriously as she clapped a hand on Buffy's shoulder.

Buffy looked between her two friends smiling brightly at them, not letting them see the worry she was feeling on the inside. "I'll be fine. I mean nothing else they can throw at me can be worse than the sun, right?" Willow nodded her agreement, whilst Faith just looked towards the steadily opening door, relief filling her as it became obvious that only artificial light filled the room instead of the sunlight in the previous room.

Buffy walked into the room as soon as the door had been raised high enough for her to be able to walk under the door, she looked around the practically empty room until it landed on Angelus standing slightly off to the side of the room, instead of seated up with the others like she had expected. Upon seeing him she stopped dead in her tracks confused as to why he was down here with her… not liking the conclusions her mind came up with.

Angelus smiled at her, finding the confusion on her face adorable, as he moved away from the wall, heading towards the centre of the room. "What is this? I thought I had to go through a third trial?" Buffy questioned as she glanced up at the windows cut into the walls to see that they were indeed full with vampires that were looking down at her with anticipation.

"You do." Angelus confirmed as he rolled his neck, loosening the muscles that had tensed in his anticipation at what lay ahead.

"Then what…" Buffy began only to trail off as Angelus began talking once again.

"You must prove that you can hold your own against one of the Aurelius elite." Angelus informed her.

Buffy stared at him in surprise before regaining herself and pinning him with a look. "Against one of the Aurelius elite?" Angelus inclined his head an arrogant smirk. Buffy rolled her eyes. "You really are a cocky, arrogant bastard." She muttered as she swallowed past the lump that had formed in her throat as she wondered just how she was going to prove that she could hold her own against Angelus… she'd never really managed it before…

"Oh, how you flatter me, love." Angelus murmured cockily, not at all fazed by her demeanour.

Faith grasped Willow by the arm in excitement as she tore her gaze away from the room to look at Willow. "Come on, let's go see if we can't sneak our way in amongst the others." She urged before quickly making her way towards the door.

Willow looked after Faith as she worried her lower lip, not near as adventurous as the brunette. "But we can see from here." She called after her friend a little timidly.

Faith rolled her eyes as she looked back at Willow who hadn't moved from her spot by the door that led into room Buffy was standing with Angelus before her.

"We'll be able to see much better from one of those window things. Come on!" Faith called as she slid out the door, confident that she would be able to find the entrance into one of those windows. Willow sighed and hurried after her, not wanting to be left behind in the strange mansion.

Buffy stared at Angelus, not quiet able to bring herself to move as she tried to think of a scenario that would work in her favour… but everything she thought of ended with him besting her as he always did in the end…

Angelus cocked his head slightly to the side as he continued to observe her. "You know, if you are waiting for me to make the first move then I'd be more than happy to. But I do think that in these kind of situations, the lady should go first."

Buffy's stare turned into a glare. "Asshole." She muttered under her breath through gritted teeth as she tried to keep her cool. She really hadn't been expecting something like this when she had entered for the third trial. 'Would this be strength or wit?' She thought. 'Perhaps a bit of both.' She decided a second later as Angelus stood staring at her much to the annoyance of the crowd who were obviously anxious for the last trial to begin. Not that she could blame them, they all had lives to get on with she was sure. "In that case, why don't you make the first move?" Buffy asked, her tone contemptuous, meant to incite him into making the first move. It didn't seem like a bad idea seeing as all the scenarios she had thought of that had ended with her getting her assed kicked had begun with her making the first move… so why not try it this way, it may just work out in her favour.

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

In one of the side windows open for the lower ranking vampires of Aurelius Faith shouldered her way past them ignoring their scowls and growls of anger as she made her way to the front for the best view she could manage, Willow following behind her a little more timidly, but no less determined to get to the front, there was no point getting up here and not having the best view possible. She leaned against the railing beside Faith looking down at Buffy and Angelus as the fight started with Angelus coming towards her. She saw Buffy's stance tense as she readied herself for a blow. Both of them were surprised when instead Angelus ducked low and swung out a leg in an attempt to knock Buffy's feet out from under her only for Buffy to jump above his sweeping leg propelling herself backwards.

"That was not the start I was imagining." Willow muttered.

Faith gave a shrug, not taking her eyes from the action below. "He's probably just warming up. He's had his keester sitting safely in one of these boxes all night. He's probably feeling a bit stiff." She grumbled, her eyes narrowing on the vampire that had broken her heart and she felt an all too familiar pang in the supposedly dead muscle.

Willow nodded her agreement, wincing as Buffy was tossed back by Angelus, her back hitting the wall under the window they were standing in. She could feel the vibrations of the impact running up the wall beneath her arms. "Come on, Buffy. Beat his ass down." Willow breathed under her breath, wanting Buffy to at least have this one victory to prove to herself, that she could indeed handle herself where Angelus was concerned.

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

Buffy side stepped along the wall, swinging herself out of the way as Angelus came at her again, this time with fists. She leapt away from the wall and shot out her leg, connecting it solidly with Angelus' back. Forcing him to press up against the wall, before she darted away needing to put more distance between them again, before his next attack began. She kept herself steady as she put her weight on the balls of her feet ready to agilely prance away if she needed to, or swoop in for a lucky punch if the opportunity was presented. Angelus turned around to face her, a smile curling up his lips as excitement coursed through his veins. He'd been waiting for this trail since it had begun. It had so many opportunities that it was something he would have fought to be a part of.

It was a chance for a few issues to be worked out, if he played his cards right. She was angry… very angry and all of it was directed at him. So, hopefully in this moment she'd be able to pound out some of the issues that were bothering her so. Angelus stepped in towards her once again initiating the fight, his fists swinging at her barely missing her as she ducked and weaved around him once again stepping out of his reach. A slight frown creased his brow as he heard the mutters coming from the crowd at the rather one sided battle. 'This will not do.' Angelus thought darkly as he glanced up at the box Nest and the other powerful members of his Order sat. The frown on Nest's face as he watched them not going unnoticed by Angelus, who turned his gaze back to Buffy who was watching him intently once again waiting for his next move. 'You've got to get a little more proactive, love. Where is the little she-devil I know is in there somewhere?'

"So cautious, Buff. You are going to have to do a whole lot better than that if you want to win this thing. Playing the defensive isn't going to get you anywhere." Angelus taunted, his trademark smirk curling up his lips as he stared her down, hoping that she would take the bait. That she would unleash the fury that simmered away inside her, that she would impress and clear the last trial and be truly accepted as a member of the Order of Aurelius as the mark on her left arm suggested.

Buffy pursed her lips as she stared at him for a long moment, before her gaze went to the group surrounding The Master of Aurelius, before she returned her gaze to the demon standing in front of her, her hazel eyes flashing determinedly. "You should be careful what you wish for." She warned, her voice soft, but firm. Angelus smiled his white teeth flashing, he recognised the look in her eyes. He'd done it, there would be no more holding back from her. She would come at him with everything she had and then some, just as she had done the night he had taken her as his prize of victory.

Buffy ran at him, her expression full of determination, she leapt into the air, highly aware of Angelus watching her, of the subtle shift of his body as he prepared to turn, expecting her to flip over his head. Instead she arched her body, her leg stretching out as she swung it with as much force as she could muster from the momentum she had gained in her running start, her leg catching him in the head with a heavy blow that sent him stumbling. Buffy landed gracefully on her feet, quickly turning on her heel to face Angelus, knowing that it would not take him long to regain himself. Sweeping in as fast as she could, she landed a solid blow to his stomach before, throwing a right hook at his face. Angelus' head jerked back on an age old instinct as his hand caught her fist a little too close to his face for his comfort. "That's more like it, kitten." He almost purred, his tone was that happy.

Buffy gave him a challenging half smile, her eyes flashing up at him. "You ain't seen nothing yet." She promised, immediately keeping her word she brought her free fist up in an upper cut that was aiming directly for under his chin.

Angelus caught her second fist. "Oh, close, Buff, but no cigar." He teased.

Buffy gave him a smirk that had a smug sinisterness to it, that had Angelus' breath catching as his cock twitched to life as he wondered just what was going through her mind as she stared at him in that way. "That's what you think." She gloated quietly, before she kicked him as hard as she could in the shin weakening his stance, before hitting him with a stronger sweep of forcing his legs out from under him, his hands loosening their grip on hers and she wrenched them free as she began falling with him. Landing on top of him, she didn't give him a chance to recover as she slammed her fist into his face, repeating the blows with alternative fists, getting in as many as she could before Angelus could pull himself together enough to throw her off him.

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

"Yeah!" Faith crowed her fist pumping in the air as she broke the silence that had fallen in the room as the vampires stood in shock at the turn around as Buffy pounded Angelus' face into the stone floor. "That's it, Buffy. Show him what you're made of!" She shouted down at her blond friend, her expression ecstatic.

"Yay, go, Buffy!" Willow called, wanting to add something seeing as Faith had so blatantly called out to their friend, despite feeling suddenly self-conscious of the eyes that were suddenly focused on them instead of the battle that was going on below them. Willow glanced around them nervously. "Oh, we are sooo busted." She murmured as she leaned into Faith slightly.

Faith looked around at them challengingly. "Oh, phfft! Like they are gonna do anything about it. There's no way that any of them are gonna want to miss any of this just to expel us from amongst them, right?" She growled challengingly.

In response all the vampires returned their gazes to the fight, some eyes lingered longer on the two intruders before returning to the fight, preferring to watch that then waste their time in forcing them out, especially when they obviously knew the vampiress that was fighting for her chance to be accepted into the Order.

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

Buffy went to punch him again, the blow was waylaid however as Angelus' hands went to her sides, before he threw her over his head. Buffy tucked herself into a roll to take the impact out of the landing. Using her momentum to roll up onto her feet in a fluid motion, only to have to duck swiftly as Angelus' fisted hand came flying at her face. She ducked again dodging under his second punch, moving fast on her feet she whirled under his arm straightening up behind him at a distance that she considered somewhat safe. Angelus turned around to face her, his gaze going up to the viewing window all the noise was coming from, his eyes landing on Faith and the red head that he'd scared the hell out of when he'd first started coming after Buffy. "Your friends have managed to worm their way in to see you."

Buffy shrugged, a smug little smile curling up her lips as she glanced briefly towards her friends. "Well, it's not really a party until the gate crashers, crash it."

Angelus couldn't help, but laugh at that. Buffy flew into motion not wanting to waste even the smallest chance of gaining the upper hand, if she even wanted the slightest chance at winning this thing. She'd come too far to let opportunities slide. Angelus took a step back to keep his balance as Buffy's leg came striking out at him, narrowly avoiding what would have been a solid blow to his head. He'd barely had time to straighten up when Buffy's fist came flying at his head as well. Angelus caught her wrist before she could make contact with his face. "Now, this really is more like it, Buff. It actually feels like you're trying now." He said, his tone taunting, wanting Buffy to continue on this track.

Buffy rolled her eyes at him. "Do you always have to be a jackass?" She asked as she yanked her arm free of his grip, before moving to hit him again with a strong movement of her arm. Angelus blocked it again, grasping her arm once again, this time using it to pull her towards him.

"What can I say, Buff. I like that angry look you get. It's cute." He told her. Buffy just had time to roll her eyes in exasperation, before Angelus used his grip on her arm to pull her past him, throwing her to the ground.

Buffy growled in annoyance as she sprang back up to her feet, finding herself having to duck below Angelus' swinging arm before she could even turn around. Dropping down to the ground she kicked both her legs back, smiling in satisfaction when she felt them connect with Angelus' legs. Quickly she scrambled back onto her feet and whirled around to face Angelus in preparation for his next attack. Her eyes widened in surprise to see him still getting up off the ground, not hesitating another moment, not wanting to waste it she pounced on him, settling herself firmly on Angelus' stomach, doing the best she could to make sure that she was firmly planted, not wanting to make it too easy for him to throw her off him. Placing one of her hands against his throat for balance and in the hopes that it would help pin his upper body down. She raised her free one into a fist in preparation to punch him, but she hesitated something not feeling right to her. He wasn't squirming or fighting in anyway… he should be trying to throw her off of him. In fact he looked to be smiling…

Angelus' gaze left her to look up as best he could at the window where Nest was looking down on them. After a moment he saw Nest give a barely noticeable nod of approval and his smile grew as he looked away from the old vampire to look at his young mate who was staring down at him still wondering what he was doing. Reaching up he grasped her head pulling it down towards him as he lifted his head up off the ground. He pulled her into a kiss, his tongue probing her lips seeking entrance into her sweet mouth. Buffy moaned as she resisted for a moment, embarrassed by the fact that they were being watched by what looked to be the entire Order. But she parted her lips at Angelus' insistence allowing him entrance and her hand slide from his throat to his shoulder as she pressed closer against him at the heat the caressing of their tongues and lips inspired in her.

After a long moment Angelus pulled away from her, the smile still curling up his lips as looked up at her, her hazel eyes darkened by the arousal he had awoken in her. "Congratulations, Buff. You passed." He informed her as he slid his hand from her hair and down her back. "I'm proud of you." He murmured.

Buffy raised an eyebrow at him. "I don't need you to be proud of me." She informed him coolly, as she tried to squash the leap of joy that threatened to make her smile in delight at his words of praise.

Angelus leaned up on his arms as Buffy got up off him, much to his disappointment. He'd sensed her struggle after he'd spoken and had hoped that she would be honest with him, but he wasn't surprised that she'd chosen detachment. "Then what do you need from me?" He asked as he looked after her.

Buffy paused in her stride, looking over her shoulder at him, a moment of vulnerability shining in her eyes as she looked down at him, before it disappeared behind a cool mask. "Nothing." She said flatly, before turning and continuing on her way. Determinedly not looking up at the spot she knew her friends where looking down at her surprised by her response to Angelus' kiss.

Buffy bit her lower lip, hating the way she had felt vulnerable at his question the way she had wanted to tell him… wanted to tell him that… Buffy shook her head as she made it into the last antechamber, there was no point in telling him anything of her feelings… or the feelings that the mating bond made her feel… she wasn't sure which anymore, which scared her because it made her want things… want things that Angelus couldn't possibly give her. He was all about pleasing himself not anyone else! Everything he had done had been because he had wanted it, it had nothing do with what anyone else had wanted, let alone her… he may ask, but he didn't really want to know and even if he did know, he wouldn't do anything about it… it wasn't in his self-absorbed nature.

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

Angelus sighed as he pulled himself to his feet, dusting down his clothes as he went. He had hoped that getting Buffy to let loose on him would help their situation, that she'd stop being as angry, but it didn't seem like it had worked like he had hoped that it would. He didn't mind her being angry, not really, he loved the way the anger added a fire to her eyes, the way she fought him… it was stimulating and exciting, but at the same time… it would be nice if she could be happy with him… if he could see love in her eyes when she looked at him… real love instead of just the reluctant caring that the mating bond made her feel. It was almost enough to make him wish that he had gone about things differently, that he hadn't been so forceful and determined about what he wanted.

There would have been other ways to get her, slower ways to be sure, but he would have won her over in the end… he just hadn't wanted to wait… of course at the time he'd had no idea that he'd wanted her as his mate… Angelus pushed aside his slightly self-pitying thoughts, he wasn't a push over, he wasn't nearly done trying… all he had to do now that the hard part was over, was turn on the old charm… something Buffy had yet to experience… he had a feeling that she wouldn't have a clue what hit her. Angelus smiled at the thought, his gaze went up to the window above him his gaze landing on the one vampire that was left in the box that was reserved for the Aurelius elite and his smile turned from confident and happy to smug and mocking as he met Darla's angry gaze for a moment, before he turned and made his way out of the room, heading after Buffy who was no doubt being swarmed by her nosey friends.

Darla stared after Angelus as he walked away, not even bothering to throw her a backwards glance. Her lips pursed angrily as he disappeared behind the same door his little bitch of a mate had gone through. Her hands where curled into tight fists by her sides, her long nails digging into the soft skin of her palms drawing blood from the little crescent moon cuts. If Angelus thought that this would be the end of it, that she would just roll over and die now that his little slut had passed all three trails and Nest had accepted her into the Order of Aurelius… he was sadly mistaken! She wasn't about to lose him that easily. He'd see – he'd see just what she was capable of achieving… he'd come crawling back to her when she was done… and she'd make him beg… make him beg to take him back. With a low growl full of anger and determination, Darla turned on her heel and walked out of the box shaped hollow in the wall, her mind already whirling with strands of ideas of just what she could do… of what she would do to that little bitch that thought that she could take her boy from her. The stupid little bitch wouldn't know what hit her!

***B/Aus***B/Aus***

It didn't take long for Angelus to spot Buffy among the crowds of vampires that were hanging around for the merriment that preceded Buffy earning her place in the Order and just like he had suspected she was with her two friends who were crowded in around her and from the looks of it talking at her faster than she could get a word in edge wise, but she looked happy in a way he hadn't seen in a long time. Sensing his gaze on her, she looked up and met his eyes. Angelus smiled at her encouragingly and nodded at her as much as he wanted to go over there and insert himself in the conversation and begin charming her… he stayed where he was, just watching her. His timing was almost as important as the act of charming her itself. If he went over there and interrupted, she would resent the fact that he was pulling her away from her friends, especially after he had promised to allow her time with them after so long of keeping them apart. It would serve him much better to wait with patience… after all sometimes the best start for a seduction was a slow one.

Buffy lowered her gaze from Angelus' satisfied and surprised that he was keeping his distance, allowing her to be alone with her overly excited friends, if that was really the right word for it, she couldn't decide if her friends where excited or angry… maybe a bit of both… or just plain agitated. One thing was for sure though, their hands kept brushing her arms as if both where prepared to grab her if one of the guests decided to try and make away with her. Nothing was going to keep them from catching up… and she was sure that as soon as they'd calmed down a little, they'd be demanding details from her… lots of details, but for now she was just glad to be listening, hearing them talk… it was something she had missed a lot since Angelus had rocked her world off its neat little axis. With a will of its own her gaze found Angelus in the crowd, he'd moved and was conversing with some vampire of the Order that she recognised as one of the ones that were constantly in Nest's presence.

His gaze found hers and he gave her another smile, it was a smile that was difficult to read, it seemed to be full of promises, but what those promises were she had no idea, she wasn't even sure if she wanted to know. His promises hadn't been much to her benefit in the past, but still she couldn't help but wonder what her life was going to be like now that everything had gone almost exactly the way Angelus had wanted. She was a fully recognised member of the Order of Aurelius and his mate… it was a question that unsettled her, Angelus was unpredictable, that was something he had proven time and time again, but she didn't know him near well enough to even try to attempt to judge where his unpredictable mind would go next…

"Buffy?"

"Earth to Buffy." Willow and Faith called at her waving their hands at her and clicking their fingers in an attempt to regain her attention.

Buffy blinked as she turned her gaze away from Angelus to refocus on them. "I'm here." She promised.

Faith crossed her arms over her chest, doing her best to tamp down the hurt that she was feeling, knowing just who Buffy had been staring at. Oh she didn't want him for herself anymore but it still hurt in a way to know that Angelus had wanted Buffy when he hadn't wanted her, even though he had put Buffy through hell and knowing that her friend hadn't wanted a thing to do with him and now she had no choice… "Look, I know he's hot and all, but do you think you could keep her mind off your mate long enough to answer our burning questions? Enquiring minds need to know, ya know." Faith quipped.

Buffy was sure she would have flushed with embarrassment at having been caught staring at Angelus. "Uh, sorry guys. I'm just a little concerned over how my life's going to go now…" She admitted with a sigh, her gaze darting over to Angelus' form once again, before focusing once more on her friends. "I mean I always thought that when I finally decided to mate, that it would be with someone I loved and cared for. I definitely didn't picture something like this happening… uh, not that I thought about it all that much…" She tacked on at the end. Willow bit her lip and nodded her understanding as she rested a hand on Buffy's slim shoulder.

Faith took a deep unnecessary breath, before fixing Buffy with a steady gaze. "Well, it could be worse." Buffy gave her friend a surprised 'how do you figure' look. Causing Faith to shrug. "He could be butt ugly, at least you're spending the rest of your unlife with someone who's hot and really, really knows how to fuck."

Willow stared at Faith a little shocked, not having expected to hear that from the brunette. It did sound like her, but she had never thought she'd think something like that about Angelus and Buffy… Buffy gave Faith a surprised look of her own. "Wow, I thought you hated, Angelus."

Faith frowned, her gaze going over to the cocky bastard, his striking figure not hard to find amongst the crowd. "Oh, I do." She assured her blond friend. "I'm just saying that it could be much, much worse. He could look like that old Master of this Order… talk about a bat face."

Despite herself Buffy laughed; her concern over the future dissipating as Willow joined in. This was what she had needed since the whole thing with Angelus had started, her friends there to give their strength and support and to stop her from feeling all sorry for herself. Faith was right, things could be worse than what they were.

A/N: And that's chapter 17. I can't believe how long this chapter got, at first I thought it was going to be a small one… lol. Please let me know what you think, I'm getting a little excited as things are actually drawing to a close for this story. :)