26: The Bronze
Chapter 26: The Bronze
Two hours of sleep was usually enough for the Slayer. If she’d gotten two hours in, but she had not. Buffy yawned her way through most of her first period class. She’d come in late after spending extra time in the bathroom trying to disguise the dark circles under her eyes. They were even more noticeable because her complexion was abnormally pale today.
“Late night?” whispered Willow from the desk next to her own. Obviously, she was thinking that Buffy and Angel had been out all night on their date. The redhead had that dreamy expression that suggested she was coming up with all kinds of scenarios in her busy little brain.
Buffy squirmed in her chair. The date had been cut short, but she kept replaying the events of the night over and over in her head. “Stuff kept me awake.”
“Stuff,” Willow snorted thinking that sex with Angel was enough to keep anyone awake. Not that she ever thought of Angel that way. After all, he was Buffy’s Angel and she had Oz. “Just don’t fall asleep at the Bronze tonight.”
The teacher called for their attention and Willow dutifully gave her all. Buffy was not quite as quick to focus on schoolwork. Her mind was still back on the beach. Fighting the demon. Not the reptile creature with the long tail. Angel. The more she thought about it, the more their…lovemaking?…seemed like a fight.
Angel was right, she realized with a sick churn of her stomach. It wasn’t lovemaking, just sex. He’d fucked her and she demanded he do it. That realization nauseated Buffy, but looking back it was not a decision she would have changed at the time. They battled each other for dominance, trying to gain control. What happened between them last night was nothing like their first time making love with heartfelt tenderness. Wholly different, this was dark, brutal and dangerous.
Part of her loved it. That’s what scared Buffy the most. It was primal, instinctive and called to something within her that made her want to show Angel what it would be like if she really played to win. Except that he’d bitten her. Placed his fangs on her throat, pierced her neck and sucked down her blood like it was the best thing he’d ever tasted.
“Sleep?” Buffy murmured. She doubted sleep would come anytime soon.
After the first period ended, Buffy and Willow separated to go to their next classes. They planned to meet up again for lunch in the cafeteria. She managed to avoid Cordelia all morning long. Somehow, Buffy knew that talking with Cor would not be a pleasant activity. She felt certain that Angel wouldn’t tell anyone he lost it like that, but explaining the band-aid on her neck was going to be difficult without going into details.
“Hi, Buffy,” Cordelia caught her coming around the corner. Her smile faltered a bit when she took in the Slayer’s appearance. Neat and tidy clothes, but her face looked haggard and pale. Normally, Cordy would have to make a snarky remark just to point out that Buffy could do better, but knowing what happened made her hold back on any cutting remarks.
Cordelia’s simple greeting was lost on Buffy as she stared at the brunette. She didn’t realize until coming face-to-face with the cheerleader the extent of her jealousy. The fact that Angel hadn’t shut up about Cordelia all evening long hinted at things that no girlfriend wanted to acknowledge. During her night of wakefulness, Buffy had convinced herself that these feelings stemmed from Cordelia’s close relationship with Angelus. That whatever it was that made it so easy for them to connect seemed to be a mystery to her.
Connecting with Angel on any level other than the physical wasn’t happening. Even that wasn’t right anymore.
“Buffy?” Waving her hand in front of the blonde’s face, Cordelia gave her a worried look. “Earth to Buffy. Come in Buffy.”
“Wha—?” Buffy had completely tuned Cordelia out. “Sorry, Cor.”
Trying not to stare at the flesh-colored band-aid on Buffy’s neck, Cordelia held a tight reign on her tongue. She wanted to ask the girl so many questions about last night. First, to see if she was okay. Other than looking like death slightly warmed over, Buffy was apparently physically fine. Despite what Angel told Cordy about the bite, he had not been specific about the type of bite.
She knew that Angel dipped into a deeper, darker place. Otherwise, he would never have touched Buffy in that way. He just gave in to his vampire instincts long enough to take something he wanted. The fact that his bite hadn’t been a sign of love had nothing to do with the fact that it might have been a claim. Cordy wanted to know if Angel’s bite meant that he officially claimed Buffy.
Should’ve asked Angel. He would’ve told me. Cordelia wasn’t so certain that Buffy would tell her even if it was true. So she decided to wait until later and ask Angel himself about the claiming part. Doesn’t mean I can’t ask whether she liked it.
Cordelia opened her mouth and was about to question Buffy when Harmony strolled up. The blonde let out an exasperated sound. “Can you believe Mr. Perkins assigned homework on a Friday night? Doesn’t he understand it’s the weekend? I have stuff to do.”
“Like going to the Bronze tonight,” Cordelia nodded in understanding. She looked at Buffy who was inching away. There was no way Cordy was going to talk family stuff in front of Harmony. “You’ll be there tonight too, right Buff?”
“Yeah. Tonight. Gotta run. I’m meeting Willow and Xander for lunch,” Buffy told her.
Harmony, your timing sucks, thought Cordelia as she watched the Slayer walk away.
“So, Cor,” Harmony sidled up closer. “Will they be there too?”
“Angel and Angelus?”
“Duh! I wasn’t talking about the Geek Patrol,” Harmony rolled her eyes. “I wanna see Double Trouble. The hunk and the hottie. Tall, dark and delicious times two.”
Hands on her hips, Cordelia sent her friend an irate stare. “I didn’t realize you could multiply, Harm.”
Harmony looked confused. “I can add. Especially when it comes to adding up totally gorgeous men.”
“Well add up somebody else’s men. Leave mine alone,” Cordelia snarled at her. She didn’t care if Harmony was just teasing. It just seemed important to let the other girl know they were off limits.
“Geez! Didn’t know you were so greedy, Cor. Now you’re hogging Angel, too?” With a laugh, Harmony sauntered off toward the cafeteria leaving Cordelia with a wide-eyed expression on her face as she leaned up against the lockers.
Did I say MINE?
From the corner of the hall, Rupert Giles watched the brief exchange between Buffy and Cordelia. Having expected Buffy to come talk to him, the Watcher’s concerns only grew with her failure to do so. After Angelus’ revelation, it was all the vampire could do to hold Giles back when his first instinct had been to find Angel and stake the bastard for daring to bite Buffy… the Chosen One… his Slayer.
Buffy was more than just his charge. To Giles, it was almost like being told his own daughter had nearly been drained by a vampire. Only one thing stopped Giles from following his urge to take Angel out. Not even Angelus could have prevented that without physically restraining him. It was the fact that Giles knew Angel was only following instincts while following the narrow path the Fates set out for him.
Now, I must find the root of the problem and its cure, Giles told himself. Before something else happens. Before someone dies.
Turning into the library, Giles went into his office to continue research. He had several borrowed texts that might have leads. Burying himself in his work, the Watcher had no idea what amount of time passed before the interruption came.
“Giles?” The sound of Buffy’s voice called out from the doorway.
Thank God! She came after all. “In here, Buffy.”
Glancing at the clock told Giles that his Slayer was skipping class, but at this point he really didn’t care. They needed to talk about what happened to her last night. Even if it was difficult and a subject that might be uncomfortable for them both. It was too early to tell her everything, but she had to be prepared for something if the worst came to pass.
“Shouldn’t you be in class?” Giles asked by way of a conversation opener.
Nodding, Buffy admitted, “Yes, but I need to talk to you. It’s about Angel.”
Giles encouraged her to speak, trying to gently elicit her response rather than bulldozing his way into asking for details. “What is it?”
“I’m worried about him,” Buffy told him as she entered the office and sank down into a chair. “Something happened last night that’s never happened before and it scared me. I don’t think Angel is acting like himself.”
“Can you give me some examples?”
Buffy took a deep breath and then blurted, “He bit me.”
Deciding not to reveal that he already knew the information, Giles found that he did not have to pretend that he was angry or surprised about it. The sudden way Buffy gave him the information caused him to sit back sharply in his chair. There must have been something in his expression to tell her that he was not happy about the fact that she had been bitten by a vampire, especially when that vampire was Angel.
“We were on a date when it happened.”
It didn’t take much for Giles to interpret that correctly. He wasn’t blind when it came to Buffy’s relationship with Angel. After all, intimacy had to be one of the primary reasons the vampire sought to secure his soul in the first place.
Yes, he did, realized Buffy. Well, she wasn’t going into details. She came here with one purpose and hoped that her Watcher would supply her with the truth. Giles did not always tell her everything.
“Giles, do you remember the day that Angel first brought Angelus to the library?”
“Yes, of course.” Only an amnesiac would forget that.
Buffy asked directly, “What was it Angel told you that day in your office?”
Oh, bloody hell. She asked the one question I can’t answer.
Giles made an attempt to explain what he could. “Angel told me that he had made a deal with the Moirae… essentially the personifications of fate… to secure his soul. By doing so, it necessitated giving Angelus his own existence.”
There had to be more. Buffy hounded Giles with questions until the Watcher had no recourse left, but to tell her, “This deal is highly dangerous, a risk that Angel should never have taken. While Angel’s soul may be secure in its own separate physical form, both he and Angelus are vulnerable to the psychological effects of being separated.”
Wide-eyed, Buffy stared at Giles. “Are you suggesting that Angel is going crazy?”
“Not exactly,” her Watcher responded while pushing his glasses down to pinch the bridge of his nose. “He is more likely to be influenced by his vampiric instincts.”
Shaking her head in denial, Buffy suggested. “It should be the opposite. Without Angelus in his head, he should be more human. More like he was before Angelus was ever part of him.”
“I’m afraid it hasn’t worked out that way,” Giles gave her a sympathetic look. “Look at Angelus. Being soulless, he has only the mystic controls placed upon him to shape his behavior and prevent him from following those same instincts. How often have you witnessed those controls being required?”
“Just once,” admitted Buffy thoughtfully. “It was at the football game when some jerk made comments about Cordelia.”
“Far less that one would imagine.”
“Yes.” Buffy had thought she’d be forced to reign Angelus in on a daily basis, but he had completely surprised her.
Giles let out a deep breath, trying to relax into his chair. This entire situation made him tense. Seeing Buffy physically damaged, even though he knew that her Slayer healing abilities would quickly restore her, left him angry and looking at the bigger picture. His fears were coming to fruition. What affected Buffy also affected the safety of Sunnydale and the stability of the Hellmouth. If things got worse and Angel lost all control, only the Fates themselves knew what trouble lay ahead.
“Whatever the Moirae have done,” Giles explained, “it could be deadly. To Angel. To Angelus. To you or anyone else involved if the wrong set of circumstances come into play.”
Deadly. That was what Angel had told her from the beginning and Buffy hadn’t really given it much thought since then. Not since Angelus arrived. “I thought the dangers were only during their separation. Angel will be okay, won’t he?”
“I don’t know. I’m conducting some research. In the meantime, I suggest that you be careful about your interactions with Angel. Further intimacy could lead to another loss of control,” Giles cautioned her.
Blushing at the fact that Giles had referred to her having sex with Angel, even in his roundabout way, Buffy assured him. “It won’t be a problem.”
She was out of her chair in a flash and headed toward the door before Giles had an opportunity to make his point again.
“Where is that vamp? He promised me he was coming. I am so gonna kick his ass if he doesn’t show,” Cordelia paced in front of Angelus who watched her with a frown on his handsome face.
His reasons for concern were far different from Cordelia’s. It didn’t bode well that Angel had skulked off on his own immediately after sunset. Having spent most of the day in his rooms or down in the training room beating the hell out of the punching bag, Angel hadn’t been in the mood to talk about anything. So he’d let it go meaning to catch him before they headed out to the Bronze with the girls.
What the hell is he doing out there on his own? Even as the question formed in his head, Angelus was hit with a sudden sense of irony. This was the same concern the Slayer and her Scooby Gang had shown about him after his first day back in town with his own existence.
“Oh, he’ll be here,” Buffy assured Cordelia. “You’re here, aren’t you? ”
Angel was the only one missing from the group. Sitting up next to Oz on the couch, Willow was also sitting next to Xander who slunk down low on the couch cushion positioned with his feet up on the table. He chuckled at Cordelia’s determination that her little Bronze outing was going to go as planned. “Dead Boy just doesn’t want you to force him to dance.”
“Grmph!” Cordelia stopped pacing and glared at Xander. “Buffy will have to dance with you and that’s not much of an improvement.”
Xander glanced over at Buffy. “Looks like you’re being foisted off on me.”
She flashed him a grin, “It may not be pretty, but dancing with you is always fun.”
As she spoke to Xander, the turn of her throat revealed the flesh-colored band-aid plastered there. Leaning up against a pillar, Angelus couldn’t help but tease the Slayer about it. “What’s that you’re hiding, Buff? Angel give you a hickey?”
Xander sat up to defend Buffy as if Angelus’ hickey accusation was horrible and defiling. “A hickey? Not! Just something she got in a demon brawl last night.”
So that was the spin the Slayer was putting on it, Angelus mused. “That was some brawl. What kind of a demon was that again?”
Inwardly seething at the idea that Angelus was making fun of her, it was apparent that the vampire knew all about the wound on her neck. Glancing over at Cordelia who was unusually quiet, Buffy wondered whether she knew about Angel biting her as well.
Looking at the band-aid again, Cordelia felt her tension escalate. She already knew the answer to Angelus’ mocking question. A vampire put that mark on her throat. One of my vampires. Angel.
The thought unsettled Cordy who immediately moved to Angelus’ side. Tucking her head against his shoulder, she sidled up against him. Putting his arm around her, Angelus held her close wondering at this sudden need to touch him.
Willow scoffed at Angelus’ hickey theory. “Girls use makeup to cover hickeys, not band-aids.”
Even Buffy managed to generate enough curiosity to ask, “How would you know, Will?”
“Uh, I-I read.”
Oz sat there quietly, not saying a word, but a close observer could detect the slight upward curve of his mouth at the corners.
Angelus didn’t care about the antics of the witch and her werewolf. He was too busy toying with the Slayer. “Looks like Cordelia wasn’t the only one to have a run in with a vampire last night.”
Pulling away from Angelus’ shoulder, Cordelia nudged his side with an elbow. “Stop goading her. Play nice.”
Xander slowly connected the dots. Staring at Buffy and the covered area of her neck, he realized that it was no hickey. “You were with Angel last night. On a date. He— bit you?!”
Furiously, Xander flew off the couch and stomped over to check out the band-aided area on her throat. “Don’t be so naive,” he heard Cor’s voice behind him defending Angel’s actions. “Hello! Vampire.”
“That’s no excuse,” Xander fumed. “He shouldn’t snack on his girlfriend.”
Willow looked agog with the news. Buffy had lied to her. Well, maybe not directly, but she certainly hadn’t given her that juicy, if scary, detail. “Angel bit you? I’ve read vampires claim their mates with a bite. Don’t they? Unless they— uh… can’t.”
Staring at Angelus, the redhead found herself blushing. It didn’t seem right to talk about biting when it was something that could be so intimate to vampires. Even if it was something they did everyday for food. When it was their partner, biting was wholly different. According to the books, anyway. Not that Angel or Angelus were in any position to go around biting people for food. Still, the fact that Angel had bitten Buffy for any reason came as a surprise.
“Let’s see it, Buff,” challenged Angelus. “It’s mostly healed by now, I would imagine. Show everyone so they’ll know you’ll live unscarred.”
Buffy didn’t know what Angelus was getting at, but she followed through with his suggestion. Xander and Willow weren’t going to be satisfied until they knew Angel hadn’t scarred her for life. Reluctantly, she pulled off the band-aid only to see an angst-filled acknowledgement pass over Angelus’ face.
“What is it?”
Angelus muttered as he looked at the appearance of the bite which proved to him exactly what his brother had in mind the moment he set fangs to throat. “Nothing, Slayer. Nothing you want to hear.”
Abandoning Xander’s attention, Buffy walked forward until she stood in front of the vampire. Totally aware of Cordelia’s scrutiny as she stood beside him, Buffy ignored it as she demanded, “Tell me.”
Those firm male lips twisted into his trademark smirk as Angelus gazed down at the Slayer. Lifting his hand, he brushed the fingertips along the smooth strands of her silken hair. Then he grasped her jaw, turning her head to expose her throat to his gaze. “That’s no claiming bite. I always thought it would be me, Buff. Though I promise you I would have finished the job, not just taken a taste.”
Buffy instantly pushed him back against the pillar, stepping out of his reach and glaring at him with a fury edging close to dangerous. She balled her hands into fists and held them at her side, determined that she would somehow let this pass without resorting to a fight in the middle of the Bronze.
“Angelus!” Cordelia couldn’t believe that her mate had said that. Not about Angelus’ admission that he thought he would be the one to kill her. That was old news. “Stop implying Angel would purposefully hurt Buffy. You know that isn’t true.”
“You don’t have all the facts,” Angelus responded gruffly at the way his mate came to his brother’s defense. “I think he can defend himself if necessary, Cor.”
“He’s not here,” she countered vehemently.
Watching the exchange, Buffy realized that Cordelia was being protective of Angel to the extent that even Angelus noticed. She thought about the little bondage game at the mall and the way Cordelia had responded to Angel tying her up. It hadn’t been a response to the bonds alone, but to the one who was holding her captive. Angelus had come in and Cordelia was so into him that it was difficult to believe what Buffy thought she saw was real in the first place.
Maybe she was still imagining it, Buffy thought as her jealousy warred with confusion.
Cordelia suddenly changed the subject, directing everyone’s thoughts away from the vampire with a soul. “We’re supposed to be here for a good time, people. I want fun and I want it now.”
“Dancing?” Willow liked the idea. All of this talk about biting gave her the wiggins. Holding her hand out to Oz, he took it and rose from the couch. They made their way onto the dance floor just as a new set was starting.
“C’mon,” Cordelia held out a hand to her mate. “Let’s show ’em all how you can strut your stuff with style.”
“After you.” Chuckling, Angelus followed behind Cordelia watching her hips sway to the beat of the music.
Xander glanced over at Buffy who was staring after the vampire. “I guess that leaves us, Buffster. Wanna dance?”
Two hours passed by before Angel put in an appearance sweeping into the Bronze in a swath of black on black. Dipping into the shadows as was his habit, the vampire let his gaze wander over the club in search of the others. He picked them out of the crowd one by one— or rather two by two.
Angelus and Cordelia were locked into a tight embrace performing moves on the dance floor that appeared to belong in their bedroom. Apparently Cordelia’s lessons had paid off, because they looked good together. Willow and Oz were out there too, but dancing far more sedately than the vampire and his mate. Buffy and Xander were by the bar placing an order for drinks.
Noticing the empty couch where their coats and other belongings were piled, Angel sat down dead center and stretched out his legs in front of him. This was not where he wanted to be tonight, but he had made a promise to Cordelia to come to the club, so here he was. He watched from his position on the couch as Cordelia and Angelus slowly made their way back across the dance floor. Angelus had his hands all over her causing Angel to growl low in his throat.
It was obvious that their dancing had aroused them both to a point where being in the center of the dance floor had its disadvantages. Angelus groped her ass as Cordy fisted the short ends of his hair holding him to her as she opened her mouth to the probing invasion of his tongue. Finally, they arrived back at the couch barely sparing him a grunt of acknowledgement. Fine. He wouldn’t have to explain his tardiness.
Angelus moved his hands up to Cordelia’s shoulders, his eyes hot with passion as he gave her a push toward the couch. Tumbling backward, Cordelia let out a little gasp of surprise as she fell against the statue-still form of the vampire sitting there. She had no time to say anything to Angel because Angelus descended upon her mouth to smother it with more of his skillful kisses.
Any second now, Angel was going to put a stop to this. His brother had Cordelia in a position that practically draped her across his side, her back up against Angel’s left arm and her bottom pressed up against his hip. This was worse than the theater. It was dark there compared to here. At least they were in that space tucked away behind the stairs, but anyone could see in here if they glanced this way. Angel didn’t care about the audience, not when her hand accidentally brushed along his thigh.
Just a little higher, sweetheart. The irrational thought was guilt-free as her hand clamped down on the muscle just holding on as Angelus made her forget her own surroundings.
A strangled gasp sounded as Buffy and Xander rounded the corner carrying sodas. The display in front of them was mind-numbing and neither could manage to speak. Angelus and Cordelia were necking on the couch. No shocking surprise there since they had seen something similar every time those two were together. It was the fact that while all this was going on, Angel’s head was turned toward Cordelia, his eyes closed as he seemed to be scenting her hair.
Xander’s gasp startled the kissing couple and Angelus pulled away long enough to note that the boy was staring at Cordelia’s misplaced hand. The vampire glanced at Angel whose face revealed more than a hint of the lust he felt. Taking Cordelia’s hand away, Angelus placed it high on his own thigh and continued to kiss his mate.
Glaring at Angel, Buffy felt like throwing the sodas at the three of them just to cool them all off. He’d just been sitting there, letting Cordy touch him and sniffing at her hair like he was trying to memorize her scent. Angelus didn’t seem too upset at Cor’s mistake. Maybe it was obvious to him that she hadn’t done it on purpose. Or maybe, just maybe there was something going on between the three of them.
Buffy’s jaw dropped open at the thought. No, surely not. That would be…the two of them…hot in a totally weird and disgusting kind of way. Angelus was far too possessive to let someone else look at Cordelia, much less touch her, she assured herself.
“Time for a cold shower,” Buffy’s voice was just as icy. “Break it up or I’ll have to settle for my soda.”
Cordelia was still seeing stars when Angelus straightened them both up. She glanced at Xander who appeared to be in some state of shock and then realized he was not looking at her, but at Angel behind her. She vaguely recalled seeing him, but hadn’t realized he was sitting quite so close. When’d he get there?
“Angel, you made it,” Cordelia’s smile instantly melted his stony expression. “I knew you’d get here.”
“No you didn’t. You were probably plotting to kick my ass,” Angel said knowingly.
Angelus rose from the couch holding out his hand to Cordelia. “I think it’s actually time we left, babe.”
Peeking up at him, Cordelia smiled that impish grin. “Five minutes? Angel just got here.”
In fact, Cordelia was a little concerned about leaving Angel alone right now with the Slayer. Buffy was looking rather pissed off and it was no wonder considering how late Angel had left it to join them. She might still be mad about being bitten if what Angelus hinted at earlier was close to the truth.
“Promise me that you’ll try to have some fun,” Cordelia faced Angel again who was looking like he found fun contrary to his existence. “Dance. At least try to dance.”
“Angelus inherited all of the rhythm in the family,” he deadpanned right back.
Cordelia laughed in spite of the fact that she knew that wasn’t true. Anyone watching the way he moved would know Angel could move gracefully. He just thought too much about what he was doing when on the dance floor. “Funny, but it won’t score you any points tonight. Buffy’s had to put up with Xander all evening and you know what that’s like.”
“Hey!” Xander sounded a protest.
Angel never bothered looking in the boy’s direction. He was too entranced by the green-gold hues in Cordy’s eyes. Then his hand automatically came up to her throat as he fingered the gold choker with the sign of the Order of Aurelius. Looking at what was essentially his mark displayed around her neck, Angel found the temptation to kiss her getting to be difficult to ignore.
Then Cordelia leaned forward and whispered something into Angel’s ear that left him laughing in a way none of them had ever seen before. The sound was so surreal that it was almost scary. Buffy stared at Angel’s beautiful smile like it was a sunrise she’d seen for the first time.
Overhearing Cordelia tell Angel to try out the Bunny Hop if the dance moves got too complicated for him, Angelus simply rolled his eyes and waited for the five minutes to pass. Time was ticking.
“I think it’s time for you to go,” Angel told her catching his brother’s impatient look. No matter that Angelus stood there watching them, any longer and he wasn’t going to stop himself from taking what he wanted. Not that it would stop with a kiss, he told himself. Cordelia deserved more than just a damn tattoo and a choker to signify her importance to them.
Reading something in his eyes, Cordelia found herself agreeing. She joined Angelus as he stood next to the stairs. “See you at home?”
“I won’t be late,” Angel nodded.
Cordelia and Angelus were barely out of hearing distance before Buffy exploded. She just couldn’t take it anymore without confronting her boyfriend. “Can’t wait to leave? You sound like you can barely stand to be near me.”
Rising from the couch, Angel towered over the petite blonde. “Are you sure you want to have this conversation here?”
The vampire glanced in Xander’s direction making Buffy aware that they were not alone. Xander felt his own fury growing and the hatred he always felt for Angel was welling to the surface. This was what he’d been afraid of all along. That the vamp would lose it and hurt Buffy. He’d bitten her! Now he was practically drooling over Cordelia in spite of Angelus’ presence.
Xander watched, his mouth a tightly drawn circle, as Buffy and Angel stared at each other across the small space separating them. An almost palpable vibe passed back and forth between the two as if some dark counterforce was signaling danger ahead. It was the Slayer’s defensive stance that shocked him, her unconscious method of moving into a position while facing an enemy, not a lover or a friend. The look on Angel’s face caused him to freeze into position as if sensing the vampire’s predatory nature for the first time.
Reminds me of Angelus, he gulped down the lump forming in his throat. Except that the soulless vampire had been doing a terrific job of playing Good Guy. Plus, he actually had a sense of humor and knew how to have fun unlike Dead Boy.
“We’ll go out back,” Buffy told Angel. “To the alley.”
Angel quipped, “So no dancing?”
Xander took it back. The vampire did have a sense of humor. It just made people want to kill him.
Irked by Angel’s attempt to joke about this, Buffy set her soda down on the table top with such force that it sloshed everywhere. Whirling on her heel, she headed to the back exit of the Bronze. Angel was about to follow when he felt himself held back by a hand grabbing a fistful of his leather coat.
“Angel.” Their usual cool greeting extended into a warning on Xander’s part. He didn’t care how frightening the vampire could be or what he had on his mind when he bit Buffy or sniffed at Cordelia’s hair. “Be careful what you say and do. Buffy may be able to physically defend herself if necessary, but she still has feelings.”
“Remove the hand,” growled Angel with perfect cold clarity, “before I permanently remove it for you.”
As fast as humanly possible, Xander dropped his hold on Angel’s sleeve. Inwardly wigging out, he realized that maybe it did matter how frightening Angel could be. Hell, he was damn scary! Letting Angel go, he watched until the vampire passed through the exit door before deciding what he needed to do.
Pacing back and forth like a caged tigress, Buffy stopped mid-motion as Angel came into view. She didn’t wait for explanations. Baldly, she barked, “I’ve had enough.”
“Yes, Angel,” she confirmed. “Enough of this. Of us. If there ever was an us.”
Angel watched her mouth tremble, but it was adrenalin and not fear that caused it. She went on and he let her. “I know we had something, Angel. I loved you. I really did and I know that you loved me, too. What happened to that? Was it all just my imagination?”
“No,” he admitted. “We had something real, Buffy.”
The Slayer noted bitterly that he also used the past tense to describe it. “Was it real enough to fight for? Real enough to do anything not to let it go?”
“You tell me.”
Giving him an odd look, it took Buffy a minute to figure out what he meant. Licking her lips, she realized what it was. “The deal with the Fates.”
“I wanted more for us,” Angel reminded her. “What we had was a dream of what we thought we could be together. I wanted to make it real for both of us and I thought I had found a way.”
“You were wrong.”
The accusatory tone in her voice made it clear that Buffy was still angry about his decision to bring Angelus back as a way to secure his own soul. “Yes, I was wrong. The deal is done and there is no going back to the way it was, Buffy. The Moirae just don’t work that way.”
She watched as Angel circled around her, a habit of many vampires as they paced around their prey. Buffy refused to wheel around to watch his progress. She stood her ground and kept her senses open to his movements.
“What is it about this deal you made? I know there is something that Giles hasn’t told me. He refused to say anything more than I already know. You told me that this could be deadly, Angel. I never realized that you meant it could be deadly to me.”
Angel stopped dead-still as he listened to what she had to say. “I never intended to kill you. Not consciously.”
“You would’ve if you hadn’t realized what you were doing.”
He couldn’t deny it.
“You never even told me you were sorry about it,” Buffy yelled at him.
He admitted quietly, “I am sorry it happened. I don’t want you hurt.”
“Well thanks for that,” Buffy returned sourly. “I loved you. Truly, I know that I did, but I’ve changed too. I’m not the same girl I was a year ago before I sent you to that hell dimension.”
Silently, Angel listened to her speech. He couldn’t say that he disagreed with any of it. Buffy told him that she realized, “We want different things. It’s way beyond the physical stuff, y’know… sex.”
Even now, she had trouble saying it to his face. Angel braced himself against the inner laughter that threatened to pour forth sensing that she would not take it well. “You’re the Slayer, Buffy. I find myself reacting to you as a vampire rather than a man.”
“You are a vampire, Angel.”
A slow smile crept onto his face, one of irony. “There was a time when I wanted you to see me only as a man, Buffy, but I came to realize that I needed you to accept me as a vampire. That was something you couldn’t do. Until I bit you.”
“That will never happen again,” she informed him slowly enunciating every word like a warning. “You see, I’ve decided I’m not going to take that chance anymore. You’ve changed just as much as I have. The deal with the Fates has made you into someone that I just don’t recognize anymore.”
Angel had to admit there were days he barely recognized himself.
“So that’s it,” Buffy shrugged the heavy weight of despair from her shoulders and stood determinedly before him. “I quit.”
Moving with sudden speed and accuracy, Angel gripped her shoulders pulling her close. Despite the fact that the Slayer was giving him an easy way out, Angel found that it riled him. He grasped her hair in his fist staring down at her with the sudden release of his own anger. “You don’t quit me unless I say so.”
Buffy pushed him away using her Slayer strength. “Just listen to you. This isn’t like you. You’re not the man who gave me that Claddaugh ring. We’ve just been living a lie these last couple of months trying to be something we are obviously not.”
“Then what are we, lover?”
“I-I don’t know, Angel. Please, let it go for a while.”
“Did my bite frighten you so much that you would give up the rest of it?” Angel knew that she enjoyed the sex. He may not have enjoyed it to the extent that he wanted to, but she certainly did.
Holding her hand to her throat, Buffy admitted, “Yes, it scared me. I let my guard down because it was you. Biting me was never something I would have let you do if you’d asked permission.”
“Maybe that’s why I didn’t ask.”
She let out a mad laugh, a trill that came across as something he might hear from Drusilla. “Just listen to yourself. You’ll realize why I’m not taking any more chances. This bite had nothing to do with love. It took me a while to realize the truth, but I finally understood the reason why.”
Angel looked puzzled. If he didn’t understand it, how could the Slayer possibly hope to do so?
The look on her face caused Buffy to laugh harshly. “Forget about the biting and the deal with the Fates. I think I have more than enough cause to be mad at you right now.”
Wondering what else he had done, Angel stared back at her with a dense expression. “So clue me in. What’s the problem?”
Buffy used her words like a weapon, striking at him with everything she had. “You’re so into her you don’t even know it. You don’t think anyone else can see it. I’m not stupid or blind, Angel. Maybe it’s taken me a while to believe it, but the one thing I can’t tolerate in a boyfriend is the fact that you’re in love with someone else.”
Dumbstruck, Angel simply stared at her as the words slowly penetrated his mind. In love with someone else?
“Like I said, you don’t even know it.”
No sooner had the idea sunk into his mind than Angel accepted it as the truth. Cordelia. Obviously, she was talking about Cordelia. There was no doubt in Angel’s mind that he wanted Cordy. No doubt that he was irrationally possessive about his brother’s mate. The idea that he loved her stunned him and yet he found that denial was impossible. That word… love… it linked up perfectly with feelings that seemed to free-float in his system. Feelings he had never felt for anyone before, not even Buffy.
The thought was enough to remind him of his plans to take back the right to claim Cordy as his own. He needed time and patience and planning, for such a task would not be easy considering that she was Angelus’ mate. There might be protests from Cordy, too. After all, she professed to love his brother. Despite that love, he knew there was an attraction between them that had nothing to do with the fact that he and Angelus were look-alikes.
“Say something,” demanded Buffy. “I’m breaking up with you, accusing you of being in love with Cordelia, yet you can’t even tell me to shut up, or that I’m wrong?”
“You’re not wrong.”
“Oh.” Buffy felt the tears welling in the corners of her eyes. Fighting against it, she blinked them away. Suspecting was one thing, but hearing a confirmation was quite another.
“Face it, Buffy,” Angel surrendered to the idea of their relationship ending, “whatever we had it started in spite of who we were. Slayer and vampire. The physical aspect simply complicated matters. It brought out our diametrically opposed natures.”
“You’re saying we were never meant to be together,” she realized sadly.
“You need someone human, Buffy. Someone whose instincts don’t oppose yours. A man who won’t kill you if you try to dominate him.”
Blushing at that last statement, Buffy realized the extent to which Angel hated the fact that she needed to control him during sex. It had to be part of her Slayer nature in response to him being a vampire, not to mention all alpha male.
“I can’t do this anymore.” Looking at him with wide soulful eyes, she asked him, “Let me go.”
Despite the fact that he knew this was the right thing to do, Angel felt torn between his naturally possessive feelings about Buffy and relief that she wanted to end their affair. Weighing everything in the balance, Angel realized the decision was easier than he thought. His feelings for Cordelia tipped the scale.
Nodding his consent to the decision, he told her simply, “It’s done. Over. If that’s what you want, we’re finished.”
Angel turned on his heel walking down the alley toward the front of the club. He sensed her watching him, but he also sensed something else. More precisely… someone else. Passing a nearby dumpster, Angel stopped in his tracks.
“You can come out now.” Angel waited until Xander poked his head out from behind the trash bin. “It’s over, Harris. She’s all yours.”
Seeing that Xander had been listening in, Buffy stalked up to his side demanding to know why he was spying on them.
“Uh— Buffster, can you wait to ream me out until Angel leaves?”
Angel decided it was time to escape before he got caught in the middle. Reminding them both, “I’ll be seeing you two around. Angelus and I are still tied to Sunnydale and fighting the Good Fight as long as this deal with the Moirae is in effect.”
Looking startled by the idea, Buffy hadn’t really considered spending that much time with Angel, Cordelia or Angelus after breaking up with her boyfriend. The strange truth was that she was a little relieved. She didn’t want them to disappear from her life.
“Yeah. See you around.”
Xander and Buffy waited until the tall figure turned the corner at the entrance of the alley, his dark coat billowing behind him. In an instant, they were arguing again.
“I was worried about you,” Xander defended his actions. “Considering the biting and all.”
“That doesn’t give you spying rights,” Buffy complained. Then she decided to give up on the argument. Tonight had already been rough enough without dragging anything else into it. “Let’s go.”
The Bronze had little appeal left as far as Xander was concerned. At least for tonight. “I’m all danced out. Wanna rent a video and call out for pizza?”
Buffy considered the offer. “Sure, but let’s do a routine patrol first. I’m in the mood to dust a few vamps.”
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