Unforgettable

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Unforgettable Powered By Docstoc
					Unforgettable
Author: Jill

Disclaimer: nope, still don't own them

Pairing: B/A eventually

http://www.angelfire.com/tv2/michellesfiction/unforgettable.html

Category: Romance/Angst/DramaRating: PG-13 (for now)

Summary: completely AU, no vampires, no slayers, no Sunnydale; the characters we love are
either cops, lawyers or PIs or their spouses and wives/husbands... and they all live in Los
Angeles

Feedback: oh yes, please!!! Connemara.Scarlets@t-online.de

Dedication: For Angie, the bestest BETA

1

Monday, August 14th, Los Angeles

Alexander Harris yawned when he pushed against the swing door marking the entrance to the
police department. A check of his watch assured him that he had every right to feel tired. It
wasn't even eight o'clock in the morning.

Damn Giles, he thought. Maybe it was a British thing to hold meetings at this early hour.

His eyes still half-closed he almost bumped into someone who was coming from the bathroom.
"Riley," he greeted his colleague who was looking wide-awake.

How the guy always managed to be this alert was a mystery for Alexander Harris whom his
friends just called Xander. "You're early as well."

"Yeah," the blond replied nodding towards Rupert Giles' office door.

"You're in the meeting too?" Xander raised his brows, "Oh man, must be something big."

Riley merely shrugged and went towards his desk where a steaming cup of coffee was waiting
for him. "How's Anya and the baby?" he asked taking a sip.

A grin lit Xander's tired face, "Great. They're both great. The boy's growing so fast," he
rolled his eyes, "And he eats... It's a miracle he isn't Schwarzenegger by now. And Anya just
loves being a mother."
"Good to hear," Riley sighed and sank into his chair. A frown appeared on his forehead while
he was sipping from his coffee again.

The same moment the door swung open again and revealed a striking brunette, dressed in the
latest fashion, her makeup perfect, she lifted a hand to remove a strand of hair from her
face, and the diamond engagement ring on her finger sparkled in the artificial light. Cordelia
Chase was the new assistant District Attorney, and Xander Harris' high school sweetheart,
although she sometimes tried really hard to forget about it.

"Good Morning," she addressed the two police officers, one looking at her through narrowed
eyes, the other grinning as always.

"Cordy, darling," Xander walked over to her and greeted her with a friendly hug. After their
breakup in high school they had been avoiding each other for a couple of years but now they
had settled into a comfortable friendship, with Xander being happy in his marriage with Anya
and Cordelia just recently engaged to a local PI. Alan Doyle was out of Cordelia's league as
far as Xander was concerned, but they seemed to love each other and who was he to judge
their choices. "I would say it's nice to see you, but considering the meeting the big boss has
been scheduled for eight o'clock, I'm not so sure anymore."

"Relax," she said, placing her briefcase on his desk. "This is just an informal meeting to
discuss a case and an addition to the department."

"An addition?" Xander raised a questioning brow.

"What kind of addition?"

She gave him a sweet smile, "Just wait and see," she said mysteriously. "You'll hear soon
enough."

"What are we waiting for anyway?" Riley stood and looked towards Giles' office. "He's been
on the phone for ages."

Now it was for Xander to narrow his eyes, "When exactly did you get up today?"

"I came half an hour ago and the Captain was already there, already on the phone and he
hasn't stopped ever since," the blond answered.

"Morning," came a female voice from the door, sounding a bit breathless. "I'm not too late,
am I," her eyes darted to the closed office door and instantly her posture relaxed, "Good.
The traffic is absolutely terrible."

"Calm down, Willow," Xander smiled at the redhead who held a laptop under her arm. Willow
Rosenberg Osborne was the computer wizard of the department and the wife of his best
friend, who was the owner of a specialized computer shop in West Hollywood. Other than
that, they knew each other forever.
They'd played together in pampers and Xander had been glad when Willow had joined the
force three years ago.

"Calm down?" she parroted. "Do you remember when I was late for a meeting two weeks ago?
Giles made me write all the overdue reports in one day. No thank you, not again."

"Well, you've already written them," Xander joked, grinning, "That means he can't really hurt
you this time."

"I'd rather not test your theory," she replied.

"Where's Buffy?" she looked around, then her eyes fell on Riley.

"Hey, don't ask me? We're only married, but we don't live with each other anymore, so why
should I know where she is?" he shot back, not willing to speak about his wife, especially not
to Willow, who was her best friend and confidante.

"She should've dumped you a lot earlier, if you ask me," Cordelia said, her hip resting on the
edge of Xander's desk.

"Fortunately nobody has asked you," Riley replied acidly, his coffee suddenly tasting like
soap. He knew that everyone in the department held him responsible for the failure that was
his marriage.

None of them had any idea what was really wrong with Buffy and he, but nobody was too shy
to voice their opinion and that was, 'Riley is a bastard and Buffy a saint.'

So okay, he had been seeing other women during the second half of his four-year marriage to
the blonde, but had anyone asked him why he had done it? No. They had just pointed the
finger at him, called him unfaithful and that made everything Buffy did all right. Even for
Willow and Cordelia, her closest friends, he was the one responsible for the mess, although
they at least should know better. But of course, for women, the man was always the one to
blame and Riley in particular was such an easy target.

Willow had been somewhat supportive to their relationship, at least at the beginning.
Cordelia had called him a loser from the start. She had even refused to be a bridesmaid at
their wedding, not willing to participate in something she was certain was doomed to fail. It
really didn't help Riley to see that she'd been right. Cordelia Chase was a bitch. Period.

"No but she should have," the brunette said studying her fingernails. "Because if she'd asked
me, I would've told her to keep her hands off you. Would've spared her a lot of pain and
grief, wouldn't it?"

Riley clenched his hands into fists at his sides, "You think you're so clever, don't you," he
hissed through gritted teeth, "I wouldn't be surprised to hear that you did everything to
destroy our marriage."
Cordelia let out a short, amused laugh, "There was no need to do anything. You did that all by
yourself, my friend. I thought you were a loser," she shrugged, picking up her briefcase when
she saw Giles opening the door of his office, "well," she walked towards the Captain and
passing Riley she added, "we have the proof of it now, don't we?" Then she reached out a
hand to Giles leaving the blond police officer fuming behind her.

*

Rupert Giles looked at the faces assembled in his office. Xander Harris, Riley Finn and Buffy
Summers-Finn all police detectives he knew for many years now, Willow Rosenberg, the
department computer specialist, indispensable for research, Mike Harmon, a young officer,
just out of Police academy, Kate Lockley and Darla Massey, his senior detectives, both highly
decorated officers. With both he worked in the field before he became Captain of the
department.

And there were more, Frank Williams, more a friend than just a co-worker, David Gadget,
another long year police officer, and the most interesting pair of the department, Faith
Henley and Drusilla Peterson, who were specialized in illegal substances. He trusted all of
them with his life and yet, the Internal Affairs was sure that one of them was foul.

Two weeks ago he'd gotten a call from Brent Harley, chief of the IA, telling him that they
had proof that one of his officers had been playing with the bad guys. They had no name so
far, but the informant had sworn that it was an officer of Giles‟ department and according to
Brent Harley the informant was hundred percent reliable. That was also the reason the DA
had sent his assistant to this morning‟s meeting. Cordelia Chase was familiar with the
problem and most likely would be the attorney to pursue the case as soon as they knew who
he or she was.

But of course he couldn't tell them that they were suspecting one of them. Nor could he tell
them the real reason they would get an addition to their team. "We need to talk," Giles
began, looking at each one of them for a second. "The major is concerned about the
increasing crime rate in this area," he said and ignored the sniggers coming from his officers.

The crime-rate had been increasing for years and so far nobody had been interested. But it
was a good reason to explain the two new officers quickly and so the DA and Internal Affairs
had used the story.

"I know, I know," he told them. "Big words and nothing happens, but not this time. It seems
that at least someone understands that we need more officers to be more effective. So I
wanted to see you in my office to tell you that we‟re getting two new colleagues."

Surprised glances and murmurs were the reaction, Buffy looked at him quizzically, sensing
somehow that it wasn't it. She was a lovely young woman who in Giles' opinion had married
the wrong guy after being hurt by another and had paid dearly for it the last two years. She
would hopefully be divorced soon, and even though Giles thought of himself as old-fashioned
and liked marriages to last a long time, preferably forever. However in this case it was a
blessing that they weren't living in the Middle Ages anymore.
For her and for her alone Giles hadn't been happy with the officers Internal Affairs had
chosen to investigate. She'd had enough heartache to last for a lifetime and he wasn't sure
she would be too pleased to see the man again who had been the cause for a fair share. But
Internal Affairs didn't discuss their choices, and Giles knew he was lucky that they had even
bothered to inform him so thoroughly about their plans.

"Do we know them?" Willow finally asked the dreaded question.

"Only one of them. They've been working in New York for the last years, but they'll be
moving to L.A. and will start working here on Wednesday."

"Well," the redhead looked at him expectantly, "Who are they? What are their names?"

"Their names," Giles paused shortly, locking his eyes with Buffy's, "are William Stevens and
Angel Reardon."

****

Monday, August 14th, NEW YORK

"I still can't believe you agreed to do this," William Stevens rubbed his forehead then
reached for the coffee. "I always thought you were so glad to escape L.A. and all the mess
there."

Angel frowned, closing the file lying on his desk, "I was. Or rather, I thought I was. But to
tell you the truth, I'm not so sure going back is the best idea. But Internal Affairs calls and
we go."

"Yeah, straight across the whole damned country. Why on earth did I ever leave England?"
William, by everyone known as Spike, a remnant of his school days when he used to wear his
hair in spikes, shook his head.

"Beats me," Angel chuckled, leaning back in his chair.

"Yeah, yeah," Spike reached into his pocket for a cigarette then remembered he wasn't
supposed to smoke in the department. "Why are we doing this?" he leaned forward, looking
his partner straight in the eye. "Tell me, why was Internal Affairs so after you in this?"

"Because I was close to the people there. I know the officers in the department, but I've
been away for four years so they think I'm not too close either *and* they see you as a good
addition being objective as you don't know a soul there."

"Still, I'm not really looking forward to those California Sunnyboys. New York is bad enough
the way it is, but L.A.? If it was for a vacation I might even find the idea tempting, you know,
lying on the beach, watching all those long, tanned legs and sorry excuses for a bikini, but
this," he shook his head again, "This really sucks."
"You're incorrigible," Angel laughed and tilted his head. "L.A. isn't that bad, you know." Spike
had been assigned as his partner shortly after he arrived in New York. Born in England, he
had worked for Interpol for two years and got stuck in New York when he fell in love with a
girl. The relationship was non-existent anymore but Spike had stayed in the Big Apple,
already too addicted to the city. And Angel was glad, because the blond was the best partner
he'd ever had and they had saved each other's hide more than once.

Spike smiled at him, then looked suddenly thoughtful, "And you're sure you're up to this?" he
asked. "Seeing her again," he clarified. He'd wondered about the way Angel had avoided
women, hadn't dated when they'd first met. Not that he dated a lot as it was, but at the
beginning the dark-haired officer had been a recluse, a loner, not interested in a relationship
at all, had even been distant towards his partner.

Spike had sensed that there had to be reason for his partner's behavior, and for the deep
sadness in his eyes. But it had been more than a year before Angel had confided in him about
the tragic love story in L.A. that had finally caused him to move to New York, far away from
the woman he loved but could no longer have.

"It's been more than four years, Spike," Angel, replied, "Besides, she's happily married, so
she's off limits to begin with. And maybe it's time to face all that again, to finally put an end
to it and move on."

The blond officer tilted his head and studied his partner and friend for a long while, then he
lifted his cup, "Alright then," he said, "L.A. here we come."

********

2

Friday, August 18th, Los Angeles

"There you are." With a heavy groan Willow let herself sink into the wooden chair of "Drinks
and Kinks", the favorite snack shop of the whole department. The owner, Cara, a lady in her
fifties, was an original, always dressed up as if preparing for an audition, but she served the
best food around and the prices were still reasonable, which was practically a miracle. Willow
looked at her best friend who was sitting across her, eyeing the redhead with an amused
expression. "What?" she asked confused.

"Nothing," Buffy grinned. "You're just adorable if you look all messed up and upset."

"Oh, thank you so much," the redhead replied sarcastically. "I feel so much better now. God,
it's hot today," she groaned again, then took her napkin and used it as a fan for some
seconds. "What I really need is a shower, but of course no such luck. No, instead I'm stuck
with this damned net search. It's amazing I could escape for lunch." She took a deep breath,
then smiled, "And how‟s your day?"
The blond laughed, "Not as bad as yours, but I‟ve had better," she admitted, sipping her
coke. "This Philips-case, you know, the woman was killed in her bedroom, everyone suspects
the husband, but he swears he didn't do it." She shook her head and put her glass down. She
saw her friend nod and went on,

"Well, the husband was - is - ten years younger than his wife who has grown up kids. Three of
them. Women. No, let me rewind that. Bitches."

The redhead grimaced, "That bad, huh?"

"Worse," Buffy said, leaning back in her chair. "I-"

"Now, how are my favorite officers?" Cara came to stand beside their table and flashed
them a big, wholehearted smile. The sturdy woman who had been born in Alabama had made
L.A. her home 20 years ago, and Buffy honestly wasn't sure if the city would be the same
without her.

"What can I get you? Are you up for some cholesterol-intake or on a diet again?"

"Aren't we always?," Willow sighed. "I just have to look at ice cream and gain a pound or
two." Buffy nodded emphatically.

"Girls," Cara began.

"Girls!" both officers parroted. "Hardly," the blond said, making a face.

"We both hit the big three-zero this year. That means each pound counts twice."

"Girls," Cara said again, her voice firm. "I'm almost twice your age, so you two are just young
birds for me, barely out of the diapers. But I agree, today isn't the temperature for some
heavy, fatty, tasty," she grinned when she saw the other's were groaning, "Yeah, yeah, I've
got it. Two salads for the police-ladies. Have a nice day you two."

"You too, Cara," Buffy smiled. "You're a jewel, you know."

The older woman laughed throatily, "Oh Buffy, besides my husband you always say the nicest
things." With a swing of her full hips she made her way towards the kitchen.

"She really is something," Willow laughed as well. "What a woman!"

"Oh yeah. Cara is the greatest. Nothing would be the same without her. I don't even want to
think she might be to old one day to do this," she motioned towards the whole restaurant.

"Unthinkable," the redhead agreed, then suddenly remembered their interrupted
conversation. "So the wo- I mean the bitches make the whole thing difficult?"

"You can say that. Privately," Buffy leaned forward, her voice merely a whisper, "I think they
have the hots for the step-daddy and who could blame them. He looks as if he's right out of
one of these high-quality magazines. Anyways. I suppose they envied mom for being at the
receiving end of his charms while they could only watch from a distance. If the neighbors are
right, their... uh... bedroom was quite... used," she grinned and winked at her friend.

"Uh-oh, I see. So mom and step-dad weren't just platonic with each other."

"If we can trust the neighbors, quite the opposite. One of the old ladies living across the
yard swears she even saw them going at it beside the pool. Of course she was embarrassed
when Xander asked her how she knew about it. You have to know that lady is close to the
eighties."

Willow burst out laughing. "If you should ever write your memoirs..." she joked.

"Oh yeah. That would be interesting, but I suppose most of it is not for public use," she
sighed again. "Oh, Willow, it is so good to laugh with you."

"Not so much of it this week, huh?" the redhead said compassionately.

"Well," Buffy rested her elbows on the edge of the table, "First this little bomb Giles
dropped on us on Monday, then a really nice meeting with Riley and his lawyer on Tuesday. I
swear, if you had seen him there, all innocent and like the good boy from Iowa, you wouldn't
believe he was cheating on me for over two years. This puppy dog expression - it's a miracle
I wasn't arrested for murder so far."

"That bad, huh?"

"Yeah," the blond let out a long breath and played with the napkin. "Of course the fact that
Angel will be coming back didn't help either. I think Riley dreads it more than I."

Willow looked at her friend with understanding. She'd been there when all the drama had
been enfolding more than four years ago. Angel and Buffy had met when he was assigned to a
case she'd been working on for weeks. And they'd fallen for each other hard and fast. But
then things had happened that drove them apart and Riley, who had fallen in love with Buffy
as well, had seen his chance and grabbed it with both hands. Buffy, vulnerable and hurt, had
been in need of someone to lean on to and when Riley had offered help, she took it. Nobody
had expected them to marry, but it had happened, almost over night. The day of the wedding
Angel had left Los Angeles. And everyone had thought it was for good. But now he was
coming back. More than four years had passed since they'd seen each other but nobody
doubted that there was still something between Buffy and Angel. Their doomed relationship
had been too intense, the sparks had been flying high and strong, nobody expected it to die
that easily. Like nobody had expected for the marriage between Buffy and Riley to work.
And they had been right. The divorce was only a matter of time and of working out the
details, although Riley sometimes forgot about it and behaved as if he was still happily
married to Buffy. Especially when other males seemed to be interested in her. Considering all
this, the next weeks promised to become quite interesting.
"I wonder why he's coming back," Buffy mused playing with her napkin again. "I mean he left
L.A. as if the hellhounds were after him four years ago and now he's coming back. Wham!
Just like that," she snapped her fingers. "It just doesn't... I dunno, does it seem..." she
shrugged, not finding the right word."Well, he's grown up here. Maybe he just misses home,"
Willow said thoughtfully. "I would miss L.A. if I had to move."

"But-," Buffy lifted her shoulders in a helpless gesture, "Do you think," she frowned, her
eyes cast downward, "Do you think it'll be awkward?"

"Oh, Buffy," the redhead reached over the table and took her friend's hand. "Don't blame
yourself again for what's happened. It's over and done with, no reason to dwell on the past."

"I know," the blond replied, "And we both made mistakes, mistook lust for love and stuff,
but... well, the day of my wedding when he suddenly stood in my room in the church. God, he
looked so... lost," she stifled a sob, and then took a deep breath to steady herself. "Do you
think I did wrong?" there was a quiver in her voice.

"Wrong?" Willow tilted her head, then shrugged, "Marrying Riley you mean? Well, given the
situation the answer isn't that difficult, but going back four years, I honestly don't know.
The situation was complicated-"

"Complicated is a big, huge, understatement. I'd rather call it a disaster," Buffy interrupted
her, and then released a heavy breath. "God, Willow, I just don't know how to act around
him. How‟s it going to be? Will he hate me? Despise me? Ignore me?"

**Please, I don't want him to ignore me. And where the hell did that come from?**

"I think we‟ll just have to wait and see," her friend said calmly, studying the blond
thoughtfully. Yes, the tension was definitely still there. Buffy had been a master of denial
throughout the last four years, suppressing even the thought of Angel. Cordelia had once
said that it was a sure sign she was far from over him, Willow hadn't believed her then, but
now she wasn't so sure anymore.

At the beginning Riley and Buffy had looked right. She'd been down, defeated after all the
drama with Angel and he seemed to be the right guy - at least in Willow's eyes. She had even
liked Riley when all their friends had looked at him as if he was a bug. Especially Cordelia,
Faith and Dru. The three women never left a good hair on Buffy's husband. Maybe she
should've listened to them, Willow thought now with regret, maybe they all should've tried
to persuade Buffy to wait. She should've particularly listened to Faith who had been Riley's
girlfriend for three years before he had started to develop an interest in Buffy. Her
theories about why Riley was courting the blond had been terrible and Willow could
remember shouting at her, accusing her of being jealous. Faith had laughed, shaking her
head. You‟ll see, she'd said and now they did.

And how would Angel react seeing Buffy *and* Riley again. Willow had always guessed that
part of his anger about what was going on between the two had been due to the fact that it
was Riley in particular, who was going after Buffy. Maybe he wouldn't have reacted the way
he had if it had been another man? But Riley? With an inward sigh she tried to push all those
heavy thoughts aside.

"Here you go," Cara appeared at their table again, carrying two plates and placed in front of
the women.

Buffy groaned, "How am I going to eat this?" she raised her brows at Cara.

"Hey, it's just salad," the older woman said, grinning. "And besides you could use a little
weight on your ribs. Too much grief isn't good for you," she added with compassion in her
voice.

"Anger," the blond replied tasting the salad, "Mmmm, good," she sighed contently. "It's
anger, not grief," she clarified her first reply. "I've long ago stopped grieving over Riley."

Cara glanced quickly at Willow who was looking at the two other woman with interest, then
she reached out and patted Buffy's shoulder, "It's not Riley I'm talking about," she said
looking intently at the blond. Then she turned and left the two to their meals.

****

Saturday, August 19th, Los Angeles

"I can‟t believe that you persuaded me to help you with this," Doyle groaned lifting another
piece of furniture. "Where the hell is all this stuff coming from?" he asked while he
squeezed himself into the elevator and pressing the right button.

"I had it all in storage," Angel replied, leaning against the wall. "I left in quite a hurry and
there was no way I could take all this with me, so I rented some space for it."

"And why didn't you just leave it there?" the PI asked. "It's really old stuff if you ask me."

"It is," the other man agreed, "the chairs, the table, even the bed I inherited from my
parents. And yeah, it's old-fashioned too, but I can‟t just throw it away, there are too many
memories..." he trailed off, suddenly feeling a bit embarrassed.

The elevator-door opened at the sixth floor and when the door was pulled open Doyle almost
stumbled out, "Hey," he complained.

"Calm down," came the voice of his fiancée. "And don't be a wimp. Hi Angel," she smiled at
the man. "Nice to see you again."

"Cordelia," he smiled back, not quite sure how to act around her. She was one of Buffy's best
friends and knew all about their breakup. She hadn't said a word back then, but of course he
had no way of knowing how she thought about the things that had happened between them.
And now she was engaged to Doyle - something he hadn't expected in his wildest dreams -
his best friend. If Cordelia blamed him for all the things in the past, this situation could
become very awkward. More so as she was one of the few people who knew exactly about his
job in L.A.

"How did you get here?" Doyle asked her, kissing her lightly on the lips.

"I used the second elevator," she replied, her eyes still fixed on Angel.

"My, my," she grinned, "you've certainly grown up," she said. "Working out, huh?"

"What?" Angel stared at her. Cordelia Chase had always been full of surprises and again
she'd managed to confuse him. "Grown up? Hardly," he said dryly. "Considering the fact that
I'm 35 years old, I was hardly a child when I left."

"I know that," she replied rolling her eyes, "but some people just get older," she remarked,
"you on the other hand, *matured*."

Doyle looked back and forth between the two of them, "Is there a reason I should get
jealous now?" he asked good-naturedly. "Because I don't know how much I like the idea of
you adoring another member of the male species so openly."

Cordelia laughed slightly, then cupped his cheek in one of her hands, "Calm down, honey. I
love you. But that doesn't mean I'm blind all of a sudden. I always thought Angel was
attractive, yet I never even considered him as a possible candidate of my affections."

"I wonder if should feel insulted now," Angel joked.

"No need," she shot back. "The problem was you were always so wrapped up in Buffy, there
just wasn‟t a chance... and I just put my foot right into my mouth, didn't I," she said
apologetically. "Sorry."

"It's alright," he touched her shoulder and squeezed it. "You don't need to avoid her name
around me. I know she lives here, I knew it from the start, when I considered moving back
here, working back here. She's with Riley now, she chose him, and she loves him. End of
story. I have come to terms with that."

"Does that mean you don't know," she raised her brows, her eyes darting to Doyle who shook
his head. "He didn't tell you?" she asked incredulously.

"No I didn't," Doyle confirmed, "We never talked about her, he never asked and I-"

"Would anybody please tell me, what this is all about," Angel said irritated, "What's the big
secret?"

"No secret," Cordelia said with a little wistful smile playing around her lips, "It's just that
Buffy is right in the middle of sending that little scum where he belongs or in more common
terms, they‟re right in the middle of a divorce. It's just a matter of arrangements, but it
should soon be over. I guess in about four weeks she‟ll be a free woman again."
********

3

Monday, August 21st, Los Angeles

Angel swore when the doorbell rang at seven o'clock in the morning. It wasn't that he was
late, but half of his face was covered in shaving foam - he could never get used to automatic
razors - and all that covered his naked body was a tiny sort of towel, carelessly slang around
his waist after a long, refreshing shower. Summers in New York could be hot, but it didn‟t
hold a candle to heat of L.A. during the last few days.

The doorbell rang again, more impatiently this time, and he swore again, "Coming," he shouted
from the bathroom. Emerging from it he ran over to his bedroom, fishing his denims from a
chair and pulling them on. Not bothering to close the fly, he went for the door, the discarded
towel now hanging around his neck. "Yeah," he said, the annoyance clearly audible in his voice
when he pulled the door open.

And froze. "Cordelia?!" It wasn't so much the fact that the fiancée of his best friend was
standing right in front of him, although that was usually irritating enough, but the fact that
she was already perfectly dressed, her make-up and hair perfectly coiffed as if straight
from one of the high-color fashion magazines.

"Good Morning," she smiled brightly, then without asking pushed past him and entered his
apartment, the high heels of her shoes clicking on the wooden floor.

"Cordelia," he repeated her name.

"You said that before. Have I changed so much since Saturday that you've got difficulties
recognizing me?" she raised one of her eyebrows, "Nice outfit," she remarked, her eyes
roaming over his bare torso, the open fly of his jeans, and his bare feet, then back up to rest
on his face that, one side shaven and smooth, the other white with the foam. "Not quite
awake, are we?"

"Bloody hell, what's going on out there, what's with the commotion?" Spike stumbled from
one of the bedrooms, eyes blinking sleepily against the morning sun, the only piece of clothes
covering him a pair of boxer shorts. "Oh, what a surprise, the lovely Miss Chase," a grin
spread over his face, while he rubbed his eyes.

"Now, there is a greeting I would call polite," Cordelia shot Angel a nasty look."You two can
talk, I need to get the stuff from my face," the dark-haired man said, disappearing in the
bathroom.

"He's always a bit grumpy in the morning," the blond remarked, letting his still tired body
glide into a seat.
"Oh," Cordelia's eyebrow rose again, "Is that so?" Crossing her arms in front of her chest
she said loud enough so that Angel could hear as well, "You know, I never pictured you living
with a man." She grinned at Spike who laughed out loud.

"Really funny," Angel returned from the bathroom, now the other side of his face clean as
well, the jeans closed up, but the torso was still bare. "Go and make yourself useful," he told
his friend. "Make coffee."

"Yeah, yeah," Spike muttered and struggled to stand up, "You want some coffee as well."

"That would be very nice," Cordelia gave him a bright smile that made him grin and Angel roll
his eyes.

"So," he grabbed a shirt from the sofa and pulled it over his head, then he asked, "Why are
you here?"

"We need to talk," she replied, her face suddenly all business, "About the case. And I'd
rather not do this at work. And as long as Mr. Stevens lives with you, I get you both at the
same time."

"Call me Spike," the blond man returned from the kitchen. "Coffee's running,” he informed
his friend, then looked back at Cordelia, "Each time you call me Mr. Stevens I tend to turn
and look to check if my father's standing behind me."

"Spike it is," she suddenly frowned, "Spike? Is that actually your name? No," she shook her
head almost talking to herself, "I remember reading William. So why Spike?"

"Long story," he shrugged, patting towards his bedroom. "I need to put some clothes on,
can't have you drooling in public over my gorgeous body," he said, rummaging through his still
not emptied bag to find something that wasn't in desperate need to ironing.

"Big ego, huh?" Cordelia turned towards Angel who was standing across the room.

"Not really," he grinned at his friend's bedroom. "He's okay. Best partner I ever had. But
he‟s a ladies man."

"What can I say," Spike returned wearing denims as well and a pale green shirt. Running one
hand through his tousled hair, he went towards the kitchen and Cordelia could hear him
getting cups and the coffee, "they love me. I always hoped it would be infective, but my
friend Angel here," he came back carrying a loaded tray, "he's a lost case. The dates he had
in New York I could count on one hand."

"I really don't think my dating-habits are of interest here," Angel shot his friend a warning
glance.

"On the contrary," Cordelia directed interested eyes on Spike, "I think the subject is
fascinating." **I wonder what Buffy says if she hears that. A guy like Angel, avoiding
dating.**
"Possibly," the dark-haired man said, pouring first her and then himself a cup of coffee, then
pointed at the sofa. "Sit down and then tell me what you want to talk about. What about the
case? I thought we just go there today, see what's going on, and then find the bad guy."

"Yes, that's the plan," she agreed, "but I thought some more information might be in order."

"You were here on Saturday, why didn't you tell us then?" Angel asked.

"Oh, please. That was my weekend. My weekend is off-limits. No work on weekends, no talk
about work."

"So you prefer to get up at, what, six on Mondays?" Spike raised an inquiring brow.

She shrugged slightly, and then sipped from her coffee. "Wow, that's good," she
complimented.

"Not really surprising. If I can recall Doyle said your coffee could wake the dead, because of
horror."

She narrowed her eyes, "He said that? Good to hear. Well, coming back to the matter at
hand. There are some things you need to know. I informed Captain Giles about the real
reason you're here, first because your job will be much easier if he understands what's going
on and secondly, we‟re sure he isn't the one we're searching for."

"I thought you didn't know who he or she was, how can you know then that he isn't," Spike
raised his cup and watched Cordelia over the rim.

"No, I agree with her," Angel crossed his arms, "Giles is clean. He would never do something
like that. He's... It's just not possible."

Cordelia smiled, "Plus we've checked all his accounts, his schedule. If he's the person, he
would have to be supernatural. No, Giles isn't the one. But I am going to tell you we have
several suspects. There's Frank Williams. His wife recently had very expensive surgery and
needs physiotherapy now. Mike Harmon is new at the department. He's in love with the
daughter of a rich man, maybe in need to impress his future in-law. David Gadget is in debt
way over his head."

"I can't imagine David Gadget..." Angel shook his head, "but I suppose everything is possible
if money is involved."

"Yeah, I suppose," Cordelia agreed, "Darla Massey had a huge sum of money transferred to
her bank-account, just recently, although we think with her intelligence it's strange she
wouldn't be more careful if the money wasn't clean. Still..." her serious eyes rested on Angel.
"I know you and she were close."

"Emphasis on 'were'. Whatever was between Darla and I is long over and done with. It was
that way even four years ago. After it was over we weren't even friends anymore. Just polite
acquaintances."
"Good to hear," she took another sip from her coffee, "And then there's Drusilla Peterson."

Spike almost choked on his coffee, "What sort of name is *Drusilla*?" he asked with
incredulous eyes.

"An old-fashioned one," Angel replied. "It's a tradition in her family."

"Angel took her under his wings when she was a rookie," Cordelia explained.

"Under your wings, huh? Attractive?" Spike wiggled his eyebrows, not hiding what he
thought.

Angel narrowed his eyes at him, "I'm not you," he growled. "That might be your way, but it's
certainly not mine."

"What did I say?" the blond man directed his gaze at the assistant DA,

"Boring. And now I'm living with this guy. I can only hope that *he* isn't infective."

"So, what's this about Drusilla? I will never believe she worked with the other side. She lost
her parents in a car bombing from the drug mafia. She would never change sides," Angel put
his cup down.

"Nothing is clear so far," Cordelia said quietly. "But she suddenly had new clothes, a new car,
a brand-new apartment and we couldn't find the source of this new wealth." She frowned,
not quite sure how to continue, knowing that the mere mention of the name could push Angel
over the edge. "Uh... and there's Riley Finn."

"Finn?" Angel's brows shot up.

"Is it Finn these days? It was Riley four years ago," Cordelia tilted her head.

"A lot happened since then."

"Yeah, it did," she agreed. "I'm okay with Finn. It's not as if I like the guy. I never
understood what Buffy saw in him," she raised her hands, "okay, okay, I'm not starting this.
Not now anyway. But he's... I dunno... behaving strange lately. I'm not quite sure how to say
this, but he had... ladies... over the last two years. Expensive ones."

"Ladies?" Angel's eyebrows almost touched his hairline.

"Whores, my friend or are you dense," Spike grinned.

"Whores?" the dark-haired man stood up in a swift movement, began to pace the room, "He
had whores? For two years?"

"Yeah," Cordelia confirmed. "He used to visit certain... houses... with some friends. Used to
blame it on her, you know, what they say. She wouldn't love him enough, care enough for his
needs and this stuff. Slimy, little bastard. Oh, I would be so glad if it was him. Nothing more
satisfying than to nail his sorry little ass."

"Wow," Spike grinned even more, "I really wouldn't like to cross you."

"Just so you know," she shot back, but grinned as well.

"God, I can't believe that," Angel stopped his pacing and ran a hand through his hair. "Did
she know?" he asked.

"I thought you didn't want to talk about this," Cordelia replied, but when she saw his glare,
she raised her hands again. "Okay, okay. No, not at the beginning. Or maybe she did, but
didn't want to believe what kind of person he was. Riley is scum, Angel. I know he was your
friend. I know you've known him all your life and -"

"That's the past," the dark-haired man said, reclaiming his seat, "I had the opportunity to
have an insight into his inner-self. And believe me, it wasn't pleasant what I found. So, yeah,
I thought he was my friend, I didn't want to believe Faith when she told me he was jealous
of me, only to realize that he envied me all my life." He released a breath, ran his hand
through his hair again.

"Alright," Spike looked back and forth between the two, "I know there was this thing
between you and Buffy. And I know this Riley guy is married to her."

"That's only for about four more weeks," Cordelia threw in.

"Whatever," the blond man continued, "But you and him were friends?" he asked Angel.

"Yeah," the other man confirmed, "We've known each other all our lives. His family lived next
door to mine. We went to high school together, played in the same football team-"

"Where Angel was the quarterback and Riley was just a substitute," Cordelia remarked dryly
to make a point.

"I get the picture," Spike said.

"Yeah, well," Angel rubbed his forehead. "Then we went to college, to the police academy,
then got to work in the same department, and I never once realized what was eating him up.
The guy saved my neck time and time again."

"And you saved his," Cordelia reminded him.

"Wait a second," the blond man's interested eyes rested on his friend, "You said you were
friends, but is there something I didn't know?"

"Yeah," Angel nodded. "What you don't know is that Riley and I were partners."

********
4

The precinct hadn't changed very much, Angel noticed the moment he and Spike stepped
through the swinging doors, only half an hour after their unexpected meeting with Cordelia
at Angel's apartment. She wouldn't meet with them in public she'd told them, and that they
should get used to her dropping by like that. Angel groaned at the mere thought. Well, he
would have to get used to it. Cordelia was the assistant DA and not some snotty law student
anymore, he could tease. Plus she was still Buffy's friend and although she hadn't mentioned
their break-up, he'd heard the underlying accusation that if it wasn't for him, Buffy
wouldn't have looked at Riley Finn.

It wasn't fair, of course. Riley Finn had never been part of the deal, only later he'd become
one. Unexpected and for that so much more painful. Angel hadn't just lost the woman he
loved, but to a man who he thought to be his friend, whom he'd told about his feelings
towards Buffy, whom he'd trusted and who had betrayed him. So much for friendship, Angel
thought, frowning at the name tab on Riley's desk with disgust. Then a sardonic smirk
crossed his features. His so-called friend had gotten Buffy, but he had lost her too, after
only four short years. What a bummer.

The office rooms were still empty, but for the ever-present Captain Rupert Giles, who was
already sitting in his private office, a lamp illuminating his desk, he was reading files, hadn't
heard them so far.

"This is really a very... shabby... room," Spike remarked, crossing his arms.

Angel grinned at his comment, "Not that the one in New York was so much better."

"No," the blond sighed, and then nodded towards Giles' office. "That the big boss?"

"Yeah," his friend replied. "We really should say hello." Saying it, he already walked towards
the closed door and after knocking he entered.

Giles looked up from the papers he'd been reading, his face breaking into a smile as if seeing
a long lost son, "Angel, how good to see you," he stood and extended a hand, shaking the
other man's warmly. "And that has to be Mr. Stevens?"

"Yeah, that's me," Spike said, extending his hand as well. "But please, everyone calls me
Spike."

"Spike?" Giles raised a brow, but didn't comment it. "It's good you're early. I would like to
have a word with you before everyone arrives. Please, close the door."

Grinning Spike sat, looking at the older man speculatively, "Which part of good old England do
you come from?"

Giles smiled, "Oxfordshire," he replied, "And you?"

"What do you think? London, of course. No breed‟s alike."
The Captain's brow rose again, "What brought you over?"

Spike shrugged, and then grinned, "Fell in love, didn't work out, got stuck. As simple as that."

"Or not," Angel said, giving his friend a long, knowing look. Spike's breakup with his girlfriend
had been everything but easy. The blond might look like a womanizer, and he was certainly
behaving like one too, but deep down he had been deeply hurt by Cathleen's refusal to marry
him, and now avoided relationships that could become too serious. His entire flippant
attitude, and his open charm was nothing but a shield to prevent himself from being hurt
again.

"Yeah, or not," Spike agreed on a released breath, clearly not liking his friend's insight.
"Well," his light smile back in place he looked at Giles, "What did you want to talk to us
about?"

The Captain looked back and forth between the two men, and crossed his arms in front of his
chest and leaned back, "I'm not happy with this investigation," he began and when he saw
Angel was about to speak he held up a hand, "but of course I understand it's necessary."

Releasing a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding, he shook his head, "I still can't
believe that one my officers might be playing dirty. God, this makes me feeling so sick. Most
of them I know many years, some of them," he focused on Angel, "are like children to me."

"I know," the dark-haired man nodded. This time a long look passed between Angel and Giles,
a look Spike didn't quite understand, but he made a mental note to ask his friend later.

Taking a deep breath, the Captain took a file from the table and handed it two the two
officers. "Maybe we should start with you reading this," he suggested.

*

"But this is good news." Buffy looked at her redheaded friend when they entered the
precinct five minutes later.

"It is," Willow said hesitantly, "It really is, but... not now. You see Oz and I... we always...
Buffy?" She stopped when she saw her friend wasn't following her anymore and turned.
"What is it?"

Buffy stood very still, her body rigid, her breath shallow, her eyes fixed on Giles' office,
where you could see the people sitting there in the light of his desk lamp. Willow followed
the blonde's look and froze as well. "Oh Buffy," she sent her girlfriend a compassionate
glance, then stepped towards her, "But we already knew he would be here."

"I know," Buffy managed to croak, "But... for the first time it's real. I can't lie to myself
anymore and say it's just a bad dream."
"Yeah," the redhead agreed and took the blonde's arm. "Come on, let's get going. The others
should be here in a moment and you wouldn't want anyone to find you staring like this, would
you?"

"Staring at whom?" came a voice from behind them.

"What do you think?" Willow turned slightly and glared at her childhood friend. It had to be
Anya's influence, the redhead decided. Xander's wife was the most tactless person she'd
ever met, and somehow it seemed to rub on Xander as well.

"Oh, the ex is back," he said, his voice holding a certain note. "Who's the blond guy?"

"I suppose it's William Stevens."

"Oh, they're here," Drusilla, accompanied by Faith, were entering the precinct as well. The
raven-haired woman's face lit up, while her brunette partner wrinkled her nose.

"Well, let the drama unfold, I say," Faith joked and sauntered to her desk, ignoring the
newcomers completely. She wasn't the kind of person to participate in mass hysteria. Okay,
so it wasn't exactly hysteria, four people staring through a glass window, but still she didn't
like that. She would greet Angel later in private.

"Spoil sport," Xander grinned at her retreating back. She snorted over her shoulder, but he
could see her shoulders moving with silent laughter.

"Hey," Drusilla put a hand on Willow's shoulder, "the guy with Angel, is that William
Stevens?"

"I would think so," the redhead replied, eyeing the black-haired woman very closely. "Why?"

"Oh," Drusilla battered her lashes, then quickly looked to the ground, "No special reason."

"Drusilla?" Willow's voice held a certain warning.

"What?" the other woman asked. "I think he's cute, that's all."

"Cute?" Buffy and Willow asked unison, something similar to panic in their eyes. "Dru, you
know, the last time you thought a guy was cute..." Buffy trailed off.

"You always think they're cute," Xander added pointedly.

"Oh, shut up," she said, "How could I know that last guy was a drug dealer? No, I couldn't."
It hadn't been her fault, had it? So, okay, she fell in love easily, and out of it, and yeah, it
had caused problems, mainly her crying the whole night, calling her friends at four o'clock in
the morning, throwing away all her clothes, because they reminded her of her lost love.

But, hey, life was short, and where was the fun if no one was falling in love. Maybe, one day
she would find the one who'd stick, she thought and couldn't help the bitter feeling that
rose inside of her. She suppressed it quickly and tilted her head. "Still, he‟s cute. He dyes his
hair."

"You like guys who dye their hair?" Xander asked disbelievingly. "Don't you think it's a bit ...
uh ... unmanly?"

"No, absolutely not," Drusilla replied, "It's fun and-"

"Cute, we know," Willow finished her sentence, making a dismissing gesture with her hand.

The same moment the three men inside the office rose from their chairs and only a second
later the door opened and stepped out into the main room.

"Ah," Giles smiled at the officers who had arrived by now. "Good, you're here. Most of you
will remember Angel, but this gentleman," he pointed at the blond, "is William Stevens who
has asked to be called Spike," he added with a grin.

"Ooooh, that's so cute," Drusilla whispered, making the others roll their eyes.

*****

It was strange being in the same room with him again, Buffy thought half an hour later. Not
that he was crowding her. Not at all. On the contrary, he was avoiding her. Well, not really
avoiding her, but he hadn't talked to her so far. He had been talking to Faith and Kate, had
embraced with Drusilla, shaken hands with Xander and the others, but there wasn't one word
exchanged with her.

Well, it wasn't really right. He hadn't talked to Riley either. But then, Riley had ignored
Angel from the moment he stepped into the precinct, and was glaring at him from time to
time. Not that she expected them to shake hands. Buffy remembered Riley's face when
Giles had told them about Angel's return to L.A. and to their precinct. To call it anger
would've been too mild. It had been hostility, hatred, and another myriad of negative
emotions she'd given up trying to count. It was hard to believe that Riley and Angel had once
been best friends, almost as close as brothers. It had changed when Riley had shown an
interest in Buffy. She hadn't known it at first, and it had needed two more years for her to
figure out why Riley had been interested in her in the first place. It had been the beginning
of the end of their relationship. Jealousy was never a good foundation for a marriage. And
Riley had been so eaten up by it. God, she thought, running a hand through her hair and
glancing quickly at Angel, who was currently talking to Darla. Darla?

Buffy narrowed her eyes, assessing the situation. They *had* been lovers once, so it could be
possible that... And that's a very bad thought Buffy, she scolded herself.

Don't even go there. It'll just lead into dangerous territory.

"Hey there."
She jerked around and found Spike sitting at the edge of her desk, smiling at her. "Hey
back," she replied and forced a smile on her lips. This was Angel's friend and she would keep
up appearances in front of him - even if it killed her. "What do you want?" she asked a little
bit too sharp, instantly scolding herself for it. So much for good intentions.

He raised a hand in a gesture of peace, "Maybe I should come back later?" he suggested.

She rolled her eyes, "Sorry, I'm just not at my best today."

"Yeah," he said, looking pointedly at Angel, "I know what you mean. He wasn't in a very good
mood either this morning."

One of her eyebrows rose in understanding, "So you... know?"

"I do," he answered, "or rather, I know the facts. That you were together once, that you
split and you married another guy who happened to be Angel's friend and partner. But that
pretty much sums it up." He gave her a warm smile, "He isn't the kind of guy to run around
and brag."

"I see," she smiled tightly, "It was quite messy," she said, busying herself with some files on
her desk. "You know each other long?"

"Since the day he came to the big apple," he told her. "He's been my partner ever since." He
paused for a moment, then added, "Never had a better one."

"That's... good," she replied without looking at him, but he could still see the frown on her
forehead. She was so tense he was afraid she would crack if someone as much as touched
her. Spike's separation from Cathleen had been messy too, mostly because he loved her and
she - after two years - had discovered she didn't, but he sensed that there was a lot more
to Buffy and Angel than he knew.

"And that guy is the one you married," he said casually nodding towards Riley.

She looked up, followed his eyes and nodded, "Not that it's any of your business, but yeah."

He knew a dismissal when he got one. Well, he'd heard enough for now anyway. But of course,
being Spike, the guy who always had the last word, he couldn't just leave. So he put a hand on
her shoulder and squeezed it. Leaning forward he said quietly, "I heard you're divorcing him.
Good for you." Then he turned and went back to his desk.

Buffy stifled a gasp and looked after him. Then her eyes wandered to Angel who was now
sitting at his desk, reading a file Giles had given him, and was still ignoring her. It was hard
to believe that a person like Angel, who had always been so quiet and earnest, could work
with someone like Spike, but obviously they had - for a long time. Much longer than the time
she and Angel had spent as a couple. And deep inside Buffy felt herself envying Spike for
that.

*
She hadn't changed much. Physically. Angel didn't look up from the page he'd been reading
for the last ten minutes. He hadn't understood one word. He didn't need to look at Buffy.
He'd seen her before and remembered every detail. She was still incredibly beautiful. Her
blond hair longer than it had been four years ago, her figure more mature, she had
blossomed into a grown-up woman, a real knockout.

But he had also seen the sadness in her eyes. They were still those hazel-eyes that had
haunted his dreams for so long, yet they were different, older, but it wasn't just caused by
age. And Angel didn't like seeing it, he found himself wishing they hadn't changed at all. That
they still shone with that innocent laughter that had drawn him to her, wishing to keep it
there, to protect her from the rough reality called life.

Well, she'd chosen Riley for the job and regarding her eyes he'd done a pretty lousy job.
Why did he care anyway, he asked himself. They hadn't seen each other for over four years.
She wasn't his damned business anymore. Why would sad eyes threaten to make him throw
all his resolutions out of the window? He had sworn to himself, not to fall for her again, not
to care. But somehow that sadness was almost more attractive than her youthful innocence.

God, he was a fool.

Angel put the file down and looked up, catching her in a lively conversation with Spike. They
were laughing, Spike leaning forward, his killer smile firmly in place. Angel could feel the
irritation stirring in him. He didn't like seeing Spike with her, like two old buddies - or even
more.

Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to stay calm. This was Spike. His friend and partner.
Spike would never... And damn he was doing it again. Trusting a friend and partner. But Spike
wasn't Riley and Angel certainly wasn't the gullible idiot anymore he'd been once. If nothing
else, Riley's betrayal had taught him that even long time friends could be false and that a
smile didn't have to mean anything. Angel had become a better detective for this, even if he
hadn't become a happier man.

He saw Spike squeeze Buffy's shoulder, then leave her desk. He quickly looked back down
onto the file. He could feel her staring at him. What had Spike said to her? His last comment
had left her shaken and stunned.

His blond partner came over and sat down on his chair, whistling slightly. When Angel looked
up, Spike grinned at him.

"What?" the dark-haired man asked.

"Oh, nothing," his friend replied, his face all innocence. "She's nice," he said and his grin
widened when he saw Angel narrow his eyes. "Hey, I mean that in a strictly friendly way. I'm
not interested in her that way. And speaking about interest," he tilted his head, his eyes
wandering to a certain dark-haired woman who was talking to a blond. Then his gaze came
back to rest on his partner, "Didn't you say you were once Miss Peterson's senior officer?"
When he saw Angel raise his brows, he continued, "I'd really like to know more about her."
********

5

"Tell me again what we're doing here," Spike whined as he got out of the car Angel had
parked in front of a nightclub called "The Splash".

"Investigating," the dark-haired man replied coming around the car and to stand beside his
friend.

Spike's eyebrows rose, "Investigating?" he echoed.

"Yeah. The Splash is *the* bar all the officers attend after duty hours. No better place to
meet everyone. Everyone is here. Or they were, but according to Darla they still are."

"Ah, Darla."

Angel gave his friend an irritated look, "What does that mean?"

"What?"

"The 'Ah, Darla' in that tone of voice," the dark-haired man clarified.

"Nothing," Spike shrugged, walking towards the entrance of the club. "She's a hottie."

"Yeah, she is, and she‟s also old news. We were over long before I met Buffy. Now we don‟t
even qualify as friends any more. But we know each other and respect each other as police
officers." At least that was what Angel hoped.

"If you say so."

Angel stopped abruptly, holding the other man's arm, "Would you care to explain?" there was
a definite edge in his voice. He didn't like what his friend was implying.

"Hey, no need to get cranky," Spike raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, "I know that
there‟s nothing going on, from your side at least. But I also have eyes and she's far from
over you."

Angel looked as his friend for a long moment, then frowned, "You have to be imagining
things," he murmured. No way, could Darla still be interested in him. No way! He knew his
former lover only too well, and if Spike was right, it would only complicate things.

"No, I'm not. I saw the way she was watching you this morning. Sure, she tries to hide it, but
believe me, I see it if someone is interested."

Angel's frown deepened. Spike sounded sure and he had enough experience in that field to
judge people, women in particular. "Oh shit," he muttered and ran a hand through his hair.
"Just what I need." There was no way he wanted to get involved with Darla again. He met her
on his first day at the Police Academy. She'd been an instructor and older than him. They
had fallen in lust quickly and strongly and it had lasted for about three months. Then their
ways had parted for a while, with her going back to active duty. They had met again when
Angel had left the Academy, but none of them had been interested to repeat their former
involvement, or so Angel had thought - until now.

Angel couldn't shake off the uneasy feeling of Spike's revelation all evening. Spike wasn‟t
usually wrong about these things. If Darla was still, or again, interested in him, it could mean
trouble. The reason for their split-up had been her growing possessiveness of him. First
Angel had felt as if she was watching him, and then there had been the incident with one of
his classmates at the Academy.

They had been talking over a cup of coffee when Darla had entered the cafeteria and raged
like a madwoman at him, implying he was betraying her. Angel was more than irritated by her
behavior but she'd apologized and for two weeks everything had been fine. Then, Angel had
found a bug in his phone and a little bit of investigation had revealed that Darla had planted
it to check up on him. After that he had refused to see her again. She'd pleaded, whined,
begged, and screamed but he didn't change his mind and a week later she'd been called back
to active duty. Still, Angel wasn't able to shake off an uneasy feeling whenever he was
around her. Although, as he'd told Spike, he respected her as a colleague.

"Hey, good to see you."

His head jerked around and a smile spread over his face when he saw who had been talking to
him. "Faith," he said, hugging her close.

"It's good to see you," she grinned and pulled back. "It‟s been freaking long since you left. I
could hardly believe it when old Giles told us you'd be back. This town just wasn't the same
without you."

"Really?" he grinned as well, noticing from the corner of his eye that Spike was just
approaching Dru, who was sitting at the bar sipping her campari soda. He forced his mind
back on Faith. Dru was a grown up woman, and it wasn't his job to look out for her anymore.
After all she'd been fine the past four years without him. "I never thought you the type to
settle on one man."

She laughed out loud, a throaty, generous sound, "Yeah, well, you know me. The world is full
of men, why settle on one?" Her eyes sparkled with mischief and she nodded towards the
bar, "Seems your partner has it for Dru. They'd make a nice couple, don't you think."

"Maybe," Angel replied evasively, then again forcing his mind away from the couple at the
bar, nodded at the table, "You don't mind if I join you?"

"No," she shook her head, and gestured invitingly at a vacant seat, "On the contrary. Sit
down."
After the waitress had taken their orders, Faith leaned back and crossed her arms, "Now,
tell me, what have you done on the other side of the country. Solved a lot of cases? Broke a
lot of women's hearts?"

"Yes and no," he replied, relaxing a little bit. He and Faith had never been anything but
friends. He felt comfortable in her presence, and liked her from the start. "New York is
really different from L.A."

"Yeah, I know," she said, and smiled at the waitress who was serving their drinks. "We went
to New York quite often when I was still living in Boston."

"Yes, I remember," Angel sipped from his soda. He'd never been much for alcohol. A glass of
wine here and there and a beer some times, but he had never cared for whisky or any harder
drinks. "What about you? Lots of exciting men in your life?"

She raised a brow at him, "You were always good at evading questions," she remarked, "but I
let it go - for now. The men in my life," she sighed dramatically, "let's put it that way. Mr.
Perfect never came along."

"I see," he couldn't help the grin that spread across his face, "So you content yourself with
investigation."

Her answering grin was matching his, "If you want to put it that way. Yeah. And it's rather
time-consuming, you know. Lots of interesting subjects around." She wiggled her brows and
winked.

He laughed good-naturedly, "Oh, it would never work with us, Faith. I‟d never be able to keep
up with your pace. I like my life quiet and steady. I like to spend evenings at home, watching
a baseball game. You're too active for my taste."

Another dramatic sigh came from her, "Oh well," she shrugged, "That means I‟ll just have to
continue looking around." Her eyes fell on someone entering the club, and her expression
sobered instantly, "Well, at least," she said, sipping from her drink, "I've been over the
worst of them already. It can only improve after that."

Angel looked at her quizzically, and then turned following her eyes. It had been four years,
and there had been times in New York when Angel had thought he could forget all the things
that had happened before he'd left L.A., but now he was sure it was far from over. His body
tensed the moment he discovered the subject of her words.

Riley sauntered into the bar, a curvy blond on his arm, her eyes adoringly on his face. She
looked young and was obviously in love with the older detective. "Seems he's favoring
kindergarteners these days," Faith said dryly, taking another sip from her drink. "No wonder.
A grown up woman would figure him out in a flash. There's a nice body, I have to give him
that much, but it's not worth it."
Angel turned back to face the dark-haired woman, the hair in his neck standing up straight.
He would never be able to relax in Riley's presence.

Too much had happened between the two men. To think that they had once joked about girls,
shared the first forbidden drive in his father's car, joined the police force together. It
seemed like a lifetime ago.

"Ever seen the girl before?" he asked.

"No," Faith shook her head, "he changes them so fast, it's impossible to keep up with it. I
think even babies like her find out quickly what sort of guy he is. Considering everything, it
took Buffy a long time to realize what was going on." Catching what she'd just said, she
reached out to cover his hand with hers, an apologetic smile on her face, "Sorry. I just put
my foot in my mouth. This should be a relaxing evening, didn't want to remind you."

As if he needed a reminder. Buffy had never been out of his thoughts, not one day had
passed in New York, that her image hadn't entered his mind. Her laughing eyes that looked
so sad now, sometimes he even wondered if he could feel the silky strands of her hair with
his fingers.

"It's okay," he managed to say, then took a large gulp from his soda.

"Uh oh, I'm getting bad vibes, here," Dru looked from Angel to Faith and back when she sat
down at their table. "Are we interrupting something?" She gazed at Spike, who was sitting
down beside her.

"It looks as if we just came in time," he replied grinning, "my friend Angel here tends to get
too serious sometimes. I usually have to save him then."

"It's just the company in here," Faith said, nodding towards Riley and the blond girl,
"Doesn't help to improve the evening."

"Ah," Drusilla nodded understandingly. "Don't let him spoil the evening, he's nothing but an
idiot. Never understood what you found in him," she was looking at Faith now who groaned.

"Sure, remind me of that. Now *you‟re* spoiling the evening. If I could cut out a part of my
life, it would be definitely the part where I was too blind to see beyond a well-trained body.
But, hey, look at the bright side, at least I'm over it, and unlike others I never married..."
she trailed off, instantly wanting to kick herself for the slip when she saw Angel's face that
had just been relaxing tense again.

Spike had seen it too, and he reached out, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder, "Don't let
him get to you, man. He isn't worth it."

"My words exactly," Faith agreed, giving Angel another apologetic look. She was really doing
it tonight. Now she only had to find a dog and kick it to make her performance perfect, she
thought. "As Dru said, he's an idiot. Not worth another thought."
"Yeah," Angel released a breath. "I really thought I was over it."

"You never get over these things," Spike said, understanding in his eyes.

"They stay with you. All you can do is, live with them, learn and avoid the same faults in the
future. But if it's any help. I really dislike the guy. There's something about him..." he trailed
off, exchanging a look with his friend. There was a certain expression in their eyes.

They were looking for a dirty cop, and it could be Riley Finn. The problem was Angel wasn't
sure if he'd really like it. Sure, lots of things had happened between Riley and he, Buffy
being the most important of them, but there were those good times as well. Maybe it had all
been a lie where Riley was concerned, but that didn't mean, you could just forget them and
pretend they never had happened. There were all the evenings they had been studying
together, the first night they'd gotten drunk at college. No, Angel wasn't sure if he liked
the idea of Riley being the man they were looking for.

Forcing himself back to the present, he turned towards Dru, "You've grown up," he said,
smiling, "Heard a lot of good things about you, officer."

"Oh," she raised a brow, "well, I had a good teacher," she said, smiling as well.

"Glad to hear that," Angel commanded his body to relax and to ignore the man still standing
only a few feet behind him at the bar, "heard you received a commendation for rescuing a
kid."

She blushed slightly at that, "Yes, I did. But it really wasn't anything big. I just did my job."

"She did a lot more than that," Faith disagreed, "You should have seen her, Angel, she
wouldn't give up when everyone else thought the boy was dead. And she found him. It was
great."

"Don't exaggerate," Drusilla said a bit uncomfortable with all the attention, "I'm just glad
we found him and that he's now back with his parents. He was lost at the fair," she explained
the two men who didn't know all the details. "The fair was near a river and they all thought
he'd fallen into it and drowned, but I couldn't shake off the feeling that he was still alive.
Finally we found him hanging on the roller coaster. He'd climbed up and couldn't get down
again."

"So Dru just climbed after him and brought him back down," Faith added, giving her partner
a sideways glance. "She really earned her commendation for the bold climbing. I think I'd
have fainted up there."

"So you're not just beautiful and bright but brave too," Spike looked at Dru with admiration
in his eyes, "What a combination."

She blushed again, this time delicately, "Stop that," she whispered. "I'm not worth all this.
I'm just a woman who did her job. And I'm not beautiful."
"Leave that up to me," Spike replied with a wink, enjoying the fact that her blush deepened.
God, but she was lovely. He felt the same stirring in his groin he'd already felt this morning,
but now it was accompanied by something he had experienced once, and he wasn't sure he
liked to feel it again.

Angel's voice was casual when he suddenly asked, "Buffy never comes here?"

"No, not anymore," Faith told him, "With their divorce going on and Riley hanging around all
the time," she shrugged, "She doesn't really care to see him after work. Besides, I think she
went to Willow and Oz's tonight with Xander, his wife and probably Cordelia.""Oh?" Angel
raised a brow.

"Yeah. They're celebrating. Willow's just discovered that she's going to have a baby."

*****

"I'm so glad you all could come tonight," Willow exclaimed, her gaze wandering over the little
crowd assembled in her and Oz's living room.

"We're glad to be here," Cordelia assured her with a smile. "It's what friends are for. To
share the good and the bad times. And this is definitely a very good one. Do you know already
what it's going to be?"

"No," Oz shook his head, "It's too early to say it. But we aren‟t sure if we even want to
know."

"Why not?" Anya looked at the expecting parents with puzzlement, "But if you don't know
what you're getting how will you get the people buy the right things? I mean you don't want
your little boy grow up in pink, do you?" She thought about her own baby that was being
taken care of tonight by her mother-in-law and shuddered. No way she wanted to imagine him
in pink.

Willow raised a brow at Xander's wife, "I really think that's old-fashioned. Like giving only
dolls to girls or never one to a boy. Whatever the child is, it will have blue *and* pink clothes
and it will get to play with whatever she or he prefers."

"Hear, hear," Doyle grinned at the redhead and raised his glass, "But congratulations,
whatever it is. Maybe it'll get a playing pal soon," he added and wiggled his brows at his
fiancée.

"Oh, no, buddy," Cordelia shook her head, "I just got the new job. No way I'm giving it up for
a baby. I agreed to marry you, but a child will definitely have to wait for a while."Doyle
looked at her, and then shrugged.

"Trouble in paradise already?" Xander inquired, raising a brow.

"Xander," Anya elbowed him in his ribs, making him yelp.
Willow watched her friends and smiled to herself when her eyes fell on Buffy who had been
very quiet the whole evening. She was sitting in the back, sipping at her coke, not really
following the conversation going on. The redhead exchanged a short glance with her husband
who nodded at her and then left the table to join her best friend for a moment.

"Heavy thoughts?" she asked approaching the blond.

Buffy's head snapped up, her startled eyes on the other woman, and then she forced a smile
on her lips, "No. Sorry, I haven't been real fun to have around tonight. I shouldn't have
come."

"Nonsense," Willow said firmly and sat down beside her. "We love to have you around. What's
the matter? Talk to me," she urged gently.

"It's really not important."

"But it is if it makes you sit quietly in the dark, zoning out everything and everyone."

The blond ran a hand through her hair, and put her glass down, "Am I that readable?" she
asked, shaking her head, a sad laugh escaping her mouth.

"It's just hard," she admitted finally, "you're all so happy. Such wonderful couples. Anya and
Xander are on cloud number nine with their little boy, Cordy and Doyle seem to be perfect
for each other, as hard to believe as it is," she had to laugh at that for a moment, "and now
you and Oz... It just shows me what a failure my life has been."

"Oh Buffy," Willow reached out, putting a hand over her friend's, "that sounds as if it's over
already. You're just 30. Your life has barely begun."

"Oh yeah?" the blonde‟s voice was full of sarcasm, "That's not how I'm seeing it. I screwed
up royally, Willow. I pushed Angel away, and then I fell on Riley. What would you call it? Good
judgment?"

"No," the redhead said calmly, but firmly, "No, I wouldn't. But that doesn't mean your life is
over. You need to put it behind you and move on. It could be worse you know. You could have
been one of the women who wake up at 50 only to realize the things you know at 30."

Slowly a smile spread over the blonde‟s features, "You really know how to make me feel
better, Willow. I'm sorry," she said, "sometimes self-pity overwhelms me."

"And rightfully so," the redhead assured her. "You had some very rough times. But now
you're straightening things out. You'll be divorced soon. You're still young and have a lot to
look forward too." She quickly looked down then back at Buffy, "And maybe there's even a
chance to get things back together with Angel?"

"Angel?" Buffy considered it for a moment, and then remorsefully shook her head, "No, I
don't think so Willow. Besides. It's been over four years. I hurt him. A lot. Why on earth
would he still have feelings for me? No," she shook her head again, "whatever has been
between us once. It's over. And we both know it. It ended four years ago, and it's the best
for everyone if it stays that way. None of us wants to repeat past mistakes." She took her
glass and sipped, missing the doubtful expression on Willow's face.

********

6

Tuesday, August 22nd, Los Angeles

Summer in L.A. could be nice. If you were rich, didn't have to work and could spend your days
at the beach. If you weren't born with a golden spoon in your mouth it could be a bitch. The
air was hot, the smog thick and you had to kick yourself to get up and things done.

Buffy Summers-Finn - for another four weeks - was no exception. The idea of getting up
each morning, only to spend another day in a badly aired precinct or a police car that had
seen better days, wasn't all that tempting. But as she wasn't one of the filthy rich people
living at Beverly Hills she had no real choice.

At least she liked her job. Most of the time. She liked being a police officer, liked getting
the bad guys. What she didn't like was typing reports, interviewing witnesses or
interrogating suspects, although the latter could have its appraise. Especially if your mood
wasn't the best.

She hadn‟t been in a good mood for a long time, she mused while she tried to get the old
percolator into gear. Riley had taken the new one the day he moved out of the apartment.
No, her mood hadn't been good for a long time. Not for a very long time. More than four
years, if she was brutally honest with herself. Yes, there had been times, right after she'd
just married Riley where she thought herself happy and content, but looking back now she
knew it had been nothing but fake.

Don't go there, she scolded herself and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. Four weeks,
she had to get through four more weeks, not even quite, and then this nightmare would be
over. Riley wouldn't be her husband anymore and she would be Buffy Summers again. She
could go on with her life and pretend it never happened.Of course she didn't believe it for a
second.

Nothing would be the same again. The scars the last four years had left on her were invisible
but nonetheless deep and at the moment she wondered if they would ever heal. Willow had
said she was 30 and still young, but she felt old, worn out and tired, oh so tired.

She felt tears welling up in her eyes and swallowed hard, her hands gripping the counter until
her knuckles went white. God, she'd been such a fool. If she could just turn back time and
change... But no, you couldn't do that, time moved on and so would she - maybe - eventually.
She would leave all that behind her, and concentrate on her work for a while and maybe,
given enough time, she would get her life back together.
With a sweep of her hand she wiped a tear away that had slipped from her lashes and
determined, pushed herself off of the counter and poured some cereal into a bowl. She
would get through this, she wouldn't break just because Angel had returned to L.A., looking
as wonderful as she remembered him, and making her long for things she could no longer
have.

The milk almost slipped from her hand when the doorbell rang suddenly. A frown appeared on
her forehead as she gazed at the clock. Who in the hell was coming to see her at seven
o'clock in the morning? Not that she was in a hurry. She usually left for work at half past
seven, but she liked to have this time to herself, because the day was still young. A second
ring told her that whoever was standing in front of her door would obviously not go away.
With a sigh she put the milk down and went to open the door and almost fainted at the sight
of Angel Reardon.

"Angel," her voice was strangely breathless.

No smile appeared on his face when his eyes wandered over her form, not missing a detail of
her night robe, the bunny slippers she usually wore at home or the tousled hair. Neither did
he miss the fact that she didn't wear anything underneath her robe. "Hi, Buffy," he said, his
eyes locking on hers.

She felt a blush creeping up her neck and instantly cursed herself. She was thirty years old
and was blushing at the sight of an attractive male. She was pathetic. But she wasn't the
kind of woman who usually entertained lovers in her apartment and was used to meet men
half-naked first thing in the morning. She almost laughed out loud at the thought. Lovers.
Her sexual experience was almost non-existent.

Before Angel there had been her high school sweetheart who had persuaded her that sex
after the prom was expected. And Buffy, being the idiot she'd obviously been all her life,
hadn't had the heart to say no. In college there had been another - even more idiotic -
sexual encounter, before she'd finally met Angel. He'd been the first lover to stay with her
longer than one night. Then there had been Riley and then... nothing.

So she couldn't help the embarrassment she felt at finding Angel at her doorstep. "Well, hi,"
she managed, cursing herself again. **Great going Summers. Now he thinks you're a complete
idiot.**

He cleared his throat, and then gestured at her outfit, "I'm sorry to disturb you this early,
but... well, I thought we could... talk?"

"Talk?" she asked, raising a brow.

He had to grin at her confusion and Buffy almost fainted at the change in him when he did
so. He was incredibly handsome but a smile on his face did things to it that made her heart
beat faster and a familiar, but long forgotten, warmth began to settle between her legs.
"Yeah, you know," he said, jamming his hands into his pockets, "Talk. Moving lips with sound
coming out of your mouth. Talk."

"Yeah, I know about talking," she replied, angry with herself. **Get a grip on yourself,
Summers. You're a grown up woman. Grown up women don't drool over men on their
doorsteps. Not even if the man in question is Angel Reardon. *Especially* not if the man is
Angel.**

"Good," he slightly inclined his head and when she did nothing, he asked, "So, can I maybe
come in? It's much easier to talk in private."

"Oh. Sure, come in," she stepped aside to allow him to enter, then closed the door behind
him. **Casual, Summers. Act casual.**

Turning towards the kitchen she asked, "You want some coffee? I just started it, and if the
machine did its work it should be ready by now. Otherwise I can only offer cereal. I forgot
to buy bread yesterday."

"Just coffee, thanks," he replied and looked around. He had never seen her apartment
before, but guessing at the size of it, she and Riley must have lived here. It was too big for
one person, and maybe also too expensive? Angel pushed the thought aside. He hadn't come
to investigate her, but - as he'd told her - to talk. Somehow they had to settle the tension
that had been in the air the previous day or the coming weeks would be hell.

"Take a seat in the living room," she said from the kitchen while he heard her filling two
cups, then loading a tray. "I hope you still drink your coffee black?" there was a slight
question in her voice and so he took the cup with a nod.

"Old habits die hard," he told her, sipping from the dark, strong brew. Her coffee still
tasted as he remembered. He'd always loved her coffee. But then he'd loved so many things
about her, and was so madly in love, so blind and... "Nice apartment," he remarked.

She shrugged, "It's alright, but I'm looking for a smaller one. Too many bad memories," she
said without a hint of self-pity, "and it's getting too expensive. Cops don't earn this kind of
money."

So much for that, Angel thought, surprised by the relief he felt at her remark. He and Buffy
were over, and he'd just come to make piece, so why was it so important to him that she
wasn't involved in the case he was researching? Not that she was on Cordelia's list anyway.
But Cordelia was Buffy's friend and certainly not objective where the blond was concerned.

"Don't I know it," Angel smiled and took another sip of his coffee. "My parents almost
fainted when I told them that I was leaning towards law enforcement. But I was determined
to become the best cop, there was nothing they could say to change my mind."
"Yeah," Buffy nodded, understanding exactly what he meant. God, this was so unreal. Here
she was sitting, half-naked, in her living room talking to a man she never thought she‟d see
again. And now they were making small talk. "So why did you want to talk to me?"

He sighed and put his cup down. "What do you think? We didn't part on the best of terms
four years ago and yesterday," he shrugged, "let's just say it was tense. So I thought, I'd
come by to tell you that I'm not angry anymore. Or anything. Whatever happened between us
four years ago is over. There's no sense in blaming anyone for it. It's old news. Over and
done with. So maybe we can forget about it and just be... colleagues?"

If he'd stabbed her, he couldn't have hurt her more, Buffy thought. Old news. So that was
how he felt about their affair, relationship, or whatever it had been. Old news. Over and
done. But whom was she kidding? Of course it was over. Hadn't she told herself the very
same just before. With some effort she managed to keep her expression blank, "Of course,"
she said and God, didn't her voice sound light and without emotion? Maybe she'd missed her
calling. Maybe she should've become an actress instead. And maybe she could just lie down
and die.

"Good," he smiled at her, "I'm glad you think so," he said, "It would've been awkward, to say
the least, if we wouldn't manage to act like adults around each other. I'm glad you feel the
same way."

**Yeah, sure. And maybe I could just try to not exist at all,** Buffy thought, surprised that
she was still able to breathe.

What the hell was happening to her, she wondered. She had managed to avoid thinking about
him for four years and now his words were cutting her soul wide open, and hurting her the
way no one else could hurt her. "Yeah, I do," she managed, "Feel the same way, I mean."

Something flickered through his eyes, but it was gone so quickly that she had no time to
discover what it was. With a nod Angel got up, "Alright. That was pretty much all I wanted to
talk about," he said, "Thanks for the coffee." When she was about to get up as well, he shook
his head, "No, just enjoy your breakfast. I'll find the way out. Thanks for your time." And
then with a last nod he was gone, leaving Buffy to her coffee and cereal that suddenly tasted
like sand.

****

Angel closed the door of his car then let his forehead fall on the steering wheel and exhaled
a long breath. His whole body trembled with the effort the past few minutes had been. With
the effort of being so close and trying keep his cool.

It had taken his breath away to see her standing in the doorway like that. Her skin still warm
from a good night's sleep, her hair tousled as if a lover's hand had roamed through it. Only
that there hadn't been a lover, she'd been alone and her eyes had again looked so sad, it was
all he could do not to reach out, take her into his arms and hold her until all sadness was gone
and replaced by the sparkle of happiness he'd seen in them all those years ago.
His body had hardened instantly at the sight of her, because sadness or no, she was still the
most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. He wanted to sweep her up in his arms and carry her
to bed and make love to her for days and days. But of course that was nothing but a foolish
daydream that would never come true again. Time couldn't be turned back, past mistakes
were done and he had to live with them forever.

But, God, he wanted her. Still wanted her the same way he'd wanted her from the first
moment he'd seen her. He would never forget the afternoon when she'd entered his office.
He'd known he was lost then and obviously some things never changed. His mind might have
made an effort to forget what no longer could be, his body certainly hadn't done the same.

The way she'd turned towards the kitchen, her hips slightly swinging under the morning robe,
Angel had instantly wished he hadn't come at all. But it had been too late then and he had to
go through with it. And boy, had he played his part well. He hadn't missed the hurt in her
eyes. Or maybe it was just his imagination. Why would his words hurt her?

She preferred to marry Riley, to not give him a second chance when he'd gone to her in the
church and pleaded her to listen to him.

No, it had to be his imagination. She'd chosen Riley after all. She had ended all their dreams
with her final decision to marry his former best friend. She had given up on them long
before he had. Not to forget that he'd done his part in all this as well. She'd lost far more
than he four years ago. A young, smiling face briefly flickered through his mind, but Angel
quickly pushed it away.Taking a deep breath, he started the car and his face hardened in
determination. He might still want her, but he was an adult and he would be damned if he let
his hormones rule his life. Wanting was one thing. It could be strong, but he had learned to
control his sexual appetite. Love. Well, love was another matter. Love could be so strong, it
could make a man do crazy stuff, and it could make a man lose control.

Pulling the car onto the road, Angel vowed that he would never let love rule him again.

*****

Buffy was still walking around in a daze when she entered the precinct about an hour later.
She'd driven on autopilot and even her greetings to her colleagues and friends were
automatic. Angel's words had hurt her more than she'd believed possible. Over and done. Old
news. Her mind repeated it again and again, and by noon a severe headache was hammering
behind her temples.

She was glad Willow had been busy the whole morning. The last thing Buffy wanted at the
moment was to talk about Angel's early visit. All she wanted was to forget it ever happened.
Of course, she never got what she wanted. With Angel only two desks away she had the
constant reminder around all the time.

When a heavy file finally hit her desk she stifled a groan, only to stiffen when she looked up
at the person who'd put it there. Her eyes narrowed instantly, "What's this?" she asked.
"A file," Riley replied acidly, "or does it look like something else?"

"I can see it is a file," Buffy gritted out, "What I want to know is why would you give it to
me?"

"Maybe you should read it," he proposed and turned away, not bothering to explain.

"Jerk," she muttered under her breath, then reached for the file and opened it. Her breath
caught in her throat when she read the first words. 'Case Mike Danicki' it said. Buffy felt
her hands start to tremble and she had to force herself to breathe properly. Nervously she
licked her suddenly dry lips and her eyes darted towards Riley who was smirking at her.

Attached to the file was a picture that showed a young, smiling man who was gazing up at her
with the same hazel eyes Buffy used to see when she looked into the mirror each morning.
Her heart clenched in pain, her stomach began to squirm and the pounding behind her
temples intensified. Massaging them for a moment, she didn't see that Angel was watching
her with concern.

With as much grace as her trembling legs would allow she stood and walked over to his desk,
"Would you care to explain?" she demanded, her voice loud enough for the officers near by
to hear. Faith stopped her typing and eyed Buffy curiously. Kate Lockley did the same and
Angel didn't even bother to hide his interest in the scene. But Buffy didn't care. At the
moment, she only hoped she would survive this moment.

Riley shrugged, "I had this old file in my desk. Thought I should give it to you first before
turning it over to the archive," he said still smirking.

Her eyes narrowed another bit, "Maybe you didn't know it until now, but you are the lowest
form of life on this planet, Riley Finn," she told him glad that her voice sounded cool and
controlled although her knees were shaking badly.

He shrugged again, "I just thought it would be of interest for you. Never thought it'd get to
you like this." But the expression in his eyes told another story. They were calculating, and
he was obviously hoping to hurt her any way possible. God, how could she have ever thought
herself in love with him?

And it had hurt her. He knew exactly how she felt about the Danicki Case, he'd been there
after all, and later she'd emptied out her soul to him and he'd held her, told her he
understood. Bastard. But, by God, she wouldn't give him the satisfaction to see her pain.
Straightening her spine, she walked back to her desk, picked up the file, then returned to
Riley's desk and placed it in front of him. "Thanks," she said, her voice carefully controlled,
"How thoughtful of you. But this case is closed." With a last look she turned and went for
the bathroom.

She was shaking so badly when she finally closed the door behind her that she sank to the
ground, not able to stand anymore. She hated Riley so much, if she'd a gun she would be able
to shoot him right now. And not care. To think she'd sent Angel away...
A sob rose in her throat, choking her, and in panic anyone might hear her, she pressed a hand
to her mouth. No, she would not lose it in here. She had to keep control, keep her cool.

"Oh God." Her moan sounded like that of a wounded animal. "Oh God, oh God," she moaned
again, hating her own weakness, her vulnerability. She closed her eyes, pressed her hand
harder on her mouth, her whole body trembling, she was on the edge of falling apart.

And then suddenly there were arms around her, she was lifted off the ground and settled in
someone's lap, a familiar hand was stroking her hair and pressing her head into a warm, hard
chest. "Shhh," a once beloved voice soothed, while the hand continued stroking her hair.
"It's okay, baby," the voice went on. "It's okay, I know. I'm sorry. That son of a ..."

One arm tightened around her and that drove her over the edge. The trembling increased
and then sobs came from her mouth, only muffled by Angel's shirt and his chest. And he just
kept holding her and continued stroking her, and speaking to her. "It's alright, baby, don't
hold back. Just cry. I'm here," his voice whispered, "I'm here and I'm not going away. Just
cry."

"Oh God," the words tore from here throat. "Oh God, Angel," she moaned, throwing her arms
around his neck. She didn't care what had happened to make him materialize beside her this
very moment, she just held onto him, to the man she'd once loved more than she thought
possible, the man she'd sent away on the her wedding day. And maybe the only person who
could truly understand what she was going through. "How could he?," she asked. "How could
he do it?"

She didn't have to elaborate. Angel knew what she meant. "I don't know," he answered
honestly. "I don't know him anymore. I thought I did once, but I was wrong. Maybe if..." he
sighed. There was no point in maybes. "I would really like to beat him into a bloody pulp," he
added savagely.

"Oh yeah?" she couldn't help the smile that was tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Don't
make me laugh, Angel. You never were the violent type. Riley was, but he hid it perfectly,"
the smile was suddenly very sad again. "It seems like we all thought he was someone else."

"Yeah," he replied, looking at her with concern. "Are you feeling any better now?"

Sniffling, she wiped her wet tears, and nodded, "Yeah, better." Suddenly embarrassed she
became very aware of the fact that he was sitting on the tiles in the women's bathroom and
she was sitting in his lap. "I'm sorry," she apologized, feeling her cheeks grow hot. "I didn't
intend to cry all over you," she tried to joke and gestured at the wet spots on his shirt.

"Oh well, I take it as a payback for my visit this morning," he gave her a half-smile that had
her heart constricting painfully.

God, how she used to love to kiss his mouth when he smiled. And it would soon spin out of
control and they would end... She closed her eyes for a moment and pushed the images of
better times away.
"Okay, then," she managed one of her own smiles and scrambled away from him, then stood.
He stood as well. "Thanks for coming to my rescue."

"No need to thank me." His eyes were sad and honest. "After all it was my fault you ever got
into the position that Riley could hurt you today." He smiled sadly and was already turning
away when she caught his arm.

"Angel..."

"No," he shook his head, "don't. After all it was the bullet from my gun that killed your half-
brother."

********

7

//...// indicates dreams

Tuesday, August 22nd, 10.00 p.m.

"Did I ever tell you that I hate observations?" Spike asked while his hand was reaching into
his pocket for cigarettes. They were standing in front of Derryl Chambers' house in Beverly
Hills. He was a very rich film producer and he was also the father of the girl Mike Harmon
intended to marry. Enough reason to keep an eye on the young police officer, whose
engagement party was taking place tonight.

"And did I ever tell you that I despise smoking people in my car?" Angel replied casually,
noticing the movement of Spike's hand from the corner of his eye. "I tend to become quite
violent about it."

The blonde‟s hand stilled in his pocket and with a little sigh, he reached for a bag of potato
chips he'd placed on the ground for emergency purposes.

Spike really liked Angel. He liked working with the dark-haired man and he was glad to call
him his friend, but his friend's attitude towards smoking left something to be desired. Yet,
he had learned to live with it. "Even more I hate observing a colleague. This whole Internal
Affairs business stinks," he said and ripped the bag open. "I have you to know that if I'm
dying of a heart attack due to high cholesterol intake, it's your fault."

"At least I don't have to watch you cough to death with lung cancer," Angel replied
mercilessly. "I wonder how a police officer like Mike Harmon ever got to meet someone like
Simone Chambers. They hardly hang in the same circles."

"Maybe he gave her a ticket for speeding," Spike mused, munching his chips, "I'd say it's a
good guess. Her nice little red sports car has a lot of power."
"Mike Harmon was already working for homicide when they met, hardly the department to
give speed tickets to rich girls." With a disgusted look he watched his friend stuffing more
chips into his mouth, "How on earth can you eat that stuff?"

"Better than starving to death," Spike shrugged, enjoying the spicy, fatty food. Once the
bag was empty, he threw it on the ground and reached for the can of coke. "Talking about
death. Who is, or rather was, Mike Danicki?"

He felt Angel instantly stiffen beside him, "Who?" the dark-haired man asked, his voice
carefully controlled.

"Don't play games with me," Spike said, "The guy in the file on Buffy Summers' desk. The
reason she ran into the bathroom this afternoon where you followed her only seconds later."

Angel didn't answer at first, if it hadn't been for his harsh breathing Spike would have
thought he hadn't even listened. Then slowly, the dark-haired man put his hands on the wheel
and gripped it tight. "Mike Danicki," he began in that same controlled manner, "was a young
police officer who was killed four years ago in a crossfire. He was also Buffy's half-brother."

"Her half-brother?" Spike's eyebrow rose, but he didn't turn his head. "Younger or older?"

"Younger by six years. He was only twenty when all this happened. Buffy didn't even know he
existed until he was 14. He was the result of an extra-matrimonial affair of her father. She
had a hard time accepting him. But finally she did. With all her heart and when he chose to
become a police officer, she was so proud," his voice cracked.

"And he died in a crossfire?"

"Yeah," the answer came out with a harsh breath, "He was shot. Straight through in heart.
With my weapon."

"Son of a..." Spike bit out, his head jerking around. "You shot him?"

"No," Angel's voice was sharp, "I didn't kill him. Although she never believed me. He was
killed with my weapon, but I hadn't used it the whole night. There was a... 211... two men had
taken hostages in a bank. The moment the men came out they started shooting. Mike was hit
by accident. But I didn't do it. I only used a riffle that night."

Angel's hands hurt from almost crushing the steering wheel and he forced himself to loosen
his fierce grip. It had all happened what seemed like an eternity ago and still it hurt. He
swallowed hard remembering Buffy's eyes when the ballistic report came in and said it had
been Angel's weapon. The way her shoulders had stiffened, the moment she turned away and
never looked back. It was imprinted in his mind as if it had happened yesterday.

"And she thought you had," Spike shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, "Oh, man."

The laugh that came in reply wasn't a happy one.
"Yeah. Oh, man. The only ones who backed me up were Faith and Drusilla. They said, they'd
seen the weapon lying on the ground beside me, Drusilla even swore that I had not even once
put the riffle down and so I was cleared. Buffy was devastated. She refused to talk to me,
refused to see me. That‟s the end of the story." He laughed again, "That day when the call
came in about the bank robbery, Buffy and I were on our way to a date. We only went
because we were so close. And I had a diamond ring in my pocket."

"Oh man," Spike said again, then nothing for a long time.

People still arrived at the huge three-story house. From time to time Mike or his future
father-in-law appeared in the doorway to greet some of them. Once or twice they caught a
glimpse of Simone, a fragile looking redhead in expensive clothes and high heels.

"And I suppose Riley seized the day and began holding out his hand," the blond finally broke
the silence.

"Ten points," Angel replied sarcastically. "I had no idea he had the hots for her. He never
once..." he shook his head. "He had been supportive all throughout our relationship, I never
guessed... Then he couldn't get into her pants fast enough. Only four weeks after Mike was
killed they announced their engagement and two weeks later they were married."

"And then some people say, police officers don't work fast," Spike remarked, his voice
holding the same sarcasm. "What a friend."

"Oh yeah. My good friend Riley. I tried to talk to her," he said suddenly, looking at the blond,
"I went to the church, tried to talk to her. But she sent me away. Told me that now she knew
real love thanks to Riley. I left L.A. and never looked back. Until now."

Spike was about to reply when it suddenly hit him, "Wait a minute. You said you were cleared.
But you didn't tell me who shot her brother."

"No I didn't, simply because I don't know. The case was never solved. We never found out
who accidentally killed Mike Danicki."

Spike was about to reply when suddenly a large car with coloured windows came to a halt in
front of the house. The door opened, revealing a voluptous blond and a rather meaty looking
man. Angel whistled through his teeth, the moment he saw them, "I'll be damned," he
whispered, barely able to believe his eyes.

*****

// It hurt to look at him. He was so young and carefree and he was smiling at her, the
Californian sun highlighting his blond hair.

So young. Mike was waving now. And grinning, "Hey, Buffy. Don't look so serious. Life is fun.
California is full of sun, sand and pretty girls."
She laughed at that, "It must be a guy thing," she joked. "Do guys think of anything but
pretty girls?"

"I only think of one extremely pretty girl," a voice whispered in her ear and a pair of arms
circled her waist, while a chin was laid on her shoulder.

"You guys are so boring," Mike rolled his eyes, "I'm never going to fall in love. Just to think
that I'd have to spent all my time with one girl. What a waste."

"Big Ego, huh?" Angel tightened his hold on Buffy's waist, he smiled and his eyes were
looking at the sea that glittered in the sun. "Just you wait. Love's going to find you soon
enough."

"Me?" Mike laughed aloud and shook his head, "Never. I'm just going to enjoy life and lust."

Now it was Buffy's turn to roll her eyes, "I can't believe you're my brother. The way you
think about women is disgusting."

"Uh-huh," her brother's grin widened, "Sure it is. But they love me anyway. When are you
guys going to tie the knot?" he asked out of the blue.

"Oh, that's the way it goes," Angel raised a brow, "You are allowed to enjoy women the way
you like, but I'm not."

Mike's eyes narrowed a bit, "Hey, we're talking about my sister here."

Buffy giggled, snuggling back into Angel's chest, "My hero. But you don't have to worry.
You'll be the first to know if we decide anything. Until then, I'm your big sister, Mike. No
need to protect me." She stifled a moan when Angel bent his head and kissed a particular
sensitive spot behind her ear.

"Please," Mike groaned, "not in public and not around me. It's hard enough to imagine what
you're doing with my sister as soon as the doors are closed. I don't need a demonstration."

"The boy's just jealous," Angel, whispered in Buffy's ear, "should we get rid of him?"

"Get rid of him?" her body tensed and she turned her head to look at her lover. His face
changed all of a sudden. It wasn't the face she loved anymore. It was different. Hateful.
Evil. And now it laughed.

"Yeah, get rid of him," Angel said, pushing her away, drawing a gun without warning.

"No," Buffy screamed, knowing what was going to happen. "No, please."

"Go way," he warned, pointing his gun at Mike, who had stepped back, his both hands raised in
defense.

"Hey, man, it was just a joke," his voice sounded frightened.
"A joke? I‟ll give you a joke," Angel said and pulled the trigger.//

"NOOOOOOO," the shout tore from her throat and sounded through the dark, quiet
apartment. Buffy bolted upright in her bed, her whole body bathed in sweat, she was panting
heavily. Oh God!

Ohgodohgodohgod.

The dream. She hadn't had that dream for years. She closed her eyes against the images
that were still burning in her mind. Damn Riley. Damn him. Why had he done this to her? Of
course that was a dumb question. She knew exactly why he did it. He wanted to show her
that he could still get to her. And maybe he wanted to show something to Angel, too.

Angel.

She rolled out of her bed and walked to the kitchen. Opening the fridge she pulled out a
bottle of milk and drank thirstily, then put it away. Leaning against the closed door she
thought about the way Angel came to her aid this afternoon, the way he held her, soothed
her. All she wanted was to curl up in his lap and stay there. It was so safe and secure in his
arms, she'd felt so loved and treasured. Something she'd missed for a long time.

She wanted to tell him. Tell him, that she didn't blame him anymore for her brother's death.
Tell him that she was wrong. Oh so wrong. Wrong and stupid and stubborn and...

With a heavy sigh she pushed herself away from the fridge and walked back to her bedroom.
The bed was large, for a while she'd shared it with Riley, now it was empty. And cold. And
lonely. But then, it had been lonely for even longer. Even with Riley's large body beside her
she was lonely, silently longing for another, she could no longer have.

What was he doing this very moment, she wondered? Was he lonely as well? Was he lying
awake thinking about her? Or would his arms hold another? Would his mouth kiss another?
Would his lips whisper of love and a future, the way they'd done to her so long ago?

The sudden pang of jealousy she felt at the image made her gasp. The feeling was so violent,
she felt herself shudder. She had no right to be jealous. She had given up that right four
years ago when she'd sent him away, when she'd ignored the pain in his eyes and thrown him
out of her life. She had been the one who married his best friend and made the break up
final.

No she had no right to feel that way. Even more so she had no right to hope he would ever
forgive her. Still, she found herself hoping he would.

********

8

Wednesday, August 23rd, 11.00 a.m., Los Angeles
Cordelia tapped her perfectly manicured fingernails on the table and let out an exasperated
sigh. Studying her hands for a moment, she frowned and looked back at the man who was
sitting opposite to her in the Internal Affairs inquiry. The room was not very big, sparse
furnitured with three chairs and a table and one wall was covered with mirrors. They weren't
the regular kind you could buy in a store, but a one-way mirror, those that were mirrors on
the one side, windows at the other.

Behind them, protected against discovery were standing Rupert Giles, Brent Harley and
Timothy Philips, the District Attorney. And they were all observing the proceeding on the
other side of the window.

"You know, this is getting old," Cordelia leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms in
front of her chest, her eyes on the face of Riley Finn, who was scowling at her.

"Oh, so this is boring for you?" he said, rubbing his eyes. "Well, it's not boring for me. In
fact, it's rather annoying. Being summoned before the Internal Affairs at the break of dawn
and being interrogated for more than an hour by my wife's best friend."

"Soon to be ex-wife," she countered without blinking. "And that's not the point here. I'm
here because I need answers. Answers you might have."

"And I already told you that I never had a connection with David Griffin. Of course I've
heard his name. Who hasn't? He's the new big gun around. But fortunately I haven't had the
pleasure to meet him."

He was cool, Cordelia decided. Cool and controlled. Too cool and controlled? Yesterday
evening her boss and Brent Harley had decided to start interrogating all the officers of the
9th department. Timothy said it might be more effective to start the inquiry from two sides.

And it would also help to avoid officers to become suspicious of Angel and Spike. With
pleasure Cordelia agreed to start with Riley Finn. Interrogating the bastard was like
receiving a Christmas present.

She cleared her throat, and then casually flipped through a file she'd opened on the table.
"As I can see here, you have an interesting variation of female companions," she looked up,
nodded, "Very impressing. Tell me Riley-"

"Detective Finn for you," he hissed.

She smiled; glad she was getting at him, "If you wish. So tell me, *Detective*, how do you pay
for them? Some of them look rather... expensive."

"Fuck you, bitch," he spat, glaring at her, "Is that your way of getting it done?"

"Watch your tongue, officer," Brand Harmon warned from his seat beside Cordelia. Brand
Harmon was working for Internal Affairs and had been advised to take part in this
interrogation as well. He was used to officers acting offended, but he was old-fashioned and
didn't like men to use foul language in front of women. And Brand had always had a weak spot
for Cordelia.

"Thank you, Brand," the brunette gave him a particularly grateful smile, then shook her head,
"But I'm used to this. Some of us aren't as well mannered as others." She sighed heavily at
the end of her sentence and shook her head again, then smiled inwardly when she saw Brand
nailing Riley with another hard glare.

Flipping another page, Cordelia looked back at Riley, "Now, tell me *Detective* Finn, where
do you get the money to pay for all those expensive ladies?"

"I don't have to pay for female company, Miss Chase," he hissed through gritted teeth.
"Usually my body is enough for them."

"Oh really?" she raised a surprised brow, "Oh well, people have different tastes," she
remarked. "Okay, but you don't deny your... let's call it encounters with different women
over the last two years."

"No, I don't," he hissed again. "I suppose Buffy told you all about it."

"In fact, she has," Cordelia smiled again, "but coming back to that," she pointed at the file,
"Your current bank account shows more than ten thousand dollars, and you drive a new car.
An expensive, European car," she raised her eyebrows, "Tell me, how you managed to pay for
it?"

"My mother died," he said, controlled again, "But you should know that. Buffy's lawyer knew
it instantly."

Yes, she knew, it was in the file in front of her, and still it made a grand opening for her next
hit, "Well, if you‟ll allow a personal remark, I think Buffy earned each penny for all the time
she stayed with you," she raised a hand when he was about to reply, "Sorry, I got
sidetracked," she smiled sweetly, "A last question, Mr. Finn," she said almost casually, closing
the file, "Have you ever heard the code 'Operation Delta'?"

There was a flicker of recognition in his eyes, she noticed, but he covered his reaction
quickly, and when he finally looked at her his expression was completely blank, "No," he shook
his head. "I've never heard of it. What about it?"

"Nothing that concerns you," she replied, busying herself with opening her briefcase and
pushing the file inside. "Thank you, Mr. Finn," she said without looking up. "That's all. You can
go. Thank you for your cooperation."

"F..." Riley started, then caught Brend Harmon's gaze, and his lips drew into a thin, angry
line. He cursed inwardly and wished, not for the first time, that Cordelia was just some bitch
and not the assistant DA. There was no way he could get to her, without endangering his own
career. "Ma‟am," he said instead, then turned and left the room.
As soon as the door was clicked shut Cordelia closed her briefcase, leaned back and released
a long breath. She turned when she felt Brand's hand on her shoulder, "Well done, Miss
Chase," he complimented.

"He‟s right," came her boss' voice over the speaker. "You did a good job. And I'd say your
personal... er... relationship helped in this case."

Cordelia grinned at the mirror, "Thanks. And yeah. I really hate the guy."

"Who would've guessed," Timothy replied, his voice full of sarcasm. "Take a break," he said,
"We'll meet in about half an hour to discuss this. Drink some coffee." With that the speaker
went off.

"Drink some coffee," Cordelia muttered, standing, "If I drink any more coffee I'm going to
jump up the wall."

"Then what about some home baked muffins and a nice cup of tea?" Brand offered with a
fatherly smile, "My wife made them yesterday and I have no problem sharing."

The brunette looked at him with gratitude, "Brand, you're saving my life," she said and
followed him to his office.

*****

"So, how do you feel, being pregnant and all?" Faith asked, plopping on Willow's desk beside
the computer screen.

"And all?" the redhead raised a brow at her.

"Yeah, you know, morning sickness, cravings, that sort of stuff."

The other brow came up as well, "What do you know about morning sickness?" she inquired,
suddenly curious.

"Hey," Faith looked as if insulted, "don't look at me that way. I'm not pregnant, but I wasn't
raised in limbo either. And I read. Books, you know."

"Yeah, I know books," Willow said on a chuckle. "What about them?"

"Duuuh. They tell you stuff. Explain things." When Willow's expression didn't change, Faith
sighed dramatically, "So much for small talk."

"So much for it," the redhead agreed. "So what was the real reason you wanted to talk to
me? Do you need a day off or what? Then go to the big boss, I'm just the computer
specialist."

"No, I don't need a day off. This is more a... uh... personal matter."
"Personal, huh?"

"Yeah. It's... about Buffy," Faith admitted.

"Buffy?" Willow eyed the brunette curiously. Her relationship with Buffy had been strained
at the least. With Faith being Riley's former lover, the women didn't get along well. Since
Buffy's breakup with her husband things started to get better, but they still weren‟t back
to normal.

So Willow couldn't quite grasp what this was all about.

"How is she?" Faith asked.

Willow turned in her chair and gestured towards the desk where the blond was sitting and
reading a new file. "She's right over there. Maybe you should go and ask her."

The brunette rolled her eyes, "I know she‟s there, but I need to hear it from you. So how is
she?"

"She's been better," the redhead admitted finally.

"The divorce is getting to her and with Angel around..." she trailed off.

"Ah, Angel," Faith said, glad Willow had given her the entry. "I met him Monday night. At the
Splash."

Now the redhead's eyes widened, "Angel? At the Splash? But he doesn't drink."

"So what?" Faith snorted, "They serve non-alcoholic drinks as well."

"Yes, yeah, I know. But Angel just isn't the type for bars and clubs. He never was."

"He said so much himself, but I think he was just seeking for some company."

Willow's eyes narrowed instantly, "And so you thought you'd give him what he needed? Is
that what you're saying?"

"No," Faith said in sudden anger. "I'm not a slut you know. I don't just jump on men as they
come." She saw Willow raise a brow, and threw her hands in the air, "Okay, think what you
want. But the point is, we were talking about Buffy."

"You were talking about Buffy?"

Was Willow dense, Faith thought? "That's what I said, wasn't it? And you know, you might
call me utterly romantic, but I could swear he's still got it bad for Buffy. I mean, he didn't
say it exactly, but a girl with my experience just knows things. Wouldn't it be fun if they got
back together?"
Willow's expression changed rapidly, suspicion and anger were gone, and replaced with
excitement. "You know," the redhead said, smiling, "it's interesting to hear you say that,
because I have a theory myself. Are you interested in a cup of coffee?"

At that Faith smiled as well. It would be nice seeing Buffy and Angel back together, she
thought. But even more so, she could hardly wait to see the expression on Riley's face when
he lost his wife to her former lover.

*****

"Oh," Drusilla's voice sounded a bit breathless when without warning a body collided with
hers. But she smiled when a heavily British accented voice suddenly said.

"I would say, I'm sorry, but I'm not. Well, not really." Spike put a hand under her elbow and
smiled.

"Spike," she said, shifting the files in her arms. "Aren't you a bit late?" she asked and
glanced at the clock.

"Observation," he answered. "We were out half the night, so the big boss gave us the
morning off."

"Ah," she nodded.

"Ah, what?" he asked.

Quickly glancing down, she laughed a bit uncertain when she looked up again, "Oh, nothing. I
just thought you'd be at the Splash again last night." As soon as the words were out, a blush
crept up her cheeks. Spike thought she looked incredibly sweet.

"So you... missed me?" he said, cocking a brow.

"I... uh... well, I wouldn't go that far," she stuttered, "I just... I feel comfortable in your
company," she admitted.

"You do?" he liked the idea. "Only comfortable?"

Comfortable was good. Comfortable was fine, but friends felt good in each other's company,
and what he felt for Drusilla was already far beyond friendship. God help him.

"Not only," she replied and glanced down again. Then - almost angry – she frowned, "This is
not... I'm not used to this, you know," she admitted. "The last guy... my last... you know," she
gave him a look, hoping for understanding and when he nodded, she continued, "We found out
he was a drug dealer. It wasn't nice."

Compassion rose in him, "I understand," he said, lying his hand on her forearm. "Would you
like to go on a date? With me?"
She stared at him at first so that he almost thought she had lost her voice, but then
suddenly she said, "Yes. I'd like that. Very much actually."

His answering smile was slow, but sweet, "Well then. How about tonight? No observations
tonight."

"Okay," she laughed a bit breathlessly, "Is eight alright for you?"

"Eight it is," he agreed. "See you then."

She nodded, and was about to turn when his voice held her back, "Where do you live? I need
your address."

This time her smile was pure female, and Spike felt his body tighten at the sight, "You're a
police officer," she said, "You should be able to find out."

Then she turned her hips swinging and left him breathless for a moment.

********

9

Thursday, August 24th, 7.00 a.m., Los Angeles

"So what you're telling me is that the girl of the night, the girl - or rather the woman -
accompanying David Griffin to the Chambers' engagement party was Diana Massey?"

"That's what I'm saying," Angel said, picking up his cup of coffee and carefully sipping at the
hot brew. These early morning meetings with Cordelia Chase were going to be fun, he thought
acidly. It‟s not that he wasn‟t a morning person. Actually he was, but he still liked his
mornings more private, not completely taken over by business.

She was all business, sitting opposite to him, dressed in a conservative navy suit, from head
to toe screaming that she was the assistant DA. Not the sassy fiancée of his friend who was
- no doubt - still sleeping like a baby in his satin sheets. Doyle, as Angel recalled, wasn't a
morning person and it would be fun to see those two married for the next fifty odd years.

"And may I ask why you didn't tell me this yesterday?" the brunette asked.

"Or did you just think, 'hey this isn't important. Why bother Cordelia with this development
about my ex-lover‟s sister.'?" Her voice had risen during the speech and her eyes were
blazing.

His narrowed in reply and an expression entered them who was more than just a simple
warning, "Be careful," he said slowly, his voice low.

She looked at him for a long moment, and then threw her hands up in defeat, "Okay, okay,
I'm sorry. I'm just," she paused and sighed. Then took a sip from her coffee. Putting the cup
down she gazed back at him, her voice and eyes apologetic, "I'm really sorry, but this
business isn't any fun for me either. I had a rather annoying interrogation yesterday with
our beloved Riley Finn. If I hadn't know it already, after yesterday I'd swear he's the
lowest form of life on this planet. A definite..." she trailed off, but of course he knew what
she was thinking.

"I see," he replied, choosing his words carefully. He knew that Cordelia wouldn't tell him
what had happened during the interrogation, and he wouldn't ask, but, "So he wasn't quite
the gentleman, I assume?"

"Gentleman," she echoed, and the disgust so thick that, that one word held said more than a
whole novel ever would. "I asked him about Operation Delta and there was a flicker in his
eyes, you know. It was quick, but it was there. I have no idea what it means, but my boss
certainly has Finn on his list. And believe me, you wouldn't want to be on Timothy Philips'
list."

"Well, I for once don't care if he's got Riley on his list or not," Angel said and meant it. Lists
were just that, lists. He was more interested in finding out if Riley had his hands in shady
business - or if it was Riley at all. And besides, he thought, this wasn't about Riley. This was
about finding a foul egg. "And I have no idea if the fact that David Griffin is dating Diana
Massey has anything to do with Darla. They never really got along. At least not while Darla
and I were dating. I saw Diana, once, twice max."

"But you're sure about her? I mean you're sure it was her?"

"Oh, yeah," Angel nodded and ran a hand through his hair, "It's not really complicated," he
told Cordelia, "If you know Darla, you know Diana. They're twins."

Cordelia almost choked on her coffee and was about to say something, when the door of a
room opened and a sleepy eyed and rather groggy Spike stumbled into the living room, only
wearing his boxers – the same way he had a couple days ago. Blinking against the Californian
morning sun, he cast his eyes on the brunette, "Oh, Miss District Attorney," he grinned,
although it was rather lopsided, due to the fact that the whole left side of his face was
covered with interesting colors.

"What the..." Angel was on his feet in an instant, eyeing his friend closely, "Whatever
happened to you last night?"

Spike's smile changed into a pain-filled grimace and he touched his cheek gingerly, "I... uh...
had an argument with a local shi... idiot, so to speak."

"Some argument," Cordelia commented sarcastically. "I'd say it grew rather out of hand."

"Not really," the blond replied, groaning when he touched a special spot near his eyebrow.
Glancing sideways at Cordelia, he said, "I had a date with Drusilla last night. We went to a
nice club. I found it yesterday when we drove by and thought it might be a nice change to
the Splash. So I took her there," he sighed deeply, "big mistake. Next time remind me not to
chose a club if you're not familiar with the town."

"So what happened?" Angel wanted to know, sitting down again and crossing his arms in front
of his chest, watching his friend expectantly.

"Well," Spike began while he was walking to the kitchen and back, completely unconcerned
about his lack of clothing, to get an empty cup, "seems the club belongs to the brother of an
asshole Dru dated before. He wasn't the nicest guy, she told me. Crossed Vice. So there we
are and as soon as the asshole's brother spots Dru he begins to taunt her. Gentleman I am, I
couldn't just sit by and watch, you know."

"So you... um... decided to save the lady's honor, right?" Angel said, now grinning.

"So to speak," Spike replied, pouring himself coffee. Caffeine was a necessity. His head was
pounding from a mix of alcohol and being beaten up by two gorillas and the fact that he'd
been the noble one and just brought Drusilla home instead of trying to get her between the
sheets - preferably his. And that alone was enough reason for a severe headache. Because it
pointed out that Drusilla wasn't just some casual fling. The blond groaned inwardly. Not that
he hadn't already noticed the problem. But it was the absolute wrong time to fall in love with
a possible suspect. Sure, Angel swore, Drusilla was clean, but Spike was a cop and as a cop he
knew you had to expect the unexpected.

When he looked up he saw Cordelia's gaze resting on him, "What?" he asked.

"Isn't a guy allowed to play the protector?"

"Some protector," she snorted, shaking her head. "From the looks of you I'd say you ended
up in the gutter. Or do the others look worse?"

"No, not really," he admitted rather quietly. "But hey," he glanced at Angel, "they were two,
with really big muscles and really mean faces."

"Oh, this is just great. One of my internal officers goes out and lets himself be used as a
punching bag. Wonderful." Cordelia glared at him.

"Hey, lady. I was out with a girl," Spike wasn't looking at his coffee anymore. No, his eyes
were solely directed at Cordelia and they were rather angry now, "A guy insulted her. What
should I do? Just sit there and watch? In your dreams." With a last look he stood up and
walked into his bedroom, slamming the door in her face.

"Explosive character, your friend," Cordelia remarked, turning back towards Angel.

"Not really," he replied and tilted his head. "He's just protective. He always was. With
women and with his partner and I'm more than grateful for it."
"Yeah, I heard," she said, all humor vanished from his face. "He saved your life one night. I
read the reports. It's rather impressive. He carried you on his shoulders for over six miles.
Regarding your height and weight and his, it's very impressive."

"He's my friend and my partner. I would've done the same for him. But yeah, it's impressive
and I owe him."

This was becoming far too personal, Cordelia decided, "What impression did you get of Mike
Harmon and his girl? Is this relationship real?"

"It looks like it," Angel was grateful for the change of subjects. He wasn't comfortable
talking about Spike and his relationship with him with Cordelia.

The things they had done for each other were between them - and that meant private. "He
couldn't keep his hand off the woman. And she was smiling at him like he'd hung the moon."

"Good for him," Cordelia commented. "And for us. If it's love, I highly doubt the money is
important. Mike doesn't strike me as the type who needs money to impress a woman. He isn't
self-conscious."

"No, he isn't," Angel, agreed. "I like him actually. He's got a great sense of humor and he's
got a lot of experience for his age. Besides, Derryl Chambers has money, and yeah, David
Griffin was a guest at the party, but that doesn't really mean anything."

"I know," Cordelia sighed again, "It's just... I hate this. You know, digging through our own
trenches to find a traitor."

"Yeah," he agreed again. There was nothing worse than a dirty cop. Cops were meant to
protect and to clean up, not to change sides. Oh yeah, a dirty cop was definitely the worst.

"So who will you be watching next?" she asked.

Angel shrugged, "We haven't decided yet. Maybe Kate Lockley. We'll have to see. We have
to decide what the best opportunity is. Spike‟s going to shadow Darla today," he then added,
"We need to find out if she'll contact her sister. We already watched her yesterday, but
nothing so far."

Cordelia nodded, and then changed the subject again, "Buffy told me what you did for her.
When her oh so wonderful soon-to-be ex was behaving like the asshole he is."

He gave her an irritated look, "Yeah, and?"

"And nothing. You did good," she smiled, "She had and sometimes still has it rough, you know.
Riley wasn't just cheating on her. I'm certainly not supposed to tell you, and she never told
me, but women just know some things."

"Cordelia," now he grew even more irritated.
"He beat her," as if the words hurt her mouth, she spat them.

Angel stared at her, then was on his feet in a flash, his motions jerky, he ran a suddenly
trembling hand through his hair, "Jesus Christ," he muttered, beginning to pace the room.
"You're sure?" he asked, stopping shortly to glance at her, then continued pacing.

"Yeah," she replied. "Makeup can't cover everything. I'm sure the others were completely
oblivious, but I always had a thing for makeup."

"No kidding," he remarked, but it didn't sound funny. Actually it sounded as if he was ready
to hit something. Really hard.

"Yeah, well, anyways. I noticed that the color of the eye shadow on her left lid didn't really
match the one on her right. I never asked, knowing how uncomfortable women are about it.
And as Riley moved out of their apartment the same afternoon, it didn't happen again. But of
course I'm not sure if he ever did it before."

"He's lucky I wasn't around," Angel hissed through gritted teeth. He had stopped pacing, his
fists clenching and unclenching in a steady rhythm. "I would've beat him into a bloody pulp.
God," he asked nobody in particular, "Did I ever know him at all?"

"Seems Spike isn't the only one with a protective streak," Cordelia said as she came to stand
beside him. Tentatively she reached out and touched his arm. When he turned his head to
look at her, she gave him a warm smile,

"It's over," she said slowly. "She'll be divorced soon and all this will be nothing more than a
bad dream.”

"You're wrong," he replied, not heeding to her smile, "those things never leave you. You can
get divorced. But things like that will change you forever." Turning to look out of the window
again, he frowned and Cordelia wasn't sure if he was just trying to blink the tears in his eyes
away. "Did you ever look into her eyes? Really look? They're so sad. So lost. They used to
sparkle with mischief. They used to laugh. Almost all the time. Sure, a part of this was
vanished when Mike was shoot and she thought I'd killed him," he suddenly laughed harshly,
"Geez, for all I know she still blames me."

"No," Cordelia said firmly, her fingers on his arms tightening, urging him to look at her again.
"She doesn't blame you for her brother's death. She probably never did." She saw the
incredulous expression in his eyes and shook her head, "Angel, she was devastated when Mike
was killed. You know how long she needed to finally accept him. He was the embodiment of
her father's failure to love her mother. But then she loved him. She really loved him. And
then he was killed, and with your weapon.

"From there everything fell apart. *She* fell apart. I saw her, Angel. She couldn't eat or
sleep. After a while she couldn't even cry anymore. She certainly couldn't think clearly. By
the time she woke up she knew she was wrong, that you wouldn't have shot Mike, not even
unintentionally. You're a too good cop, and I know you loved her." She tilted her head,
"Probably never stopped loving her."

He just looked at her steadily, his expression not changing and she wanted to scream. One
thing she'd always hated about Angel Reardon was his ability to hide his feelings. Damn the
man. "Anyways," she continued, "As I said, she woke up. Unfortunately she found herself
married to Riley and you were already gone to New York. You don't just throw your marriage
away and run after a guy whom you just hurt by rejecting him."

Now his eyes widened in surprise. His expression was a little dazed when he whispered "I
always thought you saw me responsible for all this mess."

She couldn't help it, but she had to laugh, "Sorry," she said instantly. "I know this isn‟t a
laughing matter. But no, I never thought you responsible for it. Or only a little bit. Maybe I
blamed you for not fighting harder, for not being a bit more stubborn."

"I didn't want to cause her more pain." His voice was still not more than a whisper. Then it
hit him, "She really doesn't blame me?"

Her smile warmed even more, "No," she assured him. "So maybe knowing that, you could...
well, try to right the wrong?"

"Cordelia," he sighed loudly, "I... I just don't know. It's been four years. A long time. A lot of
things happened. I don't even know how she feels about me. If she's still interested."

"Well," she let go of his hand, her smile turning a bit wicked, "As I see it, you'll never know
until you try."

********

10

The same day, 11.00 a.m.

"So you see, Detective Summers," Giles was saying, "We need this report by Monday - and
that's the last possible date..." Buffy nodded absentmindedly at his words, tuning out from
time to time, her eyes repeatedly flickering to Drusilla's desk outside the lieutenant‟s
office, her irritation growing by the second.

Angel was there with the raven-haired woman, he was sitting on the edge of her desk,
laughing from time to time, leaning forward toward her. They made a picture perfect couple.
She couldn't hear a word they were saying and it was very likely the whole scene was
completely innocent, but she couldn't help the distinct pang of jealousy she was feeling at
the sight of them so close.

There never had been anything between Angel and his rookie four years ago but that didn't
mean it couldn't happen now. But hadn't she noticed that Spike had shown interest in
Drusilla? Angel wouldn't try to hit on his friend's love-interest, not after what he'd been
through himself. Buffy was sure of that, if nothing else. And why the hell did she care
anyway? She had no claim on Angel Reardon, with his deep brown eyes you wanted to drown
in, his sensual mouth, the well muscled body and... God, just shoot me, she thought. She had
no right to feel this way, she told herself firmly. Not after she'd sent him away, when he
came all but begging her to rethink her decision, not to throw their love away and she'd told
him she hadn‟t known a thing about love, until Riley had come along and shown her the real
thing.

Real thing, my ass, she snorted inwardly. Yes, Riley certainly had shown her the real thing.
But it hadn't been love. Far from it. As far as Riley was concerned, love could've been a word
from old Egyptian it was so foreign to him. Jealousy, anger, bitterness. Those were more the
words he was acquainted with. And violence.

Now Angel was leaning forward and one of his hands came to lie on Drusilla's shoulder. She
had to turn away, not able to watch any longer and she started when her gaze landed on Giles
who had stopped talking and was eyeing her closely, speculatively. "What?" she asked, trying
to shake off the images that were running wild in her head. Angel kissing Drusilla, undressing
her, making... God, maybe she was finally going to lose it. But she could still feel his hands on
her, stroking her, his voice soothing her, telling her everything would be all right after Riley
had tried to hurt her in the worst possible way.

"I was just wondering where you were," Giles said gently, then turned his head, nodding
pointedly at Angel and Drusilla who were now laughing wholeheartedly. "Of course it wasn't
hard to figure out."

"I'm sorry," she replied, the fingers of her right hand playing with her long, blond hair. "I
seem to have problems concentrating today. Didn't sleep well, I guess. With the upcoming
divorce and all," she added.

"Yes, sure, the divorce," Giles said mildly, not hiding that he didn't believe one word she was
saying. There was no denying what was disturbing his officer this morning. Not that he
thought for one moment that Angel Reardon was even slightly interested in Drusilla
Petersen. He was too old not to see the way Angel was looking at Buffy every time he
thought she wouldn't see.

Their love affair may have been over for a long time, but Giles was sure the love wasn't - not
by a long shot. They just came with a lot of baggage, and regarding that fact it was a rough
road they had ahead of them. He admitted to himself that he was wrong to think that it
wouldn't be good for Buffy to see Angel again. Reassessing the situation now he was sure it
was quite the opposite. For the first time in years Buffy looked more than just plain mentally
dead.

"Yeah," the blond replied, glad he didn't insist on talking about Angel. No way she would talk
with her boss about Angel, "it's rather messy." She inhaled deeply, "But of course this isn't
something that belongs here."
"Oh, I wouldn't agree," he said, giving her a smile, "You and your soon-to-be ex-husband are
both detectives of this precinct, so maybe the private parts of the divorce aren't my
business, but if it intrudes work it sure as hell is. He's giving you a hard time?"

She looked at him and hesitated for a moment, before she sighed, "Well, he's just Riley I
guess. I didn't realize what kind of guy he was when we got together. And I didn't know for
a while after we're married. But soon," she sighed again. "This really isn't fun. And now he
just behaves... typical, I suppose. Don't get me wrong, I still think he's a good cop, his record
is proof of that, but... maybe, we just didn't match."

"Or the situation was wrong," Giles remarked, understanding in his eyes. "You married him
when you were very vulnerable, when you thought you'd been betrayed by a man you thought
you loved."

There was such deep knowledge in his words that Buffy shivered involuntarily. Her own
problems forgotten for the moment, she asked, "Who was she?" Startled by her blunt
question, he drew a sharp breath, and she held up a hand, "You don't have to tell me. It‟s not
any of my business," she said, smiling apologetically.

"No, it isn't," he replied, his smile incredibly sad, "It happened a long time ago. I loved her,
very much. But then I found out that she just used me by forwarding all the things I thought
were said in private to her brother who happened to be deeply into drugs. So you see, I can
relate. Only that Angel didn't do anything."

"No, he didn't," she agreed. "But when all the stuff happened, I wasn't... I couldn't..." she
stopped, not really knowing how to explain her feelings the days and weeks after her half-
brother had been shot accidentally in a cross-fire with Angel's weapon.

"Think straight?," he asked, his eyes warm and understanding.

All she could reply was giving him a small, miserable nod.

"You don't have to tell me," Giles said gently, "And this," he pointed at a file on his desk, "can
certainly wait another day. We could meet tomorrow after lunch to talk about it."

"Thanks," she smiled gratefully, "Thanks, Giles."

"No problem. Maybe you should just talk to him," he suggested.

Now her smile was sad, "I think it's much too late for this. I missed my chance for," she
shrugged, "Well, I missed it."

"If you say so," he said, not quite believing her. She was already at the door, when his voice
made her turn around, "And Buffy, there will never be anything but friendship between
Drusilla Peterson and Angel," he was smiling in the end.

"Yeah, I know," she said, but the sadness was still present, "But that doesn't mean, he's
going to risk his heart again with me, does it?" With this she slipped from his office, her
gaze instantly turning towards Drusilla's desk, but there was only the female officer, Angel
Reardon was nowhere in sight.

*****

17.00 p.m.

Not only Spike hated observations, Angel mused while he was sitting in his car that was
standing in front of a huge brick stone house that looked as if it should be standing in
Boston. It looked so completely out of place that it was almost funny. Almost.

And the reason Angel was sitting in his car in front of the out-of-place house was that it was
another of Derryl Chambers' properties. Simone Chambers had entered the house, and Angel
was sure it was to check out the place. What he hadn't expected was for Riley Finn to arrive
only minutes afterwards. This had been about an hour ago and neither Mike Harmon's fiancée
nor the detective had come out again. Angel couldn't be sure what was going on inside the
walls, but it sure was suspicious as hell.

He glanced to his side and sighed at the sight of several empty cans of coke and some other
stuff littering his car, all leftovers of Spike's presence during the past days. Not today
though. The blond was - as Angel had told Cordelia - following Darla Massey and Angel
couldn't wait to hear what he would have to say in the evening. Diana Massey was dating
David Griffin. He shook his head. Jesus, this case was certainly complicated.

Despite the litter that was covering the floor of his car, Angel missed Spike today. He
missed his cocky retorts and comments, his dry humor and the way he could see things
clearly as glass. And he could certainly use that now, when the observation of Simone
Chambers had suddenly turned into an observation of Riley Finn as well.

Angel had planned to leave Riley to Spike, as he'd done it with Darla, but now fate had
decided against it and although Angel didn't like the situation, there was absolutely nothing
he could do to change it. He could hardly call Cordelia and refuse to investigate Riley. Nope,
no way he could do that. The brunette would laugh - not in a friendly way - and just slam the
receiver back down, thinking he'd lost his marbles.

None of them could understand - maybe not even Spike - how he felt about Riley Finn. His
feelings were so mixed up he had a hard time understanding them. When Cordelia had told
him about Riley beating Buffy anger had been the dominant one. Not just anger, rage. It had
been all he could do not to leave the apartment, search for Riley and beat him up the way he
did to Buffy. God, just thinking about it, made Angel's stomach churn.

What on earth had happened to the Riley Finn he'd known almost since they'd played
together in pampers? If, and that was the really painful question, he'd ever been there at all.
Could all their times together just have been a clever disguise? No, Angel dismissed the
thought quickly. No way, a little boy could be that twisted. No, their friendship had been
genuine. They had laughed together, joked together. Like the night, after the first football
game in their sophomore year in high school when Riley had fallen for Lucy Turner, two years
his senior and in the blonde's eyes extremely hot...

##"Man that game's a bitch," Riley slid down along the wall in the boy's locker room,
completely exhausted, bruised and hurting, but grinning nonetheless.

"Yeah," Angel agreed, opening the door of his locker and throwing his sweaty sneakers inside.
Turning his head he was grinning as well, "But we won."

"We sure have," the blond was wiping his dirty face, a blue bruise already showing under his
right eye. "Did you see the huge giant they had in their defense line?" he asked.

"I did," Angel, commented, his grin never wavering, "Got you straight."

Riley chuckled at that and struggled to stand up. Playing high school football could be fun,
but he would give a lot for a hot bath now. Tomorrow his body would be hurting like hell. He
groaned when he already cold muscles protested against a certain movement, "Don't laugh,"
he warned his friend, "This isn't funny."

"Oh, but I think it is," the dark-haired boy replied, chuckling as well.

"And don't think I didn't see Lucy Turner following every of your moves."

The blonde's head jerked around, "She did?" he asked, wondering why his voice was suddenly
sounding so breathless.

"Yeah," Angel chuckled again, incredulously shaking his head, "Although I still can't see why
you have the hots for her."

"You can't?" now it was Riley's term to look incredulous. "Do you want to tell me, you haven't
seen her great ass and tits? I would bet she needs a D-cup already."

Angel groaned and rolled his eyes, "Is there anything else you are interested in a woman
besides her body?"

"Nope," the blond grinned wickedly and pulled his dirt stained shirt over his head, "A great
body is pretty much everything. Hey, I'm young. I want to enjoy myself, celebrate live. If
not now, I wonder when it's going to happen."

"God, you're gross," his friend said with disgust. Riley could be such a jerk. Ass and tits -
hardly the only important attributes of a girl. Not that Angel didn't appreciate certain
attributes, but he preferred a girl who could also talk about interesting subjects anytime.
Wham-bam in bed might be fun, Angel guessed, but there had to be more. Of course he had
no way of really knowing it. He was, much to Riley's amusement, still a virgin.

His friend, of course, wasn't. Not that it was something special to not be a virgin as a
sophomore in high school. Angel's mother had been shocked to the bone when he'd told her
that most of the guys in his class had already slept with a girl. The world would come to an
end, she'd said and it had been so typical for Carmen Reardon, the Mexican girl that had
married his thoroughly Irish father. It was her whom he had to thank for his first name, the
cause of lots of laughs throughout the years. But his mother was proud of it, always smiling
and stroking his head, saying 'you're my Angel. You never brought anything but joy to this
family.'

"Gross, huh?" Riley interrupted his musings, "Well, not everyone can be as holy as you,
Angel." ##

Had there been an edge in his voice all those years ago, Angel tried to remember now. It had
been 20 years ago, too much to be sure he remembered correctly. But maybe even then Riley
had been eaten up with the sort of jealousy Angel had experienced in full four years ago.

And that was the worst, the fact that he doubted everything now. Every gesture, every
friendly arm around his shoulder, every pat on his back - what had been genuine and what...
not?

Running a hand through his hair he exhaled a breath he didn't even know he'd been holding.
God, he hated this. Hated all this stuff being dragged up again. He thought he had left it all
behind when he'd moved to New York, burying all his dreams of love and a future in the
process. Burying Riley with them. But of course he'd been lying to himself.

Things like these had a way of haunting you and he knew there hadn't been a day when Buffy
hadn't been on his mind at least for a moment - several times a day. You didn't just leave the
love of your life and forget about it. She might have done that, but he had never been able
to - although if he believed Cordelia, he hadn't been far from Buffy's thoughts either.

He looked up when the door of the brick house opened and first Simone and then Riley
appeared again. There was nothing indicating that it had been more than just a business
meeting - even though that was quite strange, regarding the fact that Simone was the
daughter of one of the richest men on the west coast and Riley was nothing more than a
police officer, the son of poor Irish immigrants.

Angel would have sworn that Simone was in love with Mike Harmon the night before. The way
she had touched him, had smiled at him, looked at him. She was jerking her arm away now
from Riley who had tried to touch her, glaring at him, her eyes narrowed and full of hate.
What the hell was going on here? Angel wanted to jump from the car and ask them, but of
course there was no way he could do that.

Riley was shouting at her now, but they were too far away for Angel to hear what they were
saying. She was shouting back, her whole body trembling with rage, her eyes blazing. Then
she turned round, slipped inside her car and drove away, the wheels burning the asphalt. She
couldn't get away quickly enough.

Riley turned and now that Angel could see his face. He could also see the smile on his face.
And it made his blood freeze. It was an evil smile, the smile of a man who held power - over a
woman. The woman in question undoubtedly had been Simone. And she hated the blond. But
why on earth then had her face been flushed in a way that could only mean one thing?
Damned, if Angel just knew what the hell was going on.

*****

18.30 p.m.

"Welcome in my humble home, my friend and," Doyle paused when Angel just breezed past
him without any greeting, then shut the door behind the dark-haired man, "just make
yourself at home," he added, certain that Angel hadn't listened to one word he'd been
saying.

"Doyle did you remember to put the white wine into the fridge and..." Cordelia was just
coming out of the kitchen and stopped dead in tracks when her eyes fell on their visitor. One
of her perfect eyebrows rose in a mixture of surprise and indignation, "And what brings you
here?"

"The job," Angel said curtly, not even bothering to greet his friends.

"That's too bad," she replied, already turning towards the kitchen again, "because as I
already told you, this is job-free time. No work in my free time. We can talk tomorrow, come
to my office at noon."

"Screw that," he told her, his voice holding definite anger and annoyance.

Not used to Angel using that kind of language around her, Cordelia froze for a second, and
turned back to him - almost in slow motion. Then her eyebrow rose again, "Excuse me?"

He looked at her steadily, "I said screw that. And don't use that attitude on me. For once we
know each other too long and too well, secondly I really don't give a damn about your free
time. You tell me I have to get used to you showing up at my doorstep at 7.00 a.m., so you
have to get used to the fact that important news won't wait until *you* have office hours.
Understood?"

Cordelia could only stare at him. From the corner of her eye she saw Doyle was trying to
suppress a grin that was threatening to spread across his lips. Of course *he* was enjoying
the situation tremendously. Leaning against the wall, his arms crossed, he had the best view
of this completely humiliating situation. Well, she knew when she'd lost, she thought. Closing
her eyes for a moment, she took a deep breath, and in opening her eyes again, she said,
"Understood."

Doyle almost did a double take at that, and this time the brunette had to suppress a grin. He
had expected her to shout and spit at Angel, certainly not to give in like that. But when she
looked at him again, she could see the shine of pride in his eyes at her reaction and she knew
again why she loved Doyle more than anything in the world. Oh yes, their marriage would be
far from boring, but God, she could hardly wait to become Mrs. Doyle.
Angel, obviously as surprised as her soon-to-be husband, had to clear his throat, before he
said, "Good."

"Now that we understand each other," Cordelia said, proceeding towards the kitchen to save
her Beuf Bovignon from burning into something unrecognizable and definitely un-eatable,
"why don't you tell me why you came. What is so important that couldn't wait until
tomorrow?" She took the spoon to stir the sauce, not looking at the door, but sensing the
movement announcing Angel's presence.

"Actually there are two things I wanted to tell you, and if you remember, it was you who
were bitching this morning about not telling you the things a.s.a.p. So here I am."

He was leaning against the doorway now, almost casually, making her blood boil. She really
liked Angel Reardon. She really did. Most of the time. But at certain times he could be the
most infuriating, most annoying best friend of her soon-to-be husband. On the other hand he
was also the best cop she could get for the job and so she swallowed an angry retort, took
another calming breath, "I guess I have to accept that," she replied slowly.

He actually had the guts to grin at that. Of all the annoying guys in the world... "I know how
difficult this was for you," he said then, surprising her completely. "And I apologize for it.
But coming back to the more important subject-"

"Yes, that would be too nice," she retorted sarcastically.

He grinned again, exchanging a wink with Doyle, who was by now sitting on the sofa, sipping at
a glass of obviously nice Brandy, still enjoying the exchange, tremendously. "Well, first off,
Spike called. Darla met her sister Diana twice today," he told her, "something that's strange
enough, but Spike swore that the second time an envelope was exchanged."

Cordelia put the spoon aside, turned to the fridge and holding a cup of cream in her hand
looked at him, "Hmm. Interesting. Any ideas what was inside the envelope?"

"None," Angel replied. "But it wasn't money," he added. "Spike is absolutely positive about it
and he's the best cop I know."

"Besides you, of course," she remarked, smirking, then poured the cream into her sauce.

"Thanks for the compliment," he said, grinning, but was serious again in an instant, when he
continued, "I was following Simone Chambers. I got a phone call late this morning and so used
the opportunity to check her out. Turns out that she has some very interesting...
acquaintances."

Cordelia turned her head and raised her brow again, "Oh?"

"Oh, yes," he retorted. "She disappeared into a building in West Hollywood and you have
three guesses who arrived there just ten minutes later and then stayed with her inside of
the house for about an hour."
"I never liked guessing games, Angel. So just tell me."

"Riley Finn."

The spoon she'd just picked up to stir her sauce clattered to the floor, her gaze flew around
to him, and from the corner of his eye Angel could see that Doyle had left his spot on the
sofa as well and was now joining his fiancée and friend in the kitchen. "Say that again," he
demanded, not sure he had heard correctly.

"Riley Finn," Angel repeated, uncrossing his arms and bending down to pick up the spoon.
Placing it in the sink, he looked back at Cordelia. "And do you want to hear something even
more interesting? When they came out, they were arguing, heavily. I've seen angry women,
and I can tell you this woman hates Riley Finn, but the really disturbing part is, that I could
swear she looked remarkably like someone who just had sex with him."

********


Unforgettable cont...
Part 11

Friday, August 25th, 7.00 a.m., Los Angeles

Buffy leaned against the counter in her kitchen and looked out of the window onto the street
beneath her. Los Angeles was already busy, even this early. It was Friday and life started
early because people wanted to leave their offices as early as possible to start their
weekend.

Weekend.

It once meant a time to relax, to enjoy spending time with the people she loved, for family
and friends. But not anymore. First of all there wasn't any family left and her friends... Well,
they were all married now or going to be soon and for quite some time the feeling of
loneliness had increased on weekends.

Maybe it was because she'd finally hit the big 3-0. Or maybe it was just that she couldn't
remember the last time she had had fun. No, that wasn't fair. She had fun, sometimes, when
one of her friends choose to save her from herself and dragged her out of her apartment.
She would laugh and joke with them, but deep inside the emptiness wouldn't leave.

Empty. Yes, she felt empty and exhausted. Not physically. Physically she was perfectly fit,
she was working out three times a week, ran every other day for about an hour after work.
It came in handy if you had to chase down a suspect. Last week she'd outrun a thief and she
was extremely satisfied that she hadn't even broken a sweat.

Yes, physically she was fine. Her mental state was an entirely different matter. But maybe
she earned it. Earned it for wasting her one chance for happiness, for love. Maybe if she'd
been stronger, not been so devastated by her brother's death, she wouldn't have listened to
Riley. God, “if” was the worst word in the world. Willow believed there was a chance she and
Angel could get together again.

But she had no idea, not the slightest idea what her best friend had done. Yes, Buffy had
told the redhead that she'd sent Angel away, but she didn't know the hurtful words Buffy
had said. The blond, on the other hand, remembered them all to well...

## Buffy frowned at the face in the mirror. It was a pretty face, flawless almost, a woman,
she even smiled but her eyes were strangely dead. They were hazel like hers. Over all, the
woman looked familiar, but somehow Buffy wasn't able to find herself in the reflection.

In a few minutes she would marry Riley Finn. She would be Riley Finn's wife. She would make
a vow to love him, to honor him, to be with him until they both died. It was exactly what she
wanted. She loved Riley. Didn't she?

God, her mind was so muddled, nothing made sense anymore. Nothing was real since that
terrible day that had cost the life of the only relative she had left. Just yesterday Riley had
kissed her and told her that in only 24 hours she would have a brand new family. His family.
Their family, he'd said. It sounded so good, then why didn't it warm her heart? Why didn't
it warm her soul?

She was interrupted in her thoughts when the door opened. She knew it wasn‟t Cordelia
because she had refused to come at all. But she thought it was Willow coming to check on
her for the last time, so she didn't look up and inserted her second earring instead. "I'll be
ready soon, Will, don't worry," she said.

"I'd rather you not be ready at all or at least for another man."

Buffy wasn't sure if her heart had stopped beating that very moment, but she was having a
problem breathing.

His voice was very soft, when he added, "You look beautiful, Buffy. Like I always imagined
you would look on your wedding day." He didn't come any closer, just stayed near the door,
looking at her, watching her.

"Angel," she managed to acknowledge his presence. He was the last person she expected to
be here, but maybe she should have. He'd tried to talk to her again and again during the past
couple weeks. She'd refused to see him. And now here he was. She didn't want to see him,
didn't want to talk to him. She could only think about an evening six weeks ago when all her
hopes had been shattered with a single shot that went through her brother‟s heart. "What a
surprise," she said finally, her voice sounding strange, even to herself. It wasn't the warm
sound she was used to; it was cold, lifeless, without emotion.

"Is it really?" he asked, taking one tentative step towards her. "A surprise? You really
thought I would just stand by and let you marry him? Watch you make the biggest mistake
of your life? You don't know me very well then."
"Yes, that's true," she replied, standing up slowly. "I don't know you very well."

"But you do," he said, taking another step, "Don't you remember, Buffy?" he asked, "Did you
forget all the time we spent together? All the times, we loved each other, touched-"

"That isn't important anymore," she cut him off, turning and staring at him through cold
eyes. "Whatever was between us, died with Mike. It died the day you decided to end his
life."

It was almost a physical blow and Angel actually had to draw a sharp breath, fighting against
a sudden tightness in his throat, a nausea that threatened to consume him. She could see
how hard he fought for control and it gave her some sort of twisted pleasure. She wanted
him to suffer. The way she suffered. He could burn in hell for all she cared, Mike was dead
and he wasn't.

"Not important, huh?" he said, his voice hoarse. "Well, it is for me. I love you Buffy. You
really think I would harm a person you love? You really think I would kill Mike? I wouldn't
have been able to harm him. He was your brother and I liked him. He was fun. But even if I
hadn't, the fact that you loved him..." he ran a hand through his hair, "Do you really think I'm
capable of killing someone? Anyone?"

She made a sound that was somewhere between a snort and a laugh, "As I already told you. I
don't know you. I have no idea what you're capable of. And as far as I'm concerned you can
just leave. I don't want to listen to you any longer. In a few minutes I'm going to be
married."

That was another blow. He flinched, and only six weeks ago the pain in his eyes would've
made her weep. Not anymore though. There was no pity left inside of her, there was nothing
inside of her. She was a walking shell. Going through life on autopilot.

"To the wrong man," he replied, managing to stay calm. She could see how hard he was
struggling. "You're not in love with Riley. You love me."

He had no idea, she thought. Love? What was love? A sudden panic took hold of her for a
moment. In a few minutes she was going to marry. A man she was supposed to love. Did she
really love him? Did she even care? Fortunately she had herself under control again, "Oh
really?" she raised a cool eyebrow at him. "And you're the expert, aren't you? Well, let me
tell you that I *am* in love with Riley. Actually Riley just showed me real love."

This time he had to blink. The moistness in his eyes came instantly and without warning. "Real
love?" he echoed incredulously.

"Oh yes. Love. He loves me. With all his heart," she said without mercy, enjoying the
tightening of his lips, the way his jaw locked. Then she took aim for her next blow, wanting to
hurt him even more, "And you know. I thought I knew all about making love. I was wrong. Riley
was able to show me another dimension."
He turned away. Swiftly. Violently. His fists were clenching and unclenching at his sides. Six
weeks ago, she would've reached out and apologized for hurting him, for being so cruel. But
the Buffy of six weeks ago was dead, died when she read that the weapon that killed her
brother had been Angel's.

The new Buffy however still wasn't satisfied, "And I love him. I love him in a way I didn‟t
think I was able to love. Everything before it pales in comparison."

He didn't turn to her again. He just walked to the door, opened it, and paused for a moment.
"Good luck then," he whispered, his voice broken, his shoulders slumped in defeat. Then he
walked out of the room and out of her life.

##

That had been four years ago, but to Buffy it felt as if it happened yesterday. Tears were
running down her cheeks and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. God, she
wanted to run to him and plead for forgiveness, tell him that she hadn't meant a single word.
That she didn't blame him and that she loved him and...

Her breath caught in her throat and she closed her eyes for a moment against the revelation
the memory had brought with it. There was no way she could lie to herself any longer. She
loved Angel Reardon. Still loved him. It also implied that she'd never stopped loving him. That
was the simple truth. Riley had sensed it, although Buffy had tried so hard to keep it locked
up in some safe place, not visible to anyone.

At first her marriage with Riley had been okay. They had laughed together, spent time
together. She had genuinely liked him even if she couldn‟t return the love he told her he felt.
But after a while it had changed. Buffy wasn't quite sure how it had happened. Riley had
changed or maybe she'd just woken up and finally realized she was living a lie.

And still she had tried. You just didn't throw a marriage away, even if it was a mistake. So
she had tried, again and again. Had even overlooked Riley's infidelity at first. She even
believed it was her fault because she couldn't return his love. Then Cordelia had visited her
one evening, another evening when Riley had called and told her he was working late on a
difficult case. A lie of course.

Cordelia had told her what she thought of her so-called marriage and of Riley and the mess
her life had become. And after a week of thinking about it, Buffy had come to the conclusion
that her friend was right. So the next Sunday she'd confronted Riley, hoped against reason
that they would find a solution, to save their friendship if not their marriage.

And he went berserk. She'd never seen him like this. He just lost it. First he shouted,
taunted and accused her of not being able to love him. When she hadn't been able to deny it,
he hit her. Once, twice and then again. In the end he'd just looked at her and the way she
was lying on the ground, one eye already swelling, blood trickling from her lip.
"You're a whore," he'd said. "Nothing but a cheap whore. I know lots of them, you know, but
you're the worst. Nobody would ever pay for your service. You're a pathetic lover. Frankly, I
don't know what Angel ever saw in you."

"I'm going to file for a divorce," she'd told him, wiping the blood from her lips but not
standing up. "Tomorrow I'm going to contact a lawyer."

He just shrugged and took his coat from the hook, "Do as you please," then he stopped and
turned to her, his smile cruel, "Oh and while you're at it. I had lots of contacts with women
during the last two years. You understand," he winked, making it very clear what sort of
contact he was talking about, "Maybe you should see a doctor too. About infective diseases,
you know."

With another wink he was gone and Buffy had struggled to get on her feet, then ran to the
bathroom where she emptied her stomach, feeling sick in a way she'd never felt before.

God, she'd been such a fool, she thought, her sightless eyes still directed towards the
street. It could have been so different if she hadn't freaked after Mike's death, if she'd
been able to believe Angel's words at the inquiry, or Drusilla and Faith who had sworn he
hadn't used his weapon that evening. But it wasn‟t any different and now she was paying the
price for her stupidity. Had been paying it for four years.

A sob tore from her throat and she wrapped her arms around herself, wishing it were
Angel's arms that were holding her the way they did a few days ago. Wishing he would talk to
her, tell her he forgave her, that he still loved her.

She startled when the phone suddenly rang. Pulling herself together she reached for it,
"Yes?"

"Hi, Buffy," came a cheerful voice from the other end of the line.

"Faith?" the blond asked incredulously.

"Yeah, it's me. Are you busy tonight? Because if not, would you like to have a drink with me
at the Splash after work."

"A drink with you?" Buffy had the feeling she was suddenly living in a dream world. The
relationship between her and Faith was strained at best.

"Yes, that's what I said. Look, now that you dumped the ass- I mean Riley, don't you think
there's a way we could bury our... uh... problems? I'm not expecting you to be my bestest bud
after all this, but what about a peaceful co-existence. Hey if Americans and Russians can
manage..." she joked, trailing off.

The blond thought about it for a moment, and then decided, the brunette was right. Their
problems had mainly centered around Riley and there was no way she would allow her husband
to rule her life any longer. "Sure," she said,
"Why not. At the Splash, after work. I'll be there."

"Good," Faith replied. "See you then. And Buffy, thanks for not just hanging up on me."

Replacing the receiver, Buffy stared at it for a moment. Spending an evening with Faith at
the Splash? Well, still better than spending it alone at her apartment. Better than just
hoping for a dream that might never come true.

****

Faith pressed the red button of her cellular phone and slowly turned around.

"Well?"

"Well, what?" she said, grinning.

"Arrrgh," Willow threw her hands in the air, "What did she say? Is she coming?"

"Yep."

The redhead's eyes lightened up, "Good," she beamed. "Now all we have to do, is to get Angel
there as well."

Faith smirked and patted Willow's shoulder, "That, girlfriend, is your problem. I've done my
part."

********

12

Same day, 11.00 a.m.

"I'd really like to know what they're talking about."

Riley looked up to find Darla sitting at the edge of his desk, her face directed towards Giles'
office where the lieutenant was sitting and obviously listening to Angel and Spike, the
former pacing in agitated steps, gesturing from time to time. Riley gave Darla a look, then
shrugged.

"Can you imagine what's going on in there?" she asked, not able to take her eyes from Angel
Reardon, the embodiment of her secret, or not so secret, fantasies.

"No," Riley replied, slowly getting annoyed with her. The last thing he wanted to think about
was his so-called former best friend. Involuntarily his eyes darted to Buffy's desk, but in
not seeing her there he remembered that she and Xander had left early to check out new
information for a case they were working on.

"I would really like to know. Giles doesn't look happy, that's for sure."
Riley was about to retort something not very nice when Kate joined them,

"Who doesn't look happy?" she asked.

"Giles," Darla replied, "He looks as if he's eaten something he can't digest."

"Oh," Kate's eyes were wide and now she was staring at Giles' office as well.

"Look," Riley said, pointing at the file on his desk, "I have work to do here. I'm not
interested in what's going on in there." It was an outright lie of course. He would have given
a month's salary to know what they were discussing. Then he snickered, "Maybe our New
York cops have already fallen out of Giles' good graces."

"Yeah, yeah, for all you care he could go to hell, we know," Darla said, "but fortunately
nobody here is interested in your opinion." She stood and exchanged a glance with her
partner. Kate nodded and the two women returned to their own desk.

Riley's eyes followed them. There was no doubt that Darla still had the hots for Angel. Riley
remembered everything that had happened between them all those years ago. Angel had still
trusted him then, and told him all the gory details, including the way Darla had been clinging
to him. It was pathetic. Darla was pathetic in her feelings for the dark-haired man. She had
to be about 10 years older than Angel. Riley snorted in disgust and looked back at Giles'
office. No, Angel certainly wouldn't be interested in the blond detective, but you never knew
when some information you knew came in handy. With a satisfied smile he continued reading
the files.

*****

Angel stopped his pacing for a moment to look at Giles, "I have the feeling there‟s a lot more
to this case than we've ever dreamed of."

"Dream?" Giles shook his head and sighed deeply, "I'd call it a nightmare. I can still hardly
believe what you've been telling me. Diana Massey, Darla Massey and then Riley Finn with
Simone Chambers," he shook his head again. He hated this, had hated it from the beginning
but with each day he hated it even more. One dirty cop was already enough in his eyes, but
now it looked as if there could be several.

"Here‟s something none of us have thought about so far," Spike said, studying his hands
thoughtfully, then he looked up and straight into Giles' eyes, "Who says that the case is
connected to them? It‟s possible neither of them has anything to do with what we're looking
for. I mean, who says that Darla and her sister are up to something at all? Or that Simone
doesn't just want to have one final fling before Mike puts the ring on her finger."

"Believe me, Simone didn't look as if she enjoyed her hour with Riley. She looked ready to kill
him. I've seen rage in women's eyes and Simone was certainly raging," Angel replied, sitting
down beside his partner.
"And you're sure you're not making more of it than there is?" Giles asked tentatively.

"Making more of it?" Angel raised a brow, understanding dawning in his eyes, "I see, because
Riley and I had - have - several issues, I‟d want to nail his ass?" he asked, his voice
uncommonly soft. Spike knew what it meant. His friend was walking on the edge and he was
close to exploding. As he'd expected Angel's eyes narrowed, "Believe it or not," he said, "I
want to know who the dirty cop is but I'd rather not see Riley hang for it. Issues or not, we
go way back and the idea of arresting him," he exhaled sharply and shook his head, "It's like
arresting my brother."

"Yes, I understand," Giles replied slowly, and nodded, "But you are aware that Riley might be
the one we're looking for."

"Yeah," the dark-haired man nodded too, "I realize that. And there is a part of me that
wants him punished for all the things he did to Buffy and me. For the way he treated her,
but then I think back about other times, better times and..." he shook his head again, "I
never thought this would be so hard."

Spike and Giles exchanged a short understanding look, then the Lieutenant said, "So what we
know is that there is a connection between Darla and Diana Massey and probably even to
David Griffin. And we also know that Riley and Simone Chambers know each other, we even,"
he gazed at Angel, then continued, "are able to assume they sleep with each other, whatever
the reasons may be. Anything else?"

"No," Angel replied. "But we do have a problem. I'm not quite sure if we can keep this up with
only two detectives. There are simply too many suspects running around." He paused and
looked at the other two men in the room, "How about two more to help us?"

Giles straightened in his chair, "I'm not sure it's possible. I mean, who should we choose?" he
gestured towards the outer office where the other detectives were busy writing reports,
reading files or were absent because they were investigating a case. "They're all suspects."

"He's right and you know it," Spike commented, looking at Angel. "But you‟re right too," he
admitted. "It's just not possible to observe everyone with there being just the two of us.
Maybe we should talk to the lovely Miss Chase about our little problem," he suggested with a
grin. Cordelia Chase was some cocky woman for sure and he might‟ve even looked twice if she
wasn't already engaged and obviously very much in love. Also, if he hadn't already found his
own object of admiration, he mused, his eyes drifting to Drusilla who was engaged in a
conversation with Riley Finn. Damn the man, Spike thought, a sharp stab of jealousy surging
through him.

Not that he thought Drusilla would fall for the loser, but he deeply disliked the blond
detective and the idea of his love interested being connected to him - in any way - was
nothing he liked to see.
"I already did," Angel, informed the other men, "We talked about the problem last night
when I went to see her. She agreed that we can't do it on our own and promised to talk to
her boss about it. She's going to call me as soon as she has news."

"I see," Giles nodded thoughtfully. "I'm going to think about it too."

"Thanks," Angel replied standing up. Spike did the same and turned towards the door when it
suddenly opened and Willow entered,

"Oh," she made a startled sound. She'd been deep in thoughts and not really looking.

"Detective Osborne," Giles smiled at her, "is there anything I can do for you?" he asked,
then turned to Angel and Spike again, "We're done for now?"

"Yes, we are," Angel said, and then remembered something, "See you later at the Splash,
Lieutenant."

"The Splash?" Giles asked confused.

"Yeah, you know. Because of the celebration."

"The... what?" the older man still didn't get it, then he saw Willow gesturing wildly behind
Angel's back, signing with her hands. "Oh, the celebration, of course," he exclaimed and saw
the redhead exhaling a relieved breath. "Yes, see you then."

Angel nodded, then turned, silently discussing if Giles was already old enough to start
forgetting things easily.

As soon as the door was closed, the Lieutenant raised an inquiring brow at Willow, "And now,
Detective Osborne, I would really like to know what this was all about," he demanded.

*****

"Don't you think you‟ve tortured us enough already?" the beautiful young woman sniffed,
drying her eyes with a handkerchief of white silk. "We answered your questions again and
again, Detective Summers." She directed her gaze at Xander and sent him a look pleading for
help and understanding.

He suppressed a grin and cleared his throat, "I know Miss Philips," he said, liking the bad-
cop-good-cop-routine, especially when he was the good guy for a change, "how hard this is
for you. Your mother was killed-"

"She was murdered," Sarah Philips interrupted him, her voice so laced with pain that he was
almost tempted to believe her. Almost. But he saw her shouting at her mother's husband, at
her sisters and raging when her dead mother's attorney had announced the will that left
almost the whole estate to her husband.
"She certainly was," Xander said gently, "And that's the reason we have to do this. To find
out who killed her."

"What's there to find out?" she argued, her eyes suddenly clear and dry, her mother
instantly forgotten, "We already know who killed her. The one who blinded her with passion,
who made her believe that he loved her. We tried to open her eyes, but she wouldn't listen.
And he killed her." The tears were back now.

It wasn't the first case of this kind Buffy had seen. In L.A. younger husbands, who inherited
wealth from older wives weren't that uncommon, what made this case so special was the fact
that Aurelia Philips had three daughters from three different marriages. Aurelia Philips had
been filthy rich, the money partly inherited from her father but also earned with her
stunning career as a Hollywood actress. She'd been almost fifty but looked at least ten
years younger.

For Buffy it wasn't hard to see why Cameron Graham had been attracted to her. He was an
actor as well and they'd met during a film shoot three years ago and the newspapers had
announced the love affair of the century. They were obviously in love with each other if you
could trust the pictures Buffy had studied since the day she and Xander had been called
when Aurelia's body was found with a fatal stab-wound through her heart.

Sure Cameron and Aurelia where top class actors and certainly able to fake their feelings
for the cameras, but Buffy had met the widower and to her there was no doubt that he had
been in love with his late wife. He'd always seemed so full of life in his films, but now there
was just emptiness in his eyes and bone-deep grief. She could relate, she felt the same four
years ago.

"We know nothing of the kind," she said now, looking at Sarah Philips, "*You* assume it might
have been your... Mr. Graham. But he swears he didn't do it and I'm tempted to believe him."

"Of course you are," she snorted, her pretty face contorting in disgust.

"They all do. They all fall for him, for his good looks, his blue eyes. My mother did too. She
was a fool like all of them."

"All of them?" Buffy raised a brow, "Does that include you, Miss Philips?"

"You... you," she sprang on her feet, her eyes blazing, "you are... disgusting," she sputtered,
her body trembling with rage. "To imply that I lusted after my mother' husband!"

"I didn't imply anything," Buffy replied mildly, "I just, asked a question. You said all women
are falling for him and I was interested if that included you. So," she said, crossing her arms,
"Does it include you?"

"No, of course not," Sarah Philips retorted, slowly calming down. "I never would've betrayed
my mother. I never tried to steal her husband."
"Implying you could," Buffy muttered, then said loudly, "That's not what I asked. I wanted to
know if you were... interested in Cameron Graham."

Sarah's eyes narrowed slightly, but this time she had her temper in check, "I won't deny
that I thought him attractive. Hell, the world sees him as a sex symbol. I'm female - I'm not
completely immune to his charms either. But I never tried anything."

"We believe you," Xander said gently, smiling at her, satisfied when he saw her smiling back.
She trusted him. A good sign. "But we still need to have answers to some questions. So would
you give us five more minutes of your time?"

"Alright," she replied, giving Buffy a nasty look, "I think five minutes won't hurt."

*****

"God, what a bitch," Buffy said when they finally left the Philips estate half an hour later.
"She certainly is an argument for birth control."

Xander laughed and patted her shoulder, "Don't exaggerate. She isn't that bad."

"Not that bad?" the blond stopped in her strides and stared at him as if he'd grown a second
head, "She's worse, Xander. She lies, she tries to manipulate you, and she‟s a mother's
nightmare. And on top of it she's spoiled rotten. She never learned how to lose. An explosive
combination."

"I still can't see her shoving a knife into her mother's chest in cold blood," he argued.

"Well, maybe not in cold blood," Buffy replied and continued to walk towards their car. "But
what if Mom told her little daughter about the changes in her will. I'm sure it would've
caused hot blood."

"We don't know that. You're just assuming things," Xander said.

"And you let yourself impress by that huge-eyed tortured look."

"No, I didn't," he grabbed her arm and forced her to look at him, "I know exactly what kind
of woman she is, Buffy. I'm 34 years old, I have a wife and child at home, whom I love and I
have more than ten years of experience as a cop. I'm not some fool who falls for a pretty
face."

She looked at him for a long moment, then sighed, "I know. I'm sorry, Xander. I didn't want
to imply you... well, you know."

"Yeah," he grinned. Starting to walk again, he asked, "The divorce getting to you, huh?"

"That and... other things."

"Those other things being tall, dark, and handsome?"
She sighed again, Xander knew her far too well, "Yeah," she admitted. "God, it's so hard
being near him again. I hurt him, Xander. I really hurt him four years ago. And I have no idea
how to apologize, I'm not sure there *is* a way to apologize at all. Not after what I've done."

They reached the car but Xander didn't climb in. He stood by his door, his arms propped on
the roof, he looked at her, "There is always a way to say you‟re sorry, Buffy," he smiled
slightly, "Just go and do it."

"I wish it was that easy," she replied, her own smile incredibly sad.

"Maybe it's easier than you think," he said. "Maybe you're in for a big surprise if you just
jump in and try."

********

13

Same day, 09:00 p.m.

Angel cursed as he switched off the ignition and got out of his parked car. A celebration at
the Splash, Willow had told him. They were holding a celebration tonight at the club and
there was no way he could stay away. First he hadn't quite known what to think of it, but
then Faith had said the same and so here he was. Tired, hungry and not feeling very
communicative. Well, maybe he could just drink a glass of something and then quietly
disappear.

All he wanted was to slump down in front of the television and zone out for a while. He'd
been following Riley all afternoon, all around Los Angeles. That really had been fun, while
Spike had been off chasing Darla again and met again with her sister. Riley hadn't seen
Simone this afternoon, but besides investigating in a case of a murdered bar-owner, he met
an interesting bunch of people. Angel wasn't sure what it meant, but it was more than just
slightly suspicious.

Groaning, he realized he probably would see Riley soon. God, just what he needed tonight. He
opened the door and looked around. To his surprise he didn't see the faces he'd expected.
Yes, there were officers, some of them he even remembered but there was nobody... He
froze when his eyes fell on a blond head. Buffy was sitting at a table, playing with the straw
in her drink, looking into space.

Of course Angel had known he'd see her tonight, but that had been assuming that all their
colleagues‟d surround them. On the other hand, they had already talked to each other, and
they were working with each other. Besides he could still hear Cordelia's words that Buffy
didn't blame him anymore. If it could be true... "Hi," he said, looking down at her.

Her head jerked up, her eyes widened, and her voice sounded a bit breathless when she
replied, "Hi."
"Guess you‟re the first one here," he remarked.

"Huh?" she asked confusion clearly visible on her features.

"For the celebration," he clarified. "It seems you are the first."

Instead of lessening her confusion intensified, "Celebration?"

Angel's brows drew together, "You don't know about it? Willow said there was some sort of
celebration tonight at... or was it... no," he nodded more to himself, "it was tonight. I'm sure
of it."

"I have no idea what you're talking about. What celebration?" Buffy asked,

"What was there to celebrate?"

He made a helpless gesture with one hand, "I have no idea. But Willow insisted I come. And
Giles even-," he broke off, when it hit him. "They set us up," he exclaimed.

"I beg your pardon?" Buffy raised her brows; she still wasn't able to understand what was
going on.

"Willow set us up," he repeated. "She told me to come here for some kind of celebration.
What did she say to you?"

The blond shook her head, "Nothing. As a matter of fact Willow didn't say... oh wait," she
said suddenly, realization in her eyes, "Faith called me. This morning. She said she wanted to
meet me. Reconcile and stuff." She slammed her palm against the table, "I should've known
it. Faith was never a morning person and all of a sudden she calls me at seven in the morning.
Oh, this traitorous bitch, this lying-"

"I'm sure she meant well," he interrupted her raging.

"What?"

"I'm sure they meant well. Maybe it was their way of trying to get us together," he said. Did
she have any idea how beautiful she looked, her eyes blazing with anger, he wondered.

His words hadn't the effect he'd hoped, instead of smiling, she seemed to get even more
angry, "Well, huh?" she spat and Angel winced at the sound of her voice. Maybe angry wasn't
quite the right word. Too soft. "I'll give them well," she stood and combed a hand through
her hair, "They have no idea what they're doing. They don't know what we need. They have
no right," she paused for a moment, obviously suddenly realizing her tone. She sighed and
held out her hands, palms up, "I mean, what are they hoping to accomplish, I'm asking you."

"I don't know," he replied quietly, "Maybe they just want us to talk?"

"Talk?" she spat the word as if it was something completely foreign to her,
"What should we talk about? I'm sure you aren't even interested in talking to me."

"Whoa," he exclaimed, holding his hands up. "I never said that."

Her brows drew together in confusion as she stared at him. "So you would?" she asked, her
voice back to normal, but holding a trace of surprise. "Talk to me, I mean?"

"Well," he shrugged, and then looked pointedly at the table. Why did she think he didn't
want to talk to her? Was it because of his visit to her apartment the other day? He already
regretted ever having gone there. That morning it had seemed the wisest idea to clear the
air between them and allow them to work together. In the face of Cordelia's words about
Buffy's feelings towards him he wasn't so sure anymore.

She followed the direction of his eyes and instantly understood, "Oh, well, if you want to sit
down," she invited, nervously wiping her hands at her trousers. "After all I came to talk to
someone who'd once been my friend. To make things better. Now it seems I'm still going to
do that, just that it's you and not Faith. So... do you... want to sit down?"

"I'd like that," he replied softly, giving her one of his half-smiles. "I'd like that very much."

Molly, the waitress, appeared and took his order, then left again. Angel frowned not quite
sure how to begin and caught her chewing at her lower lip, her hands hidden under the table,
but from the movements of her arms he could guess she was nervously playing with them.
She was staring at her glass of white wine, avoiding his eyes and he wondered what she
expected him to do.

"Nothing, I expect nothing," she said quietly, still not looking at him.

A little bit embarrassed Angel realized that he'd thought aloud. His smile was sad when he
said, "No, I suppose you wouldn't."

She made a little sound of protest and shook her head, one of her hands playing with her
straw now, "No that's not... I mean, I didn't mean that. I mean," she let out an exasperated
breath clearly annoyed with herself and finally raised her head to look at him, "I'm sorry.
That came out wrong. I didn't mean to imply that there was nothing to be expected of you. I
just wanted to say that after... after," she shrugged, remembering Xander's words from just
before, "well, after what I did to you, I wouldn't be surprised if you'd like to pretend I
didn't exist at all."

"That," he replied, nodding at the waitress who brought his drink, "would be absolutely
impossible. First of all you‟re sitting right in front of me and then," he paused to sip from his
glass, "it would be hard to overlook someone as beautiful as you are."

Buffy felt a wild flutter in her heart at that and blushed instantly, "Oh," she made, not sure
how to react. "You... you think I'm beautiful?" Oh great, Buffy, now he thinks you're
completely shallow and just fishing for compliments.
"I always thought that and you know it," he said, the sadness gone from his smile. "You were
always the most beautiful woman in the world to me."

Her blush deepened and the flutter increased to a frantic beating. If he didn't stop she
would soon embarrass herself. "Well... uh... thanks," she smiled, and then again bit her lower
lip. "You look... good too. More... uh... mature."He grimaced at that, "Older, you mean?"

"No," she protested, "I mean, of course you are older-"

"Thanks," he joked.

"But so am I," she continued, ignoring his interruption. "I'm thirty after all."

"Who would've guessed?" he winked at her, "You look barely older than 20."

He was shocked that she didn't laugh at that but that suddenly tears welled up in her eyes
and she was blinking rapidly. "Hey," he said softly, wanting to reach out and touch her hand,
but not daring to. "What is it?"

"You..." she sniffed, "are flirting with me."

His smile widened, "Yeah, and?"

"You are... How can you flirt with me after... after what I've done to you?" she asked,
covering her quivering mouth with one hand. "After all the horrible things I said, after...
after... and then I went and married Riley?"

The smile instantly vanished from his face, "Buffy, about Riley-"

"No," she held up a hand, "You don't have to tell me. I‟ll..." she took a deep breath, "I will
never forgive myself for behaving like I did that afternoon at my wedding, when you came
and... God, I was such a bitch."

"Buffy, you were hurt. You just lost your brother. You thought..." his voice faltered slightly,
but he had it under control in an instant, "You thought I killed him. What you did... It's not
difficult to understand."

"So you... you..." she was a loss for words.

"I, what?" he asked, reaching out tentatively and covering her trembling hand with his.
"What?" he urged.

"But you came, to my apartment and you said... that you didn't care anymore what happened
four years ago. That whatever happened between us was... you were so cool, so distant," she
wiped her eyes with her free hand, glad that they were sitting in a dark corner of the club
where nobody else could see her tears.
"Buffy, I thought you still held me responsible for Mike's death," he tried to explain. "I
thought-"

"NO," her outcry was so shocked that some other guests turned to look into their direction.
She lowered her voice, but Angel felt her hand turning and gripping his. A bolt of electricity
shot through him at that, and warmth settled in his soul that had been missing for four long
years, "No, I don't. I never did. Not really. I just wasn‟t quite myself after it happened and
I... When I finally woke up I found myself married to Riley."

"I know," he replied squeezing her hand gently, "Cordelia told me. It was... a shock for me to
hear that, I‟ll admit. All those years I thought you still thought I was responsible despite my
words, despite Faith and Drusilla."

"Oh, Angel," she blinked more tears away, "I'm so sorry. If I could-"

"But we can't," he interrupted her. "We can‟t turn back time and change things."

"I know," she whispered sadly. Of course she'd known it all along. It was too late. But that
stupid little part had still hoped...

"We can only move forward," he went on, not letting go of her hand. He looked at her, saw
her beautiful hazel eyes, her shimmering hair, remembered all the laughter and love they'd
shared and then thought about the emptiness in his life and the feelings he'd tried to ignore.
"And we could do it together if you want," then suddenly realizing what he'd said, he tried to
amend, "Of course we don't have to rush, we could be friends to start, could go to see a
movie, drink a cup of coffee-"

"Yes," she said, interrupting him, her eyes resting on him with an expression that looked like
a mixture between hope and fear. More softly she added, "Yes, I'd like that." God, maybe
Xander was right, maybe sorry wasn't so difficult after all. "And you can really forget what I
said to you?"

"Forget?" he shook his head, "hardly. I‟ll never forget what happened. But forgive? Yes. That
I can do. Actually I already did that. As soon as I realized it wasn't really you who said the
words. But of course it was too late. Cordelia said I should've fought harder, and maybe she‟s
right."

Buffy was about to reply when Molly appeared again to bring Angel's steak and Buffy's
french-fries. They ate in silence, exchanging smiles from time to time, the blonde's eyes
shining with something he'd missed before. They were still sad, but there was also life in
them, and hope. Silently he thanked Faith and Willow for their meddling. This evening was
the break-through, Angel was sure of that. Of course they had still a long way to go, but
they had made peace after all.

He had no idea how Buffy felt about him. Sure, there was guilt, and she seemed genuinely
glad that he didn't blame her for the words she'd said. The way she'd acted, but that didn't
mean that she still had feelings for him, that she was interested in a relationship. After all
she just ended her marriage and was probably not even looking for another man in her life. A
picture of Riley flickered through his mind but Angel quickly pushed it away. No, he decided
firmly, Riley wouldn't spoil this evening.

"You look so serious," she said, pulling him from his thoughts. "I can tell, because when you're
brooding a sharp line appears between your brows. It's even more visible now that you've
grown older," she said pointing to his forehead.

"Oh, thanks," he replied sarcastically, but a smile was playing around his mouth. He felt
lightheaded all of a sudden. They were sitting together, eating, and talking together, God,
they were even laughing together. After all the time they'd spent apart, after all that
heartache it was almost unreal.

"Why did you come back to L.A.?" she asked suddenly.

"What?" the question had caught him off guard. He knew he couldn't tell her about Internal
Affairs and hated that he had to keep a secret from her, especially now when there seemed
a chance for something he'd already given up hoping. "Oh, L.A. Well, homesick I guess," he
said, glad that it wasn't a complete lie. He had liked living in New York, but there hadn't
been one day when he hadn't missed L.A. or more specifically, Buffy. Maybe he would tell her
that one day, but for the moment he kept it to himself.

"Uh-huh. I can understand that, I would miss L.A. if I had to move away," she smiled slightly,
then nodded at his plate, "You ready?"

"What? Yes, yes, I'm ready. It's good food." He laughed suddenly, and when he saw her
curious gaze, he explained, "I just realized I haven't been to Cara since I came back."

"You haven't?" she couldn't believe it, "I wouldn't be able to exist without her. Willow and I
meet there at least once a week for lunch. It's like a tradition. Just last week we were
talking that L.A. wouldn't be the same if Cara wasn't there anymore."

"How is she?" Angel asked affectionately. He had always liked the owner of Kinks and Drinks,
and he remembered a special evening, when she'd sat with him, listened to his grief and hurt,
maybe prevented him from doing something stupid.

"Fine," Buffy replied grinning. It lit up her whole face and want slammed into Angel's gut
with a force that made him suddenly breathless. "You know Cara. Nothing can stop her. She's
still in love with her lump of a husband and he simply adores her. Her clothes are still 'kinky'
she insists and we all love her."

They laughed together at that and the blond felt like flying at the feeling that began to
spread through her whole being. It had been so cold those last four years without him and
now the warmth was coming back. He didn't blame her anymore, she could hardly believe it,
and he was laughing with her, had held her hand. She felt like climbing the highest mountain
and shouting it to the world.
"Shall we go?" he asked after a moment, checking his watch, to his surprise it was already
11.00 p.m.

"Sure," she agreed, trying to protest when he placed several bills on the table, but he just
shook his head and so she gave him a thankful nod.

Leaving the club the night-air was a welcome change from the sticking atmosphere inside.
"Where did you park your car?" Angel asked, looking around.

"Just over there," she pointed at a small Toyota Riley had given her three months after
their wedding. "The green one." She'd thought about getting rid of it, but there wasn't
enough money at the moment to replace it. So she swallowed her pride and was still using
Riley's gift.

"Let me walk you," he offered and then started towards it without waiting for her answer.
She smiled and followed, enjoying being near him like this. Please, please let this work, she
prayed to whatever god was listening.

They reached the driver's side of the car and she turned to say goodbye, when his large
body suddenly held her prisoner between him and the car.

"Angel," she said startled because of the unexpected closeness. Her heart beat a mile a
minute, feeling him so close to her, her breath caught in her throat and it was as if armies of
ants were running through her gut.

"Do you know that when I returned to L.A. I vowed that I wouldn't fall for you again?" he
whispered, leaning closer. "I thought I could do it," he chuckled slightly, "I actually thought
I could stay away from you. But I should've known."

"What?" she whispered back, mesmerized by the intense expression in his eyes, the burning
passion, they were usually brown but now they seemed almost black.

"That I couldn't resist you," he replied, his breath fluttering over her lips.

When his lips finally touched hers, she felt the shock all the way to her toes. The ripples of
pleasure were so intense, that she moaned involuntarily against his mouth.

Angel's hands slid into her hair, combing through it, marveling in the feeling of pure silk
running through his fingers. She was so soft, so warm, so perfectly suited to him. For years
he had dreamed of this, of kissing her again, of her kissing him back, and finally his dream
was becoming reality.

With gentle force he urged her lips apart, his tongue slipped between them, and she
reflexively opened her mouth to it. It had been so long, but it felt so natural, so right. Buffy
raised her hands to encircle his neck, to pull him even closer to her, then gave in to the
hunger, taking all she could get, afraid he would stop, afraid she would maybe never feel like
that again, so whole, so complete. She needed more, needed-
Involuntarily she made a strangled, helpless sound, overwhelmed by the feelings that were
consuming her and Angel, understanding it wrong, ended the kiss and stepped back. "I'm
sorry," he whispered, his voice shaken, his hands in her hair trembling. "I... I didn't mean...."

"No," she raised her hands and covered his that were now cupping her cheeks.

"It's okay. I wanted it too."

Slowly pulling his hands back, he cleared his throat, "Maybe you should go home now," he
suggested, shaken to the core by the intensity of his feelings. Had he actually believed he
could live without her?

"Yes," she whispered, opening the door behind her back. "See you tomorrow," she breathed,
reaching out she touched his arm a moment.

He startled her when he put her hand in his and pulled it to his mouth, kissing it softly.
"Yeah," he agreed, letting go of her hand again, "Tomorrow."

With a last smile she slid into her car, started the ignition and drove away.

********

14

same day, 11.30 p.m.

With a happy smile on her face Buffy unlocked the door to her apartment, closed it
afterwards and with a sigh leaned against it. She closed her eyes and could still feel Angel's
lips, the taste of him, the way his breath had tickled her skin, and his hands running through
her hair, massaging her skull.

She couldn't remember when she'd ever had felt so good before. No, that wasn't true, she
remembered, but after four empty years she suddenly felt filled with warmth, with love,
with hope and she thought she would burst from all the feelings tumbling inside of her.
She'd been so depressed and utterly hopeless and now... Everything suddenly seemed
possible again. All the things she'd thought were lost were again within her reach. And the
feeling was so wonderful, that she began to hum a love song when she pushed herself away
from the door and made her way towards the living room.

Still humming she switched the light on, turned and froze. The song died on her lips and the
keys she'd been holding fell to the floor, sounding incredibly loud in the sudden silence.
After a moment she managed to make her voice work, but it still croaked when she said,
"Wha..." she had to clear her throat first, "What are you doing here?" she asked.

"I lived here for three and a half years," Riley replied shifting slightly on the seat he was
occupying. He had pulled his legs underneath him and was watching her, then slowly held out
his hand where a set of keys was dangling from his index finger. "And I still have the key,"
he added unnecessarily.
"So I see," she replied coolly, glad that she'd been able to regain her composure so quickly.
"But you still haven't answered my question," she went on, throwing her jacket over the sofa,
"What are you doing here?"

"Visiting my wife," he said, smirking at her.

Her only retort was the rising of one brow, "She isn't here," she said after a moment.

"Oh, but she is," he insisted, watching her walking to the bar and pouring herself a glass of
soda. "And she looks very beautiful tonight."

Buffy closed her eyes for a moment, glad that he couldn't see her face, then pulling herself
together she turned back to him, "Riley, please. Just leave. I have no idea what's going on in
your head tonight, but I'm tired."

"Come on," he said and put his keys on the table, "Tomorrow is Saturday. You can sleep in.
Don't you have ten minutes for your loving husband?"

"Riley," she sighed heavily and shook her head. "What's wrong with you?"

"What‟s wrong with me?" he echoed. His expression changed that moment, gone was the
smirk, the lightness of his voice, and it was replaced by anger, even hatred, "Well, maybe I
thought I at least deserve the same treatment as your lover," he spat the last word, as if its
taste was poisoning his mouth.

"My what?" Buffy asked honestly surprised by his accusation.

"Your lover," he repeated. "Is he good?" he asked, finally standing up, "Does he satisfy you?"

"Excuse me?" she crossed her arms in front of her chest, but her eyes never wavered.
"*What* are you talking about?"

"What am I talking about? Well, I'll tell you what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the
fact that I saw you, in front of the Splash, your lips locked with Angel's."

Too stunned by his words, by the fact that he'd obviously been watching them, she couldn't
find the words this would have demanded. She could only stare at him.

"What?" he taunted, "no excuses?" he asked, stepping closer, "I already told you, you were a
whore, Buffy, and you are, you certainly are."

Finding her voice again, she hissed, "Get out, get the hell out of my apartment."

"Oh, no, my lovely wife," he replied, coming even closer, his whole body language openly
threatening, "And that's what you are. My wife. My oh so loving, adulteress, cheating wife,"
he said, emphasizing each insult by punching his right fist into his left palm.
Oh no, she would not be frightened by his aggressive posture, she would not back away and
beg him to leave her alone. She suppressed the fear rising in her in remembering the way
he'd beaten her before he'd left the apartment, what she'd thought had been for good.
"Only for another three weeks," she said, glad her voice was sounding cool and controlled,
"After that a judge will end what shouldn't have begun and then you can go to hell for all I
care."

The moment the words left her mouth she knew it had been the wrong thing to say. In a
flash he was right in front of her, his arms coming to encase her between the bar and his
body. Angel had done almost the same thing only minutes ago, but it had been with care, his
eyes passionate while Riley's were blazing with rage, his hands gripping the edge of the
counter so tight that his knuckles went white.

Now being so near to him, Buffy could smell the alcohol in his breath, saw the heightened
color in his cheeks, partly from anger, but partly caused by too much whiskey, his favorite
drink these days. Hoping that he wouldn't realize that her hands were shaking, she looked
straight in his eyes that, as she knew now, were not completely sober "Get out," she
demanded.

He laughed at that, a sound that made the hairs in her neck stand up straight and fear sent
shivers down her spine. "Oh no," he replied, "First I want to have what you so willingly gave
to him," he said and without warning his mouth took possession of hers, with bruising
strength he forced her lips apart, making her nauseous with the smell of his breath, his
tongue invading her deep, while his hands and arms were pressing her close, holding her so
tight that she had no chance to push him away.

The fear was dominant now, with images of raped women springing to her mind, beaten wives,
crying in her arms, with empty, hopeless eyes, abused by their boyfriends or husbands,
treated as if they were objects, not human beings. God, please no, she prayed silently. No,
please don't let him do this. And suddenly there was Angel's face, smiling at her, laughing,
she thought about his lips on hers. And rage suddenly pushed the fear away, rage that she
was letting Riley do this to her, that she allowed him to taint this evening that held so much
hope.

With all her strength she managed to get her hands between their bodies and pushed his
much larger and heavier body away. Maybe because he wasn't expecting it or maybe because
of the alcohol he stumbled back a step, "NO," she shouted. "Get away from me," she said,
wiping her mouth, hoping against hope to wipe him away, his taste, the feeling of his invasion,
"Get out of my apartment."

"Oh, come on," he had the guts to grin, "you liked it, admit it. I'm sure he didn't kiss you
that way."

"No, he didn't. I enjoyed kissing him," she shouted, trembling with rage and fear, hating
Riley in a way she'd never hated him before. "How can you dare to force yourself on me?"
"Because you vowed that you'd worship me with your body," he declared, imitating the
priest's voice. "God, you were lying like the best of them. We might be divorced in three
weeks, but by God today you will be my wife."

Without another warning he grabbed her. She hadn't expected him to move so quickly with
all the booze in his blood, but obviously she'd been wrong. Ignoring her outcry he pushed her
to the ground and was over her the next second, pulling at her clothes, his ragged breathing
in her ears, she could feel the evidence of what he was planning to do to her pressed against
her thigh.

He's going to rape me, Buffy thought desperately, oh God he's actually going to rape me. The
rage gone again, the fear was back.

And he could see it, she thought, he could see it in her eyes, and he was laughing at her fear,
enjoying the feeling of power and control. What had she been told at the Police Academy?
Rape is no sex crime it's about showing power. And they were right, she thought, while Riley
was busy ripping her blouse into shreds, grabbing her bra and ripped it apart, then roughly
and a bit clumsily fondled her breasts.

And maybe the acceptance of what was going to happen to her made her system shut down.
It was as if her mind and body were suddenly two different things, as if her mind didn't
belong to this body anymore. She went slack under his hands, didn't even realize that he was
trying to pull down his zipper, while his other hand was pushing up her skirt.

Suddenly he let go of it, and his hands came to frame her head, she saw his lips move, saw
him saying something, maybe even shouting, he was shaking her shoulders, but it was as if she
was watching the whole scene, not being actually a part of it. And then he was gone. The
weight lifted from her body, but she didn't care, didn't really notice it.

She thought she heard the door slam, but she was just lying there, staring at the light on
the ceiling, her eyes unfocussed, her body beginning to shiver.

****

Angel entered his apartment about ten minutes after Buffy had reached hers, but what he
found in his living room was unlike the one the blond had found in hers. Switching on the
light, he froze as well, but for completely different reasons. The two people on the sofa
jerked away from each other, and while Drusilla blushed deeply, Spike only glared at him,
"Bloody hell, can't you knock before you rush in like some attack commando?"

The dark-haired man chuckled slightly and raised a brow, "That's hardly the way to describe
my entrance. Besides this is my apartment and why didn't you go to your own room?" he
asked, pointedly nodding towards the door in the right corner. "Hi, Drusilla," he finally
acknowledged her woman's presence.

Her blush deepening, she quickly glanced at him, and then in the same manner looked back,
staring at her hands. "Hi, Angel."
Spike clicked his tongue and tilted his head, "And may I ask where you came from at this late
hour?"

"You may not," his friend shot back. "It's certainly none of your business."

Giving Spike a last look, he smiled apologetically at Drusilla, "I'm sorry about this, I didn't
mean to interrupt you. And don't feel uncomfortable, you're always welcome here."

"It's a bit awkward," she admitted shyly, "I‟ve known you for so long, it's almost as if my big
brother was finding me making out with my boyfriend."

Angel grinned, "Hardly. You won't hear any threats from me and I'm also not going to hit
Spike."

The blond snorted, "As if you could."

His friend looked pointedly at his still highly colored cheek, but didn't comment. "Well, just
ignore I came in," he said after a moment. "I'm tired and I need to sleep for-"

He couldn't finish his sentence when suddenly the phone rang. Exchanging a curious glance
with Spike, he picked up the phone, "Hello?"

"A-Angel."

The voice was so small, so distant that he had problems to hear it at all and so he asked,
"Hello? It's Angel here, who's there?" He could see Spike standing up and coming towards
him, gesturing if the call was for him. The dark-haired man shook his head and strained to
understand, startled when he heard a sob coming through the line. "Hello!” he called,
suddenly alarmed.

"A-Angel."

This time the voice was clear and Angel could feel his heart dropping right through the
bottom, "Buffy," he shouted through the phone, holding it in a crushing grip. From the corner
of his eye he saw Drusilla getting up as well, alarm in her eyes. She put a hand on Spike's
arm, and he looked at her shaking his head. "Buffy, talk to me. What's going on?"

"A-A-Angel," she managed to croak again, "Please," another sob tore from her throat, "help."

"Buffy!" he shouted, "Baby, are you hurt? Buffy! BUFFY!" Angel turned his head, looked at
Spike with wild, fearful eyes, then tried again to talk to her, "Buffy," he asked again, gently
this time, guessing she might be frightened or hurt. "Baby, talk to me."

"Please come," she whispered, then the phone fell from her hand.

****
Angel couldn't remember ever having felt so helpless before. While Spike was busy breaking
every speed limit that existed, Drusilla put a comforting hand on his shoulder. He was ready
to scream. Buffy hadn't responded anymore after her last plead for him to come. He'd
shouted, cried, whispered and begged, but she hadn't talked to him again.

Without thinking again, he'd grabbed his keys and headed for his car. Spike and Drusilla
caught up with him after a moment, the blond insisting that Angel wasn't in any condition to
drive a car.

And Angel was glad. He hadn't even realized that his whole body was trembling before he'd
felt Drusilla fastening the seat belt for him. His mouth was dry, his heart was pounding in his
ears and the most horrible images were running through his head. God, what had happened to
her? She'd sounded so weak. It wasn't like Buffy to ask for help.

The mere fact that she'd called him was turning his gut into knots.

God, let her be all right, he found himself praying. Please, let her be all right.

****

She didn't answer the door and frankly Angel hadn't expected her to. So exchanging a short
glance with Spike the two men threw themselves at the door and it gave way without much
resistance. "Buffy," Angel shouted, storming into her apartment, ignoring everything he'd
ever learned about entering an apartment where he didn't know what he to expect, but panic
was pounding through his body, pushing him forward. While Spike and Drusilla were checking
the kitchen and the bedrooms, Angel went straight towards the living room and was about to
switch on the light, when her voice stopped him.

"No, don't," she pleaded.

"Buffy," he said gently, stepping inside, trying to see something despite of the darkness.
Then slowly as his eyes became accustomed to the lack of light, he could see her sitting on
the ground, her back leaning against a chair, she was trying to cover her upper body with...
His blood froze in his veins. "Buffy," he said, kneeling down in front of her, his breath coming
in gasps, "Buffy," he repeated her name, not able to take in what his mind was telling him.

Her lips looked swollen, there was a bruise on her cheek, her skirt was torn, the shirt too,
and she was desperately clutching it against her bare breasts. And if that hadn't been
enough he could make out the silhouettes of her torn bra and panties lying on the ground.
"Oh, God, Buffy," his voice cracked in his throat, he had no idea if he should touch her at the
moment or not. He sensed movement at the door, and without turning said, "Spike, call the
cops."

The blond was already pulling his phone from his pocket, when Buffy's voice shouted
hoarsely, "No."
"Baby," Angel said gently, tentatively reaching out and putting a hand on her upraised knee,
"You need to report it to the police. You have to report the person who..." his voice broke
again, then with difficulty he continued, "did this to you, who... raped you... has to be
punished." He heard Drusilla's and Spike's shocked gasps from the door but didn't care.

"He didn't rape me," Buffy whispered, slowly covering Angel's hand with hers.

"The hell he didn't," he bit out.

"No, he didn't," she insisted softly. "He tried. But he didn't finish. Angel," she inhaled
sharply, "he... he was watching us," she said.

"Watching us?" he asked, not understanding, "Who was watching us?"

Now she couldn't hold back the sob anymore. Without thinking twice, Angel pulled her close
and cradled her in his arms, holding her, stroking her, soothing her with words of nonsense,
much the same way he'd done in the bathroom a few days ago.

"We're going to make some coffee," Drusilla announced and pulled Spike with her to give the
couple some privacy.

The moment they were gone, Angel gently kissed Buffy's temple and asked again, "Who?"

"It was Riley." She felt his body stiffen, and heard the sharp intake of breath. "He was here
when I came home. I forgot he still had a key. He never used it since he left and so," she
shrugged. "He was drunk and angry. He'd obviously seen us in front of the Splash. He lost
control and I was sure he was going to rape me."

She felt him tighten his hold on her, felt the shudders that were running through his body,
"And then, when I thought it was going to happen, he let go of me. I... I don't know why, but
he was gone."

"I really want to kill him," Angel admitted after a long silence.

"I know," she replied, snuggling into the healing warmth of his body. It was so good to be
close to him. She needed him and trusted him completely. Nothing could've told him this
more clearly. In a moment of utter vulnerability she had called him. Not Willow. Not Cordelia.
Although they were women, she had called him and despite the horror he felt also humbled
by her trust.

"I'm staying," he announced. "And I still think you should report him."

"I know," she said again, "but it won't change anything. I hate him," she told him, "don't get
me wrong. I really do. I despise him, he is disgusting. But it would cost him his job and I'm
not sure it would make him a better person. He isn't really a violent person." When she heard
his sound of protest, she put her fingers over his mouth, "He hit me, once. And today... I
don't know, he lost control. But he got it back. He didn't go through with it. I have no idea
why, but I want to believe it's because he realized what he was doing was wrong. I was
married to him for four years. I don't want to think of him as a rapist."

Angel considered her words, weighted them against his urge to have Riley punished for what
he'd done to her, "Okay," he finally gave in. "But I'm staying."

"Yes," she replied. "Just hold me, Angel. Hold me," she whispered and then the tears finally
fell.

*******

15

Saturday, August 26th, 4.00 p.m., Los Angeles

Angel entered Buffy's kitchen to start the percolator. If Buffy was still the same, and he
couldn't believe that she would ever change her obsession for strong, black coffee in the
morning, she would need a mug of the brew. Okay, so it wasn't exactly morning anymore, but
who cared.

When the coffee machine began to hum, Angel opened the fridge in search for some food
and found cheese, eggs, onions and milk, all he needed for a nice omelet. She would surely
need it as soon as she got out of the shower.

He held her for a long time, just held her while she was crying in his arms, not only for what
had happened to her last night, though by God that was reason enough, but also for four lost
years, for a dead brother, misjudgment. It just poured out of her, a cleansing sort of tears,
healing, but nevertheless painful to watch. Dru and Spike had left quietly to give the couple
the privacy they needed.

It was after sunrise when Buffy had finally fallen asleep and he'd gently scooped her up and
carried her to her bed, peeling her torn clothing from her bruised body. Even now tears
welled up in Angel's eyes when he thought about the marks on her breasts, the bruises
violent fingers had left on her inner thighs. Riley might not have gone through with what
he'd attempted, but Angel still felt like finding him and beating him until the last bone in his
miserable body was broken.

Taking a deep, steadying breath, he ran a shaky hand through his hair and busied himself
with the omelet, cutting the onions and cracking eggs. He wasn't a gourmet cook, but he
could at least manage not to starve and his omelets weren't that bad. Beating eggs in with
milk, he didn't hear the silent footsteps approaching the kitchen, and almost jumped out of
his skin, when he heard a soft "Hi," from the door.

"Buffy," he turned to her and put a hand on his chest, "God, you startled me."

"Sorry," she gave him a smile, but it wasn't really apologetic, "Hmmm. That smells nice," she
commented, and then settled herself on a chair, watching him preparing breakfast. She'd
showered and washed her hair, now securely hidden under a fluffy towel while her body was
covered in an equally fluffy robe. She looked so sexy, that Angel sucked in a sharp breath,
desperately hoping she wouldn't realize what she was doing to him.

He was glad he was wearing loose slacks. After what she'd been through she certainly
wouldn't care for the fact that he was completely aroused.

"Coffee'll be ready in a minute," he announced without turning, "I suppose you still drink it
black?"

"Our tastes are still the same," she replied, smiling slightly, "I seem to have conked out," she
remarked, still a bit nervous remembering the fact that she had found herself naked in her
bed, without any memory how she'd gotten there. "Did you sleep at all?" she asked.

"A little," he said and poured his mix into a pan.

"I'm okay. Don't worry about falling asleep." He stirred the egg-mix, and then turned to her.
"You were entitled to sleep." Tentatively he stepped closer and crouched down in front of
her, concern in his eyes and voice, "How do you feel?"

"Better," she retorted, "Clean." She suddenly shrugged self-consciously, then looked down at
her hands, "I suppose you saw the bruises he... left."

"Yes," he confirmed, reached out, and covered her tightly entwined hands, massaging her
white knuckles, then pulled them towards him and kissed them softly. Her head came up with
a jerk and their eyes met, "There is nothing to be ashamed of," he told her gently,
"Absolutely nothing."

"I know," she said, exhaling a shaky breath, "Intellectually I know that. I thought about
everything I learned about rape and attempted rape. I know that he had a need to show his
power, but... but I feel so violated, Angel. He came into my home, a home we shared while we
were married and... And I know I didn't love him, but that doesn't mean there weren‟t happy
times. We laughed, Angel. We joked, we," she looked at the stove, "we even made breakfast
together, and now he's tainted everything.""Buffy-"

"No, please, let me. I need to tell you."

"Okay," he said softly, kissing her hands again. "Go on."

She took another shaky breath, "The night we split up, we had an argument and he went
berserk. He hit me, but that was nothing compared to what he did yesterday. I know we
didn't get along, he behaved horribly and I could be a bitch too, but I still had some hope we
might find a way to at least tolerate each other, as colleagues – some day," she suddenly had
to laugh. It wasn't a happy sound, "But now, I hate him, Angel. I really hate him."

"I hate him too," he replied, shifting a little bit on his feet, "You're sure about not reporting
him?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "As much as I despise him, I can‟t do it. I don't know why, I can‟t really
explain, but I can't do it."

When the fresh smell of the cooked omelet reached his nose, Angel got up to turn their
breakfast over in the pan then came back, "I understand," he said. He wasn't quite sure when
he'd made the decision to do what he was about to do. Maybe it had been tonight when she'd
cried in his arms or later when he'd watched her sleeping, but he'd made up his mind. There
would be no more secrets between them. He wouldn't risk their fragile relationship by
keeping something from her.

Still looking into her questioning gaze, he went on, "Yesterday you asked me why I came back
to L.A. and I told you it was because I was homesick. But that was just part of the reason."

"Just part of?" she asked confused. "What do you mean?"

"Two weeks ago, Internal Affairs approached us. Obviously convinced that there‟s a dirty cop
in our precinct." He saw her eyes widen, heard her gasp, and nodded, "Yeah. I know. Pretty
bad stuff. They wanted me because I've already been there, and I knew all the officers and
the fact that Spike, whom nobody knew, was my partner was a big plus."

"A dirty cop," she said incredulously, "Oh God. Do you... do you know who?"

"We don‟t have the slightest idea. According to the DA everyone‟s a suspect," he told her,
got up to pour two mugs of coffee and to prepare two plates with the omelet. He placed both
in front of her place and his, and then sat down.

"The DA?" she asked, "Does that mean-"

"Yeah, Cordelia is involved. Quite intensely actually. She is my regular contact. Doyle knows
too, Internal Affairs of course and... Giles."

"I see," she nodded, tasting his cooking. "That's good," she commented almost
absentmindedly. "You said we‟re all suspects," she said after a moment. "Yet you told me."

He stopped his fork in mid-air, put it down, reached over the table and took her hand, "I
don't want any more secrets between us. I have the feeling that... that we have a chance
here. I have no idea what's going to happen between us, but a secret can be a bad thing. It
could kill something before it has a chance to... blossom."

She had to swallow the lump in her throat before she could reply, "I feel honored, by your
trust. Is it intentional or validated by facts?"

"Pure intention," he said with a smile playing on his lips. "But I trust my feelings. You were
never really on my list," he told her and let go of her hand. "But what I meant with
understanding you, there's a possibility that Riley could be the one we're looking for and
although I hate him, although he hurt me, I remember all the good times we had together
and find myself hoping it isn't him."
She grimaced slightly at his words, then picked up another piece of food, "I wonder if
Cordelia would agree with you," she mused.

He grinned at that, "I doubt it. She‟s pretty tough. I'm really surprised that her relationship
with Doyle works. Hell, when he called me in New York to tell me he was getting married, my
first reaction was to laugh."

"I agree, they‟re certainly an interesting couple. But Cordy is so in love with him, I can hardly
believe it. Don't get me wrong. She is my friend and I love her, but like you said, she‟s tough
as nails and she‟s the last person I'd expected to fall in love like this."

"Love isn't something you can choose," Angel said quietly. "The last four years would have
been much easier if I could've just turned my feelings off."

"Would you have liked to turn them off?" she asked, deliberately avoiding looking at him, too
afraid of his answer.

He hesitated, took a sip from his coffee. Putting his mug down, he propped his elbows on the
table entwined his fingers and rested his chin on them.

"There have been days and nights," he let out a short laugh, "mostly nights actually, when I
wished I'd never met you," he said honestly, remembering the pain and heartache especially
the first year after he'd left L.A.

He saw her frown, but still she wouldn't lift her head, "I see," she whispered. "I really hurt
you didn‟t I?"

"You did," he agreed. When he saw her flinch he immediately reached out and covered her
hands with one of his large. "But that was only on my bad days. Sitting here across you at the
table, I know that my life would've been terribly empty without you."

"I know how you feel," she replied, her voice just a whisper. Her head came up and he could
see the moistness in her eyes. "I'm so glad you're back," she admitted. "I was confused when
Giles told us you were coming, I had no idea if you hated me. But now I'm glad."

"Never," he said firmly, "I could never hate you. That's just not possible. There is no hate-
Buffy-program on my hard-drive," he tried to make light of the intense situation.

"I-," she started when her doorbell suddenly rang. Angel saw her blanche, felt her hand
tremble under his, saw her eyes widen in sudden fear. He squeezed her trembling hand.

"He's not going to hurt you again," he promised, getting up. "I'm just going to see who's
there."

She held his arm when he was about to pass her, "Angel, I don't want to see anyone. I don't...
want to explain this," she pointed at her face and the bruises that were very visible.

"Alright. I'll try to send them away. Okay?" She nodded and smiled gratefully. "Thanks."
He smiled back, and then went for the door. He wasn't sure who was more surprised him or
the person standing in the doorway. "Cordelia?"

"Angel?" she said, raising a curious brow. "What a surprise. Or maybe not. Doyle swore that
it was only a matter of time until you and Buffy got back together. But boy, do you work fast.
You've been back barely a week and already I find you in her apartment." She took a deep
breath, "Well, are you going to invite me in, or not?"

"Cordelia," he hesitated, "Now isn‟t a good time."

"Why? Is she not dressed yet?" she rolled her eyes, "believe me, Angel, I'm a big girl. The
idea that people actually have sex with each other doesn't shock me anymore."

"I know you're a big girl," he replied, but didn't step away. "Can't you accept that you aren't
always welcome? Why didn't you call first?"

She pursed her lips, and an expression of annoyance crossed her features, "Because, Mr.
watch-dog, I had already a date with your... well, what would you call her?"

"Just let her come in, Angel" Buffy called from the kitchen.

He gave Cordelia another long look, "Don't upset her, do you hear?" he warned, making her
stare at him in confusion, then stepped back to allow her to enter.

"Thanks," she breezed past him, "I really can't see what's so special about him," she was
already talking to Buffy, "Okay, so he's got a nice body," she said, walking towards the
kitchen, "and he's not bad looking-"

"Thanks," Angel commented with a smirk.

Cordelia ignored him, "-but his manners leave a lot to be deserved. So, girlfriend would you
now tell how it happened that I come to find a man in your... OH MY GOD!"

"Cordy," Buffy said calmly after her friend‟s shocked outcry. "Calm down."

"Calm down?" the brunette asked disbelievingly. "What happened to you? Were you mugged?"

"No," Buffy shook her head, and then reached up to loosen the towel that was still wrapped
around her hair. "I wasn't mugged."

"But... what happened?" Cordelia wanted to know. With a helpless expression she sat down on
a chair.

The blond looked towards the doorway where Angel was standing. He smiled at her and she
smiled back. Still looking at him she said, "Angel and I were having dinner last night, and a
drink. Afterwards he kissed me at my car."
The brunette raised a brow and her gaze went to Angel as well, when Buffy continued, "When
I came home, Riley was already here. He must have seen us kissing. He was... out of his mind,
and then he... just lost it."

"And he hit you again?"

"Yes, that and..." she hesitated. Taking a deep breath, she added, "He tried to rape me."

"What?" Cordelia gasped.

"He didn't go through with it, but he tried."

"Oh," the brunette nodded, now believing to understand the situation, "And so you called
Angel to report what was happening."

"Yes and no."

Cordelia narrowed her eyes, "What do you mean yes and no? Buffy, don't tell me you‟re
letting him get away with this. He tried to rape you and he hit you. I would gladly prosecute
his ass and make him pay."

"I know," Buffy assured her. "I know Cordy, but for several reasons I don't want to. I
decided not to report him and I expect you to respect that."

"I-," Cordelia gave her a helpless look, then turned to Angel, "What are you saying to this...
this nonsense? You can't honestly support her. Angel, Riley needs to be punished for this. He
tried to rape her."

"I agree," he replied, taking Buffy's hand, "And I told her that. But I can also understand
what's keeping her from doing it. I respect her decision. There were special circumstances."

"Oh no," the brunette looked back and forth between Buffy and Angel, "Don't try to tell me
there were different circumstances. You‟re both detectives. There is no excuse for rape."

"Attempted rape," Buffy threw in.

"Well, then attempted rape. It doesn't really matter. He tried to force himself on you."

"Yes, but he obviously realized it was wrong," the blond argued, "It wouldn't change anything
if he was accused of attempted rape. First, we‟re still married, and I've seen more than one
judge looking at a woman who accused her husband of rape. Secondly, I'm sure he won't do it
again. And he‟s not going to go around and rape or try to rape other women. He isn't the type.
I'm not going to report him, Cordelia, and you have to accept it."

"Well... I... I don't know what else to say. I don't like your decision, but it seems I can't
change your mind," the brunette said, throwing her hands in the air. In a last attempt she
looked at Angel, hoping against hope that he would talk some sense into Buffy.
"Cordelia, I agree with you, completely. But I'm not going to put her through more than
necessary. It's her decision to make," he said.

The assistant DA took a deep breath, "Fine. Well, then, I suppose our trip to the beach is
off?"

"Oh God, I'm sorry," Buffy buried her head in her hands, "I forgot."

"Understandable under these circumstances." Cordelia gave the blond a smile and patted her
arm. Then she suddenly grinned wickedly, "So I'm going to drag Doyle there, oh, I can just
see him groaning. He hates the beach, he hates the sun, says it's not good for his skin.
Alright. See you on Monday," she said and stood. "Don't bother," she told Buffy who was
about to get up, "I know the way." She gave them a short wave, before the door closed
behind her.

"You didn't tell her."

"Hmmm?"

"I said, you didn't tell her that I know about the real reason you came back." Buffy stood
and moved close to him, raising her head to look into his eyes.

"What?" he asked, mesmerized by the beauty of her bruised face, by the look in her eyes.
"Oh, yeah. I know." He grinned suddenly, "It's the weekend."

"Huh?" "She‟s always telling me that work free time is sacred time. No work on weekend she
says. So I decided to listen to her."

"Oh?" Buffy raised a brow. "Angel," she asked again, "why didn't you tell her?"

He sighed, "Because I think Monday is still early enough. Because we both know what
would've happened if I told her. And you are in no condition to deal with one of her tantrums.
Not today."

"Oh," she said again, her eyes wide and grateful.

"Yeah," he reached out and tenderly touched her cheek with his fingertips. "Does it still
hurt?"

"No, not really," she whispered, feeling a jolt of pleasure.

"What do you want to do today?" he asked, forcing his mind away from dangerous ground. For
God's sake, she just lived through her husband trying to rape her and he was thinking about
opening her robe and... He jerked away from her, "Do you want to watch TV or shall I get you
a movie or-"

"Angel," she scolded gently."What?"
"You're babbling."

"I am?" he asked, and then exhaled sharply, "Yeah, I know," he admitted with a little shaky
laugh. "I'm sorry." He took a deep breath, "So what do you want to do?"

"Could you... just hold me?" He groaned at the idea of her body pressing intimately to his,
knowing it would be pure torture for him. But her eyes were huge and pleading, she trusted
him to be with her, help her and he couldn‟t deny her anything. "That," he said, glad his voice
didn't crack, "I can do." He held out his arms and she came to him, needing the closeness,
the shelter of his body, the feeling of safety in his arms.

"This is nice," she whispered.

"Yes, it is," he replied, and realized it was the absolute truth.

********

16

Sunday, August 27th, 5.00 p.m., Los Angeles

They spent the whole weekend in Buffy's apartment talking, watching TV or sleeping.
Saturday night Buffy fell asleep again in Angel's arms only this time he didn't carry her to
bed but held her in his arms. Sunday morning found them on the sofa with arms and limbs
entwined.

It was a bit awkward at first, but then Buffy began to laugh because the belt of her robe
had caught on the buttons of his shirt and that saved the situation.

If someone had told Angel that he would spend a weekend with Buffy talking and holding her,
he would've laughed. Firstly because not in his wildest dreams had he expected to be there
at all and secondly if the unlikely case did occur talking wouldn't be on his mind. But of
course he hadn't counted on Buffy getting a divorce or that she didn't blame him anymore.
And by no means would he have ever imagined Riley going completely crazy.

Again and again Angel's thoughts returned to the blue-eyed, blond-haired, laughing boy he
once knew and somehow a part of his mind just couldn't comprehend that boy was the same
one who had tried to rape his wife. What had happened to change him so profoundly? Or had
he just been too blind to see that it had been there the whole time? The anger, the jealousy,
the violence.

##"Hey, Angel."

A grinning Riley stood on the Reardon's doorstep, his hands bruised and his ten-year-old face
smeared with dirt. Angel found himself grinning in return. "Riley! What happened to you?"

"I borrowed Connor's bike," the blond answered, his grin wider than before.
"And?" Angel asked, not understanding what happened. Connor was Riley's older brother by
six years and he was a rebel. He drove a Harley, wore leather clothes and a red bandanna.
Carmen Reardon always crossed herself when he drove by. Her husband just laughed. Angel
and Riley on the other hand saw him as their hero. The only thing that irritated them was
that Connor always had girls with him and kissed them a lot. What could a guy probably want
from a girl?

"The motorcycle," Riley clarified.

Angel's eyes grew wide, "The motorbike? Oh sh-" he started saying, then quickly glanced
behind himself to see if his mother heard him. Releasing a breath of relief, he amended, "I
mean, wow. Where is it?"

The blond turned his head and Angel followed his eyes to see the red machine standing on
the sideway. And he figured out that the filth on Riley's face was nothing but motor oil.
"What have you done?" he asked alarmed that the motorbike might be damaged. Connor most
certainly wouldn't like to hear that.

"Nothing," Riley shook his head as if the question was an insult. "I just took it. Connor‟s gone
for two days. Dad gave him his car and so the bike stayed at home." He winked, "Wanna go
for a ride?"

"A ... ride?" Angel's mouth went dry with the thought of riding Connor's sacred bike. "But
what if something happens? I mean we aren't allowed to ride a bike at all and Connor..." he
trailed off, giving his friend a skeptic look.

Riley made a dismissive gesture with his hand and snorted, "Nothing‟s going to happen. And
it‟ll be fun." ##

And Angel had gone with him. The result had been a bruised knee for Riley and a broken
wrist for Angel. Their parents had scolded them and Connor who'd quickly discovered the
damage to his bike looked as if he was ready to kill. Only after they'd sworn to pay for the
repairs he grinned and winked at them. He really was a nice guy even though Connor made
himself look tough and dangerous. Today he was working as a lawyer in Washington. Angel
could still remember his mother's disbelief the day Mr. Finn had told them his oldest son was
going to law school.

God, those times had been fun. He had loved driving Connor's bike, Riley laughing all the time.
It had even been worth the broken wrist.

"Hey."

Buffy's soft voice pulled him from his thoughts as she slipped onto the sofa beside him.
"Hey," he replied, trying to come back to the present.

She tilted her head and eyed him carefully, "Heavy thoughts?"
He slightly shook his head, "No, not really. Or... well, I was just remembering when Riley took
his brother's bike and we drove it right down a hill. He bruised his knee and I broke my
wrist, but it was great. I..." he looked up and lifted his shoulders in a helpless gesture.

"I know," she replied, leaning her head against his right shoulder. "I think it's even harder
for you. You have so many memories, good ones. I just..." she trailed off, not knowing how to
explain, but knowing also that she wouldn't need to, that Angel would understand without
words.

"Do you know how Connor is?" he asked after a moment.

"He's fine. Riley and him don't talk very often as far as I know. He came to our wedding,
then twice afterwards, but I don't know if they called each other once the last two years.
That's when... when Riley started seeing other women," she said, and he heard it in her voice
that she had problems saying it. He knew she hadn't loved Riley, but she still was his wife
and he had cheated on her, it was humiliating nevertheless, and obviously everyone at the
precinct knew about it.

"Riley wasn't bad the first two years," she continued calmly, "We had some really good times.
Fun. Laughter. Then suddenly everything changed. I still-" she paused abruptly and her head
came up from his shoulder, an odd expression on her face, "You know," she said, "Don't you
think it's strange that almost over night his attitude, not just towards me, but his whole
attitude changed? I never even tried to find out why. But now..." she looked speculatively,
and Angel knew what she was referring to.

"You think he might be...?"

"I don't know," she lifted her shoulders in a helpless shrug, "and I really hope I'm wrong. I
mean there might be something else, something we just don‟t know about. He isn't the most
communicative guy. I know he seems open and all, but he never really confided in me."

"No he doesn't," Angel confirmed. "The blond California boy look fools a lot of people. But
deep down, Riley is a completely different person. And you‟re right you know. It's one thing
to be jealous and to try to steal your friend's girlfriend but that..." he shook his head, still
not able to accept that fact that his former best friend had tried to rape his wife. "I just
don't get it."

"Last night you said you followed him. Did you find anything interesting?"

He hesitated only a second, he told her everything he'd found out, including Riley's
encounter with Simone Chambers and his own suspicions about it.

She wasn't surprised, but her eyes were incredibly sad, "Yeah. That sounds like him.
Unfortunately that's the Riley I‟ve known the last two years. That was the reason I finally
found the courage to file for divorce. Oh, Angel," she put her head back on his shoulder,
"What are we going to do?"
He desperately wanted to make this easier for her, so he suggested, "How about telling
Cordelia about that you know about the investigation?" He had wanted to wait until Monday,
but maybe, he thought, it was better to talk to the brunette in private.

She rolled her eyes, and blinked, understanding what he was trying to do, "Gee, and I
thought this weekend couldn't get worse."

*****

Riley didn't have a nice weekend. After he left the apartment he'd once lived in, he went to
the closest bar and got incredibly drunk. But the image of Angel kissing Buffy and especially
her response wouldn't let go. God, he hated the bastard. And he hated the fact that his wife
had never stopped loving Angel. And more than anything he hated himself for being so stupid
to think that would ever change. That the mere fact that she was wearing his ring would wipe
the memory of another man away.

God, how stupid could a guy be?

Groaning, he turned in his bed and wasn't really surprised to find a naked woman beside him,
although for the life of him he couldn't remember her name or how she'd gotten there.
What, however, they'd done in the bed was quite obvious, regarding the fact that he was
naked too. It was late Sunday afternoon and he had no memory of the last 40 hours and he
desperately wished his temporary amnesia would include a little earlier. Then, he thought, he
wouldn't have to remember what he'd almost done to the woman he still loved more than he
could express. The only woman he had ever loved.

The one who never loved him back.

Hissing some expletive he pushed the naked woman's warm body away, stumbled from his bed
and into his trousers to pour himself a drink and light a cigarette. Running a hand through his
tousled hair, he let out a harsh laugh. God, he was pathetic. His father would turn in his
grave if he were able to see him like this. And his deeply catholic mother wouldn't stop
reciting Hail Marys, hoping that that would somehow make up for her son's sins and reduce
his time in the purgatory. Purgatory. Another harsh laugh came out of his mouth, and he
downed the whiskey in one large gulp. His mother had no idea. He was in his own personal
purgatory. Ever since two years ago, almost to the day, when he'd almost by accident, been
able to read the final report about the shooting in front of the bank, the shooting that had
killed Buffy's brother Mike.

His hand suddenly shaky he poured himself another drink and downed it the same way he'd
done with the other. God, he needed it.

He managed to go through weekdays without it, he was occupied then, dealing with cases, but
he also had to look at her, and at night, or after waking up, the reality would crush down on
him, almost making him drown under the weight of his own guilt.
He could still hear his mother say, “isn't he a nice boy”, and he wanted to smash something
thinking back to her words. His mother had been dead for over five years and not for the
first time Riley was glad. She wouldn't have been able to live with the shame of what her son
had done with his life. Her son meaning Riley. Not Connor, whom everyone had expected to
fail.

But of course Connor hadn't failed. On the contrary. He was a successful lawyer in
Washington, working for a Senator from time to time, making good money and he was happily
married with three kids. With 41, Connor had managed to get all the things Riley had wanted
for himself. And he hadn't screwed up, the way his little brother had done. Buffy had once
asked him why he didn't call Connor anymore. The brothers had always been close despite
the age difference in their youth. But how could he face Connor, look into his brother's eyes
after the things he'd done?

He felt better after the fourth drink, but of course he still wasn‟t drunk. His increasing
alcohol abuse during the last two years demanded more than four shots to make him numb
enough to be able to live with himself. He turned when he heard the woman yawn and looked
down at her. She was pretty he had to admit. It should boost his ego to see that good-
looking women easily fell for him. He knew why. Somehow he had managed to preserve his
body. He was still fit and well trained, despite the alcohol. It was necessary for his job.

He loved being a cop, had always loved it. He had been so incredibly proud after the
Academy. Now it was the only thing he'd left. The only thing that held him together. He
couldn't afford to lose his job.

Without it, there would be nothing left. So he held his body fit and did his job. And he did it
well, he was a good cop.

"Can I have a drink too?" the woman asked, slipping from the bed, completely unconcerned
about her own nakedness. Her voice was soft and sexy. Her eyes were still half-closed and
under normal circumstances Riley would've found it attractive. Now, it simply repulsed him.

"No," he said sharply, hating the woman, hating himself more. "Get your clothes and get out."

"Hey," she smiled and came closer. "No need to get angry. I don't need a drink." She reached
out, her finger trailed down his chest, and stopped at his denims, "We can do other things
instead."

He slapped her hand away and stepped back, "I said, get out," he almost shouted.

Her eyes widened for a moment, then they narrowed, "Geez, no need to get insulting. I'm
gone in a minute."

"Make it a second," he hissed and turned away. He didn't want to see her again. Didn't want
to think about her. She was just a woman, without a name, and in a minute without a face. He
wouldn't even remember her tomorrow.
Mike's face came into his mind again and with a tortured sound he threw his half-full glass
across the room and it smashed against the wall breaking into a thousand pieces. The woman,
who was still only in her bra and panties, gathered the rest of her clothes and hurried out,
not willing to risk staying close to him.

Riley didn't even notice it. He walked over to the kitchen counter and took another glass,
then filled it to the rim. Maybe after he'd downed the contents he would be able to forget.
And if he was lucky the booze would some day make the memories disappear all together.

********

17

Same day, 7.00 p.m.

If Cordelia hadn't told him about what had happened in Buffy's apartment two days ago,
Doyle would've grinned seeing Angel and his former, and judging his friend's expression also,
his present love-interest standing there when he opened the door. But because he knew, his
face was compassionate when it fell on the tiny blond, "Buffy," he said gently and smiled,
then nodded at Angel. "What can we do for you?"

"We need to talk to your fiancée," Angel announced and nodded as well, when Doyle stepped
back to invite them in. They went past him and Doyle was surprised to see Buffy smile
slightly. He had seen rape-victims before and they usually looked frightened or subdued,
some of them even angry, but the blond was calm, and if it hadn't been for the colorful
bruise on her cheek nobody would've guessed what had occurred not even 48 hours ago.

Okay, so was "only" an attempted rape, but Doyle learned quickly that for some women that
didn't make a difference. The violation of their individual space and the feeling of complete
helplessness also left those who had escaped rape at the last possible moment shaken and
scarred. Why it seemed so different for Buffy, he could only guess. She must be incredibly
strong or it could have been Angel's company; probably it was a combination of both. Or, she
just didn't show her feelings, let others only see a pretty surface, not wanting them to
detect what was underneath.

He was pulled from his thoughts by the appearance of his soon-to-be wife who just came
from the bedroom, concentrating on inserting an earring. They were due for a dinner with
Cordelia's boss in an hour and she'd been particularly careful in choosing the right dress. A
moment before she would've ran right into Angel's chest she became aware of the company
and stopped with a startled gasp, put a hand over her chest, "Oh my God," she closed her
eyes for a moment, then looked at Angel, "*What* are you doing here? You almost gave me a
heart attack."

She took a deep breath, ignored Angel's amused grin and shifted her attention towards
Buffy, "How are you?" she asked immediately.
"I'm okay," the blond replied and Cordelia's concern settled a little. She'd expected some
bright 'I'm fine', but Buffy's quiet reaction gave her the feeling that the blond meant what
she said. "A bit shaken still," Buffy added, smiling at Angel when he took her hand, "but so
far okay."

"That's good," Cordelia gave her a friendly smile, then looked back and forth between her
two visitors, "So why are you here?"

"What?" Angel raised a brow, "No tantrum today?"

Doyle snickered and his fiancée shot him a nasty look, before she turned back to Angel,
"Just tell me why you're here. I have an important date in an hour. My boss throws a
birthday party for his wife and has invited us. I can't be late." She sighed, then amended,
"*We* can't be late."

Buffy pulled slightly at Angel's hand, when she replied, "Oh, well, if you're busy... We can
talk about this tomorrow," she suggested.

Codelia's gaze again went back and forward between her guests, and after a moment of
considering the situation, she sighed, "No. I'd rather hear the bad news now."

"Bad news?" Buffy asked a bit breathless. "Who said it was bad news?"

"Buffy," the brunette sounded as if the blonde‟s question had been an insult to her
intelligence, "I‟ve known you almost twenty years. Don't you think I can notice a guilty
expression when I see one?"

The blond was about to reply again when she felt Angel squeeze the hand he was still holding.
When she turned to look at him she saw him shaking his head slightly, signaling her to let the
explaining to him. "May we sit down for a minute?" he asked.

"Sit down, huh?" Doyle grinned. "That bad?"

Cordelia glared at him again, but couldn't shake off the feeling that his comment was - as so
often - right on the money. Doyle was rarely wrong, and if nothing else, the way Buffy and
Angel were looking at each other was more than just slightly suspicious. "Okay, then," she
said with an exaggerated sigh, "spill it. Ruin my evening."

Angel smiled slightly, "Ruin your evening? I wouldn't dare." His smile widened into a grin when
he saw her narrowing her eyes. "Never mind," he continued, "The reason we came was that I
told Buffy about the investigation." He said it calmly, almost casually, and then glancing
shortly at Doyle, whose eyes had widened in surprise and understanding, he shifted his
attention back to Cordelia.

It was almost funny to see the myriad of emotions crossing the brunette's face in a matter
of seconds. There was surprise, disbelief, anger, and many more Angel wasn't able to name.
In the end she just stared at him as if he'd suddenly grown a second head. "You're sure you
are alright?" she asked, her voice a bit shaky, the disbelief clearly audible. "I mean just to
make sure. You didn't recently split your personality and thought, what the heck, I'm
undercover for the Internal Department and in my other life I choose to do whatever I
want?" Now her voice was soft, too soft, and Angel could already anticipate the explosion of
anger that was about to erupt any minute.

"Cordelia-" Buffy tried to intervene and explain but she was cut off when the assistant DA
jumped to her feet and began to pace the room, her hands waving frantically through the air.

"I don't believe it. Who else knows about this? Riley, because he was your pal once, or Darla,
because you and her hit the sack together all those years ago, or... hey, why not Drusilla,
because she was your rookie and if I'm guessing right, Spike is probably bonking her this
very moment," she raged, her strides getting more agitated by the minute.

"Cordy, darling-" Doyle tried to soothe her but the dark glare she shot him made him shut up
instantly. He knew her well enough to see that now was not the time to discuss things. Or to
try to calm the waves. The hurricane was in full force and nothing would stop it now.

She stopped suddenly, straightened, her hands firmly planted at her hips, she took two
menacing steps in Angel's direction, who to Doyle's utter surprise was sitting calmly,
seemingly not caring for the storm that was about to come upon him. Like a very old, strong
tree, Doyle mused. Completely unconcerned about the upcoming danger. But, even the
strongest tree could be felled if the storm was furious enough.

"I should fire you," she hissed, "Fire you right now. It's inexcusable." Almost audibly her
head snapped around and her eyes focused on Buffy for a moment, "I hope you know this has
nothing to do with you personally," she said a little calmer. "I'm your friend and I never
thought you were involved in any of this, but," her eyes narrowed again when they came back
to rest on Angel, "this is a matter of trust and obedience. You knew exactly what your job
was. You knew what you were meant to do and... what not."

She took a deep breath and combed a hand through her hair, "Unfortunately, you're already
in too deep to replace you. Besides there's nobody equally qualified for the job. With enough
inside knowledge, enough experience, and still distant enough to be objective. Or at least
that's what I thought. It seems at least in point three I was wrong," she ended her rant.
Then noticing the smug look on Angel's face, she sighed, "And I suppose you already knew."

"Of course I did," he grinned, "but I also knew you had to get some steam out of your
system."

"You're very sure of yourself," a warning entered Cordelia's voice. A warning that she would
only tolerate so much.

"In this case, I was," Angel replied, winking at her, making her laugh against her own will.
"Cordelia," his voice was suddenly serious, almost pleading, "I couldn't keep it from Buffy.
She needed to know what was going on. I refuse to start anything on a lie."
"I can understand that," she replied after a minute, "A lie can be... wait a moment," she
stared at her visitors, "You refuse to start what? What is going on here?" Then her eyes
suddenly widened and now a grin appeared on her face, "My, my, this is even more serious
than I thought yesterday," she stated, exchanging a short glance with her future husband.

Angel felt suddenly uncomfortable with her excitement. Sure, he and Buffy had spent a
weekend together. But it had been unusual circumstances that led to it and they'd spent the
time as friends only. Yes, there was still a strong sexual attraction. Angel wasn't oblivious to
it, and he also didn't want to deny it. But they hadn't once discussed any future plans or
what her plans were. She was, after all, still married to Riley. And although he knew there
were no feelings from her side and that she was glad it would be over soon, there was no
guarantee she would jump into the next relationship, giving up the independence she just
gained. "Cordelia, you‟re jumping to conclusions here," he said and now there was a warning in
his voice.

Of course the brunette ignored it, too happy with her friends and feeling too smug at the
moment. She was the one amongst her friends who'd always insisted Buffy and Angel would
get together again, who'd all but ignored Riley's existence, and who was now feeling better
than ever. She could hardly wait to call Willow, Xander and Faith to tell them the good news.
Besides, underneath all her tough behavior, the heart of a romantic was beating strongly, a
side of her only very few people were allowed to see. "I still see what I see," she replied, her
gaze darting back and forth between Buffy and Angel.

"We had one dinner together," the blond tried to calm down her friend's excitement. At the
moment Buffy felt a bit cornered.

There was no denying of her feelings for Angel, and she felt comfortable in his presence,
was grateful for the understanding that had helped her to get through the weekend, but
besides a toe curling kiss at her car, Angel had behaved like a friend, and for all she knew it
could be all he intended to be. Plus, she had absolutely no urge to have all her friends
interfere with her love life. She could almost hear Willow's excited babble, and Xander's oh
so funny remarks or Faith's smug grin.

"So you had dinner together already," Cordelia raised a knowing brow at the couple. "And why
didn't you tell me?" she demanded, feeling slightly hurt by the lack of confidence by her
friend.

"Cordy, leave them alone," Doyle said, giving Buffy and Angel a compassionate glance. He of
all people knew exactly how persistent his fiancée could be. "It's none of your business."

The look she gave him when she turned around was so funny he had a hard time not laughing.
She stared at him with utter disbelief, "Not my business?" She could have asked referring
to her own hair or to her bank account. The remark seemed absolutely ridiculous to her. "Of
course this is my business. Buffy is my friend. Angel works for me. Whatever happens to
them is absolutely my business."
Angel decided that now was not the time to discuss the matter, "Anyways," he said, looking
at Cordelia, "Wasn't there a dinner you had to attend?"

"A dinner?" she stared at him, completely at loss for a moment, then panic entered her eyes.
"The dinner! Christ almighty. We need to be there on time." Like a bullet she shot up from
the chair she'd been sitting on, "I need to finish my makeup." She was almost out of the
room, when she turned,

"We have to talk about this tomorrow. With my bossy," she told Angel. "Be at my office at
two, both of you."

"Yes, sir," the dark-haired man joked when the door slammed behind her. He heard Buffy
chuckle, and gave her a warm smile. It was so good to feel her relax and think about things
other than Riley for a moment. "Sorry," he said after a moment, shifting his eyes towards
Doyle.

"No worries," his friend grinned when they all walked to the door, "I understand you had to
tell her. Besides," he winked at them, "doesn't she look great when she's all worked up. Of
course I'd never tell her, but she is even more beautiful this way."

Buffy grinned back, "Yes, but you better never tell her."

"Never," Angel agreed and the three laughed.

They shook hands at the door and Doyle gave the blond a warm smile, "Take care of
yourself," he said. Then his eyes were on Angel for a moment, "But I guess I don't have to
worry."

Buffy followed his eyes and smiled too, "No, I don't think so."

********

18

Monday, August 28th, 9.00 a.m., Los Angeles

Riley couldn't remember when he ever dreaded entering his precinct the way he did now. He
had been numb the whole weekend, couldn't even remember most of it. His only hour of
awareness, when he woke up with a heavy head and an even heavier heart beside a woman
whose name he still couldn't remember, had been drowned in two bottles of Scottish Whisky.

But with Monday morning where there was no opportunity to escape into a alcohol oblivion,
the memories were back in full force. There was no way of denying it anymore. He'd gone
into a jealous rage and tried to rape his wife.

There was a feeling of disgust inside of him, but it was also mixed with the dread that
everyone would know, that she would've told her friends, namely Xander and Willow and of
course that bitch Cordelia Chase. Riley hadn't even contemplated the idea that Buffy might
have reported him for what he'd done. But now, entering the place where the good guys were
trying to get the bad guys, he was hit front with it and he could feel cold sweat forming on
his forehead, some of it even trickling down between his shoulder blades. God, what was he
going to do if she'd reported him?

It wasn't that he didn't feel sorry for what he'd done. Because he did. He felt sorry and
disgusted with himself, knowing what he'd almost done, remembering the fear and panic in
her eyes when he'd thrown her to the ground, his large body pinning her down. But there was
already so much he felt sorry for in his life, this was just one thing more on his overloaded
conscience.

The thought, however, of being reported for attempted rape, being prosecuted and probably
convicted in the end made his throat close up and his gut knot in fear. The consequence
would be that he would lose his job and that was something that he wouldn't be able to deal
with.

Not really caring where he was going he bumped right into another body and startled he was
looking at the last person he wanted to face today.

"Buffy," he almost whispered.

"Ri - Riley."

He saw a shudder running over her body, but she controlled it after only a second. They
stared at each other, neither of them able to move, although all they both wanted was to run
for cover. But somehow they seemed frozen in shock at the unexpected closeness after what
had happened barely more than 48 hours ago.

Then suddenly she seemed to shake herself out of whatever had been holding her in place
and wanted to hurry away, when he reached for her and held onto her arm, "Wait," he said.

She turned slowly and the look in her eyes took his breath away. On the surface they were
cool and controlled, but underneath he could see pure hatred. "Let go," she hissed.

"Buffy, please," he said, ignoring her command, "I just want to talk to you."

"But I don't want to talk," she replied, shifting to get her arm free. "And I said, let go."

Again, he ignored her, "I just want to say how sorry I am, I-"

He couldn't finish his sentence since a hand came down on his shoulder and his body was
propelled backward with great force. He slammed against the wall, the force of the impact
pressing the air from his lungs so that he had trouble drawing a breath.

"She said, let go," came Angel's angry and biting voice and Riley's head jerked up.

He stared at the other man, whose body was trembling with rage. The blond tried to form
words, but he still couldn't make his voice work. So he just held up his hands in surrender.
"Stay away from her," Angel warned, "Do you understand? Stay away or our next encounter
won't be just a free flight through a room."

"I just... tried to say I'm sorry," Riley finally managed, straightening against the wall. "And I
am sorry."

"Nobody cares if you‟re sorry," Angel hissed advancing the other man again.

The blond looked at his former friend and with sudden understanding he could feel the anger
boiling up in him as well, "Oh, I see, she called you. Her white knight in shining armor." He
should've known that she would run to her beloved, he thought bitingly.

"You better shut up," Angel warned again, "You should be glad I'm a cop. Because if I wasn't,
I would end this here and now."

"Oh really," Riley mocked, his guilt instantly forgotten, overruled by well known jealousy, "Did
she call you to finish what I didn't give her?" he asked, "She was hot you know, but honestly,
she isn't as tempting as she was before. That's the reason she had to call you for what she
couldn't get from me."

It all happened the same moment. Buffy gasped in shock while Angel - with an outcry of rage
- hurled himself on Riley. The same moment Xander, Spike, Drusilla and Faith entered the
precinct and seeing what was happening they launched themselves between the two enraged
men and separated them by sheer force.

"WHOA," Xander said when Riley swung his fist and missed the dark-haired man's face only
by an inch. "Take his other arm," he hissed at Faith, while Spike tried to hold Angel back.
The blond had known Angel for a while but never before had he seen such an expression of
rage in the other man's eyes.

"Angel."

Buffy's soft, pleading voice finally managed to cut through the red haze that was still
swimming in front of Angel's eyes at Riley's words and he had to take several calming
breaths to think clearly again. For a moment he really lost it and all he wanted was kill the
bastard who had done this to Buffy and was now mocking her with it.

Running a shaky hand through his hair he focused on Buffy, "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I lost
it for a second."

She smiled a bit crookedly, "I noticed. But Angel, he isn't worth it."

"I know," he replied and turned his head towards Spike who was still holding his arm. "I'm
okay now," he told his friend with a nod.

"You sure?" the blond asked not quite convinced. He had still problems recognizing his friend
in the raging maniac he'd seen only minutes ago. "What happened?"
Angel glanced quickly at the spot where Riley had been standing just before, but his former
friend was gone. Xander and Faith had led him quickly away to avoid any further
confrontation. "It's not important."

Spike raised a brow at that, and so Buffy said, "He wanted to apologize, I think, but he
touched me and I didn't... want it. So Angel pulled him away from me and then..." she
shrugged, "the situation escalated from there."

"So I saw." Spike sighed, "You almost lost it there my friend," he told Angel with a serious
face. "I wouldn't have liked to arrest you for the murder of filth."

The dark-haired man closed his eyes for a moment, "Sorry. He... he said things..." His hands
were still shaky and he was grateful when Buffy took one of them. "I can't believe that's the
person I once knew." He swallowed hard and shook his head as if he had to clear his mind.

Seeing Angel's distress Buffy gave Spike a quick sign and with a nod and a last look at his
friend he walked away while Buffy was already pulling the other man into the women's
bathroom.

Angel was following her without resistance and only when the door closed behind them he
blinked, "It seems we end up in here a lot," he murmured.

Buffy smiled at his words, "Last time you had to hold me, today it's my turn," she said and
slung her arms around his waist holding him close.

His arms came around her after only a short hesitation, "You shouldn't have to do this," he
whispered against her ear, "What he said to you..." his voice trailed off, the pain clearly
audible.

"Shhhh," she soothed, stroking his back, feeling a thrill of pleasure holding him, being held
by him, despite the horrible scene with Riley before. "It's okay. I was surprised, that's all.
He can't really hurt me anymore."

He raised his hand and took her chin between thumb and forefinger so that she had to look
at him, "You sure?"

"Yes," she replied honestly and smiled. "You can only be hurt by people who mean something
to you."

He was watching her face intently and finally he nodded, obviously satisfied with what he was
seeing there. "How was your night?" he asked softly, the back of his fingers caressing her
cheek, where the bruise Riley had caused was hidden under makeup.

"Okay," she told him. "After you left, I drank the tea you made for me, then I went to sleep.
I'm alright, really."

"Good," he said, then bent down and kissed her forehead. "Will you be alright for the day?"
he wanted to know, concern in his eyes.
"Yes," she assured him, touching his cheek with one hand. The emotions whirling through her
this moment were so strong, so overwhelming. She felt so close to him, not just physically,
but in every possible way. Remembering that they were still in the women's bathroom of the
police station, she cleared her throat and straightened. "What are you going to do today?"
she asked to change the subject.

Angel straightened as well. He pulled back and Buffy stifled a moan at the sudden loss of his
warmth. "Well, there's still our date with Cordelia. She called me this morning, insisting again
that you'd come with me."

"Oh?" Buffy raised a brow.

"Yeah. Spike and I complained we weren‟t enough people to do the job, so they agreed we'd
get some help." He suddenly grinned, "Seems my indiscretion brought you a new job."

Her eyes rounded, "What?"

"Yeah," was all he replied, an apologetic look in his eyes. "I should've kept my mouth shut.
I'm sorry, I know how it feels to spy on friends and-"

Her fingers on his lips stopped him, "No need to apologize. It was the right thing to do. I'm
glad you trusted me with it." She suddenly rolled her eyes, "Although, maybe I should amend
that. The idea of Cordelia being my boss now..."

As a reply he grinned, "Pretty scary, huh? But we can suffer together." He reached for the
door-handle, "How about we go tell Giles?"

She nodded, "Yeah, that'd be good."

*****

His eyes drifted to the lieutenant's office from time to time, what the hell were they doing
with Giles, Riley thought. Ten minutes after he'd been pulled away from Angel, the dark-
haired man and Buffy had entered Giles' office. That had been half an hour ago.

Were they telling him about what had happened in Buffy's apartment Friday night? Would
they report him now? God, he should've known that she'd call Angel the moment he was out
of the door. His former so-called friend was back for a week and he and Buffy were already
attached at the hip. The way Angel had come to her rescue, the way Angel had looked at him,
with murder in his eyes. Angel had been ready to kill him, for a moment Riley had seen it in
the other man's eyes, the cold determination, that made him shiver even now.

Angel wasn't a violent person, he was usually the type who would try to talk and discuss
things through, try to persuade people. Riley had often mocked him for being too soft, for
still being a virgin when they'd started college all those years ago. He had felt good because
as far as girls were concerned, Riley had the advantage.
But to Riley's amazement, Angel didn't care. He showed no intention to get even with his
friend and when they'd left college and entered the Police Academy, Angel had only had two
girlfriends, while Riley hadn't been quite as selective and in his senior year had developed a
special taste for freshmen. There had been Darla then and Riley thought about the nice
brunette Angel met for a while, but nothing more.

Where girls were concerned Angel was downright boring. Riley had never been able to
understand why he hadn't used his position as quarterback of the college football team. The
girls were throwing themselves at Angel, but he wouldn't even look. Riley once asked, and his
friend had shrugged and told him that he wasn't interested in casual sex.

And then they met Buffy. They had been on an assignment and Buffy had worked at the same
case. The attraction between Angel and her had been immediate and strong. The air crackled
between them, and they weren't able to look anywhere but at each other. Within a week they
were a couple, inseparable and deeply in love. So deep that neither of them noticed that Riley
had been falling in love with her as well.

He'd known from the first moment that she was the one. The woman you met once in a
lifetime, but she didn't look at him, not even once. Her eyes were on Angel, and only on Angel.
Riley would never forget the pain slicing through him when Angel showed him the engagement
ring he'd bought for Buffy and Riley knew that it was the end of his dreams, knew without a
doubt that she would accept Angel's proposal.

Then Mike had died and everything changed. Riley had seen his opportunity in holding Buffy's
hand when it was certain it had been Angel's weapon. She'd cried in his arms for days and
then after an especially horrible day for her they ended up in bed. Two weeks later Buffy
accepted his proposal and after another two weeks they were married. Riley didn't ask why,
he didn't want to know. All he knew was that the woman of his dreams was finally his and
that Angel was out of their lives, for what Riley believed had been for good.

Of course his luck never stayed for long, and now Angel was back, his wife was divorcing him
and if he was guessing right they were destroying his career right this moment.

No, he thought, and pressed thumb and forefinger against his eyes, rubbing them roughly.
They weren't destroying his career. He did that all by himself. Not just 48 hours ago when
he'd lot it and tried to rape his wife, but two years ago when an accident had ended all his
dreams forever.

But even knowing that, he found himself hoping they were talking about a completely
different subject in Giles' office.

********

19

Same day, 4.00 p.m.
"So we're getting the help we need after all," Spike said from his spot beside Angel. They
were sitting in Angel's car again, where more empty cans and stuff were littering the floor.
Angel sighed inwardly, that was obviously the price he had to pay to avoid Spike's smoking.
"Although I guess the lovely Miss Chase didn't really like the way you got it."

Angel shot him a sideways glance, "No, not really. Brent Harley and her boss, Tim Philips,
were cool though. Brent checked Buffy's account and stuff and had her already taken off his
list. And Tim," now he had to grin, "just told Cordelia that this would take care of the
problem very neatly. You should've seen her face."

Spike laughed out loud, "Too bad I wasn't there. But hey, I got to watch our beloved Darla
instead." When he saw Angel turn his head and raise a questioning brow, he shook his head,
"Nothing happened. She just did her job. Really boring. Which reminds me, the deal isn't
fair, you know. You get to work with the lovely Buffy while I'll spend tomorrow with
Alexander Harris. What kind of mother calls her son Alexander anyway?"

"You wouldn't want to know," Angel replied thinking about Xander's mother who was an
alcoholic and his father who'd died ten years ago from liver cirrhosis. It was almost a
miracle that Xander had managed to stay clean. "Xander‟s alright. Gets on your nerves
sometimes, but he's a good guy. Actually right after Buffy he was the next off my private
list. He just isn't the type to betray a friend or colleague."

"But you see the problem, don't you," Spike asked, "I mean you and," he wiggled his brows,
"Buffy. And then there's me and... well, Xander. Why do you get Buffy and I don't get Dru?"

"Speaking of Dru-" Angel began but was cut off when his friend raised a hand.

"Stop right there. I'm not talking about Dru. She might have been your rookie once, but she
isn't any of your business now. This is private, okay!"

It wasn't a request, it was a warning, Angel realized and was more than a bit surprised,
"Oh?" he said, one of his brows coming up.

"Yeah, oh," Spike replied gruffly. "God, I don't need this," he exclaimed. "Why can't I just
have some nice uncomplicated fling? But, no. Of course Spike has to meet...," he paused,
exhaled a long breath and ran a hand through his short hair. "This is downright freaking you
know."

His friend chuckled slightly, but there was a world of knowledge in his eyes, "I know," he said
simply. "Does she know?"

"Well," the blond hesitated for a moment, and then said, "We didn't actually talk about it.
But hell, I never thought I'd fall like this. Head over heels. Last time... it was slowly, but
surely, but this," he shook his head as if he was still not able to understand what was
happening with him. There was annoyance in his eyes, when he added, "I avoided it. Not ever
again, I vowed and then it hits me and there's absolutely nothing I can do."
Angel had to smile at the honest despair in his friend's voice. "Dru‟s a great girl. She‟s a
great cop. But she's sweet and vulnerable so don't hurt her. She tends to..." he began, then
stopped, started again, "While she was working with me, there was a guy. She got pregnant
and he left her. Treated her badly. She lost the baby and it almost destroyed her. So be
careful," he paused again, "I wouldn't usually tell you this, but..." he shrugged.

"I understand and I'll do my best," Spike promised, his heart going out to the girl she'd been
years ago. Thinking about her lost and lonely made him want to kill the guy who'd done this to
her and in that very moment he suddenly understood what he'd seen on Angel's face this
morning when he'd been on the brink of breaking Riley's neck. He wasn't sure if Angel would
have gone through with it, but he knew that his friend had been close to the edge.

"So Darla didn't do anything special?" Angel asked, changing the subject.

"No," with a sigh Spike shook his head. "She and that Kate-girl went to investigate, then to
dinner, then they were observing a guy. So I was observing the observing team. It was so
interesting, I almost fell asleep."

His partner chuckled, "Poor boy. I wish-"

He stopped when the door of the house they'd been observing suddenly opened and Riley
Finn stepped out in the open. He was on his own, his hands buried in the pockets of his
trousers, he was ducking his head and walked towards his car. After a moment the door
opened again and a short kind of man appeared in the doorway.

"Riley," he called and the blond stopped, then turned.

"Yeah?"

"Are you sure about this?" the short man asked. Riley's eyes narrowed, "Are you doubting my
decisions?"

"N-no," the short one replied hastily, obviously afraid.

"Good," the blonde‟s stance relaxed and he was fumbling in his pocket for his car keys.
"Don't forget, I'm the boss in this."

"O-okay, Riley," the other man stuttered, then stepped back and closed the door. Riley's
face stayed on the door for a moment.

Finally he shrugged and went for his car, got in it and drove away.

Angel sighed and started the ignition, while Spike fastened his seat belt, "Ain't that day
fun," the blond said on a grimace, "I get to watch Darla and Riley on one day. Tomorrow I'm
going to work with Xander. I'm some lucky guy."

*****
"Oh my God." With wide eyes, filled with shame and shock Simone Chambers stared at the
pictures on her desk. There were six of them and all showed her and Riley Finn in an
unmistakable situation. Her breath came in shallow gasps and her mouth was suddenly dry, so
that it was impossible to swallow the lump in her throat.

She didn't dare to look up, didn't dare to look into the pair of accusing blue eyes, the eyes
she loved so much. Didn't want to see the blame in them, didn't want to see them looking at
her without love and warmth. But she knew she had to and so she slowly raised her head, her
watery eyes on the man in front of her. "Mike, please," she whispered, "I can explain-"

"Explain, huh?" he shouted, the anger spilling over. "What do you want to explain? There's
nothing, do you hear me, nothing to explain. The pictures tell the story very clearly. What I
want to know, Simone," he said, the pain almost consuming him, "is when you decided to make
a fool of me. God, I was such a fool," he said again, and turned away from her in disgust, a
hand combing wearily through his hair. He was 25 years old, but if someone had told him he
was hundred, he would've believed it today.

He hadn't thought of anything when he'd discovered the plain envelope on his desk. He
hadn't even thought of anything after he'd opened it and looked at the pictures. He had
almost laughed thinking it was some weirdo who wanted to make a bad joke, until he'd
recognized the face of the woman. And although he hadn't liked seeing the woman he loved in
bed with another man, and had liked it even less when he'd realized the man was Riley Finn,
he already knew that Simone had had a life before him.

She hadn't been a virgin when they'd met, but hell, neither was he, so there was nothing he
could blame her for. Simone was a beautiful young woman and how could he blame a man that
he wanted her too. For Mike she was the fulfillment of his dreams - or so he'd thought, until
he'd seen the engagement ring she wore on the picture. The ring, he'd sold his Harley for.
The ring he'd given her only four weeks ago.

"Mike," he heard her standing up and hesitantly stepping towards him. Instantly his body
went rigid and she stopped. "Can't we talk about this?" she pleaded. "I need to explain why-"

"No," he said sharply. "I don't want to hear it, Simone. Or do you want to tell me it happened
before we met?"

"No," she whispered, wringing her hands, feeling cold allover. "It happened only a few days
ago," she told him, feeling utterly miserable.

"Well," he turned back to her, his face carefully blank, "at least you're honest. I have to give
you that. Although I'm not sure if I care at all." He went for the door, when her panicked
voice stopped him cold.

"Mike, he blackmailed me," she cried, sinking down to the floor, her body racking with
terrible sobs, "He blackmailed me," she whispered again, curling into a ball.
Mike stared at her, and then slowly closed the door he'd just opened. Closing his eyes for a
moment he swallowed pain and pride and kneeled down beside her.

*****

Same day, 6.00 p.m.

Willow Rosenberg was a person who was usually content with her life. She'd grown up in
suburban L.A. A single child of Jewish parents she'd always been bright, had breezed
through high school and college, a promising career before her. Her parents had bragged
about her intelligence and already seen her as a doctor of kinds, when, to her parents‟
horror, she'd suddenly and unexpectedly decided to join the LAPD.

Unexpectedly for her parents at least, who had no idea that she was dating a non-Jewish boy
who was extremely bright as well but whose family background was by far not the same as
Willow's.

His father had raised Oz after his mother had died when he was still little. His father was a
good guy, but he was busy with his job that demanded for him to leave his home quite
frequently and so Oz was more alone than anything else.

He and Willow had met at college where they'd both joined a computer club. But quickly
catching on that they were already in another league, they had decided to form their own
advanced club with two members - Oz and Willow. And soon it was Oz and Willow all the time,
not only at the computer, but everywhere else.

They hadn't told Willow's parents, not because they didn't want to, more because it never
came up. Mr. and Mrs. Rosenberg never asked and Willow never told and so when she
announced she was going to marry her long time boyfriend they almost fainted. In the end
they accepted it, but although they weren't living far away Willow and Oz saw them barely
and as the redhead realized this very moment, they didn't even know they would be
grandparents soon.

Willow smiled and patted her still flat abdomen while she sighed in contentment, sipping at
her green tea. She was sitting on the sofa in her living room, her feet on the table, the radio
blaring in the background. It couldn't get much better in life.Yet, today Willow was not a
happy woman.

The reason was Buffy of course, or rather her absence.

It was Willow's day off and she had used it to see her doctor, then for shopping and she had
even found the sexiest teddy she would use in the near future to seduce her husband. A
wicked little smile played on her lips at the thought.

But she felt still itchy. And the reason was Buffy. Buffy hadn't called. Not once. Not the
whole weekend. Willow had expected her to call on Friday, but then she'd assumed it might
have been late. But Saturday and Sunday had gone by and still nothing.
On Sunday afternoon Willow had finally called Faith but she hadn't heard anything either
and the redhead began to worry. What if anything had gone wrong Friday night? Faith had
only laughed at that and told her not to worry, but Willow couldn't shake off the feeling that
something might have gone wrong. She tried Cordelia's office in the afternoon after she got
home, but the brunette was in court and not expected to be in the rest of the day.

So there she sat, with her legs propped on the table, the tea in her hand and was staring at
the phone as if she could make it ring by her will alone. Of course it didn't ring. That would
have been too much luck, Willow guessed and she had the feeling that this wasn't going to be
her lucky day.

She looked at her watch and sighed. Oz wouldn't be home before nine. He was with a client
tonight, checking the computer-system of a building company. Recently they had more
problems with virus alerts and now they'd hired Oz to find out what was wrong. The job was
demanding, had long working hours but it couldn't be helped because it paid very well and
they needed the money, especially now that they were expecting their first child.

Willow had decided to work at the precinct as long as possible but there would be a point
when she would have to stop and she hadn't decided yet if she wanted to continue working
after the baby was born. If she didn‟t go back to work they would need every penny. Oz's
business was still young. It was running well so far, but you never knew.

Irritated with the way her thoughts were going she glanced at her watch again, then at the
phone. It still wasn't ringing.

Darn. Buffy still hadn't called and curiosity was killing her. She could almost hear Oz telling
her that she would get all the news tomorrow at work, but that was still more than 12 hours
away. An eternity if you were a concerned friend who had been doing her best to get two lost
hearts back together.

She should have called Buffy herself. The only problem was that she wasn't quite sure how
the blond had taken the setup she and Faith had arranged at the Splash Friday night. And
Willow wasn't looking forward to Buffy yelling angrily through the phone at the redhead for
sticking her nose into things that weren't her business. On the other hand she had to face
her friend sooner or later and maybe it would be easier on the phone. Especially if it hadn't
worked out the way Willow hoped.

With a slight frown on her forehead she finally reached for the phone.

*****

Angel sighed with relief when Riley finally pulled his car from the road and into the driveway
of a neat little white suburban house. It had been a long drive from one end of L.A. to the
other. The blond had stopped from time to time to get a smoke, some booze, then he'd
driven to a fast food restaurant and returned five minutes later with a huge bag, emptying it
while he was driving.
"I wonder why he came here?" Spike said almost to himself, but Angel had just wanted to ask
the same question. "I can't picture him around here."

"You‟d be surprised," his partner, replied, "We grew up only five minutes from here."

The blond raised a brow, "You're a suburban boy, huh? Well, well, who would've guessed?
Angel Reardon growing up in some neat little house with a neat little family."

A bit irritated by his friend's comment Angel asked, "What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing," Spike held up his hands in defense. "It wasn't meant as an insult. You just don't
look like the neat-little-house-type. Maybe because we met in Manhattan and I thought you
fit in perfectly. But then, the part of London I'm from isn't inner city either. Ever heard of
Esher?"

"No," the other man said, his eyes on Riley who was just climbing out of the car, stuffing the
cigarettes in his back pocket and then taking two bottles of what seemed to be Whisky out
of the car. "Seems he's got a date," he said, his attention suddenly on the little red sports
car that was standing right in front of Riley's. He was sure he had seen it before, but
somehow he wasn't able to make the connection. From the intent look on Spike's face his
friend was thinking the same.

They got their answer when the door of the house suddenly opened and a woman stepped
outside, then nervously glanced around before she held out her arms for Riley and he went
right in to them. They hugged, then she stepped back, pulled him with her and the door
closed behind them.

Angel and Spike both leaned back in their seats and some seconds ticked by before they
turned their heads and looked at each other, one with a question in his eyes, the other with
dawning understanding. A moment later Angel muttered a curse under his breath, jerked out
his cell phone and dialed Cordelia Chase's number.

*******

20

same time, somewhere else in L.A.

"Buffy?"

"Hmmm?"

Xander slowly turned his head to get a better view of his partner who was sitting in the
passenger side seat, eyes closed, but obviously not asleep. He chuckled at the picture and
popped some chocolate in his mouth.

"In ten years all your teeth will fall out," Buffy remarked without opening her eyes. She
knew her partner very well and didn't have to look to know what he was doing at the moment.
He chuckled again and shrugged, "Yeah, well. Then I'll get artificial ones. They have a certain
advantage. You can take them out before a fist-fight, so they won't get punched out."

One eye cracked open, "A fist fight? Xander, the last fistfight you were involved was 20
years ago in high school. And I can't remember you losing a tooth."

"A guy always needs an excuse," he replied grinning happily, stuffing more chocolate in his
mouth.

"You know," Buffy said, straightening in her seat, "You and Spike will be the perfect pair.
Angel said his car is littered with empty chips bags and cans of soda. This Internal
Investigation is a gift from heaven for the two of you."

"And you're certainly completely devastated that you have to spend your time with Angel, am
I right?" he shot back, a mischievous glimpse in his eyes. He saw that she was about to reply
and held up a hand, "No. I'm glad, I really am. I know I never really liked the guy, but that's
just my big brother attitude. Putting it aside, I think Angel's a good guy. And you deserve
whatever you wish for after what Riley put you through."

Her head jerked around, "What do you mean?" she asked, suddenly alarmed. Had anyone told
him about the other night? Maybe Cordelia, she thought. She and Xander had once been high
school sweethearts. But would Cordelia-

"What do I mean?" he interrupted her thoughts, "Well, let's think about it. Do the words
adultery and violence ring a bell?" He was clearly irritated. Did she think he would ever
forget what Riley Finn had done?

Buffy released a breath of relief, "Oh that," she said almost carelessly.

Xander narrowed his eyes, "Oh that? What do you mean, oh that? I think that's enough. If
you ask me, you waited way too long to dump him. And you should let him bleed."

"Xander, Riley doesn't have a lot of what you call 'blood'," she emphasized the last word. "He
doesn't have a rich background. Neither do we, if I may remind you. But if you want to know
if I'm going to get what he owes me, the answer is, yes."

"Good," he replied with a single nod and took a large gulp from his drink. "You know-," he
never got to say what he wanted when both their cells started to ring went off. They
exchanged a quick glance, and then unison reached for their phones.

*****

"Eunice, calm down," Riley said to the almost hysterical woman. She was pacing through the
living room of the house he'd just entered. She was petite, almost fragile, her skin lucid like
expensive porcelain doll, and shining dark hair. In the artificial light of the lamp she looked
almost like a fairy, a very agitated, nervous fairy.
Eunice stopped her pacing and bit her thumbnail, "Calm down?" she echoed and frowned. "I
can't calm down. What if he finds me?" she asked. "God, he found me before. How do you
know it‟ll be different this time?"

"Because I made sure he didn't," he replied trying to approach her. But she held her hands in
front of her body and he stopped instantly. "Nikki, please," he said using her nickname. "You
don't need to worry. I'm expecting a lot of money tomorrow and then you'll be on your way
to a place where he'll never find you."

Tears filled her eyes and her lips began to tremble, "It sounds wonderful," her voice
quivered, "Oh, Ri, I'm so afraid."

With two steps he was with her and pulled her in his arms, "Shhhh," he crooned. "Don't be
afraid. I'm here now. I'm here now. I promise, he won't hurt you again. Never again."

They both almost jumped out of their skins when suddenly the doorbell rang. Eunice pulled
away from him, her eyes widened in panic, "Oh God. He's found me. Oh God-"

"Stop that," Riley almost shouted. "Do you really think Pedro would ring a bell, if it was him?
Think rationally, Nikki."

"I-," she stopped and her panic subsided slightly, "You're right. But... Oh God, you have no
idea what he'd do with me if he found me."

"Oh, I think I do," he replied, taking a deep breath. "You stay here, I'm going to see who‟s
there. Probably some Jehovah‟s witness." Assuring himself with a last look that she was
holding up - even if just barely - he turned and went for the door. He gasped when he saw
who was standing right in front of him, "Angel? Spike?"

"Yeah, it's us," Angel retorted, not waiting to get invited, instead pushing the surprised
detective aside and entering the house, Spike in his tow. Ignoring Riley completely, he
proceeded to the living room and when his eyes fell on the woman there, he raised a brow,
"Hello, Nikki," he said, "Nice to see you again."

The woman whirled around, "Angel," she whispered breathlessly, her confused eyes darting
to Riley. "What's going on?" she wanted to know.

"Good question," Angel said. Crossing his arms he turned towards Riley, "And I'd really like
to hear the answer. And you'll better tell us soon."

"What the hell are you doing here?" Riley asked, not willing to play the defensive part, "Are
you following me around?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," Spike said, smiling slightly.

Riley frowned at that, and then incredulously asked, "You were really following me? Why the
hell did you do that?"
"Because it's what we do," Angel answered, "It's the job we're paid for."

"You are paid to follow me?" Riley still didn't understand, then it hit him, "You're working for
Internal Affairs. I can't believe it," he shook his head, chuckled, "But I should've known.
From the moment Giles told us you were coming back I had a bad feeling. But why are you
following me? And why Internal Affairs?" he wanted to know, honestly surprised. "Is there a
dirty cop running around?"

"That's what I wanted to ask you," Angel said casually. "Is there one?"

"You-" Riley was speechless for a moment, then ran a hand through his short hair, "You think
I‟m the dirty cop?"

"You have to admit, you're behaving a bit suspicious these days," Spike said, glancing at the
nervous woman who was biting her lower lip at the moment. "And I would really like to be
introduced to this beauty here," he added.

"What?" with an irritated frown Angel looked at him. "Oh. Sorry," he said as if remembering
the woman's presence again, "Spike, this is Eunice Montez. The name should ring a bell," he
told his friend, "Her husband is Pedro Montez."

"Pedro Montez, the drug lord?" Spike asked suprised, things suddenly making sense to him,
others however... "And why is she here?"

"She is Montez's wife," Angel replied, "but she is also Riley's sister."

"His sis- Bloody Hell," his friend cursed under his breath. "And why didn't anyone care to tell
me that?" he demanded.

"Because she left the States 20 years ago when she married Montez," Angel explained. "As
far as I knew Riley broke off any contact when she married the man," he turned to look at
his former friend, who nodded.

"That's right," Riley confirmed. "We didn't see each other for over 19 years. We didn't talk.
Nothing."

"Riley, no," Eunice pleaded.

"It's no use, Nikki," he said. "They need to know. You know Angel, he won't leave until he
knows the truth."

Spike raised a brow in surprise. This was a Riley he hadn't seen before. Was he protecting
his sister? That was something Spike could relate to.

Eunice looked back and forth between the three men, and then finally released a sharp
breath. "Alright," she began, "It all started ten months ago. Pedro - that's my husband," she
said, looking at Spike. "I'm older than Riley. By five years. I'm his half-sister. My father was
never married to my mother. But I came to stay with my father's new family from time to
time. That's how I met Angel too."

She combed shaky fingers through her hair. "I fell in love with Pedro when I was eighteen.
He was so handsome, so," she fought with tears that were threatening to spill over. "My
family was furious. He was from Colombia and there were rumors that he wasn't what he
seemed to be. But I was young and in love and so we ran away. Married in Vegas. And it was
good - at first. He seemed to love me too. Then when I got older I began to ask questions
and he didn't like it.

"I tried to leave him. More than once. But he is very... old-fashioned. Divorce isn‟t a word in
his dictionary and so he threatened me. We have two children. But they‟re grown up now.
They can be on their own. Ten months ago I managed to get a letter through to Riley. Pedro
was planning to visit the States to meet with a partner in Miami. And he wanted me to come
with him. Show off his pretty wife, if you understand."

"I can follow," Spike said, his face grim.

She smiled slightly, a sad, hopeless smile, "One night I just ran away. And I called Riley
again, hoping against hope that he'd help me." She turned towards her half-brother, her
smile suddenly warm and loving, "And he did. He picked me up and hid me. Over the last few
months I've been to so many places I don't remember. Pedro is still searching for me. You
have no idea what he's going to do if he finds me."

"I see," Angel said after listening to her story. He gave Eunice a smile, she returned
hesitantly. They had spent good times together in their youth and they were both
remembering it now. "So that's your connection with Simone Chambers," he said turning back
to Riley. "You are blackmailing her for money, aren't you?"

Riley stared at him for a moment, ready to deny it, but realizing that it was useless, "Yeah,"
he admitted on a released breath.

"I found out things about her father. Things that... could get him into jail and she was willing
to pay for them."

"You mean instead of reporting him, of doing the things you should've done," Spike remarked,
"you used that knowledge for yourself?"

"He did it to help me," Eunice pleaded her brother's case. "You don't know Pedro, you have no
idea what he'd do to me if he found me."

"Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea," Spike replied, not giving an inch.

"I think you have absolutely no idea," Eunice retorted, her voice suddenly cold as ice, "I‟ve
seen him do things, you wouldn't believe in your worst nightmares. He‟s a man without a
conscience. He feels like a king and he acts like one. And I mean that in the worst sense."
"Nikki," Angel said gently, putting a hand on her arm, "I know you're afraid-"

"Afraid," she echoed, shaking off his arm, "I'm not afraid. Angel, I stopped being afraid a
long time ago. I'm terrified. Pedro is a monster. I know my children are safe from him
because his family honor would never allow him to hurt them. But I'm a traitor in his eyes. I
embarrassed him by running away. There will be no mercy if he finds me."

Angel took a deep breath and exchanged a glance with Spike. Then he turned back to Eunice,
"I'm sorry for all this, Nikki."

"Then help me," she pleaded.

"I can't. Not in the way you want it."

"Angel," Riley interrupted, "It's only one day. Give me one day and Nikki will be gone. Then
I'm going to turn myself in. God knows there's a lot more I have to sorry for."

The dark-haired man's face hardened instantly, and his thoughts went to Buffy for a
moment, "Yeah," he agreed. "There is."

Something flickered through Riley's eyes but it was gone too quickly to identify it. Was it
shame? Was it guilt? Even regret? Angel couldn't be sure.

"So you will give us 24 hours?" Riley asked hopefully.

"I can't do that," Angel replied. A soft sob came from behind him and he knew that Eunice
had started crying. "Riley, you know I can't let this happen. You blackmailed another person.
You're a cop for God's sake, doesn't that mean anything to you?"

The blond looked at his former best friend for a long moment, before he said, "If it means
any- I was desperate, Angel. Desperate people tend to do crazy things. I tried, you know. I
tried to get the money. I used everything I inherited. I took out a loan, but my wife‟s
divorcing me and in California that doesn‟t get banks jumping at the opportunity to trust you
with their money. Pedro will kill her, Angel. I couldn't let that happen."

"I understand that," the dark-haired man said gently, "But what I can't understand is what
you did to help her. You blackmailed Simone Chambers. You had proof that would probably
get her father arrested and you used it for your own purpose. I can‟t act as if it never
happened. Why didn't you contact the FBI?" he asked. "They would've helped you. Maybe she
knows things about her husband. It would give them a reason to take her in protective
custody, maybe give her a new identity. There's always another way, Riley."

"So this ends here, huh?" the blond said, a myriad of emotions playing on his face.

"Yes," Angel confirmed. "It ends here. Give me your weapon, Riley. I promise I‟ll look after
Eunice." He held out his hand, waiting for his former friend to hand him his gun.
"Oh God," Eunice sobbed behind them and Spike and Angel were distracted only for a
moment. It was enough for Riley to draw his weapon and direct it towards the other officers.

"Don't do this, Riley," Angel said quietly, when he saw the gun.

"I have no choice," the blond said, desperation clearly audible in his voice. "This is my sister
we're talking about. I have absolutely no choice."

"We won't let you leave this house," Spike told him very calmly.

"Then you'll probably die today," Riley replied. "And I'm sure you don't want that. So you'll
better stay away. Come on Nikki," he told his sister.

Eunice glanced quickly at Angel and Spike, and then rushed to her brother's side. "I'm
sorry," she whispered.

"Riley, please don't do this," Angel tried one last time.

"Sorry," the blond shrugged, "I have to."

*****

"God, drive faster," Buffy demanded, "Drive faster, Xand. Something's wrong. I know
something's wrong. I can feel it." She was nervously chewing on her lower lip.

"I'm driving as fast as I can," Xander replied, not taking his eyes from the traffic. The last
thing they needed were an accident to slow them even more down than L.A. traffic did.
"Buff, don't worry. Angel and Spike are good at what they do. They can take care of
themselves."

"I know," she said. "But this is a weird situation. This is about Riley. There are so many
unfinished things between them. Angel and Riley, I mean. This is much more than just a
simple problem." She thought for a moment, "We could use the siren."

"Buffy, they only informed Cordelia that they needed to confront Riley. They never even
requested support. It was Cordelia who said we should go there, so we knew what was going
on. There isn't an emergency."

"Maybe not, but I still have a bad feeling."

Xander chuckled slightly at that. He remembered all the bad feelings Buffy had when she
and Angel were first dating four years ago. He could understand that she was worried about
him. Anya was constantly worried when he left in the morning. But so far, nothing had
happened.

But then the speaker in their car came to life and the voice that came through made their
blood freeze in their veins.
Without another word, Xander pulled out the light and put in on top of their car, the sirens
howling, while he floored the accelerator and the car shot through the traffic. He looked to
his side. Buffy was white as a sheet, all blood drained from her pretty face, her eyes huge
with fear, she was trembling all over and the voice from the speaker asked, "Did you hear,
633, there's an emergency, detective Stevens just reported officer down. Please confirm
message, officer down."

With a last glance on Buffy, Xander pulled the micro to his mouth,

"Confirming," he said, "We're almost there. Is it bad?"

"Sorry, Detective Harris, Detective Stevens didn't say that. But I suppose as he wanted us
to send for medical help."

"Thanks, officer," Xander said, breaking the connection. "He'll be okay," he tried to assure
Buffy.

"You don't know that," she replied, her voice hollow, hopeless. "Oh God, Xand. What am I
going to do if he-" her voice broke and she hugged herself tightly.

"He won't," Xander's voice was firm. "Do you understand? We don't even know if it's Angel."

"Xander, Spike called in. Whom do you think he was talking about?" she cried. "And now stop
talking. Drive. Oh God," she yelled, "Drive."

********

Keep reading


Unforgettable cont...
21

There were other police cars on the scene already when Xander brought his to a screeching
halt in front of the small suburban house. A uniformed officer was busy applying tape around
the crime scene.

Even before the car stopped completely, Buffy jumped out and ran for the house. Pushing
everyone in the way aside, she stormed through the door, shouting Angel's name. She had to
expected him lying there, in his blood, maybe on the brink of dying, but she was completely
unprepared for the scene that met her eyes.

Angel was sitting on the ground, Riley's head in his lap, while Spike stood with two other
detectives asking them to call the FBI. A woman she didn't know was kneeling by Angel's
side.
Sensing the commotion at the door Angel looked up and his eyes instantly locked with
Buffy's who gasped in shock. He was holding Riley, and from a hole in her husband's chest
came a constant stream of blood. Angel had obviously tried to apply pressure by using his
shirt, because there was something unidentifiable, soaked with blood and Angel was bare-
chested.

Buffy's eyes flew to Spike, who looked at her the moment he became aware of her presence.
He shook his head slightly, indicating her without words that Riley wouldn't make it.

Buffy kneeled down beside Angel and her eyes found his again. They communicated silently
over Riley's dying form and there was pure love in their eyes. Suddenly Riley's head moved in
Angel's lap and his eyelids fluttered, "Angel," he whispered, then his eyes fell on his wife,
"Buffy," he said and smiled. "Good to see you. I'm sorry." He coughed and felt the sharp pain
in his chest.

She closed her eyes for a moment, and then nodded, "I know," she replied, giving him a smile.
"I know you didn't want to hurt me, Riley."

"No," he shook his head, another cough wracking his body, and he tasted blood in his mouth.
He was really going to die today, he thought. He should've known from the expression on the
faces that were looking down on him. "No, that's - that's not what I mean," he whispered.
"Although I'm sorry for that too." He chuckled slightly and it hurt. "I'm sorry for so many
things, I don't even know where to begin."

"Don't talk Riley," Angel's voice sounded strained. "You're going to need your strength."

"No need to lie, Angel," Riley replied, chuckling again. "I don't have a lot of time left, so I
better get started admitting my sins."

"Oh God, Riley," Eunice sobbed, her trembling hands brushing her brother's hair from his
forehead, her eyes resting on him lovingly."Riley-" Angel tried.

"No," he interrupted the dark-haired man. "There's a lot I need to say. I killed Mike," he
said without warning.

Angel's eyes widened, while Buffy let out a gasp, "Wha - What did you say?" she demanded.

"I killed him. I shot your brother."

"You..." Buffy stared at him, obviously not able to digest the revelation. "You killed Mike?"
she whispered brokenly. "Oh my God."

"God, Buffy," Riley cried, hot tears falling down his cheeks, "I didn't do it deliberately. I
never... It almost killed me when I read the report, when I read with my own eyes that only
three bullets were missing from Angel's weapon. I thought the whole chamber had been
empty. But then..." he shook his head, the pain and torture in his eyes almost taking her
breath away. "I used Angel's weapon that evening. But I never... Then two years later I came
across the report. And reading it I remembered. I must have suppressed it. I read it up.
They call it suppressive amnesia. I was aiming for one of the bank robbers at the window and
without warning Mike was suddenly right in my line of fire. I shot him. Then I accused Angel,
married you. But I swear by God, I didn't know. I didn't remember."

"I believe you," Buffy whispered, her eyes searching Angel's again and she found the same
sadness in them.

"After... After I knew what I'd done. I..." he shook his head again, another cough wracking
through his body.

"Riley, why didn't you tell them," Angel wanted to know. "You didn't kill him. It was an
accident." He looked down at the blond whose cheeks were wet with tears and in whose eyes
was nothing but despair.

"Tell them?" Riley said almost incredulously. "She would've left me," he cried, turning his
head back to Buffy. "You would've left me. I saw the way you reacted when you thought it
was Angel. And you loved him. You never loved me."

"Riley-" she tried to protest, but he interrupted her.

"No need to lie, Buffy. I knew it. Right from the start. But I loved you. You were the love of
my life and... I had the irrational thought I could make you love me back. But you can't people
force to love you. Two years ago I couldn't face that. So I didn't tell you and you didn't
leave me. But I... felt unworthy to be at your side... so I... did everything to make you hate me
and it... worked," he chuckled again. An unhappy sound.

"Riley." Angel had no idea what to say. He knew nothing he could say would be what Riley
needed. His former friend needed to forgive himself, and Angel wasn't sure if he was able to
do that. Again images of Riley laughing with him, of Riley joking, them together playing
football, flashed through his mind, and he felt a lump forming in his throat, "I'm sorry," he
whispered.

"Yeah, I know," shook his head, "I know you are, although you have no reason to be. You're a
much better person than I ever was. I envied you... God, I was so jealous."

"Why?" Angel wanted to know. "You were my best friend. My best and most trusted friend.
Why did you have a reason to be jealous?"

A smile that was somewhere between sadness and bitterness crossed the blonde‟s features,
"You're still oblivious, aren't you? You have no idea, Angel, how it feels to grow up in another
man's shadow."

"But I never-"
Now Riley laughed, but it was not a happy sound, "I know that. You never saw it that way, but
then you were the shadow I was growing up in. You might not believe it, not even now, but it
was that way nevertheless."

"I never saw anything in you but my friend," the dark-haired man insisted.

"Yeah. A friend." Riley nodded almost to himself. "But you were always number one. Can you
imagine how often my father said he wished I was like you? How disappointed he was in me? I
was a loser."

"You never were-"

"But you see, that's exactly the point. I was a loser. In his eyes I was and what happened
over the last four years proved it. And my father admired you. You were the quarterback of
our high school team, then again in college. You got two scholarships for college. Your parents
couldn't stop telling mine about their great son. And all I managed to be was your friend. Did
I ever tell you that the first girl I slept with in college went to bed with me because she
couldn't have you?"

"Oh Riley," Angel said helplessly.

"Yeah, what did I say? I'm the loser," he chuckled again, softly this time. The gunshot wound
didn't hurt anymore and he remembered that fatal wounds never did. "She always loved you,"
he said, suddenly changing the subject. "I lost there too. I fell in love with the same woman
and she never, not once, stopped loving you. And I knew it. That's when I really started
hating you. You don't have to tell me how irrational that is, but... I couldn't stop it."

"I'm sorry," Angel said again. And he was. For the loss of a man who had once been his best
friend. And for the man who was lying in his lap, and who had lost himself by wallowing in
self-pity and nursing his jealousy.

"Yeah, I'm sorry too. For more than you can imagine." He was getting weaker by the second
and he could almost feel his life slip away. "Nikki. I'm sorry," he whispered, "I can't keep my
promise."

"Oh Riley," his sister cried softly, "I love you. Without you I wouldn't have been able to
leave him."

"I love you too," he replied, then grabbed Angel's hand urgently, "I know I have no right to
ask anything from you, but please take care of her. She needs... help. She told the... truth...
Pedro is... dangerous."

"I know. I promise, Riley. I'll help her."

The blond smiled, released a breath of relief. "Good," he said, his eyes already clouded over,
but nevertheless searching for Buffy. "I love you," he whispered. "I... always... sorry..." A
shiver ran through his body, then suddenly his eyes became unfocussed, unseeing, and his
form went slack in Angel's arms.*

"Angel, Spike," Cordelia shouted pushing past the police officers who were standing in the
doorway. She released a breath she hadn't even noticed she'd been holding when she saw
the two detectives standing and obviously unharmed, but a frown appeared on her face
seeing them each holding a woman in their arms. It was not so surprising to see Angel holding
Buffy, but she didn't know the other one.

Her eyes fell on the paramedics who were busy covering a body on the ground. "What
happened?" she asked.

Slowly Angel raised his head, "Riley‟s dead," he said and a sob came from the woman in
Spike's arms. "This," he indicated the woman, "is Eunice Montez. She‟s Riley's sister. And
Pedro Montez' wife."

"Oh," was all Cordelia replied. Riley's sister was Pedro Montez' wife. Interesting. "Still, I
need to know what happened."

"Riley tried to leave with his sister," Spike explained, knowing how hard it was for Angel or
Buffy to talk about it. "Eunice here," he gave the woman in his arms a quick smile, "wants to
leave her husband, but it seems he isn't taking it too well. So Riley tried to help her and in
order to do that he blackmailed Simone Chambers. Angel tried to persuade him to talk to the
FBI, but he wouldn't have it. He pulled his gun and wanted to leave with his sister. Of course
we couldn't let him do that."

"And so you shot him?" Cordelia asked incredulously.

"No," Spike slowly shook his head. "And that's where the story gets really interesting. Riley
opened the door and wham he went down. While Angel took care of him and Eunice, I tried to
find the killer. But he was gone. Or maybe he used a long distance weapon. I have no idea.
We‟ll have to wait for the coroner's report, I guess."

"Are you telling me that someone shot Riley, while he was about to leave the house?" Cordelia
needed to be absolutely sure she had heard right.

"Yes, that's what we‟re telling you," Angel confirmed, holding Buffy close. She was
completely shaken. First she had been consumed by fear it was Angel who was shot him and
then Riley's revelations had done the rest. "Cordelia, I need to get Buffy home. Riley told us
a lot before he died." He stroked

Buffy's back and kissed her skull, "He shot Mike."

The brunette gasped, "He, what?"

"It was an accident. But it ate him up. Can we talk about this later? Buffy needs some rest."
"Yes, yes, of course, take her home," she replied instantly and watched them leave, Angel
carrying the blonde more than she was walking. Then she ran a hand through her hair, "God,
this... this is..."

"Yeah, I know," Spike agreed, still holding Eunice.

"Pretty heavy. I contacted the FBI," he explained. "They‟ll take care of her."

"Good," Cordelia nodded in agreement. "He really shot Mike?" she asked.

"Yeah," the blond nodded as well. "I thought Buffy would faint. She‟s going to need a while to
get over this."

The brunette wanted to answer, but two FBI agents entered the house and after a little
conversation with Cordelia, Eunice and Spike they agreed that Riley's sister was in need of
protective custody. As soon as they had left, the assistant DA put a hand on Spike's arm.
"What do you think about a cup of coffee? I need one and you could tell everything what
happened here. I have a feeling it's quite a lot."

Spike grinned for the first time, "I would never refuse the invitation of a pretty woman," he
said and made her smile. "Come on, Miss Chase, let's talk."

****

"Buffy," Angel said softly after he had closed the door of her apartment behind them.

"Yeah," she replied, without looking up, without really paying attention.

"I want you to lie down."

"No," she shook her head, giving him a smile that almost broke his heart, "I can't lie down.
Riley just died. I need to organize things." She nodded to herself, "Yes, I'm sure there are
things to be done. I'm still his wife, you know, I need-"

"You need to lie down," he told her gently but firmly. When she didn't react, he took the
matters in his own hands by scooping her up in his arms. Glad she didn't protest, he carried
her into her bedroom and gently put her down there. "Stay here. I'm just going to get you a
cup of tea. I'll be back in a minute. Okay?"

She nodded but didn't look at him. He was sure she was still in shock and he hurried to make
some tea and a sandwich for her, although he was almost certain she wouldn't eat one bite.
Returning to her room he found her in the same place he had left her, staring at the ceiling,
her eyes dry and incredibly sad.

"Here," he said softly, sat down on the edge and held the tea towards her direction. Her
eyes focused slowly on him and in autopilot she took the cup and drank a large gulp. He
winced seeing her drinking the hot brew like that, but she didn't even seem to notice. "Easy,"
he said, taking the cup back. "Do you want anything to eat?"
She shook her head, but didn't lay back. Instead she was looking at him. "He killed Mike,"
she said, and each word seemed to hurt her throat. "He killed my brother and I let him touch
me. I married him. I hurt you and sent you away and all the time it was him-" her voice broke
and she squeezed her eyes shut. "Oh Angel," she whispered.

Angel wanted to touch her. He was dying to take her into his arms and hold her, to try to
soothe her, calm her down. But for the moment she'd set up this invisible boundary around
herself and now she even crossed her arms, and he didn't want to trespas over the line. They
had kissed just once, but in no way they had established what sort of relationship they were
in.

She frowned, "I even enjoyed him touching me. For a while. It was fun. And he was touching
me with those hands. The same hands that held the gun." Her voice was flat, and she began
to shiver.

"Buffy, stop," Angel pleaded. "Don't do this to yourself. You had no was of knowing what was
going on."

"No I couldn't," she admitted, and looked at him searchingly, eager to find the prove for the
honesty in his words in his eyes. Sh reached for him then. She unwound her arms and
reached out for him, giving him the permission to take her in his own arms.

The next moment he held her tightly and after only a second hers came around his neck. "He
was messed up, Buffy," he was whispering too, trying to explain where there was no
explanation. How did you explain when a person had lost himself? "He was eaten up by
jealousy. But I'm sure he loved you. And when he found out it was him who killed Mike he
couldn't bear it. I'm not trying to find an apology, because there is none. But I can
understand what was happening to him. And I'm absolutely sure he loved you."

"I want to believe it," she cried into his neck. "I want to believe that he killed Mike by
accident, and that he didn't remember when we married, but at the moment I feel so... so..."

"I know," he replied, "I know. Nobody expects you to forgive him. God knows I can't. Not
now. Maybe never." He took a deep breath, "Do you want me to stay?"

"Yes," she said, tightening her hold on his neck. "I don't want to be alone. Stay with me."

"As long as you want me," he whispered and lay down beside her. With their hands entwined
they fell asleep.

********

22

Monday, September 4th, 6.00 p.m. Los Angeles

It was quiet in Buffy's apartment, now that she and Angel were sitting on her sofa in the
living room, her head resting on his shoulder, her eyes closed. The week had gone by in a blur.
The FBI had taken Eunice Montez into protective custody and they would provide her with a
new identity as soon as possible. In return Eunice would give all information she had, and
regarding the fact that she'd been living more than 20 years with one of the most wanted
drug dealers in South America, it was quite a lot. Actually the FBI could hardly believe their
luck and were only too willing to help Eunice in any way possible.

The coroner had confirmed their suspicion that Riley had been shot with a wide-range
weapon and so they had no idea who the killer could be. The whole department was
investigating his murder but so far they had only pulled blanks. The news that Riley had shot
Mike had spread rapidly and to spare Buffy the whisper behind her back and the curious
looks, Giles had given her several days off.

Buffy was grateful for it. There was a lot to do regarding Riley's funeral, because although
they'd been in the process of a divorce and were not living with each other anymore, legally
she was still his wife and responsible for all the things that had to be done. Angel was by her
side the whole time, helping her whenever she needed him, taking care of formalities, or just
cooking dinner for her.

Riley's funeral had been a quiet affair. His brother, Connor, came with his family and with
the help of the FBI they even arranged for Connor to meet his sister Eunice for a while. A
lot of cops attended Riley's funeral. The fact that he was responsible for the death of
Buffy's brother didn't present a problem. Nobody doubted the words of a dying man that it
had been an accident and so the file of Mike Danicki was officially closed.

"It's the first time in a week that I have the feeling that I'm able to breathe." Buffy looked
up and her eyes met Angel's,

"The whole week was so... unreal," she shook her head, "I don't know. I still can't believe
he's dead. Just like that," she snapped her fingers.

"I know," he replied quietly, reaching out and taking her hand. "There's so much I can't quite
grasp. He killed Mike. It's so... strange. I didn't suspect him. Not for a second. When Mike
went down that night, I was sure it had been one of the bank robbers. Then when the report
came, telling us it was my weapon..." he trailed off and shook his head.

He had still trouble understanding what had happened. All the things Riley had said to him
before he had died. About his permanent jealousy. When had it started, Angel wondered.
When had friendship changed into something ugly?

"Maybe I should feel sorry for him," Buffy mused, frowning slightly, "Maybe I should, but I
can't. He did so many terrible things. And I am not talking about Mike. I can believe that was
an accident. And I can even believe he suppressed what he knew, that happens, I've seen it
more than once. But later. When he found out about Mike. He lied to me, Angel. He didn't
even try to tell me."

He was quiet for a long time, and then suddenly said, "I wonder-" but broke off again.
"You wonder, what?" she probed.

"You remember the day when he gave you Mike's file," it wasn't really a question. Angel
didn't doubt for a moment that Buffy remembered the day.

"Yeah, sure. Why?"

"I wonder if he wanted you to read it. Maybe he... maybe he wanted you to know," he shook
his head and released a long breath and ran a hand through his hair, then over his face. "God,
Riley was so screwed up. Maybe I'm just trying to find the good in him. I don't know. Maybe
a part of me just refuses to see him for what he was."

"But that's just the point," she replied, reaching for the coffee cup on the table, "Who was
he? I think I've asked myself that question a million times this week. And you know what? I
still don't have the right answer. Maybe we'll never know."

Angel was about to say something when the doorbell rang. He wanted to get up, but Buffy
shook her head and went herself. She smiled when she saw her visitor, "Connor, come in," she
invited. "It's good to see you. We barely had a minute to talk."

"That's the reason I came. Lenore, the kids and I, we‟re going to fly back to Washington
tomorrow morning. And... well, I thought we should talk." He followed her to the living room
and when he spotted Angel, he smiled as well, "Angel, so good to see you," he said and the
two men hugged. "Although I wish..."

"I know," Angel replied with a nod. "I wish the same. Never in a million years I would've
pictured our meeting like this."

"No," Connor agreed. "And there‟s something I need to say first. Angel, I had no idea what
was going on when Riley married Buffy. I'm sorry I nearly threw you out of the church that
afternoon."

Angel chuckled slightly when Buffy gasped, "You did, what?"

Connor had to smile, "I... well, I saw him coming from your room that afternoon and... we had
a fight. Not with fists, but I shouted at him and -"

"Connor," Angel interrupted him, "Forget it, will you. It's so long ago. It seems unreal today."

"Yes it does, doesn't it," Riley's brother said with a slight shake of his head. "He changed so
much the last two years. I had no idea what happened," he laughed harshly, "Well, now we all
know. He killed a man and couldn't live with it."

"He didn't actually kill him in the strictest sense," Buffy said placing a cup of coffee in front
of Connor.

"I know that," he replied. "I just..." he shook his head again, "I‟m just having a hard time
digesting all this. I talked to your lieutenant this morning and he told me a lot of things. He
said that Riley was blackmailing a woman. He even," his face contorted in disgust, "forced her
to have... God, I can't say it. It's too disgusting."

"Don't," Buffy put a hand over Connor's. "Don't torture yourself by seeing only the bad
things he did. I did that too and it's not good. Try to think about the times when he made a
joke, when you laughed together."

"How can you be so... so forgiving?" Conner asked, in utter shock.

"I'm not. Riley did many terrible things. Some of them to me. But he‟s dead. And it's of no
use to dwell on it. And about the blackmailing. Yes, it was wrong, but at least he did it for
Eunice. He tried to help her."

"She‟s right," Angel said, giving Riley's brother a warm smile. "I had a lot of good times with
him and I‟d prefer to remember them."

"He called me," Connor said suddenly, "About a week ago he called me in my office. I hadn't
heard from him in over a year. I tried to call him, but he never answered his phone, never
returned my calls. And suddenly he did. He was stone drunk. I think he didn't even remember
afterwards that he called me at all." Frowning he ran a finger over the handle of his cup. Not
looking up he said, "He told me, he tried to rape you. And he cried."

"Connor-" Buffy tried to say, but he held up a hand.

"No, don't. I don't want to hear any excuses. And from the way you're looking at me, I know
it‟s true. What I want to know is, why he became what he was in the end? He was my brother,
Buffy. I knew him better than anyone else, maybe even better than Angel, and all of a sudden
I feel as if I didn't know him at all. And I find myself asking, how was this possible."

"We tried to find an answer just before you came," Angel said and shrugged, "We haven‟t
found one."

Connor laughed shortly, "Really comforting. I..." again he shook his head, "He loved you," he
said, looking at Buffy. "The only thing I am absolutely certain of is that he loved you. I've
never seen him happier than on the day you became his wife. The fact that he let you slip
away from him shows me that he was really messed up."

He suddenly shook his upper body as if to get rid of all the grief and pain and straightened
on the chair, then reached in his pocket and produced a sealed envelope. "This is for you
both," he said handing it to Buffy and Angel. "It was in a box he sent to me the day before
he died. I have no idea what's in it." All of a sudden he stood and the others did as well. "And
anyways. I need to go. I promised my kids to read them a story tonight. And if I've learned
anything from all this, then it‟s to never take another person for granted. Tomorrow it could
be too late already."

"Thanks for coming, Connor," Buffy said and hugged him. "You have a lovely wife and
beautiful children. You‟re a lucky man."
"Yeah," he nodded, "I suppose I am. Angel," he turned towards his brother‟s long-time friend.
"I know he envied you. But he loved you too. Don't believe that he wasn't your friend.
Because he was."

"I know that, Connor. And I want to remember that."

The two men embraced for a short moment, then exchanged a long look that spoke more than
any words. With a last nod, he opened and door and slipped from the apartment.

Buffy and Angel stood there for a moment, just looking at each other, then without a word
they went back to the living-room and she took the envelope and ripped it open. The moment
the contents were on the table, Angel looked at the blond, who stared at him through wide
eyes.

"Are you thinking the same as I?" she asked.

"Yes," Angel confirmed. "I should call Cordelia immediately," he pulled his cell phone from his
pocket. "And while I'm at it," he said, "You should call Xander and Spike."

She nodded, the phone already in her hand, "And after that I'm calling the pizza delivery
service." She smiled when she saw him raising a brow, "We'll get hungry soon. And as I see it
there's a lot we have to talk about."

He smiled back, and then waited for Cordelia to answer her phone.

********

23

Tuesday, September 5th, 10.00 a.m., Los Angeles

"And what does Cordelia Chase think about these?" Giles asked and put the pictures he'd
been holding on his desk. The expression on his face was a mixture of disbelief, worry and
anger. If the situation hadn't been that serious it would've been almost funny to seem them
all playing out on his face..

"Probably the same you do," Angel replied rubbing his eyes and exchanging a look with Spike
who was sitting by his side. It had been a long night with Xander, Doyle and Cordelia in
Buffy's apartment, sorting through the contents of the envelope and discovering things none
of them had thought possible. "I'd say the evidence is pretty obvious."

Giles sighed, raked a hand through his hair. When he caught the eyes of the two detectives
looking at him expectantly, he nodded, "Yes, yes, I agree," he said. "There‟s not much to say.
These pictures tell their own story. Still, I have trouble believing my own eyes."

"It's never easy to see evidence against a colleague," Spike remarked.
"I've worked with this person for a long time. I've trusted-" Giles stopped himself, shaking
his head again in disbelief. When Spike and Angel had entered his office this morning he'd
already known that it wouldn't be something pleasant they had to tell him. The expression on
their faces had been grim, their movements agitated, but there had also been an underlying
weariness. And Giles had instantly known what it meant. They'd identified the dirty cop. And
they hadn't liked it one bit.

Angel couldn't sit any longer so he stood up from his chair and walked towards the window,
staring into the outer office. Buffy looked up the very same moment and their eyes met. A
long look passed between them. A look that spoke of love, friendship, understanding and the
sharing of the same undeniable truth. Not taking his eyes from the blonde's face, he asked,

"What are we going to do now? I mean, yeah we do have the pictures and they tell us who the
person is, but that's still not enough. We need more to make this case waterproof. Cordelia
says she needs more to be absolutely certain, to convince a jury hundred percent."

"Damn," Giles swore under his breath but the others heard it nevertheless. "I hate this. But
I agree it's not enough for a jury. A smart lawyer could turn it upside down. Well, you have
to continue following the person, I guess."

"There's just a problem, Sir," Spike said slowly, for the first time using the word "sir".

Under normal circumstances Giles would've been tempted to grin, but as it was, his
expression stayed grim and unmoving. "Yes?"

"With the Finn-incident a week ago, I think it's a safe bet that it's out there that we're
working for Internal Affairs."

The lieutenant swore again, and then exhaled sharply, "Yeah," he said finally, "you're
probably right." He slapped a flat hand on his desk, "God, dammit, that's a bloody mess."
Raking his hand through his hair, he exhaled again, "Okay, let's deal with what we have.
There are these," he pointed at the pictures scattered over his desk, "and we have the
letter from Finn, where he tells us all he knows. Even that he was blackmailed, because his
sister was his weak spot, and although he tried to be careful, he obviously wasn't careful
enough. But he's dead now and not able to certify his written statement by testifying in
person."

Not able to sit any longer, Giles stood as well and jammed his hands in his pockets, "So
although we do have his written word, we can't use it. To top this our suspect probably knows
that you're on his trail. What a mess. What a bloody mess."

"Buffy and Xander are going to tail him," Angel spoke after a moment of silence, then with a
last glance at the blond in the outer office her turned towards Giles. "Our suspect doesn't
know they're involved as well. They arrived later when Riley was shot, there's no way they'd
connect them with the IA-investigation. It's pretty unlikely to use detectives from the
department to spy on their colleagues. So I think, nobody will suspect them."
Slowly Giles nodded, "Alright. Buffy and Harris are going to take care of our suspect. But I
want you to stay in contact with them."

"That goes without saying," Angel replied, hating the situation more by the second. Of course
Buffy and Xander were trained and experienced cops. Of course they knew how to act in
such a situation. But his gut turned into one gigantic knot at the thought of the woman he
loved being exposed to danger. Not that she wasn't exposed to it every day, she was a cop
after all. But this was different. They were going against a powerful enemy, and besides, this
was his job. He was supposed to take care of the dirty cop, not Buffy. He was supposed to
face the danger, not a woman who just went through an emotional roller coaster.

"We'll be connected to their car all times," Spike stood now as well. "We're their backup."

"Alright," Giles nodded, "let's do it."

Spike nodded back and slipped from the office. Angel was about to follow him when Giles'
voice held him back. "Yes?" he asked.

"I heard you stayed with Buffy this past week," the lieutenant began.

Angel frowned slightly at that, "Yeah, and?"

"I suppose I don't have to tell you how vulnerable she is at the moment. The news about Riley
and Mike, Riley's death... Be careful with her. Don't hurt her."

The dark-haired man's features softened into a slight smile, "I don't intent to," he said. "I
love her." A looked passed between the two men, before Angel left the office as well.

*

"You think," Kate said, tipping her index finger speculatively against her chin while she
stared over the desk at Buffy, who was sitting at the other end of the outer office, eyes
fixed on Angel behind the window of Giles' room, "that there's something going on again
between Buffy and Angel?"

"What?" Darla's head came up with a jerk. She stared at Kate for a moment, then turned
and eyes narrowing let her gaze wander from the blond woman to the dark-haired man, who
had been her lover what seemed like ages ago. Years of training made it possible that she
could turn back and give her partner an indifferent shrug, "Who knows," she said, casting her
eyes back on the report she was reading.

Kate tilted her head and let her inquiring eyes rest on the bent head of her blond partner.
Darla gave the picture of indifference but they had been partners too long, for Kate to be
fooled that easily. Besides, Kate wasn't a cop for nothing. "Don't even try to tell me that
you're not interested," she said, waiting for her partner's reaction. When Darla's head came
up again, she continued, "And don't try to tell me that you're over him. You were never, not
for one moment, over Angel Reardon. He's in your blood, honey. He's been ever since you laid
eyes on him."

"That's none of your damned business," Darla snarled, her voice barely above a whisper. Kate
Lockley might be her partner, and she was a damned good one, but the two women had never
been friends, and Kate certainly wasn't someone Darla would confess to.

Kate laughed slightly, knowing that she'd hit right on the money. "Whatever you say, Darla.
Whatever you say," she grinned now, tipping her finger at her chin. Buffy was reading a file
now and Angel was talking to Giles again, "But I would bet a year's salary that something's
going on there."

*****

same day, 2.00 p.m.

"Listen to me," the voice growled at the other end of the line. "They know. They know
everything. I need to get away from here." Floyd Brady, David Griffin's right hand, and if
you believed rumors on the street, one of the most vicious people on this planet rolled his
eyes, "Don't panic," he said, clearly annoyed. He hated weakness and fear and it was panic
that came through the line. "They don't know a thing. If they did they'd arrested you by
now. But you're still running around free."

"Is that meant to make me feel better?" the voice hissed now. "Because it doesn't."

"Stay put," Floyd replied and waved one of his hands in, signaling him to sit down. He took the
sheets the other man handed him and only half-listening to what the detective was saying on
the phone, scanned their content. At the end he nodded to the man opposite to him with a
question in his eyes.

"It just came in," the man, who called himself Lyle, reported. "It's hot news."

"Agreed," Floyd, said, shifting his attention back to the phone. "Listen," he hissed, "Listen to
me. Stay put. Don't do anything stupid. We'll take care of the rest. Behave normal. And
don't call again. If you need to know anything, I'm going to contact you."

"But-"

"No buts, do you hear me? We're doing this my way now." Without waiting for a reply, he
shut off the phone. "Idiot," he muttered, then sighed and scanned the papers in his hand
again. Looking up he gazed at Lyle, "That's really interesting. So Finn has kept records, huh?
Damn," he slapped his hand on the desk, which made Lyle jump in his chair. "Why didn't
anyone check this before Zack took care of him?"

"W-well," Lyle stuttered, knowing how easily his boss' temper could blow up. "W-we didn't
know about the brother."
"Obviously," Floyd replied bitingly. "Well, the damage is done. There's nothing we can do now.
But, as I said before, if the proof was good enough, they would've already arrested our
contact. But they haven't. And that tells us two things. The proof isn't enough *and* they're
going to try to find more. They're going to try to make this waterproof."

He smiled, a very slow smile, Lyle had seen before, and it send shivers down his back, "Get
me Zack on the phone, I think I need him for another job."

********

24

same day, 8.00 p.m., Los Angeles

Putting the fork down, Buffy sighed in contentment and gazed at Angel over her kitchen
table with a smile, "That was delicious. Absolutely perfect. But you can't go on doing this."

He smiled back at her, "All I did was call the restaurant and they delivered," he replied, "Oh,
yeah, and I set the table. Really hard work," he ended with a grin."

"It's very sweet. But it's not what I meant, and you know that, Angel," Buffy said, leaning
her elbows on the table and resting her chin in the palm of one hand. "What I meant is, you
can't keep spoiling me like this. Angel, you‟ve more or less lived here ever since... Anyway.
This has to stop, I'm a grown up person, and I can't go on using your friendship. I need to
take my life in my own hands again."

His smile faded and he put down his own fork with great care, "Is that how you feel?" he
asked slowly. "That we're friends?"

Buffy frowned for a moment, then a bit irritated, she replied, "Well, yeah."

A tight fist seemed to squeeze his heart and Angel felt as if he'd been punched in the gut,
but managed to sound cool, "I see," he said, concentrating on breathing slowly, not to lose
control. He didn't know why her answer surprised him so much. Sure, they had kissed once,
outside the Splash, and yeah, she'd reacted, passionately even, but of course that didn't
have to mean anything. What had been one of the most intense moments for him might have
just been a spark of passion for her. He had been so sure, she had felt it too, but then, he
barely knew her anymore. Four years had passed and although they had spent the last week
more or less together, nothing in her behavior had hinted more than friendship.

She must have sensed the change in his mood because suddenly uncertain, she reached over
the table and covered his large hand with her small one, "Or did I get that wrong?" she
asked anxiously, "I really want you to be my friend and I want to be yours. That's important
for me."
Slowly he raised his head and his eyes met her pleading ones. And if it might kill him, how
could he say no to those eyes, "No, you didn't get that wrong. Of course I'm your friend."
She let go of his hand and obviously relieved sank back into her chair.

"Good," she smiled. "Still, I think it's time for me to get my life back in order. And to start I
need to sleep on my own again. It was wonderful of you to stay here. It made me feel safe
and all, but you have your own apartment."

Okay, if she wanted it that way, friendship it was. He closed his eyes for a moment, then
took a deep breath and said with forced cheerfulness, "That's true, although I'm not so sure
that Spike and Dru will be so pleased about my return."

Her eyes widened for a moment, before she said, "So this is serious, huh? Who would've
thought? They are so... different, I guess. Spike is tough and forward while Dru‟s so shy."

"Spike only seems forward. He's actually quite vulnerable, just covers it up very well," Angel
told her, carefully holding on to his control.

"Really?" she asked, and then shrugged, "Well, he certainly does it well. I would've never
guessed it. But Dru was hot for him the moment she saw him."

She rolled her eyes and laughed, "'He's so cute', she said."

They laughed for a moment, and then silence settled over the kitchen. Clearing his throat,
Angel pushed his chair back and stood. "I'm just putting the dirty stuff away, then I'll be
gone."

"Oh no," she stood as well. "I can't let you do that. You ordered the food, and set the table.
The least I can do is clean up afterwards. Besides, I don't want to keep you, if you have
better things to do," she said quickly, averting her eyes and reaching for the dirty plates.

The moment Angel saw her taking them with trembling fingers he understood. God, he really
was an idiot. Why hadn't he seen it before? "Buffy," he said and when she didn't look at him,
just continued collecting plates and silverware, he repeated, "Buffy. Look at me."

Slowly her head came up and he could see tears in her eyes. Reaching out he took the forks
from her hands, "You don't want me to go, do you?" he asked, his eyes never letting go of
hers.

"Wha-" her voice cracked and she had to clear her throat, "I don't?"

Slowly he shook his head and took her hand in his, pulling it to his mouth, while his eyes were
still holding hers captured. With great care he planted a kiss on each of her fingers, then
turned her hand and planted another on her palm.

He felt the shiver running through her arm and her body, heard her breath catch in her
throat, "I already told you that the past is the past," he said quietly, "This is the future,
Buffy. What are you afraid of? Is it really just friendship you want?"
"I-" her voice cracked a second time, and annoyed with herself she shook her head, then let
out a little self-conscious laugh, "I hurt you very much and... And I know you said you don‟t
blame me... and... And I know you kissed me, but that doesn't have to mean anything... and-"

Her rambling ended in a gasp when he pulled her to him, "You're thinking too much," he
growled and her eyes widened in surprise, "Why don't you try feeling for a change?" he
asked, and covered her lips with his.

The instant his lips met hers, passion slammed through him like an unstoppable runaway train.
Touching her face, deepening the kiss, wasn't enough, he realized with a mixture of joy and
despair. God it would never be enough. He wanted her, all of her, wanted to devour her,
wanted to strip her naked and kiss every part of her body, and then he-

Panting he pulled back, tempted to smile when he saw her closed lids, her parted lips, slightly
swollen from his kiss, "Do you still want me to go?" he whispered against her mouth.

Her eyes opened slowly, and she looked at him from them, glazed over with passion that
made his groin tighten, "No," she whispered back. "I don't want you to go." And with this she
pulled his head back down.

Her lips parted, and her tongue flicked out, tracing his mouth, probing for entry. He groaned,
and thrust one hand into her hair, pulling her even closer, her hot mouth tightly locked with
his, he clamped his other arm around her hips, dragging her soft body against his groin.

His mind and body had been waiting for this so long it was like touching fire. He had the
feeling that he wasn't able to move anymore, wasn't able to breathe. All he could do was feel
and taste. Her silken lips against his, her breasts pressed to his chest, her hips undulating
against his growing erection.

There was a split second when he might have been able to pull back, but then she moaned in
his mouth, her arms tightening around his neck, and Angel was lost. His heart was in frenzy,
his body was screaming for fulfillment, while light seemed to explode behind his eyes. This
was Buffy, this was what he had dreamed of in the nights of four long, lonely years and now
she was here, in his arms, and wanting him the same way he wanted her.

He made a low sound in his throat and lifted her in his arms. Without breaking the kiss he
walked towards the living room, stripping him and her in the process. When they finally
reached her couch, they were standing in front of each other in their underwear.

She opened her eyes for the second time tonight, when he broke the kiss for a moment, and
looked around a little bit disoriented.

"Buffy?" he forced himself to ask. She nodded, and that was all the invitation he needed.

Their lips met again, and Angel instantly deepened the kiss with a deep, slow slide of his
tongue, tasting her tenderly, thoroughly this time. Then his mouth left hers and began to
explore, nipping at her neck, at her earlobe, his lips whispered over her face, her chin, down
to her throat, along the line of her bra and he felt her arch her back to him.

"You're beautiful," he murmured, "so very beautiful."

She moaned again, pulling him closer, her hands traveling lower, tugging at his boxers, and he
helped her get rid of them. With another move he'd removed her slip and her bra and then it
was skin to skin, with no more barriers, no more layers between them. They were laying on
the living room carpet, the moon shining through the window, bathing the two bare bodies
into a silver light.

Angel continued kissing her body, his mouth traveling lower, his tongue darting in her belly-
button, circling it, the action making her moan again.

"Angel," she hissed, almost mad with passion.

"Easy, baby, easy," he murmured again, breathing kisses against her inner thighs, then
traveling up again, until he found her already dripping center. He heard her drawing a sharp
breath when his tongue stroked slowly over her clit, and she buried her hands in his hair, her
hips arching against his mouth.

"Oh God," he heard her moan. "Oh God, Angel. No, I want..."

"What?" he looked up, "What do you want, sweet?"

"I want you," she croaked.

"You've got me," he said with a smile in his voice, lowering his head again.

But her hands held him back. "No," she shook her head wildly, her eyes opening, she looked at
him frantically, "I want you inside of me," she said, already spinning out of control, "I want to
come with you inside of me."

Her words made his restraint snap. He moved upward, grasped her waist and rolled her on
top of him.

Her eyes flew open, "Angel, what-"

Without words he curled upward to take her nipple into his mouth. She cried out at the
pleasure. Angel made a rough sound in his throat and took her nipple between his teeth,
rubbing them across, while he shifted her in his lap, his arousal teasing her dripping
entrance. "Oh... God," she gasped, wiggling to get him inside of her.

He shifted her for a second time, pulling her legs on either side of his hips, clamped his
hands on her waist, lifted her for a moment only to bring her down on his aching, rock hard
erection. Buffy hissed again, feeling him fill her, feeling every inch of him entering her. Her
eyes opened and widened, her breath caught. He smiled into her eyes and then brought her
down the rest of the way.
The world exploded in a shower of stars and Buffy screamed, clutching his shoulders, holding
him, and craving him. With a fluid motion he rolled them around, so that he was on top, still
deeply imbedded in her and then he started to move.

"Open your eyes," he ordered, and she did, "I want you to look at me," he told her, his voice
almost a growl. Buffy had the feeling she would either dissolve or die. It was too much. It
was too good, too... Suddenly his big body tensed above hers, he began to shudder, a low
moan coming from his mouth and with a final trust he cried out her name, "BUFFY!"

That was enough for her, the expression on his face, and the expression of love in his eyes,
the way he cried out her name - it drove her over the edge. With a sob she followed him into
oblivion.

*

It was some time later until Buffy found enough energy to open her eyes again. They were
still intimately entwined, Angel still lying partly on top of her on the living room floor.

Feeling her move under him, he opened his eyes as well, "I'm sorry," he said, his voice sleepy,
"I didn't mean to crush you."

"No," she tightened her arms, to hold him in place, not willing to let him go. "I like feeling
your weight," she protested, but he nevertheless rolled them around so that she was now
lying on top of him.

"I'm too heavy," he said with a smile, one hand coming up, tracing the line of her brow.
"Especially with the carpet underneath us."

"That's what I was wondering," she replied resting her chin on his chest.

"Why didn't you take the bed?" <>"I'm not really interested in making love to you in a bed
where you and..." he just trailed off, but Buffy had no problems understanding him.

"Riley and I never made love there."

"Oh, sure, you were married for four years-"

"Three and a half, we were only living together for three and a half," she insisted.

"Okay, so three and a half," he replied, annoyance rising in him. Did one time more or less
matter? "But you can't tell me you never slept with him."

"I didn't say that. Of course I slept with him," she told him and when he raised a brow, she
slapped his shoulder, "Don't look at me like that. I said we never made love. How could we?"
her voice changed all of a sudden, "You can only make love when it means something to you,
and I can only make love when I'm in love, so as far as I'm concerned I made love only with
one man in my life."
His throat was suddenly dry as emotions were threading to choke him. With a muffled sound,
he pulled her close and held her. He was a bit rough, but they both didn't care, "God, I love
you," he said hoarsely, kissing the top of her head, his hands warm on her back.

"You... love me?" her eyes were suddenly moist and she was staring at him with disbelief.

"Of course I love you," he replied. "I never stopped loving you."

"Oh, Angel," now she couldn't stop the tears anymore. "I love you too. I love you so much. I
never stopped either."

"There were days," he admitted, his voice hoarse, "when I thought I'd die. I missed you so
much. I-" he shook his head, blinking tears away, the emotions too deep to put into words.

"It was the same for me," she assured him, pressing her mouth to his chest, inhaling his
scent, loving the smooth feeling of his skin under her lips.

"And I thought you'd never forgive me for what I'd done," she admitted brokenly. "I love
you," she cried, her mouth, wet with her tears and soon with his met his again. "Please love
me, Angel. Love me."

"Always," he replied and they lost themselves in each other again.

********

25

Wednesday, September 6th, 7.00 a.m., Los Angeles

Buffy woke up slowly, and the first conscious thing she noticed was that they were still lying
on the living room floor. She smiled to herself thinking about Angel's remark about her bed.
No, *their* bed, she amended silently, sadly.

Angel was right. It had been hers and Riley‟s bed. For three and a half years they had shared
it. Although for the last one and a half she'd been more or less sleeping on the sofa, avoiding
any physical contact with her husband whenever possible. She'd been too disgusted by his
behavior, by the change in his attitude, to even like when he touched her hand. Looking back,
she couldn't understand why she hadn't divorced him long ago.

She started when she suddenly felt a finger touching her forehead and opening her eyes, she
saw Angel propped up on his elbow looking down on her, his fingers smoothing the frown away
that had appeared on her forehead.

He smiled when her eyes made contact with his, lowered his head and kissed her gently.
"Good Morning," he whispered, his lips only an inch apart from hers.

She smiled as well, "Morning."
His fingers stroked her forehead again, "Heavy thoughts?" he asked a bit concerned. After
their frequent lovemaking last night he had hoped for her to wake up with a smile on her
face, but instead he'd been greeted with a heavy frown.

Buffy sighed, pulled his hand down and kissed it, "Not really," she replied. "I was just
wondering why I didn't file for divorce long ago. Why I stayed with Riley for so long."

He bent down and kissed her again, this time his lips lingered a while longer, his tongue
tracing her lips, then nibbling them slightly with his teeth. "Don't," he said softly, "there's
no reason to dwell in the past. You can't change it. We have to look forward, not backward,
Buffy."

She sighed again, "I know. It's just so hard. So much has happened. I still have problems
believing we're really here, together." She reached out and traced his brows, his nose, then
his lips, "I love you so very much. And I'm so sorry. For the way I behaved, you know. When
Mike died-"

"Shhh," he interrupted her, "I told you it doesn't matter anymore."

"I know. But I want to explain. I need to explain." Her eyes looked up in his pleadingly.

"Okay," he retorted, smiling gently. "Explain. I'm listening."

"I was so happy when I was with you. I think... no, I know, I„d never been happier before. It
was so wonderful, and sometimes... Sometimes I just couldn‟t believe this was real. Do you
remember when we went to the beach with Mike?" She saw him nod and went on, "That day
was perfect. I was laying in your arms that night so afraid, that something would destroy our
happiness." She paused when her eyes suddenly became moist, "Two days later Mike was
killed."

"Oh, Buffy," he said and kissed her again. "Oh, Baby."

"It was terrible. I loved Mike. But as long as I had you I could deal," she continued, "But then
the forensic report came and my world fell apart. *I* fell apart. And Riley came to pick me
up. He was very gentle, very loving and he told me he loved me over and over again." She
shook her head, "I still don't remember all the details. But by the time I started thinking
straight again, I was already married for three months. Riley was nice and I made myself
believe I could make it work.

"You left L.A. and I convinced myself that you hated me. Cordelia laughed when I told her.
She said you couldn't hate me even if you wanted."

"Cordelia said that?" he asked, shocked.

"Yeah," she replied on a smile. "She never liked Riley. When I told her and Willow I was going
to marry him, she looked at me like I‟d suddenly grown horns. She refused to come to the
wedding, and when I found out that Riley was cheating on me, she just raised one eyebrow
and had that 'I-told-you-so' expression written allover her face. She said I should divorce
him immediately. But I couldn't, oh Angel, I couldn't."

"I know," he said and pulled her close, "I know. And I understand. You don't have to explain
that. Riley was my friend. For a very long time. And there were many good times. I liked him;
at times I even loved him. Like a brother. It was easy to fall for his charm and sense of
humor." He took her chin between thumb and index finger and tilted her head so that she
had to look at him, "Buffy, I would never blame you. When I came to your wedding, it was my
last attempt to... I thought I could make you see. When you sent me away, all my dreams
shattered, I couldn't do anything but leave. I couldn't stand by and watch you married to my
former best friend.

"And New York wasn't bad. Besides the fact that I missed you like crazy, I learned a lot
there. Although L.A. is a big city too, it's completely different from New York. And I met
Spike. He's a damned good cop and one of the best guys I ever met."

"I already realized that you were much more than partners. I think you aren't even that
close to Doyle."

"I haven't seen Doyle for a very long time," Angel replied, "He and Cordy came to New York
twice during the last four years. You don't want to, but you *do* lose contact. There isn't a
lot to talk about if you don't have things to share. Spike and I worked together for nearly
four years. Day after day. He saved my life and I probably saved his in return. It's what
happens between partners. You know that."

She nodded, "Yeah. Xander says that there are things he can tell me that he can‟t his wife."

"I wonder what he means," Angel muttered, but she had heard him and smacked his chest
with her palm.

"Angel! Xander‟s okay. It's just that Anya isn't a cop. She never was. She doesn't know the
really ugly details of our job. And Xander, as so many other cops, tries to keep the ugliness
away from her and the baby. And so when he can't deal with things he doesn't want to bring
home he talks to me. We're working together eight ours a day, five days a week, sometimes
even more."

"Yes," he agreed. "Anyway. Spike never let me down. I would trust him with my life. And I
hope he feels the same. And we shared another thing. He came to New York, because he fell
in love with a girl. Left London and his work and followed her. Cathleen was a model. She was
very pretty, very successful in her job, and cold as ice. He asked her to marry him. Her reply
was to ask him if he was insane. If he really thought she'd give up the opportunity to marry a
rich guy for a cop. So there we were, our hearts broken, the job to keep us going. We
understood each other."

Her voice was small, when she asked, "And you think it will heal?"

Not understanding he asked, "What? What do you mean?"
"You said your heart was broken, and-"

"Oh, Buffy," he pulled her close again. "That's just a saying. Yes, I was heartsick, and I
missed you like crazy. But holding you now, being with you now, it's like the ultimate reward.
It's so right." He kissed her quickly and swallowed a sudden tightness in his throat away. His
voice was rough when he added, "You better realize that I don't plan to let you go - ever."

Her own eyes moist, she snuggled close, "Yeah? That's good, you know. Because I don't plan
to let you go either."

For a moment he held her so tightly to him that she had problems breathing. But she didn't
mind. The shudder that went through his body told her how deeply he felt her words. "God, I
love you," he said after a moment, his words muffled as he buried his lips in her hair. "I love
you so damn much."

"The same here," she sighed happily, reached up and pulled his head down.

"Could you kiss me again?" she asked breathily against his lips. "Just so I'm sure that's not a
dream."

He smiled, "If it's a dream then we're dreaming together."

*****

Spike's waking wasn't of the same pleasant quality. Although it had started quite promising.
He had been having the most wonderful dream. He was laying on the beach, the sun shining
down on him and turning around he saw Drusilla beside him, clad only in a sorry excuse for a
bikini.

He sighed in contentment and reached out his arm to stroke her creamy skin only to come in
contact with... nothing. Which was odd, because he had a very clear memory of falling asleep
with a woman in his arms.

In confusion his eyes flew open and he had to blink several times to notice that he was not on
the beach, but in his bed, and to his surprise the spot beside him was really empty. "Dru?" he
asked, slowly sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "Dru, where are you?"

When he heard no reply, he rolled himself out of bed and stepping into his boxers stumbled
towards the living room and stopped dead in his tracks. She was sitting in the loveseat that
was turned towards the window staring outside. She wore nothing but his blue dress shirt,
her bare legs and feet tucked underneath, her arms wrapped around her body as if she was
cold. Her eyes far away, she appeared suddenly very vulnerable and fragile.

"Dru?" He said her name softly, trying not to startle her. But there was something settling in
his stomach at the sight of her, some sense of foreboding he didn't like at all.

There was a flicker of her lids, but besides that he saw no reaction. Tentatively he stepped
closer, not liking the way she seemed to be cut off from the world, "When did you get up,
pet? Aren't you freezing?" He finally came to stand beside her and reached out to touch
when her low hiss let his arm freeze in mid-air.

"Don't touch me." She didn't change her position, didn't loose her arms, just sat there and
stared into nothingness.

"Baby, what-" he reached out again and this time she reacted, violently.

She slapped his hand away and jumped up, bringing as much distance as possible between her
and him, "I said. Don't. Touch. Me." she hissed again, her eyes dark and cold with anger. "I
thought this time, falling for a cop, I finally got it right," she said. "But it seems, I'm still
the stupid idiot I've always been." Her voice was bitter, and she ended the sentence on a
self-disgusted snort.

He looked at her in utter confusion, "What are you talking about? I don't understand." He
made a step into her direction, but she held out a hand.

"Don't come near me," she warned. "And don't think I'm a fool either. I might be stupid
when it comes to men, but I'm a cop and you better not forget that."

Slowly his confusion was replaced by anger, "What," he asked again, his eyes narrowing
slightly, "are you talking about?"

"What I'm talking about?" She threw his words back at him as if they were the most
ridiculous question to ask. Then she turned her head slightly and nodded towards the desk.

Spike turned as well, and when he saw what she was talking about he blanched. It was his and
Angel's assignment for their work in L.A. Spike had no idea where Dru had found it, but it
didn't change the facts that she now knew. "Oh God," he said, a tremor in his voice. "Oh
God," he repeated, his eyes flying to her face, "Dru, Baby, please if you'd just listen-"

"No," she cut him off sharply, "I'm not going to listen. There is really nothing you could say
to change the facts. You're working for Internal Affairs. Angel does too. Tell me, Spike, is it
satisfying to have your work done in bed?"

"That's not-"

"No?" her brow rose mockingly, "You didn't just combine fun and the job? Who is meant to
watch me?" she asked. When she saw him shake his head, she asked again, her voice rising,
"Who is meant to watch me? Answer me!"

He swore viciously under his breath, "I am," he bit out. "But it's not what you think. I did
not, I repeat, I did not think about the investigation when we..." he stopped, disgusted with
himself, "I'm not explaining this very well, I-"

"Oh, you're expiation is alright for me. I understand, believe me, I understand only too well,"
her voice was bitter and he could hear the hurt underneath.
God, he would give everything to change what she had seen, but he couldn't. All he could do
now was trying to explain and hope she'd understand. She had to understand, she was a cop
after all, and she should know what it meant to be assigned to certain job. "No, you don't,"
he said firmly, taking one step towards her. "I got to watch you because Angel was too close.
He erased you from the list of suspects right from the start."

A fond smile flickered over her features, before her eyes cooled down again. He saw that
she wanted to say something, but he didn't let her, "You are a cop, damn it. Dru, you know
how that works. I had a job to do and did it. But I fell for you so hard and fast that I lost
my objectiveness too."

She looked at him speculatively for a moment, "When was the last day you watched me?" she
demanded.

He swore again, averted his eyes, "Last Monday," he replied honestly.

Her voice was carefully controlled, "I see," she said slowly. "We were sleeping together the
night before and the night after. Well, that explains it, I think."

With two steps he was standing right in front of her, "No, it doesn't," he shouted, planting
his hands on both sides of her against the wall, "It doesn't explain a single thing. It's the
job I have to do. You aren't on my list of suspects, but I can't change what I do. So I
watched you. To bring them a report that says you're clean."

"Oh," this time she raised both brows, "I see. You're only doing this to exonerate me, right?"

"Exactly," he replied, relieved she seemed to understand. Her next word told him clearly
that his relief had come too soon.

"Well, thanks. I didn't even realize I needed to be exonerated," she said sarcastically.

He slammed his palm against the wall, but she didn't do so much as blink, "Damn it Dru," he
shouted, "It's my job. When I started it, I didn't know you. It changed quickly, but I can't
let personal feelings come between what I have to do."

Her eyes cooled even more, and her voice was like ice, "Get away from me," she hissed, and
seeing that she meant it, Spike backed off. "I‟m not at all interested in your personal
conflicts. I feel used, Spike. And nothing you say can change that."

She was already half way towards the bedroom when he whirled around, "Dru," he shouted
desperately, "I didn't use you. I love you."

She stopped, turned slowly, an incredibly sad smile on her face, "Maybe you do," she said,
"but at the moment, I really don't care." She closed the door behind her and left him
standing in the middle of the room, swearing a vicious oath and violently raking his hand
through his hair, wondering, what the hell he was going to do now.

********
26

Xander raised a brow when after his second ring, not Buffy but Angel opened the door to the
blonde's apartment. It wasn't that he hadn't expected him to be there. He knew that
Buffy's ex-lover had spent the last week in her apartment more or less, but Riley‟d been
dead for over a week now and because there hadn‟t been any feelings between them anymore,
Xander thought it was time for Buffy to go on with her life. Or rather for Angel to leave her
to do exactly that.

Still, he wasn't surprised to meet Angel there, Xander told himself inwardly, it was more the
way he stood there. As if he belonged. Well, he probably did, Xander thought with an inward
sigh. He would have to be blind not to see what was happening between the two of them.

"Angel," he said and nodded at the other man, who stepped back and closed the door behind
him.

"Xander," Angel replied and nodded as well. "You're the last. The others are here already,"
he said and lead the way towards the living room, where besides Buffy, he found also
Cordelia, Doyle and Spike waiting for him.

"I see the whole squad is there already. Sorry for the delay," he said on a grin, "but Harris
Junior was a bit cranky this morning."

The others, except Spike, smiled at that. Doyle winked at his fiancée who rolled her eyes in
response. When Doyle had first started talking about kids, she'd felt nothing but panic. First
of all she wasn't mother material. She didn't know a thing about small children. They were
crying all the time, if they didn't burp, eat, poop, or sleep. And if she could believe the young
parents she met, sleep wasn't usually high on the scale. Young parents all suffered from
sleep deprivation, and Cordelia could only guess how much damage that did to your
complexion. But she had also noticed that strange dreamy look in their eyes. And day after
day she found herself more curious to know what it meant.

But there was also her career. She had worked really hard to become what she was today.
Not quite 31 she was the assistant DA and for a woman it was a remarkable achievement. For
a woman, she knew how that sounded, and she would never back down under any
circumstances, but Cordelia Chase was also a realist, who knew that although women had the
same rights as men, they still had to be better, work harder, and prove themselves all the
time to be accepted in the same way. And now that she had achieved what she had worked
for the last twelve years of her life, she didn't want to give it up for a baby. But she knew
that Doyle wanted children, he was good with them, much better than she, and during the
few quiet hours it worried her.

"The joys of parenthood," Buffy joked, coming back from the kitchen holding a tray loaded
with coffee. "I suppose you can use this," she added.

"Did I ever tell you that I love you, Buffy Summers," Xander said dramatically, and grinned
when Angel raised a brow at that. Oh yeah, Xander thought, the guy had it bad again. He
sipped from his mug, "Now," he looked around, "I think I can get used to these meetings in
Buffy's apartment. It's much nicer than the precinct."

"I should hope so," Buffy said dryly. "I'm not sure if I should feel flattered or insulted that
you even consider comparing my nice apartment to something so old and horribly furnished."

Xander grinned, "Giles wouldn't like to hear that. For him it must have some morbid charm.
The guy practically lives there."

"He has no wife to go home to," Angel commented with a serious face.

Everybody knew that the lieutenant had once been married and deeply in love with his wife,
Jenny. Six years ago, she'd been killed, coming home early and surprising a man in their
house. The guy had come for burglary, but had panicked when she'd discovered him.

"True," Xander said gravely, and in an attempt to lighten the mood, he added, "But then, the
guy's English, they're strange people." He had expected to at least some reaction from
Spike, but the blond was strangely quiet, didn't even so much as to look at Xander.

"Okay, then," Cordelia put her mug down and reached for her briefcase, "Let's discuss some
things. I had a meeting with my boss and the guys from IA yesterday and there are several
new developments you should be aware of. Plus, as Angel pointed out, it's pretty likely that
our suspect knows about his and Spike's involvement, so they are more or less out," she
shifted her attention towards Buffy and Xander, "That means you're the ones to take over
now. Be careful so that you're not discovered. We can‟t afford to install someone new. We're
too close."

"That's something, I wanted to talk about," Angel said, sitting down beside Buffy. "We
should be very careful," he went on, concerned eyes resting on Buffy. "As Cordelia said,
we're close. And our guy might know what's going on."

"Meaning?" the brunette asked.

"Meaning that the bad guys behind our dirty friend might be royally pissed," Spike replied in
his friend's place. "Meaning that if they killed Riley - assuming it was them, and after seeing
all the evidence he collected, I'd say it's a pretty good guess. So if they killed Riley, a cop,
they certainly won't shy away from killing another one."

Cordelia inhaled sharply, her startled gaze flying to her fiancée who just nodded, "God,
that's making me so sick," she exclaimed, standing up and beginning to pace the room. "You‟re
my friends. All of you. And I don't want you exposed to that kind of danger. Riley was killed
with a long-distance-weapon. That means we don't have a chance to protect you. Maybe-"

"We can't back down now," Buffy interrupted her, standing up as well; she took her friend's
hand and stopped her pacing, "We‟re cops, Cordy. We know what we risk, each day we go out
there to do our job."
"She‟s right, Cordelia," Angel looked at the assistant DA, then at the woman he loved, "And
don't think I like it. Because I don't. In fact, I hate the mere idea of Buffy being hurt, but
she loves her job. I love mine. It's part of what we are. Giving it up would mean giving up a
part of ourselves. What I said, I didn't say it to make you feel bad. I just want everyone in
this room be aware of the danger."

Cordelia looked at him for a long moment, considering his words, then she said finally, "Okay.
We're going through with it. Besides, if I stop this now, my boss would eat me alive. But by
God, be careful. I want all of you alive and well when this is over."

"Hey, that's part of the job description," Xander joked, feeling anything but. But he could
see how much Cordelia was shaken. "Didn't you know? We're the super-cops. We're
undestroyable."

Cordelia forced herself to laugh cheerfully, "Well, that's good to hear. Fine," she took a
deep breath, "Now, let's go through the new evidence we've got. I think bit by bit we're
closing in on our guy."

****

Buffy put the last mug into the dishwasher, then added some soap, when she caught Angel
standing in the doorway, watching her. "Hey," she smiled, turning towards him, and barely
suppressed a gasp at the intense expression in his eyes. "What's the matter?" she asked,
walked over to him and slipped her arms around his waist.

He sighed, pulled her close and rested his head on hers, "Promise me to be careful," he said,
his voice full of worry.

"I promise," she whispered, stroking his back. "You heard Xander. We're indestructible," she
said in a lame attempt to lighten the mood.

"Don't," Angel growled warningly. He pulled back and when she looked up she saw the fury in
his eyes. "Don't joke about it. This is serious. Cordelia told the truth. We're closing in on
this guy. And the men behind the whole thing won't like it. And believe me, they won't
hesitate a second to get rid of a cop who'd be a danger to them."

"I know that," she replied, reaching up and cupping his cheek in one of her hands, "Angel, I'm
a cop. I know it's dangerous. I just don't want you to worry."

"I love you," he said gruffly, "People who love, worry. That's something we can‟t change. I
just got you back. I couldn't stand to lose you again, Buffy. I wouldn't know how to deal, I-"
his voice cracked and he pulled her so close, that she didn't have enough air to breathe for a
moment. But she also knew he needed it.

He loosened his grip slightly then bent down, finding her mouth for a desperate kiss, his
hands digging into her hair. When the kiss ended, they were both breathless for a moment,
"I need you," he said, planting kisses on her forehead, on her lids, on he nose, then finally
finding her mouth again, this time kissing her gently, softly.

Then he sowed for a moment and pulled back completely, "I can't help worrying, Buffy. But
that doesn't mean I don't trust your abilities. I hope you know that. You're a good cop. One
of the best, I've ever met."

She smiled rising on tiptoe she kissed him slightly, "Thanks. That means a lot. And I promise
to be careful. You'll see. This won't go on much longer. With the evidence Cordy gathered
already, this'll be over in no time."

"Let's hope you're right," he replied, stroking the back of his hand over her cheek.

****

Simone Chambers' eyes widened when she opened the door of her apartment, "Mike," she
said in a mixture of shock and delighted surprise, "What... I mean, come in," she invited with
a shy smile.

She hadn't expected him to come so soon, hell, she hadn't expected him to come at all, if
she was honest with herself. Not after he'd seen the pictures of her and Riley. She'd
broken down that day and he held her. But after she blew her nose and seemed stable again,
he told her that he needed some distance, and time to think about the whole situation. She
had been devastated. Hating Riley Finn, hating the situation, hating herself, for her own
weakness.

"Do you want some coffee?" she asked, looking at the clock. "How come you aren't on duty?"
she wanted to know. "I'd expected you to be on a case."

"I am," he replied. "But I could make myself free for an hour. There are things we have to
talk about, Simone. And yes, I would like a cup of coffee."

"Fine," she said, her stomach fluttering with nerves. He came to talk. Oh God, what could he
want to talk about, she asked herself. "Why don't you sit down and I'll be with you in a
moment."

He nodded and went for the living room, while she walked towards the kitchen, every step
torture, because her knees were like rubber, not knowing what was about to happen. Glancing
at the ring on her hand, she suppressed a hysterical sob. Had he come to tell her he would
give it another try or would this be the end? He had looked so serious, his blue eyes suddenly
grown up.

After she'd calmed down the last time they'd seen each other, he'd been angry. Not so
much, he said, about the pictures. Although he'd certainly been furious about them. No, he
had been angry because instead of coming to him, trusting him, she'd made the deal with
Riley Finn. All that because her father was playing dirty games.
She'd argued that she loved her father and that he should try to understand her situation.
He'd replied he had, and that he understood, but that it still didn't change the fact that her
father was a criminal and that he was a cop. And that in the end she had to make a decision.
He had left with the words that she should call him as soon as she had made it.

She hadn't called him so far. Torn between the love for her father and for Mike, she had
been miserable. She knew that the things her father did were wrong, but he was still her
father and her mother was frail after contracting serious pneumonia and Simone didn't know
how she'd react if her husband was to be arrested. But she had wanted to call Mike. Day
after day she'd glanced at the phone. She had even picked it up once or twice, severely
tempted to call him.

And now he was here. Had come to her apartment. And she knew without doubt that she
loved him more than anything.

With a shaky hand she poured coffee, spilling a great part on the counter, then added cream
and sugar, the way Mike liked it. Taking a deep steadying breath, she turned and plastered a
smile on her face when she entered the living room. "Here you go," she said and put the cup
down in front of him. Not knowing what to do with her nervous hands, the linked them
together, wringing them. "Now. What did you want to talk about?"

"Us," he replied, sipping from his coffee. "I want to see if there's still an 'us'."

"There is," she said quickly, urgently, "I strongly believe in that us."

He nodded, his gaze solemn, "That's good, because if this, 'us', can still have a future is
totally up to you."

******

Angel held Buffy close and planted a last lingering kiss on her lips before he released her
hesitantly. "Don't forget. Call me," he told her, his hand running over her hair, then for a
second resting on her cheek.

She put her hand over his, "I will. I promise. You‟ll see, this will all be over soon," she smiled,
and then turned towards her car that was parked at the next corner.

Angel turned as well, making his way to his car that he had left at the opposite corner of the
block. He didn't like the situation of Buffy in danger, but there wasn't a damned thing he
could do about it. They would have to get through with this, and hope that nobody was
harmed.

He was about to turn back to catch a last view on Buffy and maybe wave her goodbye when
there was suddenly a blinding light and explosion shattering through the street.

Angel whirled around and his world stopped. There was no doubt what had happened. There
was fire and smoke coming from the other end of the street, from the exact spot where
Buffy's car had been only seconds before. Even from this distance it was clear and for a
moment he forgot how to breathe. Then in pure agony he shouted her name.

********

27

Angel stood at the third-floor window of the L.A. General Hospital, his forehead resting
against the cool glass, his hands hidden in his pockets. Behind him the personnel of the
hospital performed their duties, from several rooms he could hear beeps and the smell of
antiseptic was in the air.

Outside the window the sun was shining brightly on this Californian afternoon, while the
streets were busy, people walking around as they did every day, mothers laughing to her
children, none of them wearing the shocked expression of the people who had witnessed the
explosion of Buffy's car, while Angel had been kneeling on the ground, his lover's bruised,
bloody, and unconscious body in his arms, calling the ambulance at the same time.

The rescue team who'd arrived on the scene had taken them straight to the hospital, where
ER doctors fought to counter the effects of the deadly explosion. That had been two hours
ago. Buffy had been wheeled into surgery and he hadn't heard a word since then.

"Do you want some coffee?"

Angel slightly turned his head and looked at Faith who was standing beside him, a worried
expression on her face. She and Drusilla were the detectives called to the scene and after
doing their work they followed him and Buffy to the hospital. "No, thanks," he replied, his
voice hoarse.

"Can we do anything else?" Dru came to stand beside her partner, her face wearing the same
expression.

"No," Angel shook his head. "I don't want anything."

Faith nodded, then began to chew her lower lip as if considering something. Finally, after
exchanging a glance with Dru, she said, "The bomb was remote-controlled."

He turned his head again, "What?" he asked, as if he hadn't understood. And he hadn't. He
wasn't able to pay real attention, his mind wandering again and again to the swing doors that
marked the entrance to surgery.

"The bomb," Faith repeated gently, touching his arm slightly with her hand, "It was remote
controlled. From what we got from the people who were around, it seems that Buffy turned
at the last moment to help a child who had fallen with his bike. That saved her life."

"You don't know that," he said harshly, looking out of the window again.

"Yes, we do, I talked to the mother-"
"That it saved her life," he interrupted angrily. "She was alive - barely. But the doctor said
it's a close call."

Faith blanched and pulled her hand away, while Dru stepped closer, "Angel, Faith didn't
mean-"

He stopped her with an impatient gesture of his hand, "I know," he said and shook his head,
"I'm sorry. I'm..." he trailed off, sighing and shaking his head again.

"We know," Drusilla said softly. "But she's strong, Angel. She'll make it." He managed to give
her a grateful smile, but didn't comment it. He couldn't talk about it. Hell, he could barely
bring himself to think about the fact that the woman he loved more than anything was laying
on an operation desk, fighting for her life. He had never felt so helpless as he felt right now.
Buffy was hurt, maybe dying, and there was nothing he could do.

They all looked up when they heard people running towards them and then Cordelia, Xander
and Spike appeared at the end of the hallway. And they were running. Panting they came to a
stop in front of them. Reaching for Angel's arm, Cordelia tried to catch her breath, "Angel,
oh God. How is she?"

"Still in surgery," he replied. "We don't know anything so far. It's a miracle that she's still
alive."

Cordelia blinked sudden tears away, trying to keep herself together. She could see that
Angel was on the edge and she couldn't fall apart now. "What happened?" she wanted to know
and listened intently, as did Spike and Xander, when Faith told them what they had found
out.

Angel tuned their voices out. He couldn't listen. He knew what had happened, and he didn't
need to hear it again. Someone had placed a bomb under Buffy's car and it had exploded
when she'd come near. Only the fact that she had a soft heart and had tried to help a child
had saved her life. For now. He took a deep breath, holding a tight rein on his emotions. He
wouldn't help her if he let go now. She would need him, later, when the doctors were through
with her. And if... he closed his eyes tightly... No, he couldn't imagine the worst. She had to
make it through it. She just had to.

He started when he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder, "You holding up?"

"Yeah," Angel replied glancing over his shoulder at Spike, then straightened and turned fully
around. "I'm not going to fall apart. There's too much to do. She‟s going to need me and then
there's the person who did this."

Spike nodded, squeezing his friend's shoulder, "That's the spirit. And we„ll get them. The
cop, and the men behind all this. The lieutenant will be here in a coule minutes. He was out of
town this morning and needs to drive back."
The dark-haired man nodded, then looked at the swing-doors again. "I love her, Spike," he
said, "I can't lose her."

"You won't. She loves you too, man. And she„s a fighter. I'm sure she doesn't want to leave
you."

Angel released a pent up breath, "God, I hope you're right. I don't know what to do if..." he
trailed off, not able to voice his worst nightmare.

*

Two hours later they were still standing in the hallway in front of the swinging doors waiting
for news of Buffy. A nurse had come out, but besides a compassionate smile she hadn't been
able to give them anything. Giles had tried to give them hope by saying that it was a good
sign if it lasted long. The lost cases were given up easily. But somehow it didn't help.

Angel was standing with his back at the wall now, his head leaned back too, his eyes closed.
They had tried to talk to him, but after a while they caught on that all he wanted was to be
left alone.

Willow and Xander had joined the crowd some time ago and were waiting with the others
now, the redhead pale and sniffling quietly, her head resting on her childhood friend's
shoulder, her thoughts with her wounded girlfriend in the operating room.

Combing her hair away from her face, Cordelia sighed and looked around just in time to see
Spike glancing at Drusilla then quickly turning his head away when he saw her looking at him
too. The brunette lifted a curious eyebrow and walked over to the blond detective.

"Do I see clouds in the sunny sky?" she asked, glad for any distraction from the heavy
thoughts in her mind. When Spike turned to look at her with a question in his eyes, she said,
"I got the impression that you and Dru were an item now. So I'm just wondering if there's
already trouble in paradise."

Spike glanced quickly into Dru's direction and then narrowed his eyes at Cordelia. "Hey,
don't eat me alive," she said, "I just couldn't help noticing the... uh... hostile atmosphere."

"She found out why I really came to L.A.," he said curtly.

"I see," she said after a moment. "Well, I can understand why she's angry."

His head jerked around, "You, what? You were the one who started the whole mess, and now
you understand *her*?"

"Whoa," Cordelia held up a hand. "You agreed to work for IA. And just for the record. I
didn't start this mess. Our suspect did." She paused for a moment, eyed him carefully. "You
love her, huh?"
"Yeah, damn right, I love her," he ground out between gritted teeth. "Not that it concerns
you."

"Does she love you too?"

"Hell, if I knew," he replied, closing his eyes. "She never said a word about her feelings. If I
just..." He opened his eyes with a snap, "Well, it's no use now. She hates me. She thinks I
used her. That I used the opportunity for a close observation with a little bit of good old sex
thrown in."

"But you didn't. And maybe you should try making her see that," she proposed, "You made a
mistake and you know that. The moment you realized your feelings for her, the moment you
became involved with her you should have told me."

Spike let out a harsh breath, and ran a hand through his hair, "Damn, I know that. I just
thought..." he shook his head, disgusted with himself, "I was a bloody damned fool. And I
have no idea how to make her see that."

"You will." Cordelia put a hand on his shoulder, "If she cares about you, she„ll listen."

He looked at her doubtfully, "And if not?"

"Well," the brunette said, compassion in her eyes, "Then you've got all the answers you
need."

Spike gazed at her for a long moment, and then nodded slowly, "Yeah. You're right. The
question is, if I can live with it."* Everybody looked up when the swinging doors finally
opened, and a doctor came out, his clothes drenched in sweat, he was removing his hat, and
running a hand over his wet skull. "Mr. Reardon?" he looked around and then nodded when
Angel stepped forward.

"Yes," he said, his voice barely working.

"She‟s alive," the doctor started, getting relieved sounds from all sides. "It was close," he
went on. "Her spleen was ruptured and we had to remove it. Her liver was ruptured as well,
but we managed to sew it up. There was some damage to her intestines, but that was only a
minor complication. Our biggest problem was her blood loss, but after hours of hard work,"
he smiled wryly, "and the help of modern technique, her constitution is steady at the
moment." Looking directly at Angel, he added, "If there aren‟t any more complications, I'm
quite optimistic. As I said, it was a close call, but she's a fighter, she never gave up." He
nodded again and was about to leave, when Angel held him back.

"Can I see her?" he asked.

"She„ll be moved to the ICU now and she needs rest," he smiled again, "but you can see her
for five minutes. I‟ll inform the nurse. She'll get you later and take you there."

"Thanks," Angel said, and there was a world of meaning in this one word.
The doctor understood. It hadn't been the first operation of this kind for him. He knew
what relatives and friends went through in such situations and he knew that they could
hardly find words afterwards. "It's my job," he said simply and left.

*****

"She's alive," the voice on the other end of the line hissed angrily. "The bitch is alive."

Floyd Brady almost dropped the expensive Cuban cigar he'd been lighting only seconds
before. Swearing viciously, he looked at Lyle over the desk, "What do you mean she‟s alive?"
he asked.

"I thought it was easy to understand. She survived the attack. Your man made a mess of
this."

"He doesn't make mistakes," Floyd replied, putting his cigar down, reaching for a pen instead.
"He never did before."

"Well, he did this time. Summers survived. The doctor said she's going to be fine. The news
is allover the precinct. The lieutenant just announced it with a big grin on his face."

Floyd swore again, while he was busy scribbling something on a piece of paper, then handed it
over to Lyle, whose eyes widened when he saw what his boss had written. "It doesn't really
matter if she survived or not," Floyd told the cop at the other end of the line, "It was meant
to be a warning and I think they understood it nevertheless."

"Just don't do such a sloppy job again.""Don't threaten me," Floyd warned.

"I'm the one on the front line. Tell Griffin, I'm going to expect a raise for... let's call it
growing danger. It's my head they'll be cutting off if they ever find out."

"They won't," Floyd replied, slamming the receiver down. "Idiot," he hissed, and then
remembered that Lyle was still sitting opposite to him. "Why are you still sitting here?
You've got an order."

"But boss-"

Floyd raised a brow, as if to tell the other man that he wasn't used to have his decisions
questioned and Lyle shut up immediately, "Get this on the way. Zack will know what to do and
tell him... if he fails me again, it'll be the last time."

*****

same day, 10.00 p.m.

Buffy opened her eyes slowly, blinking against the bright light that came from the ceiling,
irritated by the beeping noises around her. Where was she? It looked and smelled a lot like a
hospital, but why would she be at a hospital, she wondered. She remembered starting the day
in Angel's arms, making love to him, then they Cordelia and the others had arrived and then -
nothing. She couldn't remember a single thing. How very odd.

She tried to move, and a sharp pain shot through her whole body, making her groan. God,
what had happened to her?

"Buffy?"

"Angel?" she said and was glad she was able to turn her head without pain. She stifled a gasp
when she saw him sitting beside her, his eyes tired and red-rimmed, a stubble allover his
chin, while deep worry lines had etched into his handsome face. "What... what happened?"

"Don't you remember?" he asked, worried.

She shook her head and groaned at the new pain. Mental note, no fast movements, she
thought. "No. I... it's so muddled." There was a note of panic in her voice. What had
happened? Had she lost her memory? Why didn't she remember?

"Shhh," he said and pulled her hand to his lips, kissing it softly. "Your car blew up." He saw
her eyes widen, "Yeah. I thought you..." his voice broke and he had to start again as he
fought the horrible images that were still in his minds. Images of Buffy's car bursting into
flames, the smoke, and then finding her bruised body on the pavement, refused to leave
alone. "I thought you were dead," he managed finally. "I thought I'd lost you." He buried his
face in her hand for a moment, savoring the warmth of it, then he kissed the pulse at her
wrist, the sign that she had managed to pull through.

She wetted her dry lips, "Wha- what happened to me?"

"You were in surgery for over four hours," he told her, holding her hand in his, needing the
contact, the assurance that she was truly alive, that he wasn't dreaming. "They had to
remove your spleen. But the doctor assured us that you could live without it. Your liver and
gut was damaged too, but the doc put you back together. He said you were great in there, a
real pro." He wasn't able to keep his tears at bay anymore and they ran freely over his
cheeks now.

With all the emotions she felt in her eyes she looked at him, reached up with her hand and
touched his lips with her thumb, "I love you," she whispered.

He kissed her thumb, "I love you too. I love you so much."

"I know," she smiled now, and then yawned.

"Sleep," he whispered. "I'm staying. I'm your personal bodyguard and have to stay anyway."

Her smile widened, "Good," she said, already half asleep. "Love you."

He kissed her hand again, wiped his tears away. "I love you too, baby," he whispered, "I love
you too."
********

28

Friday, September 8th, 10.00 a.m., Los Angeles

"I want this over."

"I understand," Giles said gently, looking at Angel's back. The dark-haired detective stood in
the middle of the Interrogation room at Internal Affairs, staring at the one-way mirror,
while Cordelia, Spike, and Xander were sitting at the desk with the lieutenant. Tim Philips,
the District Attorney, and Brent Harley, the boss of I.A, had joined the little group.

It was the first meeting they held since Buffy had been so seriously injured by the bomb
that had been planted underneath her car on Wednesday. Fortunately she was making
unexpected progress and had been moved from ICU to a regular room the night before. She
would, of course, need more time to heal properly and it would be at least a week before the
doctors would even consider releasing her. But Angel was finally able to function again with
the encouraging development.

Giles could understand better than anyone how it felt to see the woman you loved so close to
death. He remembered being in with the ambulance with Jenny on the way to the hospital
and he could also remember seeing her die in that car, only five minutes before they reached
the Emergency Unit. He had loved her with all his heart and in a matter of minutes she'd
been taken away from him.

He had been like a ghost afterwards, only his work keeping him upright and able to go on. The
years that followed had been long and empty and filled with grief. But it had been years now
and lately he found himself more and more tired of coming back into his empty house night
after night. There were no arms waiting for him, nobody was meeting him there, talking to
him, giving him warmth and love.

"I do too."

Giles forced his thoughts back to the more pressing matters, when Cordelia's voice sounded
through the room.

"But although I want the person responsible for Buffy's accident-"

"Someone blew up her car," Angel interrupted, his voice low and angry, his eyes blazing at
her, "I'd hardly call that an accident."

Knowing Cordelia's temperament, Giles had expected for her to give Angel some snotty reply,
but the assistant DA obviously had realized how tightly strung the dark-haired man's nerves
were at the moment. Better not ignite an already smoldering live wire.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, looking apologetically at Angel. "I agree. The expression was a
bit... uh... off. Anyways. I want the person as badly as... almost... everyone else in this room."
She glanced at Angel again and he took a deep breath and returned the apology with his eyes.

Giles was sure that the dark-haired detective wasn't feeling apologetic at the moment. Angel
wanted to go out and beat the crap out of the person who'd set the bomb under Buffy's car
and out of the person who'd given the order to do it. And more than anything he wanted the
dirty cop who'd been going against his fellow officers, people who'd saved that person's ass
more than once.

Well, tough luck, Giles thought. Angel‟s going have to wait in line for that special punch,
because Giles felt a certain itch in his right fist too. Of course he was a police officer and
that would prevent him from making good on his silent threat. But he sure as hell would be
part of the interrogation team. He wanted to look that person in the eye and hear with his
own ears what had happened to turn a good, reliable cop into scum.

"What Miss Chase wants to say," Tim Philips said, "is that we're going to get those guys. All
of them. But we need to do it right. The legal way. Nothing else. I know how you feel-"

"I'm sorry to interrupt you, Sir," Xander spoke for the first time, "but you hardly
understand how we feel. One of our own colleagues is part of an operation that almost cost
the life of another colleague. A friend. Buffy Summers. No Sir. You have no idea how we
feel."

"I accept that," Tim Philips replied on a nod. "Maybe I don't really understand. But that
doesn't change a thing. I'm just warning you. Don't pull some private Vendetta here. I know
your girlfriend, your friend or colleague was hurt. Seriously hurt, but-"

"Make that life-threatening," Spike threw in, hating the fact that he had to listen to this.
He glanced at Angel whose hands were clenched into fists, and who, so the blond could see,
was fighting not to lose his control. Spike knew how he felt. Well, not exactly, of course, but
he hadn't seen Drusilla in 48 long hours. He had tried to call her, wanting to talk, wanting to
explain. So far she had blocked every attempt.

Damn. He loved her. Couldn't she see that? Why on earth couldn't she see that he was
missing her so badly he'd hardly slept the last two days? God, he was going to go crazy
sooner or later. But maybe she wanted that. Maybe she wanted him to do something stupid,
like grovel in front of her door.

The worst, however, was that he would grovel. He wouldn't hesitate for a second if he'd see
a chance to change her hostile attitude. But at the moment, he saw none.

Zilch. Zero.She didn't so much as look at him. He wanted to scream. But of course he knew
that it wouldn't help either.

"Yes. Life-threatening," Tim agreed with a nod, his eyes sharp, holding a silent warning. "To
make this totally clear here, detectives. I want those assholes. But I want a case that cannot
be twisted around by some smart, very expensive lawyer, who spends his holidays in Aspen by
defending slime. There will be no Lone Ranger playing. You will do this by the law. Each step.
Is that understood?"

He looked around and when nobody said a word, he nodded again. He turned his head and
gazed at Brent Harley, "What about Judge Fowler. Did he sign the papers?"

"Yes," Brent smiled, but it was so cold, it could have turned the Sahara into ice. "He signed
them. He didn't want at first, but I reminded him of something," he shrugged, "Well, I knew
something. We‟ll leave it at that. We can start this thing, the moment you give your okay."

"See it as given," Tim replied, and this time his eyes fell on Angel, "Detective Reardon, I
need to be sure that you're able to do this. You have to be absolutely sure that you won't
snap."

"I'm not going to blow this case," the dark-haired man retorted. "I've got this covered. The
person was close to everyone of us, not just to me."

"Yeah," Xander agreed, and then amended his statement by adding, "but she was a lot closer
to you. A hell of lot closer. At least for a while. So you should know her better than we do.
Are you sure it will work?"

"Yes," Angel's voice was firm, "It will. I have to make the final phone-call and afterwards,
the show is on."

****

"I'm scared." Simone Chambers turned to look at her fiancée, her eyes huge and frightened,
her lips trembling, while her hands were wringing the hem of her shirt.

"I know," he replied gently, crossing the room and taking her in his arms. "I am too. More for
your than my sake. But I also know that if we want any kind of future together, this has to
be done." He reached up and traced the line of her delicate cheek with his forefinger, "I
don't want you to go to jail, baby. I want to live with you, preferably for the rest of my
natural life," he smiled, "I also want a baby with you, or maybe even more than one. But that
can only work if we're clean here."

Although his words sent a warm shock through her whole system that was the temperature
of ice at the moment, she shivered in his arms, "I want all those things too," she admitted,
her voice quivering. "I love you so much. But my father-"

"Has done all these things by himself. Your father is a smart man, Simone. He did what he
did with open eyes, and aware of the consequences. I know you love him, and I can only try to
understand what this will cost you, but he can‟t expect you to close your eyes all the time."

Suddenly his smile vanished and the look in his eyes was hard, "And he certainly can't expect
you to sell yourself for him."
"Mike-"

"No," he shook his head, covered her lips with his for a moment, soothing her with the kiss,
soothing him by the connection. She was here in his arms and he would keep her safe. "I told
you, I don't blame you. At least not anymore. But I do blame your father. I know, he knows
nothing of what you did for his sake, but without his doing these things you wouldn't have
been forced to do it in the first place."

"Sometimes, when I sleep," she whispered, pressing her cheek against his chest, "I can feel
his hands on me. His laughter in my ears. And I want to die in shame."

"God, baby." Mike's voice was hoarse. It was a pity that a sniper had shot Riley Finn. He
would've gladly gone and ripped the asshole's heart out. He knew that Riley had been
blackmailed himself and that he'd done what he'd done only to save his sister's life, but that
didn't change the fury Mike felt each time he thought that his colleague had forced himself
on Simone.

"I'm so glad you don't hate me for it," she said, her voice quivering again, "I couldn't live
thinking you hated me."

"I love you," he told her firmly. "And we're going to get through this. And then we're going
to have the future we're dreaming of. You have to believe me."

"I do," she whispered, holding him close, pressing herself even closer. And she did. She
believed him. But she also knew that believing wasn't always enough.

When the phone finally rang, they pulled away from each other and looked into each other's
eyes.The show would begin.

****

Darla Massey narrowed her eyes and glanced at her sister through the mirror, "I cannot
believe you're so stupid." She shook her head, "After all the things I had to do to clear up
this mess for you."

Diana studied her long red fingernails and snorted, "What *you* had to do? Gee, should I
sink down on my knees and thank you for it now?"

"No," Darla replied, still stunned that a person who looked so much alike she, could be so
completely different. The sisters or rather twins, had never been close. Only recently it had
changed. But not because they wanted it to. "I don't expect you to thank me. But when this
is over, I don't want to be bothered with your life ever again."

"My life?" Diane raised a haughty brow, "At least I have something resembling a life. You on
the other hand, dear sis, have spent your best years lusting after a guy who never really
wanted you in the first place."
At the mention of Angel Darla whirled around, her eyes blazing with fury, "Don't you dare to
bring him up. Angel is absolutely none of your business. I'm only here because *you* needed
my help. It's also the most stupid thing I've ever done in my life. I betrayed the
department, I lied to my boss and my colleagues and I did other things I'm not very proud
of. Only to save your sorry ass." She laughed slightly, but it wasn't a happy sound, "No,
please don't thank me. Just stay out of trouble in the future. That's thanks enough."

"How was I to know that David Griffin was a drug dealer?" Diane asked. "He was so nice to
me. A real gentleman."

"Some gentleman," Darla snorted, then sighed in defeat. Her sister would never change. If
she never saw her again, it was still too soon. Not that she didn't love her sister, because
she did. She had always loved Diane. Why else would she do the things she'd done over the
past months? But Darla was sure she would love her sister even more from a safe distance. A
phone call once or twice a year would be enough. She was contemplating how to tell her sister
exactly that, when suddenly her cell phone rang.

********

29

same day, 2.00 p.m., Los Angeles

"Hey, how're you doing?"

Buffy smiled and slightly lifted her head from the pillow to see Willow entering her hospital
room. "Hey, Will," she greeted her best friend.

"You look much better today."

The blond rolled her eyes, "Gee, that's flattering. Knowing that I looked like death just
yesterday, I'm not sure I should see that as a compliment."

"You never looked like death," the redhead replied firmly, pulling up a chair to the bed and
sitting down. "You almost died, Buffy. You had us really scared there. Especially Angel," she
said with a look that spoke volumes. "Speaking about him. Where is he? I thought I'd see him
still glued to your bed?"

"He came early in the morning, after the first night he didn't spend at the hospital" Buffy
told her, her mind wandering to the man she loved and to the danger he was in at the
moment. He had told her that they would have a meeting at IA and later he had called her,
to inform her that the show was on. Suddenly realizing that Willow was looking at her
expectantly, she tried not to think what could happen right this moment, while she was lying
in a hospital bed, forced into doing nothing.

"Something urgent came up," she explained her friend, hating that she couldn't tell her the
truth. True, she wasn't actually lying to Willow, something urgent had come up, but holding
things back from her best friend was harder than she'd expected. But Tim Philips had made
it perfectly clear that nothing was going to be revealed as long as they hadn't tied up the
case.

"More urgent than you, huh?" Willow asked, smiling. "I suppose the world's coming to an end
then," she joked, "because I just can‟t see anything else that could remove him from your
side." She reached out and took her friend's hand. "See, I told you from the start. I knew
you would get back together."

Glad that the redhead had changed the subject, Buffy smiled back, "I thought he hated me.
But he doesn't. He said he didn't blame me anymore. God, Will, I love him so much."

"I know," Willow squeezed the hand she was still holding. "Oz sends his love by the way," she
said then.

"How is the expectant father doing?" the blond wanted to know.

"He's in a permanent state of panic most of the time," the redhead answered, patting her
still flat abdomen. "Who would've thought that a taciturn guy like Oz could be like that?"
She shook her head and chuckled.

Buffy looked at her friend, happy for Willow's happiness, for the joy she saw in redhead's
eyes over their baby and she found herself hoping for the same some day. She sent another
silent prayer to every god that was listening, that they would keep Angel and all her friends
safe. She glanced at Willow again. Willow, her trusted friend for more than 15 years, Willow,
who had never betrayed her, and never lied to her, and always, stood by her.

Screw orders, she needed to talk about it. Now. Or she'd go mad, "Will," Buffy began,
squeezing her friend's hand, "I have to tell you something. Something you're probably not
going to believe at first..."

*****

"The subject is entering the warehouse from the back."

Spike's voice came clearly through the ether, and Angel shot a glance at Xander who was
sitting beside him. Behind the two detectives, Cordelia Chase was biting her nails. Under
normal circumstances it would‟ve made Angel chuckle. Her nails were holy to the brunette.
The fact that she didn't care at all about them at the moment spoke louder than thousand
words.

"Is the identification hundred percent positive?" Angel could hear Tim Philip's voice speaking
through the same radio. The DA was sitting in a car together with Rupert Giles and Drusilla,
who'd been taken into the team at Spike's mention that she already knew what was going on.
He hadn't elaborated that statement, but Angel had a certain idea why his friend had been
so cranky recently.
To tell the truth, he hadn't even noticed it at first. He'd been too concerned about Buffy, to
notice anything by her. But Cordelia had pointed it out this morning and as Angel had seen
Spike after his breakup with his former girlfriend, he had a pretty good guess that only
Drusilla could be the source of his foul mood. He had no idea what exactly had happened, but
made a mental note to talk to the blond detective as soon as this was over.

"Yes," Spike replied. "Positive. And now subject number two is arriving as well," he went on,
"Bingo," he shouted, and Angel could hear the exhilaration in the other man's voice. He was
as eager as everyone else to finish this case and go back to normal.

Normal. Whatever that was going to be. Angel wasn't quite sure what normal would mean to
him... and Buffy. Yes, they had told each other that they were still in love. But love was one
thing, the future another. Was she ready for a future with him? Because, he sure as hell
wanted a future with her. They had already lost four years. And only days ago he had almost
lost her completely. All he wanted was to hold her close and never let her go again.
Preferably by putting a ring on her finger and carrying her off to a happily-ever-after. The
only question was, did Buffy want that? After what she'd been through with Riley, was she
ready for another commitment that would bind her to a man?

The back door of the car suddenly opened, and Mike Harmon slipped into the seat beside
Cordelia. "Hi guys," he said, his face a mask of stone. Somehow, Angel thought, it was
comforting that he wasn't the only one who'd gone to hell. Mike was just going through his
own, private one. His fiancée would face mortal danger in just a few minutes and all he could
do was pray it would be all right in the end.

"Mike," Xander turned slightly in his seat and nodded at the younger man. "How's she holding
up?"

"Barely," Mike replied. Combing his fingers through his short hair, he took a deep breath,
"Simone is scared shitless, plus she's got all the guilt on her shoulder regarding her father.
She knows that we're going to arrest him today if everything goes as planned and it‟s tearing
her apart."

The radio in front cracked and then they heard Spike's voice again. The blond detective was
located on a roof behind the old warehouse and watching the scene to report what was going
on. "Holy sh- sorry, Sir," he apologized, obviously remembering that the District Attorney
was part of their team today, "Damn, I wanted to say. Our friend Griffith brought some sort
of army with him. I can at least count ten armed men."

"Ten!" Xander exclaimed incredulously. "Holy cow."

"That's what I call a tight security." Cordelia's voice held a trace of sarcasm, but there was
also a hint of admiration in it. You could say a lot about David Griffith, but you could hardly
call him careless or stupid.

"Yeah," Angel said through gritted teeth. This was going to be a rough game. Damn it. He was
thinking about a future with Buffy. Hell, he should probably pray that he was going to survive
today and then hang on his daydreams. Ten armed men. Damn, damn, damn. And he would be
in the middle of it. And Simone and...

He closed his eyes for a moment and forced himself to calm down. Panic wouldn't help
anyone. At least Buffy was far away from this. At least she was safe now. He didn't even
want to imagine how he'd feel if she was part of this. He had deliberately not told her what
was going to happen today, how dangerous their plan was. He didn't want her to worry, but
somehow, in the depth of her hazel eyes he'd seen she already knew.

Angel quickly glanced at Mike Harmon through the rear mirror. His face was locked up, the
jaw set, the set of his shoulders showing the nervous tension that was probably searing
through him, hell, it was in all of them. But it was his eyes that gave him away. There was
fear in them, but there was also determination, to get the job done. Mike Harmon would
become a very fine detective, Angel was sure of it. One of the very best.

"All players on board," Spike's voice came again. "Repeat. All players on board. It's your turn
Detective Reardon." There was a short pause and then he said, "Be careful, Angel. I would
really miss you."

Despite the situation Angel had to chuckle, "Thanks. Just cover my back."

There was no reply. Without a doubt that was because Spike had already left the roof and
was changing locations so that he could help Angel if needed. The dark-haired detective felt
a hand on his shoulder and turning his head he saw Cordelia looking at him with concerned
eyes. He covered her hand with his and squeezed it, "Keep your fingers crossed," he said and
left the car.

*****

Simone Chambers tried to keep the tremble out of her hands so that nobody would notice
that she was scared witless. Never before, not even when she'd realized what Riley Finn was
planning with her, had she been so afraid. She was emerging the limousine with her father,
holding on to his offered arm and walking to a warehouse that could become her deathbed if
anything went wrong today.

Mike. She desperately tried to think about Mike. His smile. His lips. His gentle hands. His
love. He was everything she'd ever wanted and now she could lose it in a matter of minutes.

"Are you alright, honey?" she heard her father ask and nodded absentmindedly.

"I'm fine," she assured him. "I think I've got a slight case of flu."

Derryl Chambers stopped and with concern his eyes rested on his only child. "You should've
stayed at home then. I know it was your idea to come with me and I'm glad that you're
interested in my business, but I don't want you to overexert if you don't feel well."
She gazed up at him. Her father was a tall man and she had to tilt her head to look into his
familiar blue eyes. She remembered all the things Mike had told her about her father's
business and only at the very last moment managed to stifle a cry of agony. Could it really
be? Was her father the kind of monster, Mike had described? Was it possible that the man,
who had held her, read stories to her when she'd been a little girl, was it possible that this
man could be part of David Griffith's organization? God, she didn't want to believe it.

"I'm fine, Daddy," she replied, giving his arm a reassuring squeeze. "No need to worry. I'm
dying to learn more about your business. I'm your only heir, Dad, I should know all the
important things."

"Yes, you keep saying that. And you‟re right," he suddenly frowned, then sighed, "Still, I want
you to tell me if you get tired."

Could this concern be a fake, she wondered. Could all his love, his affection been false? God,
please, don't let it be true. Don't let him be involved in murder and other horrible crimes. "I
will," she managed to smile and followed him when he went towards the entrance.

A tall and bulky man spotted them and nodded, clearly recognizing her father. Simone felt
her hopes crumple. This man, who worked for David Griffin, knew her father. He knew her
father. She closed her eyes for a second, and then opened them again. She thought again
about Mike and his promises of love and a future together. She would concentrate on that.
There was time to mourn the loss of her childhood illusions later.

*****

Willow gaped at her injured friend in the hospital bed as if she'd never seen her before. "Oh
my God," the redhead breathed, her eyes huge and shocked. "A dirty cop. I can't believe it.
And Angel and Spike working for Internal Affairs. And you. Oh, Buffy."

"I'm sorry, Will. I'm sorry, I couldn't tell you the truth. We were sworn to secrecy," Buffy
explained, squeezing the redhead's hand that was still laying in hers.

"That's not it," Willow shook her head, to clear the confusion in her mind. "I understand, why
you had to do it. I'm a cop too remember? Granted, I sit at the computer most of the times
and do research and other boring stuff, but that doesn't mean I don't understand. But a
dirty cop," she shook her head again. Suddenly her eyes were sharp and inquiring, "Who?"

"Huh?"

"Who is it?" she asked, looking intently at Buffy. "Do you know who the cop is?"

Buffy took a deep breath and returned her friend's intense stare. This was the tricky part.
She wasn't supposed to give that kind of information away. Tim Philips would certainly kill
her for it. On the other hand. The show was going down today, so what could it hurt? So she
pulled Willow close and then whispered the name in her friend's ear.
The redhead's eyes widened even more, and she pulled back, not really able to believe what
she'd heard. But Buffy's eyes were so serious, there was no doubt she meant it. Still, it
made no sense, why would that person...

As if the blond had sensed Willow's thoughts, she said, "It's the money. It's about a hell lot
of money, Will. And that's what frightens me. Because the moment money is involved people
don't care about who's hurt anymore. Plus they're cornering in on them right now." She took
a deep breath, her voice suddenly shaking, when she added, "And Angel's right in the middle.
He didn't want to tell me, Will. But I know. He's going to be right in the line of fire."

********

30

"Diane." David Griffin's eyes lit up when his eyes fell on the blond who was walking into the
room. "How good of you to come."

"David," Diane turned the corners of her mouth up in what resembled a flirtatious smile. "I
couldn't believe it when I got the invitation," she slightly turned her head, her gaze
flickering to one of David Griffin's bodyguards. "And you even delivered it personally, you
shouldn't have." Now her eyes narrowed and her voice was dripping with sarcasm.

The same instant David's eyes cooled as well, "I had the feeling you wouldn't come
otherwise."

Diane didn't comment that, but her eyebrows rose when she saw Derryl Chambers and his
daughter coming through the door of the warehouse. "More guests?" she asked, looking back
to David.

"As a matter of fact," he replied, and she saw a flicker of astonishment in his eyes. He
clearly hadn't expected for Simone to accompany her father.

"Derryl, my old friend," he stood from his desk to greet the two people.

"And the beautiful Simone. What an honor."

Derryl Chambers gave David Griffin what could be called a regal nod, while Simone forced
herself to extend a hand and endure the kiss the older man was breathing on its back. David
Griffin might be a gangster, but etiquette was important for him. Only at the last moment
Simone stifled a noise of disgust. And this moment, for the first time in her life, she hated
her father. For disguising her, for lying to her, and that he put her through something like
that. For his hidden black heart.

"Mr. Griffin," she forced herself to say.

"David, please," he replied with an elegant bow, his eyes traveling over her form, resting on
her breasts and Simone suppressed the urge to knee him in his groin.
"Come on," he turned and started towards the back part of the warehouse where several men
were waiting for them and a blond woman, Simone recognized as Diane Massey, Griffin's
girlfriend. "Let's get to business."

*****

Angel ducked in the shadow of a tree while he approached the warehouse, hoping that nobody
saw him before he'd arrived at his destination. He was already close when Spike suddenly
spoke through the headset he was wearing.

"Last subject not at the meeting point. Repeat. Last subject not at the meeting point."

Angel stopped instantly, his blood turning to ice. "What do you mean," he asked, his voice
carefully controlled, "last subject not at the meeting point? I thought you said all players on
board."

There was a short silence, but Angel was sure he heard his friend curse in the background,
then Spike's voice came back again, "It's my fault, buddy. I thought she was there. But
obviously there are look-a-likes running around."

"Damn," Angel cursed as well and leaned against a near by tree, his legs suddenly feeling
weak. The person they were looking for, the dirty cop was not on board. Where the hell... and
then it hit him like a bullet through the guts. Buffy. The target was Buffy. God, he was such
an idiot. She had been a target before. The bomb had been planted underneath her car.

Starting a dead run back to his car, he shouted through his microphone, "Cover. I need
someone to cover me in this operation. And I need a free line to the hospital. NOW," he
bellowed. His lungs were burning already, but he didn't slow down, if anything, he even
increased his speed.

"I'm covering you," Spike replied through the headset. "Repeat. I'm taking your place. Go,"
he shouted, obviously having the same thoughts. His next words made it clear. "Take care of
her."

Buffy had been Riley's wife. And they had killed Riley because he knew something. It had to
be the pictures that Riley's brother had brought them. They just had been too stupid to see
it. The attack on Buffy hadn't been a warning for them. It had been an attempt to kill her.
Her. Riley's wife. The most likely person to know about his secret. Divorce or no, they had
been close for a long time. Dammit, he thought desperately, finally reaching the car where
Mike, Xander and Cordelia were already waiting for him.

"Do you have the line to the hospital?" he asked breathlessly.

"What the hell is going on?" Cordelia wanted to know, but was handing him her cell phone.
Ignoring her question, he took it, "Faith? Is everything clear? ... Good. Any visitors? ... No?
That's ... WHAT? WHO? DAMMIT ... I said no visitors without my direct ... Never mind.
Forget about it. It's not really important."

He turned and looked at Cordelia, then at Xander, "Willow is with Buffy at the moment," he
told them, repeating what Faith had told him just before, his eyes grave. Turning his
attention back to the phone, he said, "Listen to me now, Faith. This is important. I have to
tell you something, you‟re going to hardly believe, but you have to. There is a dirty cop...
yeah, a dirty cop..."

He was talking to her while getting rid of his headset and signaling Xander to come with him.
"Faith, wait a moment," he said, and turned towards Cordelia. "I have no time to explain this.
But subject one is at the hospital this very moment. Spike can explain. I have to go. If
anything happens to Buffy, it'll be my fault."

With that he slipped into the car and continued talking to Faith, while Xander was flooring
the accelerator.

*****

Simone had the feeling as if she was walking through a nightmare. There were armed men.
Lots of them. They were surrounding a large desk where two foreign looking men were
sitting. They were obviously of South American origin, and they were smiling and joking with
Diane Massey.

David Griffin stopped in front of the desk, and then turned and smiled at Simone, "May I
introduce my friends. These are Sergio and Enrique Royos. Guys, this is Simone, the daughter
of our friend Derryl."

Simone was hoping desperately that the shock she felt didn‟t show on her face. Sergio and
Enrique Royos. She had never met them before. But she had heard of them. Who hadn't?
They were two of the most wanted drug dealers around. Both born and raised in Colombia,
they had taken over the smuggling of drugs into L.A. from their father about five years ago.

She watched when her father shook hands with them, no doubt they knew each other, had
met before. She felt the last of her hopes crumbling at her feet, and again concentrated on
Mike's face last night, when he'd told her he loved her. She would make it through this. And
then she would start forgetting about a man who had deceived her all her life.

On autopilot Simone extended her hand again for Sergio and Enrique to kiss. She smiled at
David Griffin when he explained that Simone was accompanying her father to learn the
business, and she even managed to smile at Diane Massey who she despised. The blond was
nothing but a cheap whore in Simone's eyes, looking for the next rich lover to lead an easy
life.
But of course this person wasn't Diane Massey. Diane Massey was sitting in the precinct,
guarded by two uniformed officers, while her twin had taken her place. Knowing that made it
easier to smile at the other woman.

"David," Diane/Darla was saying, while studying her nails, "can we get on with it? I don't have
the whole day. I really need to be on time for the appointment with my hairdresser."

David laughed slightly, and Simone saw him shaking his head. God, she wanted to kill the guy.
Right here and now. Her father laughed too, and she felt sick.

"Okay, guys," David turned and addressed Sergio Royos, "Show us what you have."

"Why don't we show each other what we have?" Enrique suggested, in his soft accented
English.

"The money," David Griffin ordered and snapped his fingers at Floyd Brady, who appeared
instantly carrying a large bag. He put it on the table and opened it. There was money in it,
lots of it. Sergio smiled and the same moment another bag appeared on the table.

Although she had expected it, Simone couldn't suppress the slight gasp that escaped her
mouth when she saw little bags inside, filled with a white powder. No doubt it was cocaine.

And then, chaos exploded. The doors of the warehouse were pushed open, officers and
detectives were coming inside, shouting. Simone could see the blond detective who Mike had
told her was called Spike. He was holding a mean looking weapon, pointing it at David Griffin,
while Darla had drawn her own gun and held it towards Sergio Royos. It all happened so quick
nobody had time to react.

"Keep your hands up," Spike warned approaching the table. "Check," he spoke into his
headset, "Things are under control." He ripped one of the little bags open, stuck his finger
inside and licked it. His face split into a huge grin and he spoke into the headset again, "Tim,
my friend," he said to the DA, "I think that case couldn't be tighter. About fifty pounds of
nice, white stuff and two eyewitnesses. One of them a police officer. This is like Christmas,
buddy." He instantly became serious, when he listened to the reply. "Yes, got that. Any news
from Angel?"

*****

"Man, I can't believe this," Xander said for the umpteenth time while he was driving. He had
tears in his eyes, but there was firm determination in them as well.

Angel nodded absentmindedly at him, his concentration on the voice that was talking to him
over the cell phone. "I hear you. Be careful, Faith. We'll be there in about ten minutes...
Yes." He closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them and Xander could see that he
was fighting for an answer, "Alright. If necessary eliminate the target."
He turned the phone off and stared at it for a long moment. Xander drove straight through a
red light, ignoring the horns sounding around them, "She‟s going for Buffy, isn't she?"

"Yes," Angel confirmed. "The target is Buffy because she was Riley's wife. She's expected
to know certain things. Even though she doesn't."

A tear slipped from the younger man's eye, "I can't believe it. They‟re colleagues. And I
always thought we were friends. God, this isn't true." He shook his head, almost missing the
entrance of the hospital parking space.

"But it is," Angel replied and jumped out of the car. He ran towards the entrance of the
hospital, knowing that Xander was following right behind, and dialed a number on Cordelia's
cell phone.

*****

"You should rest now," Willow said, standing up and smiling down at her friend. "You must be
tired."

"I'm not that bad," Buffy replied with a shrug, wincing when the little movement sent stabs
of pain through her whole body.

"Yes, you should," the redhead said firmly. "Close your eyes, Buffy."

The blond smiled at her again, and then did as told and her lids slipped over her eyes. She
sighed, and was apparently falling asleep, when suddenly the phone at her bed stand rang.
Her eyes opened again and with an apologetic look at Willow she picked it up. "Yes? ... Angel!"
Her face brightened, and she smiled. Only a second later the smile slipped and was replaced
by an expression of concern, then disbelief, then almost agony, "No," she breathed into the
receiver. "Oh, no. Angel," she whispered. "Oh, God. ... Yes. ... Yes. ... All right. I love you too."

Buffy closed her eyes for a short moment, and when she opened them again, she turned her
head to look at Willow. Her friend, since they'd been fifteen years old.

And she gasped.

The woman in front of her wasn't the Willow she knew. It was some stranger, her face cold
and set firmly, she was pointing a gun at the blonde's head.

*****

"Faith," Angel shouted racing towards the brunette detective, the phone at his ear. "Yes," he
spoke into it, his eyes on Faith and on the man standing beside her, his wrist secured in
handcuffs. It was David Gadget. "Yes, we've got him," he confirmed to Giles who was on the
other end of the line. "Yes, I know. No, Giles, I'm certain. We always thought it was one
dirty cop, but obviously there were two." He turned to look at Xander who had joined them,
panting heavily, "Yes, I'm certain, the identification is positive. ... Yes... I know it's difficult
to believe, but frankly, I don't have time for this now, because Willow is with Buffy this very
moment."

He switched off the cell, and looked at David Gadget who was staring at him with hateful
eyes. "You're too late, Reardon. There's nothing you can do. The little bitch is going to die."

"You bastard," Xander hissed, fighting with the tears that threatened to spill over. "What
did you do to pull her into this?"

"Nothing," Gadget replied, "It was her idea from the start."

"Her-" Xander's voice cracked and he had to turn away, pain threatening to consume him.
Willow. His longest, most trusted friend. God, this was a nightmare.

He flinched when he felt a hand on his shoulder, "What?" he asked, not turning around, not
wanting for anyone to see his tear streaked face.

"I'm sorry," Faith said gently, nodding at the two uniformed officers to lead David Gadget
away. "I can hardly believe it myself. I know she was your friend."

"She's inside," Kate Lockley came around the corner, "and she's pointing a gun at Buffy." She
looked at Angel, "What are we going to do?"

"Follow me," Angel shouted at her and she ran after him towards Buffy's room.

*****

"Willow," Buffy breathed, surprise and disappointment in her voice.

"Yeah," the redhead replied, shrugged and sat down again on the chair she'd just moved back
into the corner. "Surprise, huh?"

"God, Willow," the blond blinked threatening tears away. "How could you?"

The redhead shrugged again, "You said it before. It's the money. Oz's business isn't what we
need it to be and besides, I'm sick of always counting my money, I'm too young to not live
life in the fullest."

Buffy shook her head, "That's not you talking here, Will," she said, "That just doesn't sound
like you."

Willow raised a brow, quickly looked at the gun in her hand then back at the other woman,
"You think? Well, then maybe you never knew me."

"Obviously I didn't," the blond agreed, a sad smile crossing her features. "God, Will. You
were my friend. You were my bridesmaid and I trusted you."
"Bummer, huh?" The redhead crossed one leg over the other, rested one elbow on them. "But
you said it yourself. Money makes people forget about anything else. I never knew I wanted
money so badly until I had had a taste of it. It's really addictive, you know. And
comfortable."

"What about Oz?" Buffy asked.

"What about him? He knows nothing about my... uh... private transaction here. But he's too
tied up with his computers to even notice that there's more money than ever before. He
actually thinks he's earned it," she shook her head, "He never had a mind for money. Without
me the poor man would be lost."

"I see," the blond replied. "And... what about your baby?"

"The baby?" she shrugged, "What about it? It will be a happy baby. A rich baby. It will have
all the stuff I didn't."

"You actually believe you get away with this."

"Of course," Willow said, standing up, and approaching the bed, the gun still pointing at
Buffy. With a smile she reached into her pocket, produced a silencer, and then adapted it on
the gun. "Because you‟re going to die. And nobody will ever know."

"Don't do it, Willow," Buffy said, looking at her friend steadily. "You don't want to do it."

The redhead laughed in response. A hollow sound. "Of course I want to do it." She chuckled,
"You are so naive, Buffy. So good. So sweet. Gee, you can‟t even guess how bored I was to be
close to you all the time, pretending I liked you."

"Pretending you liked me?" Buffy asked, in total disbelief. She shook her head, showing the
other woman how disappointed she was. "I'm very sorry Will."

The redhead laughed again, "You shouldn't pity me. Better pity yourself. You're going to
need it in your next life."

And then she pulled the trigger.

********

31

same day, 10.00 p.m., Los Angeles

Angel couldn't stop touching her. He needed to reassure himself that she was, even looking
pale and sad, and lying on a hospital bed, indeed alive. He would never forget the moment
he'd stormed through the door of Buffy's room and found Willow standing in front of the
blonde's bed, the gun still in her hand, the distinctive smell of a fired weapon in the air.
And he had been sure he'd been too late. Too late to save Buffy, too late to make his dreams
come true. But like a miracle, Buffy, summoning all her remaining strength, rolled away the
very last moment, and so the shot had only hit the pillow instead of Buffy's head. It was a
miracle she was still alive, and that her roll from the bed hadn't caused further damage to
her already bruised and broken body.

"I still can't believe it," she was saying now, fighting tears again.

In response, Angel took her hand in his and kissed its back. "I know," he murmured. "It's
really hard to believe. She was your friend for so long."

She blinked rapidly and then turned her head to look at him, "The problem is, I can't stop
wondering what part of her affection was genuine and what part was nothing but acting. Did
she ever like me? When did it start to change? Did she start lying when we were in high
school together? I..." her voice broke and silent tears slipped from her eyes. "God, Angel,
how could this happen?"

He kissed her hand again, this time its palm, and holding it in both of his hands, he thought
about Riley and a life-long friendship that had been destroyed by jealousy and fate, and
realized that Buffy was experiencing the same thing now. "I've asked the same thing
myself," he said.

"About Riley," she replied and it wasn't a question. She understood. "But at least Riley didn't
try to kill you. I still can't believe she tried it twice. I just can‟t believe she was the one who
planted the bomb under my car. How can money be more important than friendship?"

It hadn't been about money in the end, Angel knew, and he told her.

Confused she looked up at him, "But what about then? What pushed her so over the edge
that she was willing to kill me? Angel, about two weeks ago we had lunch at Cara's. She was
like... the way she always was. My friend. How could she lie like this into my face?"

"It was because-," he began to reply when the door opened and Xander's head appeared.

"Hi," he said, his voice blank, his eyes incredibly sad. "May I come in?"

Buffy's lips twitched into the whisper of a smile, "It's the first time you‟ve actually asked,"
she tried a lame joke, but he didn't pay attention. "Sure, come in."

A little bit uncertain he looked at Angel, but the older man just nodded and stood. "I'm going
to go for a little. I need some coffee. Don't make it too long," he said, turning at Xander,
"She needs her rest." With that he slipped out of the door.

"How are you?" Buffy asked softly, but Xander didn't look at her, just stared out of the
window, his hands buried in his pockets. She had felt horrible about Willow, but now she
noticed it was nothing compared to what her friend must feel right now.
He didn't answer at first, just continued staring out of the window. Finally he spoke. "It's
strange, you know. After we knew you were all right, and after Faith and Kate took... her
away, I went home. I needed to see Anya and the baby. They were the same. Anya kissed me
and my son was happy. Nothing's changed." He paused for a moment and took a deep breath,
"And yet everything has."

"We lost the rest of our innocence," Buffy said thoughtfully, knowing instinctively that he
felt the same. "I already lost most of it through the mess with Riley, and when Mike died.
But today I found out that we never really know another person. I'm glad Angel and I found
each other again. Without him, I might have given up on life completely." She smiled slightly
when he turned to her and his eyes narrowed. "Hey, I wasn't talking about suicide. I would've
gotten through it. But I might not have been able to trust anyone again. And without trust
life is incredibly empty. Because without trust there is no real friendship, no real love."

"Yeah, I know," he replied, raking a hand through his short hair. "I just think I‟ll ever believe
it. It's lost forever. That's why I needed to see Anya and our son. I needed to touch
something that's good, not tainted." He turned back to the window again, staring into the
night, hoping somehow that the darkness could swallow all ugliness away. Of course he knew
it wasn't possible. "I hate her, you know," he admitted finally, "Not only for trying to kill you.
But for stealing all the good memories I have of her. I always treasured our time as kids.
Now it," he shrugged, a helpless, weary gesture, "it's all tainted. I‟ll never be able to think
about her with fondness. And I really, really hate her for it."

"I know," she said holding out a hand to him, glad when he came to the bed and accepted it.
There was a long way to go, but maybe they could try to heal together. "It's the same for
me," she told him when he sat down at the edge of her bed. "Angel understands it too. It
might not be exactly the same, but Riley turned against him too."

"But at least Riley felt bad for it. He hated himself so much in the end that he didn't even
care he was dying anymore. But Willow-" his voice cracked and he had to swallow the lump
that was forming in his throat, had to blink away the hot tears, a mixture of anger,
disappointment and deep, painful grief. Helplessly he shook his head, "There was no remorse,
no regret for trying to kill you. God, it's going to kill Oz."

"Have you seen him yet?" Buffy asked, squeezing his hand, hurting for a man whose wife
would go to jail, had betrayed him as much as her friends, and who was carrying his child. Oz
was a taciturn man, he wasn't the kind to open up and talk. Would he ever get over it, Buffy
wondered? Could you get over such a thing?

"No." Xander took a deep breath and rubbed a hand over his face, stubble growing in. "I have
no idea what to say to him."

"Tell him, you‟re his friend and that you'll be there for him whenever he needs you," came
Angel's voice from the doorway. He'd entered so quietly, they hadn't heard him. He smiled
briefly at Buffy, who returned it and then looked at Xander again, "And he is going to need
you. Willow's obviously decided to make a deal."
Xander's eyes narrowed, "What do you mean?"

"She agreed to make a full statement," Cordelia said stepping into the room behind Angel.
She smiled at the woman in the bed, "She‟ll tell us everything she knows. About David
Griffin, his organization, his contacts, and everything. The FBI has been informed and it
looks as if she could get off pretty easily."

"Oh, that's rich," Xander scoffed, stood and began to pace the room. "So she might come
off with two years or what?"

"She might not even be charged," Cordelia said, not liking it herself, "The FBI was talking
about a witness protection program." She rubbed her weary eyes and then combed the hand
through her hair.

"Gee, so she just talks a little, and the reward for trying to kill Buffy, for deceiving all her
friends, is a new name and a new life?" Xander walked back to the window, stared into the
night again. "Man, maybe I should try it too."

"I know it's not fair," the brunette closed the door behind her and leaned against it. "But
David Griffin and Derryl Chambers are the really big fish in the water here. Willow's just a
dirty cop."

Xander snorted but didn't say anything. After a moment of silence, Angel cleared his throat,
"She told Giles and the FBI that one of Griffin's snipers shot Riley. It seems the whole thing
is pretty complicated." He crossed the room and sat down with Buffy. "With his sister
escaped from her husband, Riley was forced to do something. So he did. It seems that David
Griffin found out everything about Riley's little problem and he knew Eunice's husband. He
threatened to expose her. He blackmailed Riley to force himself on Simone Chambers.
Griffin needed the pictures to keep Derryl Chambers on track, should he ever consider
leaving their little family.

"Riley on the other hand blackmailed Simone, because he found out she knew certain things
about her father. I'm not trying to find an excuse, but at least his blackmailing had the
ulterior motive to save his sister. Of course, he should've told us everything and tried to
find a legal way out of the mess. But he was already in so deep, and with the guilt he was
carrying around regarding Mike's death, and all he had done to help Eunice," Angel shook his
head, and smiled at Buffy when she took his hand, "He couldn't stand the idea of going to
jail."

"But why would Griffin kill him?" Buffy wanted to know.

"Because he found out that Riley had stored information about him. Some kind of safety
assurance. So he killed Riley. Then his men found the dangerous information Riley had hidden.
Yet, it wasn't all of it. They had no idea Riley had sent copies of everything to his brother.
So they assumed you had it. That was the moment it was decided to eliminate you as well. As
you remember, there were pictures of David Gadget in the envelope. Willow obviously
thought she was in danger of being exposed as well."
Xander who had listened to the whole story, turned back to his friends. "Where is she now?"

"They brought her to the precinct," Cordelia replied, "But the FBI wanted to take care of
her. Why?"

"If she isn't going to jail, then she's going to keep the baby, right?"

"I suppose so. Oz came to the precinct," she told Xander. "He seemed to take it well, but
that's just Oz. He never shows a lot of emotion. The FBI offered to take him into the
program with her, but he refused. He knows that she's going to take the baby with her." She
paused for a moment, and then added thoughtfully, "Maybe it's best that way."

"No, it's not," Xander replied forcefully, "How can you say that? He finds out that his wife
betrayed everyone and on top of it, he's going to lose his unborn child."

"It‟ll hurt," Angel said, holding onto Buffy's hand, glad he wasn't forced to make such a
horrible decision, "but a clear cut is the only way. For all of them. It's actually the baby
who‟s going to lose the most in this. Either it will lose a mother or a father. And it will never
know that lost parent."

"God, this is such a mess," Xander crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned against
the wall, closing his eyes. "Why did she have to do this?" he asked again. "What is so wrong
with this life, that she needed to do what she did? Can anybody explain it to me, because I'm
never going to understand it."

"Some people aren't as content as you," Angel replied quietly. "They want more. And they
want it any possible way. That's why we‟re here. To get those who leave the legal path."

Cordelia looked at the lovers on the bed and smiled, determined not to give in to depression,
"Well, I suppose you aren't in danger of leaving the legal way. Speaking of being legal, my
wedding‟s in about four weeks. How about a double wedding?"

"Well," Buffy smiled at her gratefully, understanding what the brunette was trying to do.
She felt terribly sad, but life went on, and looking at Angel she knew it had beautiful things
in store for her, "we haven't actually talked about a date or marrying at all for that matter."

"You haven't?" Cordelia asked in mocked shock. "Well, then go on, ask her."

Angel chuckled, "I would prefer a more... private moment for that kind of thing," he told her.
>{?"Oh," she grinned. "Privacy. We can do that, can't we, Xand?" she turned and looked gently
at her old friend.

"Yeah, sure," he tried a smile and his lips twitched. "I need to go home anyway. I promised
Anya not to be too late. See you tomorrow. And," he paused in the doorway, "I would like a
double wedding. Hope the cake's going to be huge."

"Love you too, Xand," Buffy said when he slipped out of the room. She smiled at Cordelia who
followed him and when the door closed behind them, she turned to Angel. "I totally
understand if you don't want to marry now or... ever. We haven't talked about it so far. I
don't even know if you're going to stay in L.A. or if you want to move back to New York." She
licked her lips nervously, "I mean, I don't want you to feel-"

He stopped her rambling with a sweet kiss and when their lips parted he smiled, "I couldn't
think of any better timing," he said, stroking her cheek. "It's like announcing that we still
believe in the good things in life." No, they hadn't talked about their future so far, but with
the events of the last days it was suddenly so easy to see that life was short and precious
and that there was no time to waste a single moment of it.

"Yeah," she agreed, smiling as well. "So are you going to propose, or should I?" she only half-
joked. Inside everything was fluttering. This was about a marriage to Angel. Something she'd
dreamed about for so long.

"You might laugh at me now," he said, his face serious, "but deep inside I'm a very traditional
kind of guy. In my eyes the man does the proposing. So," he grinned and slipped from the
bed.

Buffy couldn't stop the tear slipping from her eyes when he went down on one knee.

END

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