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Fallout

by Gem

Disclaimer: As always, the characters are not mine, I just borrowed them from Joss and company. One of these days I'll even return them.
Rating: I don't know. I'll say PG13 to be safe, and if it's too mild to actually qualify, sorry.
Spoilers: Up through "Heroes," then a little ways into my own reality.
Sequel to "Taking Chances."


"I don't have a good feeling about this, Buffy. She's setting us up, I can feel it." Angel gripped the steering wheel tightly with both hands, fiercely concentrating on the road until his beloved's lack of response began to worry him.

"Buffy, are you listening to me?" He risked a glance at her, only to discover her staring in rapt fascination at the ring on her finger.

"Hmm?" She looked up at last, sensing his eyes on her. "Did you say something?"

"I said I don't like this situation. You never should have told your mother I was coming back with you. It only gives her more time to prepare."

"I thought you liked my mother."

"She's the one who doesn't like me. Not that I blame her," he hastened to add. "I did a lot of terrible things when the demon was in control, and she doesn't even know half of them. But it makes me kind of nervous. I'd feel better if we surprised her." In Angel's experience, and he had a lot of it, sneak attacks were always best. At least for the attacker.

"Angel, I swear I was kidding about the garlic in the lasagna."

"I'm not worried about the food," he explained patiently. "After all, it's not like I need to eat. I'm worried about what she'll say to you, especially after she finds out about the baby. And I'm a little worried about all the wood in your house."

She grinned and caressed his cheek. "No wonder you like that big under-furnished stone mansion. Lack of raw materials."

"It's not funny, Buffy. I can defend myself, but I really don't want to have to against your mother."

"You're the one who went trawling the school yards for little blonde cheerleaders, boss. You reap what you sow."

Angel and Buffy both glared at Cordelia as she slung herself over the back of the bench seat. She smiled cheerfully at them with complete, and typical, disregard for tact or diplomacy.

"I mean, you can hardly fault the woman for being a little leery of a much, much, much..."

"We get it, Cordelia," Angel snapped.

"...older guy," she blithely continued, "who stalks, seduces, then stalks her teenage daughter yet again. It's got movie-of-the-week written all over it."

Buffy looked at Angel in despair. "Why, oh why, did you ask her to ride with us?" she wailed.

"I couldn't very well leave her alone in LA on New Year's Eve, and her car is in the shop," he explained through gritted teeth. For the tenth time. It had been a long and grueling drive with the two women in his life nervously snapping at each other the whole way. At the journey's end, all he faced was an angry mother-in-law-to-be. It was enough to try the patience of a saint, let alone a demon.

"But you told her she could stay at the mansion with us," she whispered. "I really wanted some quality alone time, if you know what I mean."

"I think we all know what you mean, Buff," Cordelia drawled. "Believe me, I intend to spend as much time as possible out of that mausoleum, for my own sake. That place gives me the creeps. But Mom and Dad have a really tiny place now, and there isn't any room for me. At least that's what they told me. I haven't been home since graduation." She relied on years of experience as the queen of her clique to project the proper carefree attitude. Just because she and Buffy were sort of friends was no reason to invite pity.

Buffy tried, unsuccessfully, to imagine her mother moving to some place so small she wouldn't even have a sofa bed or sleeping bag to spare for her daughter. Then she tried to imagine doing the same thing to her own child. Unconsciously, her hand moved to lie protectively across her abdomen.

Angel caught her movement out of the corner of his eye, and reached over to lay his hand on top of her own. She smiled at him, and suddenly they shared a sense of peace they hadn't felt since shortly after Buffy called her mother that morning.

* * * * *

"Yes, Mom, I said LA," Buffy repeated once more, showing remarkable patience with her mother's lack of comprehension. "No, I told you, I'm not here to see Dad. I needed to see Angel....No, I won't have time to see Dad. I'll call him on New Year's Eve...Yes, tonight. I promised Will that I'd Bronze it with her. It's a full moon tonight and since she and Oz broke up they depress her. I'd cancel...but I know how tough a break-up can be." She looked over at Angel, stretched out beside her on the bed, and uttered a silent prayer of thanks. Whatever they had endured, and would endure, they were together now, forever. She only hoped Willow would be as lucky someday.

"What?" She forced her attention back to the phone and her mother, away from the gorgeous naked man waiting patiently for her. "Yes I did get to see Angel." She blushed a little, thinking just how much she had seen. "He's coming back with me...Mom, you can offer your opinion, but you can't tell me what to do anymore. I'm not a child...On second thought, forget offering opinions. Are you actually the same woman who told me if I couldn't say something nice about someone to say nothing at all?...Mom, I'm going to hang up now. We'll see you tonight. Practice being nice!"

She slammed the portable phone down on the nightstand, inadvertently shattering it on the hard wood. "Oops, sorry," she said, shamefaced. "You'd think after all this time, I'd remember when to hold back on the super powers."

"It's okay," he replied, reaching up to pull her down into the circle of his arms. "The question is, are you? That sounded like a rough phone call."

She twined herself along the cool length of his body, pillowing her head on his broad chest. "She wasn't exactly happy about the whole you-me-us thing, but she'll adjust. She won't have a choice."

"Does she know about the baby?"

She titled her head back to look at him. "No, not yet. You're the first person I told. The first one I thought of telling, actually." She couldn't believe how long ago it all seemed as she brushed a stray gold flake of confetti off his chest.

"Even when you didn't remember?" Angel was humbled by her display of trust; especially after all he had put her through.

"If I had thought...If I had reason to think..." She was stumbling over her words, trying to explain without dredging up painful memories. "I didn't know who, but I knew who not...I mean...Yes, even when I didn't remember!" Buffy gave up her attempt at total honesty as a bad adventure. Sometimes tact was the best way to go, especially when discussing sex with the opposite sex.

"It's all right, I get it." He did get it, though his mind shrank at the idea she was trying to express. "If you knew from the start who the father was, and it wasn't me, I wouldn't have been the first one you told. That makes sense, Buffy."

"The funny thing is, I can't imagine it being anyone else." She rested her head on his chest again after he dropped a light kiss on her forehead. "I fell in love with you when I was sixteen, then I found out you couldn't have kids before I was seventeen. I stopped thinking about babies before I really started, because you were the only man I ever saw myself spending my life with."

Angel struggled with himself for a moment, debating his timing. He wanted to do it right this time, after a long walk on the beach or to the music of strolling violinists. He wanted her to have a beautiful memory to cherish when things got tough, not just another hurried stolen moment. He wanted to give her the moon and the stars, the way she gave them to him simply by existing.

But if Doyle's death had taught him anything, it was that time was precious. As an immortal, he had become blunted to its effects over the centuries. A vampire can easily create the "perfect" moment, whatever he deems that to mean, because he has so many to work with. Living among humans again, he was forced to remember that for them it was the limited number of minutes available that made each one special.

His decision made, he loosened one arm from Buffy's shoulders and reached over to pull open the drawer of the nightstand. She made a little sound of protest when he sat up, pulling her up with him.

"Sweetheart, this may not be the right time, but..." He opened the small box in his hand to reveal an antique gold ring. "I saw this the day you left LA, well, the day you came to LA. You know what I mean." Angel glanced shyly at her, unsure of her reaction.

Buffy touched the ring, still in the box, with a shaking finger. The pink diamond, set in a golden rose, winked at her in the light of the one remaining burning candle. "You bought this when I didn't remember anything? When you thought I wasn't coming back?" A tear escaped her eye and trickled down her cheek.

He leaned over and kissed the tear away. "I couldn't let someone else wear it. It belonged on your hand, or on none at all."

She held out her left hand. "Put it on me," she requested softly.

"First I need to ask you a question." He cleared his throat nervously. "You know I'm not very good at expressing my feelings, but you mean everything to me, Buffy. You are the reason for my being; I've known that since the first day I saw you. There aren't words to say how much I love you, but I plan to spend the rest of my days showing you." He looked deep into her hazel eyes. "Will you marry me?"

The question brought more tears, but for a change he didn't feel guilty about them. This time he knew they were tears of joy. She smiled lovingly at him and stroked his cheek, then ran her hand down his throat and arm to place her hand in his.

"I'll stay with you forever; that's the whole point." She could say those words now without a shiver, because the old dreams were put to rest. No more nightmares, no more lying to herself, no more self-recrimination. Their future started now, together.

He took the ring from the box and slid it on her finger, sealing it with a kiss.

* * * * *

The memory of that morning warmed Buffy again as she stared at Angel's hand resting over her own. Unfortunately, she could also remember how brief that peaceful interlude had been. Cordelia had begun stomping on the floor of the office overhead, and Angel was forced to go upstairs to find out what was wrong. While he was gone, her mother called back (good old *69!) to indulge in another round of Angel-bashing. By the time Angel came back, after killing a rat, they were both a little too wired for soft music and soft words. They dressed and ate and cleaned up confetti, and generally tried to pretend they both weren't dreading the ensuing battle. As soon as the sun set, they were on the road. With Cordelia, of all people.

"Umm, guys, I actually kind of want to apologize for foisting myself on you." The tone came from a Cordelia Buffy was not accustomed to, but Angel recognized her sudden shift in mood. He also knew humility and gratitude were still a little bit of a strain on her.

"It's all right, Cordelia," he assured her. "We invited you, remember?"

Buffy bit her tongue; Cordelia had invited herself. Still, it was an apology, and that was more than her highness used to give.

"Yeah, it's okay with us." A thought struck Buffy. "Actually maybe it's a good thing. We can take you along to my mom's house first. She won't yell nearly as much with you there."

"As if!" Cordelia tossed her head. "Just because I overheard you guys talking pre-schools and baby monitors does not mean I have to be the one to keep the pin in your mother's grenade when she finds out she's about to become Grandma Joyce."

"Maybe we should go to the mansion first anyway," Angel offered uneasily. "It will give you some time to rest, and..."

"She said dinner was at six, Angel." Buffy's tone left no room for arguments.

Angel sighed.

Cordelia turned her head to stare at him. "You know, you've been doing that a lot lately for someone who doesn't need to breathe." Buffy's glare made her sink back into the back seat. "Jeeze," she muttered, "make one little observation and suddenly you're Public Enemy Number One."

There was a momentary lull, then Buffy and Cordelia spoke as one.

"Are we there yet?"

* * * * *

Joyce was ready and waiting at the door for them when they pulled into the driveway. Buffy quickly slipped her engagement ring into her pocket and accepted her mother's hug with reluctant affection. The congenial mood was promptly shattered by the coolness of Angel's reception by his mother-in-law-to-be.

"Mom," she said tightly, "the phrase 'be nice' doesn't just refer to the absence of a crucifix as the centerpiece." She gripped Angel's arm firmly, trying to remind both he and her mother of their solidarity.

Joyce smiled with forced cheer. "I'm sorry, dear. I didn't mean to start things off on the wrong foot." She looked over Buffy's shoulder to the driveway beyond. "Oh good, Rupert is right on time."

Buffy and Angel quickly turned around, then moved out of the doorway to allow Giles entry.

"Giles, I didn't know you were going to be here." Buffy looked suspiciously at her mother. "Reinforcements, Mom?"

"Why don't we all go in to dinner?" Joyce suggested, side-stepping the question. She made her way to the dining room, not looking to see if the others followed.

Dinner was garlic-free, but still a tense affair nonetheless. The conversation was fraught with numerous unfortunate comments, followed by lengthy awkward silences. Angel was almost relieved when Buffy insisted they clear the table, allowing her mother and Giles to resettle in the living room.

"I can't stand this any more," she hissed, shoving dishes randomly into the dishwasher. "We should have told them at dinner."

"Dinner was bad enough, but at least they could choke some food down," Angel explained as he rinsed the plates before handing them to her. "Now we sit them down and tell them. Calmly and rationally."

"Oh sure, now that they've built up their strength we're going to spring it on them. You actually survived for two hundred years using that kind of strategy?"

"Strategy for what?"

Buffy whirled around to face Giles, while Angel bowed his head and silently prayed for strength. Then he turned around as well, moving behind Buffy to support her.

"Giles! We didn't hear you come in." Buffy was stalling for all her worth. Now that the moment had come, she was suddenly very afraid.

"What's going on? Secret meeting or do moms get to participate these days?" Joyce was suddenly at Rupert's side, bringing the whole family together.

Buffy glanced at Angel, who nodded his head ever so slightly. She grimaced, then turned to face her suspicious parent and almost-parent.

"We have something we need to tell you. Something more than the news that we're back together. Take a seat." She pulled out a chair at the table for herself, gesturing to the others to do likewise. Angel chose to stand behind her, his hands resting lightly on her shoulders.

"All right Buffy, what is this big news?" Joyce hoped that at least her voice sounded calm, because it was far from how she was feeling.

"Angel and I...are getting married. Soon." She pulled her ring out and slid it on her finger, waving it under her mother's nose as Joyce's mouth opened in protest. "I'm not finished. I want to get married soon because I'm always afraid some new evil is going to jump in and wreck things, but that's not the only reason. We're expecting a baby."

"That's impossible!" Giles burst out.

Buffy started to rise from her chair, but Angel gently held her down. "He's not immortal, remember? He gets to say that."

"He still should know better," Buffy replied indignantly.

Giles had entirely missed their by-play, engrossed as he was by the wrench they had just thrown into his universe. "Slayers can't have children," he said, almost to himself.

"What are you talking about?" Three voices assaulted him at once, forcing him to temporarily cover his ears.

"I said, slayers can't have children," he repeated patiently, as if that would solve the whole problem. "Vampires either, so there must be some mistake."

"I was human for a day," Angel explained. "But I don't understand what you're saying about Buffy. You never told her she couldn't..."

"It hardly seemed to matter," Giles said earnestly. "She's been in love with you, a vampire, literally since the day we both met her. Even if she hadn't been, it would hardly be my place to tell a teenage girl that she can have sex as much as she wants and she'll never have to worry about getting pregnant."

"A baby?" Joyce asked softly. "You're going to have a baby?"

Buffy abandoned her anger towards Giles to help her mother deal with reality. "That's right, Mom," she said slowly, enunciating each word. "We're having a baby. In the fall. Together."

"But you can't do this! It's too much responsibility, and you're much too young."

"And I might not live to get a whole lot older, Mom. Did you ever think of that?" Buffy was rapidly losing patience with her mother, and her Watcher wasn't earning any bonus points either.

"This doesn't make any sense," Giles insisted. "Even assuming Buffy can have children, which she should not be able to do, you can't, Angel. What did you mean you were human for a day? If you were human, you would die; your body is over two hundred years old."

"I can't explain it, I just live it," Angel replied with a shrug. "My blood was mixed with that of a Morah demon and I became human. For a day."

Buffy glanced up at him, love and rueful pride shining in her eyes. "It was supposed to be permanent, but he gave it up for me." She looked back at her mother and Giles, the starlight fading from her gaze. "We didn't have much time together, but it was enough to create a tax deduction." She looked back up at Angel, a puzzled frown on her face. "Do you pay taxes?"

"Buffy, please." Giles' voice was rather strained. "Why did Angel give up his mortality?"

"What does it matter?" Joyce burst out. "My daughter is a freshman in college and about to raise a child with a vampire. Who cares why he wasn't one or is one again?"

"I care."

The quiet note of maturity in her daughter's voice startled Joyce. She looked helplessly from Buffy to Angel, allowing herself for the first time to see the bond between them. She had mistrusted Angel from the start, and it appeared her fears were justified, but there seemed to be no way of permanently severing the connection between them. God knows she had tried.

"He gave it up for me, to save my life. There was only one thing in the world that he wanted more than being human so we could be together, and that was my safety. So I care, Mom."

"Joyce, I know this isn't what you wanted for Buffy's future, at least not yet." Angel looked down at the blonde head resting lightly against him. "This isn't quite the way we wanted it either, but it's meant to be. If it wasn't, the Powers That Be wouldn't have allowed the child to survive time turning back." He smiled slightly at Joyce. "I promise you, it will be all right. I'll do everything I can to make them happy, and we will make it all right."

"What do you want us to say, Buffy?" Joyce sighed, resigned to another lost battle. The only person on earth more stubborn than herself was her daughter, and now Buffy's feet were set firmly on a course of her own choosing.

"How about 'congratulations, Buffy,' or 'we're happy for you, Buffy,' or maybe just 'you know we love you, Buffy'." The bitterness in her voice was apparent to everyone.

Angel crouched down and wrapped his arms around her. She flung her arms around him and buried her face in his neck as he murmured in her ear.

"You know that we love you." Giles was contrite. Buffy had come home to share what she felt was very happy news, and all he could do was analyze the situation. "Please accept my somewhat belated congratulations." He came over to the other side of the table to lay a hand on each of their shoulders.

Buffy and Angel rose as one to awkwardly embrace Giles. After a moment, Joyce came to join them. She wasn't quite ready, though, for a group hug.

"Honey, I just want what's best for you. I always have," she explained earnestly, resting a hand on Buffy's shoulder. "You'll understand that when you have...well, I guess you'll understand that pretty soon."

Buffy smiled at her mother, sensing a thaw. "Mom, being with Angel is what's best for me. I know the baby thing is happening kind of quickly, and Angel wasn't lying when he said we didn't plan it this way. But we are happy about it. We didn't think we'd ever get this chance. That's part of the reason Angel left last summer."

Joyce's eyes met Angel's as they shared a silent moment of understanding. The past was the past, and there was no reason for Buffy to learn now that his departure had more to do with her mother's wishes than his presumed infertility.

"Yes, well, there was something else, as I recall." Giles really didn't want to bring sex into the conversation, but he was concerned for the future. A baby was poor glue with which to hold a tempestuous relationship together. Not that sex was the solution either, of course, but the lack of it had driven a wedge between them before and could do so again.

Buffy blushed, glancing quickly up at Angel to find her touchstone in his dark eyes. "That's, umm, not a problem anymore. The curse read a little differently than we thought."

"Are you sure?" Giles was aghast at his costly error. "If you have suffered all this time because of my poor grasp of Latin, I'll never forgive myself."

"Oz and Anya finished translating the curse for me," Angel explained gently. "Apparently Willow started channeling a gypsy spirit in the middle of the ceremony, so we don't know for sure if what you translated is what she said. But Oz remembered it word for word, and Anya translated. Everything worked out okay in the end, Rupert. It's not your fault."

"But there's still school, and his job, and what about your job?" Joyce still wasn't ready to give up the fight, not when her only child's happiness was at stake.

Buffy sighed and pulled out a chair. "Have a seat, Mom. I can see this is going to take a while."

****

It was a beautiful, starry night in Sunnydale, California. The soft breeze was unusually warm for December, and redolent with the fragrance of confused flowers brought to bloom out of season. It was a night made for lovers.

And, unfortunately, the lovers' friends, roommates, employees and the friend's formerly demonic girlfriend, none of whom seemed to notice they were spoiling a romantic, moonlit walk.

"Guys," Buffy said once again, "it's not that we don't love you all, but this was kind of supposed to be a winding down time for us. The two of us," she reiterated, pointing to herself and Angel.

"But, Buff, we want details," Xander whined. "You can't just show up at the Bronze with Dead-Boy on your arm and expect us not to be curious." Stunned, shocked and dismayed would be more accurate, but in the interest of his continuing bodily health, he settled for 'curious.'

"I promised Willow I'd show," Buffy explained, snuggling into Angel's enveloping arm. "We weren't expecting to make a night of it."

Angel itched to kiss away the pout that had formed on her lips, but he restrained himself. There would be plenty of time for that later tonight, and many more nights to come.

"I could have told you he'd be coming," Anya said smugly, seizing Xander's arm to drape about her shoulders the way Angel had done with Buffy. "I wasn't at all surprised when Cordelia phoned from the mansion to say she needed a ride."

"I was surprised Cordelia was there," Willow admitted, glancing at that same person walking next to her.

"Well, where else would I spend the Apocalypse but on a hellmouth?" Cordelia replied dryly. She didn't add that these people were her only real friends, and she wanted to be with them at the big moment; she figured that was implied.

"So, the New Year's Eve party is at the mansion, huh? Cool." Xander got a happy when he saw Angel's jaw clench at the suggestion. The big guy was so easy to needle, it almost wasn't fun anymore. Almost.

"No!" Buffy said firmly. "No party. You guys do what you want; we're staying in. Alone."

"We've seen enough confetti to last us a while anyway." Angel shared a secret smile with Buffy as he wrapped both arms around her.

"Yeah, it's not like you can drink anyway. Oww!" Cordelia rubbed her bruised shin, but refrained from further outbursts when Buffy turned her head to reveal a saccharine sweet smile and flashing eyes.

"I'm sorry, Cordy. Must have tripped," Buffy purred. "But you're right, I can't drink. I'm underage."

Four pairs of eyes stared at her in disbelief, while Angel studiously avoided her gaze.

"Well, I am!"

"Oh, come on, Buff." Xander wasn't sure whom Buffy thought she was kidding, but he decided it was wiser not to pursue that particular exhibit of selective memory. "I don't know about Angel here, but how many turn of the centuries are you going to see?"

"I've seen two already, and they're not that big of a deal." Angel refused to let Xander bait him any longer. He couldn't kill him, and even bruising him would probably annoy Buffy a little, so his only resort was to take all the fun out of Xander's games.

Anya raised her hand. "Eleven, and one change of millenium. Angel's right; you've seen one, you've seen them all."

"We're a little off topic, as usual," Cordelia reminded the others. "God, I'd forgotten how you people love your meaningless banter. I just want to know how your mom took the sight of you two back together, among other things." She leaned forward to get all the juicy details.

Buffy elbowed Cordelia sharply in the ribs while Willow asked, "What other things?" and Xander tried to return the subject to the following night's festivities.

"She's fine now." Buffy spoke loudly to be heard over Xander's voice chanting "Party. Party." A slight choking noise from Angel caused her to modify her statement. "She'll survive."

"The hard part was explaining the move to LA," Angel said glumly. When Buffy's elbow was directed his way this time, he remembered most of the others still had not been told the complete story.

"You're moving?" Willow sounded crushed. "But… you're my best friend, Buffy, not just my roommate. You're the reason I didn't go away to school. Now you're deserting me, just like Oz did. Before you know it, Xander will actually move out of his parents' basement and Amy will escape from her habitrail." She stopped walking and faced Buffy, forcing the rest of the crowd to come to a grinding halt.

"You're really going to leave the hellmouth, Buffy?" Xander couldn't believe his ears. All the times she talked of her duty, her perpetual responsibility, and now she was throwing everything away for Dead-Boy.

Buffy slid out of Angel's arms to give her best friend a hug. "Will, I'm sorry. There's still a lot I have to explain to you, but the bottom line is, I don't want to stay here. I have a new life starting, and I can't do it in Sunnydale."

"You mean they don't know any of it yet?" Cordelia was incredulous; she was actually the first one to know the whole plan this time.

"Any of what?" Xander was quick to take offense. "You told Cordy stuff you couldn't tell us? When did you two become such buds?"

Buffy looked at her friends, then up at Angel for confirmation. When he nodded, she began. "Guys, we have some news. Thanks to Oz's Memorex memory and Anya's way with ancient Romanian, we found out Angel's curse is loophole-free. So, we're not just moving to LA; we're getting married. On my birthday."

"Are you insane!"

"Actually married? With a flower girl and bridesmaids and throwing rice and...oh no, not rice, bird seed, because otherwise the birds will...married?"

"From personal experience I can tell you: demons and church weddings, not a good mix. Not that it affects former demons, you understand."

"I can't believe I was the first to know this time."

Angel pulled Buffy around to face him as the uproar began. "You never mentioned your birthday before," he murmured. "I'm not complaining," he added hastily, "but you never mentioned that specific day."

She slid her arms around his waist, holding on to her future with all her might. "I told you, I don't want to wait any more. Mostly, I want a good memory for my birthday. The last few have had some nasty side effects." Even in the moonlight Buffy could see the flicker of pain in his eyes. She quickly reached up to smooth away his frown. "This year I want to wake up in your arms the next morning and know it's forever." She stood on tiptoe to kiss the smile he couldn't suppress.

"Get a room," Xander said with disgust.

"Is that all?" Cordelia asked pointedly. "No more little bombshells to drop on them?" She was really enjoying being in the know this time.

"Well, there is one more thing," Angel said slowly. Buffy turned around in his arms so she could face her friends as he broke the news. "It's kind of hard to explain, but we're...having a baby."

This time there was no uproar, only silence.

"It's good news, people," Buffy said at last. "We're happy about it." She looked around at her silent friends. "Will someone please say something?"

"But Buffy," Willow responded quietly, "what about Riley?"

* * * * *

Riley Finn was not having a good night.

He was supposed to be spending this beautiful moonlit evening with his girlfriend, consummating a promising relationship. Failing that, he was supposed to be in Iowa, doing some pre-millenium partying with his old high school buddies. Instead, he was prowling through one of Sunnydale's inordinately large number of cemeteries, and he didn't even have an automatic weapon protect himself.

He didn't want to lay blame, but it was really all Parker's fault. It had taken Buffy a while to warm up to Riley, thanks to that creep, but he finally edged his way into her good graces. They had a few dates, began dating only each other, and then it was time for the next step.

Sex.

Riley never realized the complications that one little word could create. He didn't want to rush Buffy; there was no hurry, and her experience with Parker had obviously made her a little gun-shy. He thought they had reached…an understanding, though, right before the end of the semester. He was going to go home for the holidays, then return the day after Christmas so he and Buffy could spend a few very romantic days in Lake Tahoe not skiing.

Then, the day before he left, she called him to say she couldn't, or wouldn't, go away with him. When he suggested he just stay in the fraternity house for the vacation, she didn't like that idea either. She wanted space. So, he went home to Iowa without even being able to say good-bye to her. He called on Christmas Day; she wouldn't come to the phone. He called her two days later; she still wouldn't talk to him. Two days after that, she had left town for parts unknown. The next morning Riley started calling airlines to get a flight back to California.

Now here he was, scouring Sunnydale for a glimpse of his erstwhile girlfriend, instead of spooning by the fire. Meanwhile, he could only hope that none of the hostiles he took such pride in hunting was on the prowl for dinner.

Buffy was right; Parker was just plain evil.

* * * * *

"Will, I'm sorry you're taking this so hard, but I never really cared that much for Riley." Buffy looked sympathetically at her best friend, who appeared to be taking the break-up worse than Buffy expected Riley to do.

"But he's a nice guy," Willow whimpered. "You don't just happen along that sort of thing every day. I mean a nice guy, who will stick around, and isn't lunar sensitive, and doesn't have fangs, and never worshipped a demon."

"Hey, fang jokes are my department," Xander said sharply. "As a matter of fact, making fun of Dead-Boy as a whole is my gig; when did you decide to join the party?"

"For the record, I resent the demon crack," Anya muttered, as she leaned against a tree and tried to get a pebble out of her shoe.

Willow looked apologetically at Angel, who was trying to pretend her comment hadn't stung. "I'm sorry, Angel, I don't want to hurt your feelings. But I think Buffy should think carefully about all this before she gives up school and a perfectly nice boyfriend and her home and her friends..."

"That's what this is about, isn't it?" he asked softly. "You don't want her to leave you."

"No!" Willow wailed as she hurled herself at Buffy. "You promised you'd stick by me, like I did for you when Angel walked out on you. What am I going to do without you or Oz?" She began to sob uncontrollably.

Buffy held Willow, gently patting her on the back to soothe her. "Willow, I wish I could stay, for your sake at least, but I can't. Angel's business is in LA, UCLA is a really good school, and I so don't want to raise a child here."

"What's wrong with growing up in Sunnydale?" Willow pulled away from Buffy as she and Xander made the same horrified exclamation.

"Notice I don't have to ask," Cordelia said from the shadows, where she waited with Anya. "Hello! It's on a hellmouth!"

"It's too dangerous, Willow." Angel felt badly for the red-haired Slayerette, but not as bad as he felt for his beleaguered lover. First a fight with her mother, now her best friend, and through it all her only true supporter, other than Angel, was Cordelia. As Willow would say, everything was askew.

"But we all survived," Willow offered feebly, trying not to remember the "In Memoriam" section of her yearbook. The pre-graduation ceremony, and yet still very full, "In Memoriam" section.

"I need a break, Will. Actually I need a maternity leave. And when I'm back in shape again, I don't want to be fearing for my kid's safety every second. Too many demons come to Sunnydale, and they all seem to know who I am. They know Angel too, and they're not overly fond of him. In LA we'll be safer."

"I've made some enemies," Angel admitted, "but they aren't vampires, and they don't usually attack me unless I go looking for them. Besides, and I don't want to hurt your feelings, baby," he said with an apologetic glance at Buffy, "no one remembers Buffy. Not in the demon community at least."

"No offense taken," she responded with a smile and a quick kiss. "That's part of the reason LA is better for us."

Angel pulled her back for another kiss as Xander whined, "But marry Dead-Boy? I think I speak for all of us when I say 'huh?'"

Buffy growled as she spun around within Angel's encircling arms. "Xander Harris, for the last time..."

"Buffy? Is that you?"

She dropped her head back against Angel's chest when she heard the voice behind her. "Riley," she whimpered.

* * * * *

Riley could not believe his eyes. He had searched all over Sunnydale for Buffy, and when he finally found her, she was in the arms of another man. And she wasn't even hiding it from anyone; she'd brought all her friends along to witness her infidelity. He came rushing back from Iowa the day before the biggest New Year's Eve he'd ever see just to be made a fool of.

"Buffy, what's going on?" He approached her slowly, hoping the strange dark man with her was some sort of optical illusion that would vanish upon closer examination.

"Riley," she sighed, turning to face him.

Riley noticed the good-looking stranger didn't vanish, nor did he release his hold on Buffy. She didn't seem to mind it either.

"I came back because I was worried about you. You've been acting really...peculiar lately." He stood close enough to touch her, yet she made no move to reach out to him. She continued to rest in the dark stranger's arms, almost seeming to restrain his hands by pressing them against her stomach.

"I'm sorry I haven't returned your calls, Riley. I've had a lot going on."

"I can see that. Who's your friend, or am I not allowed to ask?" Riley tried to hide the bitterness in his voice, but Buffy's wince told him he wasn't being too successful.

"Riley, this is Angel. Angel, Riley."

"Oh boy, ex-ex meets new ex. Can you feel the love?" Xander was finally finding the upside to Buffy's engagement: the end of Riley Finn. The guy was about as exciting as an overcooked turnip, and yet he had still managed to temporarily win Buffy's affection where Xander could not. You really had to hate a guy like that.

"My money's on Angel," Cordelia murmured, relishing the drama unfolding before her. This was much better than her usual evening's activities: running for her life, and then scraping monster guts off her shoes.

"Sucker bet!" Xander scoffed. "Who wouldn't put money on the vam…"

Angel's glare put an end to the wagering. The Slayerettes subsided and even withdrew slightly to allow the principal actors in this drama some privacy.

"I'd say it's nice to meet you, but under the circumstances…" Riley made no move to shake the hand Angel belatedly extended. Instead, he chose to continue staring expectantly at Buffy, waiting for her to explain this was all some sort of misunderstanding and introduce Angel as her long-lost cousin from Patagonia.

"Riley, I really didn't mean for you to find out this way." Buffy felt terrible about how this all worked out, but she couldn't see any way out now but the truth.

Well, some of the truth.

"Angel." She paused to gather her thoughts before continuing. "Angel is my old boyfriend, the one Willow told you a little about. We sort of met last month, and then I thought that it was all over, but...I was wrong." She glanced up at Angel, smiling at how his serious eyes would soften when they met hers.

"Why didn't you tell me you saw him last month?"

"Because we had gone on one lousy date by that point," Buffy snapped, returning from Cloud Nine with a thump. "Look, I'm sorry you saw us together before I had a chance to explain, but it's too late to change anything. Believe me, if I got a do-over, this would not be what I fixed." Angel's arms tightened around her, centering her. She continued more calmly, " You're a nice guy, Riley and I enjoyed the time we spent together. But I love Angel. I always have, and I always will, and that's why I'm going to marry him."

She was puzzled why that last statement seemed to cheer Riley. He didn't leave her in doubt long.

"Boy, you really had me going this time! And he's a much better prop than the wedding dresses. You and your crazy jokes." He reached out to her, but Buffy instinctively stepped back. She knocked Angel off-balance and turned his growl into a yelp when she landed on his foot.

"This isn't some..." she began in confusion, but she stopped when the light dawned. "Look, I know the last time I told you I was getting married it was a joke, but this is real. Angel and I are getting married, in about three weeks. Then I'm moving to LA."

"But we had something, Buffy," Riley protested. "We shared things. I told you about my family, and growing up in Iowa, and all the things I want to do after graduation. I opened my heart up to you."

"And I told you what about my life?" Buffy was beginning to wonder what she ever saw in this whiny loser. Other than the fact he didn't remind her of Angel in the slightest, of course. "You asked, but did you ever notice I avoided answering almost every personal question? What does that tell you about our relationship? Everything you know about me you know from Willow. And that includes the stupid cheese thing; she told me she told you to say that!"

Angel had gone from feeling threatened to amused in a heartbeat, so to speak. This guy actually thought he was the one who was going to make her forget about the past she shared with Angel. He truly believed he was the new love of her life. What kind of poor deluded sap would create such a huge fantasy?

"I suddenly feel much better about taking you away from your quote unquote normal college life, baby," he murmured in her ear, holding her firmly against his body.

"While I suddenly have a weird urge to apologize to you for my taste in rebound material," she laughed. She was too busy enjoying the feel of Angel pressed up against her to waste any time pitying Riley. Riley who?

"Buffy, I'm going to leave now." Riley drew himself up to his full height and tried to appear dignified. "I'm sure when you think this through you'll realize I can make you much happier than he ever did. You know where to find me."

"Have a nice life, Riley," she said with almost total sincerity. "Be careful on your way home."

Riley slunk away as Buffy turned to give Angel a kiss. The Scooby Gang started to approach them, but melted away again when they heard Angel speak.

"Now what was this about 'the last time' you said you were getting married?"

The End

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