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And the Prize for Miss Congeniality Goes to...

by Gem

Disclaimer: These characters are not now, nor ever have been, mine (sigh). They belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox (and probably a few more names). I'm just borrowing them, in a strictly non-profit fashion.
Rating: PG13 (more or less). No sex, just violence (but it's well- deserved)
Spoilers: Post "Doomed."
Summary: Sequel to "Destiny's Not-So-Favorite-Son," which you probably should read first. This is my own version of the encounter between Buffy, Angel and Riley.


"I don't believe you."

Willie sighed. That made three times Buffy had uttered the same objection, and it was starting to bug him. Here he was, risking his neck for her sake, and she didn't trust him.

"This hurts, you know," he told her. "Like I would lie to you." He pressed his hand to his heart, trying to prove his overwhelming sincerity.

Buffy could only snort in reply.

Willie picked his hat up off of the bed and stood up. "Well, if that's how you feel, I guess I'll be hitting the road."

"Yeah, so you've been saying for the past 8 hours, Willie, only you never make it to the door."

He wasn't pretending any emotions now; he was scared, plain and simple.

"I told you, those Initiative guys are probably out there looking for me. I want to wait until after dark, when they're busy capturing my clientele and don't have time to waste on an honest businessman." He paused, then waved a finger at her. "You know, that's a very unattractive sound for a young lady to make."

"Willie," Buffy sighed as she began to pack up her bookbag. "What am I going to do with you? You show up at my door in the middle of the night with some wild story about my boyfriend and demon experiments, and you expect me to take your word for it over his. Riley showed me the laboratory; it's all on the up and up. The Initiative captures demons, I kill them. We're both in the same business, I just can't afford the overhead involved with storage."

"Hey princess, what they do is not storage." Willie was starting to get angry, for one of the few times in his life. He hadn't expected her to fall all over him in relief for his safety, but he thought he's earned a little bit of trust after all this time. At the very least, she should be able to tell when he was lying.

"Yup, uh huh, experiments, I know." She waggled her fingers at him and made a face. "Ooh, I'm so scared."

"You don't have to be. You look like them. It's the ones who look different, who look like demons; those are the ones who have to be scared. And you know as well as I do that not all demons are evil. Trouble is, your boy toy and his pals from the rod and gun club don't know that."

Buffy's common sense was crying out agreement, but she ruthlessly suppressed any doubts Willie might be raising. "I trust Riley. He's too nice and too smart to kill things just because someone tells him to. I mean, how could his superiors trust him with a command position if they think he's that dumb?"

"What color is the sky on your world, sweetcakes?" Willie couldn't believe his ears. Three years and then some in Sunnydale, and she still knew so little about denial. Or maybe she knew too much. "They get off on guys doing what they're told, no questions asked. And it gives your pillow pal a buzz to be part of some hush- hush plan for the master species. He starts asking for details, the secret handshake gets out and everybody loses."

She didn't believe him. She refused to believe him.

"Look Willie, I have classes, and then I promised Giles I would come over, and then I have a date with Riley. You can stay here until dark, but then you're out of here. I don't care if Whistler did send you. Neither one of you knows what you're talking about. Riley is not the monster you're painting him to be. He can't be."

He can't be because he's all I have left, she thought to herself as she hurried out of the room. My destiny is with him now, and if I lose him.I'll be alone forever, just like Mom. Anything is better than loneliness; it's the scariest thing there is.

She refused to remember who passed that particular pearl of wisdom on to her.

* * * * *

Riley Finn was dwelling on his own favorite verbal gem as he prepared his room for Buffy's arrival. There were scented candles scattered randomly, creating a confusing, but romantic, aroma. He had piled a few extra pillows on the bed, to make it look luxurious, and there was a nice bottle of not too expensive wine chilling in the beer fridge.

Most importantly, Riley had hidden all the clocks. When Buffy arrived at Lowell House, he would casually separate her from her watch, and then she would have no way of knowing how fast time was passing, until the first hint of dawn. By then, it would be too late. She would have faced her demons by staying the whole night with him. Riley knew Buffy would be grateful to him for forcing her to confront it. She would thank him in many and various ways, some of which were probably illegal back home in Iowa.

Of course she would. It was fate.

"Like the man said, you can't fight destiny," Riley murmured as he adjusted the pillows for the eighth time. The new janitor at the lab was absolutely right. If it was meant to be, it would be, and he and Buffy were meant to be. There had never been two people so meant to be.

* * * * *

A solitary figure made his way across the dark campus. This wasn't the quickest way to get to his final destination, but he couldn't resist taking the opportunity for a quick glimpse of the life that was forever denied to him. He paused for a few minutes outside Stevenson Hall, staring intently at one of the shaded windows on the second floor. Finally he shook his head and moved on.

Even if she had been there, there was nothing left to say. Months ago he made choices for both of them, but from here on out it was strictly `que sera sera'. He was through fighting fate.

* * * * *

The telephone rang, interrupting Riley's slightly off-key version of "Chantilly Lace," his favorite pre-date mood setter. He grabbed the intrusive instrument, hoping against hope he wasn't being called in to work.

"Finn here," he said crisply.

"Summers here," Buffy replied with a snicker. "Hey, I'm running a little late. Could you meet me at Giles'?"

"For my best girl? Sure thing. Be there in a flash." He would have added the requisite 'I love you,' but she hung up before he could form the words. He stared at the phone for a moment, trying to process the implications of her abrupt abandonment.

"Boy, I wonder what Xander did to upset her now?" he muttered as he grabbed his jacket.

* * * * *

In the dark and lonely woods that ringed the UC Sunnydale campus, a bored Shiriike demon howled at the moon. Her razorback tail lashed back and forth, slicing low branches from the surrounding trees as she stalked through the woods in search of a plaything.

* * * * *

Buffy's errands took her longer than expected, and she arrived at Giles' house almost an hour after her telephone call to Riley. She could hear the sounds of a scuffle and breaking glass as she came up the walkway. She slipped into a run when she heard Giles cry out in distress. The door flew open at the touch (all right, pounding) of her foot, hurling her into the midst of battle.

Battle between the one-time keeper of her heart, and the supposed current possessor. And it looked like the past was not about to let go easily.

"Break it up!" she yelled as she yanked Angel's hands away from Riley's throat and inserted herself between the two men. She quickly looked around the room for Giles, only to find him nursing a bruised jaw in front of the fireplace. He seemed otherwise unharmed, so she turned her attentions back to the combatants.

"What the hell is going on here?" She planted her feet wide apart and rested a fist on each hip as she glared at the men in turn. When she glanced back at Angel, she noticed his forehead was bleeding.

"You're hurt." Without thinking, she reached up to touch the wound.

He flinched at the contact, then reached up to gently push her hand away. "I'm okay."

"He's a vampire, that's what he is!" Riley couldn't believe his girlfriend's behavior. He had been fighting for his life, and all she seemed to care about was the health and welfare of this demon.

Buffy was confused for a moment, since she had never told Riley anything about Angel, let alone shared his dietary habits. Things became much clearer when Giles murmured to her from the sidelines.

"His face, Buffy."

She took a better look at her lost love and suddenly realized Angel was in game-face.

Oops.

"Riley, it's okay. I know he's a vampire. Giles knows too. It's not a big deal." She smiled sweetly at her jealous boyfriend, who foolishly thought he was now in charge of the conversation. His dreams were speedily dispelled by her next crisp comment. "Now, do you want to tell me what the hell you were doing to Angel?"

"What I was doing?" Riley choked. "He had his hands around my throat. A demon had his hands around my throat, and you want to know what I did?"

"Well, he wouldn't attack you for no reason," Buffy replied reasonably. She turned to Angel, chilling him with her dispassionate gaze. "He may be sneaky and he may not keep his promises, but he wouldn't hurt you unless you made him mad. So, either you provoked him or you attacked first. Which was it?"

"He was about to attack Giles, I could tell. I was trying to protect him," Riley said defensively. "When I came in they were arguing, and I tried to intervene and he made that.that face at me and I knew he was going to kill us all." He stood up a little straighter and puffed out his chest in pride for his bravery.

Buffy blinked several times and shook her head to clear it. Something did not compute. She turned back to Angel with a wry smile. "Want to tell me the real story?"

"I was talking to Giles," Angel said calmly as he wiped the blood from his now smooth forehead with a papertowel. "We may have gotten a little loud by the time GI Joe arrived, but we were just disagreeing over strategy. He put himself in the middle and I.well, I guess I wanted to scare him a little," he admitted.

"Go on," she nudged, tapping her foot impatiently. Riley stood silently by, with his mouth hanging open.

"I'm sorry, okay," Angel burst out. "He ticked me off butting in like that, and I knew who he was, so I wanted to spook him. So sue me." He was embarrassed by his failure to master his jealousy, but that didn't seem to be what was bothering Buffy.

"He could have killed you," she snapped. "You know who he is, that means you know what he is and how many more of him there are. You put yourself in danger for some stupid macho posturing."

She fought to control the fear that roughened her voice; it was over and he had survived his own ego.

"Please," Angel laughed in bitter amusement. "Him? Kill me? In his dreams."

"Repeatedly," Riley muttered, finally regaining some, though not all, of his wits.

Buffy glared at him, making Riley wish he'd kept his mouth shut. "And just what is that supposed to mean? You don't even know him."

"I know all about him, no thanks to you." He made no effort to hide his bitterness. "The demons in the lab told me a lot of things you conveniently forgot to mention."

"Would this be before or after you cut them up for parts?" Angel was quickly recalled to his original purpose, though he loathe to interrupt Riley's confession when he knew it would only get the boy more firmly ensconced in Buffy's doghouse.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Riley stammered. He stepped back a few steps, seeming to find his courage in distance. "You're making up more stories for Buffy's benefit, but it won't work. She loves me now, and all the bad-mouthing in the world won't change that."

Buffy closed her eyes to avoid Angel's anguished gaze. She put her hand up to her face as an additional shield from those dark pools of misery before she quietly asked him why he came back to Sunnydale.

"I told you not to," she said, the strain apparent in her voice. "I told you to stay away until."

"We'd forgotten," he finished for her, his voice equally subdued. "I'm sorry, but I had to come. Your boyfriend and his goon squad took a cousin of Doyle's. He's a Brakken demon who was in town visiting a friend. He never hurt anyone, he just looks."

"Like a demon." It was Buffy's turn to finish his thoughts, not a difficult task for two souls still so hopelessly intertwined. "You're sure they have him? He couldn't have just had a car accident or something?" She dropped her hand from her eyes and looked beseechingly at him, begging him to give her a non-demonic ending to the story.

Angel snorted in exasperation, the noise eerily reminding Riley of Buffy expressing disgust.

"Buffy, please. Even in Sunnydale, if a blue-faced demon covered in spikes had a car accident, you'd hear about it. No, they have him, and I have to get him out before they cut him up to make a couple dozen quill pens."

"Careful, honey, your century is showing." The endearment slipped out before she realized it, but she couldn't regret the smile it brought to his face. Even after all this time, and all the things that separated them, his smile still had the power to take her breath away.

Of course, Riley's face was another matter. A red, verging on purple, matter to be exact.

"For the last time," he ground out through clenched teeth, "we do not cut up demons. We study them, and try to humanize them, so that eventually we can...that is to say, someday they can.well, in the long haul." He paused for a breath, and a good explanation. Unfortunately, the breath was all he got. "Okay, I don't actually know what the long range plan is," he grumbled. "I never asked. I do what I'm told, and I do it better than anyone else." He looked to Buffy for approbation. "That's why I'm squad leader."

Buffy groaned and covered her eyes again, this time in embarrassment. "Oh God, Willie was telling the truth. Where do I find these guys? Don Juan de Parker wasn't enough humiliation, oh no. Here I thought I was dating Captain Kirk, and now I find out it's actually He Who Walks Behind the Rows With A Bazooka."

"As I recall, the latter character was from Nebraska, not Iowa," Giles offered diffidently from his place beside the hearth. He couldn't argue Buffy's basic point, but accuracy should always be a consideration as well.

Buffy stared at Giles in amazement. "You watch Stephen King movies?"

"No, I read Stephen King," Giles snapped. "Buffy are you sure it's the wisest course of action to antagonize our only connection to the Initiative? We may need Riley's help to lend Angel support in his rescue mission."

She glanced contemptuously at Riley, gauging his usefulness in this venture and finding him wanting. "Giles, somehow I don't think I would trust Riley to help us with this one, even if I thought he could. I think he'd be too interested in staking Angel to pay much attention to helping the innocent."

"So you're taking his word again? No questions, no doubts, just vampire right and Riley wrong?" The junior commando was stiff with shock. This was not the destiny he had been promised.

Buffy slowly walked toward Riley, her anger growing with each measured pace. She clenched her fists at her sides, fighting the desire to use them on her boyfriend's, make that her ex-boyfriend's, self-righteous face.

"That's it, Riley," she said steadily. "You have been a pompous, overbearing chauvinistic pig from day one, but I was desperate enough to have a boyfriend that I let you get away with it. I have helped you do your job, and even put up with you telling me how I should do my own. But I refuse to take orders from a yes-man who doesn't even know why he does what he does." She smiled briefly at Angel before turning her attention back to Riley. "I could forgive you for being evil, Riley. We all have our dark sides. But I can't forgive someone who is proud of their own stupidity. I think you should leave."

"You know, I used to think you were just peculiar, but you're so much sicker than that, Buffy." Riley adjusted the tattered remnants of his dignity along with his jacket. "I offered you every opportunity to make something of your life, and you're giving it all up for the walking dead. That's just plain.sick." He stalked out the door, secure in the delusion of his own superiority.

"At least he doesn't need to take Viagra to keep up with me!" she yelled at his hastily retreating back.

"He's right, you know," Angel said quietly, after they all observed a moment of embarrassed silence in the wake of Buffy's disclosure.

"Hey! I resent that!" Buffy looked at him in shock. Her knight in shining armor just called her a pervert, after she dumped an extremely suggestible, if easily tired, boyfriend in his defense. "I am not sick, at least no more than any other slayer my age. Not that there are any."

"I meant about what you gave up for me. He may not be much, but at least he's breathing. That's more than I can say."

"Can we not do this?" she pleaded. "You came here for a reason, so let's go rescue your friend's cousin. Then we can hash over all the mistakes I've made in my life, and how they're all your fault."

"Too late!" called a voice from the doorway. "I already took care of the rescue part of tonight's entertainment, so you're left with the sappy dialogue." Whistler rubbed his hands together in glee. "I love it when a plan comes together."

"What are you talking about?" Angel and Buffy demanded at the same time.

"Hey, stereo. Guess that proves you're both still on the same wavelength, right? What do you think, old man?" Whistler strolled over to join Giles by the fire.

"I think I don't know who the hell you are or why you're in my home uninvited," Giles replied bluntly. It had been a rough night.

"Well, at least you know I'm not a vamp. I'm just a demon trying to make a difference, and somehow my pet project has become saving these two kids from themselves."

"What about Esau?" Angel insisted. "Are you sure he's all right? I promised his family I'd get him safely away from here."

"He's halfway home by now," Whistler assured him with a slap on the back.

"Then I should be too." Angel turned to the door, though every fiber of his being screamed in protest.

"Stop right there," Buffy commanded from behind him. "I'm not done with you yet."

Angel froze in his tracks.

* * * * *

Riley stalked through town, alternately cursing Buffy for her faithlessness, Angel for his ill-timed return, and himself for forgetting his car keys. He'd be damned if he'd go back in that house to get them, though, he swore to himself. At least, not until tomorrow morning.

A sudden outcry from the woods ahead distracted Riley from his litany of woes. At last, something he could attack with impunity. He took off at a dead run, forgetting not only his troubles, but also his lack of weapons.

* * * * *

"I can't do this again, Angel."

"This isn't easy for me either, Buffy." He couldn't bear to meet her eyes. Once again he had broken all the rules and caused them both nothing but grief.

"I can't keep saying goodbye to you and then seeing you again just when I think I can make it on my own." Her voice was tired, so very tired.

"I know," Angel said helplessly, turning up his palms in surrender. "I never meant to."

"To what?" she interrupted. "To get caught sneaking back into my life? Well you did, in Giles' living room of all places." Buffy took a few steps closer to him, but it still felt as though a huge chasm lay between them. "You walk out of my life last year, saying you'll never come back, but then you do. I follow you home, to make you swear you won't do it again, and you do, but then you do it all over again. You realize what that means, don't you?"

* * * * *

Riley crept through the woods, doing his best to be quiet. Buffy had often teased him about being "so not stealthy guy," and the phrase was echoing so loudly through his skull that he was hard pressed to hear anything else. Just because he couldn't glide around like the undead, he was made to feel like some sort of lead foot hick from.

A series of branches snapping in the cluster of trees to his right managed to penetrate his self-absorption. He took a firmer grasp of the large branch he'd pulled from the edge of a compost heap and prepared to confront the vampire he knew was lurking in the woods.

* * * * *

Angel briefly closed his eyes, withdrawing mentally in preparation for the physical separation. Suppressing the demon was simple compared to fighting the desire to be near his beloved, but it was the only way to give her the life she deserved. Once again he gathered all his courage to walk away from the only thing that kept him from a sunrise stroll into oblivion.

"It means it's time for me to go," he murmured as he turned away once more. He wondered dully how long his exile would last this time.

"It means you have to stay," she called out clearly.

"Hallelujah!" crowed Whistler. "You finally showed some guts, sunshine. Now let's see if the prince of Prozac can meet you halfway."

"Shut up, Whistler." Angel faced Buffy, not sure he'd heard her correctly. "Buffy, you know this can never be. We tried, but there are just too many things in our way."

"The only thing in my way is you. Every time I try to make a new life for myself, you pop up and show me how pointless it all is without you in it. So, since you disrupt every other plan for my future, you owe me the one I wanted in the first place. The one I was always supposed to have, with you."

He took a step closer to her. "There was a time I believed that too," he said softly. "But you said it yourself a long time ago. What we want we can never have." His dark eyes shone with the depth of his love even as he said their final goodbye.

"Okay, people, before you go ahead with all the tearjerking self- sacrifice, would you do me a favor? Just once, would one of you geniuses finish researching a spell before you cast it? It's no wonder you folks aren't allowed within ten miles of a Maypole by any self-respecting Wicca." Whistler threw himself down in Giles' favorite armchair and lit up a hideously aromatic cigar. It was good to be omniscient.and immune to lung cancer.

* * * * *

The Shiriike demon raised her large purple head as she caught a whiff of something on the breeze. It smelled human.and afraid. What a delicious combination. She swished her tail in feverish excitement as she shifted her path to find this promising new toy.

* * * * *

"What do you mean there's no happiness clause?"

Whistler had already explained the situation twice, but Buffy still couldn't believe her ears. All this time they had spent apart, all this time wasted on Parker and Riley when she could have been with Angel. It was enough to make her scream, if she were only sure it was true.

"You people do lousy research is what I'm telling you. Always with the rush, rush, rush, and yet you never miss a chance to do things the hard way. Next time you translate something from Rumanian to English, try not to stop off in a dead language along the way. It just gums up the works."

"I resent that," Giles huffed from the hearth. "We were working under extremely adverse conditions and time constraints."

"You got sloppy, admit it."

Angel could care less about past mistakes at this point. He was trying very hard to be mature and adult about this, but he was having a difficult time resisting the urge to waltz Buffy around the room. The only thing stopping him was the certainty that she didn't know how to waltz.

"So the version Jenny found didn't have a loophole? I can't lose my soul, no matter what I do or how I feel?"

"In words of one syllable or less?" Whistler sighed. It wasn't easy playing fairy godfather to those who preferred the blissful torment of self-denial. "Yes. You did have a soul, you do have a soul, you will have a soul. Now can I quit with the conjugation before you two get conjugal?"

* * * * *

Riley was weary of walking around in circles. He never realized how much he had come to rely on Buffy's so-called "spidey sense" to find the bad guys for him. He was on the verge of giving up and going home when he felt a hail of branches fly at his back. He raised his makeshift stake as he turned around and prepared to skewer his undead stalker.

He caught a glimpse of purple before the flailing tail raked across his throat. He fell to the ground, his last hazy thoughts a jumble of nursery rhymes and children's songs.

"I love you. You love me."

The Shiriike demon cried out in frustration when she beheld the ruins of her new toy. All her plans were for nothing. Dead things are no fun to play with.

* * * * *

"Okay kids, time for Uncle Whistler to go." He straightened his shabby fedora and nodded courteously to Giles. "One of the so-called demons I set free was actually a woodsprite, and tonight is not a good night to be hopping through the forest like Little Rabbit Fufu. I got to catch up with her but quick."

Buffy and Angel didn't seem to be listening to a word he said. They stood face to face in the center of the room, still not touching, but linked through their fixed gazes. Whistler sighed at the general slowness of humans, and human wannabes, and gave them a gentle shove towards each other as he walked past.

Angel started to raise his arms to embrace Buffy, but stopped just shy of touching her.

"Buffy, are you sure? There's still so much."

Buffy grabbed his arms and wrapped them around her waist. "Angel, you can't abandon me to the Riley Finns of the world; you're not that cruel. And if you aren't kissing me by the time Riley comes back for his car keys, he'll think he still has a chance."

"We can't have that now, can we?" He bent his head down to meet her lips, and all thoughts of Riley Finn faded into just a bad memory.

* * * * *

The disappointed wails of the Shiriike demon were drowned out by the louder clamor from the Sunnydale fire engines. By the time dawns first light crept across the campus, Lowell House had burned to the ground. Arson investigators later found an entire abandoned research laboratory beneath the structure, leading to many speculations about fraternity hazing in the new millenium.

The eventual verdict of the arson investigation was accidental fire. Apparently one of the fraternity boys used candles as part of a carnal trap, then left them to burn unattended while he ran an errand. Since the grad student in question disappeared the same night, campus officials decided to let the matter drop.

(Gee, avoidance and denial in Sunnydale, of all places. Go figure.)

EPILOGUE

And they all lived happily ever after.

Well, most of them anyway. Riley didn't, of course (not that he deserved to), and Professor Walsh's body mysteriously appeared in the ruins of one of the first floor bedrooms at Lowell House. Most of the demons escaped the ravages of the fire, thanks to Whistler, but there were a few exceptions. Even demons don't necessarily live forever.

The Scooby Gang had their own highs and lows over the years. Xander eventually realized he wasn't really as funny as he'd always thought he was, but Anya was there to soften the blow. Willow tried life with Tara, then went back to Oz, and eventually ended up living with Spike, and far too many cats. Cordelia abandoned acting in favor of behind-the-scenes control and enjoyed a brief career as the creator/producer of a popular cult TV series. The show took an abrupt nosedive in its fourth season, however, when she attempted to "freshen things up" by introducing a new love interest for her heroine, forcing Cordelia to retreat to the relative anonymity of Angel Investigations scarcely one step ahead of her enraged former fans. Wesley was waiting to welcome her home. Giles never did fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a RAF pilot, or a grocer, but he had his wife Olivia, his books and his surrogate children to keep him entertained.

Buffy and Angel received a little something more in repayment for their sacrifices. For them, nothing else would do but a full-fledged- no-holds-barred happily ever after, good in this world and the next. All the hopes and dreams they once believed lost or forbidden suddenly lay before them as shining possibilities. All they had ever needed to do was join hands over the splintered remains of the demons Fear and Self-Doubt and whatever path they chose would lead to happiness.

Like the man said, you can't fight destiny.

The End

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