* * * * * * * * *
Buffy shifted uneasily under his gaze. She knew she should tell Riley about Angel... She *knew* she should say something, but somehow just couldn't bring herself to open her mouth and speak his name. For some reason, it was still too fresh, still too painful, and her relationship with Riley-- whom she couldn't deny she was falling rapidly in love with-- was still too new.
He'd asked her about all of this before.
In the midst of the Faith/Adam crises, she'd had the perfect opportunity to tell him. She could have told him who Angel was, and what part Faith played in hurting their relationship, and how it could never be. And she could have told him why.
But there was a small, irrational, insecure part of her brain that told her how he would react. A Slayer in love with a Vampire? Giving your heart and blood for one of the things you hate, to something that represents everything you live to kill? The circumstances to their falling in love might have no bearing to Riley. He might just look at her as though...
Well, that was what she was afraid of.
But he knew something was wrong; very wrong. And now she was going to have to tell him.
"Just go, Riley," she finally whispered miserably.
"What?!" He stared down at her. "You want me to leave you alone with this... What are you doing? What are you thinking? *What* is going on?!"
"Just *go*!" she demanded forcefully, willing the tears not to fall from her eyes.
Riley looked at her a moment longer and then stalked off, leaving her alone.
Though not entirely.
* * * * * * * * *
~Three days earlier~
"Buffy, I need to tell you something..." Giles took off his glasses and looked at her seriously. Buffy smiled nervously, sensing something wasn't right, and sank into the couch, primed and ready for his revelation.
"I thought for a moment about keeping it from you, but, after last time..." He trailed off, and cleared his throat. "He left it up to my judgment. I believe you have the right to know."
"Giles, what's happening?" she smiled, trying to not worry. "Telling me slower isn't going to make it easier, right?"
He smiled briefly at her. "I suppose not. I got a phone call today, from--"
The color bled out of Buffy's face. "Angel. He's coming to town."
Giles looked surprised, then he nodded. "Yes. Was I right in telling you? I realize that you're just embarking on a new relationship, and that it may be a little difficult for you to see... Angel... right now. But Cordelia has had a vision, and you were in it."
"What was the vision?"
"You, fighting with a man... and the man had a stake raised against you. He stabbed you with it." Giles paused, taking off his glasses. "Of course, under normal circumstances, I wouldn't think anything of it, as you tend to handle yourself well while fighting. But, Cordelia *did* have a vision, which leads me to believe that..."
"Something's wrong," Buffy finished for him. "Of course. Nothing ever goes right for Buffy for any length of time."
"Buffy," Giles said gently, touching her hand.
She shrugged off his fingers. "No, it's fine. I've handled stuff like this before; stuff that's worse than this, even. But..." Her voice dropped to a whimper. "Riley..."
"I understand, Buffy. Would you like me to give Angel a message?"
Buffy sat up straight and lifted her shoulders. "No. No, I've got it. Just... Tell him to call me when he gets into town, all right? If he doesn't have my number, give it to him?"
"I'm sure he has--"
"I know." Buffy raised her hand, then slowly curled her fingers into a fist, as if she could hide his words away. "But just in case he doesn't have it."
Buffy felt the silence fall between her Watcher and herself and she sat quietly, knowing that hell was coming again, knowing that this might be the last peaceful moment she got.
* * * * * * * *
"Riley, I need to tell you something," Buffy said softly, nudging him on the shoulder. Riley rolled over, automatically wrapping his arms around her, and snuggled in, his breath coming slow and steady. Buffy sighed. "Riley, please, wake up. I need to tell you something."
Her boyfriend's eyes slowly fluttered open, and Buffy found herself looking into that beautiful, open, blue gaze. He grinned sleepily at her. " 'Morning."
Buffy felt her heart soften. She had to tell him... at least, something. "I need to talk to you about something," she repeated for the third time.
Riley nodded against her neck, scattering small kisses over her shoulders. "What's that?"
"No, really," she insisted, weakly pushing at his shoulders, "I've been putting this off for over a day." Riley leaned up and gave her a long, delicious kiss on the mouth, cutting off her next words. Buffy gave herself up to him, wrapping her arms around his neck, holding him closer.
~Angel.~ she thought dreamily, and broke off the kiss with a regretful moan. "Riley!"
"What?" He looked alarmed. "Is it an 'end of the world' type of thing?"
"N- Not really. Maybe a little. I don't know," Buffy muttered, sitting up and pulling a sheet around her. She looked down at Riley, who was looking at her seriously, his head propped up against his hand. She rolled her eyes. "Could you not look so innocent and cute while I do this?"
He laughed, and sat up as well, slinging an arm around her. "Look, whatever it is, we'll deal with it. It can't be worse than anything we've... or at least *you've*... faced so far, right?"
"Maybe. It's just... I just..." Buffy took a deep breath. "For a while, you've asked me what I wasn't telling you. You knew that there was something. Something big. There is. And I need to tell you now."
"Okay," he said patiently, stroking her arm, "I'm listening."
"There's a bunch of stuff you don't know about me. Things that I've left out while telling you about my past... The biggest of which is... Angel." Buffy exhaled.
"He-- he was my boyfriend. We had a sort of tortured romance," Buffy confessed, wanting to get the words out to clear her head and conscience. "He was really special to me, was my first..." Her voice broke. "My first love. And he's coming into town for a few days."
"All right," Riley said slowly. He smiled, his eyes shining. "Is that it?"
"Well... You know I love you, right?" She blinked back the tears gathering behind her eyelids.
"I know," he whispered.
Riley caught her mouth in a deep kiss, and Buffy stopped talking, pawing at his face lightly. ~Maybe I don't need to tell him,~ she thought. ~Maybe he doesn't really need to know.~
And then, all the words in her mind were swept away.
* * * * * * *
The night was so quiet that everything made noise. Her footsteps, her breath, her heartbeat. She silently stalked the dark with a stake in her hand, ready for anything.
A twig snapped behind her, and Buffy whirled around.
Well, almost anything.
Angel smiled sheepishly. "Hi."
Buffy slowly lowered her hand and nodded to him. "Hi. Been following long?"
"A couple of minutes," he answered in a low voice. "I was trying to figure out the best way to... approach you. I thought I wasn't going to see you until tomorrow, but I saw you walking from across the street and I figured..."
"That you'd see me now," she finished for him.
"Yeah." A genuine smile slid across his face for a moment. "I didn't want to make the mistake of not telling that I was here again."
Buffy stared at him, her eyes slowly trailing from his mouth to his eyes. Her stomach clenched in a delicious pain, her breath coming quicker, her heart beating faster. "Good call," she finally murmured. "'Cause if you had done that to me again, I would have kicked your ass."
"And I would have had it coming." Angel spread his hands in a diplomatic gesture. "Giles told you, then?"
"Yep," she confirmed lightly, pretending that she couldn't feel the excitement buzzing through her veins at his nearness. "I, um, thought you were going to call when you got in, though."
"I was. I just got in, maybe twenty minutes ago. Thought I'd take a quick pass over the town before sunrise."
"Oh." She paused, then closed her eyes. "You know, it really shouldn't be this awkward."
"It...?" Angel asked.
"This." Buffy waved her hands between the two of them. "Us. Being around each other. I mean, we've been around each other a lot. We've even seen each other nak..." A blush suddenly stained her face, and she cleared her throat. "That's probably not the best example for less of the... awkwardness."
Angel looked amused, then annoyed with himself. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snuck up on you. I should have just let you do the patrol and... I guess I was hoping..."
"To see me?" She tried to keep the pleasure at that prospect out of her voice. "Thanks. I guess."
They fell into silence looking at each other. Angel's eyes devoured Buffy, wandering over the small scar on her neck to the muted pink polish she wore on her nails to the curve of her cheek. Memories of the day that never happened floated through his mind, memories of the kisses that were finally allowed, the love that finally was safe. He stepped tentatively toward her without realizing it.
She was so beautiful to him.
Buffy swallowed, seeing him watch her the way he had so many times in the past. She saw that dark glint in his eye, and against her better judgment, against everything she had told herself before he had stepped into her view, she let herself be affected by it. A gentle wind ruffled her hair, and she saw his gaze rest on her neck, pausing on the scar that only he could leave.
But it wasn't the only scar that he left on her. There were thousands of them, hidden inside of her heart, her soul, her mind. Thousands of memories that hurt when she looked at them too closely.
He was everything that she wanted desperately, and everything that she couldn't have. She wandered closer to him, almost dazedly.
"You look..." Angel's voice was husky. "You look good. Haven't... you know, seen you in a while."
"You too," she murmured, her eyes finding his and locking there. "You look the same. ...And different."
"Different?" he asked, mildly curious.
Buffy's voice was hollow, sad. "You look not mine anymore."
Angel shook his head slowly, his gaze remaining on hers. "That's impossible. You... You left a permanent imprint on me, Buffy. There's nothing about me now that doesn't belong to you."
He was close, so close. Buffy trembled with anticipation, her voice dreamy. "I look... Permanent... You left one on me, too."
Her hands crept up to his chest, then to his shoulders. His hands found her waist. They stared at each other for a second that lasted lifetimes.
And then they kissed.
It was soft at first, the way most first kisses are, and then the familiarity came back. Angel ravaged her mouth, his hands running up and down her back, slipping through her hair. Buffy kissed him back with equal ardor, passion throbbing under her skin. She sank her tongue into his mouth, her hands holding him tightly to her, her breasts crushed against his chest. Angel reciprocated, tasting her, licking her, wanting to touch every part of her with his mouth. Their breath became ragged, their movements, frantic. As though they couldn't let each other go. As though they had been apart for more than a summer, more than a year or a hundred years in Hell. As though eternity was in that single embrace.
"You... I'm on fire when I touch you, see you," he murmured roughly, kissing the her neck and collarbone and jaw. "You give me a fever."
Buffy nodded, her words breathless. "Fever... Angel... Oh, Angel..." She lifted his mouth back to hers and kissed him, again and again, losing herself in him like she had so many times in the past.
And then a voice broke into their thoughts, slicing through their passion. "Buffy! What the hell is going on here?!"
The Slayer and the vampire broke apart, his lips still burning, her heart still beating too fast. Buffy spun around to see Riley there. There was one stunned, confusing moment where she simply didn't recognize him, where her consciousness was all but lost to her.
And then it flooded back.
"Oh my God." She looked from Riley to Angel, and then back to Riley again, her heart torn. "You... Riley, it's not what it... Looks like," she finally got out with difficulty.
"Oh no?" he challenged angrily, but there was hope hidden deep in his eyes. "Then tell me what it is."
Buffy stepped away from Angel painfully, and stared at her boyfriend, regret filling her expression. "This is... This is Angel. I'm sorry, Riley. Things got out of control, and... I let them get there, and... I'm sorry."
"It wasn't her fault," Angel finally spoke up.
Buffy glared at him. "Stay out of this."
"So." Riley looked at the two of them, no longer touching, but still too close for his comfort. "You told me about him to sort of... get the guilt of this whole situation off your chest beforehand? That is, if you were telling me the truth about him just arriving in Sunnydale?"
"I didn't know this was going to happen!" she denied, stricken. "I didn't mean for it to. I just... I just... I don't know." Tears filled her eyes.
Riley looked at her for a moment longer. His mind whirled back to a time when he looked at her that way, repentant and sorry, and she had forgiven him for the indiscretion that he had unknowingly committed. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. "Can you tell me that it won't happen again? Because I can forgive one mistake, but I'm not prepared to live with a string of them."
She hesitated only a moment, not daring to look at Angel, who was staring at the ground. "Yes. It won't."
Riley weighed the sincerity of her words, gazing deeply in her eyes. He found truth there, and a pain like he had never known. He stepped forward, grasping her arms. "Then come to my place after you're finished patrolling," he said, trusting her. "And we'll talk."
Grateful tears spilled down her cheeks, and she nodded. Riley gave her a tight smile and nodded back. Then he turned around and in seconds was gone.
Buffy watched him disappear into the trees and sighed after him, an ache welling in her chest. She wiped at her cheeks slowly, drying her tears off with the back of her hands. "Angel," she murmured slowly, turning around to face him, to explain.
But he wasn't there.