Title: HEARTBEAT – Chapter 19
AUTHOR: Mistress Ace
EMAIL: rosewood@inreach.com
FEEDBACK: Pretty please, with whoever you want on top...
DISCLAIMER: Don't own the characters at all. They belong to Joss Whedon et al. Please don't sue, Just enjoy what I write and remember it doesn't matter who you love, just so long as you love... Even if all that's available has four little furry feet, big blue eyes and very annoying meow...
RATING: R (Gasp – how did that happen?) Angst warning
SPOILERS: Set after The I in Team and Goodbye Iowa. Other eps includes all 2nd season.
SUMMARY: This story takes place in my universe, not Joss'. Adam is dead, Buffy and Riley have gone to L.A. to bring Angel back to Sunnydale... The course of true love has all sorts of pitfalls, especially if it involves a vampire with a semi-split personality... One part of him being a misunderstood demon.
DISTRIBUTION: FINNactics, FINNSmut, Jen, it's yours... anyone else, just ask
EXPLANATION: Anything within ** denotes internal thought
DEDICATION: To my mother for teaching me you can overcome anything if you're willing to talk about it with the people you love...


The upcoming confrontation would be easier to control if he were standing, using his superior height to tower over her, intimidating her with his larger frame. But before he could rise to his feet, Buffy stopped him with one small hand placed forcefully on his chest. "Before I accept anything from you... We have some issues to deal with, Angelus... I have conditions that must be met."

Angelus nodded, sitting back on his heels and looking down at her. His voice was low, full of challenge; he was not willing to completely relinquish control of this situation. He could feel Riley's confusion and Angel's possessive growl of warning for him to behave but despite those internal pressures, he was not going to back down. "And what might those be, lover?"

She took in the not so subtle defensive posture and laughed aloud at him. "Very funny, Angelus... Believe me, glowering at me won't work any more. I have the power here, lover, not you..." Buffy leaned toward him, her hand tracing the ridges of muscle on his chest then dipped lower. Unconsciously, his body arched toward hers as he tried to deepen the contact.

A low moan came from behind her as Riley felt the desire rising in his vampiric mate, which echoed his own need for her. All of Angelus' senses were filled with a white-hot flare of passion for their little Slayer. She pulled her hand away from his cool skin and both males made a small sound of disappointment. *Hmm, this could be fun...*

Angelus cleared his suddenly tight throat. "I'm listening..."

"Good." Her voice was clear, crisp and without hesitation. "My friends are off limits to you. You will not touch them, not in any way... Their only contact with you will be through Angel." She moved closer, the warmth of her body began heating his skin as she continued. "You will not tease them, you will not torture them... There will be no mind games used on them..."

He nodded grimly, shifting his weight so their bodies actually made contact. Buffy did not flinch; she rubbed against him firmly, drawing a gasp of pleasure for both of her men. Angelus smirked at her behavior, he had her now. "Not even Xander?"

Buffy kissed him, her tongue flirting with his before she stood and walked away. The look of shock on his face at her withdrawal almost brought forth another peal of delighted laughter... Angelus pouting was an incredible sight. "Especially not Xander. He hates you even more than Giles does... You can't interact with them because of what you have already done. If they knew you could be in control at any time, they would stake you..."

She stopped pacing around him to fix him with a look. "And no matter how much of a bastard you can be, I don't want to lose you..."

The love she had for him was singing in her blood, he could hear it just as easily as he heard her breath, her heartbeat... Angelus could live with this condition; he could forgo the pleasure of tormenting her pet humans as long as he could bask in the warmth of that love.

He masked the eagerness in his voice, only giving her a terse assent to her demand. "I agree... Anything else?"

"No biting..." He raised one mocking brow at this request and she flushed. "No biting anyone other than us."

Angelus snorted. "You know soul-boy won't allow that anyway."

"Doesn't matter..." She came up behind him, wrapping her arms around his neck as she whispered fiercely in his ear. "Your bite makes us come. I'm not sharing that with anyone other than Riley... Got it?"

He chuckled, rubbing his face against hers. "Got it, lover."

"Good." Buffy gave Riley a tender glance before continuing. Although her face was full of sweet yearning for both of them, her voice lost all softness. Angelus tensed against her as she spoke again. "You can't seduce me as easily as Riley. I know you, Angelus... I know you in ways he has never seen."

Angelus shut down the connection to his bonded mate, cutting the boy off from the maelstrom of pain that was poised to descend upon him. It would not be wise for Riley to experience what was coming first-hand. A small sound came from Riley as he felt himself being abruptly separated from his mate; he reached for Angelus but stopped when he saw the expression on their faces. *More history, really bad history...*

The vampire in her arms closed his eyes, waiting silently for the blow. It came not with a fist but through a voice made of cold steel. "You killed people who were close to me, you tortured my Watcher... You tortured Giles and almost broke him... If I were a good Slayer, I would stake you for that alone and you know it."

"You are a good Slayer, my love... You are the best Slayer that has ever lived..." He could not let her take the blame for what he'd done. Her hand in the matter had been stayed her love for Angel, she'd been unable to kill an enemy who wore his face and body.

And he had used that hesitation as a weapon against her.

"Tell that to Jenny Calendar..." He flinched at the name of Giles' dead lover. Her slender neck snapped with such a satisfying sound between his hands and he had enjoyed watching her body slid to the ground into an ungraceful heap... Angelus could not fault her logic, she was right.

During his time of madness, he was ruthless, determined to obliterate everything and anything that had made him feel human. He was the demon Angelus, not the cowering shell of a vampire Angel forced them to be for almost ninety years. The enforced cohabitation with the guilt-ridden and grieving soul had driven him over the edge of sanity.

And in that delirium of rage, he lashed out at the Slayer the hardest. Her love was the best thing that ever happened to Angel or to him for that matter and he wanted to destroy her because of it. He hurt her far worse than anyone in his long life other than Druscilla but unlike his mad childe, Buffy had not broken...

And because she had not broken, he spared her life time and again. After months of torment when she still did not bend to his will, he grew to admire her. When she drove both of them into Hell on the point of her sword, he delighted in her courage. When they returned from Hell and he watched Angel being driven slowly insane by the First Evil, he rejoiced when she fought the soul on the hillside above the old mansion. When Angel crumbled under the burden of guilt laid upon him by her interfering mother and chose to leave her, his heart had broken with hers in that sewer.

Finally when she gave her life's blood to cure Faith's poison, he had taken the opportunity to recognize all the things he loved about her and marked her as his mate. Angelus loved her thoroughly and completely, more than he had ever loved any other creature, including William... Now he would listen to her pain, agree to her conditions and hopefully have her accept him as fully as he accepted her.

Her eyes met his as she knelt beside him, boring into him with their intensity. She spoke carefully and clearly, emphasizing every word. "I... will... not... tolerate... that... again. Regardless of how I feel about you, if you ever harm any living soul again, I will do my duty, Angelus... I am the Chosen One and I will dust you... Do you understand?"

He nodded, spotting the glimmer of unshed tears in her eyes. She would indeed do her duty, even though it would break her heart... again. "I need your promise..."

Despite his need to obey her, he fought the pull of her forceful personality. It was not in his nature to bow to anyone else's authority. "Angel would never allow me to do any of those things again. Don't forget he is still has final control of our body."

"I know that, Angelus, but he might not always keep that control... Even though his soul is supposed to be permanent, there are always loopholes in these damn things. I need your promise just in case he is ever gone..." She did not break in her concentration on him, the tears lingering in her eyes did not fall. "I need to be able to trust you."

He sighed, his fingers gently brushing her cheek. At their touch the trembling drops finally fell, leaving trails on her sweet face for him to kiss away, which he did. "Oh my sweet little love, you have my word... I will not harm anyone unless they threaten the safety of my mates..."

Her hazel eyes flashed at him, her lips tightening in anger that he dared add his own condition to their agreement. But he held firm as he encircled her with his arms. "On that point, there is no bending, my love. I will kill anyone and anything that seeks to do either of you harm." He reached one hand to Riley, reopening the bond with a gentle touch on his shoulder and drawing him toward into their embrace. "Regardless of who they are."

Buffy moved to one side, her fingers absently stroking Riley's other shoulder. The look she gave Angelus was unreadable. "What if it's Spike?"

He closed his eyes for a second. *I'm sorry, Will, but this is my mate....* When they opened again, a deadly light shone in their depths. "I'd stake him in the blink of any eye if he caused you one moment of pain."

She regarded him warily, wanting to believe him but unable to because of their past. Riley finally spoke. "He's telling the truth, Buffy."

Her gaze shifted to him. "How do you know?"

"I can see it in his thoughts... Buffy, Angelus loves Spike but he's willing to stake him without question." Riley's hand stroked the vampire's cool cheek in an all too brief caress. He murmured softly and leaned into the touch, grateful for his bonded mate's support. "He loves him almost as much as Angel loves you... You can believe what he says, he means it."

Buffy nodded, her expression still guarded as she watched both of them. "Angelus?"

"Yes, my love?"

"Let me talk to Angel."

He sighed, closing his eyes as he acquiesced to her softly spoken demand. "As you wish, my love, as you wish."

When they opened again, Buffy found the heart-melting warmth of Angel's soul looking out at her. He tilted his head at her, smiling softly and she indulged herself in a deeply shared kiss with him. The last hour spent with his demon had worn down her resistance, she wanted to accept his offer, to accept the mated bond but she needed to make certain Angel wanted it as well.


He stroked her hair softly, all the love he felt for his wondrous golden-haired girl was encompassed in his voice as he answered simply. "Yes, love?"

"Can I trust him?"

Angel sighed and kissed her forehead, her eyelids, her cheeks, finally stopping to drink from her mouth before answering. "Yes... You can trust him. You can trust Angelus with your life."

"And the lives of others?

"And the lives of others..." Angel stopped for a moment, communing with his quiescent demon. His voice was hushed when he finally spoke again. "Angelus just asked me to tell you something..."

Buffy frowned, surprised that Angelus would choose to speak through Angel, rather than speak for himself... After all he hadn't exactly been shy about talking during the past few days. "Why doesn't he just tell me himself?"

A soft laugh, followed by a soft kiss. "Because he says you won't believe him if he says it."

She laughed in turn. "He's probably right... Okay, Angel, tell me what the big, bad demon within you has to say." *Probably something to do with duty and power or some other sort of vampiric dominance thingie... Angelus, you should know by now that force ain't the way to my heart.*

He released her from his embrace, stroked Riley's face tenderly to let him know he was still aware of his presence before releasing him as well. The young man withdrew from both of them, knowing through the bond that Angel would need some privacy for this conversation. He rose to his feet and padded silently into the bathroom, if they needed him Angel would know where he was. They both watched him walk away, grateful that he understood and taking a moment to admire the grace of his movements, to enjoy the sheer beauty of his form.

Once the bathroom door closed, Buffy turned back to look at Angel. She eyed him curiously, his face was very serious as he took her left hand in his and twined their fingers together. "Buffy, it is very rare for demons to love..." Angel brought her hand to his lips, laid a kiss in its palm and laid it on his silent heart. "Angelus has only loved one creature in his existence on this plane…. Only one and that was Will..."

"Will?" In her mind's eye, Buffy saw an image of Angelus mooning over Willow and felt a flame of jealousy burn through her before she realized he was talking about someone else entirely. "You mean Spike, right?"

"No, not Spike... Will. Spike is a pale imitation of him, worn down by years of neglect and loneliness." He held her hand in place, listening to Angelus chuckle about her misunderstanding. *Willow, indeed... As if any other woman could make any impact on me after having held the sun in my arms.* "Angelus loved William when he was human, loved him with an all-consuming passion. He swore off killing during their liaison so they could live comfortably within the confines of human society."

Her eyes widened, she hadn't known about this part of Angelus' existence. All of the Watcher's journals stated that he was a straight-up, cold-blooded killer from the second he was turned until he regained his soul. "He gave up killing? I... I never found anything about that in my studies of Angelus."

*Of course not, my little Slayer, think about who wrote the books you studied...*

Angel nodded, relaying his demon's inner voice to her. "The books you read were written by the Council, Buffy. Think about it."

She bit her lip for a moment, not wanting to be disloyal to the organization Giles had devoted most of his adult life to serving. *And look what good it did for him. Fired because he cared too much about the girl he trained, The Council fired Giles because he loved me like a father...* The confusion she felt cleared with that thought.

Buffy knew the Watcher's Council had not always been a friend to her. Their view of the world was very black and white. In fact most of them had never actually been out in the field, never met a demon face-to-face, never walked among the dying.

None of them had been willing to help when Faith's arrow laid Angel low, they chose to abandon one of the best warriors for their cause simply due to the fact he was a vampire. "You're right, Angel. Why would they ever depict a vampire as anything other than a killer?"

He kept her hand against his unbeating heart, lightly caressing it with his own. "They're usually right. We are predators and humans are our food... But Angelus loved Will, he wanted to keep him safe and there always was the danger of being found out if he continued to hunt and to kill. So, he fed from willing humans."

She gasped, her surprise at his statement stopped the flow of words from him. "Willing humans? Who would ever want to be bitten by a vampire?"

Angel raised one brow, giving her one of those long, knowing looks. Buffy felt her knees go weak, her heart started to pound in her chest, her breath became rapid and she realized that moisture was flooding out of her core. The exquisite sensation she always achieved when he bit her filled her thoughts, she understood intimately why. "Oh."

Angel chuckled, amused by her reaction. It was infinitely satisfying to watch her become so aroused just by the thought of his bite. He shifted slightly and Buffy's eyes shot from his face to his groin.

A blush spread across her cheeks when she saw that he was just as aroused by the thought as she. "Yes, oh... Women came to him in droves, all wanting to see if what their friends whispered behind their fans was true. Angelus never lacked for food or feminine companionship."

She felt another surge of jealousy as well a tinge of dismay at this pronouncement. Buffy knew both Angel and Angelus were well versed in the ways of love, she knew they had not lacked for partners long before she was born. Darla said as much the night Angel staked her, she said they were involved for several generations.

The thought of her lover with so many other women frightened her. What if she was inadequate in his eyes? She was still so innocent and new to all of this... What if he tired of her?

*Angel, reassure her. She is doubting her worth... My little mate, my sweet darling little mate.*


She could not look at him, she was so afraid of what she might see in his eyes.

Angel moved quickly, pulling her tight to his chest. He kissed her, devouring her mouth with his, pressing his entire upper body into hers before murmuring in her hair. "Buffy... My love... No other woman, either living or dead could compare to you. I will never love another, no matter how long I exist..."

She relaxed in his arms as his words immediately soothed her fears. Angel drew slowly away from her and again placed her hand on his heart. "As I said, Angelus never lacked for the company of women. But he loved none of them, not even Darla... He loved only Will and that never changed."

"Okay..." She frowned a little, reviewing her own opinions of that subject at hand. *Hmm, Spike... umm, eww? Bleached blonde, arrogant, obnoxious... Hard chest, high tight ass, incredible blue eyes, sexy grin, and oh God, can he ever kiss... Well, maybe not so eww but Spike?*

Buffy shook herself, trying to focus on the conversation at hand. "So what happened? Why did he start killing again?"

"The Watcher's Council found us about twenty years after Will was turned. Our neighbors made some comments about how well we both looked, how we never seemed to age and the word spread." In his race to relay the messages from Angelus, Angel had forgotten to distance himself from the events. After all, they had actually happened to his body, if not his soul.

"They burned us out of our home, they hunted both of us throughout Europe, hell-bent on destroying the vampires who dared live openly among humans." His lips tightened as Angelus fed him the memories. The gypsies had only wanted him to remember the killing sprees, not the almost human times of his long existence, Angel was now becoming aware of his demon's softer side as he spoke with Buffy. He remembered loving William but not much more about that thirty-year span of time.

"A Slayer found us in Paris. She tried to shoot Will in the back..." His face was grew hard, his voice even harder as he continued to speak. Angel felt Angelus' reflected fury to the depths of his being. His demon tried to live as a human and ended up being hunted like an animal. No wonder he lashed out so severely at the human race.

Buffy watched him carefully, she had never seen Angel so angry without his game face being evident. She knew then the anger within him belonged to Angel and not Angelus. As the story unfolded in front of her, she felt some of the same fury. Angelus tried to tame his nature and had been punished for it. In her eyes the Watcher's Council had as much to answer for in his reactionary behavior as he did.

"He took the bolt meant for Will, Buffy. It almost pierced his heart. And Will killed for the first time since he had been made, he killed the Slayer and fed her to m-Angelus..." Angel's voice could have cut diamonds at this point, his grip on her hand so tight it would have broken bones if she had been merely human.

But Buffy endured the pain silently, she needed to hear what he had to say.

"And something snapped in me... in Angelus... He began to kill and kill and kill. No one was safe, no one was sacred. That was when he earned his reputation. He killed Slayers, Buffy... lots of them."

Her eyes grew wide, she knew Slayers died young and fast but she never thought he would have been the one to kill them. Spike always bragged about the two he had taken out, how many had her demon mate to his name? "How many, Angel? How many of my predecessors did he kill?"

*No... No... Don't tell her.... Angel, please don't...*

"At least two dozen." His voice was devoid of emotion, the words fell from his lips coldly as if he was quoting a football score. Angel was appalled at the thought of how many Slayers met their doom at his hands... And now he remembered every single one of them.

It sickened him to the core.

He withdrew from her emotionally, too shocked by the memories flowing over him to realize how much this bald announcement affected her. His demon snarled at him, angered that he told her in such a cold fashion. Angelus would have lied, would have lessened the amount to something more comprehensible....

He would have said anything to prevent that wounded look in her eyes.

"T-two dozen?" She swallowed hard, staring at the stranger in front of her. Buffy did not know this creature, she could not have slept with him, could not have shared herself and Riley with him. She could not have betrayed her calling so badly as to give her heart to such a fiend from Hell.

Her eyes flew to his and found torment, not just Angel's but Angelus' as well. The tightness in her chest eased a little as she found the demon also know regret. "Wh-why so many?"

His face shifted slightly and she knew Angelus had chosen to continue the conversation. Angel in his shock conceded control to him. "The Council sent them after me... And I hunted them as well. I wanted vengeance, they tried to kill my Will and I would not tolerate knowing they were out there, capable of injuring us on a whim. I was determined to destroy them utterly..."

Angelus looked away for a moment, then back at her, his voice low and quiet. "After the last one died, it was 1898... Druscilla had some silly notion about wanting to see the running of the bulls in Spain. At that point, she'd been with us for almost thirty years. I tired of her madness within the first decade but she amused Will so I let her stay..."

Buffy saw the sheen of tears in his eyes as he looked away. "I left Will with her in Athens. Darla was in her Dracula phase at the time and I accompanied her to Romania... Anything to be away by Dru's prattling and Will doting on the chit."

"My sire was intent on dining her way through every race mentioned in Stoker's thinly veiled sexual fantasy. And at the time, I was inclined to indulge her since my childer were in Spain and she had the most amusing ideas on how to terrorize the local populace."

He turned back to her, the tears were gone and his eyes glittered like glass. "The last one she chose were the gypsies and she presented me with one, all trussed up like a Christmas goose... I tormented the girl for days, alternating between feeding from her and raping her until she was near death."

Buffy started to move away from him but he caught her chin in his hand, forcing her to keep her eyes locked on his face. It was an impenetrable mask as he laid the rest of the story at her feet. "It had been my habit to return my dead Slayers and their Watchers to the Council's doorstep, usually by parcel post. But once in awhile, I did it in person. It was always so satisfying to watch them scramble away from their broken bodies, it vindicated me and made me feel whole..."

Angelus laughed, it was a short and bitter sound. "In my arrogance, I decided to do the same with my little gypsy... I dropped her dying body at her family's feet, still covered in her own blood and my semen.... You already know the outcome of that particular piece of folly."

She did indeed. Without that act of stupidity, Liam's soul would not have been recalled from the aether and Angel would never have existed. *Thank you for being such a vicious bastard, Angelus... Otherwise I would never had had Angel in my life… *

He looked at her intently before answering her thought with a wry half-smile. "You're welcome, little Slayer."

Buffy narrowed her eyes at him, she was still not used to his being able to read her thoughts.

The faint amusement faded from his expression as he spoke again. "Your Council was very lucky that day... I had plans for them when we left Romania. Will and I were to meet in Rome at Christmas, from there we were returning to England. My sole purpose for the journey was to kill every single member of that thrice-damned council and all the bitches they trained... But the gypsy curse prevented me from accomplishing that goal."

Angelus' eyes bored into hers. "I hated everything about the Watcher's Council, everything they represented. I spent a century listening to Angel's guilt and regret over my killing sprees. It gave me a lot of time to devise my plans for vengeance. When you freed me, it was time to put all that into action. And you were the best available target. You and your bumbling Watcher..." A dry, mirthless laugh sounded from his chest. "It was just like old times."

"Why are you telling me this now?" Buffy tried to pull away but he held her fast, refusing to loosen his grip on her hand. "If you hated the council so much, why did you take me as your mate? Why didn't you just kill me?"

"I'm telling you this so you will understand why I behaved the way I did... you need to know." He smirked at her, his lips lifting in his patented half-smile. "I didn't kill you, my precious girl, because you were too damned hard to kill. I tried everything within my power to destroy you and you kept coming back for more..."

"But that night, in my room... when you left the picture?" She never understood why he spared her that night. It would have been so easy for him to snap her neck while she slept.

"You intrigued me. You were such a delightful challenge, so unlike the insipid girls the Council had sent before..." The smirk deepened as he raised one sardonic brow, "A quick kill was not the right way to do it. I wanted to look in your eyes and see the defeat reflected there before I took your life..."

His voice dropped into its usual seductive tone as he licked his lips. "And to kill you in your bed when there were so many more delightful things I could have done..." She flushed, suddenly embarrassed by the smoldering passion in his eyes. "It was better to leave you alive and wondering if the next night you would wake up underneath me with Angel's big cock in your tight pussy and my fangs in your neck..."

Buffy gasped at the image he painted. She had conjured the exact same thing in her darkest fantasies during that time. It never failed to wake her from a deep sleep, shuddering at the thought and secretly longing for it. She missed Angel so much then, it would have been worth dying to hold him one last time...

Although he was amused by the trend of her thoughts, there was still more about that time he needed to share. Angelus' face grew hard again. "Trust me, Buff, you weren't the only one I chose to torment. Because of that damned curse, my Will was lost to me. Angel did everything he could to alienate my boy and I hated him for it."

His lips curled back in a silent snarl as he remembered the strained reunion with his beloved childe. "Watching him lavish his love on that mad girl I created infuriated me. She was never meant to be his mate, she was a toy I made for my own amusement, a toy I broke and Will was left with just the pieces..."

Buffy did not try to draw away from him again despite the fierceness of his expression, she was no longer afraid of him and it was so important that she listen to what he had to say.

"My Will was gone and all that was left was Spike. So I lashed out at him as well... I took his mate from him; I flaunted my renewed carnal relationship with Dru in front of him while he sat in that wheelchair. I made him hate me just as much as I hated you..."

His voice was a rumbling growl now. "And I hated you so much, I hated every inch of you, every breath you took, every beat of your heart... You were a beautiful golden tigress, a woman worthy of my interest but because of your blasted calling, you were my enemy... I hated you for things you could not control, for being the Chosen One, for being the slayer of my kind. And I wanted to punish you for that."

She shivered. His coldly beautiful face was full of implacable hatred and that hatred was for her. This was the Angelus she knew.

Gone was the gentle lover of the past week, here before her was the monster she had been trained to kill. Buffy felt her Slayer senses screaming at her to break a leg of the table next to her and reduce this enemy to dust. But she held her breath and waited, entwined within him lived her first love, she would let him finish his speech.

Angelus nodded, his face softening a little. "But with that hatred were mixed other things. Admiration for your courage, amusement because of your wit, lust for your perfect little body... I wanted to kill you but I wanted to own you even more..." The tone of his voice was seductive again, full of rich promise. "I wanted to best you in everything until you lay at my feet, begging me for mercy. And once you were broken, I wanted to bury myself inside you for an eternity."

She blushed, still capable of being embarrassed by the heat in his gaze and part of what he was saying did not ring true. "B-but you said I was terrible in bed... You laughed at me..."

"I did it to throw you off balance... When you're dealing with an enemy, lover, you use everything available to you. You were an innocent, so trusting, so easy to crush..." He leaned toward her, the chill of his lips brushed her cheek as he whispered in her ear. "Even though I hated you, all I really wanted to do that night was grab you and fuck you until you acknowledged I was the one you loved, not Angel... But I knew it wasn't true, you belonged to soul-boy..."

"But you didn't." She whispered back to him, her eyes closed as his words sent shivers of erotic fear up her spine. If he had spoken kindly to her that night, if he had taken her to his bed, she would have gone willingly, trustingly and he would have owned her...

Just like he owned part of her now.

"No, I didn't... I wish I had, would have saved us so much time..." His lips connected with the skin below her ear and she gasped, his cool touch burned through her entire body like a flame. "Instead I was hell-bent on destroying you. I fought with myself almost as much as I fought with you..."

A swipe of his tongue across that little patch of skin sent an instant rush of warmth spreading from the very center of her being. "I wanted you so bad, little Slayer..." Buffy licked her lips, crooning softly as she leaned into his caress, all fear banished for the moment. "You consumed my entire existence, everything paled in comparison..."

He withdrew from her slightly, nuzzling her cheek as he raised his head to catch her gaze again. The depth of emotion in his normally cold eyes dazed her. When he looked at her that way she could easily mistake him for Angel. "Since I couldn't have you, I chose to wake Acathla and have the world sucked into Hell... But you stopped me."

She raised her chin, challenging him with a steady look. "Yeah, I stopped you..." Then her face fell as she continued, tears formed in her eyes. "And I sent Angel to Hell with you."

"Which was the best and only thing you could do." He cupped his large hand around her little face, drawing her to him for a searing kiss. "And I loved you for it."

Buffy pulled away abruptly, glaring at him in disbelief. Angelus didn't love her, he couldn't love her, could he? "Why? Because Angel got to suffer right along with you?"

"No. I loved you because you gave up the one person you truly loved to save the world." He held her tight, it was vital for her to understand him, to believe him. "It was the bravest thing I've seen in my long existence... I longed for the day when I would see your sweet little face again. When the first Evil released Angel from Hell, I rejoiced at our return. I hoped for the chance to talk to you but Angel refined his control over me and over himself during his years in Hell. That chance never arose."

"I despaired that I could never make things right between us. Then you gave Angel your blood to save our life and I took the only opportunity I had been given to be close to you again. I drank down your sweet essence and claimed you as my own..."

Angelus kissed her mate's mark tenderly, nipping at the raised scar with blunt teeth. "Did you never wonder why it scarred? You who have seen so many vampire bites, you who always healed without a single mark. Did it never occur to you that this one was special?"

Buffy swallowed, trying desperately to ignore the sensuality of his touch. Her own voice sounded smoky to her, full of repressed desire. "I did wonder... but there was no one to ask after Angel left. Why did you do it, Angelus? Why did you mark me as your mate?"

"Simple..." He lifted his head from her neck, his face solemn as he gave Buffy his full concentration. "As Angel said earlier, I loved only one living creature in my long life... Only one until I met you."

She gasped, her eyes going wide in shock as that slow, serious voice continued. "I love you, my little golden girl... I loved you the same instant Angel did when we saw you being called. Angel loved you for your helplessness and your innocence... I loved you for your fire and the passion I saw within you, waiting for the right touch to awaken it." He gave her a soft, reverent kiss that shook her to her foundations.

Only Angel had ever kissed her before with such tenderness, such respect. Buffy clung to him, feeling the tremors that shook the hard body pressed against her. That very weakening of his self-control convincing her more than his honeyed words. Angelus had an iron will, he never showed any vulnerability, at least not until that very moment.

And in that moment, she found she believed him. Not just because of the words he had used but because of how deeply he felt them.

She finally believed everything he told her this evening, she believed he would keep his promises and not harm her friends or other innocents. Buffy knew now from his recently revealed past Angelus would defend those he loved with a ferocity unparalleled.

Spike had always frightened her, especially because he had killed two of her kind. The thought of a vampire taking out two Slayers was mind-boggling enough, but two dozen? Buffy knew her own strength, she knew her weaknesses and what Angelus had described was almost impossible... impossible for any other creature but himself.

He would protect her and Riley with every ounce of his unnatural strength, he would love them until the end of his days...

And through that love, she might be able to beat the Slayer curse and actually live long enough to have those things Angel wanted so desperately for her. Children, a family, her last days spent puttering in a garden surrounded by her loved ones instead of gasping out her last breaths in an nameless graveyard being drained by some unknown vamp.

Angelus, the most vicious vampire in recorded history would become her shield, her companion at arms, her protector, her lover... and her mate.

She drew away from him, hearing his sigh of regret as their lips parted, that small sound thrilling her to the core. Angelus opened his eyes to look down at her glorious face, he reached for her through the bond to gauge her reaction to his revelation and found nothing but a blank wall.

Buffy had remembered the shield training Willow babbled about several weeks before and shuttered her thoughts to him. It was important that she not reveal anything yet. The look of consternation on his face almost made her laugh, her vampire mate was not used to being locked out. "Angelus... if I chose to accept your offer, what will happen to Angel?"

"Hmm... Happen to Angel?" Her abrupt shielding distracted him; her thoughts had always been so easy to read before. What had happened? Was she planning on rejecting him? Was that why she had him so tightly blocked?

Panic rose within him as he studied her eyes.

"If we bond, will Angel be part of it? Or will it just be you?"

"If Angel accepts the bond, he is part of it too. But he has to make that choice himself." Within him, Angel laughed at the very thought of being left out of their shared bond. *As if I would turn down anything that would let me be close to you, my love... *

Angelus nodded, eyes unfocused as he communed with his ensouled half. He was satisfied with Angel's answer. "Angel agrees and wants to be part of it as well."

She disentangled herself from his embrace and rose to her feet. Angelus followed suit, cautiously stepping away from her so she would not mistake his movement as one of intimidation. He knew that tactic wouldn't work with her, she had already proven that to him this evening.

Had the demon known how to pray, this was the time he would have chosen to do so. His inner voice melded with Angel's as they both looked down at her stoic expression. *Please let her accept... I can live with just the boy as my mate but she is the one I want the most...*