Title: HEARTBEAT Chapter 23
AUTHOR: Mistress Ace
EMAIL: rosewood@inreach.com
FEEDBACK: Works better than jelly donuts and tea in the morning for getting me to write more...
DISCLAIMER: Don't own the characters at all. They belong to Joss Whedon et al. And I love watching all these wonderful people being put through their paces every week... Please don't sue I don't do this for a living... not yet anyway. My editor Raine and my cat would like to see me do this for real some day. Maybe when I grow up...
RATING: Still R (They're in Giles' living room, how much can happen there? Please don't answer that.)
SPOILERS: The I in Team and Goodbye Iowa
SUMMARY: This story takes place in my universe, not Joss'. The mated bond is complete, how will everyone else in Buffy's world react to it. The Scooby Gang had some much reaction to it, I had to break it into two chapters...
DISTRIBUTION: FINNactics, FINNSmut, Jen, it's yours... anyone else, just ask
EXPLANATION: Anything within ** denotes internal thought.
DEDICATION: To Xander Harris, for giving me such delightful ideas on how he would deal with all of this...


Finally catching what everyone else knew, Xander blanched. Even though he hurled the earlier accusation at Riley, he hadn't really believed it was true until now. His hand rose to cover his mouth, he was going to be violently ill at any moment. *Oh God, the big marine is gay... Buffy's commando boyfriend is gay...*

Xander didn't personally have anything against gays, after all he'd had friends in High School who were gay. In fact one of them died fighting the mayor on Graduation Day. What was way beyond disturbing to him was the thought of anyone voluntarily having sex with Deadboy. Especially if it was such a guy's guy like Riley...

From her seat on the couch Willow clapped her hands and laughed aloud. Her earlier suspicions had just been confirmed, she was so happy for three of her dearest friends. The little redhead threw her arms around Tara, kissing her for the very first time in public. Xander gaped at the sight of his best friend in another girl's arms. *Did the whole world just turn gay and I didn't get the memo?*

That sweet kiss was no surprise to either Riley or Buffy. Angel had clued them in on the real relationship between the two witches. Buffy beamed at the girls, she was supremely happy that at least two of her group shared their joy.

From her seat in the living room, Anya watched silently. Although she usually had a great deal to say to these people, for once she was simply enjoying the group dynamic. Plus the thought of tiny Buffy sandwiched between the tall, glowery vampire and the clean-cut commando had just sent her libido into overdrive.

She'd give them a few more minutes before taking pity on Xander. Then she would drag him home and spend several hours playing out the new fantasies in her head while she copulated with her boyfriend...

Giles was the first to actually speak, his voice hushed in awe. This was an unprecedented incident, his sources had some vague information about mated pairs in vampiric society but a mated trinity was completely unheard of until this very moment. "A mated triumvirate... Simply astonishing... H-how did this happen?"

Noting with grim satisfaction that Xander had finally been shocked into utter silence, Riley gave the older man a sly smile. "Do you really need the details, Mr. Giles?"

Giles flushed bright red, the looks of blissful sexual satiation on both of the young peoples' faces was enough to completely embarrass him. *Oh dear, oh dear lord, there really is such a thing as too much information... I'll never be able to look Angel in the eye again.*

His attention flicked from Riley to Buffy and then back again. *Or either of these lovely children... While I know Angel is a special case, how is it that they are so happy? Soul or not, how can it be possible to achieve such paradise in the arms of a vampire?*

*Think we shocked them a little too much, honey?* Buffy let his collar drop back into place as she leaned over to kiss the top of Riley's head.

He chuckled, his eyes becoming unfocused as he responded in kind. *Nah, just enough...*

Keenly observant as always, Giles caught the subtle change in Riley's expression and made an accurate assumption. "I take it the mated bond is in full force then?" They both nodded, identical smiles on their faces. "Tell me, can you do the same things with it as Angel does? Can you track each other?"

"Yes, Giles, we can find each other... Even blindfolded." Buffy moved around to where Riley sat. Without a word, he opened his arms and pulled her down onto his lap. He laughed aloud as the memory of Angel sitting on the kitchen floor with a black scarf tied around his eyes came to him through the bond from her. The vampire had located each of them in seconds, pulling Buffy out from underneath the bed and Riley out of the wardrobe without ever removing the blindfold.

They accused him of using his acute sense of hearing and smell but when each of them was able to perform the same feat, they finally believed. Although Blind-man's bluff was a game forever lost to them, the thought of being able to locate their mates in the dark was evocative. So they turned out all the lights in the basement apartment and found each other. The resulting love-making session lasted for hours on end...

Riley shifted in his seat, subtly moving his body so his sudden erection pressed tightly against his mate's thigh. She blushed, stifling a moan at the erotic thoughts being fed to her through the bond...

And not all of them were Riley's. The warmth she associated with Angel's soul seeped into her bones as his thoughts slid smoothly into the mated bond. He was still at the mansion with Spike, both of them waiting for their arrival.

Buffy turned to Riley with a big smile on her face. *Riley.*

*Mmmmm, you smell so good...* Riley's fingers tangled in her hair, he leaned his face toward her neck where he placed a single searing kiss. *All I want to do is right now is hold you down on the bed and eat you for hours. Just immerse myself in your beautiful pussy... And watch while Angel feeds that glorious cock of his into your mouth...*

His awareness of the rest of the people around him was fading quickly. They were going to have to leave soon before he threw her down on the floor.

*Riley.* Although that last sensual image was particularly appealing, there was a message she had to relay to him. Buffy pulled back in order to gaze into his lust-filled eyes.

*Hmmm, what is it, love?*

*Angel.* Her contact with Angel was stronger than Riley's, she was the Slayer after all, a supernatural creature in her own right. She was not surprised that she could hear him over the distance when Riley could not.

At the mention of their mate's name Riley tensed. His concern for Angel's safety and well being became immediately paramount.

He had been uncomfortable with the idea of Angel confronting his childe alone but finally acquiesced after a long argument. Part of his objection was due to fear about what injuries Spike might inflict on his own sire for taking another male as his mate. After all, the blonde vampire had Angel tortured a few months ago when he was looking for the Gem of Amara.

But the largest part of his objection to the solitary meeting was due to his own jealousy of Angelus' favorite childe. While the three of them agreed Spike should not be cut out of his sire's life completely, the mated bond was still too new for Riley to trust it entirely. The two of them had run together for decades and Angelus was not shy about admitting his love for William. Who knows what could happen between them if they were left alone long enough?

Riley knew he was Angelus' chosen male mate but the sire/childe bond ran deep. And although he had no complaints about sharing his mate with Buffy, Spike was an entirely different matter. *Is he all right? Do we need to go?*

*He's fine, Spike's... well, not exactly fine but he'll be okay...* Buffy kissed Riley, ignoring the other people around them who were watching their silent exchange with fascination. *We should go soon, he needs us...*

*Then let's go now. Anything else they need to know, we can tell them later.*

*No, we have a few minutes yet. He says he has some more things to tell Spike...* Buffy placed her forehead against Riley's, her gaze locked with his. She needed to convey the most important part of Angel's conversation with her. *Riley... Angel says thank you.*

A puzzled frown clouded Riley's face, he really didn't understand the need for gratitude. *Thank you? For what?*

*For acknowledging the bond in public... For not treating him like he was some dirty little secret...*

Riley snorted, completely forgetting to keep his response internal. "As if I would ever deny him. Buffy, tell that mule-headed mate of ours that I love him, god damn it! I'm not about to deny him to anyone, least of all your friends!"

The combined looks of shock given him by the other occupants of the room made Riley realize his mistake. Blushing slightly, he covered his face with one hand and mumbled around that barrier. "Oh sorry... Guess I said that in my outside voice, didn't I?"

Buffy giggled along with Willow and Tara, their amusement immediately eased his feeling of chagrin. *S'okay honey... There are no more doubts in this room about how you feel though...*

The hand across his face dropped as he gathered her in for another kiss. *Good... I don't want there to be any doubts at all.* At the end of the kiss, Riley shot a look through narrowed eyes at the still gaping Xander. *Not one single doubt about how I feel about you or Angel or Angelus.*

She laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, urging him to show some restraint about their final partner. *Riley, they're not ready for that part of the equation yet... They may never be...*

His response was stalled by the gentle clearing of a throat across the table from them. Typical of his observant behavior Giles was the first to react to the significance of Riley's verbal outburst. "How astonishing... The bond goes deeper than just feeling emotions, doesn't it? You can actually hear each other's thoughts, yes?"

Shifting his attention back to Giles, Riley nodded, his head moving in perfect unison with Buffy's. She finally spoke aloud to the assembled group. "Yeah, Giles, we can hear each other loud and clear. As long as we are in physical contact with one another that is..."

Her Watcher adjusted his glasses, pushing them further up his nose. "A-and Angel? You can hear him as well?"

They both nodded again, two pairs of hazel eyes twinkling with matching amusement as they watched the look of academic avarice cross the Englishman's face. Building within the man's head was a long dissertation about this amazing heretofore unknown aspect of vampiric blood rituals. Giles had a friend in the book business in New York who might be willing to publish this discovery. It would be nice to receive some recognition for his life's work in the field of demonic research.

His Slayer's voice interrupted his wrangling with chapter headings as she spoke again. "Riley can't hear him very well yet. The bond only works when they are within a few feet of each other. But I can hear Angel over some distance... He's at our home now..." Buffy rose for Riley's lap, smiling at the small sound of frustration he made about the loss of contact. "Giles, he's waiting for us..."

Riley rose as well, this interview with the Scooby Gang was over as far as he was concerned. "We have to go." He cast a glance around the room, silently challenging any of them to object to his flat statement. "We have to go now."

Although he was disappointed and concerned about the thought of their departure, Giles could read the urgency behind the young man's words. Though he did not totally trust their vampiric mate, he couldn't blame either of them for their eagerness to be reunited with him. Angel had explained enough to him about the emptiness a vampire felt in its mate's absence. If the feelings within them were half as strong as Angel seemed to evidence during their recent rescue mission, these two children would soon be in serious pain.

He gave each of them a polite smile and offered Riley his hand. "Jolly well good... We'll talk more about this later..." The young man shook his hand, relief at the older man's understanding of their situation radiated from the grateful smile on his face.

Willow jumped up from the couch and raced over to the two of them. She grabbed Buffy, hugging her tightly, little tears sparkling on her lashes as she whispered in her friend's ear. "God, Buffy. I'm going to miss living with you..."

Her friend hugged her back, answering tears in her eyes. "I won't be that far away, Wills. You can always come visit. And bring Tara with you, please... We all like her."

The little redhead gave her a swift kiss on the lips, the contact shocking Buffy slightly. Willow was not usually so demonstrative toward her but this was a special moment. "We will... We definitely will. Thank you for understanding about her, Buffy."

"Hey, nothing to understand. If you love someone, you love someone. Sex doesn't matter, Wills... or species..." They both laughed at that thought, remembering their respective relationships, both current and past. Buffy gave her friend one last squeeze before pushing her toward Riley.

Willow approached him, titling her head up to look into his openly friendly face. "Nice to know I'm not the only one with that thinking aloud problem." They shared a laugh.

Then her lips quirked up into a little smile as she reminded him of her earlier warning about hurting Buffy. "Guess I won't have to beat you to death with a shovel after all."

He laughed and pulled her into a big bear hug. "Guess not... You really had me worried there for a coupla minutes, you know." Riley ran a fingertip down her nose, stopping with it resting on her cheek, close to her mouth. "You are a force to be reckoned with, little Wicca. I would not want to be on the wrong side of you anytime in the near future... Anytime at all for that matter."

She laughed, the sound sending a trickle of delight down his spine. He now understood Angel's deep-seated love for this girl, she was so open and accepting, so gentle hearted. Had he not fallen in love with Buffy first, she might very well have captured his heart.

The warning in his head was immediate and not subtle in the least. *Watch it... Don't make me have to hurt my best friend. You belong to me, Riley Finn. Got it?*

He chuckled, gave Willow a safe peck on the cheek before answering his mate. *No worries there, love. She is sweet but she's not you... My women have to able to kick my ass... And fuck me blind.*

*Good. Just remember that, soldier boy.* He met her eyes over the top of Willow's head. The expression on her face was fierce, her stance predatory as she watched the two of them very carefully. *Mine.*

Riley nodded, confirming her statement of possession. *Yours.*

Buffy smiled, turning away from him with a parting shot. *Damn straight. And don't you forget it.*

*Not likely to, Buff...* He smiled, admiring the sway of her hips and the line of her back as she walked over to Tara. *Not likely to forget anything about you... Ever.*

The blonde witch watched Buffy approach, a little nervous about her reaction to the open affirmation of her relationship with Willow. The kiss had been wonderful but now everyone knew their secret. Not that she was embarrassed by her love for the other girl, just concerned with the overall reaction of her closest friends. Tara didn't have many friends, she liked all of the Scooby Gang and the thought of losing them was frightening.

Buffy smiled at the nervous expression on the other girl's face. She grabbed Tara and pulled her into a hug which mirrored the one Riley just gave Willow. "Thank you."

"T-thank y-you? W-why t-thank you?" Her stutter was back, aggravated by her terror of rejection.

"For making my Wills so happy. Welcome to the gang, Tara..." She gave the other girl a brief kiss on the cheek, drinking in the utter relief reflected in her blue eyes. "Hope we won't prove to be too much for you..."

The body in her arms relaxed as Tara soaked up her acceptance like rain on the parched ground of the desert. "You won't... Thank you, thank you."

"No prob. If Wills loves you, then I love you too..." She gave Tara a conspiratorial smile as they both turned toward the still embraced couple by the door. "Think we can pry them apart?"

That simple question broke the two apart instantly. Willow jumped away from Riley, blushing furiously even though there had been no sexual intent in their close hug. She stumbled slightly and his large hand reached out to steady her, to keep her from falling into the wall.

Willow was so off balance that his simple motion pulled her abruptly up against his body, molding her intimately to his long frame. The contact was so abrupt and so not the message she was trying to give Buffy that it drew a sudden gasp from her.

That little sound of protest and the sight of the big marine grabbing Willow were enough to finally snap Xander out of his stupor. He was on his feet immediately, his over-taxed brain focusing on protecting at least his childhood friend from Buffy's Teutonic boytoy. "Get your hands off her!"

"Huh?" Riley turned to Xander, realizing the much smaller young man was right beside him. Xander's eyes were filled with a mixture of very strong emotion, most of which totally confused Riley. He had only been trying to keep Willow from getting hurt. "What's the problem, man?"

Seething fury overwhelmed any concern Xander had about the big guy breaking him in half. He pushed Riley away from Willow, pulling her out of his arms and stepping between the two of them. His voice was brimming with hatred as he spat out the next words. "What will be enough for you, huh? Isn't it bad enough that you've got Buffy?"

Xander swallowed the bile rising in his gorge, the very thought of verbalizing the next image made him sick. "Isn't it bad enough that you're fucking Deadboy too? Do you have to have Wills as well?"

Two fists came out of nowhere, a huge one struck him square in the mouth and would have knocked him off his feet but for the other one, which hit him in the back. Two voices spoke at the same time, assaulting his ears with their sudden fury.

Willow's registered first, her usually gentle tone strident with rage. "HOW DARE YOU, YOU JERK! He was trying to keep me from falling..."

The more deadly sound issued from the man in front of him. Gone was Buffy's slightly oafish boyfriend; Xander found himself staring into the absolute realization of his own mortality. He never realized how really huge this guy was until Riley leaned over to hiss in his face. "I told you not to call him that... What part of 'don't call him Deadboy' did you not understand, Harris?"

Ignoring Willow completely, Xander spat the blood out of his mouth, supremely unconcerned about staining Giles' carpet as he responded. "Face the reality, Finn. He is dead, Angel's just a corpse animated by a demon..."

Squaring his jaw, the smaller man stood up straight. With brown eyes full of challenge, Xander stepped closer to his opponent. *If I'm going to die, might as well die like a man...*

"By the way, Agent Finn. Just what the hell do you think your superiors at the Initiative will do when they find out you're some vampire's fucktoy? And not just any vamp, but a male vamp?" Sharp intake of breath, that one got Joe commando where he lived. *Good. Hit him where he's weakest...*

"I can tell you straight up what they'll do." He punctuated his next barbed comment by poking a finger in the broad chest currently at his eye level. "Can you say Leavenworth? Better be able to, you know. Cause that's where you'll end up after they court-marshal your ass... They'll have you making little rocks out of big rocks until long after Angel's turned to dust..."

His hand suddenly caught in a crushing grip. Tears sprang to his eyes as the other man pulled him even closer. Riley's response was uttered very quietly, his usually silken voice now forged out of steel. "And just what makes you so sure you're going to live long enough to make that threat good, Harris?"

"You wouldn't dare hurt me." The fingers wrapped around his hand tightened even more, making him gasp in pain. Xander prayed silently for his friends to come to his aid but no one moved to help him. Not even Anya.

The pain increased, Riley's face was mere inches from his as he leaned down toward him again. "Looks like I'm hurting you already, Harris... Face the facts, boy. Nobody's gonna rescue you from yourself this time..."

*Riley...* That first contact was quiet, tenuous as best as it flitted through his consciousness. It was not Buffy.

He stopped speaking aloud and reached... *Angel?*

A cruel chuckle, deep amusement reflected in that small sound. *Close, my boy, but not quite right...*

*Angelus...* His fingers tightened even more, Xander moaned in pain. The boy was almost on his knees in front of Riley; he spared him only the smallest glance before closing his eyes to concentrate on his lover's voice.

*Very good...* There was a thread of urgency lying underneath his laughter. *Much as though I enjoy to thought of you ripping that little bastard's lungs out and wearing them as a hat, I need you here. Now...*

Riley nodded, catching Buffy's eye. She had received the same message and was moving toward the door. *We're on our way now, Angelus.*

He dropped Xander's hand, catching him reflexively before his buckled knees hit the floor. Riley pulled him up into a standing position, his mouth set in a grim line as he warned the injured boy. "This is not over, Harris. Not by a long shot..." He released him with a hard shove.

Xander's back slammed into the wall by the kitchen. He stood there in silence as Riley said a polite goodbye to everyone else. Despite how angry he might be with the other young man, Riley's mother had raised him right. There was no reason for him to be rude to Buffy's other friends.

Buffy stopped in front of Xander. He looked up from the damaged hand cradled against his chest to meet her gaze. There was an expression on her face he never wanted to see in his entire life. Contempt radiated out of every pore as she spoke to him, perhaps for that last time. "If you say one word about Riley and Angel to anyone, Xander... One word and..."

"You'll wish you'd never been born." Willow finished for her, moving to where Xander could see her. The expression he found there was worse than her infamous resolve face. In all the years of their association, Xander never thought he would see hatred for him on her sweet features...

She had never given him a look like that ever. Not even when she caught him smooching with Cordelia in the library two years ago...

He glanced up at Giles behind Willow's shoulder and saw the same expression echoed on his face. The rest of the Scooby core were siding with Buffy on this matter. Tara moved next to Willow, her hand entwining with her lover's in a show of support.

Giles laid a gentle hand on Buffy's shoulder, murmuring quietly as he kept most of his attention focused on Xander. "Buffy, you have places to be... We'll take care of this."

"No, Mr. Giles. I'll take care of this." Anya had finally left her seat in the living room, moving between the assembled group and her boyfriend. Xander gave her a look full of gratitude, it was good to know someone would come to his defense...

His ex-demon girlfriend stood directly in front of him, her hands resting on her hips as she gave him the once over. When she spoke, he almost gasped in shock. He had not expected an attack from her as well. "Alexander LaVelle Harris, you should be ashamed of yourself. Why are you so jealous of them?"

"Jealous? I'm not jealous... Just concerned."

"Concerned about what exactly?"

"Well, Angel for one thing..."


"He's evil?"

"Now that was really convincing... Not. Try again..."

"Uh, he'll kill us if he gets the chance?"

"What part of Buffy's speech were you not listening to earlier? Obviously the part where you were staring at her breasts instead of her face." She leaned closer to him. "I did notice that, you know... Angel's soul is permanent. No need to worry about dying anytime soon."

Anya shot a quick glance to where Riley stood by the door, his body stiff and eyes still full of murderous intent. "At least not by Angelus' hand, though it's a safe bet that Buffy's commando here could cheerfully take you apart piece by piece... And I happen to like you with your pieces intact..."

Xander recognized the sexual heat growing in the depths of her eyes, it was going to be a very long night for him. "Umm, okay. Glad you at least feel that way... Could we go home now?"

"Not until this is settled." Anya crossed her arms, resting them on her chest as she regarded him carefully. "So what's your problem with Riley, really? Is it because he's with Buffy and you're not?"

*God, how did she always manage to do that? How can she always see right through me.* He bit his lip and looked anywhere but directly at her. "Well, no... Not exactly..."

"Then is it because he's tall and glowery's orgasm friend then?" Xander couldn't answer, he just dropped his eyes to the floor and blushed. She grabbed his chin, pulling his face back up until their gazes locked. "Is it because you want to be in his place?"

"Eww! God no!"

"Then what's the problem? Buffy's happy, Riley's happy, Angel's happy... Why don't you want your friends to be happy?" Anya was genuinely puzzled by his behavior. The mating between the Slayer, the ensouled vampire and her gorgeous human boyfriend was a perfect solution to the problem posed by the love they all obviously shared for one another.

He scuffed his feet, mumbling his response. "It's just wrong, that's all..."

"What part is so wrong?"

Xander looked up, hurt, anger and confusion all combined into one expression. He waved his hand in the general direction of the silent couple standing together by the door. "God! All of it. He's a vampire, she's the Slayer... And Riley's a guy, another guy! How can he do that with Angel?"

*Aha, the crux of the problem at last. Why did men have to be so damn dense about their feelings.* Anya laid her hand on his chest, drawing his attention away from Buffy and Riley. "So it's the gay thing isn't it?"

"Well... Yeah, I guess..."

The hand on his chest was lifted away, she waved it in the air with a sweeping gesture. "Pfftt... Get over it. Riley's not gay."

Xander could not believe her casual dismissal of the obvious facts. "What?! He's mated to Angel, they're two guys and they're having sex... With each other... If that isn't gay, I don't know what is!"

"He's not gay and neither is Angel..." She nodded to the other couple, who relaxed into each other arms. Even though Angelus needed them, Buffy and Riley felt they had to stay and watch the conclusion of this particular argument. There were identical smiles on their faces as they watched her take the now passive young man down a notch or ten. "It's obvious that both of them are enjoying copulation with Buffy. Right?"

Buffy nodded vehemently, her smile broadening into a wide grin. A startling image of the little blonde with the big commando's face between her legs and the beautiful dark vampire's mouth on her breast floated across Anya's consciousness. *Time to get Xander home...* "That makes them bi-sexual, Xander, there is a big difference between that and being gay."

"Not in my book."

"Well, then it's time for you to get a bigger book... Come to think of it, I have just the one at home for you." She grabbed his jacket and dragged him toward the door. "Come with me."

Riley opened the door for them, his anger had faded while he watched Xander's ex-demoness girlfriend take charge. He almost pitied him, almost...

The assembled friends could still hear her lecturing as they disappeared into the night. "Is it because he's in the military? Xander, same sex matings have occurred in the military since classical times. Take the Greeks for example..."

"Well, that was interesting, wasn't it?" Giles' mild comment broke the tension still lingering in the room after the couple's abrupt departure.

Willow shook her head. "Poor Xander. His whole world turned upside down in one night..."

Riley grinned, wrapping his arm around Buffy's shoulder. "Not like it's the first time that's happened in this place."

The redhead's brow furrowed for a moment as she turned from the open door. "Huh?"

"I met Angel in this room two weeks ago... Turned my world upside down too." He smiled at the memory of the gorgeous vampire who... now waited for them across town. "Oops, gotta go... C'mon Buff."

Buffy hugged the three remaining friends tightly. "I'll call all of you later, okay?"

Willow and Tara nodded, holding each other tightly. Giles gave her a gentle smile as he pushed his Slayer out the door. "Good... Tomorrow, then. Now don't keep Angel waiting any longer..."

"I'm gone..." She grabbed Riley's hand. They sped down the steps toward his Jeep and their future.