Culture Shock

AUTHOR: Loftyheights

DISCLAIMER: Buffy and Angel and all the other BtVS characters belong to Joss and the rest of his evil minions. Thanks, Mr. Whedon, for breaking all of our collective hearts over and over again! Why I still love you, I'll never know.

DISTRIBUTION: Just email me and you can have it.

SPOILERS: None, really. Some of the dialog in the first chapters is lifted from the episode "Incan Mummy Girl", but other than that, it's totally AU.

PAIRING: B/A

SUMMARY: The Summers family is hosting a foreign exchange student for Cultural Month and Buffy is none too enthused. But maybe her opinion will change when she finally meets her new guest...

RATING: PG-13 for now

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You know, I have a pretty good life going. I admit that the move from Los Angeles to Sunnydale was heinous and wrong to a spectacular degree, but things really didn't turn out so bad.

And yeah, it's hard to see myself skirting the social rejection curve the way I have been since I got here, but I made friends. Real friends. Friends who don't sleep with that jerk-bomb Taylor Fauste behind your back when they KNOW that you’ve been going out with him for WEEKS. Friends who don't look at you like you're diseased when you tearfully announce that your parents are getting a divorce. Friends who don't nod absently and agree with every dumb thing that comes out of your mouth just because you're popular.

Or was popular. Past tense and all.

Yes, it's true. I, Buffy Summers, am pretty much of the loser brigade now. Not that I would ever call Willow and Xander losers, because they're so not. They're the best friends I ever had and are dearer to me than my entire squadron of numb-faced zombie groupies I had back at Hemery. But they're just not going to be winning any popularity contests any time soon. And let's face it-- neither am I.

On the bright side, I'm not flunking all my classes for the first time since grade school! Major bonus points there. In fact, I have B's in almost all of my subjects now, if you can believe it. Except in math, in which the suck continues to rule with an iron fist. Also in history, but only because there's an extreme amount of dates that no one who isn't a ROBOT could possibly memorize. And okay, French? Not so good at that, either. All of those vowels... it gives me major wiggins.

So, yeah, maybe the B's in most of my classes is a tiny exaggeration, but who's counting?

Onward to bigger and better things, I say. Unfortunately, at the moment, bigger and better things means a school trip to the natural history museum and my mother inviting a COMPLETE STRANGER to live in my house.

Cultural exchange, pfft. More like cultural prison. All I know is that this is going to be the worst five weeks of my life. Except for maybe that one time I spent an entire summer of camp being referred to as "The Vomit Girl" because Lisette Morin made me laugh and I ended up puking up four hotdogs into our canoe.

But let's not talk about that.

Instead, I'll just whine some more!

"This is so unfair!"

Willow flashed me a sympathetic smile, but she doesn't seem to have grasped the absolute horror of the situation. "I don't think it's that bad."

Not that bad? PLEASE! "It's the uber-suck. Mom could have at least warned me." I DO live in the house and all. Shouldn't I get some say in whether weird immigrant people can stay there?

"Well, a lot of parents are doing it this year," Xander remarked. "It's part of this whole cultural exchange magilla. The exhibit, the dance..."

"I have the best costume for the dance!" Willow looked so excited. I guess the dance might be okay, but I'm too focused on the horror that is the cultural exchange program to really get into it.

"A complete stranger in my house for five weeks. I'm gonna be insane! A danger to myself and others within three days, I swear."

Willow and Xander exchange a look before he cuts in with, "I think the exchange student program's cool." I shot him a withering glance before he continued. "I do! It's a beautiful melding of two cultures."

Uh huh. I wonder how long it's going to take before he turns this conversation into something about sex. Xander's great and all, but sometimes he's got a major one-track mind. And WHY he doesn't hook up with Willow, who is clearly head over heels for him, is beyond me. Must be a guy thing. "Have you ever done an exchange program?"

Xander paused as if he was actually considering the question. "My dad tried to send me to some Armenians once. Does that count?"

I just shook my head and followed Willow up the steps into the museum. The first thing I noticed was Cordelia and her posse crowded around some book and making 'Ooo-ing' noises. I walked over to see what's the what just in time to hear Cordelia screech, "There's mine! Sven. Isn't he lunchable? Mine's definitely the best."

Sven? What? "What are you looking at?"

"Pictures of the exchange students. That's mine," she said, tapping a perfectly manicured nail on the picture of a strapping blonde guy with a neck the size of my waist. "100% Swedish, 100% gorgeous, 100% staying at my house! So how's yours? Visually, I mean."

They have pictures of the exchange students? "I don't know. Girl-like?"

Cordelia looks appalled. Her nose scrunched up and everything. God, what a drama-queen. "You chose a girl? Are you completely stupid? The purpose of the cultural exchange program is to introduce hot foreign boys to our stupid little town. Then they can fawn over their beautiful, female American hosts. Like me!"

Xander rolled his eyes. "I always thought it was about poor immigrant people coming to feed on our economy while pretending to be interested in our school system."

Cordelia didn't even glance up from her book before retorting with, "And I always thought that monkeys weren't allowed to reproduce with humans, and yet... here you are!"

I tried to ignore the whole exchange and turned to Willow. "I've had enough learning for today. Let's go check out the gift shop!"

"But-- then we'll miss the Incan mummy exhibit! And the mastodons. Don't you want to see the mastodons?"

Hmm. Tough question. "No." I turned to Xander. "What's a mastodon?"

"Some kind of bird?"

Willow is looking at us strangely. "It's a prehistoric mammal. They're distant relatives of--"

"Ooo! Pretzels!" I blurt out.

Mmm. Saved by the snack-cart.

--------------------------------

"How was school today, honey?"

Whenever mom picks me up from school, we get to have a few minutes of quality family bonding time. I'm not very good at the whole bonding part of it, though.

"Fine."

Uh-oh. She's giving me the look. That scrunched brow and pursed lips always mean I'm doing my annoying teenage daughter act and she's not impressed.

"I think you can tell me a little more than that, can't you? How was the field trip?"

"It was fun. And also educational. There was even a shriveled up dead girl. I was very moved."

"Buff~y." Sometimes she says my name in two very pronounced syllables. This is never a good thing. "Must you be so sarcastic all the time?"

Yes, I must. "Sorry."

"Mmm-hmm. Well, are you excited about our guest coming tonight?"

You mean the strange freak-girl coming to steal my clothes, eat all my food, and monopolize the bathroom? I can't wait!

Not.

"Oh... uh... sure, Mom."

She's glancing over at me, so I try my best to muster a fake smile. I'm pretty sure I just look constipated.

"You don't sound very enthusiastic, Buffy."

"No, I am. I really am. We'll probably become the best of friends. It'll be like a month-long sleepover!"

Ugh. I'm guessing justifiable homicide within one week.

Tops.

Mom gives me a smile as we pull into the driveway. "I'm sure you two will get along great."

"What's this girl's name, anyway?"

She looks surprised by that question. "Didn't I tell you?"

"No."

"Oh. I'm sorry, Buffy. I've just been a little stressed lately because of next week's opening at the gallery. I was sure I had mentioned it to you. Her name is Angel and she's from Ireland. Isn't that exciting?"

"Very exciting."

Angel from Ireland. Blech.

I hate cultural exchange month.

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"She's staying in my ROOM!"

I've tried and tried to explain to Willow the many ways the cultural exchange program is going to ruin my life, but she just doesn't get it. I think all that knowledge she insists on having is monopolizing her brain cells, thus preventing her from understanding the absolute horror of having a stranger sleeping in your room for a month.

"But... maybe you'll really like her! Maybe she'll be really, um, cool and stuff. Ooo! You can teach her about America. And also the Constitution!"

I actually have to pull the phone away from my ear and look at it strangely after that reply. The Constitution? "Uh, Wills? I want to get her out of my house, not induce coma."

Willow lets out a humorous 'Ffft' sound. I'm not sure if that means she agrees with me or not. "Fine. But you can at least show her around Sunnydale. Oh, hey! We can take her to the Bronze!"

"Willow, you have completely failed to grasp the point of my desperate phone call," I explain patiently. "I don't want to be friends with her! I have two perfectly good friends already with you and Xander. I just want to convince Mom that having her stay at the Motel 6 instead of in my house really embodies what the American experience is all about. We'll be teaching her independence and self-reliance! And nothing says 'Welcome to America!' like a vibrating bed."

"Buffy, don't you think you're being a little unfair about the whole thing? This girl is leaving behind her family and all of her friends t-to... come to some strange, foreign country where she doesn't know anyone! And she has to ride one of those stinky buses all by herself! And... and--"

Jeez. She really knows how to lay it on thick, doesn't she?

"Okay, okay! Enough with the guilt trip. I won't send her away to live in a tent somewhere. But I'm not going to teach her how to do anything American. If she wants to learn how to plant corn and start a capitalist democracy, she's going to have to watch Martha Stewart like the rest of us."

"Buffy--"

"I know. I'm going now. Bye, Wills."

"Bye."

Well, that was completely non-productive. Maybe I should have called Xander?

Er, no. He probably would have suggested that Angel should stay at his house. In his bed. Or something equally perverted.

"Buffy? Can I come in?"

Great. Time for another 'Aren't you excited about having to give up all your privacy and have some strange girl snore away at the foot of your bed while you're trying to sleep!' speech from the parental figure.

"Sure, Mom."

She closes the door behind her and comes and sits next to me on the bed. She looks so happy I almost feel bad about being such a brat about the whole thing.

"Aren't you excited about having Angel come stay with us!"

UGH. Scratch that whole 'feeling bad' part.

"I just don't understand why she has to stay in my room."

She's really perfected the 'don't start' look. I've become quite familiar with it recently. "Buffy, we've been over this. She's going to be our guest, and we don't have guests sleep on the couch. Now, I'm sure you'll be perfectly comfortable on the cot, and--"

"What?!" Cot? COT?! Nuh-uh, there is NO WAY that Little Miss Leprechaun is going to steal MY BED and force me to sleep on some dingy metal... death trap! "I am SO not sleeping on a cot!"

"Well, we're certainly not going to make Angel sleep on it!"

Um, yes we ARE!

"No. No way! I'm not giving up my bed. This wasn't even my idea!"

"Buffy, this girl has traveled thousands of miles to get a better education and visit a new country. And she's going to be a guest in our house, whether you like it or not! Stop being so selfish."

Oh, so now it's SELFISH not to want some weird immigrant to drool all over your pillows? "Selfish?!"

"Yes, selfish! Now, we're leaving to pick her up from the bus station in ten minutes and you're going to show some maturity, young lady. I expect you on your best behavior... or else no cheerleading tryouts this year!"

"Mo~om!"

"I mean it, Buffy."

She's giving me that look again. God, this is SO not happening.

"Ugh! Fine! I'll be Good Buffy."

"Thank you. I know this is hard for you, Buffy, but I really think this will be a good experience for you. And who knows? You might really like Angel."

Yeah, like THAT's going to happen.

Life is so unfair.

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The bus station smells like urine.

I'm sorry, but it does. It's disgusting, and smelly, and I really don't want to be here. And WHY is that guy with no teeth grinning at me? Ick.

"Honey, stay close to me, alright?"

Mom looks really weirded out. Not that I blame her. I feel like I need a shower just standing here. "Do you see her?"

"I don't know what she looks like, sweetie. But there aren't exactly a lot of teenage girls here, so she shouldn't be too hard to find."

I nod and half-heartedly look around the open lobby. What would an Irish girl named Angel look like? I have this mental picture of someone who looks like Willow, only snooty and with bad teeth, but I'm sure that's being generous...

"Excuse me, are you Mrs. Summers?"

I must have jumped three feet in the air. What kind of asshole walks up behind someone and scares them like that? I whirl around and plant a glare on this jerk, but then I SEE him and my mouth drops open like a fish, because OH. MY. GOD.

Let's say that the most beautiful woman in the world fell in love with the sexiest man on the planet. Then they had a son. They named this son 'Hottie McHotness'. If they let this son grow up for seventeen or eighteen years, he'd probably end up looking a lot like this guy.

He's SO hot, the words 'Hubba Hubba' actually flit through my mind, as if I were transported into the 1950's and half of my brain cells were killed off.

Am I babbling? Yes.

Down, Buffy.

But.... Mmm. Yum.

"Yes, I'm Joyce Summers. Are you-- are you with the Exchange Program? Has Angel's plane been delayed?"

Mr. McHotness looks a little nervous. Maybe he'd relax if I smiled at him? Or maybe he'd think I was a weirdo and--

"Uh, actually I'm Angel. It's nice to meet you."

Okay, my brain is moving very slowly at this point, but two thoughts are bumbling around in my head. Number one: Has there ever been a sexier voice? I think not. Deep and rumbly with just a touch of an accent. Swoon.

Number two: OH MY GOD, THIS MAN IS STAYING AT MY HOUSE!

"You're Angel? But I thought-- I mean, we thought you..." Mom looks completely shocked. "You were supposed to be a girl."

Hottie McHotne-- er, Angel, quirks a half-smile and please excuse me while I fall over and DIE. "My mum didn't really think things through when she named me Angel. If it's any consolation, this has actually been a frequent occurrence in my life. But I'm proud to say I was the high scorer on the Junior Girls Footballing team in the third grade."

Hee. That even got a smile out of my mom, although she still looks a little bit shell-shocked. "I see. Well, Angel... I'm Mrs. Summers and this is my daughter, Buffy."

"Hello, Buffy."

Hello, Angel. Your bottom lip is so inviting. Would you mind if I sucked on it? And oh GOD, I can't believe I just thought that. "Hi."

Mom still looks a little dubious, but she seems to have composed herself. "Well... I guess you'll be staying with us, then. Welcome to America!"

And as I stare at Angel's butt while we're walking out to the Jeep, I finally understand the whole 'beautiful melding of two cultures' thing.

And the exchange program? Really not so bad, after all.

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"And this is the living room!" Mom really gets into the whole 'tour' thing. I'm surprised Angel hasn't fallen down dead after the twenty-minute lecture on how to operate the microwave. "You can use the TV in here anytime you like. We keep the remote on the coffee table. You just have to press the 'power' button after making sure the cable box is on..."

Let me just tune out for a minute to appreciate Angel's dress sense. No frumpy T-shirts or baggy pants in sight. And the two shirt buttons open at the throat? Rrrow.

"... and we'll set you up a nice bed here on the couch, so you can--"

What?! Oh no, there's NO way she's getting out of this now. "Mom! Angel is our guest, and we don't have guests sleep on the couch. We've already got everything set up for him upstairs, remember?"

She's shooting me a withering glare, but I only smile back at her cheekily. "I just thought he'd be more comfortable with his own space, honey..."

Pfft. You're just afraid Angel and I will accidentally see each other in our underwear. And by 'accidentally', I mean on purpose. "Please. He'd be WAY more comfortable on a real bed."

Or cot. Just because he's a hottie doesn't mean I'll give up my down comforter without a fight. Or maybe we could share...

Oops, bad thoughts.

"Wherever you'd like me would be fine. I'd be perfectly happy on the couch if it makes you uncomfortable--" Angel interrupts.

Ahhh. I will never get over that voice, I swear.

"We've already got a cot made up with our nice sheets and everything. Come on." I grab his hand and that pleasant tingly feeling I've had in my stomach since the bus station fans out to my arms and legs. I manage to tamp down the sudden urge to lick his fingers and instead drag him up the stairs to my bedroom.

We stop in the doorway and he glances around curiously. "It's nice."

I nod absently and before I can stop myself-- "You have really big hands."

And oh GOD! Did those words actually come out of my mouth?!

"Um, thanks."

"I didn't mean that in a weird way."

"I know."

"I don't even know why I said it."

"It's alright."

"Sorry." I look around the room desperately for something to change the subject with. I end up gesturing vaguely towards the half-made metal contraption at the foot of the bed. "So, um, this is your cot."

Gah. Why don't I just throw myself out the window and get it over with?

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After a few minutes of awkward silence, Angel seemed more than willing to forgive my little outburst, so we went downstairs to get his things. He only had one suitcase and a duffel bag despite the fact he's going to be here for a month, so we got it up to my room in one trip.

Mom came up before I could totally humiliate myself again and immediately started up with extremely detailed instructions on how to turn on the hot water in the shower. Apparently, 'turn the faucet in the direction labeled HOT' would not be sufficient. I was waiting for her to break out a pen and paper and start drawing a diagram, but she managed to restrain herself.

Once she left, I cleared out one of my drawers for Angel to put his stuff in and once again bravely attempted the fine art of conversation.

"Sorry about the teeniness of the room."

Angel paused in the middle of folding one of his shirts to answer. "I thought it was pretty big, actually. I have to split my dorm back in Galway with three other guys, so this is quite a step up for me."

"Dorm room? Aren't you in high school?"

"I attend an all-boys preparatory school. We have on campus housing."

I now have a mental picture of Angel wearing a cute navy blazer and a tie. And although my subconscious Dress-Up Angel likes to dance for me, he doesn't seem to enjoy wearing pants. Must be a European thing. "Do you have uniforms?"

"Not really, no. Does the high school here?"

Like I would ever be caught DEAD in a uniform. "No, thank God. Pleated skirts? SO not my thing." He's smiling that little half-smile. Always mysterious, my Hottie McHotness. "I don't know. I think you could pull it off."

Okay, is he flirting with me? Because that sounded like flirting. Unless I'm just a pathetic freak who reads WAY too much into things, which is also quite probable. "So... what's it like back home?"

He looks thoughtful. And also hot. And GOD, I have such a one-track mind. "It's quieter. Slower. But Galway is a lot bigger than Sunnydale. It just doesn't... seem big, I guess. And it's nowhere near as sunny. Sometimes you can go for months without seeing blue sky."

Well that explains the pale skin. I think I'm going to have to drag him to the beach and let him work on his tan. Maybe I can bring some lotion and offer to rub him down and--

Oh GOD. I'm becoming XANDER! Ick.

Ick. Ick. ICK.

"That sounds majorly depressing."

"I kind of like it."

"Why?"

"I don't know. I just always have." He's giving me a look. "You're not really interested in this, are you?"

PLEASE. He could be reading the phone book and I'd be interested. "Yes I am! I really am. This is me being interested girl."

He looks skeptical, but I think he's going to relent. "Well, even if you have terrible weather all day... right before evening comes, the sun always manages to dip under the clouds right before it sinks into the Atlantic. It's strangely comforting to be able to have different weather 365 days a year, but always have the same sunset."

I'm not going to say something stupid and swoony now.

Nope.

Not going to....

"Sunsets are pretty!"

ARGH!

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"Good morning, sweetie. Did you have a good night?"

By 'good', do you mean did I crawl under the sheets and put a pillow over my head in mortification after acting like a spooge for an hour?

Because, yes. Yes I did.

"Sure, Mom."

"Are you getting along with Angel?"

Absolutely! In fact, I've already introduced him to my identical twin, Muffy the Verbally Challenged Spinster Wench. The three of us are like old pals now. "We're great."

Despite my little bout with diarrhea of the mouth last night, I'm in a surprisingly good mood. I feel great, I look great, and I'm even looking forward to school for the first time since... well, for the first time.

We're going in a little early today so that Angel can fill out his schedule and I can give him the rundown on American public education. After all, what kind of host would I be if I didn't walk our guest to all of his classes and show him which foods (and I use that term loosely) to eat in the cafeteria?

And of course, I'll have to introduce him to all of my friends. It just wouldn't do to have him wandering around all by his lonesome without knowing anyone, now would it?

"Good morning, Mrs. Summers. Hello, Buffy."

Did I mention that Angel had just gotten out of the shower? And that I had used the soap before he did? So in some indirect and cosmic way, his soap was touching my soap, and it was a whole... soap... thing.

Um. Anyway.

He was up there, in the shower, all wet and covered in--

"Juice!" Ack! Stop saying weird things, self! "I mean, do you want some juice?"

"Please."

I got up to root around in the fridge while Angel sat down at the counter and waited. "What kind would you like? We've got orange juice and... chicken broth. And also lumpy milk that smells like feet."

"Tempting, but I think I'll have to go with orange juice."

"That's probably wise. Although if you change your mind about the milk, I can get you a fork so you can eat it right out of the carton."

Mom is giving me a look from over her newspaper. "Very funny, Buffy. I'm going to the grocery store tonight and I'll get some new milk then, okay?"

"Oh, hey! Maybe we could go to Costco and bring Angel? Then we could show him the time-honored American tradition of buying ten-gallon jars of mayonnaise."

Mom just rolled her eyes and smiled patiently. "I'm sure he'd just love that. Now, we really should get you two kids to school." She glanced over at Angel, who was drinking his juice quietly. "Do you have everything you need for your first day?"

"I think so."

"Good. If you need anything else, we'll help you pick it out tonight, okay? And I'm sure Buffy will be happy to show you where everything is at the school."

"Oh, definitely." The seat next to me in English? Check. The seat next to me in Chem? Check. The seat next to me in Algebra? Check. The seat next to--

"I appreciate it."

And I appreciate YOU in those jeans. Yowza.

"Okay then, you two! Get your stuff and let's go." You know what? I'm suddenly filled with an intense desire to learn and better myself! If this is what Willow feels like everyday, no wonder she's got such a yen for knowledge.

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I watched Mom's Jeep pull away from the curb feeling like I was ten and it was Christmas morning. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, and when I turn around, I see Angel bending over to tie his shoe.

I feel a sudden urge to pinch, but I don't think molestation is appropriate 'welcome-to-your-first-day-of-school' behavior.

So I'll just think about it, instead.... Mmm. Firm.

"So this is where you go to school?"

"Yep. Good old Sunnydale High. Hotbed of social intrigue. And occasionally some people learn stuff here, too." I look up and follow his gaze out across the courtyard towards the main doors. There were a few people here and there, but otherwise it was pretty deserted. "So, what do you think?"

"It's amazing. My school's only about a third this size."

"We in California like to build really, really big and expensive buildings. That way it will be much more dramatic when an earthquake happens and knocks everything down." I smile at him and we start walking up the path. "And hey, this is your school now, too, you know."

"I guess that's true."

"So... first day. Are you nervous?"

"Aye. A little. I usually tend to keep to myself."

I find it so amusing that he says things like 'Aye'. He reminds me of Popeye, only hot and with arms and legs proportionate to his body.

Now if only I could get him into a sailor uniform...

"That's okay, I'm sure you'll do fine here. I'll introduce you to my friends later, too."

"That sounds great. Thank you." We stop walking at the entrance to the school and he reaches out to hold the door open for me. I feel silly and girly and happy all at once. I'm trying not to grin like an idiot, but it's really, really hard.

"Thanks." I pointed to an open door on the left side of the hallway. "That's the Administration Office. We should be able to pick up your schedule in there."

We both walk into the office, but there's no one behind the Registrar's desk. I peek into some of the adjoining offices, but there's no one there, either. I guess the administrators here are just as excited about coming to school as the students are. Which is to say... not excited.

"Why is there a pig in here?"

I turn around and see Angel leaning over the cage to our mascot. It was making weird pig noises, which I guess isn't unusual since it's, you know... a pig. They tend to make pig-like sounds.

"That's Herbert, our school mascot. He's on loan from the State Fair until he's 'fattened up'," I say, and then think about that for a moment. "So I guess eventually we're going to have to change our name from the Sunnydale Razorbacks to the Sunnydale 'Soon to be Delicious Pork Products'."

It doesn't really have the same intimidation factor as the Razorbacks, but it's slightly better than the Sunnydale 'Mmm! Bacon!'.

Angel laughed, a real laugh and not one of his lopsided smirks, and I have to chew on my bottom lip to keep from biting him. Yes, biting. With TEETH.

What is WRONG with me? Ugh.

"What are you two doing in here?"

Angel and I both whirl around and come face to face with Ms. Lenowitz, the Office Manager. She's holding a donut in one hand and a horrible orange purse in the other. There's a bright red smudge of lipstick all over her front teeth.

A big part of me wants to tell her 'Hey, you know.. you’ve got lipstick on your teeth!’ but Ms. Lenowitz is a very large woman and I'm afraid she might eat me. "Um, we were just here to pick up a schedule."

She looked at me skeptically for a moment before turning towards Angel and squinting. "Name?"

"Uh, Angel Cormac. I'm one of the exchange students."

This was the first time I had actually heard his last name, but I'm going to pretend that I didn't start fantasizing about the many attractive ways to write "Buffy Cormac".

Even though I did.

A lot.

Or maybe I'll do a hyphen thing? 'Buffy Summers-Cormac'? Or does that sound pretentious?

And WHEN did I become a psychopath? I really need to stop thinking about this.

"Let me just see if I can find you in the computer."

Ms. Lenowitz walked (waddled) over to the Registrar's desk and sat down behind the keyboard. She tapped on a few keys and the printer started up. Once the schedule was finished, she pulled it out from the paper tray and checked it over.

Angel looked mildly disgusted when she handed it to him because she'd left a big smear of donut grease all over the side of it. It was pretty gross, actually.

I was about to interrogate him on what classes he had, but Principal Snyder chose that very moment to stalk through the door. He made it halfway to his office before he noticed us. "Summers. What did you do wrong this time?"

How I hate you, Tiny Rat-like Man.

"This is Mr.Cormac. He's one of the foreign exchange students," Ms. Lenowitz announced, surprisingly coming to our rescue.

He looked at Angel darkly and frowned. "Ah, yes. Another post-pubescent underachiever to stain the halls of this institution with his dazzling mediocrity. How nice."

Gee. Leave it to Snyder to offer up some good old-fashioned Nazi hospitality.

Angel seemed to take it in stride, though. "Nice to meet you, too, sir."

Snyder stared disdainfully in our direction and made some sort of odd snorting noise before disappearing into his pathetic office. Angel stared at his now-closed door for a few seconds before breaking the silence. "He's very friendly."

Yes, friendly in much the same manner as cannibals and wild dogs. "I know. The first time I met Snyder he forced my two best friends and me to take part in the school talent contest. We ended up completely embarrassing ourselves in front of the whole class. People referred to me as 'Speech Impediment Girl' for weeks."

although, usually there were more words in front of it. These included such classic gems as 'Freakish Speech Impediment Girl' and 'Oh no! Here Comes Speech Impediment Girl!'.

"Sounds harsh. Is the entire faculty this pleasant?"

"No, it's just Snyder. I'm pretty sure he has rabies." Either that or he's just bitter about his rapidly expanding forehead.

Angel and I grab our things and his newly printed schedule and start walking towards the quad. Most of the students are here by now and I can see Cordelia and her entourage of giggling minions standing around the soda machine.

I tamp down the wicked grin that wants to erupt on my face and try to inconspicuously steer Angel towards her. But only because I want to promote the friendly exchange of culture between nations, of course.

Yes.

That's it....

Okay, so it was more of a 'Behold my delicious man-friend and his buns of steel!' thing. Sue me.

Luckily, common sense kicked in after a few steps in her direction and I realized that introducing Angel to Cordelia was a very bad idea. She may be a bitch, but she's also popular, rich, and perfect looking. I really don't feel like ruining my good day by having other people hit on my Scrumptious Irish Treat.

So instead I maneuver him outside and towards the picnic tables where I usually meet Willow and Xander during lunch.

I gesture for Angel to sit before I plop down next to him. "Let me see your schedule."

Angel hands it over silently, and I grab it by the very edges to avoid getting donut glaze all over my new manicure.

I quickly scan the list of his classes before I make an embarrassing shrieking noise that sounds an awful like a dying cat.

He only has TWO classes with me. TWO! Out of SIX. And one of them is stupid P.E., where the boys are separated from the girls, anyway.

And although I AM excited about the prospect of seeing him in our cute maroon gym shorts, it's not enough to console me over the fact that I'm going to have four Angel-less classes.

That's four hours of wasted quality Angel-Time!

FOUR.

As in, WITHOUT Angel.

As in, Angel in classes with OTHER people.

Who AREN'T me.

Blech.

I hope Ms. Lenowitz chokes on her donut.

----------------------------------------------------------------

I was still in a little bit of a funk over the heinous scheduling nightmare when I showed Angel to his first class. But I started to feel better when I realized that I had first period with Willow. What better time to update my best friend on the exciting new developments in the life of Buffy?

"Hey Wills!" I plopped down in my desk and grinned in much the same manner that crazy people do. "What's the what?" Willow looked at me suspiciously for a moment. "Um, why are you so happy?"

"No reason."

"Buff~y." My Mom may be the master at the two syllables 'I know you're up to something' pronunciation of my name, but Willow is no slouch at it, either.

"What? Can't a girl just be happy? I mean, who DOESN'T get excited about chemistry? All those fun elements just waiting to be memorized..."

Willow looked at me as if I had grown another head before her eyes widened comically in surprise. "You got out of the student exchange program!"

"Nope. In fact, I'm kind of jonesing on the whole 'exchange of cultures' thing. This is my opportunity to expand my horizons and learn interesting customs and traditions from foreign nations!"

"... You met a guy!"

Willow is pretty smart, I have to admit.

"I did. There was a guy. Of which I met."

"Tell me!" Willow looks so excited. It's a true testament to the pathetic ness of our dating lives that simply MEETING a guy is cause for extreme giddiness.

"Well, he's tall... and dark... and has... two ears." I knew I was teasing her, but I didn't care.

"Buffy!" Willow screeched. Really loudly. Half the class swiveled in their seats to look at us, and we both tried to sink behind our desks.

Our Chemistry teacher tipped his glasses down to glare at us. "Is there something you want to share with us, Ms. Rosenberg? Or can I begin the lecture?"

"Um, you can start."

"Thank you. Alright, class. Yesterday, we went over how to find the atomic number of an element--"

I was halfway listening when Willow threw a little balled up piece of paper at the side of my head. I jerked back like a spaz before I realized it was a note.

I pretended to yawn before reaching down and grabbing it off the floor. I smoothed it out on the desk and read over what she had written:

//Is he cute?//

She had two little checkboxes underneath it. One said 'Yes' and the other had 'No'. I shook a little trying not to laugh before drawing three huge, red circles around the 'Yes' and writing 'UNDERSTATEMENT' is all capitals underneath it.

I toss it back at her gently and she gives me a happy smile after reading it. I mouth the word 'Later' at her and she nods before we both turn back towards the board and pretend to be interested in atoms.

---------------------------------------------------------------

"TELL ME!"

"Willow! Calm down. You're getting hypersonic and it really isn't even a big deal."

"Yes it is! It's a big, huge, giant deal! Full of... of bigness! I couldn't even concentrate on my chemistry notes--"

"Wills, you wrote TWO pages. Front and back!"

Admittedly, that's not a lot for her. My notes, on the other hand, usually consist of my name and the date, plus some very educational stick people in the margins. Sometimes I branch off into hangman games, but I usually reserve those for algebra...

"That-- that's not the point. The point is that you met a guy and--"

"Whoa! What... Buffy met a guy? When? Why-- why would you do that?" Xander has a way of suddenly appearing and interrupting girl talk. And he's making a weird face. It's not THAT far-fetched that I might actually meet someone, is it?

"Yeah! Isn't that great?" Willow answered.

"Sure. Great. Now, Buff, when you say 'guy'... you mean big, brotherly, and old, right?"

"First of all, WHAT are you talking about? Second, Willow, you're seriously blowing this out of proportion. And PLEASE don't say anything weird when he shows up, okay?"

"Shows up? You mean he goes here?" Willow asked excitedly. "Yep. Today is his first day. I told him to meet me here after his first period so I could show him where the gym is. He's in our class."

"Today's his first day?" Xander asked. "So, where was he getting his schooling before now? Prison, right? Or maybe he just had to take time off to be with his eleven illegitimate children and--"

"Angel!" Being short can be an extreme pain when you're frantically trying to wave someone down in a crowded hallway. I try to tone down the jumping and flailing when I notice several people looking at me as if I'm having some sort of seizure. "Over here!"

Angel saw me and is now picking his way through the crowds and over towards the three of us. And my oh my, I love the way he walks. It's almost more of a... lope.

And I've always been a fan of a good lope.

"Hey Buffy."

"Hi! How was your first class?"

"Good. Miss Swenson seemed very nice."

Oh DID she? Could that possibly be because Miss Swenson is a big giant HO?

Oh, wait... isn't she sixty-five? Gah.

"That's nice." Willow cleared her throat loudly and then waggled her eyebrows at me in a completely unsubtle manner. "Oh, right! Angel, I want you to meet my best buds Willow and Xander. Guys, this is Angel."

"Hi! N-nice to meet you!" Willow greeted cheerfully. "You've got an accent! But-- but not in a bad way. In more of a 'Top O' the Mornin' to Ya!' kinda way. And I'm shutting up now."

Angel smiled patiently and shook her hand. "Pleased to meet you."

He's just so very polite. You could bring him home to Mom without ever worrying about him, like, picking his nose at dinner... or stealing your silverware... or scratching himself with your expensive salad tongs...

"So, Angel..." Xander interrupted my inner musings. "If that's your REAL name, of course. How long have you been on parole?"

"Xander!" He did NOT just ask that!

He at least managed to look sheepish. "What? I'm just making conversation..."

I rolled my eyes at him before smiling up at Angel. "Angel is from Ireland. He's staying at my house for the cultural exchange program."

Willow and Xander's mouths dropped open in shock.

"But he's got boy parts!" Xander blurted. "And... and... he's not so much a girl. Weren't you supposed to have a girl? We should take him back."

"He's not a SWEATER, Xander," I mutter. What is WITH him today?

"Hey, I'm just saying I bet they'll exchange him for you... 'cause, you know, it IS an exchange program."

Willow shot him a look. "We just thought you were going to be a girl. But here you are in a boy way! And that's nice, too."

"I think my name being 'Angel' confused some people at the program office," Angel explained. "I checked the box that said 'Male' under 'Sex', I swear."

And I'd like to check the box that says 'male' under YOUR sex, too.

... and I'm a horrible, horrible pervert!

When I lived in LA, there was a subway station that I used to get to the mall on weekends. Sometimes there was this weird guy there who used to carry around these two ferrets.

He also had major B.O., but that isn't really part of the story.

Anyway, Ferret Guy used to slither up to girls in the subway terminal and say, "I'm diiiiiirrrrtty!" and then leer at them before security dragged him away.

The moral of the story?

If this keeps up, in ten years I'm going to BE that guy.

But I've decided against having ferrets. And also B.O. Just because you're a subway perv doesn't mean you can't maintain certain standards of hygiene...

"Summers. I should have known you'd be loitering in the halls instead of actually migrating with the rest of the mindless herd towards your next class. After all, it's quite clear that simple instruction is well beyond your realm of comprehension." Principal Snyder had apparently snuck up behind me while I was busy feeling like a lecherous old maid. I could feel him pinning the back of my head with his patented 'Glare of Doom'.

I wish he'd slither back under his rock and die.

"We were just going," I mumble before grabbing Angel's arm and tugging him along behind me. I try to restrain myself from groping his bicep.

Wills and Xander trudge along after us, and once we were out of earshot, I heard Xander shout back, "I love your hair, Snyder! All six of them!"

I was very amused.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

"So you're one of the exchange students, huh? You look like you're in pretty good shape! Nice to have you in my class!" Coach Foster punctuated her greeting by slapping Angel in the ribs. Three times. He tried to smile politely, but kept glancing at me as if I could explain her behavior. I just shrugged. "It's good to see you've got some meat on you!"

You know what else would be good to see on Angel? Delicious chocolate sauce.

"Angel doesn't have his gym uniform yet," Willow reminded her.

"We'll just have to get him one, now won't we!" Coach replied. She blew into the stainless steel whistle she had hanging around her neck and made a sound come out of it that probably killed many nearby dogs. "Rodney Munson, get your skinny ass over here!"

Willow and Xander both grimaced, and I wondered what was up. "Who's Rodney Munson?" I whispered.

"He's... a boy," Willow supplied.

"Oh really? I thought that had never been proven," Xander muttered.

Angel and I gave the two of them an odd look, and Willow adjusted her backpack nervously. "He's kind of..."

"Dumb?" Xander finished.

Willow looked alarmed. "No! No. It's not that he's dumb, it's just that... he's... slower... than some people."

"But smarter than most monkeys!" Xander added sarcastically.

Willow nodded. "Yeah! J-Just not the ones that know, like, sign language. Because those monkeys are REALLY smart."

This didn't sound good. "Is he really that bad?"

"Just don't make any sudden moves," Willow instructed.

Xander snorted and shook his head. "Yeah. He might confuse you for a savory turkey and start gnawing on your arms and legs."

I don't THINK so! If anyone's gonna be nibbling on Angel, it's going to be ME.

Rodney slunk up to Coach Foster and hunched his shoulders. She slapped him on the back and he staggered forward a few feet and made a strangled whimpering sound. "Nice of you to join us, Rodney!" she said, before turning towards us. "We're playing softball today, and we're not supposed to let Mr. Munson here anywhere near the aluminum bats. So since he has to sit out anyway, I think it would be a great idea for him to show Angel around the boys' locker room and help him pick up his gym clothes!"

Willow looked vaguely ill, but Xander suddenly had a strange smile on his face.

I wasn't liking this idea at all.

Rodney made a non-committal grunt, and Coach Foster grinned at him. "'Atta boy! You two gentlemen get to it, then. The rest of you, hit the lockers and get dressed. I expect you out on the field in ten minutes!"

I tried to catch Angel's eye to offer him an encouraging smile, but he was too busy watching in sick fascination as Rodney began to chew at a scab on his hand.

Willow tugged at my sleeve, and I reluctantly started towards the girls' locker room.

But let me tell you something... if Rodney even THINKS about touching Angel, he's going to be nibbling on a LOT bigger scab.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

"This whole student exchange thing has been a horrible nightmare."

Gym lockers are (unfortunately) given out alphabetically according to first name. Which means that mine is right between Aphrodesia Vargas, Aura Glidden, and Cordelia Chase. The three of them were lumped together and having what might be called a 'conversation', but was probably more similar to a scene from 'Valley Girls'.

"Excuse me," I mutter, trying to squeeze between them to put my bag down. I kept my eyes glued to the floor in hope that this would prevent them from trying to include me in their little chat.

Of course, life can never be that kind.

"Oh. It's Buffy," Aura drawled, before clicking her tongue at me. "Nice outfit."

I glanced down at my blue sleeveless tank and black embroidered skirt self-consciously. And okay, so maybe it WASN'T straight out of the Versace spring catalogue, but it's not like I was wearing castoffs from the CK 'Destitute Bag-Lady' collection.

"I love those shoes you're wearing, Buffy," Cordelia pitched in. "It's obvious you shop at only the finest garage sales."

"As opposed to you, who shops exclusively at Abercrombie and Bitch." Nobody insults my favorite Chinese Laundry heels!

She narrowed her eyes at me, but I just smiled and started changing. "Humph. Before you so rudely interrupted, we were TRYING to have a conversation."

"Don't let me stop you," I mutter, before carefully tugging off my beloved shoes and setting them inside my locker. Poor babies. Did the mean, scary lady hurt your feelings?

"Oh trust me, I won't," she remarked, before turning back to her friends. "So like I was saying, the exchange program is a total nightmare. They don't even speak American!"

I try to stifle my grin. Just because I ended up with Lord Luscious the Savory Irish Bon-Bon doesn't mean I have the right to enjoy the misfortune of others. Even if they HAVE been rubbing their 'Swedish Boy Wonder' in your face for the past two days.

now, hopefully Rodney Munson has been keeping his teeth to himself. Because if I see just ONE bite mark on Angel's perfect skin, there won't be a protective cup on this EARTH big enough to protect his groin from my size six heels...

"STRIKE THREE!"

I SUCK at softball.

If you went into a pet store and found the cutest, smallest kitten they had and then gave it a baseball bat, it would probably be a better hitter than I am.

"That was a good swing, Buffy! You almost had a hit!"

Yep. I ALMOST had a hit. But instead I publicly humiliated myself! Isn't it great how things work out like that?

Willow is so sweet, though. And she understands my pain because she's just as bad at it as I am. "Thanks, Wills."

The two of us trudge over to the far-side dugout to pick up our disgusting, sweaty gloves. Which is another part of softball that one can't help loving! There's just no feeling like sticking your hand inside something that thousands and thousands of other people have perspired in.

We make our way to our designated position, which happens to be about 200 feet into the outfield and far, far away from anywhere a ball might be hit. This part really isn't so bad... you can pretty much just ignore everything that's going on and talk.

"So-- Angel! He's nice!" Willow starts. I know she's been dying to do this since after Chemistry.

"Mmm. I guess he's nice," I reply coyly, even though it’s painfully obvious I'm absolutely crazy about the boy. "He has a certain... Angel-ish quality to him."

"I guess his eyes are okay," Willow plays along. "If you don't mind the whole 'soulful and gorgeous' thing. That gets really old."

"And his perfect, muscular arms? Well... I guess I could make due," I add regretfully. "A girl has to make sacrifices."

"And I suppose his lips are more or less adequate."

"Oh boy," I sigh, totally giving up the game. "Don't even get me started on his lips."

I'd like to dedicate a monument to his lips. I'll call it 'Sexy Man-Lips: Property of Buffy'.

"So I guess this is why you were suddenly so happy about the exchange program in chemistry?"

"Oh yeah. I'm really embracing the whole 'I'll show you my culture if you show me yours' deal now. How could I have been so close-minded and self-involved? For shame."

"Are you going to ask him to the dance tomorrow night?"

Wow, I totally spaced about the dance. That's the first time THAT's ever happened. "I completely forgot about the dance. I'll have to find some way to trick him into going with me."

"Um, like maybe asking him?"

"Sure, if you want to do it the EASY way. I was thinking about putting a Roman toga at the bottom of the stairs and hoping he'll trip and fall into it."

"That sounds kind of violent."

True. He won't be a very good dancer if his arms and legs are broken. Methinks I'll have to revise my plan. "You're right. So what should I do, then?"

"Ask him?"

"Besides asking him."

"... ask him nicely?"

Boy, she's just a regular spring eternal of ideas, isn't she?

"Willow! I can't just ask him."

"Why not?"

"Probably for the same reason that you haven't asked XANDER."

"Oh. THAT reason," she mumbled, looking sheepish. "But you're-- you're 'seize the day' girl! Who... who seizes things!"

"BELIEVE me, Wills. There's a LOT of parts on that boy that I would love to be seizing. Repeatedly. With POLAROIDS. But sometimes a more subtle approach is needed..."

"Okay. So... what are you going to dress him up as?"

"I haven't decided yet. But I've definitely narrowed down the field to only include cultures that embrace the loincloth."

"So 'Russian Czar' is probably out of the question? Because my grandma has this old fur hat--"

"Was there a 'Czar Nicholas the Thong'?"

"Um, not that I'm aware of."

"Then no."

"BLONDIE! RED! GET YOUR BUTTS BACK TO THE DUGOUT!"

I see that charm school course that Coach Foster has been taking is really working out well for her.

Willow and I jog back to the infield and stop at the drinking fountain. Once everyone in front of us has taken a drink, I hold my hair back, tilt my head to the side, and lean down to take a sip.

It was at this very moment that I see Angel walking towards me. In little maroon shorts.

Shorts.

Little maroon ones.

LITTLE MAROON SHORTS.

I twist the handle in surprise, and a giant jet of water sprays my face and drips down onto my T-shirt. I jump back in shock and a big, wet, limp clump of my hair flops down over my mouth. I'm fairly sure I look remarkably like a drowned rat.

Angel stops right in front of me, looking concerned. We stare at each other for a few seconds before he gestures vaguely to my dripping face and says, "Uh, you've got a little bit of water..."

Okay, now what can I say that would make me seem the LEAST like a complete spaz?

Think, self, think!

"Um, I have a slight drooling problem."

Oh, GOOD ONE! You really saved yourself from embarrassment with THAT witty gem!

God, I LOATHE myself.

The corner of Angel's mouth tics up but he doesn't seem to be running away in disgust for some reason. Instead, I stare at him in flushed shock as he reaches forward and carefully plucks the wet hair from my lips and slowly tucks it back behind my ear.

My heart sounds like the percussion line from 'Stomp!' and I'm suddenly extremely afraid he can hear it. I try to calm down but I catch a glimpse of Willow off to the side grinning like a maniac and I feel my mouth open against my will. I take a deep breath and I know I'm about to say something I'll end up regretting, but I just can't seem to stop myself from--

"HELLO, salty goodness!"

My mouth clamps shut and I whirl around to see Cordelia and her posse staring at Angel like... like... well, like I tend to do. She breaks away from her group and glides effortlessly over to us.

Have I mentioned that I really, REALLY hate her at this moment?

Because I do.

"I don't think we've been introduced," she says brightly, reaching out her hand. "I'm Cordelia Chase."

Angel looks at her strangely before shaking her hand. "Angel Cormac. Nice to meet you."

Cordelia flashes a perfect, white smile. "That's quite an English accent you have, Angel."

"Actually, I'm Irish."

"That's what I said. That's quite an Irish accent you have."

I roll my eyes in disgust. "Obviously all those years of painting your nails in geography class are paying off," I mutter under my breath.

"I'm sorry, did you say something?" she replies, glaring at me. "I didn't hear you."

Well, maybe you would have if weren't too busy performing in your SLUTSTRAVAGANZA. "Nothing."

"That's a nice look for you, by the way. Have you decided to take up marinating your face?"

Blah. Why do these things always happen to me?

"CHASE! What the heck are you standing around for?" Coach Foster shouted from behind home plate. "You're up to bat!"

Cordelia spun around on her designer sneakers and planted a glare on her. "EXCUSE me! I'm TRYING to have a conversation!"

"If you're not standing at this plate in TEN seconds, you're going to be having your conversation while running laps, Chase!"

"Ugh. RUDE, much?" Cordelia rolled her eyes while I looked on in glee. She turned back towards Angel and gave him an apologetic smile. "We'll continue this later."

"Bye! We'll miss you," I say snarkily as she stomped off towards the field. But then I remember what just happened and look back up at Angel, feeling hideous and inadequate. I was trying to think of something amazing and witty to say, but luckily he interrupted me.

"Don't listen to her," he offered. "You look fine."

If 'fine' means looking like a wet troll, then yes. I DO look fine. But it's sweet of him to lie. "Thank you."

Willow thankfully stepped up and saved us from some quality 'awkward silence time'. "So, um... I see you survived Rodney."

"He didn't bite you, did he?" I ask quickly, visually checking him over for any suspicious marks.

"No," Angel answered. "There was an odd moment when he started to clean his ears with his car keys, though."

Gee. He sounds like a real dreamboat.

"That's it? He didn't do anything else?" Willow asked, looking genuinely surprised.

"Other than that, no. The way you guys were describing him, I was little worried he might try to hump my leg."

"I wouldn't put it beyond him," Xander cut in, walking up behind us with one of the softball bases in his arms. "Class is over. You ladies better get back and change."

Aw! But I didn't get to see Angel run around the bases and get all sweaty!

Hmph.

"Are you going to sit with us at lunch, Angel?" Willow asked politely.

Xander interrupted before Angel could answer. "Will! We shouldn't monopolize Angel's time here in America. He needs to get out and make new friends! See the world!" He turned towards Angel. "You really should sit somewhere else. Don't let us hold you back!"

"Xander! Stop acting like a freak," I order before looking back up at Angel. "Of course you're going to sit with us! Meet me at the picnic tables we were sitting on this morning. We'll go through the lunch line together so I can tell you which Jell-O molds are poisonous."

Xander frowns for some reason, but then stops and peers at me intently. "Did someone spit on you?"

Where's one of those baseball bats when you need one?

-------------------------------------------------------------------

"Where IS he?"

Lunch started at 12:30, and it is now almost 12:43! What if he's lost? Or what if he was ambushed by Principal Snyder and is now being forced against his will to clean the gum off the bottom of the tables in the teacher's lounge? Or what if he's lying in a ditch somewhere, BLEEDING, and no one is around to--

"Maybe he's searching for his lucky charms," Xander muttered. I glare at him from my seat on top of the picnic table, but Willow interrupted me before I could say anything.

"Isn't that him?" she asked, pointing towards the west doors.

"Where?" I crane my neck around to see, and sure enough, there's Angel. A smile instantly appears on my face, but it withers pretty quickly when I realize that Cordelia is with him. I'm suddenly sure this is karma for all those years at Hemery when I was a world-class bitch.

Angel looks up and catches my eye before striding across the courtyard at a strangely brisk pace. He stops in front of me and glances back towards Cordelia who was nearly jogging to keep up.

"Sorry I'm late."

"No problem. I didn't even notice." Willow shoots me a look, and I smile weakly. I turn my head towards Cordelia who was staring at me with thinly veiled disdain. "Hi Cordelia."

Cow.

"Hi," she mutters darkly, before giving Angel a thousand mega-watt smile. "So, Angel, why don't you come sit with us? We're over there by the stairs."

So, Cordelia, why don't you go UP those stairs and then trip and fall down them?

"Actually, Buffy was going to show me around the cafeteria," he replied, before looking at me to confirm. "That is, if the offer still stands?"

I grin at him and jump down from the table. "Of course. We should probably get going before all the pizza is gone."

I grab Angel's hand, not because I have to, but because I know Cordelia is watching and I want to mark my territory. Hand-holding, touching knees while sitting unnecessarily close to someone, and wearing a guy's jacket are all girl versions of urinating on fire hydrants.

We stroll across the quad through the cafeteria doors, and we're immediately hit with that rank smell of congealing meat with the added spice of industrial strength disinfectant. I wrinkle my nose and glance over at Angel, who seems pretty non-affected. I guess school cafeterias are gross no matter WHAT country you're in.

"It's $3.00 for one entree, three side dishes, and a drink," I tell him, before pulling two lunch trays out of the stack. "I'll buy yours, okay?"

Angel looks mildly offended. "It's alright. I can buy my own lunch."

I smile at him indulgently, but at the same time give him a look that says 'you're not changing my mind'. "Let me buy you lunch. If it hurts your manly pride, you can buy mine tomorrow."

He looks at me oddly for a moment, but then shakes his head in resignation. "Fine."

"Good," I say and then hand him one of the trays. "See, one of the first things you need to learn here in America is that the girl always gets her way."

"The girl always gets her way in Ireland, too."

"Well, great! Then I won't have to go through all the trouble of training you." I grin at him to let him know I'm teasing and he answers with another one of his lopsided smiles.

I want to lick him. But that would be wrong. And also bad.

Bad, bad, bad.

"ANGEL! I've been looking all over for you!"

BAD!

Harmony Kendall butts her way in front of us in the line and turns back towards Angel, who looks completely bewildered. She steps forward and hugs him like a psycho-FREAK, and I reach back and bitch slap her across the cafeteria.

Oh wait, that last part was just a daydream. Sorry.

She clings to him like a monkey before Angel gently grabs her by the shoulders and peels her away from him. He looks down at her like she's an escaped lunatic, which really isn't that far off the mark. "Do I know you?"

"Of course not, silly," Harmony answers in a singsong voice. I really, really want to take that vat of creamed corn and fling some at her. But again... that would be wrong. "But Cordelia told me all about you, and any friend of Cordy is a friend of mine!"

Angel looks blankly at her before turning towards me and pointing at a dish of peas sitting underneath a heat lamp. "Are those safe to eat?"

"I'm Harmony!"

"Yes, they're edible," I answer, trying to hide my cheeky grin. I'm so proud of him! One day in America and he already knows that the best way to avoid people like Harmony is to ignore them until they go away. "But they taste kind of like Lee Press-On Nails."

"Like a harmony in a song!"

"I'm not sure I know what a Lee Press-On Nail is. What about that?" he asks, indicating some thick red goop with little pieces of vegetables floating in it.

"My parents named me that because they liked music!"

"That's salsa. For the nachos."

"Cordelia said you were from Ireland. That's, like, a whole other country!"

"Salsa? It looks like shark chum."

"I think we have fifth period together!"

"It does, but it's surprisingly decent," I reply. "And the nachos have a delicious cheese sauce that doesn't actually contain any cheese whatsoever. It's a miracle of science."

"I have to go eat with my friends now!" Harmony says, apparently not having grasped that we weren't listening to her. "I'll see you later! Bye!"

Angel and I watch her skip away, and I try desperately to hold in my laughter. It's a challenge, though.

After a few seconds, we notice that we're holding up the line. Angel moves forward and we both take a plate of nachos and some of the salsa. When we get to the side dish area, he and I stop to stare at a white, malformed vat of goo.

Angel nods at it. "What's that?"

"That's called a 'disgusting pile of better-not-to-know'."

He's silent for a beat, but then he mumbles. "Oh. Yum."

This time I can't stop myself, and I burst out laughing.

And you know what? Those disgusting nachos have never tasted better.

------------------------------------------------------------------

"Bonjour, class! We have two new students today! This is Angel Cormac and Sven Jurgen," Mrs. Donnelly introduced. "They're part of our foreign exchange program and I want you to make them feel right at home here."

Sixth period is French for me, and usually I spend the entire fifty-two minutes contemplating the many ways to kill myself with a ballpoint pen. But now that Angel is in my class, I suddenly have a newfound appreciation for those wacky French people and their many vowel sounds.

"Why don't you two gentlemen find somewhere to sit and we'll begin," Mrs. Donnelly instructed cheerily. "We have ten new vocabulary words for you to memorize today!"

Oh JOY!

If there's one thing I love, it's memorizing vocabulary words. That and incurable flesh-eating diseases.

I waved subtly to Angel as he was making his way down the isles, and he stopped at the desk next to mine. "Est-ce que cela vous dérange si je m'assieds ici?"

Um... what?

"Gezundheit?"

He set his bag down on the floor and slid into the desk in such a way that made me really, REALLY want to be a desk. And yes, I AM a giant freak, thank you for asking. "I just wanted to know if you minded if I sit here."

"Oh! See, I thought you were maybe choking on something, but that makes much more sense."

"Isn't this French 102?"

"Yes. And you would think that after two years of studying the language I might be able to understand some of it. But no. In America, everyone takes French but no one actually learns anything. And that's the beauty of it!" I explain.

"Vous ne parlez pas français du tout?" he asked.

"Oh, hey! I understood that!"

"... Really?"

"Nope."

Angel quirked the corner of his lips up and turned his head to look directly in my eyes. Nobody has EVER looked at me so intensely and I found myself staring back in such a daze that my eyes started to water from not blinking. He leaned forward ever so slightly and I thought for sure he was going to kiss me, but that's only because I'm pathetic and sad and am going to die a virgin.

But I won't be alone on my deathbed of chastity, because I'll have my sixty-seven cats there to wish me goodbye.

When I return to reality from 'Buffy is a Crazy-Person Land', Angel is still staring at me, and I'm about two seconds away from standing up and yelling at him to put his tongue in my mouth already.

My impulse is quelled, though, when he smiles suddenly and whispers, "Je pense que vous ĂŞtes belle."

... WHAT DOES THAT MEAN??

Did he make a joke about my poor French skills? Did he ask if I want to make out with him later? Or what if he said I've got something in my teeth? Oh God, I've got spinach in my teeth, don't I?!

Wait-- I didn't have any spinach today. Or ever. Because... ew. Who wants to eat that crap?

Gah. Why isn't there ever a convenient 'Hottie to English’ translation manual lying around when you really need one?

"Alright, class. You need to open your textbooks to page fifty-four," Mrs. Donnelly interrupted. "I want you to read the dialog there to yourselves and pay special attention for the words 'cuisine', which means 'kitchen', and 'vite', which means 'quick' or 'fast'."

I shake myself out of my stupor and open up my textbook. I flip to the assigned page to find the same stupid 'where's the cheese?' dialog between the poorly dressed cartoon French people that they've used for EVERY vocabulary review since the beginning of TIME.

'Where IS the cheese?’

'Where has the cheese GONE?'

'Is the cheese in the kitchen?’

'I have found the cheese! It is in my PANTS! Har har har!’

Where is my ballpoint pen? Where has my ballpoint pen GONE? Is my ballpoint pen in the kitchen? Ah ha! I have found my ballpoint pen! And now I will STAB MYSELF TO DEATH WITH IT.

----------------------------------------------------------------

"So, what did you think of your first day?"

Angel glanced up at me from where he was sitting on the stairs. "It was very decent, actually. I was a little nervous about coming here but everyone has been very friendly."

Yes, the legions of girls that want to lick you like a postage stamp certainly qualify as 'friendly'. "I thought you'd like it."

I was sitting behind him two steps up, and he turned his shoulders to look at me. "I wanted to tell you that I really appreciate what your family is doing for me. Having a complete stranger in your house... not many people would be willing to do that," he remarked. "And I'm sure you had better things to do than lead me around all day like a puppy. So... thank you. You've got a kind heart, Buffy."

It was so sweet, I wanted to cry. But I also felt sort of guilty, because I wasn't exactly dying with anticipation over having him here originally. Of course, my opinion changed when I actually MET him, but still. "Thanks," I managed to croak out.

"You're welcome."

"Um, so what do you want to do for the rest of the day?" I asked, changing the subject.

"I'm not sure. What's fun around here?"

"Fun? In Sunnydale? They must not have given you the brochure before you arrived," I said sarcastically.

"It's not THAT bad, is it?"

"It really is. We've got one club and there's a beach a few miles from town. And I think we have bingo on Thursday nights at the senior citizen's center. That's about it."

"Sounds pretty wild."

"On the crazy-bingo-excitement-index, I hear it rates pretty high."

"So that's it?"

"Well, we have a mall, too. It's kind of tiny, but they have a food court now. It's quite thrilling," I mutter. "And there's always the perennial 'Sunnydale Time-Wasting Favorite', which is walking around aimlessly and babbling to yourself."

"Sadly, that's probably more interesting than anything in Galway. We have fishing, which I hate, and also drinking yourself to an early grave. That second one is very popular."

"Then you must feel right at home here!" Suddenly, I'm struck with an ingenious plan and I have to fight the grin that's trying to split my face. "You know, I think there's a dance tomorrow..."

PLEASE take the bait! Please, please, please--

"What dance?"

YES!

"Oh, nothing special," I say casually. "It's just this stupid thing for cultural month where everyone dresses up in costumes and has a good time. Sounds like a major drag, huh?"

"It sounds more exciting than bingo, honestly."

I raise my eyebrows in a poor attempt at acting surprised. "You think so? Well, I guess we could go together. You know, if you really want to..."

"I'd like that," Angel says, offering me a small smile. "Thank you."

My God, I can't believe that actually WORKED! If I had known that tricking people into dating you was so fun and rewarding, I would have tried it years ago...

We both turned our gaze back to the street in front of us when my mother's dark green SUV pulled up to the curb. She leapt out of the driver's seat and jogged over to us looking alarmingly panicked. "I'm so sorry I'm late, you two! I got held up at the gallery but I drove as fast as I could and--"

"Mom, calm down! It's fine. Really."

"I know, honey, but I didn't want to be late picking you up on Angel's first day. It's not a good impression to make..."

"It's alright, Mrs. Summers," Angel assured her. "I don't think we even realized you were late."

And it's true. School's been out for over half an hour, but I've been having such a good time just sitting and talking to Angel that I didn't even notice.

Mom smiled warmly at him. "Well, nonetheless, I promise I won't be late picking you up again. At least not this week."

"That's comforting," I say teasingly.

She smiled at me patiently and gestured towards the car. "Let's just get you two home, okay? And I want to hear all about your first day, Angel."

We walked to the Jeep and I smiled at Angel's manners when he held the passenger door open for me. This is another thing that I really like about him. See, usually when you ask a guy what 'chivalry' is, he replies "Rarrhanrahaharahaharrrargr!" and then stares at your breasts.

"So what did you think of the school, Angel?" my Mom asked, glancing back at him in the rearview mirror. "Did you have any trouble making friends?"

Pfft. Because you know how hard it is for hot, beautiful men with charming accents to meet people...

"I thought it was great. You have a lot more freedom here than you do at my school. It's much less strict," he explained. "And your daughter introduced me to her friends Willow and Xander."

Mom smiled. "That's wonderful! Buffy, why don't you invite them over for dinner this weekend? We could rent a few videos and the four of you could spend some time together."

"That sounds great," I say, and mean it. It's just too bad that we have such a small couch and that trying to fit four people on it will necessitate squishing.

I mean, REALLY. Who wants to be completely pressed up against Angel? What with all that perfect, hard muscle and so much potential for rubbing? It sounds just AWFUL.

"Good. We'll plan on that, then," Mom replied, sending me a grateful smile. "Now, where do you guys want to go to dinner tonight? I just don't feel like cooking."

"Anywhere but Stuckey's," I blurt.

Stuckey's is one of those 50's theme restaurants, which really means 'linoleum-tiled-retro-grease-pit'. I highly recommend going for the 'great service', especially if you like being waited on by ex-convicts and rodents.

"Oh, Stuckey's wasn't THAT bad," Mom interjects.

"PLEASE. You could tell everyone just loved eating there from the sounds of sheer joy that were emanating through the bathroom door."

Mom shot me a look. "Okay, I admit the food was a little--"

"Disgusting and left to soak for days in it's own grease?"

"I was going to say 'fattening', but if you want to be over-dramatic about the whole thing..." Mom said flatly.

"Actually, would it be alright if we ate at the mall?" I ask nervously. "Angel and I decided to go to the dance tomorrow night and we need to get costumes. There's a store right near the food court, I think."

Mom is giving me her 'concerned mother look'. Which is never good. "Oh? You're going to the dance? Together?"

She has a way of saying 'You're going to the dance together?' in such a way that it sounds like 'You're going to become a single, teenage mother and then drop out of school and throw the rest of your life away?’

"I understand if you don't feel comfortable letting your daughter attend a dance with someone you barely know--" Angel began from his place in the back seat.

"No," Mom interrupted him, surprising both of us. "You seem like a very nice young man, and I have no objections to you taking my daughter to a dance. I'm sure you two will have a wonderful time."

There's a minute of awkward silence and I pretend to smooth imaginary wrinkles from my skirt. Mom turns her head to look at me and asks, "Is this-- will this be a date?"

YES.

"No!" I bite my lip to keep from saying anything stupid. "It's just a 'We'd both like to go to the dance, so we're going together’ thing."

Mom looks at me skeptically and I attempt an innocent look that says 'I'm not having pleasant, lusty thoughts about our live-in foreign exchange student! Really!'

After a beat, a strange, sly smile appears on her face. It's starting to creep me out, honestly. "The mall it is, then!"

-----------------------------------------------------------------

"So, what do you think?"

Angel, my mother and I were standing just inside the main doors, watching people flit back and forth, carrying shopping bags and pushing strollers. This, of course, was my home territory, but Angel looked completely out of his element.

"I thought you said it was tiny?" he asked, glancing up at a giant teacup on a podium that marked the entrance to the food court.

"That's because it is," I stated emphatically. "It doesn't even have a third level!"

"Do they usually have third levels?" he asked in awe. The way he said it was so cute, I wanted to give him a big squeeze. Particularly on his butt.

"Buffy thinks that if there aren't at least three stories to a mall, the people in the town must all be living in unbearable poverty," Mom cut in.

"I never said 'poverty'," I clarified. "It's more of a... dreary squalor."

"I wish I lived in a dreary squalor," Angel muttered.

And I wish you lived in my pants.

"It's still a little too early to eat, so why don't we just get a snack?" Mom asked, before pointing to a small, yellow serving counter. "I see a Mr. Pretzel over there."

Mom is obsessed with Mr. Pretzel. I can't stand it, though, because it's one of those places where they fry everything in soybean oil. Now all of their pretzels taste like rancid dough soaked in transmission fluid.

And then, to improve the taste even MORE, they let them sit in a vat of disgusting 'butter product' until just biting into one will take three years off your life.

Before I can protest, though, Mom walks over to the counter and orders us three pretzels. She pays for them and brings them back to us, gracing us with a warm smile. "You'll love these, Angel."

Because what's NOT to love about disgusting grease-fried dough? Bleck.

"Oh. Yum," I say weakly, taking my offered pretzel. I try not to breathe through my nose so I won't smell the eighteen pounds of fake butter and start gagging.

Angel bravely takes a bite of his own, and his face scrunches up as if someone had punched him in the stomach. He chews slowly for a moment before forcing himself to swallow. I glance at him in sympathy, but be sure to keep my own pretzel far, far away from my mouth. After all, I don't want to trip and accidentally ingest some.

"It's... delicious," he manages through gritted teeth. He tries to smile, but it ends up mostly just looking like he's in horrible pain. "Thank you."

Mom smiles brightly, oblivious to Angel's obvious suffering. "You're welcome. I'm glad you like it. So where should we--"

"I'm going to show Angel the fountain," I blurt out and grab his wrist. "You wait here. We'll be back in two seconds, okay?"

I quickly drag Angel down towards the other end of the food court before she can answer. Once we get near the big, faux- marble fountain, I glance back over my shoulder to make sure Mom's not following.

When I see that the coast is clear, I snatch the pretzel out of his hands and dump it in a nearby trash can. I toss mine in next, and turn back to see him looking at me with a closed-mouth smile.

"I think you just saved my life," he says, only half-joking.

"Gross, isn't it? I don't know why Mom likes them so much."

"I'm surprised people pay to put those things in their mouth. It tasted like--"

"Unwashed feet covered in Crisco?" I offer.

"Yeah. I'd say that's a fair analogy."

"Wait a sec," I mutter, while digging into my bag. I grab a piece of gum wrapped in foil and emerge with it triumphantly. "Here you go."

Angel takes the gum gratefully and unwraps it. When he puts it in his mouth, his face dissolves into a look of pure bliss and I lick my lips unconsciously. GOD, that man is sexy. "Thanks. I was afraid I'd have that taste in my mouth for hours."

I want to tell him that my tongue in his mouth for hours might help clear that up, but I refrain. "No biggie."

We start walking back to where I left my Mom and we see her sitting patiently on a bench polishing off the final bites of her pretzel. "How was the fountain?" she asks, raising an eyebrow at my strange behaviour.

"It was... wet," I mumble lamely. "And fountain-shaped."

She looks at me oddly while crumpling up the wax paper her pretzel came wrapped in. "What happened to your pretzels?"

"Um, we ate them," I lie in a completely unconvincing manner. I even rub my tummy, as if that's going to suggest that they're actually in my stomach instead of melting the lining of a garbage bin somewhere. "Mmm. So delicious."

And they were, if 'delicious' means that they tasted like a gamey mass of baby vomit.

Mom stares at me as if I've gone insane. "Mm-hmm. So, do you two want to go look for your costumes now?"

I grin unconsciously and imagine Angel modeling an elaborate Roman Gladiator costume, complete with sword and visible man-nipples. Magically delicious!

"Oh yeah!"

... Wee!

--------------------------------------------------------------

When we get to the costume shop, I stop and stare in muted shock and horror. Most of the shelves are picked dry, and several empty boxes litter the floor. The only display that isn't knocked over or in pieces is a giant Darth Vader costume, which is SO not what I had in mind.

I walk up to the counter nervously with Angel and my mom on my heels. There's a woman who looks to be in her late thirties sitting near the register dressed in a soiled French Maid costume and wearing eight pounds of make-up. She looks up from smoking a cigarette when I clear my throat.

"Um, we're looking for costumes," I begin. "See, there's this cultural--"

"Cultural dance. Yeah, kid, I know," she rasps. "This place has been teeming with you brats for a couple weeks now. We can barely keep up."

"O-okay. Well, what kind of costumes do you have left?" "Whatever's on the shelves, kid."

I glance over my shoulder at my mother, who looks at me in sympathy. I turn back to Madame Cranky and ask, "Do you have any Roman Gladiator costumes?"

She stares at me blankly before taking a long drag on her cigarette. "Does it LOOK like I've got a Roman Gladiator costume?"

No, but it LOOKS like you've given up bathing, you heinous witch.

Ugh.

"We'll just take a look around," my Mom interrupts, gently grabbing my hand and leading me towards the back of the store.

"What kind of costumes are we supposed to be wearing, anyway?" Angel asks suddenly.

"Well, they're supposed to represent a culture," I explain. "Like a Redcoat or a Samurai or whatever."

"If we don't find something, maybe we could make your costumes?" Mom offers.

Oh yes. I can wrap myself in a sheet and put a bag over my head. Then I'll tell everyone I represent the mysterious and fascinating culture of 'Big Giant Losers'. What fun!

I feel a little better when we get to the back shelves. There are still quite a few costumes back here, although they aren't particularly 'culturally-themed'.

"How do you feel about the culture of vampirism?" I ask Angel, fingering a bag containing a black cape and a pair of plastic fangs.

"I don't think I could pull off a Transylvanian accent."

I nod absently and look up towards a rack containing several wool kilts. Now THIS idea has some promise. I smile and hold one up for him to see. "What about--"

"No."

"But you could--"

"No."

"But--"

"I'm not wearing a kilt, Buffy."

"Oh fine. Coward."

Hmph. Spoil my fun. I put the kilt back on the rack and wander a little further down the aisle. I glance up at the display on the top shelf and stop dead in my tracks. It's PERFECT!

I quickly search through the shelf below it and pull out a box with 'Size: Large' written on it. After all, Angel's a big boy. I grin merrily and stride back to where he and my mother were looking at Civil War costumes. I shove the box in his arms and he looks at me questioningly.

"Go try this on," I order. He looks like he wants to protest, so I start trying to push him towards the dressing room. Despite putting all my strength into it, he doesn't so much 'move' as 'lean slightly'. But cut me some slack... the guy's like a foot taller than I am. "Oh, just do it!"

He doesn't look too happy about it, but he sighs and makes his way to the dressing room. He pulls the curtain shut behind him and I grin triumphantly. This is gonna be GREAT!

After a few minutes, I hear Angel mutter. "I feel like a moron."

"Let me see!" I whine, still grinning like a maniac.

"You better not laugh." I hear some rustling before Angel jerks the curtain back and steps out, looking highly embarrassed.

But trust me... laughing was the very LAST thing on my mind.

Angel had a black leather mask covering his eyes and a gaucho style broad-rimmed black hat sitting slightly crooked on his head. A black, billowy cape was swept back off his shoulders and fell just past his knees.

To top it all off, he was wearing a black, silk shirt that laced up the front, leaving little slivers of his chest exposed.

You might have expected me to say something stupid and embarrassing right about now.

... and I did.

"Oh BOY," I murmured, only it came out in a really high-pitched squeaky voice. I imagine it sounded quite similar to Mickey Mouse, only if he had been kicked brutally in the groin before speaking. "I mean, um, yeah. Nice."

He closed his eyes and looked completely humiliated. "I look like an idiot. And this shirt is too tight."

"Yes it IS," I swooned, but then caught myself. "I mean, no it isn't! It fits perfectly. And, um, perfect. Just right. Like a glove! Or, you know, a shirt. One that fits, I mean. And it's good. Um... yeah. Looks good."

ARG! Shut up, Buffy! Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP.

Mom chose this exact moment to walk up, and she raised an elegant eyebrow when she noticed Angel in his costume. "Does Zorro really count as a culture?"

"No," Angel answered.

"Yes! Yes, it does," I counter. "It's Spanish culture. Now, go change so we can pay for it."

"I really don't want to wear this," Angel said, staring at the floor.

HOW can he not see how hot he looks? God, somebody get this man a mirror.

"Too bad," I say gleefully. "It's either that or you go naked."

And I win either way!

"You're cruel," he mutters before turning back and closing the dressing room curtain behind him.

I grin ecstatically and march back over to the display. I peer through the matching 'Spanish Dancer' costumes before picking out a white, shirred dress with a tie up front and lace ruffles on the skirt.

Mom comes up behind me while I'm searching through the shelves for a box with my size on it. I feel her staring at the back of my head, so I turn around and smile at her apprehensively. "What?"

She looks at me for a beat, before sighing and shaking her head. "You're going to need a black wig."

Huh. That didn't SOUND like a lecture. Maybe she's ill?

"You're right," I reply. "And maybe a ribbon choker?"

Mom smiles at me patiently. "I'll go look for you."

"Thanks," I say, and we both smile at each other for a few seconds before I turn back to my frantic search.

You know, sometimes my Mom can be really cool. But don't tell her I said that.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

"You need pants, Angel. Your costume didn't come with any."

"Yes, but why THOSE pants?"

I don't see what the problem is. They're perfectly nice, genuine leather SEXY PANTS. "What's wrong with them? I know they're a little pricey, but I'll pay half if you pay half."

"It's not that they're expensive," he explained awkwardly. "It's that they're made out of leather. And they look kind of tight."

They DO, don't they! Mwa ha ha!

"Yeah, so? That's the point," I answer honestly. "Look, maybe they're a little behind the fashion times in Ireland, but here in America everyone wears leather pants!"

Especially if they have an ass that you can bounce quarters off of!

"Are you sure?" he asks skeptically. "I've never seen anyone wearing leather pants around here..."

And thank GOD for that. Most of the guys in Sunnydale would look like their legs were made of sausage rolls if they tried on a pair of those suckers.

Which is why it's important to remember that leather pants are a privilege, not a right.

"That guy's wearing leather pants," I say, pointing straight ahead.

Angel looks at me weirdly. "That's the mannequin."

"Yeah, but look at how fashionable he is! Now what's your size?"

"Buffy--"

"Size!"

"... 32, 34," Angel sighed.

I grinned and grabbed a pair, feeling the baby-soft leather. God, it’s almost TOO sexy! I'm starting to feel faint...

"You're doing America a great service," I murmur reverently.

"What?"

"... nothing!"

--------------------------------------------------------------------

My Nana always used to say that 'boys are only interested in one thing'. That one thing, of course, is professional wrestling. But they're ALSO interested in sex, which is really what I think she was talking about.

But besides the wrestling and the sex, they're also interested in food. So, really, boys are only interested in THREE things.

I've decided I would appeal to that third interest, tonight.

After all, appealing to the second one with my mother walking two steps behind us was a sure-fire way to land myself in a nunnery until the end of time, and I'd rather throw myself into oncoming traffic than watch wrestling.

Thus... seduction by food.

Unfortunately, things didn't exactly go the way I had envisioned them. First, there just aren't a lot of classy restaurants in the Sunnydale Mall. Outside of the food court, there was a Breakfast Cafe, which only served meals until 2:00in the afternoon, and a Denny's, where you can eat in disgusting filth and dodge drive-by gunfire.

So, neither of those were an option for my woo-ing efforts. And after an exhaustive search for ANYTHING that might serve cuisine that would entice Angel into massaging my tonsils, Mom finally put her foot down and dragged the three of us back to the food court.

Which leads us to where we are right now, which is standing inline at the Chick-Fil-A and watching our lives slowly, painfully slip from our grasp.

Yeah. THIS is really going to be a huge turn on for my would-be boyfriend. Now, I love bite-sized pieces of tender poultry as much as the next person, but Chick-n-Nuggets just don't scream, 'Hey Angel, why don't you bend me over one of these cheap, plastic tables and have your wicked way with me!'

"Have you decided what you're going to order, sweetie?"

Sure, Mom. I think I'm going to get the 'Hot Guy Repelling Chick-n-Strips' with a side order of 'Angel Will Never Kiss Me Now That I've Forced Him to Eat This Garbage, So I'm Going to Stuff this Fat-Laden Cole-Slaw Down My Throat to Make Myself Feel Better'. "No. Not yet, Mom."

"Well, I think I'm going to get the Chicken Caesar Salad," Mom offered cheerfully. "What about you, Angel?"

I have to mention that it's a sad, sad day when someone's first real dinner in America is served to them by some guy wearing a paper hat with a cartoon chicken on it.

"I don't know yet," he answered carefully, while glancing at the menu hanging above the counter. "What's good here?"

"The chicken," Mom said, before laughing softly at her own joke.

Aggh. Shoot me PLEASE.

"Okay," Angel replied slowly. "I suppose I'll have that, then."

While I contemplated crawling under one of the plastic chairs and waiting for the shame to go away, the line moved up so there was only a single woman in front of us.

Of course, to further supplement my mortification, the people who usually order food at Chick-Fil-A are often void of any basic decision-making abilities and this woman was no exception.

"What would you like, ma'am?" the guy at the register asked her politely.

"I'll take a large diet coke," she replied.

The man totaled it into the register. "That'll be $1.69."

She suddenly looked panicked. "Wait! I would like a chicken sandwich. No pickles, please-- wait. Yes, pickles."

He looked at her strangely, but entered the order in. "Okay, that'll be--"

"Hold on. I want some nuggets, too. And... cheese on the sandwich. No pickles!"

"No pickles, or yes pickles?"

"No pickles."

He rolled his eyes subtly, while the rest of the line looked on in sympathy. "Alright, that will be--"

"And fries! Oh God! I need fries, too!"

"Will that be all?" Register Guy asked patiently.

"Yes... no! I don't know! Wait-- I want pickles!"

I glanced at Angel who was watching the scene with rapt fascination. His mouth was turned down slightly, as if he were witnessing a gruesome car wreck.

I sighed and stared at the floor tile.

How ROMANTIC this evening is turning out to be! In fact, I think I feel a tear coming to my eye...

Oh wait! No, that's just some grease that splattered from the giant deep fryer. My mistake...

---------------------------------------------------------------

"Angel? Are you asleep?"

I stared out into the blackness of my room and tried to focus on the obscure shape at the foot of my bed. It moved slightly and I heard a faint, "Hmm?"

"Are you asleep?"

"What?"

"Are you sleeping?"

The shape moved again, and Angel propped himself up on his elbows, moving his face into the shaft of moonlight that poured through my window. He gave me a questioning look and I blushed.

"Okay, I guess that's a stupid question," I mumbled.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah. I was just wondering if you were still awake."

"I'm awake now," he said softly, trying to keep his voice down. "Do you want something?"

Some hot lovin' would be nice.

"Um, no," I replied, "What are you doing?"

I winced as soon as the question was out of my mouth. What did I THINK he was doing? Playing polo? God, I'm such a spaz.

"Well, I was sleeping, but now I'm talking to you, I guess."

"Sorry," I whispered. "I didn't mean to wake you up."

"It's okay. Did you want to talk?"

Absolutely. Especially if by 'talking', you mean 'licking and occasionally making mewling noises'.

"Do you mind?"

"No. I'm already up, anyway," he answered, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. "What do you want to talk about?"

Think of something witty! THINK OF SOMETHING WITTY!

"Uh-- what are your thoughts on... um... kittens?"

... augh. WHY do I even try?

Angel scratched his chin, and looked at me as if I had grown another head. "Well, I'm for them, I think. I'm certainly not... anti-kitten or anything."

"Oh, good," I muttered through my sheet, which I had pulled up over the bottom half of my face to cover my embarrassment. I needed a new topic, and fast. "What's your family like?"

He paused, and I tugged the sheet down a little to look at him. "I'm assuming your parents are divorced?"

"Yeah. They split up about a year and a half ago."

He nodded. "Mine are divorced, too. My father... just kind of left. He wasn't the greatest person, so I'm not too upset about it," he remarked tonelessly. I sat up a little to listen better. "My mum, though... she's amazing. Very warm, very forgiving. And she has always been patient with me."

"She sounds wonderful," I murmured.

"She is," he agreed, and the edge of his mouth curled up in a smile. "She really is."

"Any brothers or sisters?"

"Yeah, I've got a younger sister. Her name is Kathy. She'll be fifteen this May."

"Sometimes I wish I had a brother or a sister," I remarked. "But usually I'm pretty happy being the uber-spoiled only child."

"I assume it has its advantages," he agreed. "But I can't imagine my life without Kathy being in it."

I smiled at him. "That's sweet."

"I don't think she would agree with you."

"She doesn't think you're sweet?"

He winced. "I'm a little... overprotective of her. Or so I hear."

"Why? Do you beat up on all of her potential boyfriends?" I teased.

"No. Not-- not all of them," he defended awkwardly. "Just the ones who... aren't good enough for her."

"And which ones are those?"

"The ones with pulses."

I laughed. "So if some walking dead person asked your sister out, you would approve?"

"Well, no. I'm not too keen about the idea of her dating zombies, either."

"So, by your logic, she's not allowed to date anyone who does, or does not, have a pulse?"

"That sounds about right."

"I'm afraid I'd have to take your sister's side on this argument," I smirked.

He smiled and laughed softly. "Most people do."

GOD, he's cute. So very, very cute. Why, I bet he'd even be cute if he were handcuffed naked to my bed. Maybe with some cute whip cream all over his cute chest and cute--

"Are you sure you don't mind going to the dance with me?" he blurted suddenly, interrupting my... weirdness.

"Why? Do you-- do you not want to go with me?" I asked, slightly panicked. "Because we don't have—“

"No," he said forcefully, cutting me off. "That's not it at all. I just don't want you to feel like you have to go with me. If you have someone else you were hoping to take, I'd completely understand."

Oh, you mean all the imaginary boys that asked me to go with them? Let me just check my date book...

"No. I want to go with you."

He looked at me very seriously for a moment before slowly lying back on his pillow. "I'm glad. I just wanted to make sure you wouldn't rather take your boyfriend."

"Well, that might be difficult, considering I don't actually HAVE a boyfriend," I confessed.

And did that sound horribly pathetic? I think it did...

"That's surprising," he murmured.

I sat up a little more, but his face was in the shadows again so I couldn't see his expression. "Why is that surprising?"

"It just is."

"Oh, gee. Thanks for clearing that up," I said in mock-sarcasm.

"You're welcome."

"Jerk," I muttered affectionately.

He let out a soft laugh, but didn't say anything. I leaned back against my pillows and stared at the ceiling, listening to the silence.

Unfortunately, I have no patience to speak of, so it didn't last long. "Angel?"

"... Yeah?"

"What about you?" I asked, before biting my lip. "Do you have a girlfriend? Back in Ireland, I mean."

"I go to an all-boys school. There's not a whole lot of dating opportunities outside of cafeteria ladies and the sixty-year-old school nurse."

"Oh. That's too bad."

Thank you, SWEET MERCIFUL GOD!

-------------------------------------------------------------------- <

"Buffy, you've been in there for TWO hours! There are other people in this house who need to use the bathroom."

"Just a second, Mom!"

I'm starting to think I made an error of judgment when I chose this black wig. I look like ELVIRA.

And even worse, these two tendrils of my hair keep falling out of place in front of my ears, giving me that realistic 'reverse skunk' look. And I assume there probably weren't a lot of 1800's Spanish girls with Clairol-induced blonde streaks.

I groan in frustration before gently grabbing the sides of the wig and trying to readjust it. Which, of course, causes even MORE of my hair to fall out of place. Augh!

"Stupid wig!" I shout, ripping it off my head. I beat it violently against the sink counter a few times before tossing it into the bathtub.

I plop down onto the closed lid of the toilet and cover my face with my hands. I feel slightly better until I peek through my fingers and see the Wig From Hell staring back at me from it's place crumpled on the tub floor.

It looks disturbingly like I ran over a small mammal and then left it to die in my bathroom.

Ick.

And I'm going to have to put that thing back on my head, aren't I? Which is just GREAT. After all, what girl DOESN'T fantasize about going to a dance with a gorgeous guy while wearing fake hair made from 100% roadkill?

It's what dreams are made of!

I let out a strangled moan of despair, which my mom must have heard because she knocks on the door a few seconds later.

"Honey? Are you okay in there?"

Well, I don't know if beating a wig to death qualifies as 'okay', but I haven't fallen into the toilet and drowned or anything.

Yet.

"Yes... no. Not really," I mutter.

"Are you dressed?" she asks, turning the handle on the door. "Can I come in?"

I make a non-committal whining noise which she interprets as 'yes'. She comes inside quietly and closes the door behind her.

She glances at my wig laying wounded in the bathtub and raises an eyebrow.

"I think I killed it," I confess guiltily.

She sighs and picks it up, brushing it off with her hand. "Would you like some help?"

I nod weakly and stand up, smoothing the wrinkles from my white dress. Mom gently turns my shoulders so I'm facing the mirror before grabbing my hairbrush. She carefully brushes my hair towards the back of my head and collects it with her free hand.

"What's Angel doing?" I ask, pretending to sound casual.

Mom is not easily fooled, though, and she gives me a knowing smile in the mirror. "I gave him that photo album with all of your baby pictures."

I whirl around in shock, nearly having all my hair ripped out in the process.

"Mo~om!" I shriek in panic. "I'm NAKED in almost all of those! And BALD!"

"Buffy, you weren't bald--"

"Please! I looked like a giant THUMB!"

Angel is probably downstairs RIGHT NOW, looking at photos of me lying butt-naked on the living room floor. And I bet he's staring in open-mouthed terror at my freakish resemblance to a hairless chihuahua--

"Buffy! Don't get so worked up! I'm only teasing you," Mom explained while trying not to laugh. "He's watching television."

"That's not funny," I mutter darkly.

"I know, I know. I'm a horrible mother," she jokes. "But you're stressing yourself out over nothing. It's just a dance. You've gone to a lot of them before."

Yes, but I went to them with TYLER, which is probably akin to going with a mentally-challenged toaster oven. At our last Spring Formal, I was forced to watch in muted horror as he tried to light one of his farts on fire with a centerpiece candle. It wasn't exactly a highlight of my young adult life.

"I know. But this is different."

"Why is it different?" she asked.

"Because of... the... costumes," I answered lamely. "And the wide variety of salsa dips."

"Mmm. I see," she said, making it clear she didn't believe a word of it.

She reached past me into the tray on the sink counter and plucked out a hair clip. Carefully, she pulled my hair into a tight bun high on the back of my head and then clipped it in place.

Finally, she slid the wig over top of it, making sure it was even on both sides. I glanced at my reflection in wonder; how do Moms know how to do that stuff?

"Thanks," I said gratefully, reaching up to feel the artificial strands. "It even has that new hair smell."

"You're welcome. Now you'd better go downstairs and rescue Angel from another half hour of 'Temptation Island'. He was looking a little ill the last time I checked on him."

I smiled at her and took one last look in the mirror before turning towards the door.

"Buffy?"

I looked back at her questioningly. "Yeah?"

"You look beautiful," she said proudly.

"Thanks," I murmured, feeling strangely emotional.

"And you're going to be home by 12:30."

"What?? Mom!"

"And no drinking!"

"I wasn't--"

"And if you even THINK about trying marijuana...!"

Sigh. Leave it to Mom to spoil a perfectly good mother- daughter bonding moment.

--------------------------------------------------------------

After I suffered through the obligatory Lecture of Doom, I took a quick detour to grab my bag from my room before starting down the stairs to meet Angel.

I took a deep breath when I neared the bottom of the steps to calm down a little. This was my big entrance-y moment and I really didn't feel like tripping down the stairs to my bloody and humiliating death at Angel's feet.

When I was sure I had collected myself, I stepped down the last few steps with a little flourish and flashed a perfect smile at Angel.

... or at least I WOULD have, if he had actually been there.

But no, he had to go and ruin my cheesy teen-movie moment by disappearing like a big JERK and--

"Buffy? God, you look..."

I whirled around in an undignified stumble, and there he was... staring at me.

And I... was staring at his leather pants. Mmm boy!

"... beautiful," he finished, a slow smile spreading across his face.

I couldn't help blushing a little. Or a lot. Or to the point where I looked much like a traffic light. "Thanks. It's the plastic hair, you know. It's totally irresistible."

"It IS a lovely wig," he concurred. "I don't think that's it, though."

I smiled. "Maybe it's the shoes? I don't know too many old world Spanish dancing girls who own such a great pair of black pumps."

He made an exaggerated effort to kneel down and take a close look at my shoes, so I hiked the skirt of my dress up slightly to play along. And also because, hey, maybe he'll decide he wants to lick my leg? I wouldn't complain.

"They're nice, I admit. But... that's not it, either."

Hee. This is fun. "Oh? What about the dress? It's made out of 100% something-that-isn't-cotton." I turned in a quick circle and the skirt swirled around my ankles. "Ooo! It even does that twirl-y thing."

"I'm impressed. If the whole 'well-educated young woman' thing doesn't work out, you should have no trouble finding work as a saloon girl."

"Gee. THAT prospect certainly fills my heart with joy," I muttered sarcastically.

He took hold of my shoulders with his hands, looking suddenly serious. "Really. You look amazing. And it has nothing to do with the dress."

I swallowed a mouthful of suddenly dry air and stared at him dumbly. He was so close to me that I had to crane my neck back to look in his eyes. I wanted to tell him that I thought he was gorgeous and sexy and that, given the opportunity, I really think I could take his shirt off using only my teeth.

Before I had a chance to respond, though, a bright light sliced through the room causing Angel and I to stumble apart in surprise. I blinked rapidly, frowning at the interruption of our happy-lustful-staring-time. I looked up and saw Mom standing at the top of the stairs with a camera.

She smiled warmly and clicked another picture. "You two look so cute in your costumes!"

Oh god. I just KNOW this is going to be horribly embarrassing.

She walked down the stairs and gestured for us to move closer together. Angel and I shared an uneasy glance before awkwardly shuffling next to each other. Mom held the camera up and snapped several pictures in a row.

I pretended to be unenthused about the whole thing, but I KNOW I'll be ordering quadruple prints of all of these.

You know, just in case the originals get... damaged. And by 'damaged', I mean soaked in drool.

"You make a very handsome Zorro, Angel," Mom complimented while looking through the viewfinder. "Is this your first school dance?"

Angel looked like he enjoyed having his picture taken about as much as he enjoyed being mauled by rabid weasels. But he gave my Mom a half-smile, anyway.

"We have mixers with the Girls' Catholic School sometimes. But there isn't a lot of dancing due to the large squadron of nuns that chaperone," he explained. "It's hard to slow dance with someone while three or four Sisters are glaring at the back of your head and murmuring Hail Marys."

And Amen to that. Girls dancing with Angel? It's just not RIGHT.

At least girls who aren't ME.

"This should be a new experience for you, then," Mom replied.

"But I'm sure there will be lots of opportunities for you to dance with people here!"

Puh-HUH! I don't THINK so.

"Mom!" I blurted. Both she and Angel turned to look at me questioningly while I struggled to come up with an excuse for my outburst. "Um, we don't want to... to OVERWHELM him at his first dance. So he really should take things slowly. Baby- steps, people!"

"It's just a dance, sweetie. I'm sure he'll be fine."

"Dancing is strenuous exercise. He could pull a muscle! Or lose an EYE!"

Mom looked at me weirdly. "Honey, how much hair spray were you using earlier?"

Eh. This is REALLY not going well...

Time to bail!

"Oh, gosh, it's almost 7:00! We really should go. Bye Mom!"

I grabbed Angel's hand and started towards the front door as fast as possible.

Please, please, PLEASE don't stop us...

"Wait a second, Buffy!"

... damn.

She walked quickly to catch up with us I turned around to offer her an innocent smile.

"What time are you going to be home tonight?" she asked pointedly.

"Around one--"

"When was that?"

Oops.

"... uh, one... minute before 12:30?"

"Mm-hmm. Have a good time, sweetie."

I smiled and snuck a quick glance at Angel. "I will, Mom."

Hey, a hot date with Zorro? Who WOULDN'T have a good time?

-------------------------------------------------------------------

My first observation when we walked into the Bronze was that a large percentage of people believe 'Spiderman' is a viable cultural dress-up alternative.

And the culture of wearing your football pads and pretending it's a costume? Also popular.

"It's a club?"

"What?" I glanced up at Angel, who had a bewildered _expression on his face.

"You have your school dances at a club?"

I shook my head. "If only we were so lucky. No, usually we have them in the gym. It's very romantic, what with the barred windows and pungent sweat odor."

"So why is this one here?"

"Because it's special," I explained. "We're trying to impress all the exchange students by making them think that, here in America, all the high schoolers get to have funky soirees at dance clubs. Is it working?"

"Absolutely."

"Well then, mission accomplished." I grabbed his hand again (wee!) and tugged him towards the table Willow, Xander, and I usually meet at when we go Bronzing. It's nice and dark and secluded, which is perfect for conversation.

'Conversation' meaning 'giving each other violent hickies', of course.

"Buffy! Look at you!"

I smiled and turned around to greet Willow in her... in her... uh... Walking Pile of Dead Animal Skins costume?

"Wills! Wow! That's quite a... ah..."

"Eskimo costume?" Angel supplied helpfully.

I flashed him a grateful smile. "Yeah! That's quite an Eskimo costume!"

She grinned. "Thanks! Isn't it neat?"

"Totally. And wow, that's some... pointy stick-thing you have there."

"This is an actual Inuit trout spear!" Willow gushed. "I borrowed it from the Mendocino County Natural History Museum.

My Aunt is a curator there."

"That's amazing," Angel complimented, looking genuinely impressed.

Willow seemed thrilled. "Do you want to hold it?"

"Uh... alright." Angel gently took hold of the spear-y thing and made an _expression that clearly said 'What the hell am I supposed to do with this?'. He glanced at me quizzically and I grinned.

If he were any more adorable, he'd be made out of puppies!

... or something less incredibly creepy sounding!

"So?" Willow asked excitedly. "What do you think?"

"It's... a very nice... spear," Angel answered lamely before handing it back to her.

Willow grinned and tapped the end of it against the floor. "I know! Isn't it great?"

"Mmm. Great!" I echoed.

Willow looked at me pointedly and gestured towards the bar with a nod of her head. "Hey Buffy, can I talk to you for a second?"

"Uh, sure." I turned towards Angel and gestured for him to sit down. "Angel, could you just, um, stay here for a minute? I'll get you something to drink. What would you like?"

"Soda, I guess. Thank you."

I smiled and Willow and I started picking our way through the throngs of people to the other end of the room. We stopped when we got to the edge of the crowd surrounding the bar.

"So? What's with the secretive?" I asked.

Willow looked a little flustered. "Um, Angel is wearing pants."

"Well, I thought it would have been weird for Zorro to prance around wearing tighty-whities," I replied, raising an eyebrow in question.

She shook her head. "I think they're made out of LEATHER."

I grinned saucily. "I know. You can thank me later."

Willow looked at me with something akin to awe and I laughed.

Of course, because we were talking about girly things, Xander chose this exact moment to walk up between us and drape his arms over our shoulders.

"Well, if it isn't my two favorite ladies! Looking fine, Buffster. And is that GENUINE dead cat you're wearing, Wills?"

Willow winced visibly and I glared up at him before shrugging his arm off. Is he COMPLETELY oblivious? God.

"N-no," she mumbled. "It's an Eskimo costume."

"And is that a genuine bath mat YOU'RE wearing?" I asked cattily, looking pointedly at his spaghetti-western pancho.

He frowned and glanced down at his costume self-consciously. "What?! This costume is dead-sexy! Clint Eastwood? 'Fistful of Dollars'?"

I stared at him blankly. "Fistful of what?"

He looked shocked. "You've never seen 'Fistful of Dollars'?! Blasphemy!"

I rolled my eyes and grabbed Willow's hand, dragging her with me closer to the bar. Once we were out of earshot, I gave her a weak smile but I could tell she was majorly bummed. "Don't worry about him, Wills. He's just acting like a stupid guy."

She shrugged half-heartedly. "I know. I just wish he would notice me, you know?"

I glanced over her shoulder just in time to see Cordelia swoop in at our table and start chatting up MY potential- would-be-sex-god. I sighed and got in line to order the drinks, feeling considerably less teen-movie-ish. "I do know. BELIEVE me, I do."

-------------------------------------------------------------------

The first thing I noticed when Willow, Xander and I made it back to the table was that Angel looked decidedly uncomfortable. Which made me smile.

The second thing I noticed was that Cordelia, Aura, and Harmony looked a little TOO comfortable. Which made me want to throw my drinks at them and then jump up and down in a jealous cave-girl way.

But... no.

We stood next to the table awkwardly while Cordelia finished yapping like a schizophrenic poodle. "So, I said, 'I'm not going to wear something off the rack!' God!"

Angel tilted his head up to look at me and smiled. I smiled back and uncurled a couple fingers from his coke to give him a pseudo-wave. He glanced back at Cordelia who was, predictably, glaring at me.

Angel turned back towards her and offered a weak smile. "Thrilling. Would you excuse me?"

She looked like she was going to protest, but he pushed his chair back anyway. He stood up and made his way over towards me before gently reaching out and grabbing the drinks out of my hands. He turned around to set the drinks on the table and I took the opportunity to grin cheekily at RoboBitch while his back was turned.

When he faced me again, he had an odd half-smile on his face and he almost looked... nervous? Or maybe I've been inhaling plastic-hair fumes for too long and I'm starting to hallucinate.

He reached down and took one of my now empty hands and held it between both of his. His hands are so big, they covered mine completely. It was really... sexy.

I suddenly felt warm all over and at that moment I just KNEW what he was going to ask. I don't know how or why but I knew. I was smiling so wide it was almost painful.

"Dance with me?"

"'Kay."

... eat your heart out Molly Ringwald.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

We're dancing.

'We' being Angel and I. Me and Angel. Dancing. With, you know... hands. And touching. And closeness. And there's also a wee smidge of hyperventilation. But I'm dealing with that by opening and closing my mouth against his shirt like a fish and hoping he won't notice.

Very attractive.

Did I mentioned that my head is leaning against his chest?

No?

Because it is. A LOT. My head. His shoulder. All up in there with the leaning...

Mmm.

It's like a really comfortable, really good smelling full-body pillow. Only it's more... firm. And I've also never exactly had an intense, mindless desire to grope a full-body pillow before.

But, hey, first time for everything!

"I don't want to monopolize you," Angel murmured against my hair. "We can stop whenever you want. I'm sure you want to spend some time with your friends."

I can feel his fingers skimming just a little lower on the small of my back. If he moved them down just another three or four inches, they'd totally be on my ass. And then I'd burst into flames.

But in a good way.

I pulled back a little to smile up at him. "Nope. Monopolize away!"

A ghost of a smile passed across his face before we stepped back together and continued dancing. I felt really lightheaded and... slow. Like everything around us had just stopped moving completely. It was so good.

I rubbed my cheek against the silk of his shirt as subtly as I could and glanced back over towards our table where I could clearly see Cordelia and her evil minions mentally eviscerating me with their drinking straws.

Willow, on the other hand, looked like a big, happy ball of sunshine covered in the mutilated carcasses of a number of dead animals. She waved at me in an overblown, hyperactive manner and I grinned stupidly in return.

"Your mother was right," Angel announced suddenly.

I looked up at him in confusion. "What?"

"About the dance. It's a lot more fun without any nuns around."

"Mmm. Yeah, I imagine the threat of eternal damnation probably puts a damper on the slow-dancing fun," I agree. "Luckily for us, the nun-quotient in Southern California high schools is pretty low."

He nodded absently and we kept dancing. I spread my fingers a little further along the back of his neck and I could just feel the tips of his hair against my fingertips.

Angel stiffened for a second and I hastily slid my hand down closer to his shoulder. He pushed gently on my hip and I took the hint and stepped back a little to look up at him.

His eyes were hooded and dark and perfect and I licked my lips unconsciously. It's disgusting how hot he is. Would he hate me if I bit him?

"Buffy," he murmured and slid his hand up my arm until his fingertips were resting at that little place where my neck meets my jaw.

GIH!

Okay, don't freak out, self! You're cool, you're calm! Obscenely gorgeous men stroke your neck all the time! Really. It's old news! And if you blurt out something about kittens again, I'm afraid we're going to have to kill ourself...

"I know this is crazy, but--" he trails off before moving his hand up to cup my cheek. I think I'm going to pass out.

And WHY is he just staring at me? We're having a moment, dammit! KISS ME ALREADY!

...

Wait...

Oh god, I think he's leaning in. Oh yeah, there's definite leanage! His eyes drift closed and I reach up and grab a big handful of the front of his shirt while I stretch forward on my tip-toes.

Almost there... almost there...

"Buffster!"

WHAT THE HELL??

I jerk forward in surprise and my nose jams against Angel's chin painfully. We break apart immediately and I feel something cold and wet drip down onto my lip.

My eyes fly open in embarrassment when I realize what it is and I fling my hands up to cover my now bloody nose.

ARGH. This time he's going to DIE.

"XANDER!" I shout, but it comes out muffled. "What the hell is wrong with you?!"

"Are you alright?" Angel interrupts, managing to look both concerned and guilty at the same time.

Wait. Guilty? Why does he look guilty?

"Oh my god, Buffy! Are you okay?" Xander asks.

Okay? OKAY??!

"No, I'm not okay! I'm BLEEDING!"

"Here," Angel mutters while wrapping the end of his sleeve around his hand. He gently pries my fingers away from my disgusting faucet-like nose and wipes away most of the blood.

God, could this be any less sexy? Why don't I just throw up all over him and then ask him to get me a beer? Ugh.

"Sorry! I'm sorry!" Xander whimpers, looking appropriately horrified. "I just needed to talk to you."

"Talk to me??" I echo in disbelief. Couldn't he see I was a little busy?!

Willow suddenly appeared next to us and made a little gasping noise. "Buffy! Oh my gosh, are you okay?"

Besides wanting to crawl under a rock and die? Sure, I'm just peachy!

"No," I moan pathetically while Angel starts leading me off the dance floor towards an empty table.

He pulls out a chair for me and looks back over at Willow. "Could you go to the bar and see if you can get some ice and some napkins?"

She nods and rushes off to her task and I tilt my head back a bit to slow the bleeding, giving the small crowd that's gathered around the table a great view up my nostrils.

Blah. This couldn't possibly be any more humiliating.

"Gee Buffy," Cordelia sighs in mock concern. "If you wanted to get a nose-job, there are easier ways of doing it."

Oh wait. It CAN be more humiliating. How silly of me.

"Cordelia, why do you always have to be so... so... Cordelia," Xander mumbles.

Cordelia rolls her eyes in response. "What a clever comeback. Tell me, what's your favorite flavor of paint?"

"Do you want to go home?" Angel asks me quietly while kneeling down next to my chair.

I nod pathetically and he helps me up by the elbow just as Willow comes back with the ice and a handful of napkins.

I grab a few from her and blot at my nose while we make our way outside. The bleeding has pretty much stopped, but now I'm left with a giant, swollen Ronald McDonald nose. Again with the attractiveness.

Once we're outside, Angel lets go of my arm and I carefully press the bag of ice against my face and sigh.

Dammit, I was THIS close to getting some hot Angel-tongue action.

God, what a waste.

-----------------------------------------------------------

"Are you sure you're alright, honey?"

Well, I'LL live, but my pride may never recover.

"Yeah," I mumble through the giant ice-pack she has plastered to my face. "The swelling's gone down. We can probably lose the huge block of ice anytime now."

She's smiling at me patiently, but I know I'm not getting out of this THAT easy. "I think it's best if we keep the ice on at least until you're ready to go to bed. We might even want to see if we can get an appointment with Dr. Richards just in case there might be any damage we don't know about."

Yeah. Or NOT.

"Um, NO."

"Honey, I know you don't like hospitals--"

It's not that I 'don't like' them. It's that I'd rather cut off my arms and legs and roll around on a skateboard until the end of TIME than go to one.

"Mom, stop wigging, okay! I'm fine. It was just a bloody nose. I don't need surgery or anything."

She sighs and shakes her head. "I know that, Buffy. I just wanted to be sure."

"Well, BE sure," I instruct. "I really am okay. I have a bloated, mutant-like nose now, but otherwise... just fine."

Mom doesn't look convinced. "How exactly did this happen, anyway?"

I blush involuntarily. "Um...."

"'Um' what?" Mom prods curiously before her face slips into a barely controlled frown. "Did someone hit you?"

"What? No! Jumping to conclusions much?"

"Well, you aren't exactly being forthcoming with information, honey," she chides. "And forgive me for being curious when my only child goes to a school dance and comes home with a bloody nose."

"You're blowing this WAY out of proportion, Mom. It was just a really embarrassing accident."

"Then why can't you tell me what happened?"

"Um, did you not hear the part about it being embarrassing?" I mumble. "I'd really just like to forget the whole thing."

Except for the part where Angel and I were about to make with the kissage. Because... wooo-hoo!

And speaking of...

"Hey, where's Angel?" I ask, sitting up a little higher against my headboard.

Mom gets up off the edge of my bed and starts folding the remains of my gross, blood-stained dress. I cringe involuntarily. It was so pretty and now it looks like Charles Manson evening wear.

"He's downstairs," she replied before giving up trying to fold it and instead bunching it into a little heap.

"I gave him some club soda and a rag to try to get the blood off of his shirt. It was silk, though, so I think it's a lost cause."

Nooo!

"But it was so sexy!" I blurt and then gasp against my bag of ice. Oh god, I said that out loud, didn't I?

Mom raises an eyebrow while shooting me her 'What did you just say, young lady??' withering stare. I slouch lower into my pillows and I just know I'm blushing to the roots of my hair.

Ugh. Why am I SUCH a MORON??

"I mean, sexy to... some... people," I recover lamely. "Other people. People who aren't me!"

Kill me now.

"Mmm-hmm. I see," she states in that time-honored 'You're full of it' way. She sighs and sits back down at the head of the bed, brushing my hair back with her fingers. "Sweetie, are you... are you attracted to Angel?"

DUH.

"Um... no?"

"Buffy--"

"Maybe a tiny, tiny bit," I concede before she gives me the look again. Damn. "Okay fine, I think he's freakishly hot. I DO have eyes, Mom."

And now my humiliation is complete! Joy.

She sighs again and can I just say that's getting REALLY annoying? "I admit that he's very... very good-looking--"

I pull the ice-pack away from my face and stare at her in shock.

She rolls her eyes in response. "I have eyes too, Buffy."

Panic starts to creep into my voice. "You aren't... I mean, you don't..."

Her eyes widen in surprise and she looks fairly appalled. WHEW. Thank god! "Of course not! He's not even half my age. I'm just saying that, even though he's good-looking, he's..."

"He's what?" I ask curiously when she trails off.

"He's only going to be here for five weeks," she finally gets out. "I just want to be sure you know what you're getting into."

Blah.

I know he's only going to be here for five weeks. BELIEVE ME, I've thought about it A LOT. But come on! How often does a guy like Angel drop into your lap? A girl's got to take a few risks, right?

"I know that! I do. I just don't really care," I announce. "Mom, Angel's really special. And I'm not saying that we're ever going to date or anything, but maybe... maybe if he likes me too, we could... you know... have a thing? Like a long distance thing. Or-or we could work something else out. Or something."

And I can't believe I'm talking about this with MY MOTHER.

"Okay," she says, surprising me. "I hope it works out for you, then, sweetie. I'm glad you're starting to be interested in guys again after what happened with Tyler. Now, keep that ice on your nose until you're ready to go to sleep. I'm going to go downstairs and check on Angel."

I nod, still a little weirded out that she didn't throw a big 'Mom Fit' about my Angel lusting. She grabs the leftovers of my dress and leaves the room, closing my door behind her.

I can't help the smile that starts to creep across my face. I wouldn't wish the extreme humiliation of today on my worst enemy (EXCLUDING Cordelia, who I wish humiliation on quite frequently), but the night didn't really turn out all bad.

After all, my Mom is acting nice and supportive to the point of being Stepford creepy, I got to slowdance with a hottie, AND I was inches away from some serious Angel lip-sucking.

And yeah, it really blew monkeys that we were interrupted, but... we ARE going to be sleeping in the same room tonight.

Alone.

In the dark.

In close proximity to my bed.

...

I hate to quote the she-bitch from hell, but... "HELLO, Salty Goodness!"

--------------------------------------------------------------

"Hey."

I glance away from the ceiling that I've been staring at for an hour to see Angel standing hesitantly in the doorway. His hand is still on the knob and he only has the door open halfway.

"Hi," I reply cheerfully before shooting him a look. "Are you going to come in or are you trying to maintain a 15 foot distance from my horrible disfigurement?"

He smiles sheepishly and comes all the way inside, shutting the door behind him. "Sorry. Does it still hurt?"

"No. It's more of a horrendous, throbbing self-esteem killer now." I hold up my pink, stuffed pig and wave it near my face. "And look! Mr. Gordo and I have matching noses! Yay."

The corner of his mouth twitches for just a second, like he's trying to keep himself from laughing. Jerk.

But I forgive you.

On with the kissing!

"You don't have a pig nose, Buffy. Actually, the swelling has gone down a lot already. The ice must be helping."

"Mmm. So now instead of a gigantic whale nose, I have a... slightly smaller whale nose."

Do whales even have noses? Hmm.

Oh well.

And anytime now with the kissing, Angel!

"You look fine," he corrects gently. "You won't even notice it by tomorrow morning."

I shrug, but don't say anything. Instead I pull my shoulders back and attempt to stick out my chest (also known as my 'some people have boobs here, but unfortunately mine never came in the mail' area) in a flirty, sex-kittenish manner.

Sure to drive all men wild with lust!

Or... to the bathroom with nausea!

Angel stares at me blankly and I blink coquettishly at him. Come and get some, big boy!

"Do you have something in your eye?" he asks slowly.

"No~o," I purr and lean forward a bit.

I'm still blinking freakishly and he's starting to look vaguely uncomfortable. Doesn't this usually work on TV?

"Uh... are you sure? It looks like you have something in your eye."

Arg. You're ruining it!

"There's nothing in my eye! Nothing. See?" I stand up abruptly and stalk over to Angel until I'm right in front of him, staring up into his eyes. I try not to blink and my eyes start to water, so I glance down quickly before he can see.

I can sort of see my reflection in his belt buckle. It's shiny.

... oh SHIT, I'm staring at his crotch, aren't I?? SHIT!

I jump back in a strung out, bordering physically disabled manner and end up stumbling into my dresser. I let out a yelp and flail about for a moment, before succumbing to gravity and collapsing into a heap on the floor.

He's next to me in an instant, clutching my elbow and checking me over for injuries. I stare straight ahead in a mortified stupor.

What is WRONG with me? I was never this much of a freak around Tyler...

Am I being punished? Is that it? Is there some vengeful god out there paying me retribution because I was a cannibal in another life? A really, really mean cannibal who ate other people's... legs and faces and... and backs! I ate other people's backs and now I have to suffer for it because-- MPFFH!

Nng!

KISSING!

WE HAVE KISSING!

Oh god, it's so good! He's sliding his tongue between my lips and I pull myself closer to him by his shoulders. He moves one of his arms around me and his hand brushes against the back of my neck, rubbing the skin there gently.

I shiver and moan into his mouth and his hand moves away, sliding into my hair. I press more urgently against his lips-- god, his lips! They're so soft... and warm...

I surge forward until I'm in his lap and we kiss and kiss until we realize we need to breathe and break apart, gasping for air.

I pant and stare at him; his eyes are unfocused and his shoulders tremble with his shallow breaths.

It's too much. God, I need more.

I lean forward again but he turns his head a little, so my lips brush against the side of his mouth and hold there.

We both get really still and I can feel little puffs of breath against my cheek.

I make the tiniest of movements against his skin and then I can feel a hint of stubble scratch against my upper lip.

It's so violently sexy that I can't help gasping.

I swear to god, this is what heroin must feel like.

"Buffy, honey? Can I come in?"

CRAP! My mother is the DEVIL!

Angel stumbles backwards in surprise, causing him to fall on his ass from his kneeling position. I jump up just as the door starts to creep open and grab the first thing I see off of my nighttable as if some prop will help explain what we were doing.

Unfortunately, it just happens to be my desklamp.

"Hi Mom!" I cry, but it comes out in a strangled, high- pitched voice. I wince inwardly but force a crooked, toothy smile on my face.

I just KNOW I look like a psychopath.

Mom's 'Guilt-O-Meter' immediately starts sending off sirens at my weird behavior and she frowns at the lamp in my hands. "What are you doing with that?"

"Nothing, Mo~om!" I lilt. Gah!

"Then why are you holding it, Buffy?"

"Because... of... the... broken-ness! It was broken. But now... fixed!" I blabber before hurriedly setting the lamp back down. I look over at Angel who is awkwardly getting to his feet. "Thanks, Angel! For fixing it. The lamp. Because... whew! What a close one! We almost didn't have... any... light...-ed... ness. And also electricity."

I smiled innocently back up at my mother who is now frowning in overt suspicion. She glances at Angel but he's somehow managed to wipe all expression from his face.

Lucky bastard. Why can't I do that?

"Well, I was just checking to see if you needed any more ice," Mom explains slowly. "Do you?"

Nope! I have plenty left in my ziploc bag to rub all over Angel later until he's all wet and trembly and begging me to lick him...

Mmm-BOY!

"I'm fine, Mom! Thanks!" I smile again and this time it doesn't seem forced. She seems fairly appeased and nods reluctantly.

"Alright. I think it's time for you both to go to sleep then," she states while sending me another look.

"I'm just going to brush my teeth and then... straight to bed!" I enthuse before calmly walking past my mother into the hallway and disappearing into the bathroom.

I shut the door behind me frantically and lean against it, feeling like I had just run a mile. I smile a little.

And then I smile some more.

"Goodnight!" I call through the door before leaning my head back and opening my mouth in a silent scream of euphoria.

Angel kissed me!

--------------------------------------------------------------

"Um, do you-- uh, do you need to use the bathroom?"

"No. No, I'm... I'm good. Thanks."

I nod my head and rock back on my heels, trying to look anywhere but at Angel's lips. Angel's perfect, tasty, kissable lips...

Blah. I didn't think this would be so awkward, but what do you say to a person when you were nearly caught massaging their tonsils by your mother?

"So..." he mumbles, picking at the sleeve of the white T-shirt he changed into after the traumatic death of 'Silky, the Official Shirt of SexGodliness'.

"Soooo," I mumble back. God, this is becoming painful. Okay, let's just... wing it. "We DID just kiss back there, didn't we? That wasn't, like, my horribly overactive imagination, was it?"

His eyes widen in shock. "Uh, no. No, we... yes, we kissed."

I smile a little nervously and take a couple slow steps towards him. I reach up and play with the crew collar of his shirt. His eyes close. So fun! "Sooo... wanna do it again?"

"Yes," he breathes hoarsely. I grin and lean forward on my tip-toes before his eyes shoot open and he stumbles back a step. "I mean, no. No. We... uh... we really shouldn't."

I blink at him in confusion and a little hurt. "What? Why?"

He shakes his head like he's trying to clear it. "We just shouldn't. Buffy, I-- we shouldn't."

"Why not?" I demand, leaning my hands on my hips in frustration. "Don't-- don't you like kissing me?"

"GOD yes," he exhales in a ragged breath. I can't help but smile. My sentiments exactly!

"Good. Because I like kissing you. So... what's the problem?"

"I'm only going to be here for four and a half more weeks. I've only known you for... what? Two days?" he sighs and my happy smile starts to crack. He's brushing me off, isn't he? This really, really sucks. "Buffy, the way I feel about you... I don't want to be with you for a week or two and then never see you again. I don't think I could do that."

Okay, that didn't SOUND like brushing off. "Me too. I mean... I don't either. But it doesn't have to be like that! People have, you know, long distance relationships. And stuff. Or-or... we could... move to France?"

"What? Why France?"

"I... don't know. Because my mother doesn't live there?" I offer helpfully.

And also... the French? I'm a fan of their kissing.

... Just saying!

"I don't think that would help," he replies, smiling a little again. "But you're right. Maybe we could work something out. It might be hard for a while, though..."

"I don't care."

"You're sure?"

"WAY sure."

His smile blossoms into a full-blown grin. I feel dizzy. "Alright. I don't care so much, either."

"Good. So... time for kissing?" I ask, smiling coyly.

"As much fun as that would be, I really don't feel like being interrupted by your mother again," he says before gently pushing me back towards my bed. I, of course, get the wrong idea and tug happily at his sleeve to bring him with me.

He ignores my pathetic attempts at overpowering him and I whine at him pitifully. "Aaangel."

"Buffy," he reprimands gently. "Tomorrow we'll talk... figure out what we're going to do."

Does 'talking' involve me ripping off all your clothes and doodling my name on your chest with my tongue?

Because I'm a talkative girl!

"Just talk?" I ask sadly.

"Well... mostly."

I grin stupidly. Good enough for me! "Okay. So... tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow," he echoes before leaning down and kissing my forehead softly.

I nod, curl up under the covers, and smile until I fall asleep.

----------------------------------------------------------

TBC…


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