"Angel," Buffy said, staring deeply into the chocolate-brown eyes of her beloved, "we haven't seen each other in three months. I've missed you desperately, and I want to hear how you spent every moment that I couldn't be with you. So what's with the matchbook?"
"No, really, Buffy," Angel said, the expression on his face closely mirroring that of a cornered housecat who really doesn't want to let on that he has the body of the family hamster in his mouth, "I don't want to talk about the matchbook." His eyes darting around desperately, he begged soulfully, "I've missed you so much . . . can't I just hold you?"
It was pitiful. It was underhanded. And damn it, it worked. Buffy's face immediately softened as she heard his gentle plea, the torment of having doubted him written across her sweet countenance, clearly striking so deeply into her tender heart that she didn't notice when he slid the matchbook into his pocket.
*Score!* Angel smirked mentally, as he enfolded the tiny Slayer into his arms, protecting his soulmate from all harm --
Distracted by his self-congratulations, Angel didn't notice when Buffy slipped her hand into the pocket of his coat and pulled out the matchbook. He also didn't notice when she held it up behind his back so that she could read the writing. He *did* notice, however, when her pliant body went suddenly rigid and her left hand whipped out to slap him soundly across the face.
Reeling at the horror of being bitch-slapped by his girlfriend, Angel's balance was also reeling, and he ended up with his butt on the 'Welcome' mat that Joyce kept insisting on putting out. Staring up at Buffy, Angel could only watch as she tapped into her inner Tina Turner.
"Why," Buffy hissed, rage outlining every line of her body (Angel had to remind himself not to focus to closely on certain lines of her body, because he was getting the impression that the ensuing conversation might require his attention), "are you carrying around a matchbook from Willy's bar?"
"I . . . I . . . " Angel's mind worked desperately, the result being that the gerbil nearly fell off of the wheel, but in a flash of brilliance he came up with an explanation.
"I stopped for a drink on the way here," he said, hanging his head in a calculated movement to make the dark strands of his hair fall down over his forehead in a boyish gesture. Or, rather, it would've, had he not gone a little overboard on the gel this morning. Damn. He settled for giving her the puppy-dog-eyes. Full blast.
The three month separation had taken its toll, because instead of immediately throwing her arms around him and begging for forgiveness, Buffy merely let the killing rage ebb from her eyes. It was a start, though.
"So," she said, in the chillingly reasonable tone that men have feared throughout the centuries, "having been traveling through abandoned wastelands for three months to find a secure hiding place for the arm, after having promised to return to me as soon as you can, having pledged your love for me, you come back to Sunnydale, and *go for a drink*."
Angel nodded slowly. She was pretty angry now, but once he admitted that he was an idiot, she would forgive him. Even now, he could see her expression gentling in the face of his guilt and shame.
"I'm sorry," she said finally, reaching out and helping him up, "I overreacted. Come in, we need to talk."
Maintaining his martyred air, Angel followed her in, faking a limp as he went. Never hurt to play the injury card. To his glee, she immediately noticed and insisted on helping him into the comfiest chair and fussing over him until he was settled.
"I'll be right back," she cooed, "I just have to make a quick call."
Settling back into the chair, Angel relaxed as he listened to Buffy's muffled voice coming from the kitchen. Long minutes passed, and then Buffy returned. Perching herself on the arm of the chair, she slid her arms around him and gently ran her fingers through his hair.
"So," she asked mildly, "where have you been for three months?"
"Oh, lots of places," Angel said, "Egypt, Pakistan, Canada . . . "
"That's really interesting," Buffy responded, "especially since I just got off the phone with Willy, and he says that you've been at his bar drinking for two months and three and a half weeks."
She said it in such a reasonable tone that it took a moment for the words to sink in. Then Angel gulped. He was screwed . . . and not in a good way . . .
"What I'd like to know," Buffy said perkily, "is just what you were doing for the three days that you *weren't* drinking. Because," her voice dripped with sarcasm, "clearly the rest of the time was *just* as busy as my life has been. I mean, all I had to do was kill Spike and Drusilla on my own, deal with werewolves, mutated swim teams, disturbing demons with German names, angry ghosts, and seeing Cordelia and Xander make out. *You* were bravely facing every whiskey bottle in sight. So," she finished, pining him with a dangerous glare, "what were you doing in those three days?"
Angel squirmed, looked for a route of escape, squirmed again, then finally said everything very quickly, hoping that maybe she wouldn't kill him if she heard it all at the same time.
Buffy was clearly not going to let him get away with that, though. A second icy glare, and Angel sighed and explained again, slower.
"I got on the boat, but I got off at the next stop and went to LA, where I put the Judge's arm in a safety deposit box, then came back here."
There was a long pause, and it was a good thing that Angel didn't need to breathe, because the tension in the air would likely have choked him.
"So, *why* did you stay away for all those months, and then lie to me when you came back?" Buffy asked in that deadly calm tone.
Gulping, Angel sent a quick prayer to whoever might be listening to get him out of this moment...
A knock on the door came in answer. Angel was shocked once again (and a 244-year-old *really* shouldn't have to deal with this many shocks) when a young male voice yelled, "Buffy? We really have to hurry, our dinner reservations are in fifteen minutes!"
Staring at the tiny Slayer in utter amazement, Angel asked, "YOU HAVE A DATE???"