Angel heard the car as it pulled up in front of the mansion. He had woken a short while ago and as expected had found Buffy gone. He questioned letting her drive his car, but did not want her to feel like she had to sit here waiting.
He saw the bag she held and knew what was in it. He was impressed she had taken the time to think about him today. He was certain she had many things on her mind that had nothing to do with him. He was after all the man who claimed to love her more than anything or anyone he had ever loved and left her.
"I brought you some blood."
"I figured you might be hungry."
"How about you? Did you eat?"
"Yeah, actually, I did."
"Good," he said taking the bag from her. "I'm going to go into the other room and drink this. I'll be out in a few minutes."
"Okay. I forgot to look at the house to see if any of my things were still there. So I can't give you your clothes back."
"It's no problem, Buffy. I have them in that bag for emergencies. You can keep them." He would never admit it aloud but he liked the idea of her wearing his clothes. He had liked seeing her in his leather jacket years ago and that feeling, whatever it was, was still there.
He vamped out and ripped the bag open with his teeth, sucking on the blood eagerly. "So, how did your day go?"
"It went fine I guess. I saw Dawn and Anya. Willow's in England with Giles I guess and Xander's working construction."
"She's good. A little freaked out. I'm not sure how to explain this, but they've been using this robot Spike had made to slay."
"What?" Angel said, finishing the blood and walking to the other room.
"It's a long story, but there's a robot that looks like me."
"I'm going to kill him."
"No, Angel, it's fine, really. Anyway, I guess on the hope that it would help they rebuilt her so that the town wouldn't get overrun by vampires."
"The plan isn't working very well if what we saw last night is proof of anything."
"I know. But you can imagine how Dawn felt seeing me, thinking I was the robot. She's got a job, Angel."
"Yeah." She sat on the sofa, curling her legs under her like he had seen her do many times before. "I'm happy for her. I was glad to see she's all right. That I didn't dive off that tower only to make her life worse."
He sat next to her. She looked the same yet there was an air to her he did not recognize. "I'll never forget the day I found out. We had just gotten back from another dimension, rescuing Cordelia and Fred. We walked through the doors of the Hyperion and there was Willow. I knew, Buffy, I just knew why she was there. I hadn't felt anything in my heart for years, but I swear I felt it beat while it broke that day."
"No, I'm sorry. I should have been there for you."
"You didn't know."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"We were in different places. Riley left and I don't know why but I couldn't call you. Spike was there, he helped us. I honestly thought we would win. And I didn't want to need you. I didn't want you to think that I couldn't handle myself or that I'd call you every time there was a crisis."
"You did win. The world was saved. And I want you to call me if there's a crisis big enough you think you need help."
"How many more times can I die, Angel? One of these times it's got to be permanent."
"One would think," he said with a light laugh. It really was not funny. He could not imagine what she must be feeling. A year of her life was gone. Where had she been? He imagined a slayer went someplace where she could be happy and content. "I wonder if it's possible you didn't die but were merely transported to another dimension."
"But look at the clothes I came back in, Angel. They were funeral, burial clothes."
"Your body was here, but that doesn't mean you died."
"I suppose it's possible."
"I'm not saying that's what happened. I guess we'll never know."
"No, I don't suppose we will."
"Do you think Giles will come back?"
"I don't know. Angel, I don't even know what I'm going to do."
"What do you mean?"
"I told you last night that I would help you with Connor."
"I don't really need your protection, Buffy."
"Um, you were certainly talking a different tune last night."
"I won't put myself in the position again for him to surprise me like that."
"Are you sure?"
"Buffy, you're the slayer and you've got Dawn. I really have to resolve the issues with Connor. We're never going to have a strong relationship. I can accept that. I want it to be better than it is now. I don't want him to try to kill me every time I turn around."
"Of course not."
"My life isn't here anymore, Buffy."
She stood from the couch and walked to the French doors which led to the garden. It was the one place in the large room Angel could not follow her to.
"Don't you think I know that? You made it crystal clear when you left."
"Can we not argue about this? I left for you. It's done."
"But last night you wanted me with you."
"Yes, I admit I did. I wasn't thinking clearly, Buffy. I was thinking with my heart, I do that too much where you're concerned. Dawn never entered my mind. I was being selfish. If you didn't have Dawn and if Sunnydale didn't need you."
"When does it end?"
"It never does, Buffy. But maybe someday."
"Yeah," she said and Angel knew the answer did not satisfy her. "You came to me last night."
"You were crying. I held you until you stopped."
"Don't apologize. You've been through something I can't even begin to understand. You're human, Buffy."
She snorted. "I'm not so sure of that."
"When are you leaving?"
"I'll stay for a few days so that you have someone to lean on. But once you're used to being back and everybody knows."
"You'll leave again," she said and turned to face him again. The look on her face was pathetic. She looked lost. She was lucky she did not have the memories of their last time together. It was the best day of his life. Ever.
"Yes," he said simply. There was no other answer to give her. He had to leave. For both their sakes, for the world's sake, he had to stay away from her. "I'm sorry."
"I am, too."
"You look tired. I'm sure it's been a hard day. Why don't you go lay down? I'll wake you when it gets dark and we can go."
"Are you trying to get rid of me?"
"No, Buffy, I'm trying to take care of you. You want to talk to Xander I imagine. And from what I saw last night, we have some work to do here before I can leave."
"You're going to stay that long?"
"I'll stay until I know things are under control."
An hour went by and Angel was compelled to check on her. All he had to offer her was a bare mattress, but she did not seem to mind. She was curled up in the fetal position, looking like a child in his clothes. He had to remind himself that she was an adult now. She could legally go to a bar and order a drink. There was nothing childish about her any longer.
She looked so lost there on the bed and like the night before he joined her. It was dangerous to get this close to her, but he could not resist. Just like after her mother died when he had visited her he realized the temptation to want to be with Buffy when she was near him would always be there. It would not subside, it would never go away. When he was in LA he could handle it, or at least fool everyone into believing he was.
Cordelia had been a pleasant diversion. He wanted to love her and believed she wanted to love him. There was too much past there to allow that to happen. Couple that with the fact that in the back of his mind were memories of how Cordelia had treated Buffy in high school. The odds had been against them. He enjoyed the companionship, but in the end Angel knew Groo was best for Cordelia.
He wondered where she was. He had called Gunn again earlier but he had not heard from either Cordelia or Connor. Angel was not really surprised, but he was confused and wondered if she had betrayed him. He hoped he was wrong in thinking that.
Angel drew Buffy near him enjoying how easily she went to him. She fit against him perfectly. She always had. He stared at the ceiling knowing this would be one of the last times he could hold her close. Tonight she would be home in her bedroom most likely and then soon he would return to LA.
His dreams were strange the short while he slept. He dreamt of a life with Buffy by his side every step of the way. Happy. They were both so happy. That emotion filled his soul with every image he saw. He was not sure if they were sharing dreams or if these were images The Powers That Be were giving him for whatever reason. Buffy was strong, confident, unstoppable and always beautiful. She was a slayer to be reckoned with.
He woke and knew he had to leave soon. His dreams were wishful thinking. He had given up on that outcome when he left Sunnydale. Misses Summers and the Mayor were right in some of the things they said. Angel had nothing to offer Buffy, nothing good anyway. The temptation to stay would become stronger if he remained here much longer. He glanced at her face and found her looking at him.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"For being here."
"Anytime." It hurt and would hurt more when he left, but seeing her look at him like this was worth it.
"What time is it?"
"The sun's set, but beyond that I don't know."
"I suppose it's time to go talk to Xander. If Anya told him I'm going to kill her."
"Are you ready?"
"I haven't been ready for much of anything since becoming the slayer."
"I told Dawn I'd pick her up when she's done with work. I hope I'm not late for that."
It turned out they got to the book store with about five minutes to spare. Angel and Buffy entered the store and saw Dawn behind a cash register helping someone. Angel followed as Buffy walked to the magazine section and picked up a woman's magazine of some sort and walked to the line.
Dawn smiled brightly when she saw them, her relief apparent. "Do you have money?" she asked Angel when Dawn rung up the magazine.
"Sure," he said pulling out his wallet and handing Dawn enough to cover the magazine. "I didn't realize you read stuff like that."
"Cosmo? I think every girl my age reads Cosmo. And besides, I've got some catching up to do as far as fashion goes."
"Right," he said with a grimace.
"My sister's here, Tom, can I go now?"
Tom glanced at Angel and Buffy then at Dawn. "Sure. You had a good first day. See you tomorrow."
"I have to go get my things and I'll be right back."
"We'll be in the car," Buffy said as she took the brown paper magazine sack off the counter. Buffy slid her hand into Angel's as they passed through the double sliding doors. "I guess I need to look into getting a job, huh?"
"It does," she said as they stopped by the car. Buffy tossed the magazine inside but remained standing. "It's not fair. I should not have to worry about finding a job and getting things on the hellmouth back under control."
"You're here. There's not much use in worrying about the fairness of it all."
"Don't get mad at me, Buffy. Clearly, you're needed here. The Watcher's Council isn't going to send every slayer here, so that leaves it in a vulnerable state with you gone. I'd like to think that The Powers That Be sent you back for me, but I'm not vain enough to believe that. I think I was just the catalyst they used to justify getting you back here."
"But why would they need an excuse?"
"They're altering the forces of nature, Buffy. What Xander and I did was natural. We performed CPR on you. Well, Xander did. It might not have worked, but it did. This is different. You were dead not just for a few minutes but close to a year. I wish I could contact Wesley, he might know."
"True enough, but I'm not sure he trusts me enough to work with me on something like this."
"I just don't understand why I deserve this over any other slayer?"
"It's a gift, Buffy."
"How is being ripped out of someplace where I was happy a gift?"
"Well, I guess if you still think of yourself as a regular human I could see where you question it. But you have the chance to save the world."
"Done it. Several times now. And why did you leave me again?"
"You heard me. You left me to give me the chance for normalcy. Why did you do that if I'm not normal and I shouldn't think of myself as normal?"
"Wow, am I interrupting?"
Angel had been so focused on Buffy he had not heard Dawn's approach. He could not blame her for being upset about things, but she did not seem to want the chance she had been given. She was not doing anybody in Sunnydale any good dead. They saw that last night, and that was probably only the surface of the problem. And that was with the demons and vampires thinking the slayer was still in town.
"No, Dawn, come on. Let's get you home. How was your first day of work?"
"It was good. I learned how to use the computer system to look books up and did the cashiering."
"Nothing wrong with that."
"No, I think I'll like it. And I love to read so there could be worse jobs to have."
"That's true," Buffy said as she slid into the front seat, leaving Angel standing alone.
Buffy and Dawn did not stop talking the entire way to Buffy's house. Angel could not blame them, but he had forgotten how chatty women could be. He pulled the car onto the driveway and glanced at the house. Little had changed. Xander had been taking good care of the house the same as he had Dawn. It showed.
"What's Xander doing now?"
"Construction. He's helping build the new high school. I thought that was kind of twistedly ironic considering he had a hand in, you know, destroying it."
"Yes, I suppose it is," Buffy said and got out of the car.
"And I couldn't be there for it. You made Mom and me get out of town."
"I wanted you both safe."
"I know, but I always miss out on the good stuff."
"The one time you didn't I had to dive off a tower to save you."
"Yeah, well, I didn't ask you to do that."
"I didn't want you to die anymore than I did the other times." Buffy paused at the door and looked first at Angel and then Dawn. "You go ahead, Dawnie."
"You're not changing your mind, are you?"
"No, I'll be right behind you." Dawn looked puzzled. "I promise."
Buffy followed Dawn. Angel hesitated at the door unsure if he was still welcome. He passed through the threshold with no difficulty.
"Xander," he heard Dawn call from the living room.
"Hey, Dawnie, how did the first day go?"
"It went great. Come out here I have something to show you."
"Well, I was putting the finishing touches on my gourmet pizza."
"You mean taking it out of the box and putting it on the baking sheet."
"Yeah, well, hey Buff. Where did you get those clothes?" Angel's presence seemed to go unnoticed. "I mean if you're trying to go to the slovenly chic look, it's you."
"What? I suppose it's not like she's trying to get a date with anyone or anything." Finally, his eyes rested on Angel who had remained in the front entry during this exchange. "What's he doing here? If this is your surprise, Dawn, you could have done better."
"Xander." Angel recognized the chiding tone in Buffy's voice well. She had used it on him a number of times.
"I thought she had been programmed not to like Angel. Smartest thing Spike ever did."
"Xander." It was Dawn's turn and Angel could not help but chuckle.
"What? What's going on here? Angel's here, the Bot has changed clothes. Wait, I just saw her a few minutes ago and she wasn't wearing that."
"Xander, it's not the Bot."
"Well, of course it's the Bot, Dawnie."
"No, Xander, it's not. It's really Buffy."
"No way. I mean we tried, remember, and were told it couldn't be done."
"You tried to bring me back?"
"Well, yeah, we didn't want you stranded in a hell dimension."
"Oh," Buffy said. Angel walked up behind her, placing an arm around her. Based on what she had said on the dunes earlier she had not been in a place she needed rescuing from.
"Get your hands off her."
"No, you can't be Buffy. We tried spells. Willow told us it could not be done. And I won't let him manhandle the Bot. It's bad enough what Spike did with her."
"This wasn't a spell, Xander. And it's me, really. I don't know what I can do to prove it to you. I was brought back to save Angel."
"What about Sunnydale? Isn't it worth saving?"
"I didn't choose it, Xander."
"What did he do? Lose his soul again?"
"No." Angel drew her closer, slight pressure to her waist. He did not want Xander to know about Connor. "Someone was trying to torture him." Apparently, she had taken the hint.
"And that warranted bringing you back from the dead?"
"Evidently someone saw it that way, yes. Listen, if this is weird for you, I can go."
"Buffy, no," Dawn said.
"Not for good, but until Xander can get used to my being here."
"It's your house. If anyone has to leave it'll be me."
"I don't want you to go, Xander."
"Are you back together with him then?"
"No. He drove me here. He'll be going back to LA when he feels it's all right to leave Sunnydale."
"He can leave anytime he wants. Don't let us hold you here."
"Sunnydale's in pretty bad shape, Xander. I've offered to stay here for a while until things have calmed down."
"Good luck. It's been building up since her death. The Bot just isn't good for anything beyond standard patrols."
"It was a good plan, to use her to try to fool demons and vampires into believing Buffy was not dead."
"Are you complimenting me?"
"I guess I am," he said simply. There was no love lost between Xander and him. Everyone knew that. "But, the plan did not work, so Buffy and I will have to work at cleaning things up for a while."
"That could take forever."
"I don't think it will, but if that's what it takes."
"But I don't want you here forever."
Angel smirked slightly. "I think your feelings on the subject are more than slightly apparent, Xander."
"I still don't get it. How? I mean, she looks the same. Was it bad?"
"Where you were?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"No, I don't remember. I can't explain it. I remember jumping off the tower and then I remember being on the sand. There's nothing there anymore."
"Yeah, I woke up and I think I remember things, but now I can't."
"So your memories got erased?"
"I don't know, Xander. It's not like I've gone through this before. I'm here. This is my house, are you going to give me the third degree or be happy I'm back?"
"Of course I'm happy you're here, it's just we could have used you last year."
"I'm sorry to inconvenience you."
"No, it's not that. It's just, Willow's gone and I don't know if she'll be back."
"Dawn mentioned something about that. Is there anything we can do for her?"
"Giles has her in England with a coven to help her. I haven't heard from her, but Giles says she's doing better."
"Maybe he'll let her come back if you're here."
"So, I guess I'll need to put another pizza in the oven."
"I'm not going to eat."
Xander glanced at Angel and snorted. "I wasn't planning on offering you any."
"What? Unlike Spike he doesn't eat food. I just meant we should call Anya. We have to tell her you're here. That means more pizza all around."
"I saw her earlier at the magic shop. I made her promise not to say anything. I wanted to tell you myself."
"Well, promising has not stopped her in the past."
"I think even she knew this was something you wouldn't believe without seeing it."
The timer went off but no one seemed to pay much attention to it. Angel could not blame them really. He was still amazed to have Buffy here, to be able to hold her again. It was something he had forced himself not to do again after their day together in LA. He had never thought about her being taken from him permanently. And then she had died.
He walked to the kitchen, grabbed a potholder Xander had set on the counter by the stove and took the pizza out of the oven. It smelled good. He set the hot pan down on the cluttered countertop and took a moment to look around.
Little had changed in this room. Angel could picture Buffy's mom cooking dinner or heating up a cup of hot chocolate for Buffy.
"Need some help?"
Dawn laughed. "I asked if you needed help."
"No, I just didn't want it to burn."
"Yes, because eating pizza is far more important than having Buffy back."
"Well, you still have to eat and I imagine they'll be a while."
"Yeah, I guess so."
Angel watched as Dawn took a pizza cutter from a drawer and cut the pizza. "Dawn."
"I wanted to apologize to you."
"Yeah. After Buffy died I should have checked on you, made sure you were okay. I just assumed with Giles, Willow and Xander that you would be all right."
"Well, I was. I mean, I am."
"I still should have checked."
Dawn shrugged as she bit into the slice of pizza. "You're busy doing the world saving stuff. I'm just a girl. Your ex's sister. It's no big deal, Angel."
"When I go back to LA I want you to call me if things aren't going well."
"What do you mean?"
"She seems fine now, Dawn, but she may not be a month from now, two months from now. I'll come back if she needs me. What she's been through, dying and being brought back."
"I get it."
"Good. Now it's time for the two of us to get to work."
"Have fun. Have her home by midnight."
He was about to ask her what she was talking about. They were going to have to pull many an all-nighter to get Sunnydale back under control. "You're teasing me."
"Good night, Dawn."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com