Angel was finding it difficult to keep his demon in check as Buffy led the way to the table Dawn and Connor were sitting at. He could not help but think The Powers That Be brought Buffy back for more important things than dating.
Hell, who was he to criticize her? If he could forget about the things Mayor Wilkins had told him about his own late wife and thought it could work between them, Angel would be asking her to a movie himself. He didn't have to like it, though. She knew he was coming to town tonight. Did she have to flirt right in front of him?
"Friend my ass," he whispered with a glance over his shoulder in the direction of the guy who had been talking to Buffy.
Buffy glanced at him with a frown. There was no way she could have heard him over the noise. Was there? She seemed different since she'd come back. Angel was not sure in what way or how extensive the differences were. He remembered her saying something, too, so it wasn't his imagination. He wished Cordelia was around so he could ask The Powers That Be about it.
"Hey guys," Buffy shouted.
Connor's eyes shifted almost immediately from Buffy to Angel. The vampire steeled himself as he had when his father would come after him with a switch for misbehaving. The casual "hi" with barely a reaction to Angel's presence was not at all what he expected. Had he finally accepted him? What had Buffy said to make him respond to Angel's presence here without vehemence or violence in his attitude?
"You guys look like you are having a good time."
Dawn nodded. "Hi Angel," she said with a slight wave and a coy smile.
"Hey, Dawn. You look good."
"Thanks." Her smile brightened. "So do you."
"Connor," Angel said simply.
"I'd ask what you're doing here, but I guess I already know."
"Is that a problem?"
He shrugged. "Not really I guess. It's a free country, right?"
"Let's head out before anything happens in here," Buffy said.
"Nothing's going to happen." Both Connor and Angel said it, so Buffy believed they meant it.
"Well, Angel, I want to head out and Connor said he wanted to come with me again tonight. And you did, too."
"What about Dawn?"
"Dawn can come along. She knows how to handle herself."
"If you're sure."
"All right then let's get out of here." Angel didn't mind leaving anyway. Being at The Bronze brought back far too many memories. He didn't mind remembering his time as Buffy's boyfriend, but being this close to her again in a similar situation just made him miss what he couldn't have all the more. His focus needed to be on Connor anyway. His son did not react violently to him for the second consecutive time. If he didn't know better he'd believe he was softening a little.
Angel could not help but notice Buffy wave to the guy she had been talking to or the fact that the guy had not taken his eyes off of Buffy since she'd left his company. A low growl emitted from his throat as he saw the guy's eyes travel a path over Buffy's shapely figure that was far from the way a mere friend looked at a girl. The only thing that stopped him from warning the guy off was the fact Angel saw more than lust in the young man's eyes. He liked her.
He didn't like the idea of Buffy taking up with anyone, but if he was Riley's friend than he knew something about what Buffy lived with every night. The dangers she faced. He understood when he left her to give her the chance at a normal life that she would have little chance of obtaining the normalcy he so wanted her to have. Buffy turned and glared at him and he shrugged casually. He would always love her. If she expected him to be thrilled at the idea that someone was actively pursuing her she was nuts.
Once outside the four of them paused in the alley. "Where to? This is your show now."
"I haven't changed my routine too much. I figure why mess with what works, ya know?"
"Okay, let's go then."
"Before we go, we need to clear the air."
"We can talk while we're walking."
"You do realize I'm a free woman, right?"
"Yes," Angel answered hesitantly.
"That means I'm free to date, to accept a guy's invitation to a movie, dinner, or whatever."
"I understand that."
"Then why were you getting all growly back there?"
He raised his brows. She had heard him. "I just don't want to see you get hurt, Buffy. And I can't help but think you've been given a gift. A second chance. Should you really be spending the time you've been given dating?"
"I can't live every second for slaying, Angel. Tell me. While in LA, you never did anything social?"
"Of course I did."
"So, you can, but I can't? Is that it?"
"I'm not the slayer, Buffy."
"No, but even slayers need a break once in a while."
They entered the first cemetery Buffy would patrol for the night. Connor and Dawn had gotten ahead of them a bit, but Dawn seemed to know where she was going. And Connor seemed more than happy to follow her lead. He shook his head. He did not want to deal with his son having a girlfriend. He certainly did not want his son's girlfriend to be Buffy's sister. He'd never be able to get her out of his mind then.
"Don't panic," he whispered under his breath.
"Talking to yourself like I'm not here and can't hear you."
"You shouldn't be able to."
"Well, I can, so stop it."
"What other differences have you noticed?"
"You can hear better then you used to. What else?"
"I don't know."
"Yes, you do, Buffy. I've heard you say things were different."
"I don't need much sleep. I feel stronger," she shrugged. "I could patrol all day and I don't think I'd be tired."
"What am I a test subject?"
"No, I'm just trying to figure out what's going on with you."
"Nothing's going on with me, Angel. I'm fine. I'm better than fine. Isn't that what the Council wants in a slayer anyway? A non-stop killing machine at their disposal?"
"I'm not the Council, Buffy. It's me here, talking to you. Just me."
"I know, I'm sorry. I just feel like such a freak sometimes. And now, you're saying I'm hearing things I shouldn't be hearing."
"I'm used to talking to myself or at a level I know no one else will hear me. No human anyway."
"Are you saying I'm no longer human?" The stricken look on her face was a terrible sight. She looked positively disgusted at the thought. Good going, Angel, he mused to himself.
"I don't know what I'm saying. That's why I'm asking these questions."
"I can see better, too."
"How much better?"
"Buffy, come on, this isn't a game."
"I realize it isn't a game. This is my life. And it stopped being a game years ago."
"So how much better do you see?"
"I can see pretty well in the dark now. I don't need lights at the house when I used to."
"Have you mentioned any of this to Giles?"
"No," she shrugged. Dawn and Connor had stopped walking at a grave marker that was big enough for the two of them to sit on. They seemed to be talking rather intently. He knew he should probably be taking this opportunity to talk to Connor, but he was genuinely curious about Buffy. And very worried. It sounded as if The Powers That Be might have sent back an enhanced slayer with the beneficial qualities of the vampire it hunts.
He remembered his first few nights as a vampire. The euphoria at discovering he did not need to eat or sleep. The ability to hear the hint of a whispered word or to see what waited in a darkened alley. All of these things gave the vampire an upper hand, even over the slayers who hunted them.
"I think you should."
"He seems so happy in London, away from here and the stuff that goes with being on the hellmouth. I just didn't want to bother him."
"Bother him? Buffy. I'll see if I can't get some answers myself, but he needs to know these things."
"I was hoping it would go away."
"These things. I was hoping it was just a fluke. My body adjusting to being back or something."
"And instead they get more. I don't know what the word is."
"Yeah, that's a good word."
"So, they're increasing?"
"If I tell you what it sounds like do you promise not to panic?"
"No, I can't promise anything, but if you think you know what's going on I want to hear it."
"I'm just guessing. I have nothing to base this on other than what I feel as a vampire."
"I am not a vampire."
"I'm not saying that. But clearly things are different."
"What if The Powers That Be gave you the abilities the vampires have so that you can fight them better. The hearing, the sight, you've mentioned feeling stronger."
"But I was already strong."
"Maybe they know something we don't and they needed the slayer, you, stronger."
"So, you're suggesting something's coming."
"Yes, I mean I don't know, but it makes sense, doesn't it?"
"I suppose. Why not just tell us somehow?"
Angel chuckled and hugged her, their first contact of the night. He loved that she could look at things so innocently despite what she'd been through and seen over the years. "I think they did, Buffy. It's not every day someone comes back from the dead."
"Oh, yeah, I suppose you're right."
He kissed the top of her head. "Now, remember, this is my opinion. I have no facts, no more information than you do. And if you aren't telling me things, leaving anything out, you'd have more than I do."
"No, I can't think of anything. Hearing, sight, strength, stamina," she shrugged. "It's not so bad when you say it like that."
He saw a look of doubt, in fact fear, cross her face. "What?"
"What if The Powers That Be didn't bring me back?"
"I don't think there are too many other options, Buffy."
"What if something else did? I came back to save you, right?"
"Presumably. I still don't know if that was it or not."
"Well, I don't think it's a coincidence I came back to the dunes where you happened to be instead of somewhere in Sunnydale."
"What if they were hoping we'd get back together? That you'd lose your soul and try to turn me?"
"Turning you never, ever entered my mind when I was without my soul." He wasn't sure if that was the right thing to say. Some girls would take offense to the admission. It wasn't meant to offend, it was merely the truth. He had wanted to torment her and to eventually see her dead. There was no grand illusion of turning her and having her by his side forever. The kind of bliss he found from their one night together would not have been replicated between two soulless beings.
"But maybe they – whoever they are – don't know that."
"I wouldn't turn someone as strong, or stronger, than I was, Buffy. Not many vampires in their right mind would."
"I wouldn't want to turn someone who could overthrow me, be seen as more powerful than I am to my underlings."
"Do you really use that word?"
"Minions, underlings. It's the same thing. Vampires have them. Someone has to do the dirty work."
"You did dirty work, though."
"Because I enjoyed it, some of it anyway. I sent Dru to get Giles. I know where my strengths and my weaknesses lie."
"But it's possible?"
"Sure, I suppose anything is possible and we really don't know anything yet. It seems clear though that something about you was altered."
He slid a hand to the back of her neck. He drew her toward him, resting his forehead against hers. He vamped out, wanting to drive home his point. "Don't ever forget what you are, Buffy. I know you don't always like it. I know there are days you hate it. And I know there are few days you love it. But you are the slayer. You've lived longer than any slayer I'm aware of. With your increase in skill and intelligence about your opponent just from your years of experience they have to alter things to survive. They will never let you win, Buffy. They're evil and they want the world to be their feeding ground."
"I don't want to be a ruthless killing machine, Angel."
"You may not have a choice in the matter, Buffy. I'm sorry, I really wish I could sugar coat it for you. But this is your gig."
"But I tried to end it."
"And evidently someone or some power we don't know or understand didn't want you to end it." He let his face return to his human visage and kissed her nose. "You can't change it, Buffy, you can't undo it. I do believe we should try to find out why these changes are occurring, but there's no turning your back on this."
"I know I can't anyway. I tried it once and it seemed to find me anyway."
"You can't escape what and who you are, Buffy."
"It seems I can't escape much of anything." Before he knew it she had tilted her head up ever so slightly but enough to capture his lips. His hand at the back of her neck tugged her even closer as he felt her hands travel up the length of his arms to his shoulders.
She pressed her body against his and he was lost as always when he found himself in her arms. Her lips parted and her tongue darted along his lower lip. A soft pleasurable growl emitted from his throat at the contact. He parted his lips, his tongue found and connected with hers. His growl grew louder as his body reacted instantly to her.
It had been years since he'd touched her, since her body had been beneath his, nude and accepting him like nothing he had experienced before. He couldn't tell anyone what peanut butter or chocolate tasted like any longer but could describe Buffy down to the last freckle.
She whimpered softly as Angel slid his hands lower along her back, cupping her bottom and squeezing her. He wished like hell there was no barrier between his hands and her flesh. He wanted to touch her, to feel the heat of her skin against him. If he could he would get lost in the heat of her and let himself burn into oblivion that way. What a way to go. She probably wouldn't appreciate writhing from the waves of ecstasy under a pile of dust.
"Hello, guys?" It was Dawn's voice breaking through. "Get a room or something if you're not going to patrol."
Buffy broke the kiss first, but kept her body flush against his. She clung to him breathless. He wanted her so badly he doubted she could miss the evidence of that pressing against her. Her breathing was short and haggard, shallow breaths betraying her arousal.
"Wow," she whispered.
"My sentiments exactly," he said just as softly with a low laugh. He had forgotten how lost he got in her kisses. He had lost track of where they were and that they weren't alone.
"I can't escape my feelings for you, Angel. I don't want to lie and pretend I don't love you when I still love you more than anything in the world."
"Buffy, that's really gross."
"Sorry, Dawnie," she said. Angel was the first to let go. He withdrew his hand from the nape of her neck. He immediately felt the lack of contact between them. What in the hell was happening? He had to admit he'd forgotten about the heat he felt at her house until now. It was almost as if she had developed the ability to warm him, inside and out.
Angel's gaze fell on Connor's and he saw something he'd never seen in his son's eyes. Admiration. For the first time Connor had seen Angel lose control, give into his emotions and let them take over. It was the most human thing he had ever done in front of Connor and it seemed to have made an impression.
"Why is it again you two aren't together?"
"The world is kind of doomed if we went down that road again."
"Because clearly the world has enough love and doesn't need any more."
"It's no use, Connor. It just wasn't meant to be."
"Neither was your reproducing."
"Point taken, but I'm not here to talk about my relationship with Buffy."
"Why are you here?"
"To talk to you. You left suddenly and the next thing I know you're here."
"I had to get some answers."
"Did you get them?"
"Most of them. Buffy is the first person that has told me how it is. She didn't seem to hold anything back."
"Buffy wouldn't do that."
"No, I get that," he said with a shrug. He slid off the grave marker he and Dawn had been sitting on and walked toward him. "And I guess if Buffy and Dawn like you as much as they do and trust you I can make more of an effort to get to know you."
"That'd be nice."
"That doesn't mean I've decided to like you."
"Of course not," Angel said, remaining calm so as not to betray the excitement he felt at Connor's revelation. He was going to get a chance to get to know his son and to prove that he was worthy of the title dad.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com