Buffy opened her eyes and saw nothing but darkness. Images flashed through her mind of what should have been her last moments on earth. Dawn on the tower, Spike and the others below watching as Buffy took her swan dive. Spike had a horrific look on his face as if he could not believe she was doing it. She was supposed to be dead. There were fuzzy memories of a place not Sunnydale, of a time that was not chaotic and heavy on the death but Buffy could not remember much beyond that.
"Happy," she whispered. Her voice sounded gravelly and foreign to her as if she had not used it in a while. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard willing her body to move. What choice did she have? She opened her eyes again becoming more aware of her surroundings. It was dark so she assumed it was night. She smelled the familiar scent of salty air and surmised she was near the ocean. That was the extent of what her senses would allow her to learn.
The ocean she had always loved so well called to her urgently, frantically, pounding at the walls in her mind. She could feel it in her blood, her soul. "Why?" It was an interesting question since she did not seem able to move.
She felt with her hands and realized she was lying on sand. How had she gotten to the beach? She was really confused now. Things were starting to become clearer. She was able to focus on things with her eyes. She was at the dunes. She came here on a field trip with her class when she lived in LA. At least she assumed this was the same place.
She rolled onto her side and got to her knees. She felt a breeze at her back and realized only then that she was wearing a dress. The dress was something she would not have been caught dead in. It was black, which was fine, but it looked like a dress her mom would have worn.
She started to walk, but realized too late that she was not strong enough to as quickly as she would have liked. She fell flat on her face in the sand. She rolled onto her back, staring into the night's sky and started to laugh. It was almost uncontrollable.
The dress, the confusion, the weakness and the disorientation all pointed to the fact she had died. It was unbelievable, but it made her wonder why she was here. Why had she been brought back? Had she not earned the right to be left in peace?
"You'd think five years of fighting apocalypses would earn you the right to call it quits but evidently not," she murmured as she struggled to stand again. "Put one foot in front of the other," she sang to the tone of the old Christmas special she used to watch as a child. She was wobbly, like a newborn calf she had seen at the zoo once. She guessed she was a newborn too in a supernatural sort of way.
She knew there were other things in play here making decisions. The memories of time spent somewhere else were getting hazy as things on the dunes became clearer. Evidently she could not keep her memories.
She was walking steadier now, slowly but at least she would not be mistaken for a drunk. She felt like she was recovering from a night of intense partying. She could deal with that.
The wind blew hair in her face and she struggled to brush it out of the way while continuing to concentrate on walking. She was not able to go beyond basic thoughts and actions. In the distance, she heard escalated voices and the sounds of fighting. Sounds indicating a struggle.
She was in no position to interfere and surely she was entitled to a night of getting adjusted before beginning her slayer duties again. Evidently that was not the case.
She turned in the direction of the voices hoping that the wind was not carrying them in a way as to play tricks on her. Was this why she had been brought back?
Her thoughts distracted her from concentrating on walking, but she was moving better now. It was as if the thought of a crisis revitalized her, awakened something in her. She hated that thought because it meant she was little more than a killer.
The scene before her was baffling. She did not see him anywhere, only a young guy and a woman doing something with some sort of box thing. Had her ears deceived her? How pathetic was she that she would dream up his voice first thing? She thought she had gotten beyond that.
And then she heard it again.
"Connor. Why are you doing this?"
"You murdered my father."
"No. I didn't. I swear."
"He's lying," the woman said.
"I'm not lying. And she knows it."
"You're the prince of lies."
"That's why you wouldn't let them kill me at the drive-in. So you could."
"Killing is too good for you. You don't get to die. You get to live - forever."
It was then that Buffy realized that he was in the box. And it was not a box. It was a coffin. Her hand flew to her mouth stifling the scream that threatened to come out. She began to run for all she was worth.
"Some day you'll learn the truth - and you'll hate yourself. Don't. It's not your fault. I don't blame you."
"Listen to me. I love you! Never forget that."
The guy and the woman with him went to pick up the lid of the coffin. Buffy wondered if she was going to get there in time.
"Connor?! Connor, never forget that I'm your father and that I love you. Connor? Con..."
Angel's voice was cut off as the lid came down. She watched as the guy looked through the wire-mesh glass window at Angel's face. He and the woman slid two rods into their channels, and the woman begins to weld them into place.
Buffy picked up a rock big enough to do damage and threw it in the direction of the woman. "Bingo," Buffy said as the rock made contact with the woman's arm. She dropped the torch, her arm probably disabled.
"Oh, I'm sorry, am I interrupting?" She had their attention now. Both seemed so engrossed with what they were doing they had not noticed the blonde walking through the dunes alone.
"This is none of your business."
"It doesn't look like what you're doing is very legal."
"He has no rights."
Buffy stepped in front of the coffin, glanced at Angel's face and saw surprise register in his eyes. The surprise quickly changed to hope. "Buffy," he mouthed and she knew it was him soul and all.
"Who made you judge and jury?" She folded her arms across her chest as she regarded the couple.
"He killed my father."
She glanced at Angel who could do nothing due to the restraints. "And again, I ask, who made you judge and jury? There is a justice system in place. I find it usually works."
"Not for people like him."
"He looks harmless enough to me," she retorted.
"Go away. This is none of your business."
"Well, you see, it kind of is."
"Who the hell are you?"
"I'm Buffy," she said simply.
"Don't listen to her, Connor," his female companion said.
"Death is too good for him."
"Yeah, I get that you're bitter and angry."
"I'm not letting him out. He deserves to pay for what he did."
"Killing your father?"
"Yes," the guy hissed.
"I'll make a deal with you."
"We fight. Whoever wins gets him."
Connor grinned smugly and scoffed. She thought she saw a look of warning in Angel's eyes but she could not be sure. She probably should not have been challenging anyone to a fight at the moment, but did not feel she had much choice. She was not going to be able to talk Angel's way out of the coffin.
"I can't fight a girl."
Buffy smiled widely. She always loved being underestimated. Even those who knew she was the slayer were guilty of it. Up until the moment their unbeating heart met the tip of Mr. Pointy.
"I tell you what. I say it's okay and I won't tell anyone when you get your butt kicked by a girl."
He laughed then. Buffy had seen him fighting Angel in the distance, so she knew that he was good. She felt stronger and hoped it was enough. Angel's life depended on it. She had an advantage in that he had no idea who or what she was. He was under the impression she was just a normal twenty-something female.
Sensing he was not going to make the first move and was still undecided she took the opportunity to start it with a jab straight to his nose. He was unprepared for it so she hit it square on.
"I really didn't want to do this."
"Yeah, well, I can't stand by and watch you torture someone." She blocked a punch he threw in the direction of her jaw. He was fast, faster than a human but he was not vampire.
She had no idea when the last time she had actually sparred was. How long had she been gone anyway? And now that she was back it was if she had never left. She was in pretty peak shape when she dove off that tower. Despite her unsteady start a while ago she felt strong and capable. The longer they fought the stronger she felt, as if fighting was returning life and energy to her body.
He tried to kick her in the kneecap but she managed to block it, taking the force of his kick against her forearm. But that did not slow her down. She had to keep fighting to get Angel out of that box. She would not have fought this hard if it had been her life hanging in the balance.
"What are you?" he asked when she was not even phased by the blows he landed. And he did land some, just as she did in return. Neither would walk out of this battle unscathed. He fought like no human she had ever encountered, but he did not quite have the strength of a vampire either.
"I could ask you the same question because I know you're not human."
"I am human," he said and she realized she had struck a chord with that statement.
"A little too defensive on that one. Are we sure we're human? Or is there some doubt lingering there in your mind? Maybe you've got a little demon in you."
"Shut up," he spat and sloppily threw a punch which she was able to block. She grabbed his fist with her hand and spun him around, his arm wrenched up behind his back.
"Didn't anyone ever teach you to leave your emotions checked at the door when you're going into a fight," she said. She swept a foot under him, knocking him off balance and driving him to his knees on the sand. She heard him let out a small cry of pain as his arm jerked up even further behind his back with the movement.
"Now, I can break your arm pretty easily like this. I'm sure you know that. I could do a lot of damage."
"What are you?"
"I'm the slayer."
"You should want him dead as much as I do."
"But you don't want him dead. What you're doing, or were about to do, is torture. Now, tell your friend here to start opening the box or I'll finish what I started."
"You'd kill me for him? He's a murdering fiend."
"I know, he murdered your father," she said, growing tired of this circular argument. If he had truly done what this guy accused him of doing Angel would have some explaining to do. "Angel?"
"Did you kill his father?"
"No," he said softly.
"You know him?"
Buffy sighed heavily. "Yes."
"I'm his father, Buffy. He was kidnapped from me as a baby only months ago and taken to a hell dimension. He returned as you see him now, a grown boy."
"I'm not a boy."
"He's my son, Buffy."
"Okay, let's pretend that this is possible. Then who does he think you killed?"
"Holtz," he replied as if that explained everything. Buffy searched her memory for a moment, wondering if the name was supposed to mean something to her. It was either escaping her or it meant nothing.
"It's a long story, someone from my past. He kidnapped Connor, raised him as his son. He thinks I killed him, but when I left the motel they were staying at he was very much alive." His eyes met Buffy's and she knew he was telling the truth. She had no idea how she did. They had not been particularly close since he left her but she knew. "Now, Justine," he said.
Buffy glanced at the woman in question. "What about her?"
"She reeks of Holtz and has the scent of his blood all over her."
"Gotta love that vampiric sense of smell," she mused, tugging on Connor's arm when she felt him try to pry his way out of her grasp. "Did anyone ever mention that Slayer's are inherently stronger than vampires? There's a reason for that. So, I'd stop with the attempts to get away."
"She framed me. I don't know why," Angel paused then and Buffy saw his eyes brighten as if something had just dawned on him.
"He framed me. Connor," he called out. Buffy shifted so Connor had no choice but to look at Angel. "Do you understand that? He framed me. He wanted you to think I had killed him. It was his last chance to get revenge for killing his family. He took you away from me, but that wasn't enough. He had to know when he left this world you'd hate me."
"He didn't have to die for me to hate you."
"He was old, Connor. He was going to die soon anyway. He was weakening."
"Get her to unfasten the box. Now."
"Connor, no," the woman said.
"Do it," he hissed. "I'm not going to be a martyr, Justine."
"You have some explaining to do about this having a son business," Buffy said to Angel as Connor and Justine spoke.
"You have some explaining to do about this not being dead business."
"I guess we both have stories to tell," she said casually as Justine walked to the box and began unfastening the pins. Buffy could have done it herself much faster, but she could not risk letting Connor go.
She regarded Angel and then turned her attention to Connor. She wondered briefly what a child they might have had would look like. Would he be tall and dark like this guy? Or would he be fair like Buffy?
"How old would he be?"
"A baby," she said wistfully. "Who?" She was not sure she wanted to know who his mother was.
"Darla? How? I mean, she was dead."
"And so were you."
"Point taken. Okay, so you and Darla made a baby." She should have been hurt she supposed that he left Sunnydale and took up with his long-time lover and companion. But she could not be upset with him for that. She had moved on and he was entitled to do the same. She supposed it was better Darla than someone new. But then again, Darla was evil. Did that mean Angel was too? "And your soul?"
"Like that makes any difference."
"Have you seen him without his soul?" Buffy asked.
"I don't have to. He's a vampire."
"Well, I've seen him without his soul and there's a huge difference."
"I've heard about you," Justine spoke as she removed the last of the pins.
"Huh?" Buffy said.
"You were in love with him."
"Guilty as charged."
"Don't you think that makes you more than a little biased? If not a lot sick?"
"I'm not sick and I'm not biased. Should I tell you how many vampires he's killed? Or how many times he got my friends out of harm's way so that I could concentrate on doing my job." Of course there were the few months he had been without his soul and Buffy and her friends had been the focus of his attention. But Buffy had forgiven him. She had no choice. That was what love was about. "Listen, I'm not here to debate with you. You ambushed him and you got caught. Deal with it."
"He has to pay."
"If he comes up missing, I'll find you. And don't think I won't. If I have to stay here and act as his bodyguard until you stop trying I'll do it." The box was now open. "Undo the chains," Buffy demanded.
"You'd protect him?"
"I am and I will. Hell, I'm not even supposed to be here, but here I am so I guess I'm supposed to." She shrugged, loosening her grip on Connor's arms slightly, though not enough for him to get away.
Once the chains were undone, Buffy released Connor and walked to where Angel stood. He was a free man. Tears formed in her eyes now that she was looking at him. She had no idea what would have happened to him had she not been here. He would not have died, but without blood to feed on he would have withered away to a weakened mess.
He took her into his arms and she hugged him back. It was more than a lover's embrace though she noticed he smelled good.
"I guess The Powers That Be were looking out for me after all."
"I guess so," she said, withdrawing from the embrace. Her hands remained joined with his before she let that bit of contact slip away. "What are we going to do about them?"
"Take them back I guess," Angel said.
"You're more understanding than I'd be if my mother tried to kill me. Well, she did that once, but it wasn't her fault."
"Buffy, it's not his fault either. He was raised on stories of what I was like before my soul. Who could blame him for thinking I deserved to die?"
"He wasn't going to kill you, Angel. He was going to torture you."
"So, we give them a ride back to town and then what?"
He smiled then and it blew her away. She imagined it was supposed to have that affect on her. "You said you were going to be my bodyguard."
"Oh boy," she whispered. Not of the good. She could not guard Angel's body without serious risk to the world.
"No, of course not."
"That's okay, I understand."
"No, you don't. I can stay if you need me to, but I should tell the others I'm here."
"They don't know?"
"No. I don't think you understand. I just got here, woke up on one of the dunes maybe a couple of hours ago."
"They sent you to help me."
"I'll take you to Sunnydale tonight."
"Are you sure? I could just call them."
"You saved my life, it's the least I can do."
"Are you going to take us back or not?" Connor said. Buffy spun around to look at him, and saw a glimmer in his eyes that looked like Angel.
"He really is your son."
"Yes," he said softly. "Let's go. My car is," he thought for a moment. Buffy could tell he was getting his bearing straight. "This way."
Buffy brought up the rear with Angel leading Connor and Justine, no one said anything. Buffy did not know either of them well enough to know what they might be thinking. She was not sure she knew Angel well enough anymore either. She suspected he thought her presence here was very timely.
Buffy sat in back with Connor while Angel sat up front with Justine, dropping them places Buffy was not familiar with. That did not surprise her. LA was a big city and she had been pretty oblivious to a lot of things when she lived here.
"You know, you don't have to take me to Sunnydale," she said once they were alone in the car.
"It's the least I can do for you. I hate to think of my present living conditions if it weren't for you."
"How did he get you there anyway," she asked.
"I was meeting Cordelia," he said softly and she noticed he glanced in her direction quickly.
"Oh," Buffy said coolly. She was not sure what that meant. He was dressed nicely, smelled nice and was in what could be construed as a romantic spot waiting for Cordelia. "I see she finally got what she wanted a long time ago."
"No, Buffy, it wasn't like that. I admit we've gotten close, but she wasn't my girlfriend or anything. She called me and wanted to meet me here, I have no idea why. For all I know the higher powers gave her a vision."
"So where is she?"
"If she was supposed to meet you there, where was she? I shouldn't have been needed to save you." She saw him grip the steering wheel and realized it sounded like she was accusing Cordelia of setting him up. Could she have?
"I don't know. She should have been there. I wish I knew."
"Do you think she could have?"
"No," Angel said crisply.
"You know her better than I do. We were never close friends or anything and I haven't seen her since she moved to LA."
"Just trust me on this, Buffy, I don't think she did it," he said and pulled a cell phone out of his pocket.
"You have a cell phone?"
"Yes," he said as he used his thumb to push numbers on the phone.
Buffy sank back in her seat. She did not like this version of Angel. Other than the hug they shared back at the dunes he was acting distant. Was he not happy she was alive? Maybe their lives at changed too much, gone in such different directions that he no longer wanted her in his life.
"Gunn, it's me. Have you seen Cordelia?"
There was a pause on Angel's end, presumably as Gunn answered him.
"Okay, well, if you see her or hear from her ask her to call me."
"No, I won't be back until tomorrow night." Angel shot a glance in Buffy's direction. "I'll be in Sunnydale tomorrow."
"I'm taking Buffy home."
"Yeah, I thought she was dead, too."
Buffy turned her head to look out the window at the passing scenery. She hated being talked about. She hated being such a focal point of Angel's life. People knew things about her, about them, that she wished could remain private. She learned long ago that being the slayer meant little to no privacy.
"I'll talk to you guys tomorrow." She watched out of the corner of her eye as he set the phone on the dash of the car. "You do have some place you can put me up for the day, don't you?"
"What?" she asked. "Oh yeah, I guess. I don't know. I have no idea if I still have a house."
"Oh right, sorry."
"Have you heard from Dawn at all?"
She wanted to scream at him. He loved only her in two hundred some odd years and he could not even take it upon himself to check on her sister while she was gone?
"How long was I gone?"
"A year. Almost exactly. It would be a year in two days."
He had it down to the date? Maybe he cared more than he was letting on. That thought made her feel better. She did not expect him to remain all about her for the rest of his time on earth, but it was nice to know he thought about her. She was not the one to break it off between them after all.
A year? Dawn was a sophomore in high school. Were Willow and Tara still together? What was Xander doing? Did he marry Anya? Did Giles go back to England?
"You'll get answers soon enough."
She turned to look at him then, her eyes wide in amazement. "How did you do that?"
"Besides the fact I know you better than I'd like to admit you mean. I'm sure there are a bunch of questions running rampant in that pretty head of yours. You wouldn't be human if you did not want to ask them when you find out you missed out on a year of life."
"Thanks," she said.
"Are you okay? Are you hungry or anything?" he asked when they were almost to Sunnydale. They had rode most of the way in silence. She preferred it that way and he seemed to recognize that. One thing about her time with Angel, she had never minded the moments of silence they shared.
"I," she paused and thought over his question. "I feel like it's a dream. Or a nightmare. And I guess I am hungry."
Angel pulled into the parking lot of a gas station that also served as Sunnydale's only truck stop and shut off the engine. "It's the only place I could think of that is open that serves food," he said without her having to ask.
"You don't have to thank me. You should have mentioned food earlier. It's not something I think about. You must be weak."
"Actually, I don't feel weak. I mean, I know I should eat, but I hadn't thought about it until you mentioned it."
They met at the front of the car and walked to the greasy spoon part of the building. Buffy had to admit now that she thought about it she was hungry. She should have been famished considering how long it had been since she had eaten.
A year. She would be twenty-one now. "Bummer, I didn't get my birthday drink."
"My twenty-first birthday."
"Oh, I suppose you did. I didn't think you drank."
"I don't," she said simply with a shrug. "I had one experience with the college beer drinking thing and that was enough for me." She was missing a year of her life. This was not what Angel and Spike had gone through, dying and rising as a vampire a few days later. Not that what they went through was small or anything, but neither really seemed to have enjoyed their lives as a human. Buffy, on the other hand, did like her life. Even if she was not happy being the slayer all of the time.
She ate a huge burger and a side of fries. She washed down the greasy meal with a thick chocolate shake. She felt like she could eat a whole meal again. "I guess I was hungrier than I realized."
"I guess so."
She glanced out the window. "I guess it's time for us to go." It was close to sunrise. They had not said much while at the restaurant, but she was thankful for his thinking of her well being. Since her mom died she really had not had anybody around to do that for her.
"I guess it is."
Buffy found her thoughts jumbled and confused. She was both frightened and excited as Angel's Plymouth passed the sign announcing they were entering Sunnydale. She had no idea what to expect from her friends. How would they react? Would they be happy to see her? Or were they enjoying life not battling demons and vampires?
"Where are we going?"
"It's almost four in the morning. I thought it might be prudent to wait until tomorrow to show up with such a surprise."
"Oh, yeah, I suppose you're right." It had yet to sink in that she could not walk through her front door as if nothing had happened. Distantly her mind registered that all was not well in Sunnydale.
"I can't believe this place."
"Buffy, have you looked out your window?"
"Huh? Oh yeah." She was now forced to look at what she had been trying to avoid. Demons running rampant. Vampires feeding on people in public. She realized that her body had already gone into slayer mode. She was ready physically for whatever came her way. Life on the hellmouth was never dull.
"We'll work on it tomorrow. You need some rest."
She let out an audible sigh of relief. She felt like she could take on the world, so feeling weak or tired was not the issue. She did not want to deal with it tonight as selfish as that may seem. She suspected Angel understood and that was the reason he continued driving toward the mansion.
She walked to the front door, recalling the last time she had been there. She had saved his life knowing he would leave her. It might have saved her some heartache to just let him die, but she did not have it in her to do that. She loved him and refused to watch him die.
"Kind of dusty."
"Yeah, I guess it is," she said, though she had not noticed. "Way to pay attention, Buffy." An entire nest of vampires could have been there and she would have walked in without a clue.
"It doesn't look like anything's changed. I'll start a fire to get the chill and dampness out of the air. You can take the bed. It's probably not clean."
Buffy ran her fingers through her hair, pushing back her bangs from her face. "I just need a bed, Angel. I'd sleep on the floor at this point I think."
"You look exhausted."
"I feel," she was not sure how she felt. She felt strange, not tired but she could not put a name to it.
"Don't worry about it. I'm going to be up for a while, so get some rest."
She glanced at her clothes. "I wish I had something a little less formal to sleep in."
He gestured to a duffle bag he set on the floor by the front door. "I always keep a bag in my car. You never know when a job is going to take longer with no sewer access. There's a shirt and a pair of sweats you could wear."
"Thanks. You're a godsend."
"I think we've seen evidence tonight that you're the godsend, but I'll accept your gratitude."
She opened the bag, and sure enough found a shirt and a pair of sweats that she would swim in. It was better than the dress she was wearing, though. She could not believe she just thought of getting out of it now.
She took the clothes and walked to the stairs that would lead to his old bedroom. "You're not going to sleep?"
"Not right away, no."
"Where will you be?"
"I meant to sleep."
"Oh," he shrugged. "There are plenty of other rooms, Buffy. I won't bother you."
That was not what she was worried about. He had been so distant toward her that she was not sure how to tell him she did not want to be alone. Her mind was still overloaded, the images of Sunnydale out of control etched on her mind. Yet fuzzy memories of a place where there was no chaos were still there in the recesses of her mind. Buffy did not want to admit it, but she was afraid.
When she woke the next morning there was an imprint on the mattress made by a form larger than hers. She smiled slightly and ran the palm of her hand over it. She stretched, feeling like a child playing dress-up in the too-large clothes. Her eyes felt raw and she suspected she had cried while sleeping. She glanced to the window, wondering what time it was. She saw the keys first and then the piece of paper underneath them.
If you want me to go with you I'd be more than happy to, but you will have to wait hours to see your friends and family. I expect when you wake up and see the new day that you will not want to wait that long. Please take my car and do what you need to do today. I will come by your house after sunset if you are not back by then. I know Dawn and your friends will be as pleased to see you as I was.
Buffy clutched the note to her chest and smiled as she slid the keyring over her index finger and spun the keys around. She was still not sure what to feel about being back, but she was determined to make the best of it. What other choice did she have?
First thing was to find Dawn. She wanted to see Willow, Xander and Tara but Dawn was priority one. She had no shoes to wear, the ones she had on last night would not exactly go with Angel's sweats and shirt. So she was barefooted when she left the mansion and walked to Angel's car.
The day was like any other in California. The sun was shining, it was the end of May and the air was cool but would turn warm later in the day. She knew it so well yet things looked different to her today.
She drove the short distance from the mansion to Revello Drive almost ramming Angel's car into various objects as she saw the evidence of long-term chaos and destruction in her town. It had not looked this bad last night in the dark, but in the light of day it was clear things were not well on the hellmouth.
She let the car idle after putting it in park on the street across from her house. The yard was well cared for at any rate and she wondered who was taking care of it. Or was someone else living there? These questions were what led to her parking on the street instead of the driveway.
"Here goes nothing," she said and climbed out of Angel's car. She probably looked ridiculous. If the house was empty or her things were still there she would change. If it was not empty and strangers were living in her house she would probably have a break down because she would have no idea where Dawn or the others were.
She walked up the steps that led to the front porch and hesitated. Ring the bell or walk in under the assumption someone she knew was still here? Where did Dawn go after she died? To their Dad's? She should have thought of that possibility before leaving LA with Angel. But she had not been able to think much beyond the basics of survival last night.
She rang the bell and turned to face the street. The area here looked all right, not as affected by whatever had taken over Sunnydale. But still she noticed a difference. Houses that a year ago were open and welcoming now had bars on the windows.
"Hello. May I help you?"
Buffy turned at the sound of her own voice, her eyes wide. The Buffy Bot? She thought it had been destroyed.
"Oh, it's me. I mean, it's you." The Bot looked genuinely confused and Buffy felt sorry for her for a minute. It was sort of her after all. "But you're dead."
"Guess not even death can stop me." The Bot looked at her with a blank face and Buffy realized it probably exceeded what she was programmed to understand. "Is Dawn home?"
"She's in the shower. I was just making her breakfast."
"Yes, I do. I'm getting quite good at it."
Buffy could not help but smile. "Can I come in?"
The Bot frowned, as if thinking over the question. "It is your house. Of course you can come in."
"Thank you. I'm going to go see Dawn."
"She will be happy to see you."
"Thanks," Buffy said and bounded up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
She rapped lightly on the bathroom door with her knuckles like she had done many times over the years. It had really been only one year, but Buffy had memories of Dawn since she was five years old.
Buffy took a deep breath as she twisted the knob, pushing the door open.
Dawn was in the process of putting eyeliner on, so her eyes were focused on the bathroom mirror instead of Buffy. "I'm almost done. I'll only be a few more minutes. I'm sorry I'm running late, but my alarm didn't go off."
"Dawn," Buffy interrupted.
"I'm going to be late for my job on my first day! This is insane. Stupid alarm clock." She finished with her makeup application and washed her hands.
"Dawn," Buffy said again.
She glanced at Buffy as she wiped her hands off on a towel. "Where did you find those clothes? Are those my dad's or something?"
"Don't call me that," her sister said through gritted teeth. "I've told you that you can't call me that."
"Would you look at me?"
Dawn dropped her hands by her side then and looked at Buffy. Buffy watched as her eyes widened as understanding seemed to wash over her. "You, no, you, you're dead." Buffy saw the tears forming in Dawn's eyes, lots of them and rushed to her.
"It's okay. I'm here," she whispered as she took her sister into her arms.
"It can't be. You jumped off that tower. I saw you." She drew herself away from Buffy and rushed downstairs. Buffy followed as Dawn went into the kitchen and saw the Buffy Bot. "It's really real. You're really here."
"How? Why? When?"
"I don't know," Buffy said with a shrug. "I wish I could explain it, but I don't know myself."
"When did you get here?"
"Last night in LA. Angel drove me here."
"He's back at the mansion. We stayed there last night deciding that three in the morning probably was not the time to drop in here with such a surprise. Besides, I didn't even know if you were still living here."
"You came back to Angel?"
"No, Dawnie. I showed up on the dunes in LA. Remember them?" Buffy realized Dawn probably would not remember them, because they had been in Sunnydale when Dawn was the age to go on that same field trip Buffy had.
"Here's your breakfast, Dawn," Buffy Bot said setting a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in front of her with a glass of milk. It looked pretty good.
"Would you like something to eat?"
"No, thanks, I'm fine," she said. "What is she doing here anyway? I thought she was destroyed."
"Willow fixed her. We needed you to be here for the social service people and as the slayer."
"She's been slaying?"
Buffy recalled the scene she and Angel had driven through last night. "Not doing a real good job of it."
"Well, no, we can only send her to patrol cemeteries. She can't take on the big things."
"I like slaying. Vampires are evil and need to be staked. Except Spike."
"Yes," Buffy said with a roll of her eyes. "Did I hear you say something about a job?"
"Yeah, I got a job at the new Barnes and Noble."
"We have a Barnes and Noble?"
"Yes, just opened about a month ago. You, I mean the Bot, wouldn't let me get a job until school was out."
"Well, how about I drive you there? I have Angel's car."
"I can call in sick."
"No, you can't call in sick on your first day of a job."
"Buffy, my sister doesn't come back from the dead every day."
"Yes, and if you could walk around telling people that was the reason you wanted the day off it would be different."
"I can never tell anyone anything cool that goes on in my life."
"I know, it's terrible. Eat, and let's go."
Buffy looked at the Bot and wondered what they would do with it now that she was back. She could not look at that thing every day knowing the reason Spike had it made.
"Where are the others?" Buffy asked as Dawn finished the last of her eggs and emptied the glass of milk.
"Well, that's a long story."
"Give me the short version."
"Xander's working construction on the new high school. Tara's dead. Willow's in England getting some help from Giles because Tara's death sent her off the deep end. Magically speaking. Anya's still here working at the magic shop."
"We don't know. He disappeared a while ago and no one's seen him since."
"Is he? I mean, is he dead?"
"I don't think so. He did leave a note. He stuck around for about six months, but I don't think he could stand it here without you."
Buffy started up Angel's Plymouth and put it in gear. She was feeling conflicted now. Last night when she had offered to help protect Angel from Connor she had not been thinking. Emotion had driven her to say the things she did. Dawn needed her. Buffy could not just up and leave for LA. She was not sure what she was going to do.
"Will you be here tonight?"
"Yep," Buffy said simply. "I'll pick you up and we can get something to eat or something. And then we'll surprise Xander."
"He's going to be thrilled. We all missed you, but it took Xander a while to realize you were really gone. I guess because he had been there when The Master stuff happened."
"Dawn, it's okay. You can talk about it."
Tears were rolling off Dawn's cheeks again as Buffy pulled into the Barnes and Noble parking lot. Buffy was getting choked up too. "I'm so glad you're back, Buffy," she said reaching over to hug Buffy. "I missed you so much."
"Me, too, Dawnie. I'll see you tonight, okay."
"You won't leave? I'm not dreaming."
"Of course not. I'm back, Dawnie. I'm here."
Buffy was not sure it was good, but was glad Dawn thought so. She hated the idea of Dawn being hurt or missing her. Buffy had given her life so that Dawn could have one. It had been an easy decision to make. Buffy's life would never be about anything but the death and destruction of slaying so she had believed she was giving up very little.
Buffy wiped Dawn's tears away with the back of her hand and kissed her on the cheek. "Go, or you're really going to be late."
Buffy watched as Dawn walked toward the store's entrance, driving away only after she could no longer the form of her sister through the windows. "She's so grown up," Buffy said wiping away her own tears.
Having no idea where to find Xander, Buffy's next stop was the magic shop. She made Anya promise she would not tell Xander if she saw him before Buffy saw him. She was not sure how good Anya's word was, but it was a risk she was willing to take. She did get Giles' number so she could call him. She did not ask about Willow, afraid of what Anya might say.
She was curious as to what had happened. Dawn's short version of things left Buffy feeling more curious than before. It was after noon by the time she finished at the magic shop. She stopped at the butcher's nearby and bought Angel some pig's blood. She was not sure what he drank these days but it was what she was familiar with. He should be awake by now and she found next to Dawn he was the one person she wanted to talk to most.
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 of 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."
Mid to Late July 2002
Angel sat at his desk impatient for the sun to set so he could go out to the streets. He had returned to LA after helping Buffy get things under control in Sunnydale for about a month. A month later he was no closer to finding Cordelia, which bothered him. It did convince him that she had not betrayed him the night at the dunes. As his eyes glanced at the clock on the wall willing the hands to move forward his mind wandered to his last night in Sunnydale.
"Hi," Buffy said.
She had looked beautiful as if she had dressed for him. She probably had. He knew she still loved him. He hoped that he had disguised the fact he felt the same way. It was better if she did not know.
"Oh, hi," Angel said casually. As things slowed down he had tried to distance himself from the companionship they had reestablished. It would make it easier to do what he had to do. Leave her. Again.
"Actually, I'm not going with you tonight. I'm going to go back to LA."
"Oh," she said. She could not hide her disappointment from him and he had wanted to take the words back. He knew he could not, though, even if it meant easing her pain.
He had stood aware that Xander's attention was on them instead of the TV at this point. Xander had been looking for an excuse to stake Angel for years. Angel did not blame him for suspecting now might be the chance he had been waiting for.
"We both know I have to go back. Things have slowed down. I think you can handle things on your own now."
She dropped her eyes to the floor. He hated doing this to her a second time. The injustice of it all was not fair. His hand cupped her chin and he tilted her face up so she was forced to look into his eyes. Eyes she used to look into and see a future with him in. He was not sure she had ever given up that dream. He was not in a position to fuel it. He did miss that look, though. And the idea that someone loved him that much.
"Hey, I'm just going back to LA."
"And we'll do better at talking." She nodded her agreement. He doubted she had believed he meant what he said. He wanted to try to be there for her this time. To be her friend. He did not know if he could do it. He had cut her off the last time because it had been the only way for him to deal with being separated from her.
"I knew this would happen. Even with your soul you're hurting her again."
"I'm fine, Xander."
"Sure, that's why you have that kicked puppy look on your face."
"I'll be fine."
"Why do you let him do this to you? We would have been just fine without him here."
"Sure and I would have been so tired from slaying my ass off around the clock that I would probably be dead."
"That's not funny."
"I'm not joking, Xander. You have no idea."
"I do have an idea. I lived here the past year. I watched friends of mine die. I had to stake a grade school friend's mom."
"I've staked people I know, too, Xander."
"Maybe that's no big deal to you, but it is to me. We don't need him. We never have."
"He's leaving now so you won't have to worry about him anymore."
"Buffy," Angel had interrupted. He did not want them at war because of him particularly when he was leaving again. As much as he hated to think about it being true, Buffy needed Xander.
"Xander, leave us alone for a few minutes."
Xander had left the room, but had made his displeasure at Buffy's request abundantly clear.
It was just the two of them then with Jackie Gleason's voice in the background.
"I have to go."
"I know," she said and tears formed in her eyes. He longed to kiss each and every one of them away. He wanted to do more than that, too, which was the reason he had to get out of Sunnydale. She stood on the tips of her toes and kissed him. They had kissed during the past month, but it had always been restrained, comfort. Two lost souls who were lonely seeking comfort in the one person they felt most comfortable with. They had always held something back, though, unwilling to tempt fate too drastically.
She had not held back with that kiss. Gone was the inexperienced high school student he had known and perhaps naively expected her to remain. She was a woman who had been brought back to save his sorry life for reasons he doubted he would ever be allowed to understand. Her arms went to his neck, coaxing him into the kiss. Not that he needed much convincing especially not where Buffy was concerned.
She had pressed her body against his and he could feel her soft curves against his more chiseled ones. Unable to stop himself he had cradled her round bottom with the palm of his hand and brought his other hand to the soft flesh that was her breast.
He felt her tears against his cheek and they pierced his heart like acid rain. He hated hurting her again. It was the reason he had stayed away. She broke the contact long enough to lift her arms over her head. She shed her shirt, dropping it to the floor and his breath caught at the sight of her.
She had changed. Some of it was merely growing out of the adolescent body she had when they first met. It was more than that though. She took his hand and placed it on her bare breast and her body's heat burned him. He had withdrawn his hand, staring at her. He could not remember that sensation having happened before. And then he did the only thing a man in his position could have done. He fled. He left her house without a word, leaving her half naked in her foyer.
He left Sunnydale that night and had not heard from her since. Not that he was surprised by her desire not to seek him out. He suspected the ball was in his court as far as making contact next went. Women did not take too well being rejected, certainly not what she had been offering him so temptingly. He was sure she had no idea how interested he had been. He still ached when he thought about wanting her.
He glanced at his hand, the one that had felt burned when he touched her. There was nothing different about it that he could see. He knew he had not experienced the burning sensation before that night. So that meant it had to be her. Or The Powers That Be telling him to keep his hands off the slayer. He was sure they had not sent her back for the purpose of his taking her to bed, as tempting as the idea was.
Losing his soul really did not enter into the equation. Now that he knew about the curse he doubted he would ever let his guard down enough to achieve that perfect moment of happiness he had his first time with Buffy.
It was time. The sun had set and Angel was now free to roam the streets of LA. He had no idea where to look for Cordelia. His feelings for her were different now. He loved her, but not in the way he loved Buffy. She had been his human connection when he believed he had left himself with none. It was easy to see now how he had let that fact cloud his judgment when it came to how he felt about her.
Angel needed to start focusing on Connor. He could not have his son walking around with a hard-on to kill or torture him. He had looked through books and papers trying to find some proof to offer the boy that he had not killed Holtz. There was none. And then an idea hit him. Of course. He was not sure why he had not thought of it sooner. The emotional upheaval of the moment probably prevented him from honing in on it.
Now he just needed to find Connor and bring him to the proof without Justine interfering. That might be easier said then done but he had to try. He stood from his desk, glancing once more at the clock on the wall. It was still early enough that he could put off leaving for a few minutes.
He sat again and picked up the phone. He dialed the one number that despite his two hundred fifty years made him nervous about calling.
"It's your dime. Talk to me." Angel rolled his eyes and almost hung the phone up when he heard the guy's voice on the other end.
"Xander. Is Buffy there?"
"You probably wouldn't believe me if I said no."
"Fine. I'll get her," Xander said and Angel heard rustling sounds indicative that Xander had set the phone down.
"Hi Buffy. It's me."
"Hi," she said simply and he could feel the effects of the cold shoulder treatment despite the LA heat and the distance between them.
"How are you?"
He pursed his lips and drummed his fingers on his desk top. He had called her because he wanted to hear her voice and knew it was the right thing to do. Now he had no idea what to say.
"I think I finally figured out a way to make Connor believe I didn't kill Holtz."
Her almost enthusiastic "Really?" was followed quickly by a more somber "that's good."
"Yeah, I hope so. I mean," he shrugged despite her not being able to see him. "I just don't want to worry about him. Otherwise, you saving me that night will have been for nothing."
"Listen, about the night I left."
"Don't worry about it, Angel. I get it, okay."
"No, I think we should talk about it."
"Now's not a good time."
"Okay. Well, later then. It's not what you think."
"I wasn't thinking clearly either. I don't need you going all soulless on us again anyway."
"So, we're okay?"
There was a long pause, he heard her breathing so he knew she was still there. "Yes."
"Good. Listen, I'm going to go find Connor. Or try to. I just wanted to call you. Say hi. Share the news with you."
"Thanks. I'm glad you called. We're about to head to The Bronze, though, so I won't be home until later if you have news."
"Oh, and Angel?"
"I," she paused. "I'm not sorry for what I did. It's good you left when you did and everything. Good night," she said and hung up before he had the chance to say anything more.
He sensed that was not what she had been about to say, but it was not really his place to call her on the carpet right then. There were so many things left unsaid between them. "I love you, too," he whispered as he hung up.
It was time to stop dwelling on what could not be and find Connor.
Early August 2002
It took over a week of searching and greasing hesitant informants' palms to find his son. He had done little but sleep and search. He had spent two nights staking out the abandoned warehouse that served as his son's home. As far as he could tell, Connor lived alone. He wondered where Justine had disappeared to.
On the third night of surveillance he got out of his Plymouth and walked toward the warehouse.
"I knew you'd come."
"I had to."
"You shouldn't have. I don't want you in my life."
Angel turned in the direction of Connor's voice, facing his son. The last time they had seen one another, before he had been tricked, he had thought there was hope for them. He doubted that now. All he could hope for was to convince Connor that he had not killed Holtz.
"I just want some of your time. I have something to show you. If you still don't want me in your life after you've seen it I'll respect your wishes."
"You can't make me."
"I know I can't make you. I'm not going to make you. I'm asking you to come with me. Where's Justine?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"No, she's been gone for a while now. I lost track of time, sometime after that night."
That did not surprise Angel. If Justine did what Angel suspected he did not doubt for one minute that she had disappeared as soon as she could without arousing suspicion. "And you don't find that odd?"
"No, not really." Angel saw the look of doubt that crossed Connor's face before he masked it. Angel had scored a point whether Connor wanted to admit it or not.
"You may think I have no right to ask you to come with me, but your mother would want you to see what I have to show you."
"Don't bring her into this."
"Why? She gave her life for yours, Connor. She loved you that much that she drove a stake through her own heart so that you would live. I promised to take care of you."
"Fine job you did of keeping that promise."
"I had no control over what Wesley did. I would never have harmed you."
"Well, you did. You killed Holtz."
"I didn't," Angel shook his head and shrugged. "Just come with me, son."
"You have no right to call me that," he said but Angel noticed he was walking toward him and the Plymouth. "This better not be a trick."
"Why would I need to trick you?"
"Your slayer girlfriend might have changed her mind about killing me."
"Buffy's not my girlfriend and she would never kill a human."
"She said I wasn't human." He had such a disparaging tone to his voice Angel almost felt sorry for the kid. He realized he had to be confused, particularly if Justine left without telling him why or even where she was going. He couldn't see Connor staying in LA on his own with no one.
Angel shrugged. "I guess we don't really know what you are, but you're not evil."
"You don't know that. I'm the product of two vampires."
"Two vampires with souls. I have a soul. Your mother gained the benefits of yours while she was pregnant with you."
"But before she was pregnant with me."
"She was one of the worst, just as I was. Our bloodline, it's one of the worst I don't deny that."
"Did you love her?"
"Can I answer that in the car?"
Connor tilted his head, regarding Angel and finally nodded. "I suppose. I didn't have anything else to do tonight anyway."
Angel got in, grateful for the extra time he gained to answer Connor's question. It was easy for Connor to think of things in black and white, perhaps he saw some fuzzy gray lines but things were pretty cut and dried for him. He was not evil and had a soul. Therefore, he did not understand the feelings, or lack of them, that came with being a soulless evil being.
They sat in silence for a moment as Angel started the car and shifted it into reverse, backing out of the alley.
"Your mother suited me when we were both evil and on a path of destruction."
"But did you love her?"
"Not in the way you probably think of love." He thought of what and how he felt for Buffy. What he felt for Darla did not come close, but he was willing to die for her. He cared for her deeply and they made Connor. That was something he would never forget.
"So, that's a no."
"I wish I could make you understand somehow, Connor." He shook his head then. "No, I don't. I like that you have no idea what it is like to succumb to the power and lust that comes with being a vampire."
"I've seen it."
"But you've never felt it. It's not the same. I didn't have the capacity to love before I was turned. I was shallow, chasing any skirt that came my way. My idea of a good day was squandering more of my father's money in the sleaziest way possible. Your mother saw that about me and identified with it. Together, we were ruthless."
"I got my soul and I couldn't do it anymore. I fed on humans but only enough to sustain me. I couldn't kill and I couldn't watch her kill innocents," he shrugged. "Spike and Dru were with us and the three of them eventually went on their way. I didn't see your mother again for nearly one hundred years."
"Yes. How did you know that?"
"You're not the only one who has contacts in this city."
Angel smiled. Connor was collecting information about him and that was good. It meant he was thinking about him. And maybe, just maybe he was starting to see through the fog that Holtz's lies created around him.
"But by then you'd met Buffy."
"Well, it wasn't even that. She was still killing. She was working for the Master, trying to get me back into the fold. If I had started killing with a soul they figured they'd have me for good. She tried to convince me I was no different than they were. I think when she was pregnant with you she understood that I am different. A soul, it's not something you think much about but it's a pesky thing."
They had arrived at their destination by this time and Angel shut the car down. "I cared about your mother, Connor. I loved her in the way a vampire can love. I'm not sure that answers your question or is the answer you want to hear."
"Would you kill her again?"
"Yes. I heard you had to kill her to save Buffy."
"That's true. And, yes, I'd do it again."
"Because you loved Buffy?"
"Because Darla was trying to kill a human, Connor."
"A human you loved."
"Yes, but that didn't matter."
"Why didn't you try to stop her before then?"
"I was plagued by guilt, Connor. Over one hundred years of bad deeds were suddenly on my conscience and I couldn't live with myself. I barely kept myself alive, fed on rats and worse, just to keep enough blood in me. I was weak so couldn't have done anything anyway."
"We're here." Angel hoped that was the end of their heart-to-heart discussion for the night. He did not mind opening up to Connor if it would get him his son back, but he was not sure that was possible just yet.
Connor joined him at the trunk of his Plymouth and Angel handed him a shovel before taking the second one for himself.
"What are we doing here exactly?"
"Excavating," Angel said simply.
"What are we excavating?" Connor asked as they approached the site.
Angel's eyes met Connor's steadily. "What do you think?"
"No, you can't make me dig him up."
"But if I killed him, if I took his blood he won't even be here. We'd be digging up an empty coffin. Don't you want to know?"
"He wouldn't be here only if you gave him blood."
"And if I killed him, Connor. If I gave into my bloodlust for the first time in over a century with my soul intact don't you think it would be poetic justice if I turned him in the process? If you know anything about me, how ruthless I am without my soul you know that I wouldn't have just killed him. You also know that I would not have left a clue so blatant as holes in his neck for anyone to find."
Angel stuck the tip of his shovel into the ground. "I don't know about you, but I want to find out if he's in there."
Connor dropped his shovel, his eyes wide as he stared at Angel. He appeared shocked Angel was really going to do this. "You can't. It's wrong."
"He's dead, Connor, he won't know. You can't stop me."
"No, but I don't have to stand here and watch you do it."
"Go on then," Angel said as he placed his foot on the edge of the shovel and scooped up his first load of dirt and grass. It wasn't a cemetery. He would never have known where to find Holtz's body, but he had followed Justine and saw her come here more than once. The flowers on this spot had informed him of where Holtz was.
Connor fled and Angel stopped shoveling. He had made the young man think, call into question that which he had been led to believe until now. The fact he had been asking questions about Angel before tonight suggested he was beginning to have some doubts before tonight. He had not sought Angel out, though, so he doubted he had formed an opinion on what he had learned yet.
He was not sure if Connor was going to come back tonight or not, but digging Holtz up held no appeal to him if Connor was not there to see for himself Holtz's body was there.
Angel headed back to his car. The sun was about an hour away from rising and he could not wait any longer for Connor to return. He had taken a gamble and apparently his cards had exceeded twenty-one. He returned the shovels to his trunk and looked around the area for any sign Connor was hiding nearby.
He wasn't expecting to instantly have a father-son relationship with Connor. He wasn't even expecting them to be friends. What he did want was to have a better relationship with his son than he and his father had. It would not take much to improve on that.
"I'll get it," Buffy called out to Dawn and Xander. She was about to head out for patrol so was at the door anyway. The smile on her face froze and turned instantly to panic at the sight of him on her door. "Angel," she whispered.
"He's fine. I left him in LA earlier unstaked. If he's dead it's not my fault."
"What do you want?"
"To talk to you."
"I've been thinking that maybe I don't have all the facts. I don't know that I can get them from him. My father, Holtz I mean, is dead so I can't get them from him. And I'm beginning to wonder if he knew the truth or just his own twisted version of it."
Buffy hesitated. Could she trust him? If she sent him away and her not talking to him prevented him from giving Angel a chance she would never forgive herself. It was so obvious Angel wanted Connor in his life. Could she stand in the way of that? "Okay," she said realizing she couldn't stand the thought of being the thing that kept Angel from getting what he wanted. "I was about to do my nightly patrol. You can wait here, or you can keep me company and walk with me while I work."
"I'll come with you."
"Have you killed vamps?"
She walked to her weapons chest and took out a couple extra stakes for him. "This is going to be a working chat. You walk with me I'll expect you to work, but not get in my way. If I say stake, you stake. If I say back off, you back off. Got it?"
"Yes." He gave her one of the most charming smiles she had ever seen and nodded his head.
"Okay then, let's go."
"Buffy, I thought you were leaving."
"On my way right now."
"Um," Buffy said, biting her lip as she looked from her sister to Angel's son and back again.
"I'm Connor," he said and extended his hand.
Dawn took the offered hand and Buffy could see the hint of a blush on her little sister's cheeks. "It's nice to meet you, I'm Dawn." Buffy shook her head at the questioning glance Dawn gave her. She would answer her questions later when she had answers to give her.
"Be careful. See you later."
Buffy stared at her phone and the digital clock beside it which read six o'clock in the morning. Connor had crashed after pigging out on the TV dinner Dawn had made for him. Dawn with the domesticity was scary, but a little cute. Buffy had suspected he would not return to LA until today. She had kept him plenty busy on patrol while they talked about the things they had in common.
He was a good listener. He seemed to have his mind open to the possibility he may have been misdirected or misinformed about Angel. Angel had done some bad things and she had not lied to him about that. She accepted Angel good and bad. Connor would have to as well. He seemed to sense that. She thought he did at any rate.
She sat up and placed her feet on the floor to pick up the telephone. She dialed the LA phone number hoping she was not doing the wrong thing.
"This is Angel."
"Hi, Angel, it's me," she said. It did not sound as if she had woken him up. She wondered what he was still doing awake at six in the morning.
"Hey. How are you?"
"I'm fine. You?"
"Fine. About the same anyway. No word from Cordelia and not much progress with Connor. In fact I think I blew it with him last night. I had him listening, could see even maybe he doubted some things. I found out he has been asking around about me. I should have left it at that and not pushed. He might have come to me on his own. Instead, he ran away from me."
"About that. He's here."
"I am speaking English, aren't I? That's what I said."
"How did he get there?"
"Hitched a ride."
"Does he realize how dangerous that could be?"
"Angel, I think he could defend himself against almost anybody." She smiled pleased to hear he had instantly thought of his son's safety.
"Anyway, I just wanted you to know he's here and safe."
"Can you keep him there until dark?"
"I suppose I could talk him into that. Or Dawn could. There seems to be a little crushing going on between both of them."
"Great, just what I need."
"Oh come on, he could do worse."
"That's not what I meant, and you know it."
"I know. Anyway, yes. He patrolled with me last night and liked it. So, I think convincing him to stay would be doable. Plus, we were going to go to The Bronze, I'm sure he'd like that."
"I don't know how well he'd do in a crowd, Buffy. Remember, this is not a typical eighteen year old kid. Months ago he was a newborn."
"I remember. I won't let anything happen to him. You wanted to know if I could keep him here until dark."
"You're right, I'm sorry."
"It's okay. It's kind of cute, actually."
"I am not cute."
"When it comes to Connor you are."
There was an awkward pause then, neither saying anything. Perhaps she shouldn't have said that, but it was the truth.
"You'll keep him safe until I get there?"
"This is Sunnydale, Angel."
"Point taken. Do your best and I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Okay, see you later then."
"Yeah. Oh and Buffy?"
"You did say good things about me, didn't you?"
"I told him the truth." He sighed audibly. "But he seemed to appreciate that. I don't think he knows who to trust. So to hear me say good and bad things yet knowing I still care for you I think helped."
"I hope you're right."
"He came to me, Angel, I didn't ask him to come here."
"Anytime. Have a good day."
"You, too. I'm about to go to bed. I waited for him to come back until I had to leave and have been cursing my stupidity since getting back. What will you do?"
"I have to be at work in about an hour. Another shift on no sleep, but I'm used to it. And, hey, I work at Starbuck's so I get all the caffeine I want on the job. I work there til eleven and then I go to the diner downtown and work the lunch rush."
"I couldn't find one full-time job with the flexibility I need." She shrugged even though he couldn't see it over the phone. "You know, my life does get a little unpredictable at times. And I have nights off, so that works well. It's just the busy patrol nights that make it difficult. No calling in sick yet."
"Just don't kill yourself."
"Ha ha," she said with a roll of her eyes.
"I wasn't joking. You're not invincible, Buffy."
"I know. I'm being careful, really. But bills have to get paid."
"Okay, I'd just hate to see you brought back only to have you get sick or something."
"Nah, you can't keep Buffy down. Haven't you heard?"
He chuckled then. "I think I have firsthand knowledge of that fact."
Those were days, months, better not thought upon. "I'll see you later."
"You will at that, save room for me on your patrol."
"Will do. You know where to find me if you're late for whatever reason."
She ran her hand over the phone and fought back the tears that threatened to fall. The son of her one true love was sleeping on the floor downstairs. She had contented herself with the fact she and Angel was in the past. It was hard to tell her heart that when she heard his voice and saw the boy that shouldn't even exist.
His heart was in the right place and she was glad to see that. It wasn't with her and never would be again, but Buffy was getting accustomed to that. She was working at seriously moving on for the first time since he had left Sunnydale.
Since coming back she had made with being social. She figured she'd been given a second chance and she was not going to throw it away. Angel going back to LA had driven home the point that even if The Powers That Be seemed to think she should be brought back to save him they were never going to be together again. She was better prepared for it this time around.
When she wasn't working at one of her two part-time jobs she kept busy. She worked at Starbuck's five mornings a week. There she found herself being asked out on dates by businessmen, a type of man she'd never had the opportunity to socialize with much before. She got to dress up and do things she hadn't gotten to do with Angel or Riley. It was kind of fun. Dawn and Xander teased her mercilessly about having a different date every night.
What she had not bothered to tell Angel is that she functioned quite well on little to no sleep. She'd gone to work on two hours of sleep feeling as refreshed as if she'd slept all night. It was pretty cool, so she wasn't complaining. She set out both of her work uniforms before heading to the bathroom to get ready for her day. She wore her Starbuck's one to work and carried the diner waitress uniform in a duffle.
Buffy darted up the steps leading to the Revello Drive house just before seven o'clock hoping Connor had not already left. She hadn't counted on the day being as busy as it had been at both jobs. Most of the time Buffy left before seven in the morning and got home a little after five o'clock the four days a week she worked both jobs. Wednesday's she didn't work at the diner so she was usually home by noon. Today, the waitress that was supposed to replace her hadn't shown up so Buffy agreed to stay until someone else could get there. To top it off she hadn't gotten out of Starbuck's until the absolutely last second. The break she had anticipated having between her jobs hadn't happened so she'd been unable to call Dawn and ask her to do her best to keep Connor there.
She doubted she'd be able to catch Angel in time to stop him from coming here if Connor was gone. She walked in the house and breathed a sigh of relief hearing the two young voices laughing from the living room. She hadn't let Angel down. He asked so little of her and so the idea of not following through on a request of his left her feeling bummed.
"Hi guys," she said.
"Hey, Buffy. Rough day?"
"Yes," Buffy said, collapsing in the chair. She had to shower and change into non-work clothes but she just wanted to sit for a minute. Her feet were killing her. Thank God she had her mom's Jeep to take to and from work or she'd really be in trouble having to walk everywhere. "How could you tell?"
"Umm," Dawn said with a soft giggle and Buffy stared at her sister. Where had this girl come from? She couldn't remember the last time she'd heard Dawn giggle. It sounded nice, music to Buffy's ears. "Your uniform is a little dirty."
"Oh yeah. Some idiot stood from his table as I was walking by with a tray. Luckily, most of the food ended up on the floor but I got some of it."
"I'm glad to see you're still here, Connor."
"You are?" He sounded surprised. Buffy wondered how many people had been nice to him simply to be nice. It sounded as if this Holtz man had used him to get his revenge on Angel.
"Sure. It's nice to have a guy around the house when Xander can't be and he's out on a job for the rest of the week. And, hey, you did well last night." She was telling the truth. She didn't mention it remembering his reaction to her suggesting he wasn't completely human, but he fought unlike any straight human she'd ever met up with before. The only ones who came close were Riley, but that had not been natural and it had nearly cost him his life.
"We still on for The Bronze?"
"Yeah, just let me shower and change and I'll be rejuvenated Buffy ready to dance the night away. Are you coming with us Connor?"
"Sure, if you don't mind."
"Not at all. The Bronze is sort of a Sunnydale staple. I hung out there in high school. It's where your dad and I met up most of the time when he was living here." She smiled recalling some of the better memories involving Angel and The Bronze. It still seemed so odd to refer to Angel as being a father. "Anyway, I'll be ready in about half an hour."
She went upstairs hoping that Connor would not be upset when Angel showed up in a few hours. Whatever the two of them decided it was clear they were not going to be able to avoid one another forever. Buffy didn't think Connor wanted that any more than Angel did. He wouldn't have shown up here otherwise.
A little over an hour later at The Bronze Buffy nursed her beer and watched Connor and Dawn dance. She couldn't remember seeing Dawn act so carefree or smile so much. It was nice to see. She just hoped her little sister didn't get too disappointed when Connor left. Angel did it to Buffy, Connor would, too. He had come to Sunnydale looking for information, hoping he could find some truth amongst all the lies and half-truths he had been told by Holtz and the woman that had been at the dunes that night.
"Buffy, hey, what are you doing here?"
Buffy looked up and smiled. "Hi Chase, how goes it tonight?"
He shrugged. "About the same. Too much studying, not enough time."
Buffy nodded. She missed college and hoped to be able to go back soon. "What are you doing out this way?"
"I came to play some pool," he said gesturing to the pool table where a group of guys Buffy at least recognized stood.
"No pool tables on campus?"
"Not without waiting an hour to use a table and then having the group behind you breathing down your neck because they don't want to wait another hour."
"Ah," she said nodding her head in understanding. Chase had been one of Riley's Initiative friends. She wasn't sure how good of friends they'd been, but she'd recognized him when she came into the diner for lunch one day.
"Are you here by yourself? You can join us if you want."
"I'm here with my sister," she gestured to the dance floor. Dawn and Connor were one of many so he wouldn't know which of them was her. "And waiting for a friend coming up from LA."
"Well, you can join us until your friend gets here. It's better than sitting there drinking alone."
"You're right," she said and stood from the table. She grabbed her beer and followed Chase to the pool table.
"Everyone, this is Buffy Summers. She was at UC Sunnydale but is on a break." He glanced at Buffy then and smiled. Did he know more than he should? She couldn't be sure. It could be as simple as he didn't want to make her sound like a loser to his friends. "Buffy, this is Josh, Chris and Stan."
"Hi," Buffy said as the three guys said, "Hey."
"She's just going to watch."
"Cool," the guy introduced as Josh said.
"What was your major?" It was Stan asking the question she knew would get asked when Chase introduced her as being someone he knew from college.
"Um, I really didn't get a chance to choose. My mom died," she said and stopped to take a sip of her beer. She didn't want to get all depressing on these guys when they were out to have a good time. Not to mention the events that led to her not being her for a year after her mom's death were not something she could talk about to many people. "Anyway, I've had to play Mom to my younger sister so you know the drill, work work work."
"Oh, hey, sorry. That's cool, though." It was Stan again.
"Thanks." Buffy saw Dawn glance in her direction and gave her sister a wave. "Don't let me get in the way of your game."
"So, how are you doing?"
"I'm fine, Chase, really." He seemed like a nice enough guy and was nice looking on top of it. She didn't know anything about him beyond he was in the Army and had worked on the Initiative project with Riley.
"I don't know if you heard about Riley."
Her eyes widened. Had something happened to Riley? She was a bit ashamed to admit she hadn't thought much of him since returning. "Is he okay?"
"Oh, yeah, he's fine. He got married, though."
"Married?" It was a good thing she hadn't take a drink at that moment because Chase's words couldn't have caught her more off guard.
"Yeah. I haven't met her or anything, it happened pretty recently."
"Good for him."
Chase regarded her as if he expected her break down and cry or something. She hadn't treated Riley very well. She understood that now. But she wasn't the one who cheated, though she wasn't sure what Riley did could be called cheating.
"Yeah, that's what I said when I heard."
"I'm happy for him, Riley's a nice guy."
"Yeah, he is."
"Is that why you asked me to join you?"
"No, I mean, I just figured I should tell you. I didn't want you to find out later and think I didn't tell you on purpose."
How often did he think she was going to see him? This was the first, maybe the second, time seeing him since they took down Adam. "No problem, really." She took a sip of her beer and glanced at Dawn. She and Connor were taking a break from dancing it seemed at their original table.
"Is that your sister's boyfriend?"
"What? No. He's just a friend of a friend, the one from LA I mentioned I was waiting for."
"Ah. She's cute."
"Thanks," Buffy said.
"Not as cute as her sister, though."
"What? It's the truth."
"Thanks." She still was not real used to compliments and how to accept them graciously without appearing to be an idiot. She had not been expecting one from Chase, so it threw her. Was he hitting on her? Not likely, though thinking about it he had never joined in on the give Riley shit for having a girlfriend with a name like Buffy parade.
Her eyes went to the entrance when she thought she spotted a familiar face. She had, it was Angel. He had made it. She slid off the stool. "Hey, my friend just made it so I'm going to head back to my table."
"Sure, no problem. Hey, could I get your number or something? Or I could just show up at the diner again and hope you're there."
She grabbed a nearby napkin and jotted her number down for him. "I'm usually not home until after five, so anytime after that is good."
"If I called and asked you to see a movie over the weekend do you think you would?"
"Uh, sure," Buffy said with a shrug. She didn't see any reason why she shouldn't go to a movie with Chase. He was a nice enough guy and even though they had never been out socially or anything it was always nice to talk with someone she didn't have to completely lie to about the monsters.
Angel was walking toward her now so she was anxious to move onto where Dawn and Connor were sitting. She wasn't sure what was going to happen between father and son, but she didn't feel like having to explain how someone who liked like Angel had a son who looked like Connor.
"Okay, well, I'll call you tomorrow then. After five. And I'll have the movie listings handy."
"Great," she said, though her eyes were focused on Angel. She hadn't seen him in almost two months and she forgot how easily he could take her breath away. Images of times they had come here flashed through her mind. There were very good times and some very bad ones, too. "I'll talk to you then," she said dismissively.
"Hi yourself. It sounds like you have an admirer."
"Just a friend of Riley's."
"He's asking you out and he's interested."
"I don't think so. It is possible for a guy to ask a girl to a movie as a friend thing."
He leaned toward her, so close she thought he might kiss her. To her disappointment his lips stopped a scant inch from her ear. "I don't think any guy in his right mind would think of taking you anywhere as a friend," he whispered.
Her face grew warm and it wasn't from The Bronze being too crowded. Angel had a way of saying things that made her melt. She could almost forget she felt disappointed that he had not kissed her. "Dawn and Connor are over there." She took the chance at changing the subject to get them on safe ground.
"Cheater," he whispered against her ear.
"You're here for Connor."
"You've heard the expression two birds with one stone. Connor gave me an excuse to come see you."
"Angel," she said and shook her head. There was no point in going down this road.
"Fine," she repeated knowing they could both be stubborn. She saw a look of determination in his eyes that indicated they might not be done talking yet. Was he jealous? Did he think she shouldn't date? It's not as if she was picking out china patterns or anything. She was enjoying being single for a change. Hell, she was enjoying being for a change.
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."
"Nothing's going to happen."
"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 friends 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.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," Buffy mumbled under her breath as she walked through the last cemetery of the night.
"Buffy, stop beating yourself up."
"That's easy for you to say, Dawn, you're not the one that continually gets your heart ripped to shreds. I don't know why I just can't get over him."
"Because you love him."
"I love him, but he obviously doesn't love me."
"Buffy, that's so not true."
Connor and Angel had gone off to patrol on their own leaving Buffy and Dawn alone. That was fine with Buffy. The last thing she needed was to spend the entire night's patrol with Angel with that kiss they shared fresh on her mind.
"I'm such an idiot."
"Buffy, you're not. He loves you. As someone who had front row seats to your little show earlier that was a pretty steamy kiss. How could you think he feels otherwise?"
"Because he keeps walking away."
"Maybe he won't this time."
"I've told myself that a few times, Dawn, and he keeps leaving."
"It's okay. I just have to stop throwing myself at his feet. Or into his arms. Or being near him."
"You're being too hard on yourself. I mean, you were brought back for him, so I'd think that would mean something."
Buffy shrugged. "The Powers That Be work in strange ways, Dawn. I don't know. Angel seems to think he was just an excuse to bring me back. That there's something big coming that they needed me for."
"Oh," Dawn said simply. Buffy glanced sidelong at her sister and saw she was processing that statement. She probably thought by defeating Glory the apocalypses would end for a while. Buffy hated to break it to her, but it didn't happen that way. There was always another one brewing.
"Yeah. About Connor."
"What about him?"
"You know he's leaving, right?"
"You seemed to be getting pretty friendly. I just don't want to see you get hurt."
"Are you crazy? Buffy, I don't get to talk to many guys my age about the stuff we do. It's just neat to finally be able to. And he's super strong. What's up with that?"
"I don't know. I don't think Angel does either."
"Anyway, no, we're good. I mean, he's cute and all, but the whole he was a baby thing is just a little strange."
"And your being a ball of energy a couple of years ago isn't?"
"Well, okay, I guess when you put it like that. What isn't strange around here?"
"Do what you want Dawn. If you like him, don't let me stop you. I just wanted to be sure you knew he is leaving. But there's no curse or one of you living forever thing going on for the two of you. One of us Summers' girls deserves to be happy."
"You don't think you'll be happy with anyone but Angel?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. I've been trying. You know how hard I've been trying."
"I just haven't met anyone that makes me want to see them again."
"What about the guy at The Bronze earlier?"
"Chase. He was a friend of Riley's, or one of his Initiative buddies anyway. Riley's married, by the way."
"He's what? And you're just telling me this now?"
"I just found out at The Bronze."
"Oh. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"You don't think that's what led to your kissing Angel like that, do you?"
Now that Dawn said that Buffy wasn't so sure about her reasons. "Who am I kidding? I'd love for that to be the reason, but no. I'm pretty pathetic, aren't I?"
"No, you're one of the most unpathetic people I know, Buffy. You can't help how you feel."
"It isn't so bad when I don't see him."
"Well, he'll be gone again soon, right?"
"Well, then you can work harder at moving on."
"I don't know how much more I can do, Dawn, but I'll keep trying. That's all I can do, right?"
"Yes. Do you think they're going to work it out?"
Buffy shrugged slightly as they headed out of the cemetery and headed in the direction that would take them home. She wasn't sure if Angel was going to go back to her house or to the mansion. They had said little after the kiss. Buffy had a hard time not bursting into tears at the casual way he seemed to dismiss the fact they couldn't be together when Connor asked.
She didn't believe it was that easy for him either. The way he kissed her back and touched her told her that. So how was he able to be so matter of fact about it?
"I don't know, Dawn. I hope for both their sakes they do. Connor is confused. He was raised by someone who hated Angel, good reason or not. He was not able to see that Angel really had changed, that he really was working for the greater good. I can't blame him for hating Angel, but he's beginning to see there's more to the story."
"He seems nice."
"He may seem that way, but remember he's very angry, too. And he was raised differently than we were."
"I wasn't raised to begin with."
"You know what I mean. You weren't raised on hate and fear. You knew Mom and I loved you."
"Yes," Dawn said softly.
"I don't think Connor ever had that. And then there's the whole product of two vampires thing. He's not sure he's human, but neither am I. He seems to believe human equals good and non-human equals evil. But it really bugs him that somewhere in there he might be evil."
"Did he tell you that?"
"He didn't have to. It's how I beat him at the dunes, it's a weakness. Like a scab anyone would just have to pick at that chink in his armor and he'd be beaten."
"What if you and Angel could be together?"
Buffy sighed heavily. "Dawn, Angel's right. It's just not possible. The whole soul thing aside. He's made it clear he's out of the game. I'm not sure why exactly beyond his excuse he wants me to have a normal life."
"Have you told him about the changes?"
"You can't hide things from me. I know you're different. You don't ever sleep, or not very much. You hardly eat."
"Buffy. You used to come home from patrol and pig out because you were so hungry."
"Okay, there are differences."
"I knew it."
"Stop being so smug. And yes I told him. It's the reason he thinks something big might be coming."
"I've gotten good with the research."
"I know you have."
Buffy thought it over. What could it hurt? "Better hearing, better sight, stronger, more stamina."
"I'll get on it when we get home. This is so cool."
"Okay." She thought Dawn sounded a little too excited at the prospect of researching her sister like she was some sort of experiment.
"What do you think it is?"
"I don't know. If I did I wouldn't need you researching it."
"Okay. Does Angel have any ideas?"
"Just what I mentioned earlier, something big might be on the horizon that will require the slayer to have the added benefits the vampire has."
"Not really. I don't like getting less human as I grew older."
"Okay, well, I think it's cool. I mean, I could see where it wouldn't be for you, but from a research stand point. It's never dull with you around."
"Glad I can keep you busy."
"What are sisters for."
They were home now. Buffy opened the door and walked inside still not sure what Angel's plans were for the rest of the night. "He probably doesn't want to see me again."
"Don't be silly, Buffy. He so wants to see you again. After a kiss like that who wouldn't want to?"
"Angel," she mumbled unhappily. She had not bothered telling Dawn about the fiasco the night Angel left for LA. She had been an idiot, disrobing in front of him. She may as well have hung a sign outside her door that read SLUT in big bold letters.
"You're being too hard on yourself, Buffy. He keeps coming back, so he must not be upset or anything."
"Upset about what?"
"Speak of the devil," Buffy murmured.
"I am not related to him and have never met him, contrary to popular belief."
She rolled her eyes. "I wasn't sure you were coming back tonight."
"Connor wanted to come back here. So, I thought I'd do a swap."
"Drop Connor off and pick you up."
"Where are you taking me?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?"
He sounded as if he was teasing her. How he could be so care free about this was beyond her. "Well, yeah, I would."
"Just come with me, Buffy."
She glanced at Dawn who gave a slight nod, pushing her in the direction she was not sure her heart could take if she went there again. "Okay."
"You look like you're scared of me, Buffy. I'm not going to bite."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah," she said, swallowing hard to get past the lump in her throat. This was the part where he told her he had to go. That he didn't want to go but he had to because it was the best thing to do. The right thing to do. She knew the speech in all its variations by heart. "I'll be back later, Dawn."
"Okay, I'm guessing know where to find you if I need you."
"You'd be guessing right," Angel offered as he took hold of her hand and led her to his car. He opened the door for her and she slid inside praying she wouldn't cry this time. The short time it took for him to drive from her house to the mansion seemed to drag on forever. She wasn't sure why he felt the need to bring her here when they both knew what was going to happen.
She watched as he lit a fire in the fireplace. The back of his shirt stretching taut and then slackening as his arms moved. She could sit here and watch him do anything for hours and not get bored. She was a sad and pathetic woman. She was strong enough to beat up on most any human yet she could not close her heart to the vampire in front of her.
"I wanted to talk to you for a while."
"Okay," she said, bracing herself for what was to come.
"Connor and I will be going back tomorrow."
"I expected that."
"I know you did. I wanted to thank you for talking to him, for calling me, and just for everything in general. I'm not sure what you said but he seems to want to get to know me, to give me a chance."
"I think he came to that conclusion on his own. I just helped a little."
"Well, whatever happened, I appreciate your help."
"I want to ask a favor of you."
"Anything. You know that."
"This one may be difficult."
"What is it?"
"Don't get serious with anyone."
"Excuse me," she said staring at him in disbelief.
"I'm going to try and tend to things in my life. Days ago I would never have believed Connor fell into the easiest category. But now all I have to do is prove to him that what he's learned is not all lies."
"And then I'd like to try to figure out what happened to Cordelia."
"Okay. And where does my not getting serious with anyone fit into this."
"I just need to process, Buffy. I'm asking for some time. I don't know what's going on with you, but I want to be here for you. And I'll be honest here, I don't know if I could come here knowing you're sleeping with another guy."
"I don't want to sleep with another guy."
"I know that. I do. But Connor mentioned that Dawn told him you've been a bit exuberant with your dating since you've been back."
"I'm going to kill her."
"No, I think she was hoping Connor would tell me so that I'd know you really were taking the steps to move past us. Me."
He sat next to her on the couch and slid a hand to her cheek. She met his gaze, so intense she could feel his eyes piercing her right down to her soul. "It's not fair and I have no right, but I'm asking for now. Until we can figure out what's going on."
"We may never figure out what's going on."
"That's true," he said and Buffy had to wonder if he'd already thought of that.
"What is it you want from me, Angel?"
He leaned toward her then and just like that he kissed her. As usual the world stopped on its axis and everything ceased to exist for her but Angel. Her eyes fluttered closed and she shifted on the couch. His arm was under her and he slid her so she was completely under him. She let out a muffled gasp when his hand closed over her breast. There was no hesitation in his touch and her body respond to his unspoken demand.
"So hot," he whispered. She agreed. His hand electrified her and made her feel as though she was on fire. She arced into him, a leg draping around his calf to keep him close, her body begging his for completion. No words were necessary for either of them.
She reached between them and fumbled with the fastening and zipper of his jeans. She let out a low growl when the task was completed. Finally, she was able to slide her hand inside the confines of his jeans and touch him. Her hand found the head and cupped it, caressing his shaft with her fingertips.
He broke the kiss much to Buffy's disappointment until she felt his mouth at her neck. She felt the tip of a fang graze her scar and knew he had vamped out. Instead of frightening her or putting a damper on things arousal flooded her body like a tidal wave. She trusted him not to hurt her.
The skirt she wore had traveled to a height barely covering her waist but she did not care. She used her hands to push his jeans down around his hips so the only thing acting as a barrier was their underwear. Hers was just a tiny red thong and easily gotten past if Angel was of the mind. And, god, she hoped he was of the mind.
Everywhere he touched she ached for him, burned like nothing she had ever experienced. Parker and Riley just didn't come close to doing to her what Angel could. How could she ever hope to find someone else to replace him when she responded this way only to him?
His hands skimmed over her body gently in some places and more demanding in others. She felt as if she was a temple and he was worshiping her. She couldn't remember feeling so loved. Or so aroused. She was slick from wanting him, which he discovered when he slid a fingertip inside of her.
He hissed when her body clenched around him, trying to draw him in deeper. He trailed wet kisses along her collarbone. Her body was burning so hot she was surprised the trail of moisture he left behind did not come to a boil right there on her skin.
She slid her leg up higher along his, using her foot to slide his jeans still lower. She wanted him so badly it hurt to think about this not coming to completion. She was vaguely aware of his hands at his hips, light pressure bearing down on her pelvis area and suddenly there he was, thick, hard and bare against her inner thigh.
Agile fingers pushed the slip of satin fabric acting as their only barrier aside and finally he was there. She was ready for him, had been for close to five years now. She felt him as he entered her, her female folds welcoming him.
He slid completely into her, filling her so completely she thought she would die from the pleasure of it all. He remained still for a moment, which only served to frustrate her because she wanted all of him.
"Buffy," he whispered. He raised his head from her neck still in his vampire form, licking the tip of his fang. "I'm so sorry."
She was about to ask him what he had to apologize for when he imbedded his fangs into her neck. She cried out, seeing stars as he began to thrust in and out of her almost violently. She gave as good as she took, moving under him, driving her body into his only serving to bring him deeper, harder into her. All the while he was drinking her life's blood and she was so turned on by it she couldn't have stopped him if she had wanted to.
Large hands stroked a nipple with his thumb, causing a wave of arousal to rush through her body again. This only served to make him wilder, more out of control which brought her closer to the edge. It had been so long. She couldn't remember ever feeling this close to someone, this apart of something so intimate. Their first time she had been an inexperienced girl and she knew now he had held back immensely. Tonight he held nothing back.
"Angel," she cried out in time with her body's release. Waves of passion rolled off her, her arousal far from satisfied with her climax. Instead she found it building again, the heat coursing through her, sparking from her body to his. And for a moment she thought she felt the thump of a heartbeat under her hand at his chest.
The sun was about to come up and Buffy had yet to sleep. She was waiting to see if Angel would lose his soul again. She had passed the time touching him and kissing him. Her body felt appropriately used and sore from his lovemaking. She had no idea how many times he'd brought her to a climax. She had lost count at four. And he had continued on. Eventually, they'd moved to the bed where he finally succumbed to the need to reach his own release. He had fallen asleep, evidently spent from his efforts. Buffy had been too frightened of a repeat performance of the night of her seventeenth birthday to sleep.
"Hi," he whispered. He reached for her hand and brought it to his waist. She spooned up behind him, her chest against his back.
"I wasn't dreaming I take it."
"What makes you say that?"
"I can't remember waking up to you beside me naked before."
"I know," she whispered. She kissed his shoulder blade, letting her hand drift lower along his abdomen.
"It's kind of nice."
"Just kind of?"
"Not a very good one I guess." He laughed lightly.
"Did I not make you happy?"
"What? How can you even ask me that? If I was human, Buffy, I'd be dead of a heart attack by now."
"I mean, well," she shrugged, burying her face against his back.
"Because I'm still here you mean?"
"Yeah. I mean I'm not complaining."
"I don't think it'll ever happen again, Buffy. I'm aware of it now. I don't want to go back there again."
"Oh," she said simply. It sounded logical, though she was not sure how much she trusted it. She hadn't been thinking last night. She had been so caught up in the fact that what he wanted from her was, well, her, that she had let her guard down. And now she feared she would pay the price.
He turned to face her, watching her. "Are you sorry it happened?"
"What? Of course not. It was amazing."
"Yeah, it was."
"I've had sex before, Buffy, but it's only been that amazing with you."
"Because I've never loved the other women." Her eyes fell closed. She hated thinking of him with other women. She hated picturing the events that surrounded him and Darla making Connor. "Hey, what's wrong?"
"Nothing, just being silly, getting jealous."
"If it's any consolation I can't stand thinking about you and Riley together."
She smiled. "Yeah, that makes me feel better."
His fingers went to her neck where he found his bite mark. "I really am sorry."
"No need to be. I liked it."
"Yeah, I mean, I don't know if I'd want it to be an every day thing but it was kind of erotic."
"That was the point."
"So? You're going back tonight?" No use putting it off. She'd rather have the band aid ripped off in one pull than slowly and more painfully.
"I have to."
"But you'll give me some time?"
"How long, Angel?" Of course she would wait. She just had mind blowing sex with him she was not about to run off in search of anyone else.
"I don't know. I know it's a lot to ask."
"No, it's really not. I really have no desire to be with anyone else. I can't claim to like it."
"I don't either. I had a dream about you."
"You did? When?"
"I've had several since you've been back, but this one was last night."
"What was it about?"
"We were together."
"I like the sound of things already."
"It wasn't now though."
"What do you mean?"
He shrugged. "I don't know how to describe it. I just know it wasn't now, the present."
She sensed there was more that he wasn't telling her but it was just nice to hear that he dreamt about them together she didn't push him to tell her more.
"That sounds nice."
"What do you think it means?"
"I don't know."
"Do you think it means we can be together?"
"I think it points to that."
"Angel. Last night."
"Last night I thought I felt your heart beat." She hadn't meant to mention it, but since he had been forthcoming about his dreams it seemed appropriate.
"I swear I felt your heartbeat."
"Buffy, that's impossible."
"So is a lot of stuff that's happened to us."
"True, but," he took her hand and set it on his chest, over his heart. "It's not beating."
"I know," she said, tears forming in her eyes. "It was just once, Angel. But I felt it. I swear."
"Shh, you don't need to cry."
"Why can't anything between us be easy?"
"I guess because easy wouldn't mean as much. Things you have to fight for mean more."
"Am I worth fighting for?"
"I tried to tell myself you weren't, but yes."
She smiled then, relief flooding through her. He was going to leave for LA but he'd be back. He was not going to give her his usual speech. He was going to give them a chance.
He gathered her closer, his arm going around her waist protectively. She snuggled into his chest, listening intently for a moment for the sound of a heartbeat which never came. Her eyes grew heavy, the night having taken its toll on her, emotionally and physically.
She woke and her body was alert and at attention. She would think later about why it didn't bother her to wake up and immediately be in defensive mode. She had no idea what time it was or how long she had slept. Angel had turned over again so she had been cuddling into his back, which was fine. Something had woken her, though.
She listened for a minute longer, hearing nothing she snuggled back into Angel. She must have drifted back to sleep because the next thing she knew she heard lots of shouting and swearing.
"What in the hell?" Buffy sat up in the bed, pulling the top sheet around her.
"I found her." It was Dawn.
"What are you doing here?"
"I got worried when you didn't come home last night. I wanted to make sure you were all right."
"Is she okay?" Buffy closed her eyes at the sound of Xander's voice.
"I'm fine, Xander."
"Have you lost your mind? You're lying in bed with him. Naked. Is he naked too?"
"Yes," Buffy said calmly.
"Have you forgotten? Are you nuts? Do you remember what he did to us? What about Miss Calendar?"
"I remember all of those things, Xander."
"Then how? Why? I mean, you could have your pick of any guy in Sunnydale if not Southern California?"
They both turned to regard Angel when they heard a loud growling sound coming from his side of the bed. He was in his vampire face, glaring at Xander. Buffy's heart skipped a beat, paranoia washing through her. Had he lost his soul anyway?
"You will not talk to her that way, Xander."
"You stay out of this."
"No. She's an adult capable of making her own decisions."
"Yes, well, one problem with that. When Buffy makes personal decisions involving you things tend to go all haywire and we find ourselves on the verge of an apocalypse."
"That was one time, Xander."
"You disgust me, Buffy."
"Xander," she said dismayed.
"No, I'm gone. I'm done. Find someone else to clean up after your messes and fix you when he breaks your heart again."
"I'll go after him," Dawn said, following a retreating Xander. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I didn't know."
"It's okay, Dawn," Buffy said softly, wishing the floor would open up and swallow her whole.
Angel slid a protective arm around her, kissing her shoulder. "He'll get over it once he realizes I'm fine."
"I don't know."
"It's not your fault. I shouldn't have fallen back asleep. I should have called Dawn earlier and told her I was okay. Of course she was going to worry about me when I didn't come home. She's just gotten used to having me back and I stay out all night."
"Buffy, stop beating yourself up."
She kicked off the sheet and slid out of the bed. "I should get dressed and go find them."
She looked back at him over her shoulder. He looked so sexy, his hair mussed from hours of lovemaking and sleep. "What?"
"I love you."
Her heart soared at the sound of the words she had longed to hear from him for years. "I love you, too." If she could look back to this moment she might remember the feeling of power that surged through her just then. She thought nothing of it, though. All she knew when she was dressed and left the room, she left with a feeling she had just sealed herself to some sort of fate. Just one more thing to chalk up as supernatural stuff involving the slayer and her vampire lover.
Mid August 2002
He'd only been away from her for a week. It felt like a lifetime. And for someone who'd lived a few lifetimes that was saying a lot. He'd called her every day, desperate to hear her voice and be assured she was okay.
She seemed to need the same thing because she sounded relieved whenever he called. Her voice had a calming effect on him. He had no idea what was going on, but accepted the fact that something had changed. Instead of losing his soul while making love to her he seemed to have bonded them in a way he hadn't thought existed. Mentally and physically he craved her like an addict needing his next fix.
They were sharing dreams again. Some were of the prophetic variety, pictures that weren't very pretty. Some were of the erotic variety, vivid images that left him aroused long after the dream had drifted into the recesses of his mind. It was after those dreams that his calls to Sunnydale increased to an almost dizzying pace. He had to hear her voice, to know that she was all right.
Connor and knowing if he was going to get answers from The Powers That Be he had to remain in LA were the only things that kept him from going to her. The urge to see with his own eyes that she was all right, safe, and alive was frustratingly strong.
He had an appointment with someone Wesley knew who claimed he could be a conduit to The Powers That Be. Angel wasn't sure he trusted this person, but he had to try something. His efforts at contacting them directly had netted him no results.
He had found a suitable offering and hoped that after tonight he would have some answers. He and Connor were on the way to an understanding. Enough that Angel felt if he had answers he could leave LA, possibly for good depending on the answers.
If they told him after what had happened between them that he had to stay away he would walk into the sun tomorrow and end the torment for both of them. He didn't think they could deal with another separation. He realized that no one had ever told him to stay away from Buffy. That choice had been his and he stood by it being the right decision. They needed the time away to be sure about their feelings. Buffy in particular because she was so young.
He looked up at the sound of footsteps in the entryway of the Hyperion. Gunn was out with Fred so it was either Wesley or Connor. Cordelia was still missing. He had turned up nothing on her whereabouts and he was beginning to suspect she was gone for good.
"Hey, you ready?" It was Connor.
"Yeah," he said simply and stood from behind his desk. He grabbed the offering he hoped to make in exchange for some answers. "You don't have to come with."
"And miss finding out what's going on. You're crazy."
"I didn't realize you cared so much," Angel said dryly. He knew Connor's reasons were primarily selfish. He was probably hoping to be able to tell Dawn information before Angel could get there to tell Buffy. There was some hope in finding out once and for all he was human. Angel didn't bother telling him The Powers That Be wouldn't waste their time on that. The important thing was what side you fought for not what was inside of you. Otherwise, he would have been out of the running a long time ago.
"I'm curious is all. It's not every day I see stuff like this. So, is Xander talking to Buffy again yet?"
"I don't think so."
"Didn't you ask?"
"It hasn't come up."
Connor rolled his eyes.
Angel shrugged. "What? Xander is not high on my topics to talk with Buffy about. He'll come around eventually. He always does. He just wasn't expecting to walk in on us in bed together."
"Way too much information."
"Like you didn't know already."
"Yeah, well, hearing it from Dawn and hearing it from you is different."
"Let's go," Angel said. Wesley was waiting for them in the lobby. He and Angel were on the way to repairing their relationship. It was going to take time, but if Connor could try and get to know him then Angel could do the same for Wesley. He needed an answer man on his side when his life was currently riddled with so many unknowns.
They were in a run down building in an area of LA that Angel knew little about. The building appeared vacant but for the group of suites occupied by the man seated behind an ornate desk.
Lucius was his name. Whether it was his given name or one he'd taken on Angel had no idea. He was a large man, almost seven feet tall and built like a tank. Angel sensed he wasn't human but saw no evidence of what kind of demon he might be. He knew he wasn't a vampire.
"Ah, Angelus, we meet at last. I was wondering when you would finally realize you needed my assistance."
Angel glanced from Lucius to Wesley and back to Lucius again. How was he supposed to know he could come to him when he didn't know he existed?
"Have some tea."
"I don't want tea," Angel said until he saw the look of warning on Wesley's face. He hadn't come here for a tea party, but he'd drink the damned tea if it meant getting answers.
Without waiting for Angel to change his mind, someone brought Angel a large cup of steaming hot tea. The person was androgynous. Angel was not sure if they were supposed to appear that way or if it was a plight they suffered in life.
"Thank you," he said politely letting the tea sit.
"Now, Wesley says you have some questions."
"About the Slayer."
Lucius grew quiet. He clasped his hands together in front of him. His eyes rolled back into his head so that all Angel could see was the whites. It was a little disturbing, but he'd seen more disgusting things so he could handle it. Time seemed to stand still. Angel wasn't sure what was going on but the air crackled and popped with energy. Magic maybe. He wasn't sure.
"And your relationship with her?" The man finally spoke again. Angel was beginning to wonder if he'd gone into some sort of trance and forgot about him.
"That's secondary. My main concern is what's going on with her. Is she in danger from these changes?"
"Of course, always thinking of her well being before even your own." His eyes returned to their rightful position but they were covered in a white gooey looking substance, making his eyes look really bizarre. And kind of gross.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You were assigned to be with her, were you not?"
"I wouldn't call it an assignment. I was made an offer and I took it."
"But you left her and after you left is when she faced her most difficult trials and tribulations."
"I know. She died. I understand that. I just want to know she's going to be okay."
"You have to understand, Angelus, you were meant to be with her. The Powers never dreamed the two of you would fall in love. They sent you to her for a reason. Together you are strong. But add the love emanating from you for one another and you are a force to be reckoned with. Separated you are weaker, both of you."
"So you're saying that my leaving Sunnydale makes her weaker?"
"As well as yourself."
"Is that why I need to talk to her all the time?"
"Yes. You feed off one another, physiologically of course. Distance, an absence from one another, will make you vulnerable."
"I'm speaking of both of you, Angelus. Without you there is no longer a Buffy without Buffy Summers you are no longer."
"How can that be?"
"You sealed your fates, Angelus. You declared your love for one another."
"But I've always loved her."
"It was the sincerity in the declaration by both of you. You were both of the mind to do whatever you needed to do to be together again."
So something had changed in them and it was because of their night together. Would they ever be able to have sex without something happening? "If I can't be any longer without her what happens when she dies?"
"Do you really care?"
"No," he said and meant it. He was not living for Buffy, but there would be a terrible void in his life without her. If she was gone he really didn't care what happened, so long as his soul remained intact.
"That is the correct answer, Angelus and why you both have been bestowed this gift. You were finally willing to look past the fact she would grow old and you'd have to suffer through watching her die."
"Drink your tea, Angelus."
"I don't want any tea, Lucius."
His eyes suddenly became clear, the substance gone. "I highly recommend it."
"Fine," Angel said sipping the tea. It was good. It reminded him of his mother's tea. He could smell the peppermint and taste the honey. He could see his mother, her hands smooth and delicate. She was wiping his forehead, her brow creased with concern.
"Drink the tea, Liam, it will make you feel better," she said. And it always did. He smiled. His mother's image was as clear as if he had just seen her only today instead of over two centuries ago.
Angel had no idea how much time had passed. Two hundred fifty years worth of memories had been called up. The good and the bad. He saw the faces of his victims most of whom he could not name nor would he want to at this point.
He saw his time in Sunnydale, the fateful and sad day he left. He had left for the right reasons. He was confident of that. He could not watch her grow old and die. Or watch her body become riddled with a disease modern medicine did not yet have a cure for.
He experienced his time in LA, searching to replicate what he had found with Buffy. He had never come close. He lived again the day he came back to find Willow seated in the lobby of the Hyperion. He relived the day she had returned to him and saved his life.
Distantly, he was aware these were memories. That he was not actually experiencing these moments. They were in his past. But soon events started playing out that were not the past and were unfamiliar to him.
Dawn with children and grandchildren while, he and Buffy looked on, appearing the same as they did now. How was that possible? He witnessed a world where despite being unable to walk in the sun his existence was filled with light and hope and love through Buffy. She was the light to his darkness. Yin to his yang. She completed him, the other half of him he never knew existed until the first time he saw her.
He knew losing his soul was no longer an issue because her soul was as much a part of him as his was her. She would be his anchor and she would be by his side forever. She was so beautiful and she looked so happy. And peaceful.
"Why? How?" he asked, not sure if he even spoke aloud. He saw them then, The Powers That Be and he knew he was not being misguided. It was something he feared, someone using his love for Buffy to weaken him. To tempt him into going back to her for the wrong reasons.
They did not answer except with images of their night at the mansion. Something had happened, he understood that now. They were finally ready for what The Powers had in store for them. They had not anticipated the two of them falling in love so they had to wait for them to be ready to accept that love before they could set their plan in motion. Whatever the plan was it was progressing forward and he and Buffy were now connected.
He held Buffy in his arms. They were looking into the sky, pointing out constellations to one another. Angel could detect a sadness in her, but did not know the cause. He knew he was a comforting presence to her, she fed on his ability to stay calm. She looked at him, her eyes full of love and trust. His heart swelled with the idea he could possibly have done anything to deserve her.
Slowly the image faded. He returned to the room he had begun his journey in, the tea cup clutched in the palm of his hand. Had it been a hallucination? His eyes met Lucius' who merely nodded with a shrug.
"You know what you must do, Angelus."
"Should you walk away from the gift The Powers That Be are presenting you with there will be no second chance offers."
"Use it well, Angelus."
"Is this my Shanshu?"
Lucius smiled then and shrugged his palms in the air. "That, Angelus, is not for me to answer."
Either he didn't know or just wouldn't tell him. Angelus couldn't blame him and knew he was getting no more information out of the man. Prophecies were tricky thing. An inflection here or there made the wrong way and the meaning got twisted. It was possible that he was never set to become human but instead to be so completely connected to a human that he got to experience human thoughts and feelings again. Now he just had to figure out how to tell Buffy what he had learned.
"She said she felt my heart beat."
"It is possible. As both your bodies continue to go through the process of changing, acclimating to be tied to one another so intimately."
"So, it was really her heart beating through mine."
"You catch on very well, Angelus."
"Will she crave blood?"
"No, but she will experience the lust you feel if you go too long in between feedings. You, too, will feel when her body requires something. It works both ways."
"Huh," was all he said.
"You may for the time being find yourself hungrier more often than normal. She may find herself going much longer without requiring sustenance. Your bodies will adjust in time."
"Do you know that for certain?"
"There are no absolutes."
"Is there anything more you can tell me?"
"Other than go to her, no, I'm afraid not."
Angel stood then, glancing into the tea cup and sniffing it before setting it on the desk. He did not smell any residual odors indicative of a drug, but knew there were some that were odorless.
"Thank you for your time."
"My pleasure. Your predicament has been heavy on my mind for sometime now."
"Yeah, I know the feeling."
"I'm coming with you."
"I don't have anything to stay in LA for."
Angel regarded him for a moment. It went unspoken that Connor didn't want to be left alone. He no longer had Holtz and Justine had abandoned him. That left him with a dead mother and a father he wasn't entirely willing to claim.
"Fine," Angel said.
"Don't you want me with you?"
"Of course I do, but I want you with me for the right reasons."
"What reasons might those be?"
"There's a variety of them, too long to list. Not at the top though is coming with me because you think you have no other choice."
"I don't know that I do really."
"You could stay here with Wesley, Gunn and Fred. They could use your help."
"I don't want to stay with them."
"That's fine I was just making sure you knew you had options."
"I know my options. Staying here isn't the one I choose. I can do more good with you anyway."
"Fair enough and you're right. You really can say you're going because you want to be closer to Dawn." Angel chuckled lightly. "Yeah, don't give me that ‘who me' look. Just be careful with her. She's just a kid."
"No more than I am. Hey, I'm your son; shouldn't you be looking out for me instead of her?"
"You've seen more than she has."
"That's not the way I've heard it."
"Okay, you grew up faster than she did and have had more real experience than she has. All of her memories until a couple of years ago are fake, Connor. She didn't exist."
"You just don't like the idea she could be more powerful than you are."
Angel shook his head. "You don't know me at all if you believe that. I'd welcome someone more powerful than I am into this fight. In ways Buffy is already. She was strong when I lived in Sunnydale, I'm sure she's stronger now."
"Don't you care that you're leaving LA without a protector?"
Angel shrugged as he took in his surroundings and what he'd left behind. Anything he needed Wesley or Gunn could bring him. "No, I mean yes, but it's clear Buffy and I aren't meant to do this alone. Gunn and Wesley will be here. We can come here if we need to. I don't even know if we'll stay in Sunnydale. But I was sent to Sunnydale to help Buffy. Buffy left LA for Sunnydale. The Powers That Be obviously want her where she is."
"So what are you going to tell her?"
"I don't know. The truth I guess."
"That's a switch."
"What does that mean?"
"You're not exactly the king of honesty, especially with her."
"The things I've done and kept to myself have been for her."
"A lot of good it did either of you. You're heading right back to where you started."
"No, we're not. The Powers even said they weren't prepared for us falling in love. Things will be different. I won't lose my soul and I won't have to watch her grow old and die. Or worse, die young from something there's no cure for."
"Would you turn her?"
"No, never. She'd hate me and I'd hate myself."
"It must be tempting."
"Sure it is, but no, never. The one person I sired after my soul, he wasn't right. I mean, he wasn't quite fully a vampire. I'm not sure if my having a soul had anything to do with that. He had a conscious, felt guilt but he eventually stopped caring. I wouldn't want that for Buffy."
"You're not so bad."
Angel laughed. With his back to Connor the tears he felt forming in his eyes went unseen. It was better that Connor did not see him this way. His son was accepting him. "Thanks, son." He stood there for a moment longer, composing himself. Connor's words were firmly planted in Angel's head, tightly wrapped around his heart. He would forever carry them with him. "Let's go."
It was well after midnight when they arrived in Sunnydale. For the first time since Connor had been back Angel felt like he was close to bonding with his son. Their conversation while barely scratching deeper than the surface had been animated and fulfilling. The breaks were not overwhelming or uncomfortable.
"Do you think we'll see the other side of that sign anytime soon?"
"I don't think so, Connor. Buffy needs us, Sunnydale needs us."
"So, we can't visit LA?"
"Connor, I gave you the chance to stay."
"I don't want to stay. I was just curious that's all."
"And I'm answering is all. I should never have left. Of course, I wouldn't have you if I'd stayed in Sunnydale, so I guess things work out the way they're supposed to."
"Where are you going?"
"What do you mean?"
"Their house is that way, isn't it?"
"But you're not going that way."
"I'm going to the mansion."
"You drove all the way here tonight to end up at the mansion? Are you crazy?"
"I don't know if she's sleeping or what she's doing."
"I'll bet she doesn't have another guy over."
Angel quickly vamped out at the mention of another man with Buffy. He'd always been jealous, protective, and some might say possessive. The idea of someone else touching her, loving her sent him into a rage.
"Settle down, I was just saying, I mean, you guys left on good terms so you know she's waiting for you to figure something out."
"No, she wouldn't, but that's my point. What are you waiting for?"
"You're avoiding her, you're putting it off. She's probably still out anyway, so why not go find her and tell her."
"It's not that simple."
"What's not that simple about it? You get to be with her. Forever, right?"
"Isn't that what you both wanted?"
"I'm not sure we meant in the literal sense."
"Okay, so that's a bit of a technicality, but it's better than being alone."
"And it's better than her being with someone else."
"Yes," he said quickly.
"Don't vamp out on me again."
"What does it matter to you anyway?"
"For starters, I can't see Dawn until you've seen Buffy."
"If you haven't seen Buffy then I can't say anything to Dawn so you need to tell Buffy first so she doesn't hear the news from her sister. And, her biggest thing about you is that you keep things from her. This is a pretty major thing to keep from her."
"I'm not keeping it from her."
"No, I'm sure you'll tell her when it's right. Just when is the right time to tell someone they're not going to die?"
"That's what I thought," Connor said when Angel did not respond. How could he understand? "Do you think she's going to believe you made her a vampire?"
"No," he whispered. It was a thought that had crossed his mind. He didn't have answers for Buffy beyond what he had been told. Like everything since that fateful day he'd seen Whistler for the first time Angel was learning as he went.
"Then find her and tell her."
"And what are you going to do."
"Take the Plymouth to her house and impress the hot chick with my wheels."
Angel rolled his eyes, not sure Connor was kidding. At least not entirely.
"All right, I can't imagine her routine has changed that much that I can't find her."
"And you're going to tell her, right?"
"Then I'll stay at her house tonight."
"Don't take advantage of her sister."
"I wasn't going to, but I don't want to interrupt anything."
"The mansion is plenty big enough for three of us."
"Can I bring Dawn back there then?"
"No," Angel said quickly, adamant in his answer.
"Because you'd be tempted to do things you shouldn't do with her."
"Look who's talking."
"I've known Buffy for seven years, Connor. You and Dawn need to get to know one another better."
"Are you lecturing me? I know about sex."
"I know you do, and I'm sure Dawn does, but that doesn't mean you have to put that education to use just yet. Get to know one another, take her out on a date. Like normal people do."
"There's nothing normal about any of this."
"I realize that, but pretend. If you really like her it's the only way to do things."
He huffed, arms crossing over his chest in a pout. "I suppose. I wasn't going to try anything anyway, I just figured it would be nice to get her away from everyone else."
"Yes, Buffy's friends can be a little overwhelming and intimidating, especially now that Willow's as powerful as she is. Go for a walk or go sit on her porch."
He saw Connor nod ever so slightly as he pulled the car over to the side of the road. He would get out here and begin his search for Buffy. Hopefully, Connor would not do anything stupid.
"Good luck." They both spoke the words at the same time, overlapping. "Thanks," they both said in tandem once again.
It didn't take long for Connor to leave the area where Angel remained wondering just where to begin his search for Buffy. He knew Connor was right. He had to tell her, even though the details of what he knew were sketchy. He wished he had more information to give her, that he could explain things better. That wasn't how the Powers That Be worked, though, so he had to take what he could get.
He felt his heart ease for the first time since he left Sunnydale the last time. He was closer to her. His soul must realize he was closer to her, that only a few scant miles separated them now. Tonight they would be together again and this time it would be forever.
That went surprisingly well, Angel mused to himself. Buffy had been quiet for some time now. They were in the backyard. He was seated in a chair, Buffy was laying in the grass studying the stars one arm supporting her head, acting as a pillow. She had asked a few questions, but when she realized he really had told her everything he knew she had stopped. There was so many variables, so many unknowns but they both understood that they could finally be together. That they were meant to be together.
"Are we staying here then?" He was no longer left to wonder what she was thinking about. That was the worst part, not knowing where her mind was. She didn't seem upset but her mood had changed from excited to see him to pensive once he'd begun divulging what he had found out.
"Where? Sunnydale? Yes. They want you here obviously, so this is where we'll be."
"No. I mean, do we keep my house or the mansion. Or do we get something new altogether?"
"Would you prefer your house?" he asked, preferring a cautious approach.
She turned onto her side, resting her head against her hand propped up by her elbow. "Well, I admit the house was small for Mom and me. Add Dawn into the mix and it was positively tiny. I assume Connor's staying?"
"Unless it's just a passing fancy to come here with me, yes."
"Four adults, one bathroom screams lots of fights to me."
"Okay," he said, eyeing her trying to decipher what she was thinking. "So, that leaves here at the mansion or someplace different."
"I like it here. It has definite possibilities and if we sold the house we'd have some money to fix things up."
"I have money, Buffy. Whatever you get to sell the house should go to college expenses for both you and Dawn."
"I don't think I'm going to finish."
"Of course you are. Things are going to be good from now on, Buffy. I feel it. There won't be anymore bad surprises. You don't have to worry about things by yourself anymore."
"I still can't get over that concept," she said, her eyes following the path of a late night airplane flying overhead.
"You'll get used to it. We both will."
"Is anyone from LA coming here?"
"I don't think so. Wesley and Gunn will stay there."
"I like the mansion, but there are some bad memories here for us."
"There are some incredibly good ones, too," he said. Images flashed through his mind of their time together after he came back from the hell dimension. The time they were happy, before he allowed the seeds of doubt the Mayor and Joyce Summers planted to spring to life and take hold of him. Training together, talking together in front of the fire, kissing, waking up with her in his arms. "Is that going to pose a problem for you?"
"No," she said adamantly. Almost too convincingly in fact. "We'll need the room especially if we're going to have all these nieces and nephews to watch over." Her eyes widened and she sat up quickly, looking ready to do battle. "Do you think it's Connor?"
"What?" he asked, having lost her train of thought.
"The nieces and nephews. Are they Dawn and Connor's?"
"I don't know. I only saw Dawn. Only time will tell."
"Who would have thought, you'd get a child and I wouldn't?"
"Buffy," he said softly.
"No, I'm not being sarcastic or anything. It's just funny, isn't it?"
"We can adopt if having a child is what you want. But do you really want to bring a child into this world? Had I known the chance existed I wouldn't have," he shrugged, not wanting to continue. It was probably best he not talk about his time with Darla.
"You're right, I know. It's just funny and ironic, isn't it?"
"I suppose it is. But don't forget I didn't get to raise him either. So, I'm no more his father than you are Dawn's mother when it gets down to it."
She picked up a blade of grass and ran it up and down her fingertips. "So the mansion it is. How many rooms are there anyway?"
"Too many. It seemed like too many when I was here by myself anyway. And when I was here with Spike and Dru, I didn't really pay much attention to things like spaciousness."
"I suppose not," she said wryly. Their eyes met and he saw the pain of that time in their lives reflected in her eyes. She was unable to bury it completely though she put on a good show overall. At least he knew he had years to make up for the months he tormented her and her friends. Not that she would ever suggest he had anything to make up for. She had forgiven him long ago, just as he had her for driving the sword through him. But forgiveness did not always erase and ease the pain events caused. It was the reason he fought so hard, he wanted to defeat the pain he had caused for years.
He stood gracefully from the chair, offering her a hand. "Shall we take a tour of our home then, mademoiselle?"
She took his offered hand and stood. She fell into the role, batting her lashes at him in a coquettish manner. She smiled widely and fanned herself with her free hand. "I'd love to, kind sir; I was beginning to think you'd never ask."
He slid an arm around her waist, gathering her against him where she fit so perfectly in the crook of his arm. "I think we've fooled your chaperone into allowing us to roam freely for a spell. Perhaps we should take advantage of that misplaced trust."
She glanced up at him, her eyes instantly alive with a fire and passion he recognized well. He believed it mirrored his own, though he had no way of knowing for certain. He knew that while neither could claim to be their only loves, they were their last loves. He looked forward to seeing that fire and passion in her eyes for all time. Devotion it was underrated. It made him feel like he could walk on water or fly through the sky like a bird.
He had no idea when the mansion had been built. It was old but he doubted it pre-dated the turn of the century. When he had taken over the mansion four years ago he hadn't paid much attention to the furnishings and décor he had inherited. He didn't have use for pretty things or finery when he had been out to end the world.
The first floor they knew by heart and they agreed most of the furnishings could stay for the time being anyway. Giles would be ecstatic when Buffy asked for various volumes to be permanently be housed in the library. There was some damage from when he lived here as well as basic every day filth as a result of standing unoccupied for three years.
His favorite room was what he imagined had been considered the parlor. The fireplace he and Buffy had sat in front of, the gardens he could only enjoy during the night hours when the flowers could be appreciated only so much in the light of the moon. The master suite was next on his list of favorite rooms because he had taken the time to decorate it and design it to his tastes when he had returned from the hell dimension.
Some rooms, like a summer dining area he'd never set foot in. Vampires didn't enjoy too many meals in a sunny room.
The second floor was as he expected: four bedrooms each with their own full bathroom. Two of the bedrooms looked to be furnished in a style he recognized as belonging to girls or young women. Daughters perhaps. The other two rooms looked more formal, less lived in and Angel imagined they'd been guest rooms. There was a balcony overlooking the great room. They both paused to take in the view.
"I'd forgotten this was here." She turned to him, regarding him through lowered lashes and smiled flirtatiously. "And all of this can be mine?"
He realized what she was doing then, playing out the fictitious scene they had set up before their tour. "That is if you're willing to be mine."
"It is tempting."
He arched a brow, regarding her. "I can live with tempting. In time you'll grow to love me. At least that's what my father says."
She turned from him, a girlish giggle escaping her lips as she did. She probably thought it was a joke of sorts, but those very words had been said to him on more than one occasion about the various women paraded in front of him. No one saw him, they saw his father's land and money. He suspected if he told Buffy they needed to live in a shack in the middle of nowhere, cut off from society that she would do it.
He took her into his arms, holding her against his chest as they looked. He kissed the top of her head, nuzzling her neck with his chin. God, he loved her. "Me, too. I didn't come up here very often, no need to. I guess I must have when we first took possession of the house because I wasn't surprised by the condition of the bedrooms."
"We'll certainly have plenty of room for Dawn and Connor."
"And plenty of nieces and nephews. Beds can be replaced with bunk beds. And I'm sure something could be done upstairs and in the basement."
"I'm not sure how many kids you saw Dawn having, but I'm sure four extra bedrooms is more than enough."
"I suppose you're right."
The third floor was not as spacious as the first two floors and the basement. He imagined the larger room had once been a ballroom but had been transformed into a recreation room. Off this larger room was a sitting room, probably used by women primping in between dances once upon a time. He smiled at the thought. Though he had never fit into society or cared for the women high society bred he had some fond memories of balls and barbeques as a boy. They had lost their value once he came of age and realized these functions were little more than stepping stones for the women to land well-to-do husbands.
The basement led to the garage but there was plenty of space for a kick ass entertainment area. The crawl space led to tunnel access, something Angel had only just now discovered. He wasn't sure he liked the idea of creatures of the night being able to get in here. At the stairwell on their way back up to the first floor, Buffy paused. "Does it work?"
"I think so, but I wouldn't use it until I got it checked out."
She snorted then. "We're kind of unkillable aren't we?"
"I don't care to take any chances and I don't want Dawn or Connor, or the others, thinking they can use it. I'll have someone come check out everything. Pipes, termites, the whole thing."
"You're really taking this seriously."
"I've never had a home before. I lived here for those months, that year but it wasn't a home. I survived. I'm not sure I saw much more than the three rooms I lived in. If we're going to live here, I mean if we're going to put down roots here I want to do it right. Maybe we'll stay or just use it as a place to come back to when we're sick of traveling."
"We can make our home here, Angel. That's fine. I don't expect I'll be going too far from Sunnydale."
"I want to get some dogs."
"What?" she asked, understandably thrown off by the change in conversation.
"Dogs. I don't want curious onlookers thinking they can climb the fence and look inside our house. I don't need some rebellious kid hearing stories about the odd people who live here spy on me and see me drinking blood."
"What kind of dogs? And how many?"
"Two. Even three. One could be inside with you when I am indisposed. We can pick them out together. Something you'll be comfortable with. German Shepherds or Rottweilers."
She hugged herself and he wondered if he'd gone too far too fast. "I don't know, Angel. You're suggesting guard dogs, not Benji."
"I have to know everyone living here is going to be safe when I'm at my weakest. Dogs would let you known of an intruder. We don't have to get them tomorrow, but think about it."
"Is there something you're not telling me? Something more you were told or saw?"
"No. Is it wrong of me to want you, your sister and my son safe?"
"No," she said softly, rubbing her arms as if trying to comfort herself. Or let the information she'd obtained sink in. "I'll think about it. Okay? Maybe start with one and see how it works."
"We can do that. No hurry, just think about it."
Hand in hand they ascended the steps leading from the basement to the first floor. Without words they both walked to the master suite. Their bedroom. They had been apart for too long and neither needed to say what was on their mind. It wasn't about sex, though sex with Buffy was worthy of front page headlines. The idea of holding her all night long knowing he never had to give her up again was enough to satisfy him.
"We can move whatever you want from your house here. We can put things here in storage or sell them if you don't want them."
"Xander or Willow might want some things."
"Yes, of course, whatever you want. I just have to request your bedroom set not go in here."
Her lips quivered, a hint of smile was there and then disappeared. "Not manly enough for you?"
"That and it kind of clashes with the gothic vampire theme I have going on."
"Poor baby," she whispered, leaning up to kiss him. "Is the big bad vampire getting defanged by the slayer? It would be poetic if it wasn't so twisted."
He dropped his head, claiming her mouth in a hungry kiss. Their lips parted, tongues met and danced intimately, hungrily. His hands slid the length of her back to her ass, drawing her against him. "Kissing you is poetry," he murmured as he lifted her with ease and carried her to the bed. His good intentions flew out the window as soon as their lips met.
"Happy Halloween!" Buffy watched what she hoped was the last group of children walking away from the house with a chorus of "thank you". The candles in the jack-o-lanterns she had set out along the driveway leading from the house to the street were just about burnt out. Over a dozen pumpkins had been carved with an array of faces ranging from scary to downright comical. A boom box with a CD of scary music and sounds was playing by the door. If she never heard it again after tonight she'd be happy. It seemed like a cool idea when she'd thought of it, but it had gotten old.
Xander had the scary movies ready to go in the other room. The pizza had arrived just before the last trick-or-treaters. They were looking forward to their first quiet night in a while. Things were better but still busy for the slayer. Word evidently did not travel fast that the slayer was back in her usual form. But tonight was Halloween, a night noted for being quiet in the demon world.
The past two months had been crazy. Packing, moving, painting, organizing, unpacking, arranging and rearranging furniture, and cleaning – it never seemed to end. And in between it all she had to patrol while Dawn had school, homework and her job. Dawn and Connor had rooms at opposite ends of the second floor. As far as she could tell while they had feelings for one another neither was sure what to do. Buffy preferred it that way, and knew Angel agreed. Neither was your average kid their age and she hoped they'd take it slow.
"Come on, Chief," Buffy called, slapping her thigh with her hand to get his attention. The black and tan Rottweiler puppy loped toward her clumsily. What he lacked in grace he made up for in enthusiasm. He was so tiny it was hard to believe he would get to be one hundred pounds or more. At just over twenty now it seemed a long way to go in the short span of a year. She unfastened the hook from his collar and was greeted with kisses as she bent over him. She hated to admit it, but she loved having a dog. "The trick-or-treaters have all gone home, it's time to watch movies and get scared," she murmured as she carried him indoors.
She set him down on the floor and watched as he trotted into the room where the others were. He was so adorable! She had known as soon as she saw him he was the one for her.
"Finally," Xander said, opening the pizza box lid. He rubbed his hands together, ready to dig in. "I thought they'd never stop. Who comes out here anyway? I sure didn't when I was a kid."
"I don't know. Parents willing to drive their kids. Curious neighbors. No one's lived here for years and all of the sudden here we are." Buffy shrugged and took a seat on the floor in front of Angel. She found a comfy position right in between his legs and grabbed a piece of pizza. "Let's get this party started." Chief curled up beside Buffy just on the other side of Angel's feet.
The high school kids seemed to take the jack-o-lanterns still being lit as an invitation and their relaxing night of movies and pizza was interrupted a time or two. The high school kids didn't get into it like they had when she was in high school. A few were barely even dressed as anything. Obviously, Sunnydale High didn't have Principal Snyder to make them participate.
Dawn and Connor were the last to ring the bell. Dawn, dressed as a punk rocker straight out of the 1980s, spilled the pillowcase full of her trick-or-treating loot in the middle of the floor. Chief was startled out of his nap and quickly went to investigate the foreign objects on the floor. His nose was really going to town. She imagined it was a smorgasbord of new smells for him.
"Dawn, did you hit every house four times or what?"
"No, but I think we covered every house, apartment and business in Sunnydale. And the later it got, the more they gave me."
"No candy, Connor?"
"He was a stick in the mud. He wouldn't put the Jason mask on I got for him. So I told him he couldn't participate."
Buffy laughed lightly. "I would have done the same thing. Angel had a built in mask, but we never got the chance for him to use it."
"Well," Buffy said. It had been a while since she'd thought of their one Halloween together. Xander, Dawn and Angel knew the story but Connor didn't. She was all for telling him stories that cast Angel in a good light. And so she related the story of the Halloween back in high school when they'd all turned into their costumes.
"Poor Angel," Dawn said. "He had no idea why Buffy didn't know him." If Dawn felt weird about talking about memories that she really hadn't experienced she gave no sign of it. Buffy was proud of her that she continued talking about the memories planted in her. With their mom gone, those memories were all Buffy had left. It made her feel not so alone knowing Dawn shared those memories, too.
"Of course, Cordelia remembered who she was, too. She was all over that. I'll never forget the spell getting broken while we were in that warehouse. All those kids were so frightened and if the spell had been broken a minute later Spike would have gotten his third slayer."
"I went to stay at Janice's house. I remember I had no idea why you sent me there instead of taking me with you. I ended up falling asleep there. I think that was the plan, though. Mom was off somewhere so you and Angel could be alone."
"Finally," Buffy said wistfully. They had danced around their attraction to one another up to that point. That night was when they dove into the relationship thing with their eyes wide open. "It was the first night we'd even had a chance to be alone."
"And we all know how well it works out when you two are alone," Xander quipped from his spot on the couch. All eyes looked at him and he shrugged. "What? It's true. Well, almost anyway. I admit I was surprised you two were able to keep your hands off one another after Angel came back. I thought for sure we were going to have Angelus running around again in no time. And now this stuff. I shudder to think what might happen in the future at some point when you two get with the advanced smooching."
Buffy laughed. "Advanced smooching?"
"Well, yeah, I mean, Dawn's here."
"And I know why Angel lost his soul. And you weren't so cryptic after you walked in on them."
"I was scarred. I never knew someone's ass could be that white. I ran away because I needed to find some shades to stop the blinding light!"
"I guess two hundred fifty years or so of no suntanning will do that. Would tanning beds smoke you I wonder?"
"I'm not going to try it. And you didn't see my ass."
"I know, but it was worth saying it to hear Buffy and Dawn get all huffy with me," Xander said and laughed. Buffy breathed a little easier. She hadn't been sure if Xander was seriously provoking a fight tonight. "I told you guys, I'm okay. Someone must have a perverse view of how things are supposed to be. I'm never going to consider him my best friend, but there's no law that says I have to love who my best friends love."
"Thanks I think," Buffy said, not sure that what Xander had just said had been entirely complimentary.
"Anyone want that last slice of pizza? Connor, you didn't eat much. You're a growing boy, you need nutrition that is pizza pie goodness," Xander said doing his best, most exaggerated Italian accent. "Cheese, tomato sauce, meat and veggies. All very good for you," he said, bringing his fingertips to his mouth and kissing them in a well known Italian gesture.
"No, thanks, you can have it, Xander."
"You sure? I know Buffy and Dawn won't eat it, they eat like birds. I'll arm wrestle you for it or something if you don't want to appear too anxious."
"Wouldn't wanting to wrestle you for it seem anxious?"
"Good point. Okay, no arm wrestling. I'm going to count to ten and if you haven't taken it, it's fair game. I'm being mighty generous here. Working construction is long hours and lots of physical labor. Builds up quite an appetite."
"You can have it. Dawn and I had something to eat at the mall."
"Tasty treats. Something for everyone to eat and enjoy heartily. I approve. Good move. Girls like choices."
"I wouldn't take much wooing advice from Xander," Anya said. "Now be quiet. Aren't we supposed to be silent when watching movies?"
"Yes, honey, I'm sorry," Xander said, draping an arm around her shoulder and patting her there. Buffy wasn't sure the gesture was supposed to be endearing or demeaning. She looped her arm around Angel's leg, resting her head against his thigh.
Six sets of eyes shifted to the clock when the doorbell rang again. It was late. Far too late for a trick-or-treater. Chief padded to the door, more than familiar with what the sound meant and let out a bark just in case the six humans sitting right by him hadn't heard the sound that rousted him from his nap.
"I'll get it," Buffy said. She was the Halloween spirit girl anyway. She had insisted on the jack-o-lanterns, the cheesy music and buying treats to give away. She picked Chief up, he was prone to sneak out the door if they weren't careful, and opened the door. She was expecting a late night group of college kids or something.
"Buffy? It's really you."
"Will, we've been talking on the phone for months."
"I know, but I think there was a part of me that didn't really believe it was true until now."
"What are you doing here? Why didn't you or Giles call?"
"We wanted to surprise you. Did it work?" Giles asked as he stepped out of the shadows. He looked as debonair as he always did in a suit and tie. His hair was a little shorter, a little grayer but he resembled the distinguished Englishman she'd met years ago just the same.
"Giles," Buffy said, not having seen him she'd been so focused on seeing Willow again. She looked different, more mature. She imagined losing Tara and Buffy both had done that. She leaned toward Giles and gave him a kiss on the cheek, then did the same to Willow. "Come in. We're just watching movies. There's no pizza left, but I'm sure we could find something for you to eat if you're hungry."
"We're fine, Buffy, really."
"Yeah, I'm not really hungry. Nerves and all," Willow said, almost sounding shy. "Nice touch with the jack-o-lanterns. Look at you, all festive."
"I wanted to make with the spooky spirit. Do you have bags?"
"Uh, yes," Giles said, indicating the group of suitcases off to the side.
"We'll get them later. Come in."
"Xander, you're never going to believe who's here," Buffy called from the foyer as she led Willow and Giles into the great room.
There was so much commotion, everyone excited at seeing Willow and Giles that there wasn't a chance to hear who was saying what. Only Connor seemed unaffected by the latest arrivals to the house, but of course he didn't know Giles and Willow.
Once they were settled, the bags brought upstairs, food had been thrown together the eight of them sat down to watch the rest of the movie.
This was good, perfect even. Xander and Anya were buying Buffy's house. Evidently, the construction and Magic Box businesses were thriving because they were able to come up with enough of a down payment. Buffy was glad that the house she had spent so much time in was not going to be in the hands of complete strangers. She would even be able to visit, though that didn't seem too likely. Xander seemed infatuated with their big screen TV and the spaciousness of the mansion in general.
Connor and Angel were living under the same roof and seemed to be getting along without much trouble at all anymore. Angel talked to Buffy often in the privacy of their bedroom and she knew he suspected there would always be a lingering doubt in Connor's mind about whether Angel killed Holtz. He believed, however, that Connor logically knew that he didn't, it was a matter of letting go and accepting the fact that the man he'd grown to love and trust had ultimately betrayed him.
Buffy carried some dishes into the kitchen, not surprised that Giles followed her.
"You've done quite a bit with the place."
"Uh, yeah, it's coming together nicely." Buffy crushed the pizza box, threw away napkins and cups before moving to the dishes Giles and Willow had used. "Are you okay being here?"
"Yes, thank you for asking."
"Are you sure? You could use Mom's house if you aren't."
"No, no, I shouldn't be here long anyway. Willow just wanted a chaperone I think, in the event no one wanted her here."
"Is she okay?"
"As good as she's going to get. She's spent a lot of time healing and learning more about her art. She's hesitant to use it at all now, so she's gone to the opposite extreme that she was. She'll have to get back on the horse eventually, but it's up to her when she does it and how much."
"How long are you going to stay?"
"Until I'm sure she's okay."
"And then you go back?"
"Yes, I enjoy being back in England, Buffy. I'm relieved you're back, of course, but you and I both know you stopped needing a watcher quite some time ago. At least one that's on the scene all of the time. With computers the way they are, it's not as if I'm a great distance away really. Angel and Dawn mentioned you'd like some books to put on the shelves in the library."
"Yeah. Whatever you think would be the handiest for us to have around here."
"I'll put some together when I return and bring them to you."
"You don't have to do that. Two trips has got to be costly."
"Let me worry about the financial angle. Admittedly, it'll give me a good reason to check on Willow a little while later and ensure she's still holding up okay."
"She was that bad?"
"On the brink of ending the world bad, yes."
"I'm sorry I wasn't here."
Giles smiled then, that smile he got when she said something funny that she didn't quite get. "As it happened, it was only Xander we needed. Muscle didn't solve the problem, Spike tried."
"Well, I'm glad to know I'm not needed for every world ending struggle."
He smiled again, his eyes piercing hers intently. "You look beautiful. Radiant, really. Love suits you."
"Thanks," she said, feeling a little shy at being under such scrutiny.
"I'm glad it's finally working out for you, Buffy, really. You deserve it, I never believed differently despite what you may think."
"I know, Giles." They both grew quiet then, neither seeming to know what else to say. "So, what do I do with Willow?"
"Do with her?"
"Well, yeah. Am I supposed to watch her? Follow her? Check her room for signs of something?"
"My best advice is to be her friend. She needs to know you and Xander still love her."
"Of course we do."
"And accept her despite what she's done. I know you do and deep down she knows as well, but she's uncertain of anything these days."
"I'll do my best. I just wish there was more I could do." She walked to the fridge to grab a can of Diet Coke. "Are you sure you're okay staying here, Giles? I mean, no one would blame you if you didn't want to."
"I'm fine, Buffy. It was years ago and I'll be fine. I appreciate your concern."
"You're welcome. It occurred to me tonight that no one's ever been concerned about you. You worried about all of us but none of us really thought to do the same to you."
"My girl is growing up, but I assure you it's part of the job."
"Well, it sucks. We both get crappy deals."
"Hear, hear," he said with a smile, draping an arm around her. "Let's go back and join the others. Xander said something about Dracula being the piece de resistance."
"I'm not sure what that means, but yeah, he brought like three different versions of it."
"Wonderful," Giles said dryly.
"Angel and I weren't too thrilled either, but you know, it's Xander. He thinks he was being clever and witty or something."
"I'd vote for the ‘or something'."
Christmas Eve, 2075
Angel patted Charlie's head and instructed him to return to the house. He would be by the door waiting for them when they decided to return. Angel sat behind Buffy, his arms went around her to support her. She knew this was where she was supposed to be. She couldn't remember what it felt like to be held by another man.
"How are you?"
"Fine," she whispered.
"Are you sure?"
"No," she admitted and tilted her face up to look at him. "I just want to say I get it."
"I get why you left me."
"I didn't understand then. I was eighteen, thought I'd die young. I never thought about watching those I love die. Meantime, I look like that girl."
He slid a hand along her arm, calming her which she imagined was the intention. "I know."
"It was bad enough when it was Giles. I mean, I expected that. He was older than me. But Xander, Willow, and now Dawn. I'd forgotten for a while there she wasn't even in my life once upon a time. I mean, how could someone who wasn't real have kids?"
"How could the son of two vampires create perfectly human children? And I've seen no evidence in their kids or their kids that they aren't."
"I don't know. None of it makes any sense, does it? Connor isn't fully human, but he's aging just slower than humans do. I guess through them we get carried on. Summers blood, Angel blood. To think of having to go through this alone. Losing you and having no one to turn to."
"You're never going to lose me."
"I know." She turned, wanting to really look at him. "But had this whole return from the dead thing not happened." She shrugged. "Had you stayed with me, you would have watched my friends go one by one and then me. And who would you have to comfort you?"
"But you wouldn't have had him," Buffy whispered, cupping his face.
"Good point," he whispered.
"I wonder if they hated me. Resented me."
"Willow and Xander. Dawn."
"Why would they?"
"Because they got old and I didn't."
"At least they lived to get old, Buffy, and didn't die from something else."
"I see that, but I wonder if they did. They were always a little jealous I got the slayer goodies. Never mind that Willow was more powerful when it got down to it. That's why the First feared her, fears her children."
"Yes," Angel said simply. "It's a powerful bloodline."
"I'm so glad she and Oz found each other again. I know she never loved anyone like Tara, but Oz was a close second and they made each other happy."
"There's a lot to be said for that, especially when she couldn't be with a woman again. I know how she felt."
"I tried to replace you, but it didn't work. Even what I felt for Darla wasn't a good substitute. What Willow and Oz had while not the same was at least positive and healthy. I think she knew she needed to have children, that the power she contained needed to be handed down."
"We talked about it some, yeah."
Buffy regarded him. Despite spending decades with him there were still mysteries about him. She imagined he felt the same about her. "Did you get the presents all put out?"
He nipped the tip of her finger and nodded. "Santa was a busy man this year."
"I'm so glad they stayed, I know it's hard but Christmas in this house is my favorite holiday. It reminds me of the year it snowed for us."
"I remember. It's how I knew this was where we were supposed to be. This is where the miracles that happened to me occurred. I saw us here, like this, in one of my visions."
"Yeah. Could very well be this moment. You looked kind of sad I remember, but I knew you were content."
"That about sums it up. Hard to believe someone who wasn't even supposed to be a part of our lives could make such a difference."
"It is, and I know. Just think if I hadn't been turned we would never have met."
She probably would have stayed dead after diving off that tower. She knew that because Angel was the reason she had been brought back. Other slayers came after her to fight the fight, but by losing Buffy the Powers had lost the heart of their champion.
She stood and he did the same, walking toward the mansion arm and arm. Soon it would be sunrise and the kids would be awake to see what Santa brought them. Tears formed in her eyes at the realization that Dawn would never see another Christmas. Angel stopped walking and brought her into his arms. "It hurts so much, Angel."
"I know," he whispered, smoothing her hair with his hand. "But we have the others to look after and to make sure they know who Dawn was, how special she was. Our job will never be done."
"I've heard those words before."
"A few hundred times."
"And it's no less annoying now then it was the first ninety-nine."
"I keep hoping one of these days you'll realize it's true."
"I do, Angel. I don't know what's wrong with me. It just hurts so much. I didn't think it could hurt any more than it did after Xander and Willow."
"You're human, Buffy." He stroked her face with his thumb, wiping away her tears. "That's all."
"I never realized that was such a curse before now."
"You want to talk about curses," he quipped.
"No," she said with a laugh.
"I love you, Buffy, human or otherwise."
"I love you, too," she whispered. The rays of the new day's sun were beginning to peak over the horizon. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," he said as they resumed their approach to the mansion where Charlie waited for them. Buffy lost count of how many generations removed Charlie was from Chief, eight or nine by now. Like Dawn's family, Charlie was here representing a piece of the past that Buffy wouldn't trade for anything.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com