Buffy watched as Willow and Kennedy walked in the sand along the beach, following some other couple's footsteps that were beginning to get washed away by the tide. Her gaze moved to the sun just about to make its nightly trip beyond the horizon giving Buffy and her friends night.
Night made Buffy think of demons and vampires and the fact that she had not seen many lately. Thinking of vampires brought to mind the two vampires that were significant in her life. She loved both of them and they both loved her. Both had helped make her who she was today. One by trying to destroy the world and making her send him to a hell dimension to stop him. The other one saved the world, proving to Buffy that perhaps everyone was redeemable.
Buffy could not help but smile in response. It was what Spike had called her even after they had become friends. Standing in front of her now was a candidate for redemption. "Hey, Andrew," she said to the blonde man Anya had died to save. Buffy and Anya had their differences, but the ex-demon rarely placed her trust and faith in someone who was not deserving of it.
"I was wondering what we were going to do for dinner."
"I don't know," Buffy said with a shrug, her arms folded over her chest as she watched the sky fill with the flamboyant reds, yellows, oranges, purples and whites that represented the last of the night's magical sunset.
"Well, Dawn and I are hungry," he said in the whiney voice that Buffy had grown to detest over the past few months.
"Then take her somewhere and get something to eat, Andrew."
"Oh, well, we weren't sure you'd let us."
Buffy shrugged. "I don't see why not, Andrew. It's been months now, I think Spike really did it. I think we're all safe now." She did not cry for Spike in front of anyone. Her friends probably thought she did not care or she was hardened and heartless. In truth, it was hard to cry for him when it was something he wanted to do. He wanted to redeem himself; it had not mattered that Buffy had forgiven him. He knew he had a higher purpose to carry out. How could she cry about that? She had not wanted Dawn or her friends to cry for her.
"But for how long?"
"Don't say that, Andrew," Xander interjected from the reclining chair he sat on, nursing a beer. Shirtless with wet swim trunks and skin the color of worn pennies, Xander looked like the poster child for a beach bum. Or an out of work construction worker. "I learned long ago, the worst thing you can do is ask a question you don't know the answer to. It always brings trouble."
"If you say so," Andrew said, sounding doubtful.
"We can never be sure, Andrew. I've fought in lots of apocalypses now, and the world is still here. There will be another one I have no doubt about it. That's all I know."
Willow and Kennedy were nothing but distant silhouettes in dusk's embrace. Buffy envied them in a way. Kennedy was no Tara, but she was glad that Willow had somebody. For the first time in Buffy's life, she felt okay with the fact that she did not.
Maybe it was the fact that she was no longer the Chosen One. Well, she was, she would be the Slayer until she died for good, but there were slayers around the world now who could help fight evil so it no longer felt like a never ending fight. She no longer felt incomplete or alone because she did not have a boyfriend or a lover. She had come a long way since crawling out of her grave two years ago. She wished Spike could see her now, sensing he would be proud. Angel would be, too, but he had not witnessed first hand the downward spiral Buffy experienced since her battle with Glory.
"I guess we can go to Taco Bell then. I'm in the mood for a chalupa."
"Have fun," Buffy said. It was hard to forget all that Andrew had done, but if she could let Spike walk after he had killed people while under The First's influence she could not very well do the opposite with Andrew. It had been obvious toward the end that he was willing to help them, and he was here. Buffy liked to believe that he had survived for a reason, that they all had survived for a reason.
"Thanks," he said before going back to the house. Buffy followed soon after. The sun had set, the sky was no longer its canvas until tomorrow. It was time to see what Giles had come up with that afternoon.
Buffy returned to the beachfront house they were renting for the time being to find the man who had been so many things to her over the years reading something on his computer screen. He glanced at her over the tops of his reading glasses and smiled. A few months ago, the smiles he bestowed upon her were hesitant, uncertain as if he was not sure their close ties had been severed. Now, though, the smiles were genuine and heartfelt, Buffy did not want his pity and he did not give it. Giles knew that she missed Spike but he let her deal with it in her own way without allowing her to grow despondent.
This man had been her Watcher, friend, surrogate father, advisor, and confidante and she knew that he believed he was only doing what was best for Buffy. They had argued and had differing opinions over the years; none had been as potentially explosive as this year's with Spike had been. But still they were here, together, and Buffy could not help but believe it was appropriate.
They had an opportunity to train the slayers from the beginning without the red tape and age old rules and traditions that had been a part of the Watcher's Council. There would be no more eighteenth birthday tests and there would no longer be complete secrecy from the Slayer's parents. What Giles and Willow were presently trying to figure out was how to find all of these girls.
They had started by researching medical records looking for women - adults, teenagers and children - who had suddenly reported a surge in strength and any other goodies that came with the Slayer package since this past May. They were still in research mode. The only problem was this time they were dealing with women and girls who would not know what they were and that might now be in danger from the baddies out there. Spike was not the only vampire that wanted to kill a slayer merely because she was the slayer.
"Some, Willow's computer skills certainly are helpful."
Buffy smiled slightly, remembering all of the times Giles had claimed ignorance when Willow set out to access information on the library's computer.
"What I'm concerned about, however," Giles continued. "Is doctors who might not document some cases because they don't want to admit they have no idea what the cause is. I mean, we're talking about a girl or woman developing superhuman strength overnight. Some would find it impossible, could attribute it to stress."
"Yes, you know the case of the little old lady lifting a car off the pavement to save a child."
"That's actually happened?"
"Adrenaline and stress can cause us to do superhuman things. Even you must be able to relate to that."
Buffy thought on that for a moment. He was right, there was a difference in her slaying when she was pumped up and raring to go. Of course, sometimes that led to bad things happening, like Xander losing an eye. "Yeah."
"And then those women who were brushed off that way may not go back again." He sighed softly and Buffy thought he looked tired. "We'll figure it out, Buffy."
"Can't we just take out ads in newspapers?"
"What?" Giles asked.
"Take out ads in newspapers, use your cell phone number or get a new one just for this purpose. Put ads in newspapers around the world and ask women who have been experiencing these symptoms to call us."
"It is a worthwhile idea, Buffy, but I'm afraid it would be a rather costly endeavor."
"Oh yeah," she said not having thought of that.
Giles stood and turned off the monitor, removing his glasses as he regarded her. "We'll figure it out, Buffy. I have no doubt of that. We might not get them all, it is very near impossible to, but we'll try."
"Okay, thanks, Giles."
"What's on your agenda for tonight then, Buffy?"
"I don't know," she said with a slight shrug. "I might go back outside and sit with Xander."
"I guess one good side effect of all that's happened is there does not seem to be much demonic activity."
"Bite your tongue, Giles."
"It's just nice to see you relaxed, Buffy."
"Yeah, it is sort of nice. You deserve a break, too, Giles."
"If girls lives weren't potentially in danger, Buffy, I'd take a break. I'm not complaining, but I never thought of the implications when we decided to go with your idea."
"Don't be. You saved the world, Buffy. Again."
"With Spike's help."
Giles bowed his head slightly and then glanced at her again, meeting her gaze evenly. "With Spike's help, but Spike would not have gone down there and would not have taken Angel's amulet if it weren't for you. So in essence, it was you."
"I think he would have done it anyway."
"Perhaps. Now go on now, keep Xander company."
"Okay, I'll see you later."
"Have a good evening, Buffy."
Los Angeles, California
Angel exited the UCLA server as soon as he found the information he wanted. Connor was a student there and Angel's curiosity was piqued as to how his son was doing. Seeing Buffy in the spring had helped ease the pain somewhat, but it had also served to open up a second wound that cut just as deep.
He pushed his leather chair back from the cherry wood monstrosity of a desk he had in the office portion of his penthouse suite and stood. "Blinds," he said simply and the blinds designed to block out the sun's rays opened. He looked out the window and found himself focusing on Piscis Austrinus. It had been like this every night for a while now. He would grow restless and found it would not dissipate until after he had seen the constellation.
"Fish," he called out and his aquarium instantly went from nighttime mode to being fully lit. It was not a conscious thing to need to see his living fish after gazing upon the constellation named after fish.
Angel felt the need to patrol, something he had not done in months. With their defeat of Jasmine things were slow. Angel Investigations was no longer, but that did not stop Angel from wanting to help those in need. Wolfram and Hart would not succeed in taking him off the path to redemption. He might have made another deal with the devil, but he liked to think it was in Connor's best interest and that would be taken into consideration.
He knew, though, that he had to be even more careful with the line he toed. He had come close, too close, to letting emotion rule him again with Cordelia. Seeing Buffy had shown him that what he felt for Cordelia had not been love but loneliness and the desire to again have what he had with Buffy. And deeply missed. They had not seen one another in over a year, but just like the Piscis Austrinus drank of Aquarius' water he drank up being able to see her for the short time they had together.
"Are you all right?" he asked the LA streets far below him. She had not contacted him since he left Sunnydale. All that he knew was that what was left of Sunnydale, California was one big crater. He assumed Buffy and her group had been successful because they were all still here and evil was not taking over the earth like a giant tidal wave. He liked to believe another reason things were so slow was because Buffy had averted yet another apocalypse.
He poured himself a snifter of brandy and cupped the etched piece of crystal in his hand. She had to be okay, he felt certain he would feel it if she were gone. Their connection was not as strong as it once was, but he believed he would still know. He took a sip of the warmed brandy and decided he would wait for a little while longer before seeking assistance from The Powers That Be.
Buffy sat on the beach basking in the moonlight with her knees gathered to her chest. Small waves lapped quietly at her feet occasionally touching the tips of her bare toes. The house was dark except the exterior light that would guide her to the front door when she was ready to go inside.
With Angel she had wished for nights like the ones she had been having the past few months. She was able to be a woman and simply just be. How she had craved that when she was sixteen years old. At that time she just wanted more time with Angel, she would have killed for it.
With Spike her feelings usually ran the opposite, craving the daylight he claimed she did not belong to. Nights with Spike until this year had been filled with violence or sex that resulted in her hating herself in the morning. She liked to think the friendship they had established since his return made up for all of the times she had used him. She believed he knew she was sorry. She had spent his last night with him and just held him, as he had done for her when everyone else had told her to leave.
"Hey, Buff, whatcha doing sitting out here all by your lonesome?"
Buffy turned her head, her cheek resting against her knee and shrugged. "Just doing some stargazing."
"Mind if I join you? Three eyes are better than one I've been told."
Buffy lifted her head and shook it slightly at Xander's joke. How he could be so lighthearted about losing an eye? Seven years the four of them had gone without anyone getting seriously injured aside from her dying twice.
It was one of the reasons she had left the house on Revello Drive without much of an argument the night Dawn told her to go if she could not be with them. She knew she had been out of control, but she did not know what else to do. For years she had acted on instinct and it had always worked out in the end without much for consequences. Her hastiness had cost Xander his eye and some of the SITs their lives; this after he had given a speech in her honor that still made her get weepy.
"Well then I guess since I don't know a Cyclopes you will have to be my third eye."
"Those Cyclopes' have nothing on me anyway."
Buffy chuckled and went back to staring at the stars and the ocean. It looked so dark and foreboding under the moonlit sky. She could see how both Angel and Spike could succumb to the First's urgings if this was all they ever saw of life anymore.
"So what are we looking at?"
"Nothing, just looking. Why are you awake?"
He took a seat in the sand next to her after he slid his brown leather Birkenstock's off. "I don't know, just couldn't sleep. You know how that is."
"Yeah," she said simply.
"At least you're not having your dreams."
"No, no dreams for Buffy," she quipped.
She expected to have dreams about Spike similar to those that she had after sending Angel to hell. It was hard to believe he was truly gone. Spike had been bigger than life from the moment she had laid eyes on him. He had been full of boastful swaggering yet was capable of treating Drusilla like a princess. She took the absence of dreams to mean that while she loved Spike she was not in love with him. Dreams about Angel or Spike were not the dreams that Xander was referring to anyway. He was referring to the Slayer-y, prophetic dreams she had. She did not miss them and she took the lack of them to mean that evil was on a temporary vacation.
"So, there's no dreams, no evil's afoot, but you can't sleep and you're out here being mopey Buffy?"
"I'm not being mopey Buffy," she said with a shrug. "I'm just enjoying having nothing to do." She came out here almost every night and watched the stars over the ocean. There were nights she was exhausted and still could not get to sleep until after she had come out. Giles was curious about this and told her to exercise caution. If there was some sort of powerful force causing her to need to sit under the stars each night she liked to believe it was not something evil.
"What's the difference?"
"The difference is for the first time in years I can come out here and just sit. You of all people should be able to understand that."
"I guess I just worry sometimes when you stay to yourself like this."
"Xander, I'm with you guys every day, all day. The only time I'm by myself is at night."
"Okay. I'm just making sure you know I have no problem with you knocking on my door if you need a shoulder."
"And there is no one else's shoulder I'd think about using, Xander. But you've got your own stuff to deal with."
Both were quiet for a while after that, lost in their own thoughts and apparently happy just to have company for a little while. Buffy knew Xander was happy for Willow, too, but it was a little strange for it to be the two of them with no one while Willow had someone. So conversing about in depth things was a foreign thing to them. Not that Buffy had ever been in depth girl with Xander anyway.
"Do you think she's up there?"
Buffy looked at the stars and shrugged. Spike sure was not up there. There was no going up for vampires even with redemption, only down. "I don't know, Xander," she replied honestly. Anya had been a vengeance demon for crying out loud and had reveled in hurting people.
"I never knew she had it in her to think of anyone but herself."
"Who did?" Buffy laughed lightly. "But you were engaged to her, Xander."
"And didn't marry her. I loved her, but I just knew it wouldn't have worked."
"I'm glad you went with your instincts on this one, Xander. We've got big enough odds against us as it is."
"I know I hurt her, but I think we would have hurt one another more later."
"I wonder if they forgive us?" Buffy could not help but ask. Xander was quiet, seemingly thinking about the implications of her statement. She was talking about Cordelia, Angel and Riley as well as Anya and Spike and Xander seemed to know this. They both had been hurtful to those they loved, including one another.
"It's hard to say, but I like to think they do, Buff. Life sucks, but dying would suck even more if you had to hold onto all the garbage from this life."
"You don't," she said softly.
"I'm sorry, Buff, I'm so stupid. It's so easy to forget sometimes."
"No big, I'm over it now, Xander. You're fine, but I just wanted you to know that it is happier there. There's nothing to worry about or be upset about."
"That's assuming they're in the same place you were."
"That's assuming," she said with a shrug. She did not like to think of where Spike might be. Angel had not described what the hell dimension he had been sucked into was like, but he was more beast than man when he returned. Buffy had experienced a hell dimension herself and remembered it had not been pleasant.
"Yeah," Xander said quietly which was followed by another bout of silence between the two of them.
Buffy placed her hand over Xander's and gave his hand a gentle squeeze in comfort. She suspected he needed the comfort right now more than she did. She felt calmer, more peaceful than she had when she came out here. This was the case most nights, but tonight with Xander sitting next to her it seemed more pronounced. She was with friends here and that was what mattered most.
"You ready to go back inside?" Xander asked.
"Yeah, I think I am."
"I for one am glad because I'm getting tired."
"You could have gone on without me."
"And looked like I couldn't keep up or that I was lame. How pathetic do you think I am?"
She laughed as they both stood and brushed the sand off of themselves. "I've never thought of you as pathetic, Xander."
"Never?" he asked offering her his hand once they had cleaned themselves up. He seemed almost hesitant, as if he was afraid she would reject him. Once upon a time she would have equated his offering her his hand to affections she did not return and would have brushed him off. She took his hand without hesitation, getting comfort from the fact Xander knew her so well and still cared for her. She realized, too, that she was answering his question without words, giving him some assurance. "Thanks, Buff," he said softly in response.
"You don't have to thank me, but you're welcome. That's what friends are for after all."
"We're pretty lucky then I think because all of us have the best friends we could ask for."
"I think you're right," she said simply as she took one last look at the stars before heading back to the house for the night.
Buffy stopped walking to get a better view of the incredibly hot looking guy walking by. He was older, not as old as Giles but definitely was a teacher type rather than a student. "Wow," she said simply. "I had no idea what UC Sunnydale truly lacked until now. None of my professors looked like that."
Willow chuckled and then stifled it when Kennedy did not look too pleased by the fact Willow's gaze rested on the man in question for a moment as well. Xander and Giles were passively standing by waiting for Buffy to stop ogling. She knew she was being obvious, but holy cow.
Dawn on the other hand did not seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere yet. Buffy remembered her first experience with a college boy. She had been about Dawn's age and had been practically forced into it by Cordelia. Angel's casual attitude toward her had contributed to her going to the frat party, too. She remembered how normal and nice Tom had seemed. That could be true of any one of the guys Dawn was watching right now.
"So where do we go from here?" Kennedy asked.
"Well, I'm not sure," Willow admitted. "I need some place to do the spell again now that we're here."
"Do you really think there are going to be more than one here?"
"I don't now, Buffy, but with over 37,000 students on campus from various parts of the world, it's possible. All I know is when I did my spell there was more than one spot on the map."
"I still think my idea of taking out ads is better. We can't possibly cover the entire world just the nine of us."
"Buffy, I concur that this is not the best way to go about it. What Willow and I are hoping to accomplish by utilizing her spell is to find the ones we can get to quickly. Hopefully then, we'll have more than just the nine of us to help find the others as we depart the southern California area."
"Okay, it makes sense, but it still seems to be taking a long time," she said.
"Buffy, what we did is huge and it could take years to find all of them."
"I know," she said simply. Willow was a powerful witch, not to mention the person who was responsible for making all of these women and girls slayers. Buffy thought that Willow of all people should be able to just find them.
"Is it okay if Andrew and I go check out the campus?"
"Dawnie," said in protest.
"What? You don't like me around the magic anyway."
"We'll never find you."
Dawn grabbed a hold of Andrew's wrist and showed Buffy his watch. "Tell us what time to meet you back here and we'll be here. Come on, Buffy, this is way cooler than UC Sunnydale."
Buffy could not quite argue that point. "All right, be back in," Buffy glanced at Willow for guidance.
"Thank you," Dawn said and threw her arms around Buffy.
"Just don't get into any trouble or I'll never let you out of my sight again." She turned her attentions to Andrew. "That goes for you, too."
"I'm not going to do anything," Andrew said as Dawn grabbed him by the forearm and led him away.
"Those two seem to have become particularly chummy of late," Giles observed. Buffy had noticed it, but had not really thought about it until now.
"You don't think?" Buffy asked unable to ask the entire question.
"No," Xander offered. "They're just the odd men out and I think they became friends because of it."
Buffy watched her sister and Andrew as they blended in with a crowd of college students and breathed a sigh of relief. Dawn had a chance at a normal life now, something Buffy especially wanted for her. She certainly did not want to see Dawn fall for someone like Andrew.
"What do you need, Will?"
"Just some place that offers some privacy for me to do the spell, even an empty classroom would do it,"
Buffy took out her cell phone that surprisingly still worked despite the fact Sunnydale was now off the map and ran a hand over it, debating about whether to make the call she was thinking of making.
"You guys go on ahead."
"Buffy," Giles said sounding irritated. "You will need to be there when we tell these girls what we've done."
"I realize that, Giles," she said. She flipped open the phone, having made up her mind. "But I think they'll need more proof than just me and Faith."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Oh man, Buff, I don't think we want to involve Dead Boy."
"'Dead Boy' gave us the key to saving the world, Xander. Without that amulet Spike wore we would not be standing here right now trying to figure out how many slayers there now are in the world because there would be only one. The one that got called because Faith died." Buffy figured the slayer line had rested with Faith when no slayer had been called upon her second death.
"Which almost happened," Faith piped in. "B's right, these girls aren't going to take our word for it. We've got to show them that the monsters are real. We can't take them out into the field and show them vampires or demons because we might get them killed."
"Not to mention there seems to be a lull in demonic activity, at least in our area."
"I'm guessing that amulet dusted more than just those ubervamps we were contending with."
"Angel would do it," Faith said with conviction. "Even if it wasn't B asking he'd do it. He's all about helping people now, and he wouldn't want these girls going out there blind, deaf and dumb."
"Let's find Willow the space and the quiet she needs," Robin suggested with a curious glance in Buffy's direction. He was probably wondering just how many vampires she was friends with. Oh well. That was a conversation for another time and place if he even bothered to ask her.
Buffy waited until the others went off in an attempt to find Willow someplace secluded to do her locate spell again. She wondered what the group of them looked like to the people mingling around the campus. They certainly were a mixed lot from Dawn and Andrew to Buffy and Faith to Willow, Kennedy, Xander, Giles and Robin.
She dialed a number that she still knew by heart but had not called in almost two years.
"Weird," she said when she got an operator message saying Angel's number had been disconnected. She wrote down the number the computer generated voice provided her as the changed number and dialed that.
"Wolfram & Hart."
"I, um," she said confused. "May I speak with Angel?"
"Just a moment," replied the woman and Buffy was on hold. A few minutes of listening to oldies music passed by and then she heard another woman's voice. "Angel's office, may I help you?"
Buffy was thoroughly confused now. "May I speak with Angel?" she asked again.
"I'm sorry he's not in. May I take a message?"
Buffy frowned, not that she expected Angel to be there every time she called, but she was admittedly disappointed. "I, this is Buffy." There you go, moron she thought to herself.
"Did you just want me to let him know you called then?"
"Is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce available?" she asked, taking a stab in the dark that where Angel was Wesley was, too.
"Just one moment," she said briskly and Buffy was once again listening to oldies on hold.
"I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain
He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook's
Going to get himself a big dish of beef chow mein
Werewolves of London"
She could not help but think of Oz hearing this song and wondered briefly how he was doing. No one had seen him since he left Sunnydale over two years ago. Willow talked to his mother on occasion, but rarely relayed those conversations to Buffy beyond Oz was still out of the country.
"Katie speaking, may I help you?"
"I was on hold for Wesley."
"May I say who is calling, please?"
"And your last name?"
"Just tell him it's Buffy, he knows who I am."
"And what is this regarding?"
"He'll know. Please, just tell him I'm on the phone."
"Very well then," she said, not sounding overly convinced and Buffy was once again on hold. If she was transferred to another faceless woman behind a desk she would scream.
"This is Wesley."
"Wesley?" she asked suspiciously. It sounded like him, but she was going to be sure.
"Buffy?" he asked sounding equally as suspicious.
"Do you remember the name of the guy who tried to ruin Prom?"
"Oh bloody hell," he murmured into the phone. "Wells was the lad's last name, I remember that because I thought of H.G. Wells when I heard it."
And with that, Buffy knew that it was Wesley. "Tucker."
"Yes, that's it, Tucker Wells. He had brainwashed some hell hounds to go after men in tuxedos."
"It's nice to hear your voice, Wesley."
"It's always a pleasure, Buffy, but I'm afraid I'm in the middle of something. What can I do for you?"
"I was looking for Angel."
"He's not in today, Buffy, he took the day off."
"Well, I was hoping I could talk to him."
"I could give you his cell phone number."
"That would be great."
"He's been concerned about you, to be honest. I had no idea he had even gone to Sunnydale, or I would have offered to come along of course."
"I know, Wesley, it's no big. I sent him back to LA, I needed to know we had a backup plan in case mine failed." She wrote down Angel's cell phone number. "Thanks, Wesley."
"I'm surprised Leslie didn't give it to you."
"Angel's secretary, he's been asking for months now if you've called each day when he wakes up."
"I'm sure you've been busy, Buffy. I am glad to hear you're all right."
"Me, too, about you guys I mean."
"He's fine, too."
"Thanks again, Wesley."
Buffy glanced at the phone briefly, curious as to what was going on in Angel's world that he had a secretary. At least Wesley had not told Buffy that Leslie was his girlfriend, Buffy was not sure how she would handle Angel with a girlfriend.
"Here goes nothing," she muttered as she punched the buttons on her phone. "He's probably out of town if he took the day off." She almost hung up when one ring turned into two but she did not. By the fourth ring her hand was on the end button.
She paused for a second. "Hi, it's me."
"Buffy?" he asked, his voice sounded low and sultry. How could he do that with just his voice?
"I'm sorry I worried you."
"Now that I'm hearing your voice for real, I have to admit I'm a little disappointed you haven't called before now."
"We've been a little busy."
"We?" he asked. Buffy thought she heard hesitation in his voice, as if he did not want to hear her answer.
"Yeah, the whole gang."
"I see," he said simply. "How did you get this number?"
Uh oh, she thought, he did not want her to have total access to him after all. "From Wesley."
"Oh good." Silence. "I really was worried about you, Buffy. I know I have no right to be."
"You do have the right," she quickly interjected. "I worry about you, too, Angel."
She thought he heard him say you should, but she was not sure. "What was that?"
"Nothing," he said. "Where are you?"
"I'm in LA," she said simply.
"What a coincidence. Do you need a place to stay or something?"
She closed her eyes, fighting back the tears. Is this what they had been resorted to? Did they both think the other one always needed something when they called or visited? Since he had left Sunnydale, that had generally been the case so she could not blame him for the question.
"Well, actually, I was hoping you might be up for some training."
"Training? With you?"
"Well, sort of," she said cryptically, wanting to get his reaction to the idea in general first.
"From what I saw in the temple, Buff, I don't know that you need too much help in the training aspect anymore."
"What if I said it was not just for me?"
"Faith doesn't need much help either, Buffy. She can hold her own. If she didn't in Sunnydale it was only because of her run-in with The Beast before leaving to help you."
"No, no, Faith did great."
"Then who do you need me to help train?"
"Some more slayers."
"You've lost me, Buff, though you've got my attention. So, go on."
"Well, first, where are you?"
He hesitated in answering. She thought she heard him sigh. "I'm checking up on something."
"Okay," she said. That did not tell her much of anything. "Are you in LA?"
"Oh yeah, I'm at UCLA campus actually."
She pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at it for a second. She was no longer used to the freaky coincidences that accompanied her relationship with Angel. It had been far too long since they had been together. "How weird is that, because that's where we are."
"Yeah," she said, glancing around her. "Where are you?"
"Near the residence halls."
"Is that anywhere near this bear statue?" she asked, glancing up at the statue in question.
"I think I remember seeing that, yes," he said with obvious amusement in his voice.
"Don't laugh at me."
"I'm not laughing at you. But I've been worried for months that you were dead again and no one survived the battle this time to come tell me and we're minutes apart when you do finally decide to call."
"I'm sorry," she apologized.
"It's all right, we have our own lives now, I understand that." He sounded bitter and Buffy wondered what had happened to make him sound that way. "Is Spike with you?" Ah, she thought.
"No, no he's not," she said quietly, devoid of emotion.
"Good," he said simply.
"Aren't you curious why he isn't?" she asked. She felt the familiar sensation that was her body's awareness of this particular vampire and knew he was within seeing distance. She scanned the crowd nearby, but saw no one resembling Angel.
"Not particularly. Why? Should I be?"
"I guess that depends," she said finally seeing him. He was not dressed to blend in. How she had missed him the first time she scanned the crowd of people she did not know. He was dressed completely in black and he looked positively lethal. She stared as he strode toward her, his gait confident yet still stealthy.
"Hi," he said when he was within hearing range.
Her hand fell to her side where she turned off her phone, closed it and without thought kissed him. She did not care they were in full view of the public, she needed this. He apparently needed it to because he was kissing her fully. Her hands found his neck and skimmed around them inside the collar of his leather coat while his wrapped around her waist. "Hi yourself," she said when she had to break the kiss in order to take a breath or two.
Buffy held Angel's hand and squeezed tight, knowing she could without hurting him. "It's good to see you without an apocalypse going on."
"Oh, I don't know, you're pretty sexy when you're doing your slayer duties."
"Well, see, there's the problem."
"I'm no longer the only slayer."
"You mean, there's someone besides Faith?" he asked. He was watching her intently.
"You could say that," she said, knowing she was being coy now.
"Out with it, Buff, what's going on?"
"We did this spell, you see," she started. "It's sort of hard to explain, but with Willow's help and a scythe all of the women and girls who were potential slayers are now slayers."
"No, it's not, Angel. I felt it, I felt this surge in power when they got their powers. It was like I was connected. For the first time since becoming the Chosen One I felt like I was a part of something."
"So what do you want me to do?"
"Well, we're here because Willow did a locate spell that showed there was at least one slayer here, maybe more."
Her eyes narrowed. "What were you doing here?" she asked.
"I told you, I was checking up on something."
"A girl something?"
He scoffed. "No."
"It's nothing," he said with a shrug. Buffy could tell he was not being entirely honest because he avoided looking her in the eye.
"It must be something if you took an entire day off work. Where do you work now anyway?"
"You know that law firm?"
"The one that wanted you dead or soulless?"
"Yeah, that one." He sounded almost amused.
"You're working for them?" The phone call she made to him originally was making more sense now, but she did not get it.
"In a way, yes."
"I don't get it."
"They made me an offer and I took it. I run the firm now."
"And you could just forget about all the things they've done to you and to others if I recall correctly?"
"It's not like that Buff, I mean you don't understand and now is not the time to explain it to you. I did what I had to do. Now, let's get back to the subject at hand, slayers."
"Lots of them."
"Tell me about it."
"There's not much more to tell, really. Willow did the spell; all of the potentials fighting with us became slayers, as did all potentials around the world. Kennedy says Willow's hair turned all white even."
"Willow's girlfriend. She was a potential, too."
"Willow seems to have a habit of picking not totally human lovers, too, I see."
Buffy's face grew hot instantly and she knew she was blushing profusely. "Tara."
"A witch who spent most of her life believing she was a demon unless you painted a less than accurate picture for me when you told me about her."
"No," Buffy said softly. Parker had been totally human, but she was not about to talk about Parker. Angel did not know about Parker and she thought it was perhaps better that way. Riley had been human, but with the meds Professor Walsh had him on she was not sure if he qualified as being totally human.
"I didn't mean to embarrass you."
"I know, you make it sound like we deliberately chose the people we have fallen in love with." She felt him tense up, his grip on her hand tightening.
"No, I realize you didn't set out to fall in love with me and Spike, but it happened."
"You don't think I loved Riley?"
"Are you saying you did?"
She shrugged. "As much as I was able to, I guess. It wasn't enough for him, it never would have been because I couldn't have given him what I had given to you. Spike didn't help much either, he was always there to cause problems."
"He was always very good at doing that. He was like a kid sometimes, itching to see how far he could go."
"I guess he never outgrew that." Buffy smiled slightly. As weird as it was to be talking to her first lover about her last lover, it was nice to talk about Spike with someone who knew him as well as Buffy did. Xander, Willow, Giles and the rest, except for Dawn, never bothered to really get to know the man. They had not really with Angel either, so it was not that surprising.
"Angel?" Dawn said from their left. "Oh my god, it is you." She rushed toward them and threw her arms around him in a hug that was uncharacteristic for Dawn.
"Hey Dawn," Angel said, returning her hug. "How are you doing?"
"I'm doing great, thanks." She drew away and glanced to her right over her shoulder. Buffy followed her gaze but was unable to see who she was looking at. "Buffy?"
"Can I go to the arts building?"
"You came back here to ask me this?"
"Well, I sort of got to talking to this guy."
"Wait, you let her talk to some strange guy?" She glared at Andrew as she posed the question.
Andrew shrugged. "He seemed okay."
"They all seem okay, Andrew, even you seemed okay when I first met you."
"Sorry, that's not what I meant, but do you see my point?"
"Buffy," Dawn whimpered. "Please, he's walking towards us. Can I go, please?"
"Alone? I think not."
"Oh, come on, you had been alone with Angel when you were my age."
"I did not randomly meet him on a college campus either."
"No, you just kept running into him in dark alleys and mausoleums and stuff. I remember."
"Dawn, that is so unfair and it was totally different."
Dawn pursed her lips together, her eyes wide with pleading as she cocked her head to her right. Buffy turned to Angel, looking for some help. She was just not good at being the mom. She had to admit she was getting better. Not being the Chosen One helped give her some more time with Dawn. Unfortunately, Angel did not seem to be paying much attention to her, his dark eyes were focused on the guy approaching the four of them.
"Hi," he said as he approached them. It was clearly a universal hi, but he was looking at Dawn. "Hey," he said to Andrew.
"So, can I go, Buffy, please? When am I ever going to get the chance to see a college's art department again?"
"I think she'll be okay," Angel offered quietly.
"What time is it?" she asked, a little irritated that she seemed to be the only one with a problem with this.
"Seven thirty, so we were way within the two hour limit, Buff. I just wanted you to know where I was in case we take a longer."
"Andrew's going with you?"
"Sure, it's fine with me," the boy said. "I don't blame you for being suspicious or anything, but I figured it's better than wandering aimlessly around the campus."
"And you are?" Buffy prompted.
"Scott," he said offering Buffy his hand. "Scott Ross."
"Are you an art student here, Scott?" Angel asked and Buffy could not help but stare at him. He seemed genuinely interested, or perhaps he had lost his broodiness over the past few years and talked to strangers at random with no problem.
"Not directly, sir. I'm undecided at the moment."
"What year are you?"
"First year, sir."
"You can call me Angel," he said a little too eagerly Buffy thought. "What are your choices?"
"Architecture or law."
"I work for a law firm. Law's always a good choice if you think you can make a difference."
"Yeah, I think I could, but then there will always be new building going on, too." He shrugged. "I'll decide at the end of this year."
"I think she'll be fine, Buffy."
"Angel," she whispered, knowing only he would hear her with his vampire hearing. He merely shrugged in response. "Okay, I suppose, there's not a whole lot you need to do anyway."
"Thank you," Dawn said kissing her on the cheek.
"You're welcome. Be back here by ten."
"Sure, anything you say," Dawn said as the three began walking away. Dawn glanced back at them after Scott had spoken to her, but they were too far away for Buffy to hear what was said.
"He wants to know if I'm your boyfriend."
"Oh," she said, a tingle running up her spine that Angel knew what she had been thinking.
"Where is your boyfriend, anyway?"
"He's not my boyfriend."
"No, he was my friend, I loved him, but it's not the same."
"He died, Angel," she said softly, unable to look him in the eye.
"How?" he asked and genuinely sounded interested.
"That amulet, he wore it."
"From what you told me, he does seem to fit the bill of a warrior."
"I thought so. I know you wanted to do it, but I have to admit, I'm glad you didn't."
"So what did it do?"
"Well, it won it for us, Angel. Spike saved the world. There was no way we would have won without that amulet, Willow's spell helped but a dozen slayers would not have beaten hundreds of ubervamps."
"I wish you hadn't told me to go home."
"One more wasn't going to make a difference in this, Angel, I knew that. I told you why I sent you away. You have proven that you are a fighter for our side, that was never the issue."
"Do you? I had no problem sending you away, because I knew if we failed you would be there to take over and fight until the end just like Faith and I had."
He leaned toward her and kissed her, gently. The tip of his tongue grazed her lower lip before he drew away. "I know, Buff, I know. I'd forgotten what it was like to fight alongside you. I was jealous, still am, that Spike got to for as long as he did."
She drew away slightly, her hands cupping his face. "Well, I'm giving you the opportunity to fight by my side again. Will you do it?"
"I don't know that I have it in me to say no to you, Buffy, you know that."
She chuckled lightly, though inwardly it made her stomach flip-flop to hear him say that. "So, you'll do it?"
"What is it exactly you want me to do?"
"Well, Faith and I agree that these women when we find them aren't just going to take our word for it. I mean, we are going to probably offer them the only explanation they've gotten as to why in a matter of minutes they went from being a normal girl or woman to one with superhuman strength and other supernatural goodies."
"Right," he said, seeming to concur.
"So, we were thinking you might be proof-boy for a while."
"Yeah, you know, that the monsters we tell them about are real."
"You need to work on closing your deals, Buff. Telling the person you're asking for help you consider him a monster isn't exactly a good selling tactic."
"Angel, I consider myself one of the monsters sometimes. You surround yourself with death, darkness and destruction for so long the line gets more and more blurred."
"Agreed," he said with a slight smile and Buffy realized he had been teasing her, he really had not been offended.
"I don't consider you a monster, but we have to convince them that vampires, demons, and weres truly exist and aren't just the stuff horror novels are made of."
"I'll do it."
"What about the job?"
He shrugged. "This is more important. I took on the task of helping you long before I signed on with the firm. If Wolfram & Hart think they can take me out of the game, they've got another thing coming. I accomplished the one thing I wanted to accomplish, and managed to help you in the deal."
"The amulet, it came from them."
"Wait a minute. You were going to wear something powerful, something you weren't sure of what it did knowing it came from a group of people who have spent the last four years of your life trying to make you as miserable as possible."
"Or as happy as possible," he quipped and Buffy stared at him. He was making a joke?
"Okay, or as happy as possible." She did not even want to think about that possibility.
"Buffy, it would have helped you, so I had no problem doing it."
"Well, I do, Angel, but I guess there's the difference between you and me."
"You wouldn't have let me make that decision for you."
"Yet, you made the decision about what was best for me."
"Was I wrong?"
"Don't even go there, Angel."
"Buffy, a few months ago you told me that you weren't done, weren't ready. Had I stayed in Sunnydale, would you be ready?"
"Probably not," she murmured, hating that he was right. She had needed the past four years for sure to grow and become the person she had become.
He leaned toward her and kissed her again, too briefly for her liking but it would do for now. At least he still wanted to kiss her. That was a plus. "Then know that what I did was for you."
"So then, when do I get to meet these new slayers?"
"I don't know," she admitted. She was sort of glad he had changed the subject, she really did not want to be all serious now that they were finally together like this. "Willow's doing her spell."
"And you want me to help you train them? Even if it means you all would have to stay in LA?"
"Angel, there's only twelve of us left. Three were SITs and I think they're still sort of suffering from shell shock."
"Who are the others?"
"Dawn, Andrew, Xander, Willow, Giles, Faith, Robin, Kennedy, and Me."
"The best for last."
"I don't know about that."
"I do," he said and seemed to be looking right through her.
"We've been renting an oceanfront house since May. It's private so no one wonders what we're doing or why we're there."
"I live at the law firm right now, on the premises."
"Where is your secretary's desk?"
Angel smirked, Buffy was not sure whether she should laugh or cry at the fact she cared. "Not in my living quarters, but I could arrange through the firm to rent something to accommodate you."
"Angel, there's going to be way more than twelve of us when we collect all of these women."
"Well, then we'll figure it out once we get to more than twelve, Buff. I don't know what else to tell you."
"What about that hotel you were living in?"
"I don't know I haven't been back there in months."
"Well, it's still standing, right?"
"Yes, of course it is."
"There'd be plenty of room there, right? Rooms for plenty of women, a place to work out and train?"
"Yes," he said with a nod of his head as if he was processing the idea. "Yes, I suppose there would be."
"I don't know how we'll be able to afford it," she said softly.
"Don't worry about it. You'll be fine. I promise you, Buff, from here on out, things will be going your way."
"You know, I think I actually believe you," she said with a wide smile. She probably looked corny as hell, but he was right. For the first time ever, Buffy felt like things were finally going right, the way they should be. She and Angel were talking without arguing, that was definitely a plus.
"So are you going to tell me what you were doing on campus?" Buffy asked.
Angel could not miss the look she cast down at their joined hands. They had spent the last hour walking around campus hand and hand, catching up without getting too in depth. They were on their way back to the bear statue to meet up with the others. Angel found he did not dread meeting up with Buffy's friends as much as he used to. "Not now," he replied knowing he was being cryptic. He was not sure how to tell her, or even what to tell her.
Buffy was the only person he would think to trust with the truth about Connor and what he had done. On the other hand, if he told Buffy he had a child she might not take that news too well. They were getting along, Angel did not want to ruin it with talk of Darla or Connor or anything else.
"Okay," she said with a pout.
"It's not that I don't want to," he said.
"Then what is it?"
"It's that now is not the time. You came to me for help; I don't need to burden you with my problems."
"I wish you would, Angel. Part of our problem was that we both tried to solve everything on our own. I know my shoulders aren't as big as yours are but I'm pretty strong."
"You don't think I know that? I saw you wail on that guy at the temple."
"I can handle things a lot better than I could when we first met, Angel."
"I know, you've grown up," he said not entirely sure if that was a good thing. She had hardened somewhat and he felt like he had missed more than a year or two of her life sometimes.
"Don't sound so happy about that fact, Angel."
"No, it's not that," he said feeling like he was once again apologizing for something he did not quite understand. "You're just not the same girl."
"I haven't been since the day you left Sunnydale, Angel."
"I know," he whispered. Memories of a day only he remembered came rushing back to him, memories he had purposely locked away into the recesses of his mind hoping to never have to relive them until years after Buffy was gone and he could cherish them rather than of dread them. He had not been the same since he left Sunnydale either, but he had to live with that.
It gnawed at him a bit that he had left four years ago to give her the chance at a normal life and here he was getting hopeful that maybe this time, now, they could have a chance at something. He had called their relationship a freak show to her face, but he had not truly felt like that. Somehow it seemed appropriate that the only woman he had ever loved was this woman, this Slayer. Just as it did that he was the one person she ever loved. Unless she was lying about her feelings with Spike, which he did not believe she was. It was Spike after all.
"Where's Cordelia," she asked, and Angel thought he noted a hint of jealousy in her voice.
"She's dead," he said softly.
"It's okay," he said as they stopped near the bear statue. "One casualty compared to the ones you lost is minimal."
"Casualty? Is that what you said about me when Willow told you I had died?"
"What?" he asked. His voice was shrill with both shock and absolute horror that she would even think such a thing.
"You heard me."
"Of course not, how can you even say that?"
"Well, you were like involved with her weren't you?"
"I was sort of. We went out a few times, but it wasn't meant to be."
She looked up at him, he always thought she looked so cute when she looked at him in this way. He felt like he mattered, like he belonged. "Did you love her?"
"No," he said, though he did not sound overly convincing even to himself.
"Uh huh," she said, crossing her arms over her chest in a show of defiance. Typical Buffy.
"I thought I might have, okay?"
"But you don't?"
"I didn't. I think I wanted to, wanted her gift, her visions, her becoming my connection to The Powers That Be to mean something."
Buffy touched his cheek lightly and it was his turn to bask just as she had wanted to do when he had arrived in Sunnydale only a few months ago. Her cheek felt warm and soothing against his face. "I'm sorry. I took for granted that you didn't mind being alone, that you didn't mind being us apart from my friends."
"I have friends."
"I know you do," she said with a slight smirk and a twinkle in her eye that suggested she might be teasing him. He kissed the palm of her hand just before Buffy drew it away and he saw her focus shift to behind him.
"Hey guys," she called out cheerily. Had she stopped touching him because her friends were approaching? He turned to face them half expecting to see Spike despite her claims he had died. He was not prepared for the patch over Xander's eye or the look in Willow's eyes. Gone was the innocence and naiveté he had seen seven years ago. Both looked older, evidence that they had seen far too much for their twenty-three years and could not go back. Giles looked older as well, but it was different. He had come to Sunnydale prepared for things, though probably not to the extent that they happened. Angel did not know the other two, but presumed they were additional survivors.
"Hi Angel," Willow said, gracing him with a wide smile. The smile reminded him of the Willow he had first met who had encouraged Buffy to spend time with him. "It's nice to see you when I'm not restoring your soul. Again."
"It's nice to see you intact Angel," Giles acknowledged politely but with a flare of formality to it that bothered Angel. Would he ever be forgiven for the acts he committed to these people as Angelus?
"Dead Boy," Xander said with a cordial nod of his head.
"Hey," Faith said, short and sweet but Angel knew she was happy to see he was okay. The sentiment ran both ways.
"Hey," Angel said almost shyly and mentally kicked himself for reverting back to the old Angel.
"This is Robin and Kennedy," Buffy said indicating the two people Angel did not know. "Except for the couple hundred or so that escaped before everything went down, we're all that's left. Well, there are three other slayers back at the house but they didn't want to come with."
"They thought it might be overkill," Kennedy interjected.
"Aren't you a slayer, too?" Angel asked her.
"I didn't say I thought it would be overkill," Kennedy said with a pout that he imagined was supposed to be sultry but it did not quite work. Angel thought she was a little too smug given the circumstances.
"But she's not here as a slayer," Willow said and smiled. It was a smile clearly meant for Kennedy, a lover's smile that Angel found he was a little envious of. Angel had only seen Willow with Oz, so it was strange to actually see her with a girlfriend.
"So, what did you find out?" Buffy asked. Angel hoped she was not setting herself up to disappointment. He admired her for attempting to find all of these new slayers, but the likelihood that any would want to leave their homes to come to Los Angeles with total strangers was not good.
"Well, it's the strangest thing," Willow said softly, nibbling on her lower lip.
"What?" Buffy asked and Angel could tell she was about to panic. He placed what he hoped was a calming hand on her shoulder, which seemed to do the trick. He could feel her breathing even out and he smiled slightly because if he breathed her touching him would not calm him.
"The potentials," she said. Even Angel could tell she was perplexed by the situation.
"Well, maybe they just went out? Off campus? I mean, it is Friday night."
"No, Buffy, the spots, they're gone. All of them are gone."
"But you said there were like a ton all over this area," Buffy said. She stepped toward Willow, dislodging Angel's hand from her shoulder.
"Right," Willow shrugged. "I don't understand it. I want to go back to the house and try the spell again. The only thing I can think of is there's some magical interference on campus here."
"How far is your house from here," Angel asked.
"It's about forty miles south of here, we just stopped the first place out of Sunnydale we saw that looked habitable," Giles replied.
"My offices are only about twenty minutes from here. We have plenty of room, you're welcome to do the spell there," Angel offered. "Then you wouldn't have to drive all the way home and back again if you find it is magic interfering."
"That'd be great," Buffy said before anyone could object.
"I don't know, Buff," Xander cautioned.
"I agree with Angel and B, let's save ourselves some drive time. Willow can do her spell and we can hang for a while, if it still doesn't work then head back for the night."
"Faith is right, it can't hurt to try it again locally and then go from there. It's entirely possible there's something on campus preventing us from doing a spell of this magnitude here."
Angel chuckled lightly at the defeated look on Xander's face. There was no love lost between the two of them and he doubted no amount of time would fix that. Buffy could go on and marry someone who was not one of them and they would still have this problem between them.
"Are you sure it's not a problem, Angel?" Buffy asked, her hazel eyes intense as they watched him.
"Not at all, Buffy," he replied. He would have to tell her the truth, the whole truth one day soon but for now she had enough to worry about.
"Let's go then."
"Let me guess," Xander said sardonically. "You're going to ride with Angel."
"I was thinking about it, that bus doesn't rate very high in the comfort level as far as I'm concerned."
"You're traveling around in a bus?" Angel asked in disbelief.
"It's what we got out of Sunnydale in. We have a car to drive around in, but when the group of us go places it's all we have that we can all fit in."
He chuckled softly. "It makes sense I guess, but surely we can come up with something more comfortable for you than a bus if you're going to be traveling."
"We're not too worried about it, especially if we're going to be driving around collecting people, we'll need the room."
Angel wrote directions to the Wolfram & Hart offices on a piece of paper for Giles, handing it to him as Buffy spoke. "We need to wait for Dawn and Andrew."
"We can wait for them, Buffy," Willow offered. "Go on ahead."
"No, we'll wait, you go on ahead," Angel said and felt Buffy's eyes on him. "Wesley should be there, so just ask for him in the reception area. I'll call ahead so he knows to set things up for you."
"Are you sure?" Giles asked.
"Sure, I know Buffy will worry if you guys wait for Dawn so we may as well wait so the rest of you don't have to worry."
"Okay then, are we all here," Giles asked as he took inventory of those present. "Let's go then."
"Giles really does like to be in charge, doesn't he," Kennedy said softly to Willow, though Angel picked up on the comment and could not help but chuckle softly.
"Thanks," Buffy said as they moved to sit on a bench while they waited for Dawn and Andrew.
"No problem, I know how you worry about her, and it's not like I have pressing plans or anything."
"I'm glad," she said and Angel could tell she was sincere.
"I guess L.A. has been good to you," Buffy said as they entered the Wolfram & Hart building. Andrew could be heard oohing and aahing behind her. It was an impressive building, Angel had to admit. One would think it was your usual, run of the mill law firm.
"I did what I had to do, Buffy."
"Work for the enemy?"
Angel shrugged as an employee brushed past them and said hello. "Buffy," he said in protest. There was no way she would ever understand until he told her the truth. She was right that they hid things from one another in an attempt to protect the other. He had wanted to protect her from the moment he first saw her. He was not sure what her reasons were for wanting to protect him. "Please can you stop bringing that up until we've talked?"
"And when will that be?"
"Let's find your friends and see what's going on there. That's why you're here, so let's take care of that first."
It felt like she was looking right through him. She doubted him and it made him want to reach out and assure her that he knew what he was doing. Honestly, though, he was no longer sure that he did.
"Fine," she finally said and Angel knew it took a lot for her to let the issue drop. "Let's find them."
"Where are Wesley and the others?" Angel asked Harmony. She was useless as an assistant, but it kept her from preying on humans and out of trouble in general.
"Oh my God, Buffy! I never thought I'd see you again. You look great."
"Thanks, Harmony," Buffy said. Angel felt her scrutiny and merely shrugged. "You look good, too."
"Angel didn't tell you I was working here, did he?"
"No, he didn't."
"Who would have thought, huh? I mean, I leave Sunnydale and end up working for Angel. And Wesley. If only Cordelia were here."
"Where is Wes, Harmony?" Angel asked through gritted teeth. The last thing he wanted was Harmony running her mouth about things she should not. She did not know half of what she thought she did to begin with.
"Geez, there's no need to get huffy with me. They're in your office."
"You can take a trip down memory lane on your own time."
"Fine," she said and answered the phone.
Angel placed a hand at the small of Buffy's back to lead her to his office. He enjoyed touching her, probably too much given once he told her everything she probably would not have anything to do with him. So he took advantage of her letting him touch her while he could.
"I don't understand it, Giles. I know my spells have a tendency now and again to go a little wonky, but it's been a while since anything has been this far off."
"What's going on?" Buffy asked. Angel could hear the concern in her voice as she regarded the group.
"It's not working."
"There is another possibility," Giles said with a sigh.
"What other possibility, Giles? They were there a few hours ago and now they're gone. I doubt getting closer to them would be bad."
"What if it was only temporary?"
"Temporary?" Buffy asked. "Willow's spell?"
"The idea you had was an incredible one, Buffy, but it defies slayer law as we know it. It's entirely plausible the Powers That Be did not like the idea of the side of good having so many soldiers."
"I so don't get it. Isn't that their purpose? They want us to defeat evil."
"Yes, but in balance, Buffy. When Anya and I went out in search of some answers while we were still getting information on the First we found out that the slayer line was the reason the First was able to become so powerful. Somehow, things got skewed. Whether it was because you had been resurrected, again, or merely because you and Faith co-exist as slayers, I don't know."
"He's right, Buffy," Angel said softly. He hated to say it, but Giles was right. Things had to be balanced and if something happened to put things out of balance that was never good.
"Well, how can we find out? I mean, we've got to help these girls if they have Slayer powers. And if they had them and lost them," Buffy shuddered. "I remember what that was like, Giles."
"We have some names from our record searches. Perhaps we can contact them and conduct a few interviews. I just thought the girls at UCLA were so close it was an omen to find them."
"And why would the spots have been there this morning but not now? Are you telling me the Powers That Be act that fast?"
"They can, Buffy, I'm sorry to say that I've seen it," Wesley said with a glance at Angel. Angel knew exactly what Wesley was talking about and glared at the man. Wesley was the only one left who knew of Angel's stint as human and what happened with Buffy.
"But why would they wait this long? I mean, it's been months."
"I have no answer to that, Buffy, and I'm afraid my ability to contact them has been severed. Cordelia was their way to contact me. With her gone," Angel shrugged. "I'm afraid I'm cut off from them."
"So we can't find out? That's ridiculous. Those girls deserve to know what's going on."
"Buffy, I've told all of you many times over the years when you cast a spell of such magnitude as the one we did there is a good chance there will be consequences. Using magic is not a game, it can be dangerous."
"But those girls were innocent."
"Not to the Powers That Be they wouldn't have been, Buffy, and certainly not to the other side."
"I'm so sick of this balance talk. Isn't good supposed to win?"
"Buffy," Willow said. "It's all right, really. I wasn't even sure the spell would work. The fact it worked at all," she shrugged. "Well, it saved our lives. We lost some people and we lost Sunnydale but the rest of the world is here. We did that, Buffy."
"I'll have some people research it immediately," Wesley said. "Willow told me about the spell she cast, so I think we can find some information on it."
"Thanks, Wesley," Buffy said with a resigned smile.
"Anytime, Buffy, anything I can do to help. Obviously, we don't know that is what's going on. There could be an entirely different explanation. But I find it hard to believe in a metropolitan area as large as Los Angeles that no slayers would show up with Willow's locate spell."
"Agreed," Giles said.
"So," Xander said from the couch. "There's nothing more we can do here. You did the spell again and it didn't work, so we go back to the house and let these guys get with their research."
"Xander," Buffy said. "This is our problem that Angel is nice enough to help us with. It'd be kind of rude to bail on him and leave his employees who are paid to work on other things to do the work."
"Our resources are at your disposal, Buffy. We're fighting for the same cause," Angel said.
"So, who wants to stay?"
"Not me, I've had enough of LA to last me a lifetime," Faith said as she pushed off from the wall she had been leaning against. The black man, Robin, was next to her and for the first time since Angel had known Faith she looked content, happy even, and Angel was glad for her. If only everyone in this room would get a chance at happiness, but he had contented himself long ago with the fact it would never happen.
Angel stood out on his balcony, unable to sleep. It was not having Buffy in the next room keeping him awake, though that in itself was distracting. Once again it was the compulsion to look at the stars that kept him awake.
As it turned out, Buffy and Willow were the only two who chose to stay in LA for the night, the others returned to the beach house. Angel was not sure where Willow ended up for the night, she was talking with Wesley and Fred about things that went way beyond him the last he saw her.
He had been outside for at least thirty minutes when he heard the sliding glass door leading open. It took him a moment to realize he was no longer alone, unused to having company in his apartment.
"Can't sleep?" he asked. He tried to ignore the fact that she was dressed in nothing more than one of his shirts. Granted, with their height difference, the shirttails fell just about to her knees so it did not expose much. But it made him think of the last time he had seen her wear one of his shirts, of eating ice cream and of making love to her.
"No, I needed some air."
"Me, too," he said quietly as she walked toward him. Neither spoke, but both looked in the same direction.
"Piscis Austrinus," he whispered.
"The stars we're looking at. The fish. Every night I come out here to look at them."
"Yeah. There are nights it doesn't matter what I'm doing I have to at least look. Sounds strange, I'm sure."
"I suppose it will seem even stranger when I tell you that the same thing has been happening to me."
"What?" he asked. He shifted his gaze from the constellation in the sky to her, scrutinizing her, careful to keep his eyes only on her face. He should not be surprised that they shared whatever this was.
She nodded her head slightly. "I can't remember how long it's been going on. Giles tried to warn me that it might be something evil. I never paid attention to what I was looking at, I'm not astronomy girl."
"I wonder if it wasn't The Powers That Be telling me you were all right. A way of finding you when I wanted to know if you were all right."
"You think so?"
"I'll never know. Things are so different now, Buffy. I'm not even sure sometimes which way is up. I used to think they were on my side and that they wanted me on their side. Some days lately though I doubt it."
"Why? What's happened, Angel," she asked, placing a hand on his forearm. Years had passed since any real interaction had transpired between them yet he could hear the concern for him in her voice. Her touch warmed him, and it was not the difference in body temperatures causing it. Her unconditional and unbiased love for him overwhelmed him yet she filled him with hope that maybe things were not so bad.
When he left for LA he was lost and she had worried that he would succumb to the demon. She never told him that, she did not have to he knew what her thoughts were. If it had not been for Doyle and Cordelia he very well may have. He had left behind the only thing to ever matter to him when he left Sunnydale. But he had pulled through and turned his life around. He had done it despite knowing how easily she had moved on.
They had both paid the price for getting where they were today. He had lost his soul, hurting his friends. She had died a second time and yet they had both survived. They were both still very much alone and Angel believed it was the way it was supposed to be when all was said and done. They would never belong to anyone, it was their destiny to be alone.
"You have enough to deal with, trying to find these slayers or what happened if they're no longer slayers."
"Angel, you've been there for me when I needed you, despite being in LA and our arguing. You came after Mom died, you called as soon as you heard I was alive, and you came with the amulet ready to wear it not knowing what it did. Let me return the favor."
"Of you judging me, of you walking out the door after I've told you. I couldn't bear that this time, Buffy." He felt like such an idiot talking like this, expressing his feelings so pointedly but he did not want to lose her. If she left him after he told her everything it would be for good he had little doubt of that. He did not expect her to want to be his girl again, but he needed her in his life. She needed him; though she was stronger than eight years ago she still needed him.
"Have I ever left you? Have I ever hated you because of what you've done? Have I ever passed judgment on you?"
He sighed deeply and turned his gaze back to the sky. She had been his champion for the past eight years. She had offered him hope by not giving up on him and forgiving him when she had no business doing so. She loved him unconditionally and gave him her blood to save his life even though she knew he would leave her.
None of those things pointed to a woman who would leave him after he confessed everything to her. But he was not sure Buffy was that same woman any longer. She had changed, grown up, and was no longer a little girl with stars in her eyes and ideas of romantic fairytales. She now knew how much life hurt, whether love was involved or not.
"Angel, please, talk to me," she whispered and it was his undoing.
"I have a son," he said after what had seemed like an eternity of silence.
"Okay. I have to admit that was not at all what I was expecting."
"I didn't mean to blurt it out like that, but it's killing me that no one knows about him but me."
"I realize I can be a little dense sometimes, but I'm lost."
He looked at her and smiled with a light laugh. "Let's go inside, I think this calls for a drink."
"Okay," she said and Angel could tell that she was trying hard to process what he had just said.
He led her inside and poured them both a drink, knowing one would more than likely turn into several before the night was done. At least for him it would, he was not sure how much Buffy imbibed in these days.
As it turned out, he told her everything with the exception of telling her about their one day together. It had been over two hundred years since he had confessed to a priest, and it had never been something he took seriously when he did it. Tonight, at Buffy's expense, he felt well and truly cleansed.
"Do you want that drink now?" he asked. More than twenty minutes had passed since he had stopped talking and she had yet to say a word. She had not run out of the room, he at least gave her credit for that.
"I, uh, no."
"You might want to take it," he suggested.
"There can't be more."
"I'm afraid there is and you'll be upset."
"So you want to get me drunk?"
"No, just offering."
"I'll take my shocking news without benefit of being intoxicated, thank you."
He poured himself another one before he continued, his back to her as he told her about their day together. He could not look at her until he had finished, even then he would have preferred taking the coward's way out and never looking at her again but he had to. If there was ever going to be anything good between them, friendship or otherwise, he had to look at her.
"Okay, up until that part you had me understanding everything you've done. I mean, it sounds like Connor was on a path to destruction, destroying everything. The guy we saw on campus was nice, well adjusted and so not going to end the world. But why would you turn your back on the one thing that would have ensured we could be together?"
"Because I couldn't help you if I was human. Wolfram & Hart wouldn't have given me that amulet and you'd be dead. Again. And I refused to stand by and watch you die because of me."
"It wouldn't have been because of you."
"You wouldn't have had me there to help you, so it would have been my fault."
She lowered her head, staring at her clutched hands and began to cry. Angel was surprised it took her this long to do it. He had cried himself when he watched her walk out the door all those years ago as if nothing had happened between them save for an argument.
"And for all these years I've been thinking we haven't gotten along."
He smiled slightly, unable to stop himself. "I was just thinking the same thing."
"There was nothing I could do. I did it for you, Buffy. I hope you will come to see that one day. Everything I did I did for you."
"You sound like Spike."
"You must bring that out in your men."
She laughed bitterly, fresh tears falling as she lifted her face to look at him. "I loved you more than anything."
"I would have done anything for you."
"Would you have given up being the slayer for me?"
She opened her mouth to reply but stopped short of an actual reply. Angel could see that she was thinking hard. "No," she finally said. "I put being the slayer ahead of Buffy when I chose to kill you instead of saying good bye to the world with you and I haven't looked back since. Robin hated his mother for putting the mission first, but that's the way it has to be when you're the slayer."
"Can you honestly tell me that you don't understand why I did what I did then?"
She stood and walked around the room. She was looking at things around her, but she was not processing what she was seeing. Angel did not have to see her eyes to know this. "I understand it, but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about it," she said finally.
"What do you want me to say, Buffy? Do you want me to say that I'm sorry? Do you want me to say that I'd take it back and do it differently? What?"
"I can't stay here right now. I need to be alone."
"I'll go, you stay here."
"Buffy, I need you to stay. I need to know you'll be here when I come back."
"You don't have to leave."
"You have nowhere to go, Buffy."
"I can go stay with my dad."
"It's almost three in the morning."
She shrugged. "I need some time, Angel. You can't just lay this on me and expect me to be fine with it. Not the part where you took my memories away, not the part where you took any chance of happiness away from me - again - without talking to me."
"I did talk to you."
"After you'd already made the decision and the agreement with The Powers That Be."
He lowered his head, he had no argument to come back with. He had made the decision without consulting her. "You'll come back."
"I have to," she said softly as she walked to the elevator. "I have to find these girls or find the answers."
"I was hoping you'd come back for me."
Her eyes glittered with more unshed tears and she shook her head slightly. "I can't give you that right now." The elevator doors opened and she stepped inside. Angel felt like he had been kicked in the gut. The good, clean feeling he had only a short while ago was gone, replaced with dread and foreboding that he had just lost the one good and constant thing in his life. "I'm sorry," she said as the doors closed.
"You having fun out here, Buffy?"
The person asking the question startled her more than the question itself. She slid her very stylish sunglasses to the tip of her nose and eyed Xander curiously. She had not realized he even knew where her father lived, but she supposed it should not surprise her he found her.
"Passable. What's up?"
"He needs to know if you're going to come back, Buffy."
"Since when do you care about Angel or how I treat him, Xander?"
"Now that's not fair. When the First was toying with him I jumped right in to help. When he was dying from that poison Faith injected him with I helped yet again."
Buffy sighed softly and shifted to the edge of the chaise lounge she was sunning on. Her dad was at work, so she had run of the house as had been the case for the past three days. At night, she was able to spend some time with him for the first time in years. It was weird to be in a relationship with him adult to adult.
Xander was right, when it counted he had been of the mind to help Angel. It was not until recently that she discovered that he had wanted him dead enough to lie about Willow attempting the restoration spell before the First or Faith came into the game. That one sort of negated the others, she thought so anyway.
"So he sent you here to do some recon?"
Xander shrugged, taking a seat on the edge of the chaise next to hers. "I sort of volunteered."
"Yeah, they've all been about nothing but research for three days now. Some of us have taken bets on whether or not you even made it to your dad's."
"Where else would I have gone?"
Xander shrugged. "You could have been killed."
"Not likely." She was quiet, wondering what there was to say. She knew she had to go back eventually and face him, face her friends but she was enjoying just being for a day or two. "Did he tell you all what he told me?"
"No, Buff, I doubt he would even if he weren't such a private guy. All he told us is that you needed some time to yourself."
"He's got that right," Buffy said softly.
"I know you two have the love hate thing and the whole tragic and doomed love thing going, but I think he really needs you."
"He's done fine without me."
"Has he? Have you? I mean, really, Buffy. Would he have come to Sunnydale if he didn't care whether you lived or died? Can you tell me you weren't happy to see him when he showed up at that temple?"
"Buffy, I love you, you know that. So I hope you'll take this for what it is when I say it. You're an adult now, it's time for you to stop running away from things and face them head on. You do that just great when it's the latest big bad but when it's your personal life you're an ostrich."
"At least I didn't stand anyone up at the altar."
"None of us have made the best choices, Buff, but this isn't about love. This is about the man you claim to love more than anything needing you."
"He said that?"
"He didn't have to. You called him for help, he agreed to help you, he's got an entire staff working on this, and you walk away from him. It's busting him up, all of us can see it."
"I didn't ask him to put an entire staff on it. All I asked him to do was help me train the slayers."
"You expected him to be there when you needed him."
"Well, yeah, he always has been in the past," she said since he had put it like that. Xander did not say anymore, he did not need to. It was so easy to run away, too easy to not hear what she did not want to hear. It was time for her to deal with Angel and all he had told her like a grown up and not the sixteen year old girl she was when they first met. He was not asking her to love him, merely to understand what he had done.
"As soon as Dad gets home from work I'll have him drop me off." Buffy could see the relief in Xander's eye and knew she had made the right decision. No matter what, Angel was her friend and she did not turn her back on friends.
"I'll let him know, Buff."
"Thanks for coming, Xander," she said as she led him into the house.
"Just out of curiosity."
"Would you have come back if I hadn't sought you out today?"
"I would have eventually, Xan. Honestly, I'd been trying not to think about anything since I got here. Of the bad maybe, but I was enjoying it."
"Okay, so we'll see you later?"
"Yup, a few hours," she said as she walked Xander to the door. She waved as he pulled out of the driveway, wondering where he had gotten the car.
"Are you in some kind of trouble, Buffy?"
"No, Dad, why?"
"Well, given your history and the fact I'm dropping you at a law firm."
Buffy rolled her eyes, glad the car was dark so he would not see her doing it. She had never told him she was the slayer so he still had no clue there were legitimate reasons for her behavior at Hemry and in Sunnydale. "I'm not in any trouble. This is where my friends are. You remember Willow, Xander, Mr. Giles?"
"Your friends work here?"
"Some do. You remember Angel, he's the CEO or something."
"So long as you're not in any kind of trouble."
"No, I promise, no trouble for Buffy." She moved to open the car door and paused. "Do you want to meet him? You could see Willow and Xander. And Dawn."
"Some other time, sweetheart. You be good and be sure to bring Dawn with you the next time you visit."
"I will, I'm sorry I didn't think to bring her along this time. It was one of those last minute decisions."
He leaned over to kiss her. "Tell her I say hello and if you need anything, a place to stay let me know."
"Thanks, Daddy," she said and cringed at the childish word she used. Some habits were hard to break. He would always be her daddy even if he had not been Mr. Reliable since the divorce.
She entered Wolfram & Hart and tried to remember which way Angel's office was. "When all else fails, ask for directions," she mumbled under her breath and did just that.
She knocked on the office door when Harmony told Buffy that he was in there with the others. "Come in," she heard someone say from the office.
"Hi," she said casually. She heard Angel's "Buffy" over everyone else's greeting and met his gaze briefly.
"Glad you could join us, Buffy," Giles said as he removed his glasses.
It was on the tip of her tongue to apologize but she stopped herself. Not too long ago they had turned her away from them, seeming to have forgotten everything she'd done in the past. She was not going to apologize for needing some time alone.
"We have some answers. Willow and I have been in touch with the coven and it appears they're behind some of this."
"How? Why would they do that? I thought they were on our side."
"They are, Buffy, I assure you. Willow and I were about to seek out the spirit guides for some answers on why the potentials were reverted to potential status."
"They have been for sure?"
"I'm afraid so, yes. And the coven used some magics so that they would stay better hidden in the event the First was not defeated for good."
"Which means the First will think the slayer line did die, right? So the First will think it won."
"Not necessarily, new potentials would be born. The First would not have been able to stop that and I'm sure it knows that. Granted, it would take fourteen years or so for any potential to receive her calling but the line will never completely die. Angel indicated he would take us to where he's been in contact with The Powers That Be previously if the spirit guides cannot or will not provide us information. We won't give up trying, Buffy. The important thing is we know the girls have been reverted to their potential status and they have some protection now."
"I'm surprised the Council never thought of that."
"Unfortunately, I don't think they thought someone would seek out the potential slayers," Wesley offered.
"Okay, Willow and Giles will get back to us when they have some answers from the spirit guides or if they need me to take them to The Powers That Be. I guess that's it for now," Angel said glancing at his watch. "Buffy will you stay for a minute please."
"Sure," she replied. Buffy realized the others were being dismissed and could not help but chuckle lightly at seeing Angel with such power. And to see him using it.
"Harmony, hold all my calls please," he said into the speakerphone as everyone but Buffy filed out of Angel's office.
"Sure, boss," was Harmony's reply.
"What's up?" It was a stupid question to ask she knew what was on his mind.
"Are you okay?"
She shrugged and walked to the windows overlooking LA. "I'm fine, Angel. Really. I just needed some time to myself. I haven't had that for years."
"So, we're okay?"
She turned to face him then, her arms crossed over her chest. She regarded the man standing before her. There was no past tense about it, she still loved him more than anyone in the world. The love she felt for Spike was real, but there would always be a part of her that would love Angel. That part, the part that wanted to be his girl, would be there forever.
"We've always been okay, Angel," she whispered.
"Now I think you're lying."
"No, now I'm being honest. I was hurt when you left me, I closed my mind and my heart off to ever finding anyone to love again."
"I can't say that bothers me exactly."
She laughed lightly and lowered her gaze. "But I think I realize now that I'm not supposed to love again."
"What are you saying?"
"Death is my gift."
"Into each generation a slayer is born. One girl, in all the world, a chosen one, one born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil. You remember the drill," she said turning her back to him so she could look out the window again.
"It's just all become clear to me over the past few months. I'm not supposed to share my life with anyone, Angel. I don't think you are either. If I was, if you were, they wouldn't have let you take that day back. If the spell we did was reversed, and I'm convinced it was, then it just proves my point. I'm supposed to be alone, it's part of my destiny. There's no room in my life for love or a relationship. There's no room for more than one of me. Faith is a fluke that the world will just have to deal with. I've tried so hard to be normal, to date, to have friends and go to school but I'm never going to be normal."
"No, you're not," he said. He was walking toward her now, she could tell by the sound of his voice. "I'm not either."
"We are a freak show."
His arms went around her and she rested her head against his shoulder as she had done so many times in the past. This was right being here. "We aren't, Buff, we aren't."
"I don't think I'm ever going to get done baking."
He laughed lightly. "You don't have to go through the process alone, Buff. Not completely anyway."
"Have you not been listening to me? I think you're right, we're both destined to be alone."
"But The Powers That Be wanted us together, Buff. They sent me to you eight years ago. We were supposed to keep one another from being completely alone. That's why I need you here. I'm in way over my head with this Wolfram & Hart thing and I could use a hand."
"I'm always here for you, Angel."
"But will you stay in LA?"
"I can't be your girl, Angel. We can't go back to that place."
"You are the closest thing I have. I don't need sex, Buffy, but I need the acceptance, the support and everything else you give me."
"I need that, too."
"Watching you take on that preacher made me realize how much I could use you here."
"Are you offering me a job?"
"I guess I am."
"Well, working here I don't get to do my Angel Investigations work anymore. It's been months since I've worked the streets. Granted, there hasn't been a whole lot of demonic activity but there are always people in need."
"And what about us? I mean, what do you expect from me personally?"
He brought her more securely against his chest and kissed the top of her head. Her eyes fell closed at the intimate contact. They had shared many kisses and embraces since he had come back from the hell dimension. "Nothing more than what you can give, Buffy. I can't deny I would like to spend time with you, as much as you're willing to give me, for the rest of your life if you're so inclined. But I also realize you're human and there may come a time when you don't want to be alone any longer. I've had sex since you, so it's not sex that makes me happy. It's you, so that is out of the question for us and I wouldn't blame you if you can't live on hugs, kisses and platonic dates. It would hurt, I won't deny it, but it couldn't hurt anymore than knowing you'd been with Spike. As long as we don't get so far apart again that's acceptable to me."
"I want to spend time with you. I'd like to get to know this Angel, you're almost a stranger now. Big corporate executive, father, friend and champion."
"You're a champion, too, one who has always surrounded yourself with champions. It would be wrong any other way." He stepped beside her, an arm remaining around her. "We're both adults, Buffy, you're not in high school anymore. Can we just enjoy one another's company knowing that's all we get?"
"Will that be enough for you?"
"It has to be. The question is if it's enough for you. I meant what I said earlier, Buffy. Our lives are meant to be lonely ones. I believe that's one of the reasons we were brought together, so that we wouldn't be completely alone."
"Yeah," she said softly. "It's enough, Angel."
"I was hoping you'd say that. Everyone I've been with since coming to LA has been an attempt at replacing you. I don't want to have a replacement I want the real thing."
She turned to him and smiled slightly, placing a hand against his cheek. "It would sure be easier if I wasn't just one of two slayers."
"I think Faith and Robin are going to be taking off."
"They mentioned out east, they're both from there I gathered."
"Yeah, he's from New York and she's from Boston I think. Did you know his mother was a slayer?"
"Yeah, his mother was killed by a vampire about 27 years ago."
"Is he over that now?"
"I think so. It took a while and a little bit of Spike and him pounding on one another, but I think so. It was talking to him that made me realize that I don't have room in my life for anyone beyond friends. I've always been kind of half assed about my slaying and how seriously I take it."
"Well, when you've lived as long as you have doing it it's no wonder. I mean, the first time you died okay. But the second time you chose to die no one bested you."
"I know, but talking to him made me realize I really need to be more about the mission, more about the slaying. I got that way after meeting up with Dracula, was all into the training Giles could share with me. But then life happened, Dawn, Mom, Glory, Riley, my dying, Spike and I just sort of lost my focus."
"It happens to the best of us, Buffy. I've never once heard the word perfect in the slayer lore."
She laughed lightly. "And with no more slayers that means Faith and I really have will have to work when evil starts brewing again." She sighed realizing they had to get back to work sooner rather than later. "You have to promise me something. No more secrets, Angel. No more making decisions without me, at least a decision that effects me or us."
He sighed heavily and Buffy thought for a minute he would say no. If he did, she would be out that door so fast. "All right, Buffy, no more."
"Thanks," she said softly. That was her biggest fear in getting close to Angel again that something would happen and he would take it upon himself to make decisions without consideration for her feelings.
"Buffy," Dawn called up the stairs.
"Yeah, Dawn," she called from her room. Buffy was running way late, which was nothing real new. She slid her shoes on and smoothed down the dress she was wearing on her date for the evening.
"I have some invoices for you to sign."
"Dawnie, I'm running way late, you can just sign them for me."
The spacious old house Angel had bought served as both office and home for Buffy and Dawn. Willow went to England so that she could work with the coven further, Kennedy went with her. Giles returned to England taking Andrew with him and the promise that he would return without an impending apocalypse as the reason. Faith and Robin had gone back east and were working on the mission together. Xander remained in LA with Buffy and Dawn. Angel had put him to work at Wolfram & Hart until he found something else. The other surviving potentials had returned home. Things were as normal as they could be for the slayer and her friends. Demonic activity was on the rise, but it was working back to the normal pre-First influence levels. The whole balance thing Giles and Wesley had tried to explain to her.
Dawn had visited Scott, aka Connor, at UCLA's campus a few times and he had visited both their home and Angel's offices. Angel rarely talked about how he felt having his son so close yet so far but Buffy felt for him. At least he was able to see him and to see how well the new life Angel had provided for him was taking. Dawn was in love, Buffy was not sure Scott felt the same way but he treated her decently and did not seem to be playing games, so all Buffy could do was let it play out.
The girls who had been activated with Willow's spell were back to potential status and all were protected by the coven's spell hiding them from those who would seek them out. Buffy had asked what would happen if someone realized the coven held the ability to find the potentials but no one seemed to have a better solution.
"Buffy, this one for Mr. Le Boleis is for twenty-eight thousand dollars."
Buffy rolled her eyes as she descended the stairs. Mr. Le Boleis was a wealthy guy Buffy had worked as a bodyguard for while he was in LA for eight weeks. It was one of the easiest jobs she had ever had to perform and he had been a nice enough guy. She put in the last of her earrings as she approached Dawn's desk. "Okay, I have a few minutes, I'll sign them."
"Great, thanks. I'll drop them in the mail then."
"I may as well do it since I'll be out anyway."
"Oh but Buffy, you're going out, I can do it."
"No worries, he won't mind, Dawnie."
"You look great, by the way," Dawn said as Buffy sat at her own desk and signed the six invoices that required her signature. The other five were no where near as lucrative as the Le Boleis job had been, but she doubted there would be too many other thirty thousand dollar jobs so she took whatever work came up.
Tonight, though, was all about Buffy. She hummed softly as Dawn got the six invoices ready for mailing and checked her reflection in the mirror. She appreciated Dawn's compliment and felt as good as Dawn said she looked. She had long ago stopped hoping for a peaceful existence to counterbalance the death and destruction she dealt out night after night.
The doorbell rang and Buffy stood to answer it, looking forward to her night out. "Hi," she said, offering him a genuine smile. He was a sight for sore eyes. They had talked while she was working for Mr. Le Boleis but had not seen one another since before she started the assignment.
"Hi," he said giving her a brief hug and kiss. "You ready?"
"Yeah, I've got everything we need," she said gesturing to her bag. "So I'm all set."
"Good," he said grabbing the bag for her. "I've been looking forward to it since you called."
"Me, too. I need this. See you, Dawn," Buffy said grabbing the invoices to be put in the night's mail.
"Bye, Buffy, have fun," she said walking with them to the door. "Have her home at a reasonable hour."
"I'll try," he said with a wink as he slid an arm around Buffy drawing her close to him. "But don't wait up." He kissed her lightly, enough to make Dawn roll her eyes and close the door practically in their faces.
He led her to his car. "So, what's in your little bag of tricks for the night?"
"Oh, some holy water, stakes and a couple of swords. You know, the usual."
"Expecting to encounter some vampires then?"
"It wouldn't be a night of patrolling without vampires."
"I hear that," he said with a light laugh as he opened the passenger door for her. She slid in and closed the door as he put her slayer's supply bag in the trunk. "There are times I feel like we're back to when we first met, patrolling, hanging out in a cemetery together, no Wolfram & Hart or its senior partners."
"Back to the beginning, huh?" she said, sliding over to sit closer to him on the seat.
"Yeah, a new beginning, though. One where we remain there for each other until our work is done."
It did seem like old times, but everything was different between them. Their time apart had been necessary, they would have been dangerous without it. They were aware that those close to them were holding their breath waiting for the two of them to get with the making happy again. It would not happen again because they were both bound and determined to make this work.
She no longer felt lost without him, she no longer felt as if she would die without him. She just felt a less alone in fulfilling her duties knowing he was there with her. Though he had not said anything Buffy knew Angel felt the same way. Like she was grateful for his help in giving her a job and patrolling with her he was glad to have her help in bringing down Wolfram & Hart. It would not happen over night but at least he would not be susceptible to the power such a position offered because he had her to keep him focused on his mission. Buffy suspected this was what The Powers That Be wanted all along when they sent him to her years ago.
"I like the sound of that," she whispered as he drove away from the house into the night. "Maybe along the way I'll become cookies."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com