Buffy practically fled down the stairs. Running into Angel tonight was not a part of her four-year life improvement plan. She made it to the kitchen without him being right on her heels. She stood there trying to collect herself, clutching the refrigerator door handle for dear life. She heard him coming down the stairs. There was one stair that creaked when she stepped on it just so. Angel stepped on it in that way and it creaked.
She had to get herself together before he walked into the kitchen. She could not let him see that his presence was throwing her off balance because then he would know how much she still loved him. Loving him was just bad, there was no place for Angel-love in her life anymore. She thought she had put her past behind her so well until seeing him tonight. Cordelia would surely get a good laugh out of knowing she was stripping for a living when Angel told her. She had never thought to be embarrassed by what she did to earn money until now, knowing Cordelia was going to find out.
She opened the refrigerator and stared absently at the contents it held. Milk was good. It would have been good except the love of her life chose the moment she grabbed the half-gallon container to walk up behind her. She dropped the carton and she could only stare at the floor as the puddle of milk at their feet grew larger.
"Do you have a mop or something to clean the milk with?"
"Oh yeah, I'll get it," she said, coming to her senses. She walked to the small utility closet just off the kitchen and got the mop. "Sorry."
"Are you okay?"
"Huh? Yeah, I'm fine, Angel, sorry. It just slipped." She doubted he would believe her, she was not clumsy by nature. The truth was she was not fine. She had not expected to see him, not now. She did not think she ran the risk of seeing him when she had decided on LA. It was a large city, what were the odds. If he had not gotten the case he was working on, their paths probably would not have crossed.
Now he wanted her to help him with a case. Not only would that mean she would see him again but she would also have to brush off her slayer persona for the first time in a very long time. She was not sure she wanted to do either. She did not want to call Angel with any news and have Cordelia answer. She did not want to get sucked into the uber-hell that was life involved with fighting the monsters.
Her plan when she came to LA was to go to college and get a degree in Sociology so that she could get a job as a case worker. After her experience with the state system she decided she would like to try it and be of help to the people she was assigned to. She realized some families might be beyond help but she hoped to keep an open mind about it and certainly more fair than the state was with her.
There was to be no running into Angel, there was to be no looking to the past. Buffy had been determined to only look forward. When she was unpacking her stuff at the house she kept humming the song "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades" because it was exactly how she had felt. She had the possibility for a full and fruitful life ahead of her because of Willow's spell and she was determined to make the most of it.
"I, I think you should go now," she said simply.
"If you leave me a number where I can contact you I'll call you when, if, I decide to help you with your case."
"I'd pay you."
She stopped cleaning up the milk for a moment and glared at him. "You think it's about money? You think that I'm not sure about whether I want to work with you because of money."
"You're the slayer, Buffy."
"No, I'm not the slayer. I'm a slayer now, Angel. I did my time, died twice to help further the cause. I'm done with it. Giles knows he can count on me in a crisis, but this doesn't sound like a crisis."
"I don't care how many other slayers there are, you'll always be the slayer to me."
"It's time to stop living in the past, Angel. I'm not that girl anymore."
"All I'm asking is for some help, Buffy. If you see anything out of the ordinary, call me. Surely you can still pick up when there's something strange going on even if you're not actively slaying anymore. And I'm quite certain you still know how to use a telephone. If I can do it, surely you can."
"Quit with the sarcasm, it doesn't suit you."
"Well, what do you expect me to say? I'm asking for help and you're telling me you'll get back to me. What in the hell is that?"
"It's that I don't know if I can do it, Angel. All right," she said dropping the mop on the floor. She was mad now. Why was he pushing her on this?
"You don't know if you can do what, Buffy?"
"I don't know that I can report to you like I'm just a subservient employee. I don't know that I could take Cordelia laughing at me behind my back. I'm sure she'll get a big kick out of it when you tell her all about seeing poor Buffy who has to work as a stripper to support herself.
"Buffy," he said softly.
"She's what?" she asked, not believing what she had just heard. "No way."
"I'm afraid so. She went into a coma and died months later."
"Oh my God, I had no idea. Why didn't you tell anyone?"
"When was I supposed to pass this information along? When Andrew came here and basically threatened to stake me if I tried to interfere with your taking Dana out of LA? Or when I called Giles telling him I needed help from Willow and he basically said ‘too bad'."
"He did not."
"He did. I really needed some help against the senior partners, Buffy. I was in over my head. I lost lives, the lives of good people."
"Does Giles know this?"
"I doubt it, unless Spike told him."
"He may have." Buffy had been shocked beyond belief to hear Spike was back. She almost did not believe it and certainly found it hard to believe Giles would have contact with him. Giles would not lie to her about that. She was aware he was in LA, too, but had told Giles neither Spike nor Angel were to know she was here.
"I was a little surprised that you are here by yourself."
"Why?" she asked, genuinely confused. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"I figured someone would be here with you."
"No," Buffy said. "I'm not dating anybody, Angel. I haven't been on a date in almost two years if you want to know the truth."
"Oh," he said. He probably did not believe her, but that was his problem. She had not been on a date since she left Sunnydale. She realized that she needed to focus on her own life before she could ever possibly make anyone else happy.
They stood in uncomfortable silence then. Cordelia was dead, Spike was not in her life and Angel had obviously known that because Spike was working with Angel. So it seemed their obstacles were out of the way. Not that Cordelia and Spike were their only obstacles. There were other things like Angel's immortality, the curse, and the fact that she did not know if she was ready to see him. If she was ready she would have contacted him. Wouldn't she have?
"So will you help then?"
Buffy picked up the mop and finished cleaning up the floor, tossing the milk carton into the garbage can. She rinsed the mop and put it away, doing these things slowly to draw out having to answer him. She wanted Angel to sweat it out a little. He deserved it for presuming that she had to have a man living with her in order to function.
She looked at him glancing around the kitchen, trying to appear as though he was not waiting for her answer. She was not sure if this was going to be a mistake or not. The whole idea of not being in contact with Spike or Angel was so that she could accomplish things on her own without either of them there to prop her up when she needed it. It had long been past time for Buffy to be Buffy and stand on her own two feet.
"I'll help you," she said softly. "But there have to be rules."
"Rules?" he asked, turning to face her. She saw admiration in his eyes, something she could not recall seeing there before. At least not directed at her. Had he been waiting for her to grow up, too?
"Yes, rules. You can't come to the club looking for me. I mean, if you come there on your investigation fine, but not to see me."
"And this is just a working thing. I mean, I'm not going to blow off my studying or my classes for this. I'm just doing you a favor."
"You can't tell Spike you saw me."
"That's certainly not a difficult request to fulfill. Like I want him going there to watch you dance."
"Never mind that. Lastly, no one can find out I'm the slayer."
"Someone's bound to find out eventually, Buffy."
"Not if I can help it."
"I don't understand this attempt at normalcy thing, but your secret is safe with me."
"Then we have a deal."
He pulled his wallet from his back pocket and took out a business card. "You can call anytime, Buffy, whether you have information or not."
"Thanks," she said, tacking the business card onto the cork board by her telephone. She would not call unless she had information for him. She imagined he suspected that would be the case.
"I guess I'll be going then."
"Yeah, that'd be best. I have exams to study for and some emails to get off to Giles, Willow and Dawn." She walked him to the back door.
"How are they? Willow and Dawn I mean."
"They're fine, everyone's fine."
"Good," he said, shoving his hands into his coat pocket. She smiled slightly at the idea that he was nervous around her. "Well, I guess I'd better go."
She was tempted to tell him to stay. She wanted him to stay, but she realized that would sound pathetic so she stopped herself. She was not going to be needy Buffy. If they got to the point of his staying over eventually that would be fine, but not tonight. She reached up on her tip toes and placed a kiss on his cheek. She could tell she had surprised him and with that she opened the door. "Good night, Angel," she said softly.
"Good night, Buffy." She closed the door behind him, peeking through the curtain at his retreating figure. Her yard was too small, far too soon for her liking she could no longer see him. She was no closer to being over him than she was when he left Sunnydale years ago. Working with him was not going to be easy, it could very well lead to her heart getting broken all over again. But if innocents were dying, she could not just let that go. Angel had to have known she would not and she cursed him under her breath, realizing he had known all along she would say yes.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com