Angel was prowling, confined to the house because of the sun. He was growing impatient. It was a quarter after five and Buffy had not shown. Had she reconsidered? Had she gotten lost? He had no idea if she had a cell phone. He was tempted to send Illyria out to look for her, but he did not know if she was on her way there or not.
“She'll show, mate," Spike said from the chair he sat in reading the day's paper.
“Why are you so sure of what she'll do?"
“Because she loves you, Peaches. She wouldn't miss out on the chance to see you." Angel knew it pained Spike to admit what he just had. They had come a long way over the past two years. Neither trusted the other entirely but both knew that the other would cover his back. In a fight that was the most important thing.
“She doesn't love me anymore, Spike. Not like that anyway."
“Right," Spike said dryly. “And she called you at what time this morning?"
“And what was her reason for calling?"
“She didn't have one," Angel said simply trying to ignore the ‘I told you so' look on Spike's face. He was saved by the doorbell ringing. “I'll get it," he said as Illyria walked in the direction of the door. She had stayed out of his way for the most part that afternoon, pretending not to notice his moodiness. Spike, on the other hand, never missing out on a chance to annoy Angel beyond anything imaginable questioned him relentlessly until Angel finally admitted what was going on.
He had not told Spike about seeing Buffy until today unsure how the other vampire would react to Buffy being in LA. Spike had taken it in stride, even going so far as to ask how she was. He had tried to remain casual, pretend indifference but neither vampire was casual or indifferent when it came to Buffy.
Angel answered the door and knew his relief at seeing her was clear. “Hi," he said, stepping aside so she could come in.
“Hey," she said, lowering her book bag from her shoulder so she held it in her hand.
“Come in," he said as he took the book bag from her and walked toward the kitchen. He was not sure it was a good idea to put Buffy and Spike in the same room, but he on a baser level needed to. The past two weeks he had been broody because he had a chance at what he thought was impossible. He had a chance to get Buffy back but he was not sure she wanted him back. He knew there was more to Buffy's relationship with Spike than she had told him. Spike had never elaborated either, which was almost worse. Angel was left to imagine things he hoped were not true at all.
“Hi, Spike," Buffy said as she entered the kitchen. She walked to him and threw her arms around him, giving him a kiss on his cheek. It was not exactly a gesture of former lovers reunited but it was more than Angel wanted to see. He had not even gotten a hug from her the night he saw her two weeks ago. “I can't believe you really came back."
“You can't keep ol' Spike down, Slayer, you know that."
“Yeah, if you've taught me anything it's that."
Angel gave a low, predatory growl when he saw Spike go to touch Buffy back. “Oh, come on, Peaches," Spike said as if reading Angel's mind. “The last time she saw me I was turning into a pile of ashes." He drew Buffy onto his lap, as if taunting Angel.
“Who's this?" Illyria said as she entered the kitchen, interrupting the tense moment. She had a knack for doing that often. Angel wondered what she was able to pick up on and what was just instinct. She tilted her head to the side and openly assessed Buffy. Angel wondered what she thought of Buffy sitting on Spike's lap. Spike and Illyria were not lovers, but Angel sensed there was something between them.
“Buffy," Angel and Spike said simultaneously.
“Hi," Buffy said as she stood from Spike's lap. Angel could see the assessment by both women as they stood face to face.
“This is Illyria."
“She is friend to both of you," Illyria said in her usual questioning tone.
“You both love her," she added bluntly. “And she loves you both." She paused and glanced from vampire to vampire to slayer.
Neither vampire spoke, shrouding the room in quiet until Spike stood with a light clearing of his throat. “It's about time for us to head out, Illyria."
With a tilt of her head she continued. “She is strong, I can sense this. Worthy of both of you, but only one has her heart truly. She is young but her eyes tell a far different story."
“She's a slayer."
“I have heard of slayers. They did not come when we needed them," she said scathingly.
“I had nothing to do with that. I was actually here in LA, all Giles would have had to do is pick up the phone and let me know you needed help. I would have helped Angel in a heartbeat."
“Thanks a lot, Luv," Spike said quietly. Angel was not sure if Buffy heard him.
“I," Buffy frowned and glanced at her feet. “I'm sorry, Spike. That's not what I meant."
“I know exactly what you meant, Slayer. I guess we all know now who truly has her heart. No worries, I accepted that was part of the deal all along." Their eyes met and Angel saw something pass between them. He could not believe he was jealous of Spike.
Buffy had picked up the phone last night to call him, not Spike. Buffy had learned of Spike's coming back and had not looked for him. When Angel had come back from the hell dimension, Buffy had helped him. She brought him blood, protected him, and loved him back to his normal self. He had nothing to fear.
He hated that Spike knew things about Buffy that Angel did not. He hated that Spike might know Buffy better than he did. The last time Angel had spent any time with Buffy she had been eighteen years old. She was twenty-four now, an adult, and had overcome incredible odds - including death - to be standing in his kitchen today.
“We're heading out through the basement," Spike said with a dismissing wave. “Good to see you again, Slayer." Angel knew it was cutting Spike's heart out to have to talk so casually to Buffy. He had experienced the same thing for over six years now. Seeing her with Finn had been torture, knowing she had been with Spike was not much better but at least he knew it was over. At least for Buffy it was.
“The basement?" Buffy asked.
“Yeah, we have a door that leads from the basement to the tunnels."
“Yeah, it is."
“So," she said. “This is your place. You and Spike live here together?"
“Oh, is she your girlfriend?"
Angel smirked. “No, she's just a friend. She's actually a former god in possession of one of my team member's bodies."
“Long story. We tried to get Fred back but we couldn't, so Illyria is here to stay. She really came through for us and has decided to stay with us."
“She's a god?"
“She was, yes."
“My experiences with a god were not exactly good. Is she? I mean, she's good?"
“Yes," Angel said simply. Illyria's alignment was questionable at times, but she was learning and she was adapting to the world she lived in now. “Can I get you something to eat or drink? You've got your school stuff, did you come straight from class?"
“Yeah, that's why I was running a little late. I had to talk to my Anthropology professor about doing some extra credit. You know me I can always use a little help when it comes to my grades."
“Have you found out anything at the club?" he asked as he opened the refrigerator. Buffy walked up behind him and placed her hand on his shoulder to peer into the refrigerator from behind him. “I could make you an omelet if you want. Otherwise, you're kind of on your own."
“An omelet sounds good. I'll help," she said as she moved in front of him and grabbed some cheese and vegetables out of the fridge. “As far as the club, nothing useful. There's one guy that's kind of creepy, but he comes onto us dancers."
“Tell me about him," Angel said as he took out a cutting board and two knives so they could both cut up vegetables.
“Um, well, he's human. He hasn't come onto me, so I don't have much first hand knowledge. I just know that he's human and none of the girls like him."
“Can you find out why?"
“Yes," she said, and he could hear the caution in her voice. She was probably going to like his question even less than he liked having to ask it.
“Do you do anything besides strip at The Neon House?"
“What?" She squared off to face him, sharp knife in her hand. It was probably best not to piss off the slayer when she held a knife in her hand. “Excuse me, but I know you are not asking me what it sounds like you're asking me. Because I've known you for nine years now and you know me better than anyone."
“I'm just asking, Buffy."
“Well, no. I don't do anything at the club besides dance, on stage. I don't do lap dances or anything else. That was part of my contract."
“You have a contract?" he asked. Strippers did not typically get contracts.
She resumed cutting vegetables, so Angel sensed she was no longer upset with him. “Yes. If you must know, Willow helped me create a resume so I could get this special appearance gig I've got going on at The Neon House. I have a contract, which expires soon. So I'll have to move onto a different club when that happens."
“Xybler will keep you on if you continue making him as much money."
“I make him this much money because I'm a novelty, Angel. If I was there every day, all year I wouldn't bring in the money. People pay the extra cover charge because they think I'm some exotic girl from Parts Unknown rather than former slayer from Sunnydale, California."
“I see," he said simply. “I asked the question because I was wondering if there was any way you could approach this guy without arousing suspicion. But if you don't normally get personal with the customers."
“Well, what about some of the girls he's approached before?"
“Angel, I can't ask those girls to put themselves in danger."
“We don't even know he's our guy, Buffy, I'd just like to see if we can find out."
“He's usually in on Fridays and Saturdays. If you come I'll point him out to you."
“You think he's going to talk to me."
“Well, not if you come onto him, no. But if you talk to him about the dancers he will. He's awful fond of a few of them."
“But he's never approached you."
“Not that I know of, but Randy knows I have no interest in that. So he may have taken care of it without my knowing."
“The manager. He's a good guy."
Both were quiet as Angel got things ready to make Buffy an omelet. He could not believe he was standing here in his kitchen with her. It was almost too good to be true. Earlier, when he had seen her hug and kiss Spike he felt his demon on the edge of losing control. He had gotten especially good at being dark, something Buffy did not know about him thankfully. Of course, there were times he wondered if he had never left Sunnydale if he would have avoided succumbing to the demon's darkness at all.
There was no use dwelling on it. He had made his decision and as much as it hurt both of them and altered their lives forever, he still believed it was the right thing to do. The night it snowed he knew that he as much as loved Buffy being near her would cause them both nothing but anguish and pain. While he might be deserving of such a plight, Buffy was not.
“Where are plates and stuff?" Buffy asked as Angel worked on preparing the omelet for her.
“Um, the cupboard over there. Flatware is in this drawer here. Glasses are there," he said, gesturing to yet another cupboard.
“What's the deal with you having food anyway?"
“Well, Spike eats food sometimes and Illyria does as well. And we work out of the house, so occasionally we have someone here."
“Makes sense to me," she said, getting her place set up. She then walked to the counter next to the stove and in a move as agile as a jungle cat jumped up to sit on the countertop. “So, did I surprise you?"
“Surprise me? You never stopped surprising me, Buffy."
“Really?" She sounded entirely too pleased with herself.
“Yes, really. From the first time I saw you," he said. He set the spatula down and gave her his undivided attention. “I hope you never stop surprising me, Buffy."
Wordlessly, she drew him to her with ease and kissed him. Her legs went around him, her feet locking around his thighs as he stepped into her kiss. He could take surprises like this from her any day. He placed his hands at either side of her face, deepening the kiss, probing her mouth with his tongue hesitantly at first.
He did not count their last kiss in Sunnydale as a true kiss. It was a stressful time for her, and he was just coming out of a stressful time himself. Both were relieved to see the other. They shared a kiss out of relief that the other was alive and well more than anything else.
This, though, he thought as he relished the taste of her, was not from stress. She smelled of sunshine, the outdoors, and faintly of perfume. Yet underneath it all was Buffy who had her own distinct scent that Angel would recognize anywhere. A soft growl emitted from his throat as her tongue swiped over his upper lip. He had forgotten how nice kissing could be, more specifically how nice kissing Buffy could be.
He drew away at that thought, realizing he could not do this. He could not go down this path. She had a chance now for a real life, one that did not revolve around the darkness that had surrounded her life for seven long years.
“Buffy, we can't. It'll be too hard to stop."
She lowered her gaze, but not before he saw the disappointment in her eyes. He placed a finger under her chin and tilted her face up so he could look her in the eye. He placed a gentle kiss to the tip of her nose. “I love you, Buffy. I've never stopped, but getting involved with me again is not what you need."
“There you go again," she said, pushing on his chest hard enough that it caused him to take a step or two back. She jumped off the counter and poked her finger into his chest. “Making decisions for me. What if I think I need it?"
“Buffy. You have a chance for a normal life. You're going to school, you have a job that you're able to keep without it getting screwed up because you have to run off and slay a demon or a vampire. You don't have to protect Dawn anymore and you don't have to save the world over and over again. You're doing what I left to give you the chance to do." Did she not understand how much it pained him to think of living without her? They were living on borrowed time as it was, but he could not do it. He could not deprive her of those things she deserved more than anybody else he knew.
He knew it bothered her that he made the decision to leave without really talking to her about it. He did little more than tell her he was leaving, not giving either of them the option to talk him out of it. Once his mind had been made up there was no looking back for him. So, he was expecting her to argue with him or to get upset with him and leave. So when she reached up and kissed him again, wrapping her arms around his neck drawing him close yet again he was deeply surprised.
She was kissing him with such raw and real emotion, exposing herself and he was incapable of resisting. He was never capable of resisting her. He only wished he could tell her that and not open wounds of time ill-spent out of one another's company. He cupped her bottom and drew her to him, hard and fast, no longer wanting to resist her.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com