Angel entered The Neon House with disdain. A strip club was not on his list of top ten places to go in Los Angeles. Spike had laughed at him when he mentioned where he was going tonight. He and Illyria were out patrolling while Angel looked into the occurrences at The Neon House. Someone was killing off the strip club's customers. Not that Angel found that a bad thing, but the owner of the club, Xybler who happened to be a demon, asked Angel to look into it. Despite his thinking that someone was out to muscle him out of the business since he was a demon Angel had found out that his club was not the only one having its clientele thinned out, so Angel agreed. Xybler was of the mind that there was a new demon hunter in town.
He could not help but think of Wesley when he came to LA over six years ago now. Angel had thought him a pathetic excuse for a human being when he first met him in Sunnydale and that opinion did not change when he ran into him again in LA. Angel had grown fond of the man, despite their differences that at times were potentially life threatening.
Illyria still seemed rather confused by the fact that Wesley was not coming back. She was adjusting to helping others as Spike and Angel were doing, but there were days that Angel caught her looking rather lost. Helping the helpless was a new concept to her and there were times Angel had to remind her that she was here to help and heal not destroy.
Angel looked in on Anne and her shelter now and again knowing Gunn would want that done. It seemed the least he could do. He could have easily gone to a hospital instead of meeting them in the alleyway and might be alive today. Angel doubted it given the man's injuries, but he certainly had a better chance of survival at a hospital than in that alley.
It was back to business as usual for Angel, with the exception of waiting for the senior partners to collect themselves again and come after him with even bigger guns. "I'll have a beer," he said to the bartender, pushing aside the glass of blood. Thinking of the senior partners and the possibility that he might die left him thirsty.
He had arrived shortly before the night's "entertainment" began. Unfortunately, he had little choice in the matter given his aversion to the sun and the fact The Neon House had live girls performing beginning just about at sunset. He scanned the crowd for anyone who stood out or looked like they did not belong. A blaring voice announced over the loud music the first dancer of the evening, inspiring Angel to leave the room.
The club was huge, each of the three floors and two basement levels needed to be checked out by Angel. Xybler had promised Angel freedom to go into every room he wanted to go into. The basement was where the private shows were given. It was beyond him why a human would want to give a private lap dance to something like a chaos demon, or worse, but it was not his place to judge. He just opened doors, looked and left. No one seemed to pay him any attention, which was good. He was not prepared to get into a fight tonight.
He glanced at his wristwatch as he made his way back to the main floor. He had been there for over two hours. He stopped to watch the current stripper dance to "Manhunt". She was quite good; Angel wondered why some of these girls were stuck taking off their clothes for a living. Angel had no idea what her name was, but she was by far the best dancer he had seen in the club tonight. He took a five dollar bill out of his wallet and walked to the stage, sliding it under her g-string at the hip.
"Thanks, sugar," she purred seductively at him. Angel was not fooled by her sweet words. He knew it was an act to get more of his money. "Are you going away so soon?" she asked when he turned to leave. There was nothing here, no one jumped out at him as being hunting. Many of the patrons, on the other hand, fit the bill for being the hunted since they were demons. The Neon House was one of the few clubs in LA that welcomed both demons and humans alike. Humans thought it was cool to hang with the demons and the demons liked patronizing a club owned by a fellow demon, even if he was a different demon.
"Ladies and Gentleman," the booming voice sounded over the speakers. "Let's hear it for Alexa. Isn't she great?" The voice paused for the crowd's enthusiastic response.
"And now, a special guest appearing at The Neon House for an extended stay. From Parts Unknown, let's hear it for Cleo." The audience clapped and shouted some things not fit to repeat. Angel grew curious at who this special guest was. Had she been here long enough to be the person he was looking for? It seemed unlikely that a stripper would be who he was looking for, he had been under the assumption it might be a demon doing the other killings to draw attention away from The Neon House. But nothing ceased to amaze him any longer, so he could not dismiss anything just yet.
Angel moved to a spot with a better view and instantly regretted it. What in the hell was she doing here? His game face fell into place as he watched the roomful of demons and humans alike ogle his girl. It did not matter how much time they had been apart, she would always be his. He glared at the others; no one seemed to pay him any attention. All of them were focused on her as she gyrated to "You Can Leave Your Hat On". He imagined as the song implied, her nurse's cap would remain at the end of the dance and nothing else.
He was beyond furious. He thought it entirely possible he might just kill everyone in the room himself. What in the world was she doing here? He found it hard to believe Giles would let her start stripping. He understood that she was taking time away from slaying, but she was the chosen one for god's sake. As far as Angel was concerned, she would always be the only one no matter how many others there were now.
He watched her act, glaring at the stage hoping she would become aware of his presence. At one time they had that type of connection. He did not believe there would be any mistaking he was unhappy. Had he given her up only to have her become a stripper? Was this how she planned to become cookies? He shook his head no longer having any plans of leaving. Unable to watch any longer he walked to the bar and ordered another beer. "What's the deal with the dancer?" he asked the bartender.
"Some bimbo who goes around the country and performs at various clubs for a price. She's a pretty hot attraction from what I've been told."
"Yeah, you know, she's not a regular dancer so the men come and pay the higher cover charge to catch a glimpse of someone they've never seen before."
It took every ounce of strength to not throttle the bartender for calling Buffy a bimbo and an attraction as if she was not a person. The bartender was human, so he expected better. "Thanks," he said instead of the choice words he wanted to say and stepped away.
The song ended and despite not wanting to see her, not wanting to be reminded of what he could not have, Angel peered at the stage. She was perfect, more so than he remembered. He tried not to bring up the image of her that day years ago now that only he remembered, but tonight he did.
She had still been maturing then, growing into her body and the strength that came with it. Gone was any evidence of the high school girl he met in the alleyway. She was toned and tanned, everywhere he realized unable to resist looking to see if she had tan lines. Gone were the insecure and innocent airs about her that Angel had found endearing when he first met her.
She was a woman now. The experiences that had brought her to this point were evident in her eyes. The rest of her was glorious, pretty, and still youthful. Her eyes, however, betrayed a knowledge that could only come from a very hard life. No one said a slayer's lot was easy. He knew he had made her lot a little more difficult by leaving.
He tore his gaze away, feeling more than a little intrusive by staring at her like he was. Not that every one else in the club was not doing the same thing. He finished his beer and walked to the back. The bouncer let him in knowing Angel was on a case and Angel stood in the hallway waiting for Cleo to come out of her dressing room.
Buffy threw the last of her things into her duffle bag and took a parting glance at her reflection in the mirror. She looked a little pasty with her stage makeup on tonight, someone had stolen the base she normally used so she had to substitute with a lighter shade. It had felt greasier than normal so she had spent a little longer cleaning up after her night was over with.
"Hey, Cleo," Randy, the manager said as Buffy walked out of the private dressing area the girls used. No men were allowed there.
"Hey," she said cheerily as she pulled her hair back. She shook her head from side to side, letting the ponytail bounce. No one here knew her real name or anything about her. She preferred it that way.
"Here's your money," he said, handing her that night's take. She folded the bills in half and shoved them into her duffle bag pocket. She did all right considering she refused to do lap dances. That was part of her agreement in coming to work here.
"Thanks. Have a good night, Randy."
"Will you be all right getting home?"
She smiled with a shake of her head. He asked her this every night not that she could blame him. No one knew she was a slayer, so it was kind of him to offer. "I'm fine, Randy, really, thanks." There was one night she thought she had seen Clem, but it had turned out to be another demon that looked just like him. She had not realized there were two of him in the world.
"See you tomorrow then, Kid." Buffy hated when he called her that, especially when they were able to more than double the cover charge because of her. She got a cut of the increase since it was her drawing the crowd plus her tips. It was not a bad gig once she had gotten used to taking off her clothes in front of a room full of strangers, some being demons. It was easy to get caught up in how lucrative it could be.
"Good night, Randy, thanks," she said again and walked toward the exit door. Her duffle scraped against the side of the wall as she walked. She was tired. She was not as experienced as her resume made her out to be so she had to practice her routines to the point of exhaustion. Dancing at The Bronze was not the same, which she had learned very quickly.
Willow had laughed when Buffy asked her to go to a women's strip club. Willow was up for it since she and Kennedy had broken up. Buffy wanted to see if it was really something she could do. The idea had come to her when she realized her cash situation was even direr than it had been in Sunnydale. She needed cash there and then and waitressing just had not cut it for her. The other possibility of a cash bringing job was pizza delivery, which she refused to do even if she thought she could drive that much without killing someone.
She stopped just before the door and took the money out of her duffle bag. She had made over one thousand in tips. She guessed with her cut of the coverage charge she had pulled in almost four thousand dollars for the night. She rolled the money up and slid a rubber band around it, placing it in one of the socks she kept in the bag. She did not like walking around with so much cash, so she hid it as best as she could.
Sooner or later she would no longer be their guest marquee dancer and she would have to figure out what to do. The resume Willow had made for her was a great one, but Buffy had no desire to leave Los Angeles again any time soon. She was done with her world touring, or whatever Giles wanted to call it. LA was home and home is where she belonged even if she was alone here.
In the meantime, bringing in three to four, sometimes five to six thousand dollars a night was not bad. Weekends were the most lucrative and she had not taken a weekend off since she started. She imagined once she got tired of The Neon House there were plenty more in Los Angeles that she could move onto and make a similar deal to the one she had here. Clubs were always looking for new talent; she had discovered that much while researching the possibilities.
She slid her duffle bag over her shoulder after zipping it up and began singing the words to the song "Brick House". She was always trying to come up with original dances and found the crowds tended to prefer music from the seventies and eighties. She was not sure why that was.
She pushed through the door, zipping her jacket to prepare for the walk home. She checked the front pocket to ensure there was a weapon in it. There were nights she encountered vamps and demons, which she dispensed with as her calling told her to do. She did not mind acting as the slayer now and again, it helped keep her prepared for when something big happened. Buffy had no doubt that something big would happen again. There would never be a shortage of big bads. No matter how much they tried to stomp it down, there would always be evil.
"Hello, Cleo." The voice stopped her in her tracks. He was behind her, she had no clue he was even there. There was a time she was so hyperaware of him she knew when he was within a block's radius of her. That was many years ago, many experiences ago. She could keep walking, pretend she did not hear him and walk out the door into the night. He would follow her, though. She did not need to see him to know he was angry.
"Hey," she said, hoping she was enthusiastic enough to fool him. She doubted it; he was not easy to fool. She turned to face him after a moment's pause, still giving thought to the idea of fleeing. She had not seen him since Sunnydale and liked to remember him that way. She did not want to replace those nice memories with ones of his being upset with her and them arguing once again.
"What are you doing here?"
"Um, working?" She was being sarcastic, but she did not know how else to handle the situation. She had never, ever expected to run into Angel in a strip club.
"Come on, Buffy."
"Cleo," she said, through clenched teeth. "It's Cleo."
"Excuse me, Cleo," he said with a graceful yet greatly exaggerated bow. She could picture him doing it, though, in his time for real, bowing out of courtesy to a girl of station.
"Stop it, no one knows who I am and I prefer it that way."
"Why wouldn't you want anyone to know who you are?"
"Listen, I'm tired and I want to go home. We'll do this another time when you can be reasonable."
"Oh, I'm being reasonable, Cleo." Her stage name was said as if it were venom.
The door leading to the dressing rooms opened and Randy poked his head out. "Everything all right out here, Doll?"
"Doll?" A rumbling could be heard loud and clear coming from Angel and Buffy cringed at the idea of her identity being revealed like this. One jealous boyfriend would mean her losing this job and probably getting blacklisted from every other club in LA.
"I'm fine, Randy."
"You sure," he asked openly assessing Angel.
"Yes, thanks. Good night," she said for the third time that night. "Will you stop with the he-man antics?" she asked when Randy was safely behind closed doors.
"You take your clothes off in front of hundreds of men night after night and you expect me to be rational?"
"Yes," she said simply. "Listen, we can't talk here. If you want to walk with me, that's fine. But the minute you start telling me why I shouldn't be doing this I'm gone."
"I'll do the best I can," he said. Buffy knew he would try, but she could tell he was not just furious but confused.
"Fine," she said and walked toward the door that would lead outside of The Neon House. She took a deep breath when she got outside, always appreciating the fresh air after being inside the club for hours. The parking lot did not offer a speck of privacy. The Neon House was appropriately named, the parking lot and a good amount of area surrounding the premises was bathed in neon signage.
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, wondering what he would say. He was probably full of questions, not that she could blame him. It was quite a change in occupation going from slayer to stripper, at least she had stayed in the S's. Being the slayer did not pay the bills and now that she no longer had the responsibility of being the slayer she could focus on surviving a bit more comfortably.
"How long have you been here?"
"About two months."
"You didn't call me."
"I didn't know where to find you."
"I suppose not and it's not like I could have left a message for you with Giles." She would be deaf to miss the bitterness in his tone and she glanced at him sharply, wondering what was behind it.
"What do you mean?"
"I lost men because Giles was unwilling to help us."
"What?" she asked, genuinely confused.
"Oh, don't pretend you don't know, Buffy."
"Know what? What are you talking about?"
"Willow was too busy astral projecting, you were busy in Rome working on becoming cookies with The Immortal, and all those new slayers were apparently unable to come to LA on such short notice."
"Angel, I assure you I know nothing about this or I would have been here."
"You would have taken time away from clubbing and whatever else you were doing in Rome?"
"Yes, of course I would have." She stopped walking, searching his face for some sign of whether he was telling her the truth. She could not see any evidence that he was lying. "How can you think that I wouldn't help you?"
"I don't know, Buffy, we've changed, we've grown apart."
"We have, but nothing would stop me from helping you."
Their eyes met and held, both searching for answers. The silence seemed to go on forever as they measured one another up. The last time they had seen one another had been during a crisis, there was nothing friendly or social about it beyond their being happy to see one another for the first time in over a year.
"I believe you."
"I should hope so. I've never done anything to make you think I'd lie to you."
"Do you want to tell me what you're doing working at that place?"
"A girl's got to make a living."
"You're not a girl, Buffy."
"Yes, Angel, I am. I'm a woman who needs to make money in order to keep a roof over my head and food on my table."
"And you have to take your clothes off to do that?"
"Where else am I going to get a job, Angel? Where else am I going to find a job that pays this much?" She shrugged her duffle bag from her shoulder and pulled out the sock that held that night's earnings. She tossed it at him almost violently; mad at herself for defending herself to him. The big brute! "Where, please tell me?"
He pulled the wad of money out of the sock and glanced at it without removing the rubber band. His eyes met hers, a question in his eyes. "You're walking around with this much cash on you. Are you nuts?"
"Who in the hell is going to mug me?"
"That's not the point. You shouldn't tempt fate, you of all people should know that."
"And what am I supposed to do? Leave the money at the club? Like Randy would hold it for me."
"Get a car."
"I don't make with the driving, remember? Me and cars?"
"Making this kind of money, you could take some lessons." He put the money back in the sock and handed it back to her. There was a look of amazement in his eyes. Did he not think she was worth this much money? She was not doing anything wrong and refused to let him think she was. She was not doing lap dances, she never went home with a customer, and she never talked to any of the dancers. The only person she talked to at the club was Randy and she had to talk to him or she would not get paid.
"I'm fine with the walking, it's gotten me this far. I have had more precious things to protect than money in the past and have done just fine without a car."
He grabbed a hold of her arm and jerked her violently so she faced him and they were just about nose to nose. It was such a surprise move on his part that Buffy had no time to defend herself. "Why are you doing this, Buffy?"
She exhaled a breath that indicated her boredom with going over a topic that they had already talked about. "I already told you, I need to make a living."
"And Giles approves of this?"
"I do not need Giles' approval to do anything. In fact, I don't need anyone's approval to do anything. I'm a free woman, I'm an adult, I can do whatever I want to."
"What about The Immortal?"
"What about him?" she asked confused. What did that jerk have to do with this?
"Is he the one that planted this crazy idea in your head?"
"The crazy idea that I could make money, you mean?"
"Buffy, you're selling yourself."
"I am not!"
Angel could not believe that he was having this conversation with Buffy. "What is wrong with you?"
"You sold your soul for a different kind of life."
"That's low, Buffy, and entirely different."
"Is it? I'm not doing anything wrong, Angel. I have a job and it's a legitimate, income earning job and I didn't have to give a demon free reign over my body in order to get here."
"Buffy, you're stripping! How legitimate is that? If your mother was alive would you tell her you were doing this?" It was not fair to bring her mother into it, but the words were out before he could stop himself. He could not help but think of the roll of money she had tossed at him as if it was nothing more than a few dollars. She was obviously successful at her chosen occupation. He wished she had chosen one that required her clothes remaining on.
"What exactly is wrong with it? It's not like I'm prostituting myself."
She sounded so sincere that it was hard for him to think she did not know what she was doing. He thought of those basement rooms he had visited, the lap dances he had briefly witnessed. Xybler ran a nothing's taboo establishment. "You're better than this."
"Better than what? Earning thousands of dollars a night instead of minimum wage and coming home smelling like greasy food with spilled milkshakes on my uniform shirt?"
"What is it you need that much money for?"
"To live. Do you have any idea the conditions I've been living under since Mom died?" She threw her duffle bag over her shoulder and began walking once again.
"No, I don't."
"Of course you don't, because you have been gone."
"Buffy, I didn't know. How could I possibly have known what was going to happen? Your Mom, Dawn, all of it?"
She came to an abrupt halt again and turned to face him. He could see the rise and fall of her chest as she took a deep breath. "You left me, called our relationship a freak show. And now you are passing judgment on my life choices." She started walking again and Angel had no choice but to follow. He could go back to The Neon House tomorrow on the hope of catching her, but he had a feeling this was going to be his only shot at finding out where she lived.
"Buffy, I'm not. I just don't understand it. You're better than this."
"So you say. But I have no college degree and my high school record is not exactly stellar. So my options are limited. I've waited tables and I've flipped burgers. No thanks. I'll stick with this for now."
She exhaled sharply, clearly frustrated. Maybe he was a little slow on the uptake, but he was still shocked at her being in LA. "What don't you understand about needing money to survive, Angel? Surely in your two hundred fifty years you've realized that as much as a nice smile and eyes will get you, in the long run without money you may as well die."
He followed as she cut through a yard and across an alley. She pulled a garbage can from the edge of the alley to the garage and then walked to the back door of the house. "If you're going to lecture me about my sinful ways, Angel, I'm not going to invite you in."
"I'm not going to lecture you, Buffy. That's not what I'm trying to do."
"Fine," she said as she unlocked the door and opened it. "You can come in, Angel." He followed her inside and watched as she closed the door behind them, locking it. Hopefully that meant she was assuming he was going to stay for a while.
"You live here?"
"No, I broke in," she said with a roll of her eyes.
When did she get so bitter toward him? The last time they had talked, she seemed good. He had left Sunnydale with the hope that one day he would have his girl back. Did she no longer want that? He would not necessarily blame her if that was the decision she had come to. She had had two years now without him or Spike to pressure her. But he had always believed that he would get her back again.
He followed her up the set of steps that led to the kitchen and took it in once she had turned on the light. He was admittedly impressed. He had no idea what exactly he had pictured, but it was not this quaint little place.
"Do you live by yourself?"
"Yes," she said tossing her keys into a dish on a shelf by the door. He watched her intently. She obviously had a routine. He noticed a plate, a glass, and a knife and fork sitting in the sink strainer. There were four placemats with complimentary napkins on the table, but only one showed any evidence of use. Seeing that made Angel very sad for some reason.
How long had she been living alone like this? Buffy did not belong alone and it bothered him that Giles allowed it. What was she doing here? Where was Dawn? It really bothered him that she had been here alone for months. "It's nice," he said.
"Thanks," she said with a shrug as she took her hair out of its ponytail. "I don't have any blood to offer you."
"I'm fine," he said, watching her every move. He followed her through the kitchen into the living room.
"Would you like the tour?"
"Sure," he said with interest. He was curious how she was affording this place and wondered if this was why she was stripping. There were cheaper places out there, apartments, she could live in and not be stuck with such high payments each month.
The first floor consisted of the kitchen, a large living room, and a dining room. Upstairs there were three bedrooms and a bathroom. One she was obviously using as storage and the second one was a study with a computer and other things in it. Angel noticed text books on the desk and a backpack set on the floor by the desk and grew curious about them. The third room was hers and it was totally different than the room she had in Sunnydale. Gone was the little girl stuff she had there, she had decorated this room tastefully.
"It's nice," he said as he stood in the doorway leading to her room. He was not brave enough to cross this particular threshold even if he had spent a lot of time in her bedroom in Sunnydale. The house suited her. It reminded him in a way of her house in Sunnydale, not too large but big enough. "Did it come furnished?"
"No," she said as she opened a door that led to a walk-in closet. He noticed she had her own bathroom as well. "Do you mind if I change?"
"No, that's fine. I'll just go downstairs and wait there."
"I'll just be a minute."
"No problem," he said and left her room. He stopped in the other room she used and glanced at the text books. "Sociology, Anthropology, Geography and Political Science," he whispered.
"Find anything interesting?" she asked, startling him. It was rare for a human to startle him but he had not been expecting her to be quite so fast.
"I, uh," he said turning to face her. "What is all this?"
"I'm going to school."
"Is that what the job is for?" She did not say anything, merely darted her eyes around the room as if ensuring there was nothing there he should not see. "Why didn't you just say so?"
"It shouldn't make a difference. Because I'm putting myself through school it's okay to take off my clothes?"
"Well, it's certainly more understandable."
"You know if you're so anti-stripper what were you doing there tonight anyway?"
"I was there on a job." She scoffed. "What? I was." He admitted it sounded pretty lame to him, too. "Someone's been killing The Neon House's clientele, other strip joints too. The owner hired me to look into it."
"Any ideas what it might be?" she asked and he saw a spark, a fire in her eyes he had not seen yet tonight.
"Demon hunter is all I can figure right now. Tonight was my first night on the job."
"Just my luck," she said softly.
"So you're working full-time and going to school full-time?"
"Nope. And I'm not really working full-time. I work every Friday and Saturday night, I don't have a social life for that to interfere with, and those are the two nights I make the most money. I pick up a couple of shifts during the week, but I could work just those two weekend nights and survive."
"You do that well?"
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"I just never gave much thought to how much a stripper could make."
"I didn't either, but I knew it would have to be more than when I waitressed or worked at Doublemeat."
"You're really doing it then."
"Living a normal life."
"As normal as my life can be you mean? Yeah, I guess I am," she said and Angel saw pride in her eyes. She should be proud of herself. She had come a long way, particularly since being pulled from heaven.
"I don't suppose you'd be interested in helping me."
"With your case?"
"I can't be there every night, all night, it's just not possible. No offense, but if I have to watch those guys looking at you while you do your routine one more time I won't be held accountable for my actions."
"Really?" she asked. She seemed legitimately surprised.
"Christ, Buffy, what kind of man do you think I am?"
She frowned. "I thought you had moved on. You had Cordelia."
"So did you with Spike no less."
"And Cordelia isn't just as big of a betrayal?"
He had no comeback to that because in a way she was right. Spike had never tried to come between them, except the wanting to kill one or both of them part when he first arrived in Sunnydale. But Cordelia had tried to come between them from the beginning. He refused to justify his life choices to her. "Did you stop loving me?"
"I didn't either," he said simply. She turned away from him then and left the room. He wondered if he had said the wrong thing. Maybe she did not want him to love her anymore. It was something he had counted on since leaving Sunnydale, that they would always have their love for one another even if they could not be together. Had he been wrong?
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.
It was late at night exactly two weeks after Buffy had run into Angel at the club. She had not seen him since, so he was keeping his end of their bargain. Strangely, she got disappointed each night when she walked out of the club and found nobody waiting for her. Well, there were guys waiting for her sometimes, but none were the guy she wanted to be there.
She had just finished washing the night's dishes, which consisted of a frying pan, a plate, a fork and a glass. Her eyes drifted to the corkboard by the phone as she wiped down the table. Angel's business card was still there. She had not touched it since that night and thought she had exercised a good amount of restraint waiting this long. She had thought for sure he would seek her out despite asking him not to.
She pulled the push pin out that was holding the business card in place and ran her acrylic pinky fingernail along the edge of it. "Should I call him?" There was no one there to answer her, but she reasoned that there was no harm in letting him know she had been looking for information.
She glanced at the clock and realized it was an insane time to call but she was wired. If it sounded like she had woken him she would just hang up. He was a vampire, so maybe he was up at this time. She took a deep breath and brought the business card upstairs with her to the den.
Buffy loved her house. She was only renting but her landlord had mentioned a rent to own option if she got further into the lease and decided she would be staying. She loved having her own space, lots of it, after sharing every inch of her house with the potentials for months. One day, she wanted to get the spare bedroom set up as an actual bedroom. She had never really considered herself much of a clotheshorse but she had filled her bedroom's walk-in closet as well as the den's closet with clothes. The spare bedroom's closet was full of her dancing costumes. She had accumulated quite a variety by now. Some netted her more in the way of tips than others and she remembered which ones those were.
"Shit," she said softly, forgetting her vow to hang up if it sounded like he had been sleeping.
"Buffy?" he said, sleepily.
"Yeah." Now she felt like a fool. He was going to assume she had information for him when she had none. So then it was going to be dreadfully obvious that she wanted to talk to him. She had craved hearing his voice since he left that night.
"It's four in the morning, is everything all right?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I was just thinking about you."
"I've been thinking about you, too, Buffy."
"I can tell," she said dryly.
"Well, not all of us have a job that keeps us awake until all hours of the night. And somebody didn't give me her phone number and told me not to visit her at work." He was sounding more awake with each word. She heard something that sounded like movement on sheets through the phone and she had to force the images of Angel in bed out of her mind. Despite being over seven years ago the images were so vivid and real Buffy thought they might be forever imbedded in her mind. "Don't you have school tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I have class at ten."
"Buffy, why are you doing this to yourself?"
She closed her eyes. As much as she liked being independent Buffy it was nice to have someone show concern for her. Aside from Giles she had not gotten that since before her mother died and she missed it. "A girl called in sick."
"So long as you're not killing yourself" he said followed by a sigh. "Buffy, did you need something?"
"I, well," she closed her eyes and thumped her head against the top of her desk. "No, I don't need anything. I just wanted to hear your voice." Honesty might not be the best way to go, but the words were out before she could stop them.
"Oh, well," he said with a low sultry sounding laugh. Since when did Angel laugh so casually? "You can call for that reason anytime you want." She gulped, unprepared for his answer or the seductive tone his voice took on with that sentence. She was in way over her head and probably way too deep already to stop from getting her heart broken all over again.
"What are you doing?"
"Sitting in my den."
"I don't know," she laughed lightly. "What else should I be doing?"
"I don't know," he said, his voice low and dripping with innuendo.
"Well," she said, wanting to get back to neutral ground. "I haven't found out anything at the club."
"You know, the case you're working on?"
"Oh." He sounded genuinely disappointed that she was changing the subject. "I almost thought maybe you'd changed your mind."
"No, I wouldn't do that."
"Well, you're in the middle of a much deserved break."
"Yeah," she said softly, not needing to be reminded of that.
"And I realized after I left that I probably shouldn't have asked you to help me. I mean, you're working, you're going to school, and I'm sure in between you try to have a life. But I didn't have your phone number to call you and I didn't want to just go over there in case, well, you know."
"No," she replied quickly, automatically. She did not want him to think she was involved with anyone. "I mean, of course I have a life but it's a pretty dull one."
"Is dull on the menu for tonight?"
"I don't work."
"Would you like to see my place?"
"You're somewhere different?"
He laughed again. "Buffy, you haven't been here in over six years, that was three places ago."
"Oh," she said, wondering where the time had gone. She suddenly felt bad because he was right. He had come to Sunnydale more than once since leaving. She had not been to LA since her freshman year of college and the visits had not been stellar ones. "I didn't know."
"It's okay. Do you have a pen and paper? I'll give you the address."
"Yes," she said, grabbing a pen and the nearest piece of paper and wrote as he gave her the address.
"Spike might be here."
"That's okay. I mean, it's okay with me. Is it okay with him?"
"Well, I haven't asked him but I don't see how he can say anything. Unless you think he has reason to be mad."
‘I love you,' Buffy recalled telling Spike the last time she had seen him. He had been disintegrating into ash at the time and his response had been ‘No, you don't, but thanks for saying it.' He had told her to go then, willing to die and give up his newly acquired soul to save the world. "Not mad, no," she admitted, contemplatively. Mad probably would not be the word if Buffy were to show up to see Angel.
"Anytime you want to get here is fine. We work from the house, any daytime assignments Illyria handles. But I'll make sure my schedule stays clear if you give me a guess on a time."
"Say five? That way if something comes up I won't keep you from it when the sun goes down."
"She works with us and aside from Spike and me is the only one to have survived the take down of the Senior Partners. There's more to the story than that, but that's the short of it."
"Oh," she said softly. "And Giles told you he wouldn't send help?"
"In not quite so blunt a way, yes."
"I'm sorry, Angel. If I had known we would have come in full force. There are hundreds of slayers now."
"It would have been helpful, yeah."
She had not realized Giles could be so vindictive. To turn his back on someone in need, someone asking for help was just not like him. She would have to remember to ask him about it sometime. "Well, I guess I'll let you get back to sleep."
"I don't know how likely that is now."
"Because now you have me wondering what your get-up was tonight."
She smiled then, feeling a lightness in her heart that she had not felt in years and it went right down to her very soul. "I was an Indian princess."
Her smile widened. "You'll have to come watch some night to find out."
He groaned softly. "You expect too much of a man if you think I could take that a second time."
"Good night, Angel," she whispered, feeling suddenly breathless and giddy. For a second she was right back in high school and that sixteen year old girl who was crazy about the older, mysterious man who helped her.
"Good night, Buffy. I'll see you later. Fully dressed, I hope."
"You can count on it," she said and hung up before they got themselves into trouble.
She was too wound up to go to sleep now, so she slid her chair in front of her computer and turned the monitor on. She rolled her mouse around so her screen saver stopped. The picture of Willow, Xander and her that Giles had taken to replace the one lost of the three of them from high school was her desktop photo. It was a different photo than the one that had been taken back in high school. They were much older and wiser now. Life had not been easy for the three of them.
She opened her email program and double clicked on Willow's name. She had a feeling Willow would not be overly surprised at the tone of her conversation with Angel tonight. Willow had emailed Buffy almost every day asking if she had called Angel yet. Every day Buffy had said no, until today. She tucked her hair behind her ears and found she was happier after her conversation with Angel than she had been in a long time. She was not sure if that was a good thing or not, Angel happiness had led to bad things in the past.
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 were 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.
Buffy was not sure why she kissed him again. For years they had talked and their talks always ended up going full circle back to the beginning. She loved him and he loved her, there was never a question there. For some reason he did not think she was capable of making up her own mind. She had been in more danger from herself after returning from the dead than she ever had been when he was on the loose in Sunnydale without his soul.
So, she had decided she did not want to talk in circles anymore. She was not sure if she was ready for him yet. Her plan was to get her degree, get a job, buy herself a little house, and then worry about her personal life. Buffy did not believe in coincidences, too much of her life as a slayer seemed to be fated. Destined. Angel was her destiny as she was his. They both knew it.
She liked to believe that maybe, just maybe, someone knew long before Buffy's great great grandparents were even thought of. Maybe there was a reason Liam was turned and ensouled. Maybe there was a reason Whistler and The Powers That Be chose Buffy for Angel to be the slayer that he helped. There were certainly other slayers over the hundred years he had his soul that he could have helped. Robin's mother was one who could have used assistance.
It was a hope built on a lot of maybes but Buffy liked to think of it that way, which was part of the reason she had never been able to fully give of herself to Riley or Spike. She knew deep down that Angel was her one true love. The one love some people wait their whole lives to find.
She did not want to argue anymore and she realized that maybe fate was giving her a shove instead of letting her go at her own pace. When it got down to it maybe she would never believe she was ready. She certainly felt ready right now, ready for things she should not be thinking about. She was kissing him as honestly as she knew how, pouring every ounce of need and desire into this kiss that she could. She felt that he was hard when he drew her against his body and mewed softly into his mouth.
Alarm bells were going off in her head, but they were easily ignored. He felt so good, her hands caressing his body hungrily. She no longer wanted to put her plan for a successful life into action, she wanted to get to know him again here and now, today.
"Feel so good," she said, breaking the kiss so that she could move from his mouth to his chin, his jaw, and his ear. She wanted to taste every inch of him and judging by his reaction to her she could probably get away with it.
"Buffy," he murmured as his lips brushed along the top of her head sending shivers down her spine. He was always so gentle with her. His actions told her he loved her, no matter what he tried to tell her.
She drew away slightly, kissing his jaw lightly. "Hmm?" she asked thinking she sounded drugged at the moment. She was, come to think of it, the Angel drug.
"We." She cut him off by kissing him again.
She knew he was going to say something logical and disrupt the moment. She did not want this to end. She did not want to think, he had done enough thinking for the both of them. "Shh," she murmured as she took a break from kissing him to breathe.
He resumed kissing her and Buffy felt tears forming in her eyes. She could not believe she was here, kissing him like this. The world was not ending, her friends had not recently turned on her and kicked her out of the house they lived in free of charge, and she was finally responsible for nothing and no one but herself. The tears slowly began making their way over her cheeks and she gasped, catching her breath as a loud cry escaped her mouth.
"Buffy, what's wrong?" he asked quietly, kissing her tears away. She realized on some base level that he was not kissing them away to be seductive. He got nourishment from tears, too.
"I can't believe I'm here, we're doing this."
He drew her closer against him still, his hands cradling her butt as if they were created to fit that part of her just so. "I can't either."
"I thought we'd never have this again."
"Me, too," he said. She heard a catch in his voice just then and realized while he was not physically crying he was as caught up in the moment as she was.
The smoke detector went off, startling them both. Apparently, Angel had not noticed the omelet burning to an inedible crisp either. "I'm sorry," he said as he turned off the stove.
"It's all right, really. Maybe later we can go get something to eat? Or, you can watch me eat. If not, I'll make something when I get home."
"Well, I was hoping you wouldn't have to do that. You deserve a bit of a break." He set the frying pan on a different burner and crossed his arms over his chest, regarding the burnt omelet.
"I don't mind. It's kind of nice being independent and not having someone to do stuff for me."
"I suppose," he said.
"Well, and when it wasn't somebody doing stuff for me, it was me having to save the world, manage a mortgage, train potentials, take care of crazy Spike."
"He can be a handful."
"Tell me about it," she said with a huff. Their eyes met and they both laughed.
"Who would have thought we'd have that in common."
"Never in a million years," Buffy said and dropped her gaze. She was a little embarrassed talking to Angel about Spike. She had no reason to be, but she was. Riley was different, Angel did not know him and he was not one of the monsters.
"If it means anything, I'm glad he was there for you when I couldn't be. It tears me up inside that it was him and I know I don't even want to begin to know what happened between you."
"No," she said softly, "you don't."
Buffy was surprised when he took her into his arms again. She was expecting rejection from him now that they had begun talking about Spike and her relationship with him. He had no idea how right on he was when he said he did not want to know. Buffy hated remembering sometimes, she hated who she had been during that dark, bleak time of her life.
She was afraid to look into his eyes, afraid she would see something there she did not want to see but she saw nothing but love in them. She smiled widely, relief flooding through her. She was glad that he really was okay with her past. If he could be okay with it than she could be, too.
He slid his hands to either side of her neck, his thumbs grazing her jaw while the tips of his fingers traced gentle circles at the nape of her neck. He lowered his mouth to hers for another earth shattering kiss. It felt as if a dam was breaking, flooding the walls they had built up to protect their hearts, their souls since he left Sunnydale.
"Nobody kisses me like this," she whispered.
"I should hope not," he said with a low growl. "I want you," he whispered, placing a kiss at her ear.
She moaned softly, enjoying his attention more than she should be. She remembered the last time he had kissed her like this, thoroughly yet hesitantly at the same time as if he did not want to break her. Suddenly, the alarm bells grew louder and she realized what she was forgetting. How could she forget? Angelus. The soul. "Angel," she said as she tried to draw away. His hold on her was too secure for her to just step away and she grew a little frightened. Was he Angelus again already? "Angel," she said again, her voice laced with panic.
"It's okay, Buff," he whispered against her ear, taking her lobe in between his lips and swirling it with his tongue. She pressed herself closer against him, wanting more of him. She closed her eyes, letting the moment take possession of her, she wanted to ride this wave until it died down.
He worked a button on her cashmere sweater and then another, the alarm bells clanged again and she stepped away from him forcefully. "Angel. We can't do this. Your soul."
"It's not a problem."
"Maybe to you it's not, but I don't feel like having to drive a stake through your heart and kill you for good this time."
"It's not a problem," he repeated and sounded far too confident. She looked into his eyes, looking for some sign that he was still Angel. She could not tell, she had not really been able to tell back then either. He was the same man with and without the soul. Spike had taught her that the soul did not make the man.
"It's permanent now."
"And I should believe that why?"
"Because I wouldn't lie to you."
"The last battle we fought, the one I wanted your help with."
"Yes," she said, needing no reminder of that.
"I signed away my Shanshu rights as part of my plan to bring the Circle of the Black Thorn down."
"The who? What's this Shazam thing?"
"It's not important," he said dismissively and that bothered her. If it was something he had to sign away it sounded pretty important. "My soul is permanent."
If Buffy was looking for any further sign that they were supposed to be together, that Angel was her destiny she did not have to look any further. The soul, and the curse surrounding it, was the biggest thing keeping them apart. "Really?"
"The Powers That Be thought I deserved something for taking on the senior partners at Wolfram & Hart."
"So, we can be together, Buffy, really be together."
"I needed the past two years. I needed to discover Buffy Summers, the woman, and couldn't have done that if I was knee deep in apocalypses and helping the helpless."
"Does that mean you want to be with me? To join my team?"
"I want to do more than that." She draped her arms over his shoulders and kissed him lightly. "I want you, Angel, all of you. Everything that comes with it."
"You'd have to be the slayer again."
"I know," she said softly. "I can't run from who and what I am, Angel. I just wanted a break."
"Would you be willing to come out at The Neon House?"
"Why?" she asked, confused.
"If our killer is human, and I think he is, he might approach you if he knows you're the slayer. He might think you'll like what he's doing."
"That's assuming he knows what a slayer is, Angel. Giles and I came up against a werewolf hunter when you were," she lowered her gaze. She hated bringing up that time because she knew he felt bad for the things he had done. "When you didn't have your soul. He didn't seem to have a clue who or what I was."
"That's where I come in handy."
She frowned, confused. "Huh?"
"A drunk vampire cursing at the manager, the bartender, and whoever else will listen as to the injustice of a bar catering to demons employing the slayer."
"So you're going to out me."
"Yes, and hopefully our killer will approach you."
"Assuming he's there that night."
"Assuming," Angel said with a shrug of his shoulders.
"I won't have a job afterward. Xybler's not going to keep me on when he finds out I lied to him."
"Then we'll find you another job, Buffy. I understand about the money, but there are things like student loans that you can take out."
"I know, Angel, but after flipping burgers at DoubleMeat, earning so much money has its appeal."
"You could fix up that third bedroom of yours and rent it out. There's nothing that says you have to live in that house all by yourself, Buffy."
"That's a possibility," she said. "I don't know, Angel. It's more complicated than getting a roommate. And what roommate is going to understand the hours I keep if I do start slaying again? And hello? Slaying brings danger with it. I can't tell you how many times Mom's house got trashed."
"You have a point."
"But the rent isn't that expensive. I mean, I needed the money I was earning to furnish the place the way I wanted it more than anything."
"All right, so maybe you can sit down and figure out exactly how much you need to make to live how you want to live. As far as a job, assume Xybler does fire you, which he might not. If you insist on stripping, there are other clubs you could work at. If not, between the two of us we can come up with something for you that pays more than minimum wage. I'd offer to pay you for working with us, but I haven't had the heart to charge anyone in quite some time. I'm not helping people to make a profit."
"Of course not," Buffy said.
"But if you keep stripping, you're going to have to deal with me being there while you dance and when you come and go from the club."
"You can tell them I'm your bodyguard for all I care, but I want people to know that you're off limits."
"Yes," he said with an ease that surprised her. Once upon a time he would have denied that was how he felt. She wondered what else about him had changed since he left Sunnydale. He certainly seemed less of a loner, he had friends. She was happy for him, it was not easy to do the right thing day in and day out with no one to help keep you grounded.
Xander had asked her once how she had gotten through having no Angel in her life and she had told him that she got through it by having him and Willow. It was true. She believed that the reason she had survived as long as she had was because of her friends and her family.
She let her hand make a light pace along his face, touching him, still unable to believe she was this close to getting another chance with him. "You had the harder path than I did, didn't you?"
"What?" he asked.
"You left to give me the chance for a normal life. I thought it was easy for you to just turn your back on me, on Sunnydale, on us but you had nobody when you came here. I never thought about what you sacrificed to give me that chance." Tears formed in her eyes again as she thought on what he had given up. Had he stayed it would have been hard for them, the attraction they had would have made it difficult but Buffy had believed then that they were strong enough to go without sex.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done, Buffy. Don't ever believe it wasn't or that I wanted to. I thought it was the best thing, I honestly believed it was." He rested his forehead against the top of her head, tears of his own falling from his eyes onto her.
"It was," she assured him, placing a gentle kiss against his cheek, tasting the saltiness of his tears. "It was, Angel. I believe that just as firmly as I believe there was a reason we ran into one another now. We belong together, Angel, I've never been surer of anything in my life."
"I want to believe that."
"Angel, why else would they have made your soul permanent?" she asked, and she could tell that was sinking in. "You've, I mean, you've been with people since me. I'd be stupid to think you haven't."
"And you didn't lose your soul with them."
"No, I've only been completely happy that once, with you."
"If they didn't want us together would they have done that for you?"
"No," he whispered and both of them let their tears fall freely then. Whether it was out of happiness or sadness at the time that they could not get back since his soul was made permanent Buffy did not know. She just knew that it felt good to hold and be held and to finally have the one thing she wanted in her life.
It was early the following morning when Buffy left Angel's room. They had gone in there to ensure they could talk without interruption. It had been since her mother's funeral that they had talked so candidly, intimately. She realized now how much she had missed it. Buffy must have drifted off at some point and woke just before five o'clock realizing she had to go home. She had class and could not go wearing the same thing she had worn the day before. She had not planned on spending the night so preparing for that had not entered her mind when leaving her house yesterday morning.
She took a pen and a piece of paper from a notebook in her book bag and sat at the kitchen to write Angel a note. He looked so peaceful so Buffy had been as quiet as she could be leaving his bedroom not wanting to wake him.
"He's going to be mad if you just run off."
"I'm not running off. I'm leaving a note," she said, gesturing with her pen to the piece of paper she had written the note on.
"You left me a note once."
"I remember," she said, folding the piece of paper and writing his name on it. Spike had been there for her when no one else seemed to be. She would never forget that. "What are you doing living here?"
"Is it uncomfortable for you, Luv? I'd like to apologize but considering you didn't seem to have a problem spending the night with Peaches with me right down the hall I don't think I need to."
Buffy had not anticipated running into Spike. She and Angel had heard them come in, but they had been in Angel's room so she had not had to see him again. Seeing him the first time was hard enough. She had never felt more put on the spot. If she was overeager to see Spike Angel was going to get mad but if she ignored him Spike would think that their last few months together had been fake. Buffy may not be in love with Spike, but she had meant it when she told him she loved him. Her heart would always belong to Angel, which was something she could not help. Spike had read the warning label that came with a relationship with Buffy.
"As if that matters, Buffy," Spike said.
"What is it with you two lecturing me? The last I saw and heard you and Angel couldn't stand each other but you live together now?"
"Well, nowhere else to go really."
"Giles isn't exactly keen on the idea of my helping the new slayers and I have to do something or I'll go nuts again."
"But we deprogrammed the trigger."
"Sure, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen again, a new trigger, Buffy. I've thought about finding my own place, but Illyria is comfortable here with both of us. So I stay. It's not fondness for Angel, it's just that I don't have anywhere else to go. We get along all right, except for when it comes to you."
"I don't have to come back here."
He snorted. "And knowing he's at your place shagging you all night and day will make it hurt so much less."
"I'm sorry," she said softly, her eyes downcast.
"No you're not, Slayer. I know you're not lying, but you're not truly sorry either."
"I had no intention of this happening. I really didn't, Spike. I came back to LA to go to school and create a life where I'm most comfortable. I spent the first fifteen years of my life here."
"I'll give you that at least. I'm just tired of being everyone's consolation prize, Buffy."
Buffy wondered if she would ever learn all there was to know about Spike or Angel. She doubted it. You live hundreds of years and there are bound to be things that even if Buffy wanted to know they will have forgotten. There was nothing more to say between them. She was not sure they could be friends now, if they were ever truly friends at all. She liked to think so but she knew there was no going back once she had made a choice between the two vampires. Had she gone off and chosen someone totally different maybe a friendship could have been maintained.
She placed the note on the refrigerator, guiltily glancing at the unwashed dishes from the omelet Angel had tried to make her the night before. She did not have time to stay and clean up after their mess.
He snorted as his eyes seemed to follow her path around the kitchen. "Yeah, so little happened between you two that a perfectly good omelet got burnt to cinders."
"I have to go," she whispered as she picked up her book bag and slung it over her shoulder.
"We had a good night last night, a vamp nest taken out thanks to Illyria and me," he said when she had gotten to the front door.
She had figured they were done talking, which was why she had turned her back on him. "What?" she asked. She turned to face him again, staring at him incredulously. He had not just said what she thought he did.
"Our patrol last night."
"Okay," she asked, thoroughly confused.
"Well, I thought maybe you might like to know."
"I'm done being the slayer, Spike."
"You'll never be done being the slayer, Buffy. You can create hundreds of thousands of them, you could have one in every town and city in every state and country of the world and it'd still be in your blood."
"It may be in my blood, but it doesn't control me, Spike."
He shrugged as he leaned against the doorway leading from the kitchen to the living room. "Your loss. I figured with you and your vampire honey back together you might rethink that attitude. He does fight the good fight, Buffy. Do you really think he's going to let you not be the slayer? You're a powerful ally, one I'd want to use if I had the ability to convince you to come out of retirement."
"I can help him without slaying, Spike."
"Surely you'll need to slay to let out your aggressions if you're going the celibacy route, Slayer."
"I have more ways than slaying to work those things out."
"Yeah, well, I'm not your punching bag anymore and I didn't realize you had more choices in your repertoire."
"I'm so not getting into this, Spike. I have class and work later so I'd like to get a nap in before I have to start my day," she said and turned to leave again.
"Yes," she said, her hand on the doorknob. "I work. I live on my own. I am self-sufficient Buffy. I know it's a foreign concept to you but I'm in a good place, Spike."
"And you think getting involved again with the love of your life is going to keep you in that good place?"
"I won't know until I try, Spike. I've gone the normal route, I've tried everything I could to move on and stop loving him but nothing worked. I don't know what's going to happen, neither does he. We may not get back together at all."
"Your scent tells a different story."
She closed her eyes, hating that aspect of the vampire thing. Of course she smelled like Angel. They had not had sex but they had not spent the entire evening and most of the night just talking either. She had forgotten what kissing, just kissing could be like. She felt like a girl again, as if she had gotten a part of her innocence and youth back that had been ripped from her the day Merrick came into her life.
"Good bye, Spike," she said with finality as she opened the door, closing it once she had walked out.
She walked from the house knowing Spike could not follow her because it was close to sunrise. She turned her head in the other direction when a car drove by and honked at her. "Men are such jerks," she said. It did not matter if they were vampires or humans.
She did not like admitting to anyone, including herself, that she missed slaying. She missed Sunnydale, she missed her friends and her life there. But in truth, when it got down to it, she missed performing her duties. There was no going back to Sunnydale, it was gone so there was little sense dwelling on that. She kept in contact with her friends. She had moved on with her life in a positive direction. The only thing that she had not moved forward with was her slaying. Instead she had tried to deny she was the slayer.
It did not matter to her how many others there were, in her mind, like Angel and Spike, she considered herself to be the slayer until she died. The slayer line rested with Faith until they did the big mojo and yet she still considered herself the slayer. For over seven years it had been her life. There were memories she laughed about, cried about and some that she was indifferent about. But they all were grounded on her being the slayer.
"Damn it," she hissed through clenched teeth. "I can't think like this." She walked the rest of the way home going over the different epochs they were studying in Anthropology class, determined to put thoughts of slaying out of her mind.
Buffy walked home from campus reliving Angel's words to her earlier that morning on the phone. She was still daydreaming and playing the conversation over in her mind when she unlocked the back door and went upstairs to change her clothes.
"I woke up and you were gone."
"I had class," she said.
"I thought it had all been a dream," he had sounded legitimately concerned.
"It wasn't a dream," she replied.
"You got home okay?"
"Yeah. You got my phone number so Spike didn't tear my note into shreds."
Angel had sighed into the telephone audibly then. "No."
"Listen, you two working together is a good thing. You don't need me coming around there causing problems."
"You'll never cause or be a problem, Buffy."
He had sounded so sincere she wanted to believe him. She knew it was impossible, though. She would not be able to go to their house and be herself and relax. She had lied to Spike when she said she had to work that night. She did not want him to think that her life was going to become ALL ABOUT ANGEL like it once had been. She was not that girl anymore and both vampires would have to accept that.
"I just think it's better if I stay away from your place for a while."
"So we have a night like last night and that's it? I can't see you again?"
"I didn't say that."
"I hope not, because last night was the happiest I've been in years, Buffy."
"Me, too," she had whispered. She hated admitting that to him, hated showing him how vulnerable and open to him she still was.
"So, I can come to you, right?"
"Yes," she had said right away. She had been unable to stop her heart from racing at the idea of Angel being in her house again. The house did not seem small or overly girlish when she was there by herself, but the morning after he had been there a couple of weeks ago she had looked at her house and its furnishings objectively. Everything about the house screamed "single woman with no man in her life living here".
"I guess," she had said coyly. She did not want to appear too anxious, even though she was. "I don't work."
"Well, we were going to do a quick patrol tonight. Spike says they took out a vamp nest."
"Yeah, he mentioned it to me before I left."
"We plan on going back to make sure everyone was taken out. Spike thinks there were more living there."
"Spike's pretty good at that thinking thing."
Angel had laughed then, a low rumbling that made her smile. He did not used to laugh this easily nor this openly. "Yes, I'll give him that, there are times him doing that thinking thing has saved my neck."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that. I like your neck the way it is."
"Me, too," Angel had said, his voice soft like a whispered caress even through the phone.
This had been followed by a prolonged silence and then they had hung up. Neither had said "I love you", but it was there spoken or not. Buffy suspected the silence was because Angel had wanted to invite her to come along on their patrol but held back. If he had asked her, had made any attempt to push her into joining them she would not be rifling through her weapons chest.
It had remained in the back of her third bedroom's closet, buried underneath assorted clothes and other things. Out of sight had not necessarily meant out of mind but not seeing it every day made it easier to deny who and what she was. She had thought when she put it away like she had that it was therapeutic, but what Buffy had needed was merely time.
She glanced out the window to see the sun was still shining brightly. This meant that she still had time to get over there but not much time as sunset would be on them soon and she had no idea what time they were planning on leaving. Spike and that ex-god woman had left before sunset. She did not know if that was normal practice or if it was Buffy's presence that brought that on.
She grabbed the few things she would need knowing vamps were on the menu for the night and placed them in the duffle bag she used to carry her dancing clothes around. It was weird to let her slaying bleed into the life she had strived so hard to keep far away from it. She grabbed her leather jacket in case it got cold later, took the stairs with a quick bound in her step, bypassing that creaky step, and was out the door on her way to Angel's.
She debated the logic of what she was doing the entire way to Angel's house. More than once she started to turn back but something kept her going. She wanted to believe it was the idea of patrolling with Angel again that held its appeal, but she suspected that good old fate and destiny had a hand in this as well. She had known all along she could not hang up her slaying gloves and expect to never look back.
The sun was just getting ready to set when she got off the bus only a few blocks of Angel's house. She was going to make it in time. She would feel like a complete fool if she got there and Angel said he did not want her along. Maybe he did not ask because he decided he did not want her with him.
She dismissed those thoughts almost immediately. Angel would not turn down anybody wanting to join in on the cause. She imagined he would welcome any slayer back into the fold enthusiastically.
She rang the doorbell and turned to face the street as a car drove by. A young boy, probably about six or seven, though Buffy was not really a good judge of children's ages, gave her a smile. She smiled back, chuckling lightly at his toothless grin.
"It is the slayer," Buffy heard Illyria say, not having heard the door open. "You are not supposed to be here today."
"Is that a problem?"
"No problem, no, but it is odd that you would just show up without an invitation."
Buffy rolled her eyes and entered the house. She was not going to debate with this woman. "I don't need an invitation. Not a vampire," she said, knowing full well that was not what Illyria had meant.
"Buffy," Angel said from further in the living room. "What are you doing here?"
"I don't think she's that special and she is severely lacking in manners."
"Illyria," Angel said curtly.
The ex-god cocked her head slightly to the side, glared from Angel to Buffy. "Very well," she said distantly and walked to the kitchen.
"What is her problem?"
"Don't push her, Buffy. She's far stronger than she looks and even though her powers have been tempered down some she's still powerful."
"I'm not pushing her," Buffy said, feeling chastised for no reason. "All I did was come here," she said setting her duffle bag on the floor by her feet.
"Do I need a reason?"
"Well, no, but you just said earlier today that you weren't going to come here anymore."
"So I did," she said with a shrug. "A girl's prerogative and all that. Do you want me to go home?"
"No of course not," he said. He walked toward her, closing the distance between them in a matter of seconds. "Are you planning on staying the night?" he asked as he took her into his arms.
"What?" she asked. He expected her to think coherently when he was holding her like this? She glanced to her duffle bag and realized too late what that might suggest. "No," she said, drawing him toward her so she could kiss him. "I came to patrol with you tonight," she whispered as she drew away from the kiss.
"Really," he said. Buffy thought she noticed a little smugness in his tone.
"Yes." She was not going to justify her decision to him, she did not think she needed to.
"That's kind of why I did it. Besides the fact it was either this or study for Anthropology and," she shrugged. "I'm all epoch'd out for the time being."
He chuckled lightly. "What happened to your studying coming first?"
"One night isn't going to kill me. I'm not getting brainiac grades or anything, but I'm getting by."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I decided to try it. I can't say I'm going to come out with you every night and I'm so not getting rid of my job. Don't think this is you winning. You are not getting your way."
He smirked devilishly. "I haven't even begun having my way with you, Buffy."
She felt her face grow warm and was surprised it was only her face blushing. A comment like that should have made her entire body blush. He probably meant it in a totally innocent way and her blushing was going to reveal she was not taking it that way.
"That's not what I meant," she said and felt a low rumbling in his chest. It was almost like he was purring, but she knew it was a demon instead of a cat making the sound. Oddly, it calmed her when she heard Angel's demon instead of a heartbeat. She had never grown accustomed to hearing a heartbeat when she put her head against Riley's chest.
"I know, Buffy. Well, this certainly is a surprise. So, it's slayer supplies you have in the bag?"
"Well, I didn't pack a toothbrush if that's what you're asking me."
"You don't have to ask for permission to spend the night, Buffy. It was your idea not to spend time here, not mine. You can stay here as often as you want."
"Okay," she whispered.
"So are you going to bail on us then, Angel?" Spike asked from the kitchen doorway.
"No, Buffy's going to join us."
Spike arched a brow in her direction. "I do not want her with us," Illyria said. "She will pose too much of a distraction for both of you."
"Hardly, Luv," Spike said to Illyria. "You've yet to see a true champion for the good in action until you've seen a Slayer do her thing."
"She will get us all killed, clouding your minds with lust, anger and pride. You will go on patrol distracted."
"I'm not going to get anybody killed," Buffy said, pulling out of Angel's comforting embrace. "And it's not up to you if I go or not. I'm the slayer, it's my job."
"You weren't doing your job when both men Fred was fond of died. Wesley and Gunn are dead because the slayers refused to come."
"I did not refuse to come. I would have been right there with you and those who died if Giles had called me."
Illyria glared at Buffy and turned to look at Angel. "If she causes your deaths I will not sweep up your ashes."
"You won't need to do any ash sweeping because of me, not the ashes of these two vamps any way."
"She believes what she says, I feel that," Illyria said. "Very well, she can come," she said and strode out of the room as if dismissing them.
Buffy forced the stake through the vamp's heart and let go once he had begun turning to dust. She bent over, placing her hands on her knees to take a breath. Her dancing kept her in shape, but two years of no slaying had left her a little rusty on the toying she used to do with a vamp before dusting it.
"See," Illyria said with obvious contempt in her voice. "Slayers are not so very tough after all. She acts hurt and I did not see one touch her."
"I'm fine," Buffy said. She stood and spun on her heels to face the former god. "I have more than held my own and I have not once put Spike or Angel in danger. What is your problem exactly? Can you not stand to have Spike or Angel paying attention to another woman? Afraid of a little competition?"
"Buffy," Angel said in a low voice.
"No, I'm tired of Miss Attitude here. It's not like I came to LA for the express purpose of causing problems between you and Spike. I didn't even contact either one of them." A thought occurred to her, it was childish really but she was feeling a little snarky. "Did Spike happen to mention that I kicked a god's ass?"
"You would not dare touch me," she said defiantly. The doubtful glance she sent in Spike's direction betrayed her lack of confidence, however. Spike merely shrugged with a nod of his head, as if defeating Glory had not been any big deal. "Surely it was a lesser god for a mere mortal to be able to do such a thing."
"You'd like to think so," Buffy said as she shoved her stake into the waistband of her Capri jeans.
"I do not like that you cause them pain."
"Yeah, well, feel my pain. Can you tell that they've hurt me too? I bet your hurt scale radar doesn't tell you that Spike spent three years trying to kill me or that I had to choose between sending Angel to hell and saving the world when I was seventeen years old. It doesn't tell you that I gave him my blood so that he could live even if it meant I would die. How about the fact I've died twice and came damned close a third time. I bet it doesn't tell you despite all of my power, all of the incredible gifts the Powers That Be gave me I couldn't save my own mother. Feel my pain, feel everybody's pain because we've all got it, it's a fact of life. I don't care where or when you were a god, you're not the god of me so don't talk to me in a tone that suggests I'm not worthy to lick your boots. I'm the slayer."
She turned to Angel then, having said way more than she had meant to. She was just tired of the attitude. "Can we get out of here? The nest is empty, I don't think there are any left."
"Yeah, of course," he said, sliding an arm around her waist. He drew her close and placed a kiss on top of her head. She drew away and glanced at him and saw it again in his eyes, respect for her. "Good night guys," Angel said as Buffy walked in the direction of her house. "What about your stuff?"
"I'll get it another time. I'm not in the mood to deal with her anymore."
"I'm sorry. Maybe I should have had us go by ourselves."
"No, it's okay I just can't handle her attitude. I know Spike's not happy, I know our doing whatever we're doing hurts him but I did not do it intentionally. He knew," she said softly and trailed off, unwilling to complete her thought.
"He knew you would always be mine?"
"Yeah," she whispered. "Pathetic, huh? You left wanting me to move on and I went through the motions but never really did it."
"I had to keep to myself for a while and do things for me. I was really going to try this time. Thus the going to school thing and all that. I wanted to give normalcy a chance."
"And what if I don't want you to give it a chance?"
"I still need to go to school, Angel."
"I understand that, Buffy, I'm not talking about your going to school or holding down a job. I think you know what I'm talking about."
"I want us to try again, have a relationship."
"I'd like that," she said sincerely and felt her heart and soul grow lighter as the weight of worrying over Angel not wanting her was lifted.
"Now, about this job."
"Come on, Buffy, there's got to be something you can do to earn a decent living."
"Sure, I'm doing it. It's only temporary, Angel, until I'm done with school."
"Buffy, you've got at least three years left."
"So you'll just have to keep your jealous streak in check. You've got a woman living in your house."
He sighed heavily. "True. And then there's this demon hunter I've got to find."
"If you want to start coming to the club you can," she said, realizing it was not fair to tell him to stay away when he had a job to do.
"I wouldn't let you stop me even if you said I couldn't," he said with a light laugh.
"When did you get so lighthearted?"
"It was either that or go nuts from being so serious all of the time. So I learned to laugh a little."
"I'm glad. You have a nice laugh."
"Thanks," he said. They stopped walking in unison and Angel kissed her. The streetlight spotlighted the reunited lovers for all to see.
Buffy gathered up her Egyptian princess costume peering into the stage lights as she did. It was one of her best tip earning costumes, which was why she had worn it tonight. Men liked the foreign exotic beauties for some reason. Cleopatra, The Mummy and all of that historical mumbo jumbo. Priscilla was already on stage, ready to dance. Her song would be queued up, the deejay waiting for Buffy to start to leave the floor. The dancers like Buffy who got lots of tips took longer to collect them and no one wanted to cut into a dancer's time on stage. Angel was out there somewhere, but she did not feel like getting chewed out for hogging stage time.
She changed as fast as she could, not bothering with a shower tonight and got her things ready. She took one last pass through her small dressing area to ensure she had everything. She wanted to leave as soon as they were done. Convinced she had everything she went to the club part of The Neon House for the first time ever. She realized too late that she had forgotten to take the jet black wig part of her costume off. She felt multiple sets of eyes following her progress into the club as she searched for Angel.
He was busy talking to Xybler when she finally picked him out of the crowd. Both were talking rather intensely. She wondered if Xybler was upset the investigation was taking so long. She took advantage of being able to watch Angel without his knowing. No matter where they were he always took her breath away and left her wanting more. She turned to walk away, not wanting to draw attention to Angel or herself unnecessarily. If Angel was trying to get information or talking business he did not need Buffy interfering.
"Cleo," she heard Angel's voice carry to her through the crowd. She stopped dead in her tracks, uncertain she wanted to be outted at the club anymore no matter the reason. There were lots of demons here tonight and each and every one of them would know there was a slayer in town.
"Here goes nothing," she muttered before turning to face Angel. She was not prepared for the look in his eyes and it caused her to take an unplanned step back. He did not look like a detective gathering information nor an evil vampire on the verge of exposing a slayer for who she truly was to a room full of demons. He looked like a man unexpectedly catching sight of the woman he loved. And the look was directed at her. It made her heart take flight. Had they been any place other than The Neon House she would have run and jumped into his arms. She was tempted to do it anyway but instead walked toward the two men. Her hormones and wanting to act on them to reward him for that look in his eyes were temporarily in check. "Hi," she said hesitantly.
"So, you're the slayer?"
She glanced at Angel for a moment before answering Xybler. She did not have any idea what was going on. He was not supposed to out her unless the guy was here. She was confused, but decided if Angel had told him there was no sense lying about it.
"I am," Buffy said proudly. She was getting used to taking claim to the title that she tried to hide from the past two years. She was gradually immersing herself into the life of a slayer once again. She and Angel patrolled alone. Illyria had seemed to accept Buffy so that was not really the problem. Buffy did not like being in the uncomfortable position of being around Spike any longer than she had to.
"You're lucky you've made me so much money these past months."
"I am," she said, her amusement at his statement coming through loud and clear. "I think you're the lucky one I came here to work for you and not kill you. It could be me killing off your customers. I could be working here just to have the demons and vampires come to me, makes for easier kills that way."
"We caught him," Angel said simply.
"You did?" she asked, thoroughly confused now. Why did he need to tell Xybler who she was if they had caught them without their act?
"Well, who was it? Where are they?"
Xybler glanced at Angel who answered her question. "It's taken care of."
"If he's human you better have taken care of it by calling the police."
"You can't call the police in a situation like this, Cleo," Xybler said. He was one of the most human looking demons Buffy had ever seen. She was not sure what kind of demon he was, but with the exception of his ears being pointed like she always thought elves ears were he was normal looking. She did not have Giles' knowledge or any books to look it up. "Things like this are better handled in-house, as it were, among our people."
"So they aren't human." Again the two men exchanged glanced. "Okay, what's going on here?"
"It was a man who was infected with aspect of the demon like you were."
Angel did not need to remind her of the time she thought she was going to have to live in seclusion for the rest of her life. Of course, that life could have included Angel so that might not have been so bad. She shook her head to get rid of those thoughts. Bad, Buffy, to be thinking about Angel like that when they were talking about a killer.
"Well, apparently when he found out he was infected after playing a game of Russian Roulette to see how many demons he could be with he went after all of the demon types he had been exposed to."
"Okay, gross much. I mean, eww," she said with a frown. "Let's just drop it. So, he's caught. Demons are safe again."
"Are they?" Xybler asked.
"I don't go hunting demons. I'm a vampire slayer, demons come with the territory but only if they're stupid enough to do things in front of me or are just obviously evil."
"So you didn't come here to learn about my customers, their habits, their names?"
"Of course not. I'm the Slayer not a murderer."
"Some might argue there's little difference."
"Yeah, well, I'm not here to argue with you or anybody else. I didn't choose the calling, it chose me."
"I know how it works, Cleo."
"Can we go now?"
"The slayer with a vampire. I've never heard of such a thing."
"What can I say? I'm crazy that way," Buffy said. "Can we go now then?" she asked Angel. She did not want to have to stay here any longer than she had to.
"Sure, I think we're done here."
"Yes, Randy has your money, Cleo. He had just gone to find you when you came out."
"I'll find him I'm sure."
Randy found her on her way to the dressing rooms and gave her that night's cut. She barely glanced at it before shoving it into the front pocket of her hooded sweatshirt. She felt Angel's eyes assessing the manager who had been the closest thing to a friend Buffy had the past few months.
"Hey, Cleo," he said as he gave her a once over that was neither innocent nor flattering. He quickly stopped, however, when a low growl was heard coming from Angel next to her. "Yeah, whatever. You find yourself in need of work, let us know."
"Thanks," she said offering him a weak smile.
"Good night then, doll," he said, giving Angel a curt nod as he walked off to do whatever it was he did. He probably thought Buffy had finally succumbed to the temptation of meeting one of the club's customers. She turned her attention to Angel who now knew the surprise she was going to give him tonight on their way home.
Tonight was her last night at The Neon House. Hopefully, it would be her last night ever having to take off an article of clothing to do a job. She had Angel now and earning unlimited amounts of money did not seem as important as it had when she first got the idea to strip. For the first time in her life, though, Buffy had been doing it. She had been living on her own and not just barely scraping by while doing it. Her life had not been in constant danger day in and day out for the first time in years. Those things had been important to her. What was more, she was proud of herself even if the job lacked respectability to some. She hoped never to see Randy or The Neon House again.
"I'll be right out," she said to Angel right away hoping he had missed what Randy had said. "I just need to get my things."
"What was that about?" Angel asked. No such luck! Of course he had caught it.
"I'll tell you on the way home, okay?" Her house had not been designed with vampires in mind. Her bedroom in particular was decorated with sheer white, lace curtains. Not exactly good for someone who had an aversion to sunlight, particularly since her room faced east. So Angel left before sunrise the nights he spent at her house, which had been all but one or two over the past month. She had no idea what to do if she wanted to spend an entire night with him except go to his house. Tonight she planned to do just that.
She had avoided seeing Spike for too long. If she kept doing it both vampires would wonder what she was trying to hide or avoid. She was not hiding anything. She had been incredibly happy the past few months, but was happier still to have Angel back in her life and to have his love unconditionally once again.
There were times like when they had a picnic in her back yard or went for a walk on the beach that she thought about Riley and the picnic and beach fun they had shared in the daytime. She wished she could share those things with Angel because they were fun, but he seemed to understand that she did not need those things. Hopefully, he was done making decisions for her.
"Ready." She offered him a smile as she took his hand.
"So, what was that about?" he asked again once they were outside and away from the club's neon lights that seemed to extend for blocks.
"I quit," she said simply.
"I can't say that I'm not ecstatic about that choice, but why?" He released her hand and slid his arm around her waist, tugging her close to him.
"Because I have the chance at real happiness and for once I'm not going to ruin it by doing something so stupid."
"What about rent?"
"I got a job waiting tables. It's not great, but it's a better place than the dive I worked at a few years ago."
"I'd say this calls for a celebration," he said far happier than she realized he would be by her decision.
"What kind of celebration?" she asked, thinking a night of dancing or something would be fun.
He drew her to him and his mouth found hers. He gave her a smoldering kiss, gathering her closer still as he caressed her bottom and upper thighs with his capable hands. Her heart started pounding as her excitement grew. His tongue found hers and her breath hitched at the joining of their two bodies, wanting so much more than just this tonight. He broke the kiss and nibbled on her lower lip, grazing it slowly, seductively with his tongue between nibbles.
Somehow while kissing her he must have spotted and flagged down a cab because suddenly there was one idling on the street in front of them. Angel broke the kiss and opened the door for her, not giving her a chance to ask questions or protest. He gave the cabbie his address and gathered Buffy into his arms again.
The entire cab ride to his house was spent kissing. Hands roamed freely over their bodies bordering on giving the cabbie a show. She was humming by the time they reached his house. He paid the driver and they got out of the cab. Buffy saw that he handed the cabbie a fifty dollar bill and wondered if he was as wound up as she was or if he was just normally so generous.
The cab pulled away and Buffy and Angel stood on the sidewalk outside his home continuing their passionate kiss. She was never going to get enough of him, there was no such thing as enough of Angel.
Angel kissed Buffy as a drowning man clings to a lifesaver. Nothing else mattered but this girl in his arms. His girl. She was his girl before being able to put a name with the face that had always been there in his dreams. She was his even when he had left Sunnydale seven long years ago. He had been unable to resist taking one last look so that he might bask in the light and the good that was Buffy for what he believed was the last time. He had given back his humanity so that she might live longer. It was her name that he whispered while envisioning sex with Cordelia when they tore his soul from his body.
She broke the kiss and a growl of protest erupted from his throat. It quickly turned to a cat-like purr when her lips trailed seductive kisses along his jaw, his ear, the side of his neck. She nipped him and took his flesh in between her teeth, swirling the bit of skin with her tongue before letting it go and moving onto another patch of skin.
Mindful they lived in a residential area he knew they had to go inside. He wanted to take her then and there. He could probably get away with it given the late hour but she deserved better. Years of wanting her but not being able to doing anything about it were about to come to a screeching halt, though it was not soon enough as far as Angel was concerned.
He had toyed with the idea that curse or not he would never achieve a moment of true happiness again. That curse and losing his soul would be on his mind preventing that. How could he ever truly be happy when he feared losing his soul? He had never put it to the test, though. It would hurt them both too much if he were to lose his soul again.
Her agile fingers started working the buttons on his black silk shirt and it was then he knew it was up to him to lead them indoors. He drew away, missing the feel of her mouth, her warm body against him already. He took both of her hands into his and brought them to his mouth. "We have to go inside," he whispered, his eyes focused on her as he brushed his lips along her knuckles.
"Sure," she whispered.
Angel did not need his heightened senses to know she was as ready as he was. He led her to the house, hoping as they crossed the threshold that Spike and Illyria were either gone or anywhere but the living room. He knew Buffy did not want to rush into sex but he did not want seeing them to be the thing causing them to have to abstain further.
It appeared it was his night to get lucky all the way around because neither Spike nor Illyria were anywhere to be seen as they walked to his bedroom. He almost felt like they were doing something clandestine as they went silently through the house.
He closed his door and tried to think of something to say to her. At the moment, anything reasonable escaped him. When it got down to it he had waited over seven years for this and he did not want to talk to her anymore. It appeared she was not looking for witty conversation, though, because she closed the distance between them almost immediately after the door closed.
"I know you haven't forgotten what comes next," she whispered, her eyes cloudy with desire. She resumed the task of unbuttoning his silk shirt and he just stood there, frozen in place as her hands worked their magic. All she had to do was touch him and he got aroused.
"Hardly," he managed to choke out as her lips closed over his Adam's apple.
"Good," she said in a purr.
His shirt all the way unbuttoned, she placed her hands against his bare chest and he felt as though he had been branded. Emotionally he had been branded by her long ago. He drew her to him suddenly, severely, hoping she did not hold him accountable for his actions just then. She had him on the verge of throwing her to the floor and they had not even started anything yet.
His mouth closed over hers, her hands skimmed up from his chest to his neck. She encircled him there, pressing her lithe, lush body into him and he was gone. Their mouths mirrored the eagerness the rest of their bodies felt. He sensed she felt the same urgency he did. He picked her up by placing his hands under her bottom and drawing her legs around his waist. She went willingly, without breaking the kiss to question his motives as he carried her to the bed.
She was looking up at him with complete adoration and trust in her eyes as he finished removing his shirt, tossing it aside carelessly. There was a time for being neat and tidy, this was not one of them. He would never get over the way she looked at him. The looks she gave him were usually his undoing, but he no longer had to worry about the repercussions of becoming undone around her. His slayer. His lover. His girl. Always she would be all of those things to him and more.
She giggled slightly as he moved to lie next to her on the king size bed. She looked perfectly at home on his black sheets. The color of her skin and hair offered a contrast of color he wanted to see there again and again. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing, just nervous I guess," she said turning onto her side. She ran a fingertip along the side of his face, the edge of his jaw, his throat and his collarbone. Her touch betrayed her experience at lovemaking, something that made Angel's heart heavy. What if her experience with others left him lacking? What if the expectation of it being as good as the first time was left her disappointed?
She must have read his mind or seen the doubt in his eyes, because she moved her carousing fingertip from his shoulder and upper arm to his mouth. "Stop thinking so much," she whispered.
He kissed her fingertip, snatching it up and nibbling on the tip realizing she was right. He could not dwell on what if's because then he would surely disappoint both of them. They had plenty of time to get acquainted with one another as lovers once again.
She was on top of him in a matter of seconds, the move so quick he barely had time to prepare for the extra weight of her body as she straddled him. She smiled almost wickedly as she crossed her arms over the front of her body. He was not sure what she was going to do at first, but understanding crossed his face when he saw her hands slide to the bottom of her shirt. She evidently had not cleaned up after doing her routine tonight like she normally did. He had not taken the time to notice until now. She still had her makeup on and her hair was still pinned up severely so that she could wear the jet black wig she had used.
Her shirt removed, she leaned down to kiss him, no barrier separating their upper bodies from touching skin to skin. He took a deep intake of breath at the contact, reveling in the warmth of her, the feel of her. "Am I dreaming?" he whispered into the kiss.
She pinched him followed by a light laugh, coupled with grinding her lower body against his. "Does that feel like a dream?"
"I think I need to make sure," he said. His hands went to her hips and he repositioned them both with ease so that he was now on top of her. His hands made quick riddance of her pants and panties. He had often wondered when remembering the day only he remembered if he was exaggerating her perfection, her beauty, his inability to put into words how awe inspiring the fact that she wanted to give her body to him. Tonight, he was glad to know that his memories, his images that he once thought had to be too good to be true did not do her justice.
She grabbed the top sheet with her left hand and began to bring it up, but Angel stopped her hand's progress in covering her up. "No," he said his voice sounding foreign and hoarse to his own ears. "Let me look at you." She blushed, and he could see full well that it was not just on her face.
He was ready and eager for her, but he needed to take the time to worship her as she deserved to be loved and worshiped. Even an ex-god like Illyria did not come close to being worthy of the things Angel wanted to do to Buffy to prove his love and devotion.
His hands skimmed every inch of her, caressing, teasing as he slid slowly, seductively over her every curve. He was committing every part of her, her every reaction, to memory. He leaned down to kiss her, wanting to taste her. His mouth then followed the path his hands had just finished taking, kissing, licking, nibbling every inch of her flesh. Little marks were left here and there as he progressed.
He saved the best for last. His mouth tasted her folds and he thought he had found true ambrosia. Her soft mews of pleasure told him that his attentions were most welcome. He wanted nothing more than to bring her pleasure, but when he felt her getting close as his tongue swept over her nub he drew back. He glanced at her briefly before removing a hand from her body to his pants, working the fastenings.
He was more than ready, she was too and once his pants were shed he slid his body so he covered her completely. His eyes met hers, closing only when he was at her entrance ready to enter her. He forced his eyes to open again, wanting to see her, watch her as they become one again as a man and woman were supposed to do. "I love you," he whispered as he slid inside of her welcoming body.
"Love you, too," she whispered. Her arms slid around his neck, drawing him to her for a kiss. He felt her respond, felt her body move beneath his drawing him deeper into her where he belonged. He thought briefly that he might just never leave this place, this bed, her body. He knew it was not possible, but as her tongue sought out his he briefly believed that anything was possible so long as she was with him.
Buffy stepped out of the shower and grabbed her pale blue satin barely-there robe from the hook on the back of the door. She entered her bedroom, toweling off her hair and could not help but spare a glance at the man sleeping on her bed. Instantly her dismay at only earning twenty-five dollars in tips that afternoon turned into a feeling of overwhelming warmth and happiness.
She had saved enough while stripping that she could take a twenty-five dollar day or two. Things like money did not seem to have as much importance to her as they did six months ago. Angel's presence in her life turned her attitude around. She knew no matter what he would stand beside her. For the first time since he had left Sunnydale, Buffy felt whole again, healed. She did not worry that she would lose the roof over her head or be stuck at a minimum wage job. She did not need Angel to make her feel whole, but without him a piece of her heart, her soul was missing.
Six months later she still could not believe that he was back in her life. It had happened so fast, almost as quickly as his leaving her years ago. Now that he was in her life again she did not feel as though she had to hold back from anyone again.
The thick draperies were one of a few changes made since he moved in. He had wanted black, which she agreed to for the bedroom. For the rest of the house they found a cream material that was thick enough to keep out the sun without making the rooms dark and depressing during the day.
The night they had made love at his house they both knew it would be stupid to keep two houses. Spike telling Angel he and Illyria were going to move out just set things in motion a little faster than they had planned. Instead of Spike and Illyria moving out, they remained at that house and Buffy's house was now a home. Their home. She loved the sound of that.
She returned her towel to the bathroom once her hair was sufficiently dry. She had studying to do so her intentions were to get dressed and go to the other room. She could not wait until the semester was done even if it had only just begun. She would have the whole summer off to be lazy and spend time with Angel without being so distracted all of the time. Studying could wait she decided and unfastened the robe letting it slide to her feet in a very small pile of blue satin.
"You're home already?" he said in a sleep-hazed voice.
She laughed lightly. "Already?" She pressed her body against his, loving the way they fit together. "It's after four o'clock, Angel."
"I guess I slept the day away."
She kissed his shoulder, tracing a light path along his spine with her fingertip. "Imagine that, it's like you're a vampire or something."
He rolled onto his back and she nestled herself into the crook of his arm, draping an arm over his chest. "What can I say? I was out late patrolling and then this nymph of a girlfriend I have wouldn't leave me alone until just before dawn."
"Faith was right."
"Slaying. It makes me hungry."
"I don't recall you eating food last night," he said proudly.
"I didn't say what it made me hungry for."
"Hmm, I suppose you got me there." He kissed the top of her head, his fingers playing with strands of her hair. "You tired?"
"A little," she whispered.
"Well, our reservations aren't for a while. So why don't you get some sleep."
"Are you going to stay here?"
"For a little while, but then I have to get up."
"Okay," she whispered, a smile on her face. The fingers resting against his chest drawing odd shapes and patterns on his chest were growing listless. Her eyes were getting heavy now that she was lying down. They had come home from patrolling and been like bunnies in bed until the sun rose. Her last hour at work had especially dragged by, the lack of tips did not help, but she did not regret one minute spent with Angel.
Angel treated her like a princess, which was fitting since he was her prince. He showered her with little gifts and words of love all of the time. Some gifts were of the slayage equipment variety. Some were of the bedroom variety. And some were things she could actually wear and use in front of anybody. She cherished each and every one of them.
She woke as the sun set, almost as if she was the vampire. Since Angel had been living here she had become hyperaware of the times the sun rose and set. His side of the bed was empty, the sheets and blanket bundled around her with care. She stretched and decided it was time to get up and get ready for their evening. She slid out of bed and sat at her vanity to fix her hair.
"I love a girl who puts her make up on naked."
"This whole lack of reflection thing is so not fair. You're lucky I didn't poke my eye out," she said gesturing to the eyeliner pencil she could have been using. She gave him a once over, contemplating whether she had time to act on the thoughts going through her mind. "Have you heard of knocking?" she asked.
"Not to get into my own bedroom."
"Fine," she said, going back to her hair. "Just be careful next time."
"I came to wake you. Will you be ready in time?"
"I'll be ready in about ten minutes." He had made dinner reservations for them at some posh restaurant she had heard of when she lived here but it had been way out of her parents' league.
"Me, too," he said and left the room for the spare bedroom where his clothes were. She vowed one day to make room for his things in her closet. He did not seem to mind so much and there were just so many things she would rather do than clean out a closet.
She slid into the low cut, form fitting gown. It was black velvet and had silver sequin piping accenting the cleavage and the high slit at her leg. It had cost way too much and it showed more skin than Angel was probably comfortable with given they were going out in public. She only turned twenty-five once so she figured it was worth it. The last time she had spent a birthday with Angel she had been seventeen and things had not turned out so well. Tonight everything about their past that was bad would be replaced with good memories.
"From here on out," she whispered as she touched up her lipstick and eyeliner. "There will be no more badness on Buffy birthdays."
She walked downstairs surprised to find the living room full of roses of various colors and balloons. She started crying, overwhelmed by his thoughtfulness. Things like birthdays probably did not matter to him anymore. And as much as she tried to be casual about it this one was special to her because he was with her. He positively took her breath away when he stepped out from the kitchen clutching a white rose in between the palms of his hands.
"You're stunning," he whispered as his eyes raked not once, not twice but three times up and down her body. His eyes turned cloudy with desire and she heard a low growl come from him.
She swallowed, not sure she could walk the rest of the way to meet him. The look in his eyes suggested conquering and destroying right there and then. "So are you. Everything," she whispered.
"It's nowhere near what you deserve, Buffy. I can't possibly give you that."
"This is wonderful. Perfect." She walked to him and kissed him deeply before drawing away. "Is this for me?" she asked as she bent to take in the rose's scent.
"I swear you bought out an entire florist. It's going to smell like roses in here forever."
"That's the whole point, isn't it?"
"I can take forever." She took the rose from his hands and draped an arm around his shoulder. He lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her senseless as his kisses often did.
A low whistle could be heard outside of Buffy's house where a lone figure stood in the shadows. He ran his fingers along the rim of his hat and glanced up. "You were scaring me there for a while," the man said as he peered into the window once more. The couple was unaware he was there. The Powers That Be could do that sort of thing. Finally, what he had started nine years ago was back on track. "Now you got nothing left to lose," Whistler said. He walked into the night satisfyingly whistling a jaunty tune.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com