Buffy woke the next morning to loud knocking at the door leading to Angel's room. Angel was asleep beside her, his arm possessively wrapped around her. She had forgotten what it was like to sleep next to him. He looked dead with the no breathing thing that vampires have going on. With the aid of her Slayer strength she managed to get out from under his grasp and padded to the door. The carpet felt plush under her bare feet and the spot in front of the fireplace was nice and warm. Tousling her hair as she opened the door, she was surprised to see Cordelia, Fred, Wesley and another man she did not recognize standing there. Wesley had a crossbow pointed at her heart, actually where her heart would have been were she Angel's height, the other three carried weapons, too. "What the hell," she asked still waking up.
"Is Angel with you?" Wesley asked.
"Yeah," she said a little put off that they would come traipsing into his private room. "He's sleeping, so was I for that matter."
"And he's still Angel?" Cordelia asked.
"As far as I know, I can wake him up and ask him if you'd like."
"No, no, it's all right," Wesley said. "Forgive us, Buffy, but Winifred said she saw you and Angel were rather close last evening and we wanted to make sure you were all right."
"She said you were kissing a lot," Cordelia added, as if Wesley's explanation had not painted a clear enough picture.
"So, in other words, you wanted to make sure he still had his soul and I wasn't dead in a pool of my own blood on my bed."
"Well, yeah, no offense, Buffy, but you two kissing is not exactly wise when it's been years since you've been together." Buffy imagined that was Cordelia's form of advice.
"Thanks, Cordelia, I don't think I would remember what happened the last time without you to remind me."
"Right, I suppose you would. I'm sorry, it's just I know how you two get around one another."
Four pairs of eyes shifted their attention past her and she turned to see Angel standing from the bed, slipping into the black silk shirt he had worn the night before. "Hey guys, what's up?" he asked, buttoning the shirt.
"They were making sure you're still Angel," Buffy said dryly, clearly not amused or overly pleased at the intrusion.
"So you decided to wake us up at eight in the morning to find out?" Angel asked, glancing at the four standing on the other side of the doorway bearing weapons.
"Well, I didn't think anything of it really," Fred admitted, "until there was no coffee made this morning. You always make coffee before you go to bed."
"I wasn't up all night like I normally am."
"I see that," she said and Buffy had to smile at her shyness.
"Okay, we've seen they're fine and Angel's still Angel, why don't we leave them alone," said the black man Buffy did not know. He was staring at Buffy, so much so that Buffy ran her hand along her hair wondering if she looked that terrible. She was wearing what she normally slept in, a pair of shorts and a camisole top so it's not like she was exposed or anything.
"Wesley, I'd like to talk to you if you have a minute and can stay." Angel asked.
Buffy could not quite get over the change in Wesley. The stuffy Englishman who had come to Sunnydale was not so obvious anymore. He was kind of cute now that he had let his hair down a bit. Angel apparently sensed her thoughts because she heard a low rumble coming from his throat. The others looked from her to Angel and back to her as she turned to face a game-faced Angel.
She smirked and reached to touch his face. "It's okay, baby, I haven't seen him since he left Sunnydale, cut me some slack for noticing he's changed," she said, running her fingertips along the ridges on his face. Her touch was light, soothing, almost as if she was petting him which she supposed she was in a way. This was his demon and she was trying to pacify it. She felt the weight of the four pairs of eyes on her back, but she did not care. Her eyes met his before she reached up to kiss him.
"He knows what you're thinking," the black man asked. She did not need to look to know which of the two men asked the question.
"Yeah," Buffy said softly, still caressing Angel's demonic face. "Come back to me, baby. There's no reason to be jealous of Wesley. We need his help, remember, so we don't want to scare him away."
"You were looking at him," he said gruffly.
"Well, sure I was, he was my watcher, remember? I haven't seen him in a while. You know he's not my type."
"Right, just like Finn wasn't your type."
"Exactly," she said with a smile. She ran her thumb along his lips, which met with a "Buffy, don't," from Wesley. "It's fine, Wesley. He won't hurt me."
"Buffy, you can't know that."
"I can know it, Wesley, and I do," she said and sure enough Angel's game face gave way to his human face. Buffy kissed him again lightly before turning to look at the others once again. Angel's arms went around her and she leaned against his chest. "It's nice to see you've changed, Wesley, LA has been good to you."
"Uh, right, thank you, Buffy. A pleasure to see you again, too. I was startled, but pleased of course, to hear you came back to us. The world, I mean," he said and Buffy chuckled lightly.
"Thanks, Wesley. I haven't decided yet how I feel about being back." She felt Angel's hold on her tighten. "Hopefully, you can help and I'll feel a lot better."
"Of course, I'll do whatever I can," he said simply.
"Cordy, Fred, Gunn, you can go man the phones. Anything comes in, let me know, I got a good night's rest and I'm up for some footwork today. How about you, Buffy?"
"Sure," she said with a shrug. "I'm always up for footwork. It comes with the Slayer package."
"And it's a nice package," the man Angel had addressed as Gunn had said.
"I'd be careful if I were you," Cordy said with that fake smile that Buffy remembered well. "You've never seen him with her, Gunn," she added as further warning.
"But his soul's intact," Gunn said.
"Dense much?" Cordelia asked. "The soul doesn't stop him from being possessive, you nitwit."
Angel seemed contented by contact with Buffy, but she decided perhaps it was best they get off the topic of her package and Angel's possessiveness. "I discovered after my friends left me to dig myself out of my coffin that the first instincts that kicked in were my Slayer instincts. Not my human instincts. I couldn't talk, couldn't see well, everything was in a fog, but I could still kick demon ass. I guess the rumor that I'm not entirely human after all is true."
"You had to what?" Angel practically roared.
"I told you that," Buffy said softly.
"No, you did not tell me that they left you to dig your way out, I would remember that and probably would have forgotten my vow not to hurt humans."
"It's okay, really. I don't know if I would have wanted them there honestly. When they found me after I'd gotten back to the house, they were all over me, surrounding me, talking at me. Spike was the only one who seemed to understand I didn't want to be bombarded with questions or offered pizza." She glanced at her now healed knuckles and sighed. "He just wanted to help me, fix my hands."
"I ought to rip their heads off," he said gruffly. "I'm glad Spike was there to help you. He was always good for taking care of someone in need, particularly someone he cares for." The last few words were strained, forced as if he was wrapping his mind around the concept of Spike claiming to have feelings for Buffy. But at least he did not go game face about it.
"Okay, this is getting us nowhere. Why don't you talk to Wesley while I call Willow? And it's probably best to lay off the ripping her head off statements until we know whether or not she can help."
"Right," he acquiesced. "There's a phone by your bed. Gunn, Cordy, Fred why don't you get to work."
"It's nice to see you again, Buffy," Cordelia said and Buffy wondered if the sincerity in Cordelia's voice was genuine.
"Thanks, Cordy, you, too," she said as Cordelia and the other two left Angel's room. "I think I'll hit the shower first. You did say something about a fabulous tub, right?"
"Yeah, take your time and enjoy," he said.
"Thanks, I'll only be a minute, especially if you're thinking of taking me along with you on a job, no need to get all prettied up just to hunt demons," she said. Buffy felt his eyes on her while she walked to get her shampoo and things. "I'll be out in a few."
"It's quite a surprise seeing Buffy," Wesley said once Angel had walked into his room, closing the door behind him.
"She looks good. Is she doing well?"
"I think so, yeah. A little unsure about things and not overly happy, not that I can blame her, but I think she'll be all right."
"Good. You wanted to talk to me?" Wesley asked while Angel closed the door leading to the hallway.
"Yeah," Angel said, taking a seat in his oversized armchair. He gestured for Wesley to take a seat as well. "I want you to look into making my soul permanent."
"Angel, do you think that's wise? I mean, the whole purpose behind your leaving Sunnydale was to give Buffy a normal life."
"And she doesn't want it, Wesley. She's an adult not a seventeen year old girl anymore and she still wants me. And I want her."
"We all know that, Angel, no big surprise there, but I still don't know if this is wise."
"Wesley, I'm not asking for your input here. Buffy wants to give us another chance, but she asked that I look into anchoring my soul."
"And if it can't be anchored?"
"She says she still wants to be with me, but I agree with her. If we're going to be together I should at least look into the possibility. It'd be one thing if I was a eunuch, but I'm not."
"No, of course not."
"I don't want to subject her to a life of forced celibacy if there is the chance I don't have to."
"And what's Willow for?"
"She did the restoration spell, so we figured maybe she could look into just what she did. Maybe it is already anchored, and that's why I didn't lose it last year."
"I'll do some research on my end, though I don't think your not losing your soul last year had anything to do with it being anchored, Angel. I'm glad you did not take that as evidence it was and do something irrational last night."
"I'm not stupid, Wesley," Angel said more abruptly than he meant to. "Let's keep this between us for now, until we know anything."
"Of course. You're sure you want to do this?"
"I have to try, Wesley. She said something last night that made some sense. I've been heading downhill fast, so obviously being away from her is not doing me any good."
"I can't argue with you there, I've been witness to your deterioration and I admit it is frightening. And as much as the Watcher in me rebels against the idea of the two of you together it seems that if the feelings are still there after your time apart it's perhaps wise to confront them and see them through."
"I guess that's what we're going to do; I just hope she doesn't regret it, particularly if there is no way to bind it."
"I'll find out, Angel, I assure you."
Angel stood from the armchair and walked to the door, opening it for Wesley. "Hopefully, I'll be a little better spirited around here now. I'm going to get dressed now I'll be out in a few minutes."
"Right, of course, I'm not used to seeing you waking up at this time of the day." Wesley stood and cleared his throat lightly. "I'll begin my research then."
Angel knocked on the bathroom door and received a "come in," so he entered, averting his gaze in case she was still in the tub. Not that seeing her nude form as she bathed was offensive, but it was probably wisest not to tip the scales too extremely at this point. "It's okay, Angel, I'm dressed, I am just doing my hair."
"Okay, good," he said, looking at her as he leaned against the doorjamb. She looked better than she did yesterday, brighter, less downtrodden. Was that because of him? Was he partially responsible for her depression? He hoped not, and if he was that was in the past now. "I wanted to take a shower."
"Oh, okay," she said, looking flustered. "Just let me know when you're done."
"You can stay if you want to, Buffy, you won't be able to see me in the mirror anyway," he said with a smirk. He certainly was not going to object if she wanted to turn around and look at him, but he suspected she would not. Oddly, she seemed just as innocent as their first time together despite knowing she had been with Finn since. It was nice she still had that quality to her.
"I, um, okay, just let me know when you're in the shower then," she said leaving the bathroom quickly.
Angel chuckled as he shed his clothes, ensuring his robe was on the hook just outside the shower stall in case he needed it and stepped into the shower. "You can come back in, Buffy," he called out and watched as she came into the bathroom, avoiding looking at the shower stall.
He tried talking to her, but she was quiet as if she was afraid to talk to him. It was sort of endearing, and part of the reason he had been attracted to Buffy to begin with. She had always had an innocence about her that Angel sensed was not false, and still had it despite what she had seen and experienced in her life. She was gone when he turned the shower off, so he skipped the robe and merely toweled off before heading to his room to dress. It had been a long time since he actually thought about what he was going to wear for the day. He decided on a crimson silk shirt from his highboy, one Buffy had always liked.
He had just finished tying his shoes when Buffy knocked on the door between their rooms. He stood from his bed and walked to the door, opening it. "You all ready?"
"Yeah," she said, pressing a hand against his chest, touching his shirt. "Did you wear this for me?"
He shook his head, smiled and then said, "yes."
"Tease. Are you trying to make it so I can't keep my hands off of you?"
"That was sort of the idea, yeah."
"Oh good," she said, leaning towards him to kiss him. She drew back too quickly for Angel's liking and it must have been apparent on his face, because she answered his question without him having to ask it. "We should probably leave the room now. At least for a little while. Some coffee and breakfast would be of the nice."
"Oh right, I wasn't even thinking about food. Sorry."
"It's okay, I wouldn't expect you to, being that you don't need to eat and all."
"But you didn't even have dinner last night or anything. I really do remember my manners, Buffy."
She silenced him with another quick kiss. "It's okay, really. Did you talk to Wesley?"
"Yeah, he's going to research it."
"And Willow said she and Dawnie would come up tonight," she said, taking hold of his hand. Her warmth was still a shock to him, almost new again. He had gone so long convincing himself he had to deprive himself of the warmth she had to offer him that he pushed to the back of his mind what she felt like. "To help with the research. I think she's going to see about getting Spike's chains, too."
He could hear her heartbeat pick up with those last words, which surprised him. He was not sure if the idea of the chains themselves created the reaction or just what the chains represented to their relationship. Finn had not struck Angel as the type to go for that sort of thing, though maybe he was different in the bedroom. He growled at the thought of anyone but him laying a hand on Buffy in that fashion and had to push the demon down. Angel was no stranger to various things that would probably make Buffy run in the other direction if she found out about them.
"It'll be nice to see Dawn. I didn't get down there after you died. I should have and really have no excuse, other than I just didn't know what to say to her."
"It's okay," she said as they headed toward the lobby. "I smell coffee."
"Wesley or Fred, they like their morning coffee."
"I'll have to thank them. Who's the other guy?"
"His name is Charles Gunn, but we call him Gunn. He's sort of a self-proclaimed slayer, but without the superpowers to go with the title. But he's good to have on my team."
"And Cordelia's your connection to the Powers That Be now?"
"Yeah," he said evenly.
"You've assembled quite a team. A former Watcher, a seer, two warriors. What's Fred?"
"She's a genius and she's learned to fight pretty well. She's human, but she helps more often than not."
"Who's that?" Gunn called from where he stood on the other side of the reservation desk.
"Oh yeah, that's my girl, learning to fight the demons."
"We can always use an extra hand," Buffy admitted. "Anya never has gotten with the slaying, though. She tries, she just," Buffy shrugged. "Doesn't have it. Xander does fairly well, and Willow, she has this mind communicating gig going on. I guess when I was, well, gone, she would stand on top of a crypt to get an aerial view of the cemetery and tell the gang where the baddies were."
"She's gotten that powerful," Wesley asked, coming out of the kitchen sipping a cup of coffee.
"Yeah," Buffy said simply. "The fact that she brought me back might have given you a clue to that, Wes."
"Right, I guess I wasn't thinking when I said that. Would you like a cup of coffee, Buffy?"
"I'll get some in a minute, thanks and Willow will be up tonight, so you'll get to talk to her yourself."
"Willow's coming," Cordelia said. "What is this, a Sunnydale reunion? Please tell me Xander isn't coming with his little honey."
"No, and they're not together anymore. At least I don't think so," Buffy said with a shrug. "I haven't really taken the time to ask. She sort of creeps me out sometimes. Though she did help me with my bill situation, she's good with money I'll give her that."
"Well, your bill situation would be taken care of permanently if you move into the mansion like I want you to do."
"You're giving her the mansion?" Cordy asked and Angel had to chuckle.
"Well, for now I'm just trying to talk her into moving into it. It's standing empty and she wouldn't have to get a job then, or at least she wouldn't have to take the first job that's offered her."
"And you're arguing about this, Buffy? No offense, but you never were very bright. You'd rather stay in the house your mother died in then live in that huge place. Just the decorating ideas alone for all those rooms would be enough to make me high."
"I'm thinking about it," Buffy said and Angel could feel her arm tense. She released his hand and smoothed down her pants. He had hoped she would wear a skirt, he liked her in skirts, but he imagined the idea of running through the sewers might have influenced her choice in clothing. The white peasant like top she wore was low enough that it gave him clear view of the fact she was wearing his cross. It left her shoulders bare, which Angel did not mind at all. He liked being able to see as much of Buffy as he was allowed to see.
It was at times like this, when she was just standing beside him, that he had to remind himself how powerful a woman she was. No one would know it to look at her; she was a prime example of how deceiving looks could be. As good as Gunn was, Angel would choose Buffy to fight beside him and cover his back any day. And that was based on her abilities before he left Sunnydale; chances are she had improved since then.
"Hopefully, she'll be doing it and not thinking about it by the time she finds her way back down to Sunnydale," Angel said, leaning against the reservation desk. He crossed his arms over his chest and regarded her for a minute. He had feared when she arrived the prior evening that something was wrong, he certainly had no idea this was how her visit was going to turn out. He had Buffy again; it was almost too good to be true. Maybe it was, but Wesley was right he had to let this play out this time. He had tried to take the high road once before and while he might not have lost his soul Angel knew he had been slipping of late. The soul alone did not stop Angel from letting the demon have free reign, it was Angel's desire to fight the good fight that did it. And depriving himself of the one bright spot in his life had muddied the waters as to just how much he desired doing good.
"So," Buffy said and Angel almost felt bad for her. Cordelia and Wesley already knew Buffy so they were not scrutinizing her, but Gunn and Fred had never met Buffy before. Neither was being discreet with their curious glances. "Want to train?"
"What?" Angel asked.
"You heard me. You're up, I'm up, do you want to train?"
"Don't you want some breakfast?"
"I'll eat after we're done, or I'm done if you don't want to. I assume you have a place to train."
"Yeah, we converted one of the lounges into a training room," Gunn volunteered. Angel was still trying to figure out what she was doing. Was she trying to prove something? Then again, maybe she just wanted to spar, it was possible.
"Well, let's go," she said, clapping her hands. "I haven't trained since I've been back. Giles seemed to not want to push me and he's not quite the same as sparring with you."
"Sure then, let's go. Do you want weapons?"
"You guys spar with weapons?" Fred asked and Angel chuckled.
"Nah, not this time anyway," Buffy responded overlapping Fred's question. "Maybe later, it's been a while since we've sparred I wouldn't want to hurt you."
Gunn coughed. "You hurt him?"
Buffy frowned and glared at Gunn. "Uh, yeah."
Angel pushed off from the counter, deciding it was probably time to separate Buffy and Gunn for now. "Let me show you to the training room, you can warm up for a bit while I tend to things out here."
"Great," Buffy said and sent him a look of gratitude. Okay, she was uncomfortable, not unexpectedly given she was the outsider of the group rather than the other way around. "Lead the way."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com