Word Count: 7,506
Angel remained in the alley for a good twenty minutes after Buffy left. He’d gotten the woman in trouble out of there without distracting her. As tempting as it was to say or do something when he first realized it was her, he didn’t want it on his conscious she got hurt. Or worse, dead, because he distracted her even for a moment from the fight she was in.
He hadn’t responded when she called out because he was still shell-shocked at seeing her after all of these years. She looked good, better than really because she looked the same as he remembered the last time he saw her. He couldn’t even be sure that he’d seen her and not some other slayer just superimposing Buffy’s face onto her. He’d done that with human women more than once over the years, sending him into an emotional state for a while after he realized what he had done.
That was why he’d stayed out of view, afraid it wasn’t really her. He hadn’t been in Orlando real long, but the town needed help. A slayer being here was a step in the right direction. He’d have called Giles himself and requested help if he thought the watcher would listen to him.
That brought him to the second reason he’d stayed out of view. He had no idea what Buffy thought of him. The last contact he had with her group he’d been told in not so many words that he was persona non grata. They couldn’t trust him. They were not sure he was on their side.
As if none of them had ever done something questionable in the name of good. Hell, they’d stood by and let him deceive Faith into thinking he lost his soul again. Evidently, that was okay because he was helping them, they were in on the plan.
Something had brought him to that alley. It wasn’t an area he’d been prone to going before being an overall decent part of town, but something had drawn him there. Just as had happened when Whistler had brought him to Los Angeles all those years ago, his life was thrown off-kilter again. In an instant, barely a blink of an eye, he remembered what she’d made him feel in that moment. Evidently still felt. A decade of not seeing or even hearing anything about her hadn’t diminished her effect on him.
He doubted very likely anything ever would.
One woman in two hundred fifty plus years.
They were just a temporary balm to prove to himself (and others) that he’d moved on. That he could at least try to find it again. Who wanted to spend eternity utterly alone? He’d known, though, all long it was futile.
There was no other for him. Ever.
When she was gone? Taken from this Earth and him?
Well, when that time came he knew he’d have a void the size of the Hyperion in his soul for the rest of his days. He’d contented himself with that fact long ago, knew she was still alive despite not physically knowing for certain. He’d know if she was gone. He’d feel it down to his core. That part that animated him would be incomplete because since before he even knew she existed he was certain she’d been the reason for all of it. Darla. Romania. The rats. It had all led him to where he was supposed to be.
She was here now, though.
From what he gathered that night, she wasn’t just passing through or here on vacation. Why would Giles send her here instead of someone younger? Clearly, she could handle herself, but she was in her thirties now. Not that he’d noticed a slowing in her movements or anything.
He could swear she was the same woman he’d seen at the vineyard defeating Caleb. He hadn’t seen her fight since. She’d gotten better, something he hadn’t believed possible. She was smooth, graceful. She’d always been that, once she’d gotten the hang of it anyway. No, there was more now. A confidence that bespoke experience, more than experience really, contentment if that was a proper thing to feel under the circumstances. Somewhere along the line from when he’d last seen her, she’d given in to what and who she was and it was obvious. She showed no fear either, something vamps smelled and fed off of like a drug.
No one seemed to know anything about a slayer being in town. He’d asked around since that night discreetly. He was new in town and had been living off the grid for years so people knowing a vampire with a soul was in the area wasn’t a concern. He was nowhere near the state Willie had found him in almost two decades ago but as far as interaction with the public. Well, he didn’t do it any more than he had to. Butchers were about the extent of it lately.
So it was easy enough to visit bars that catered to demons and vampires and ask around about what the pickings in Orlando were like. He wasn’t the only one who’d found their way to Orlando. Tourists who wouldn’t be missed for a while. Vagrants migrating south for the warmer climate. Transplants. College students on vacation. The offerings were endless despite being smaller than cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.
He returned to the alley where he’d seen her more than once, but saw no evidence she’d come back. Not that there would be any if she’d been there and dusted vampires.
And so that left legwork, using the detective skills he’d honed in Los Angeles. He hadn’t used them much since but the knowledge was still there, easy enough to access once again and dust off. Despite being rusty from years of lack of use he cracked his knuckles and got to work. Hard to believe he was the same guy who’d had to ask Willow to research that Fordham character. He knew the ins and outs of the ‘net as well as anyone and had resources available to him not many others had access to with his active PI’s license.
How difficult could it be to find one Buffy Summers?
He lived in an abandoned warehouse that he’d slowly converted to his personal domain. The upper level that once served as storage was now his apartment. Here he had everything he needed to exist, work out, and patrol. As if designed with his living there in mind, the storage area had no windows so it was perfect for him. Whenever he craved a view he went downstairs.
The main level he’d left pretty much as it was when he found it. The lone exception being one section he’d turned into an office in the event he ever decided to embark on Angel Investigations again. He was a long way from doing that, but he had the paperwork and the tools to do it if he decided. He’d even gone so far as tinting the windows in the office so that he could be there during the day.
He tried not to think of Doyle or Cordelia when he’d been setting up the place. While he wasn’t surrounding himself with people here and hadn’t done that since his battle with the Senior Partners, he knew they’d both be happy to know he wasn’t giving up on interaction with humans entirely.
He just wasn’t ready to extend himself. A decade might seem like a long time to a human, but to a vampire it was nothing. Some might think that would mean he’d get over the loss of so many quickly because of that. He’d been the cause of so many deaths over the years that to lose even a few under his command didn’t sit well with him.
Illyria was still out there, walking around in Fred’s body, but she wasn’t Fred and Angel knew it. What was more Illyria knew it. It got to the point neither could look at the other without that knowledge silently communicated between them. The former god and Spike had long ago left Angel to go off and do their own thing. That had been fine with Angel. After losing Wesley and Gunn, Angel didn’t want to be around anyone else. He didn’t want to be responsible for any more blood on his hands.
As he searched various databases he had access to, he wondered at the wisdom in seeking her out. A month had passed since he’d seen her. He remembered the moment he realized he could be a hindrance to her rather than a help. He’d been tempted to jump in, be her white knight, and save the day. Clearly, she’d been doing all right without him and his help. She was alive and well, which was more than he could say for anyone on his team.
The human ones anyway. Connor was the only exception and Angel still wasn’t completely certain his son was human. Not one hundred percent anyway.
He sipped on his warmed blood, tapping frustrated fingertips on the desk as he thought of what to try now. His search of databases throughout the state of Florida netted him nothing. No property, no vehicles, no driver’s license, and no criminal record. He’d checked the last thinking there might be a chance he could find her that way when nothing else had given him results.
He’d even gone down to the courthouse in the event there was something more recent on paper that hadn’t been entered into computer databases yet. Nothing there either.
So what could he do?
He didn’t believe it was a coincidence running into her in the alley that night. Both of them being in Orlando at the same time could perhaps be dismissed as one. Not the alley at that precise moment.
Someone, something had brought them here at the same time after all of these years and he wasn’t going to give up until he found her again. If only to talk to her, reassure him that it really had been her that night in the alley.
“If she tells you she doesn’t want to ever see you again?”
A possible outcome. He knew he had been on the Council’s Top Ten Least Trusted list, but he’d fallen off the grid after he took down the Senior Partners same as her after she’d finished gathering her slayers. So, maybe the Council no longer saw him as a threat.
He’d done his best to put her out of his mind when no one had shown in that alley in LA to help him. While he hadn’t expected it, he had hoped somehow that she’d know he needed her and come even without Giles taking his calls. She hadn’t and while he hadn’t felt betrayed exactly he knew going out and finding her after that wasn’t wise.
He couldn’t stop though. No friends and no job to keep him occupied left him time to obsess. To research. It took over a month, but finally he started hearing rumblings in the underground bars he visited about a slayer being in town. The lesser demons, those who were weak or weren’t outright evil and didn’t want to risk being caught in the crossfire, began to migrate elsewhere. Hellmouths weren’t so appealing when they were guarded by someone with the birthright to kill you.
He could not have known when he started searching for her after that night in the alley that he wouldn’t be the one to find her at all. It would instead be the other way around.
It happened so fast. He was caught off guard because no one had given any indication that he’d been making any waves with his questions. Told to meet someone for information, Angel found himself abducted. Sack cloth over his head, chains designed to hold someone preternatural securely around his wrists behind his back he was pushed into a van and transported away from the bar.
There was no powerbase in Orlando that Angel had heard about, but he quickly discovered when he was at last freed of his head covering that there was a rather large nest of vampires with one clearly in charge.
Days. He could tell by the hunger in him they’d been holding him for days. When being held with a sack over your head it was difficult to tell time, but he was weak. Famished. If he was a vamp that fed on humans there’d be a bloodbath when he got free the bloodlust in him would be so strong.
“Angelus,” the other vamp said. “You’ve been drawing attention to us with your questions.”
“I haven’t done anything. Questions aren’t a big deal.”
He stepped into the light, knife in hand and Angelus recognized the vamp. He hadn’t seen him in over a century, but he had been one of the Master’s. Had he been in Sunnydale when the Master tried to rise? Angel didn’t know, he certainly hadn’t seen them all and once the Master had been killed a lot fled the area. Most remaining after that left once the Anointed One was destroyed and Spike took over.
Despite the demon inhabiting them, many vamps still required the structure of a hierarchy type society. Being told what to do, having someone to be responsible to. Without his soul, Angel had surrounded himself with minions, those willing to do his bidding. Not that he didn’t enjoy getting his hands dirty himself from time to time.
“What do you know of Orlando?”
“Nothing,” Angel replied.
It was true. He’d come here after hearing reports about an apparent sink hole. Sink holes happened all of the time in Florida, so that in itself wasn’t a big deal. But the opening of the sink hole seemed rather suspect as from everything Angel had found, the particular area it had opened up in was stable. A quick search indicated with the sink hole opening there was an uptick in violence and no matter what the streets department seemed to do the sink hole wouldn’t stay permanently closed. Sometimes hours would pass, sometimes days, in one case it had been close to a month, but always it re-opened. And always there were casualties.
It wasn’t until he’d gotten here, investigated it himself that he realized he was dealing with another hellmouth. Smaller than the one in Sunnydale, but a hellmouth just the same that required protection. And just like the one in Sunnydale, Cleveland, and others around the globe it drew demons like a magnet.
“See,” the vamp said, tracing the tip of the knife along Angel’s jaw and throat. “I don’t believe you. You come here and not too long after that there are reports of slayers in the area.”
“I didn’t bring them.”
“You were in love with one. Helped her kill us.”
“That was a long time ago,” Angel said.
“You didn’t pay your respects.”
“I don’t involve myself in vampire affairs or politics.”
“No, you just kill your brethren.”
“You are not my brother.”
“Once upon a time I was.”
“Like your involvement with the slayer?”
“Yes,” Angel said.
“I have no reason to lie to you.”
“He’s just biding time until they get here. He was probably set to meet them with information.” Angel couldn’t see who spoke, but the voice wasn’t one he recognized.
“They would have come by now if they were waiting for me,” Angel said, not even sure who they was.
Had it been Buffy that night or another slayer that looked like her? No records in the state of Florida system seemed to indicate he’d been wrong. He was certain it was her if not for the fact she looked younger than she should, given the time that had passed since he’d seen her last.
Days it continued. Torture. Torment. Hearing the vampires feeding on humans out of sight but within earshot. Helpless to do anything to stop them. Envious in a way, because at least they were getting sustenance where he was allowed none. He was weak and his opponent was powerful. He was an old one as Darla and the Master had been. Angel came to wish the knife his captor wielded would be shoved through his heart so it could be over. The Powers That Be help him, but he didn’t want to endure this endlessly. He’d gone through it once before in Acathla’s realm. Did he really deserve it a second time?
He’d lost track of time. So weak from lack of feeding he could barely sit up, he crawled to his prison cell’s door when he heard the sound of fighting on the other side of it. Panic was heavy in the air, even in his current state he could feel it. The vamps were screaming frantically. Fear was in the air now, too. He’d say endless, but it wasn’t and eventually the sounds of screaming dwindled down to a dull roar. They were being defeated.
Someone (Buffy?) had finally come. He tried to gather the strength to pull on the chains that bound him to escape and join in the fight going on beyond the door, but he had none. That bit of exertion was the last straw for Angel as his cell’s door diminished from his view, fading from brown to gray to complete black.
And then nothing. Not even hunger possessed him.
It had been a while since Buffy had fought a vamp this tough. They just didn’t make them like this in St. Louis. She wasn’t sure that was a good thing. All she knew was that Tasha wouldn’t have stood a chance on her own.
It had been since Dracula and the Master before that Buffy had seen vamps with parlor tricks as she called them. From the banter she’d exchanged with the one in charge she came to realize there was a reason for that. He was one of the Master’s.
She’d never asked Giles about that. Why some vamps could do things that others didn’t seem to have the power to do. And why she had become immune to them once the Master had killed her. She’d sort of forgotten what with dying and all, it had slipped her mind.
He’d been more than surprised his tricks hadn’t worked on her, because they’d certainly stymied Tasha and gotten her more than a little wounded.
Eventually, the nest was empty. The main bad guy taken out. Others had fled. They’d come back, and so would Buffy to winnow them out until they moved to some place else.
First things first, she ensured Tasha was alive before setting about checking the rooms in the nest. Judging by the locks on this side of the doors she didn’t think the occupants were here by choice.
Ten of the rooms had someone in them. Six were dead, two of them resulting in Buffy having to do a beheading to stop them from rising. Three were passed out and badly wounded but still alive.
And the last room?
Buffy stared, certain she was seeing things, having a dream, or something because there was no way Angel was here. She bent to check for any signs of life. Obviously, he was still alive in the vampire manner of speaking or he’d be dust.
Tasha snuck into the room. She probably hadn’t really snuck; Buffy just wasn’t paying attention due to the shock of seeing him again after all of these years causing her to let her guard down.
“Why are you waiting?”
“For what?” Buffy asked.
“To stake him.”
“I’m not staking him, Tasha. He’s chained up.”
“The police and an ambulance will be here soon.”
“I know,” she said, using her axe to get Angel out of the chains as quickly as she could. “Grab his feet,” she said as she reached for his torso.
“Buffy,” Tasha said and Buffy knew what the other slayer was thinking without her having to say a word.
“You’d be dead if it weren’t for me and you’re going to question me on this.”
“He’s a vampire.”
“I know very well what he is and what I’m doing. If you’re not going to help me then get out of my way.”
Whatever the reason, Tasha helped Buffy carry Angel out to her SUV. They got out of there minutes before the authorities arrived. Buffy didn’t like sticking around in situations like this. Not everyone believed. Some were doubters and some just denied what they’d seen was real. There were some that did believe but did not believe in slayers. She had no authority or rapport here in Orlando so anonymity was their friend. She wasn’t even sure how open Orlando’s police force was about the preternatural problem. Not all forces were as open as St. Louis, this Buffy knew first hand.
Neither slayer spoke as Buffy drove from the scene. She checked her rearview mirror frequently not just to see if they were being followed, but also for any signs of life in the back of her SUV. She dropped Tasha off at her own vehicle, knowing whatever she did with Angel she couldn’t involve the other slayer.
“What are you going to do with him?” she asked once out of Buffy’s vehicle.
“I’m not sure but I couldn’t just leave him there. Paramedics can’t help him and who knows what they’d do to him.”
“He’s a vampire.”
“Yeah,” Buffy said.
“Buffy, I think this is a mistake.”
“Then report me to Giles. Do whatever makes you feel better, but don’t call me the next time you need help cleaning out a vamp nest because you know you’re in over your head. I didn’t get any help.”
“And I didn’t ask for this,” the younger slayer lashed back.
Buffy gritted her teeth, fighting back the retort that was on the tip of her tongue. There was no use arguing so she had to hold herself in check. Buffy hadn’t asked for this either. Any of it. She’d done what she had to in order to save the world. She’d do it again in a heartbeat. Whether they understood, she knew exactly what each and every one of them was going through. She still remembered vividly the day outside of Hemry she got called. She’d remember it forever, she was sure of it. Witnessing her first vampire rising from a grave and the staking that soon followed, not that it had been pretty. These girls at least had help, people on their side to train them. Buffy hadn’t had anyone but a cryptic Watcher who didn’t feel that he owed her anything by way of explanation beyond it was her destiny.
“Close the door,” Buffy said not wanting to argue about this tonight. Stepping on the accelerator once Tasha had done just as Buffy asked and slammed the door she drove not knowing where she was going. The fact that no sound was coming from the cargo area made her nervous. Shouldn’t he be waking up by now if he’d been knocked unconscious or hurt or something?
She flipped open her cell phone and called home.
“I’m going to be a little late. Like maybe all day late. I’m fine, though, so please don’t worry.” She disconnected, knowing Dawn wouldn’t get the message for a few hours yet.
There was a time years ago that she wouldn’t have thought to check in. She knew her mom, Giles, and friends worried, but it was part of the Slayer package. Her life with Steve had changed all of that. She understood now what they had all gone through, wondering when sunrise came and there was no sign of Buffy if she was dead in a ditch somewhere. Or worse, in someone’s lair being turned.
And so she knew a phone call was warranted telling her sister that she was alive and well.
She had no idea what to do with him. She drove around Orlando for over an hour and when he still didn’t wake up knew she had to do something. No sound, no movement. Nothing. And the sun was due to rise any minute. If she knew the area better she would have had a plan in mind beyond driving to a motel not far from her house.
She paid for a room with westerly exposure and then went about getting him out of the back of her SUV by herself. No easy task when he was dead weight like this, but she managed. She wondered, not for the first time during her span as a slayer, how people without slayer strength transported bodies in the commission of crimes.
Hours she sat there, staring at the bed he was resting on for any signs of life. Her phone rang once and she talked briefly to Dawn, assuring her she was all right and that she’d explain later.
She must have dozed off in the chair, hard to imagine because it wasn’t comfortable in the least, but the next thing she knew the sun was about to set. Angel was still not moving. She remembered how weak Spike had been not feeding for long periods of time when he returned to Sunnydale with a soul.
Only thing she was fresh out of blood or little critters to give him. If he wasn’t awake how was she going to get him to feed on something anyway?
“I hate this,” she said, walking to the bathroom to splash some water on her face. She had to think. She couldn’t stay here with him endlessly and she didn’t know anyone in town who could help him. So, that left her and only her.
She let her hair down, running her fingers through it before refastening it into a ponytail. Fingertips grazed the spot on her neck only a select few knew the truth about how it got to be there. Steve knew the truth, just not exactly who Angel had been to Buffy. She hadn’t lied just omitted the part of her life’s history where she’d been in love with a vampire. Steve wouldn’t have understood what made Angel, and later Spike, different.
She knew what she had to do then. She walked to her slayer bag and withdrew a dagger before walking to the bed. She had no idea if this would work or whether he would drain her dry if it did, but she had to try. She couldn’t sit here forever waiting for him to wake up, and needing to feed was the only reason she could think of stopping him from waking up.
She hissed from the searing pain of the blade as she drew it across the flesh of her arm, hoping it was deep enough. She brought her now bleeding wrist to rest over his mouth making sure her aim was accurate. After a few minutes she saw his throat move as he swallowed. That gave her hope this was working. She rubbed her wrist around his mouth, coating his lips with her blood. She hoped that would encourage the demon’s survival instincts to kick in.
She cried out a second time as fingers topped with claw-like nails gripped her wrist and he clamped down for all he was worth with his fangs. She groaned, biting her lower lip to stifle any noise someone on the other side of the wall might hear as she felt him sucking greedily at the wound she’d made.
The growl should have frightened her. She had no idea if he had his soul, but suspected he did or he wouldn’t have been locked up in a cell. Instead, hearing the low growl coming from his throat as he fed reassured her that he was merely hungry and she’d done the right thing.
In a flash, faster than she would have thought possible considering how unconscious and just lying there he was moments ago he released her wrist and was on top of her. His body heavy on hers, fitting intimately over her with an ease that should have made her uncomfortable. At least under ordinary circumstances it should have.
“Angel,” she managed to get out before his mouth was on hers. It took her a few seconds to realize he wasn’t kissing her. She must have bit her lip too hard and drawn blood while he was feeding from her wrist because he was licking and worrying her there as if he thought he’d get a treat out of it if he continued.
It’d been years since she’d been up close and personal with a vampire and she’d never kissed Angel or Spike after they’d gotten done drinking blood. So, tasting her own blood on his lips as he fed on her there was odd to say the least. She tried to be grossed out as she had been seeing Spike lick his own wounds clean, but she knew the demon was only thinking of survival and it smelled a freshly opened wound.
He hadn’t taken near as much as he had after Faith poisoned him, so while she was feeling a little lightheaded she wasn’t a weak kitten either. She took hold of his head, tugging him away from her. He fought, but not too hard. She didn’t want to make him mad. A mad hungry demon was not a good thing.
Silence. He nuzzled against her neck. At least that was what she thought he was doing until she felt the tip of a fang brush against the scars from the last time he’d fed off her. It was tempting to close her eyes and let him take whatever nourishment he needed, but she knew if he was strong enough to overpower her as he was just now he was okay enough to stop.
“Mine,” he murmured as she felt his fangs pierce her neck.
She tipped her head back, unable to stop herself from giving into the feeling that washed through her as he fed from her there. She knew it was nothing more to him than his survival instinct kicking in, but damn it all if it didn’t affect her the same as it had the first time she’d let him feed off of her.
Eventually, not longer than maybe five minutes had gone by, he stopped of his own accord. His mouth still at her neck, a fang grazing her skin but she didn’t get the impression he was looking to find another pulse point to feed from. She felt his breath there, warm against her now achy and sensitive skin. This time she didn’t imagine the nuzzle and her arms went around him instinctively. Years, more than a decade, and he still made her feel things she had no business feeling.
He was suckling the spot now. It felt strange to say the least, different than when he was full-on game face, fangs imbedded in her skin. No less arousing, though, that was for sure. He stopped, thankfully, because Angel arousing her was not what the world needed right now.
“How did you know?” His voice was barely a whisper, but so close to her ear as he was at the moment she heard him just fine.
“Where to find me?”
“I didn’t. I mean, patrols led to that nest. It took Tasha and me over a week to find a vampire dumb enough to lead us to it.”
“Thank you,” he whispered, hugging her so tight he might have crushed her if she was human.
“You’re welcome. How long have you been there?”
“I don’t know. A week, ten days, maybe two weeks.”
“No blood that whole time?”
“No. I saw you a while ago and I was asking questions, trying to find out if it was really you.”
“You saw me?”
“Yeah. One night in an alley. You stopped three vamps from making a snack out of a woman.”
“You were the other vamp,” she said. It wasn’t really a question. She understood why he wasn’t quick to show himself if he wasn’t certain he’d seen her.
“Yeah. I was so surprised, wasn’t sure it was you so didn’t say anything.”
“So, you went around asking questions, drew attention to yourself, and got yourself kidnapped?”
“Yeah, they really don’t like mentions of a Slayer in town.”
“No, I know they don’t. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for it to get around.”
They were quiet for a few minutes, which made Buffy acutely aware of the fact he was still on top of her. Obviously she wasn’t the only one who still felt things despite years passing since the last time they were in this type of situation. His reaction was a little more obvious than hers, so she hoped he wasn’t aware. She doubted it with his acute sense of smell, he was just too polite to do or say anything to let on he knew.
She took what he was offering. Closeness. Intimacy. Love. She’d gone without those feelings for a while now, so to be this close to someone like this was overwhelming. She couldn’t help but remember vividly how Steve felt on top of her, his body pressed intimately against hers as Angel’s was now. She hadn’t even realized she missed this. So focused on trying to be normal for her kids and what losing their father meant to them that she hadn’t really allowed herself to feel what losing him did to her.
Her fingers went through his hair, Dawn’s words about trying to move on coming back to her. It would be so easy to give into this moment, the familiarity that was Angel despite the years since their last kiss. She rubbed her cheek against him, kissing his ear. She stopped there, though. She wasn’t a girl anymore, wasn’t in a bad place where sex with him for sex’s sake was appropriate. Not with Angel. Besides, she still remembered her walk down the path of sex helping her to feel and she was not going to go there again. If, when, she had sex again it was going to be because she was ready. Mentally as well as physically. There was certainly no question she was ready physically. Her body was telling her none too subtly that Angel would feel good.
She felt tears stinging her eyes as her breath hitched. She could not cry now. Not here. Not in front of him. He’d know something was wrong and she wasn’t in the frame of mind to explain anything to him. Not now. He had his soul, but that didn’t mean he was definitely on their side. She’d let herself cry later, at home in the privacy of her bed where no one else would see or hear her let loose.
“Um, Angel,” she whispered. Her voice sounded normal to her. She hoped it did to him as well.
“Can you, I mean are you strong enough to get up now?”
She blushed, knew her face had to be the color of a tomato when she realized what it probably sounded as if she was asking.
“Off me. Are you strong enough to get off me?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure if you’d taken enough.”
“I don’t need much of your blood to make me strong.”
“Really? I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t remember from the last time,” he said, not sounding happy about there being a last or this time. He moved beside her, but she could tell he didn’t want to any more than she did. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Well, I wasn’t sure what was wrong with you and I didn’t want to risk leaving you alone to try to find a butcher who would sell me blood. It’s not like I haven’t done it before.”
“I know and you shouldn’t have done it then either.”
“You’d be dead.”
He shrugged, hands going behind his head as he stared at the ceiling above the bed they were on.
“How long have you been here?” he asked. Obviously, he wanted to change the subject from the Buffy donating her blood to him subject. Fine by her, because she didn’t want to think about what it all meant.
“A few months. There’s a…”
“You knew?” she asked.
“Heard reports of a sink hole and came to investigate just to make sure. I mean, it’s Florida, a big sandbar, sink holes happen, but something struck me about this one.”
“Yeah, Giles, too.”
“Are you going to report to him you saw me?”
“I have to.”
“He doesn’t trust me.”
“That was a long time ago, Angel. We had a lot on our plate and you were doing things he didn’t understand.”
“That may be true, but I imagine he won’t trust me being near you again.”
“Well, you were already here. What can he say about it? He sent me here!”
“Where are we?”
“A motel. I didn’t know what else to do with you. The sun is just about down now, though, so I can take you home.”
“Home sounds good about now.”
“I can imagine.”
“I must look a sight.”
“I’ve seen you look better for sure, but I’ve seen you look worse, too.”
“Yeah, I guess you have. You, on the other hand,” he said, turning onto his side to face her. He ran a fingertip along her neck. The disdain in his eyes as he did she knew was directed at himself for feeding off of her again rather than aimed at her.
“What about me?”
“You haven’t changed at all.”
“My. Flattery will get you everywhere.”
“No, Buffy, I’m serious. One of the reasons I didn’t show myself to you in the alley that night was because I couldn’t believe it was really you. I mean the chances of us being in Orlando at the same time aside not to mention in that alley particularly. It’s just that you look the same as the last time I saw you.”
“I don’t know what to tell you because I can assure you I’m older.”
“I know,” he said, sliding his hand up from her neck to her face. She didn’t draw away as he cupped her cheek with his hand, a thumb stroking just under her eye there. “I can see it in your eyes,” he said.
She wondered what he saw in them. She had a good life since leaving Sunnydale. Could he see that? Could he look at her and know the things only Giles, Willow, Xander, and Dawn knew?
“I should get you home,” she said, realizing that it was getting late and Dawn was bound to be worried if she didn’t show up soon. “I’m sure you have some recuperating to do or something.”
“I feel great, really, but I understand if you have to go.”
“Yeah,” she said, unwilling to let him in on why. She had nothing to hide, but she didn’t know anything about him any longer. Ten years changed people, even vampires. “I kind of do,” she said, pulling away from his touch.
“All right. If I didn’t say it outright, thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she shrugged. “I could never just leave you behind.”
“I’m glad that’s the case.”
“Yeah, well, if it was up to the other slayer.”
“I can imagine.” He watched her closely as she sat up. “It’s not Faith, is it?”
She laughed. “No, why would Faith want to stake you?”
“I don’t know. I’m not really sure what the Watcher Council’s thinking is on me or Spike.”
“In general, there is no thinking.”
“Sounds like the Watcher Council I know and love.”
“Well, no, that’s not what I meant.”
“It’s okay, Buffy, I was teasing. I know what you meant.”
“Good, because Giles does do with the thinking. Very well even. You’ve both been off the radar for so long there just isn’t an opinion any longer. I think Giles trusts me enough to believe me when I say you’re okay.”
“I don’t know that I’m okay, but I haven’t been on any killing sprees lately.”
“That is very good to know.”
Her cell phone on the small table by the window started ringing. She groaned, knowing full well who it was going to be. She stood from the bed and grabbed the phone.
‘Buffy. Are you coming home soon?’
“Yeah, Dawn, sorry. I’ve got one stop to make and then I’ll be on my way. Okay?”
‘Is everything okay?’
“Yes,” she said, eyeing Angel who was watching her very intently as well. She saw a look of relief on his face when she said Dawn’s name. Admittedly, she’d done that deliberately for reasons it was best she didn’t think about. “I’ll tell you later.”
‘Marcus and Sierra have been asking for you.’
“I’ll be home soon.”
‘Okay,’ she said, but Buffy knew Dawn was confused by Buffy’s unwillingness to talk to her kids. It was usually the highlight of the end of her days (when they got late) to hear their innocent voices.
“Thanks. Love you,” she said, disconnecting.
“So, Dawn’s down here, too.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“That’s good. You two have stayed close then?”
“Not always physically, but for the most part we are.”
“I’m glad. Relationships with family can be hard once you grow up and life gets rolling.”
“She hasn’t had it so great.”
“Oh. Sorry. Is she okay?”
“Yeah, we’re survivors anyway. You can’t keep the Summers’ sisters down it seems.”
“Well, I won’t keep you any longer then. I didn’t realize you had her waiting for you. Probably worried you were dead or something.”
“It’s okay, Angel. I made my choice, I’d do it again.”
They cleaned up the room as best they could. It wasn’t a five-star place by any means, but neither seemed to want to leave a bloody towel behind. There wasn’t a lot of blood, but enough that a nosy housekeeping employee might call the police. No problem, except Buffy had provided her license plate number at check-in.
That taken care of, she led him to her SUV and followed his directions through the streets of Orlando.
“This is where you live?” she asked.
“Yeah. You know me; I like to have my space.”
“Yeah, but it’s a warehouse.”
“It was. Been vacant for years. It was ideal for me. There was a storage area upstairs that I converted to my apartment. You can come in and see it if you want.”
“I, no, some other time maybe. I really do have to get back. I’ve been gone since last night.”
“You’re not making me feel better about the whole thing.”
“I’m not trying to make you feel bad, just stating facts, Angel.”
They’d talked about mundane stuff on the way here. Safe things. No talk of the past ten years beyond generalities. It was all she was willing to give and he seemed to begrudgingly accept that.
“Do I get your number at least? In case I could use some help one night or something.”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” she said. “I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be patrolling. I’m not happy with Tasha at all. I’m going to call Giles when it’s a decent time for him and really demand she got moved somewhere less active.”
“Well, it’d still be nice to have.”
“Yeah,” she said, writing it down for him. He did the same in return. Plus she had an added piece of information about him that he didn’t have in kind. She knew where he lived.
He leaned over, grazing her cheek with a kiss.
“Thanks again, Buffy, really. If I sound ungrateful, I’m not, I just don’t like that it’s you saving me. It’s supposed to be the other way around.”
“I haven’t needed saving for a very long time, Angel.”
“I know,” he said with a shrug. He chose that moment to open the door and she saw his tight smile in the dim light of the car. “Humor me.”
“Okay,” she said. “Good night. If you need anything later. More blood or whatever.”
“I’m not taking any more of your blood,” he said from outside the car now.
“I wasn’t offering that, geesh. I was going to offer to go to a butcher for you.”
“Thanks. I should be all right. I’ll shower and change and head out to get what I need before the sun comes up.”
“Drive safe,” he said, tapping the roof of her car lightly before he closed the door.
He stood there on the street under the streetlamp, watching as she drove out of the area. She felt as though she was seventeen again, him looking for her after their battle against the Mayor to be sure she was okay before he left town.
Only this time it was her leaving him.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com