Word Count: 6,577
He’d discovered a new kind of hell. He was certain of it. He’d been surprised when Buffy had called him days after seeing him. He’d gotten the impression when he’d left her car that the exchange of telephone numbers was just a polite thing for her to do. It’d been years, so he couldn’t blame her, but still it stung a little.
So, he was more than a little shocked to see her number show up on his cell phone screen. He’d run a trace of her number and found nothing identifiable about it beyond the fact it was a St. Louis, Missouri number. He had no idea if that was where she was living with plans on returning there as soon as the slayer she was here to help was capable of running things on her own.
It was a cell phone, too, registered to The Council out of London. Big surprise. So, other than knowing the number itself was out of Missouri, he knew nothing about where she had been.
“Hello,” he answered after the third ring. He didn’t want to appear too anxious to talk to her again. Truth was, oddly, despite living basically alone for the past decade and not minding it in the least he was anxious to talk to her. He wanted to know this Buffy. The woman she’d become. The woman who’d been able to drop him off at his place after saving his life again without a backward glance. And she hadn’t looked back. He watched, waited for some sign that it had been difficult for her to leave him not knowing one hundred percent he was okay. Of course, he was. Slayer’s blood would heal most any wound in a vampire.
‘Uh, hi, this is Buffy.’
“How are you?”
‘I’m good. You?’
“Good,” he said.
The effects of her blood didn’t last as long as he would have liked. It wasn’t just the difference between fresh, warm human blood and the stuff he drank normally. It was Slayer blood. Buffy blood. It made him stronger even if he wasn’t deserving of such things.
‘Listen, I have a favor to ask.’
“I think I owe you one. So ask.”
‘I mentioned the other slayer here in town,’ she said.
‘Well, she’s really having some problems getting into the saddle. You know? I mean, I remember getting my calling and I didn’t get it right away. It didn’t take me this long, though.’
‘Well, Giles insists she’s capable. I’ve asked him to transfer her somewhere that’s not near an active hellmouth and give me someone with more field time than her.’
‘Well, the other night, the night we found you. I mean, Angel, she’d be dead if I wasn’t there.’
He still wasn’t sure where she was going with this.
‘So, Dawn and I got to talking after dropping you off and she mentioned something.’
“Okay,” he said to let her know he was still listening.
‘And I’m sorry, I’m taking an incredibly long time to get to my question.’
“It’s okay, Buffy, I’ve got plenty of time.”
‘Ha ha. Yeah, I guess you do. Well, I was thinking maybe you’d help me work with her.’
“Help you how?”
‘Train with her.’
He was going to say yes. There was no question about that, but he wanted to understand where she was coming from with the request.
‘Well, like Dawn said. I can train with her, fight her, but I’m not a vampire. I don’t think like one. I don’t fight like someone who’s going to kill her. That thirst for blood. Her blood. And while you wouldn’t hurt her, I know that you’d approach any sparring differently. With that edge that maybe I’m missing.’
‘I just want to tell Giles I’ve tried everything before I call him again. If this doesn’t work, though, I’m going to have to. I mean, I don’t mind helping and all, but I sort of hung up my full-time Slayer gloves years ago. I don’t want her to die.’
“Buffy, I said okay.”
‘Really? I wasn’t sure you were just saying that so I’d know you were still there.’
“I wasn’t. And, yes, really. I was sent to help you years ago. That didn’t end just because you stopped needing my help. Whatever you need. I have plenty of space here at my place. A whole training area at your disposal if you need somewhere to go.”
‘That’d be great.’
“When did you have in mind?”
‘Thanks, Angel, I really appreciate it.’
“No thanks necessary. Whatever I can do. You remember how to get here?”
They’d hung up after establishing the time. No small talk. No pretense of friendship or a past existing between them that went beyond the Mission. That bothered him deeply. He knew leaving Sunnydale was the best thing for everyone, but he hadn’t anticipated how much it would hurt to realize she’d put everything they meant to one another behind her so completely.
They’d shown up every night for three weeks now. Always together. He’d say thick as thieves, except he didn’t get a vibe off of them like he would about Buffy and Willow or Buffy and Xander. They worked together, but he didn’t sense that they were friends.
They left as soon as the training session was done. Sometimes, Buffy would spar with him, but it was mostly to show Tasha a maneuver she needed to work on. A few times Angel joined them for their patrol, but he drove separately. Buffy was pleasant to him. Tasha was clearly unsure and untrusting, but she was progressing and seemed to understand that it was due to his help. At least in part. He was sure the more field experience she got she improved as well, but the sparring certainly didn’t hurt. Evidently, Buffy’s idea of fighting someone who got how the enemy thought was a valid one.
He hated that they never got beyond superficial conversation.
How are you? How was your day? How was last night’s patrol? Nice weather we’re having.
No substance. No meat. No emotion.
For someone who had craved a lack of involvement and emotional entanglement after losing every human member of his team in Los Angeles he found it rather ironic that he was the one upset that these things were lacking in his relationship with Buffy.
Relationship was stretching it. They didn’t even talk to one another like friends. He had to wonder if anyone from The Council but Dawn knew he was in town. Did Tasha know who he was to Buffy? Obviously, she knew he was a vampire so had to know something was different. That didn’t mean she knew their history, though, what had brought him to Sunnydale and caused him to leave a short while later. Short while to him anyway.
He didn’t know any more about her or her life now than he had weeks ago. There wasn’t much time for small talk when she came there with Tasha. She showed no sign of wanting to see or talk to him outside of the training sessions and he’d tried to respect that. He didn’t want to seem like a lovesick fool who hadn’t moved on.
Truth of the matter was he was a lovesick fool. For her. He liked to think he’d tried to move on. Move past her. He hadn’t succeeded too well when it got down to it. He still loved her. Still longed to be with her. Time and distance didn’t dissipate his feelings in the least. He hated that of all things he understood how Spike felt when he’d come to Sunnydale looking for a way to get Drusilla back years ago.
When you found it. The real it not the fake it that Hallmark and Hershey’s tried to market in their one size fits all flowery take on the subject. Well, there was no getting over it. At least when you’d lived as long as Angel had and knew how rare it was to find.
Humans probably didn’t have as difficult of a time moving on as he did because they truly believed there’d be another one around the corner. He had turned a lot of corners. Peaked around a lot of them, taken a few for a spin even. None could compete. None completed him like Buffy. None he’d give up being human for.
A lot of good that had done him. She’d ended up dying anyway. Willow brought her back, but there’d been a while after he heard what had happened during her battle with Glory where he’d wondered what he’d done it for if she was going to be gone anyway. He cursed himself for getting so involved with his own stuff that he hadn’t been there during her time of need. He doubted she blamed him for it. They’d both moved on by that point, but he couldn’t help but believe if he and his team had been there perhaps she wouldn’t have had to jump off that tower at all.
Hindsight was twenty-twenty.
He knew the expression, he just hated thinking he could have prevented her death and her later suffering. She had to know if he’d been in LA he would have been there in the blink of an eye. Unlike Giles, Angel would never have doubted Buffy or her methods, if she’d called needing help he would have offered her whatever he could. It hadn’t made him leave LA and run back to her, something he’d thought on more than once over the years especially when he and Spike got into one of their funks regarding her.
He’d stayed away for the same reason he left Sunnydale to begin with, it was the best thing for her. She deserved better than a life riddled with nastiness, regret, and suspicion. He had put the cart before the horse, he knew this, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots as to what Mayor Wilkins said and what he actually meant. His wife would have questioned his faithfulness when she had gotten old and he stayed the same. One aspect of marriage was growing old together, something the mayor nor Angel could have done with their loves. Yet, the mayor had done it, married his love, stayed by her side, and for all of his faults as far as being evil Angel sensed from the way he treated Faith that he had a genuine ability to feel and offer love.
That was what brought him here tonight. To what he presumed was her house. He’d followed her a couple of times and she always ended up back here, parking in the garage. He couldn’t let their relationship stay as it was. He didn’t expect anything from her beyond friendship, but he thought he deserved at least that much from her. There was a reason they’d been brought here at the same time. He believed that, and thought she did, too. It was not a coincidence after all their years apart, the disasters she and he had both averted separately, that they were fighting together once again.
He sat parked in his car on the street for a while, watching the area. It was a nice neighborhood. Middle class, nothing flashy but most of the yards were well kempt. There were always exceptions to the rule, but even the unkempt ones weren’t unruly. Her house, he presumed it was her house and not the other slayer’s because Tasha had never come back here with Buffy, was nice. Two-stories, rare for the neighborhood he’d realized driving through it a couple of times now. Not outrageously big, but big enough and he wondered what she had to fill the space with.
She’d mentioned Dawn a couple of times. Did Dawn live with her? He remembered the day in the motel room that Dawn had called her. From Buffy’s side of the conversation, Angel gathered Dawn had been expecting her.
Angel was glad to know someone missed her when she was out. Worried about her. Would wonder where she was when the sun came up and she wasn’t home yet. Living the type of life they did could get old and very depressing if there was no one out there to live for. Angel knew that, because he’d been living that way the past decade.
He pocketed his keys, opening the driver’s side door and made his way along the sidewalk to her house. He wasn’t sure what he’d say now that he was actually here doing this, but knew he needed something more than what they had currently. Even just an acknowledgement that his presence in her life meant something beyond a means to an end of getting a slayer trained.
He opened the screen door that led to an entry way and rang the bell. He smiled a little at the sound of a dog barking excitedly on the other side of the door.
He was not prepared for the sight that greeted him when the door was finally opened. A miniature Buffy was looking up at him. Well, what he envisioned Buffy looked like as a little girl anyway, he’d never seen pictures earlier than her being a teenager.
“Hi,” the girl said.
The dog next to her was remarkably well-behaved. Angel had been around dogs who went nuts when he, or any vamp, came around.
“Um hi,” he said. “I’m looking for Buffy Summers.”
“You forgot the check, Sierra,” a voice said from out of Angel’s view. Not Buffy’s voice. There was no mistaking he had the right house, though. He didn’t need to have seen pictures of Buffy as a little girl to know this one looked just like her.
“It’s not the pizza man,” she said.
“Who is it then,” the voice said.
“I don’t know,” she said, looking back at Angel finally. “I can’t invite you in. Mommy says I’m not supposed to.”
“That’s right,” Angel said with a smile despite the shock. She was a cute little thing and her hazel eyes were wide with curiosity. He stooped so he was at her level, careful that no part of him attempted to breach the threshold. “You always make sure to let your mommy and daddy invite people into the house. That’s very important.”
She scrunched her nose a little and looked as if she was about to say something, but stopped. Angel looked behind her and saw the shocked gaze of Dawn watching him.
“Angel,” she said, hand going to the little girl’s shoulder almost possessively. “Hi.”
“Hi, Dawn,” he said, standing up again. He hadn’t seen Dawn in years. The last time she’d still been a girl, a teenager but still mostly a girl. That was no longer the case. “You’re beautiful.”
She blushed, petting the girl’s hair. “Thank you,” she said finally.
“Are the pizzas here?”
“No,” Dawn said as Buffy came into view. “Not yet.”
“But I heard the doorbell.” She stopped, staring much the same way Dawn had moments ago. “Angel. What are you doing here?”
Not how did you find me. That was good.
“I, uh, wanted to talk. To you.”
“Well,” she said, glancing at the little girl.
“Mom,” another voice came from out of view. “I need the computer.”
“What for?” Buffy asked.
“I need to type my book report for school tomorrow.”
“You shouldn’t have put it off until the last minute, but I’m done with it so go ahead.”
A boy a little older than the girl who’d answered the door appeared. He did not share in the wide-eyed wonderment that the girl did when he looked at Angel. He looked at Angel with clear distrust in his eyes.
“Who are you?”
“Marcus, that’s rude.”
“I was just asking.”
“Come on, guys, let’s go into the living room,” Dawn said. “Here’s the check for the pizza, Buffy.”
“Thanks,” she said.
Dawn and the two children left the doorway. The dog, however, stayed put. He’d never pegged Buffy for a pet person. Perhaps that was her mom’s doing, the lack of pets. Angel wasn’t sure and he’d never gotten around to asking things like that. He felt tonight like an intruder on such a domestic scene.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. Again.
“I told you, I wanted to talk.”
“Has something happened?”
“No,” he said with a shake of his head, hearing the car pull onto Buffy’s driveway. The pizza delivery guy, he imagined. “I really just wanted to talk to you.”
She glanced behind her, a hand absentmindedly petting the top of the dog’s head. And then the pizza guy came to the screened door. She looked conflicted and he hated being the cause of that. Had he known. Well, he wasn’t sure he would have stayed away even then.
Buffy handed Angel the check, which he took and in turn gave it to the pizza guy.
“You can come in, Angel,” she said, stepping aside as he crossed the threshold with the boxes of pizza.
“Guys, the pizzas are here,” Buffy called out.
“I’m starved,” the little girl called out, running toward them so fast Angel thought for sure she was going to knock him over.
“Here, I’ll take those,” Dawn offered. “I assume you’re not going to have any?”
“Uh, no, thanks,” he said.
“Okay. Come on, guys, I’ll get you plates and stuff,” Dawn said.
“I shouldn’t have just shown up like this.”
“No, it’s all right. There’s never really a good time around here anyway. How did you know I wasn’t going to be out tonight?”
“I took a chance,” he said with a shrug.
The two kids came back into the living room each carrying a plate with pizza on it. Just cheese it appeared. He wasn’t sure how he knew that was common with kids; he’d never had much reason to be around kids. Dawn followed with two glasses of milk.
“I can get Cat,” Dawn said.
“No, that’s all right. Angel can join me in the kitchen. Is that all right?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said. He didn’t really have much choice other than to turn around and leave. That was probably the wisest choice, but she didn’t seem put out or upset that he was here so he had to trust she knew what she was doing by inviting him to stay.
“I’ll be right in,” she said, pointing in the direction Dawn had just come from.
“Okay,” he said. “Are you sure I’m not going to cause a problem here?”
“It’s just dinner,” she said with a shrug. “Kitchen. Go. I’ll be right there.”
He hadn’t really taken the time to look around the living room beyond noticing it was nicely furnished. He’d been sort of shell shocked to realize that Buffy had a family. He presumed they were hers and not Dawn’s. The kitchen, though, was homey for lack of a better word. It wasn’t until she came into the kitchen holding a baby that he noticed the high chair.
Where the boy had dark hair, this one like the girl who’d answered the door had blonde hair like her mother.
“Wow,” he said for lack of anything better to say.
“Right?” she said, settling the baby in the high chair and strapping her in. “I normally wouldn’t let Sierra and Marcus eat out there, but I guess Dawn figured I’d feed Cat and let them.”
“I can come back.”
“No, you’re here, and like I said there’s never really a good time around here. Cat still wakes up sometimes, getting used to a new house. And the dog, I swear she’s worse than a baby.”
He chuckled a little. “Yeah, they can be a lot of work.”
“The kids love her, though, so she’s worth some sleepless nights.”
“Or days in your case.”
“So, just the three?”
“Three isn’t enough?”
“Well, yeah, I guess I’d think one is enough.”
“Believe me, there was a time I thought none was enough. Yes, just the three. Marcus, Sierra, and Catherine.”
“Thank you. Not that I really had anything to do with it.”
“I know how reproduction works, so I imagine you had a lot to do with it.”
“Well, yeah, but I mean, you know. It’s all random, not like I had any say over anything, or I’d make sure Cat and Sierra were safe from ever being like me.”
“You think it’s hereditary?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. “Giles says there’s no evidence of it, but other than Robin Wood no one really researched or knew about ones before me having kids.”
“Right,” he said.
“Sit,” she said, gesturing to a chair. “I just have to get her some vegetables and I’ll sit, too. I promise.”
“Okay,” he said.
“So, how long’s it been?”
“You’ve been around a baby?”
“This age? I can’t say that I ever have been.”
“I suppose not. Connor was pretty young when he went missing, right?”
“Uh, yeah,” Angel said.
She sat down finally with a plate of vegetables and a few small pieces of pizza. A cup of milk completed the picture. He felt more comfortable with her sitting like this than when she’d been busy doing things that were so foreign to him.
“Buffy,” Dawn said and Angel stood to leave. This was getting him nowhere.
“Yeah, Dawn,” Buffy said, settling a hand over his arm to stop him from standing up completely. “I told you there was never a real good time. Just hang on a minute. Usually I get the kids fed earlier than this, but we decided on pizza kind of late.”
“You’re busy. I should just talk to you tomorrow or something.”
“Um hello? Why don’t you and Angel go upstairs to your room to talk? I can feed Cat. Sierra and Marcus are fine. They’ll tell me if they need seconds, but they probably won’t finish what they have on their plate.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive,” she smiled at Cat in the high chair and picked up the small fork. “One of these days I will get her fed with more landing in her tummy instead of on the front of her bib. It’s a challenge I vow to win.”
“Okay then,” Buffy said, standing. Angel could tell she wasn’t entirely certain about the change in venue.
Angel followed her without a word up the stairs.
“Buffy,” he said as his way of protesting stepping foot in a bedroom she shared with another man. It was one thing to see the lives she created with him, but another entirely to sit in the same room where she slept with the man she’d done the creating with.
Except the bedroom was clearly only inhabited by her.
“Their father?” he asked, eyeing everything. From the feminine bedding to the furniture, nothing remotely masculine was present that would suggest a man lived here.
“Gone a year ago.”
“It’s okay,” she said, apparently hearing the tone and the soft growl that came with it. “I mean, it’s not okay, he died, but he didn’t leave me or anything.”
“It was a vamp,” she said.
“That got him. I lived in St. Louis, and you know they have that hoity toity preternatural department.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about it, enough to know to stay away from St. Louis until they realize not all vamps are evil.”
“Well, other than you and Spike.”
“Harmony hasn’t fed off a human in years, Buffy. Some can make the choice.”
She held up her hand. “I’m not trying to argue, Angel, I’m just saying they wouldn’t realize it because it’s far from the norm. Harmony only turned over a new leaf because of you; otherwise she’d probably be out there still trying to kill me.”
He shrugged, conceding that point.
“Anyway. A friend of ours, their daughter was turned and it changed Steve. It was one thing I guess to have it be faceless people, but once it affected someone we knew and knew well. He asked to get transferred to the unit.”
“Why weren’t you part of the unit?”
“I was a civilian. I wasn’t going to become a cop to do what I did without a badge. Besides, I worked at the precinct. Answered phones, typed reports, dealt with the grieving families. They liked having me there.”
She closed the door and moved to sit on a chair that was near the window. There was a second one there, but he could tell that it wasn’t used as often as the one she was sitting on now was.
“I’ll bet,” he said.
“What’s that mean?”
“I said I’ll bet.”
“You didn’t sound like you meant it.”
“I did! I would want you on my team.”
“I begged him not to transfer. He was a detective, so not quite as dangerous as being a beat cop or working narcotics. I mean, still a cop with risks, but like I said it changed him somehow being someone we knew. I couldn’t talk him out of it, and I guess I didn’t try very hard. I wouldn’t really stand in the way of him doing what he felt he should be doing. And he did help a lot of people over the years.”
He could tell she was putting on a brave front, that talking about this was painful. The look in her eyes. No tears were present, but it was still raw for her and he hated that she’d experienced so much pain. It was bad enough she lost her mother at such a young age, but to become a widow in her early thirties.
“Now, you didn’t come here to talk about my marital status or my job,” she said, brushing back some hair.
“Actually, I did.”
“What?” She frowned, generally confused it seemed.
He took a seat on the edge of the other chair, eyes falling on the assortment of children’s books on the floor between the two chairs. At least one for each child, judging by the titles.
“I just don’t like what we’ve been doing.”
“We haven’t been doing anything.”
“That’s my point, Buffy.”
“What is it you want, Angel? I don’t know what point you’re trying to make.”
“I want to get to know you.”
“Angel, you know me better than anyone else alive.”
“Then. Not now. I want to know this Buffy. You. I want to know about your kids, your husband, how you came to be in St. Louis to begin with, and here now.”
Buffy had no idea what to say. Finding him as she had while shocking wasn’t as crazy as some might think it would be. The idea that he wanted to get to know her made her feel good. It meant he wasn’t seeing her as unchanging, stagnant, the same as when he’d left Sunnydale.
He stood then and in barely the blink of her eye was kneeling by her feet. He took her hands in his, clutching them almost. She’d forgotten how fast he could be when he wanted to be. He didn’t do that often. In fact.
It was his turn to appear confused and she laughed lightly.
“Why can’t you do mind tricks?”
“I’m not sure what you’re asking.”
“You’re of the Master’s line. I saw the things Drusilla could do, not all of that was because she was psychic. I remember the Master freezing me in my tracks. Xander said Drusilla was able to do that, too, in the library when they came to get Giles,” she said, noticing the look on Angel’s face when she brought it up. “I remember the guy at the nest being able to do the same thing to Tasha.”
“It’s because I don’t feed like they do.”
“Oh human blood?”
“Well, that, and I don’t gorge myself. I drink enough to feed the hunger. And I don’t drink it fresh. The bagged stuff or residuals from butchering just isn’t the same. I mean, animals can provide just as much sustenance as a human. It’s not as tasty,” he said with a grimace, “but years ago when we had to travel on ships and stuff. Well, rats.”
She held up her hand, stopping him from going further. She knew what he’d fed on over the years. He’d talked about it, albeit briefly, his life after getting the soul before coming to Sunnydale, but she didn’t like thinking about him living like that.
“So, after drinking my blood?”
“Yes,” he said with a grimace. “It didn’t last more than a few days either time, but I was definitely at full power.”
“I know you don’t like that I did it either time, but I’d do it again.”
“I know,” he said, glancing at their hands.
“Tell me what you want from me, Angel. To get to know me? And then what? Leave again when we get too close and you decide for a second time what’s in my best interests without consulting me?”
“No. I’m not going anywhere. The life I led since LA has been pretty colorless. We’re here for a reason, I believe that. I don’t expect anything from you other than being in your life.”
“And you can do that?”
“Watch me grow old? Watch my kids lose their mother? Get to know them and have to explain to them why you look no different. Watch me die? All those things Mayor Wilkins talked about, you’d still experience them as my friend.”
He gripped her hands hard and she had to wonder how much stronger he’d be with her blood running through his body instead of whatever he’d drank today.
“You mean that?”
“I do. I let you go. I had to. You have to know that now.”
“I do,” she admitted. “I know why you did it; I just wish you’d been honest with me. You could have broken up with me without making it sound like I was crazy for loving you.”
“It was the only way I knew how, Buffy. Your mother. Mayor Wilkins. They made me see how different our lives were going to be.”
“Yes. She was trying to protect you, Buffy, make sure you had a chance for what you have here.”
“Yeah, it hasn’t been fun and games the last year.”
“I’m sure it hasn’t. And that little girl Dawn’s trying to get to eat her peas won’t make it fun when she gets old enough to ask questions.”
“Marcus already does.”
“Yes, but by then you’ll have answered them already and you’re going to wonder when it’ll end. The hurting. The pain.”
“I have no idea what to tell him. They don’t know. I’ve managed to keep them sheltered from the truth. One day I know I’ll have to tell them. Everything, including the fact that I had the ability to stop him from dying.”
“You didn’t. Buffy! What were you supposed to do? Follow him around everywhere while he did his job? I don’t know him, but no man would let you do that. I take it by the pictures,” he said, glancing at the one on a shelf just above the chair he had been sitting on moments ago of her family. Her whole family. It was the first and last picture they’d had taken of all five of them together. “You were happy, loved by him. He wouldn’t have, it would have eaten away at him if he thought even remotely you didn’t think he was capable.”
“I know,” she said. “No man, huh?” She knew what he’d meant as sexist as it sounded, he was right.
“At least they know not to let anyone in the house.”
She smiled slightly and realized she was crying. “Yeah,” she said, wiping the tears away. “Steve and I drilled that into them from before they could understand much of anything.”
“So you’re doing all right, Buffy. They’re clearly doing okay, healthy and happy even if they miss their dad, which that’s inevitable. You’ll handle the rest, that’s what you do. What you’ve always done. You shouldn’t have to do it alone. Shoulder the pain by yourself.”
“I have to, Angel,” she said. “I lost a husband, but I’m an adult. They lost their father. Cat will never know him. Ever.”
“She will, Buffy. You will be sure of that, just like I’m sure they know about your mom even though she’s gone.”
He reached for her then, touching her face and it was her undoing. Like back in the motel room that night she’d found him she couldn’t stop from relishing in the comfort he was offering. Even if he didn’t know that was what he was doing.
His arms went around her and before she knew it she was settled on his lap on the floor. She fit against him comfortably, head against his shoulder as she sobbed uncontrollably. He didn’t say anything, didn’t really do anything beyond hold her. He rubbed her back a little, kissed the top of her head once in a while much the way she did for Cat or Sierra when they were upset.
She lifted her head away at that thought.
“I’m not a child, Angel,” she said.
“Yes,” he said with a little laugh. “I’m very much aware of the fact that you are all woman.”
“Then what is this?”
“Even adults need comfort, Buffy. Have you talked to anyone?”
“No,” she said with a shrug, resting against his chest again. “Marcus has been to a grief counselor, but I just didn’t have time for it.”
“She just moved here when we did. We haven’t always lived together and she has her own stuff to deal with,” she said, explaining about Dawn’s marriage. She added her suspicions about the latest boyfriend getting serious being the reason Dawn was willing to move down here.
“Friends back in St. Louis?”
“Oh sure, and they were great. Don’t get me wrong, but Cat was just a baby so life went on. You know? I couldn’t have a break down.”
“Well, I’m here now. So you can if you want to. Use me.”
She pushed away from him then. Tried to anyway. He was too strong and she didn’t push that hard, but she did get away from the closeness of resting against his chest.
“I’m not going to use you. I did that once, and I felt awful the whole time.”
“I didn’t mean it like that, Buffy. I just meant, take advantage of having someone, an outsider, being around who loves you. Grieve. You loved him, don’t lose that or think that you’re any less deserving of missing him than they are.”
“I told you a long time ago forever, Buffy, nothing has changed that. Just because we haven’t been together doesn’t mean I don’t feel the same way. Or that I’d ever turn my back on you when you’re in need.”
Like she did to him, though that went unsaid. She hadn’t really, though. If Giles had told her about Angel’s calls she would have gone to LA herself to find out what was going on. By the time she’d found out, though, it was too late. Downside of activating all of the potential slayers, she spent almost a full year finding them. That left her out of touch, out of the loop. She hadn’t even known until much later that Giles doubted Angel was still on their side. She’d had no clue.
“And how do I know you’re not going to wake up in a week or two and rethink our being in the same town again?”
“You don’t, I guess you just have to trust me. Believe that seeing you these past few weeks, being in your life but not really, made me realize I want to be in it again. All in, Buffy.”
“And if I meet someone?”
“Just be honest with me so I know.”
“It would bother you?”
“Buffy, the demon is predatory and possessive. It sees you as belonging to us, so yes, but I’d survive as long as you’re honest and I don’t find out some other way.”
“Like smelling him on me,” she said.
“Now you’re taunting me.”
“No,” she said with a laugh, snuggling into him again.
She liked this. She tried not to be overly excited at the idea he wanted to be in her life not knowing the truth about everything.
“I didn’t know,” she whispered after a long moment of silence.
“About LA, that you needed help. If I hadn’t been so busy chasing down newly activated slayers I wouldn’t have been out of pocket.”
“I know, but people died. Good people and I could have maybe prevented it.”
“No, I don’t think so, Gunn maybe, but the rest,” he shrugged. “It’s all right, Buffy, I know you would have come if you’d been able.”
“I just feel bad, because you’re right I know I can count on you but I haven’t exactly been on the ball lady for you.”
“Knowing you were out there fighting was good enough.”
“Still. I’m sorry.”
“Thank you, but Whistler didn’t send you to help me, Buffy. It was the other way around. You were doing what you were supposed to, no one is going to fault you for that. I don’t hold anyone but me responsible for the deaths.”
“It’s not your fault either. They knew going into it. They had to. Fighters of evil read the warning label, Angel.”
“I still wish there’d been another way.”
“You would have thought of it if there had been.”
“You have way more confidence in me than I do, even all these years later.”
“Get back downstairs. I know,” he said. “I’m glad we got to talk.”
“Me, too,” she said, but made no effort to move just yet.
She must have dozed off because the next thing she knew there was a knock at her door and Angel was calling her name.
“Dawn’s at the door,” he whispered.
“I, oh,” she said, sitting up. “I guess I was tired.”
“Who could blame you?”
She stood then and walked to the door.
“I’m sorry, Dawn.”
“No, it’s okay. I got everyone to bed and everything, but Sierra wants a good night hug and kiss.”
“Okay,” she turned to look at Angel who was standing now, too. “I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll go downstairs.”
“Okay,” she said, realizing that was probably a good idea.
Sierra was hugged and kissed and she stopped to check on Marcus, too, even though Dawn hadn’t mentioned him wanting a hug and kiss, too.
“Sleep well, Marcus.”
“Who is he?”
“An old friend of Mommy’s.”
“Did he know Dad?”
“No, Marcus, I’m sorry, he didn’t. I knew him before I met your dad.”
She pushed back some hair on his forehead and kissed him there.
“We just needed to talk, honey, that’s all.”
He sighed a little, as if relieved to hear that.
“I love you, Marcus, see you in the morning.”
“Love you, too,” he said and her heart felt just a little bit lighter at how easily he said those little words he’d gotten rather stubborn about saying for a while there.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com