It was someone's perverse form of torture. It was worse than being around her knowing about the curse. Knowing he was centuries older than her. By now, they looked to be about the same age. It was bad enough that playboy was hitting on her. But now this guy? The first one she'd seemed immune to. He wasn't so sure about this one. It was as if she knew him. Liked him. Were they here together? Had he met her here?
He heard them talking as they walked from her boat. He was careful to stay far enough behind, but talk of sun and sin didn't go unheard. Not that he thought the sun didn't agree with her. She looked beautiful. It was overwhelming to know how deceptive her appearance was. There was nothing that betrayed the fact she was a killing machine.
He had two choices. He could walk away, get on his boat and leave. It was the coward's way out, but at least then he'd never know for sure whether she rejected him. On the other hand, he could approach her. Talk to her. See what she had to say. He wondered where she'd been, what she'd been doing for the past few years. What had happened that she hadn't been able to come and help him? Had he done anything to make her lose trust in him? Evidently, he must have somewhere along the way.
He noticed Dawn for the first time. She looked good, too. Gone was the gawky teenager he had last seen. She was becoming a woman. An attractive one. He bet she had guys flocking around her much the way her sister did. He pitied anyone who fell in love with either Summers sister. They were in for a world of emotional upheaval. Neither would give their heart completely with ease. Their closeness was expected. Buffy took to protecting what she considered hers. Real sister or not, fact was Dawn remained here in this form, and Buffy would do no other than love her like the sister she was meant to be seen as.
It's what he loved about her. If she chose to give her heart to something it was all the way. Some might say she was stodgy, stubborn, but there were varying degrees of love. He had no doubt that those Buffy loved knew it. He included himself in that group. Loyalty, however, that was without question Buffy's strong suit and those who deserved it knew they had a friend they could count on forever. Everyone who wasn't him anyway.
She looked so happy, he almost hated to ruin it. But it was the lingering doubt as to whether she was truly happy that encouraged him forward. If she blew him off at least he'd know. The not knowing was the worst. It was comical he'd returned to LA now of all times. He had come to see Connor. While not close friends, they corresponded once in a while via email. Angel had mentioned a stop in LA and Connor had encouraged it. So, he'd come to see his son. A son that shouldn't exist. A son that looked as old as Dawn despite by this world's time not being old enough for Kindergarten yet.
It pained him sometimes. He'd see kids that were the age Connor was supposed to be and he'd realize all that he missed out on. Holtz had robbed them both of so much. But he was just glad to have his son in his life at this point and to see that he was stable, responsible, and doing well. He couldn't undo the past but he could control the future to some extent.
A future with Buffy. Two years ago he had thought it impossible, the stuff dreams were made of. Or nightmares depending on how he looked at it from one day to the next.
"Time to stop lurking you idiot and see what the damage is."
She and her companion had started toward the bonfire area, he fell into step behind them. He wanted to be sure they weren't together before proceeding further. It was difficult to tell from the snippets of conversations he caught. Damn, what he'd give for the way he used to hear.
"I take that back," he said with a glance upward. No use setting something in motion based on an inadvertent quip.
Unable to determine who the guy was and what he was to Buffy Angel was left making the decision blind. What else was new?
"Buffy," he called when he was closing in on them.
"Yeah?" She turned to face him. He saw the look in her eyes. He couldn't begin to imagine the thoughts that were running through her mind. "You."
"Is this guy bothering you, Buffy?"
"You. He. How? Sun?"
Her companion glanced from Buffy to him. "Did you understand any of that?"
She seemed stuck in place for a minute there, but she was fully mobile now. She closed the distance between them, her hand going to his chest. "You're real."
"Last I checked."
"I'm not dreaming?"
"No, Buffy, you're not dreaming."
"How? I mean," her eyes grew wide and he knew then she felt his heartbeat. "You're alive."
He cut her off before she continued. "This is probably a conversation best not had out here in the open."
"How did you know I was here?"
"I didn't. I docked my boat here yesterday, saw you last night by accident. It was a fluke."
"Or that," he said, his lips curving into a smile. She had said it, not him.
"I, um, Dawn."
"I just saw her back there, she was fine."
"Did she see you?"
"I'm sorry, Tyler. This is an old friend."
"Seems to be the day for you to run into them. Small world, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess. I, um, I need to talk to him."
"Is he the ex?"
"The ex you mentioned your mom wasn't too crazy about?"
Buffy laughed then. "Yeah. How'd you know?"
"Oh, it's pretty obvious. Go on, it's cool."
"You sure? I'm sorry, I didn't know."
"Hey, I was just here for a good time. I'll grab a beer and hang out."
She wouldn't stop staring at him. He wondered if he looked funny to her. "What's wrong?"
"I've never seen you tan."
"Oh, is that all?"
"Well, yeah, quite a shock."
"Do you like it?"
She scoffed. "As if."
"Is that a yes?"
"Yes, it's a yes."
She led him to the volleyball pit and she flagged Dawn over. "Angel, hi, alive and in the sun and everything. What's up with that?"
"I was going to go find out."
"Oh okay. I won't be too late."
"Hey, Buffy," she called as they started walking away.
Angel took a few extra steps ahead, letting Dawn talk to Buffy privately.
"She just wanted to make sure I was okay."
"She's grown up."
"Yeah she has. She has a honey. Pretty serious from the sounds of it."
"I envy the man and pity him at the same time."
"Slayer older sister."
"Not that he knows."
He chuckled and stopped in front of his boat. "I figured we'd be left alone here. Do you mind?"
"No, not at all."
"Are you hungry?"
"Well, you were going to eat on the beach weren't you?"
"Okay, well, let me know."
"I will. Wow, this is nice."
"You live on it?"
"Two years, give or take."
"So, as soon as."
"Yeah, our showdown with the Senior Partners."
"I'm glad you made it."
"Before we get into the details of this change in you I want to say right here and now that I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. I didn't find out until later that you'd called, that you'd needed me. As soon as I found out I left Rome and went back to London. But by the time I was able to ascertain what type of team I'd need I couldn't find you."
"You're thanking me for not showing up when you needed me?"
"I'm thanking you for telling me. I've spent lots of time wondering about that. What possible reasons you had for staying away could have been."
"Giles will never do that again."
"He won't need to. I'm pretty much out of the world saving business."
"Hmm. Vampire warrior turned beach bum?"
"It looks good on you. The tan, the shaggy yet sexily highlighted hair."
"You think it's sexy?"
"I think most anything about you is sexy, Angel, always have."
"Oh really now?"
"Really. As if you didn't know."
"Well, it's been a while since it's been confirmed so I wasn't sure anymore."
"So are you going to tell me how it happened?"
He led her to the galley, not wanting to take the chance that they get interrupted out on the deck. He got himself a Coke, a diet for her and grabbed a bag of cheese puffs. God, he loved junk food. She arched a brow at him, but accepted the drink as he opened the bag of snacks.
"I don't know. I mean, one minute we were in an alley, a dragon in the sky, an army of demons marching down the street. The odds were insurmountable. Me, Spike, Illyria. Two vampires with souls and an ex-god against hundreds. Wes was dead, Gunn was hanging on by a thread. That's really all I remember. Until," he said, taking a sip of his Coke.
"I woke up in the alley. Spike and Illyria were gone, so was Gunn. There were signs of a struggle, a big one, but everything still stood. I was battered, bruised, bleeding, but I was also cold and wet and breathing. It was the most momentous moment of my entire existence."
"Well, meeting you ranks up there, too."
"I'm not looking for flattery, Angel."
"I know, I wasn't trying to flatter you. I'm being honest, Buffy. I told you years ago, I loved you from the first moment I saw you."
"I wish I'd seen you that day."
"No, you really don't."
"There's not much else to say. Spike and Illyria found me, brought me to the Hyperion, nursed me back to health. I realized I couldn't stay. I couldn't be in the place I couldn't be a part of anymore. So, I bought a used boat and away I went."
"What about Connor?"
"You remember him?"
"Yes. Why wouldn't I?"
He explained about the spell he had agreed to having done, the exchange he'd made. "Huh. I guess it's the same thing with Tyler not knowing who Dawn was."
"Tyler. The guy I was just with."
"You knew him? I mean, really knew him?"
"Yeah, you think I walk around in someone's arm I just met?"
"Well, I wouldn't blame you if you did."
She scoffed and he could tell he had wounded her somehow. He hadn't meant to. It was just that she was so beautiful, so human, and he knew she had needs. What woman didn't?
"No, I dated him in high school. The day you saw me get called. I was anxiously awaiting him to come begging me to let him take me to the school dance."
"Did you get to go?"
"No. You know the rest. Now, back to you."
"Well, it just surprises me you remember him. He's good. That's actually what I am here for, to see him."
"Does he remember?"
"Yeah, he does now."
"So, he knows about him and Cordelia?"
"No, I mean, you cared for her."
He shrugged, he still wasn't sure what he'd felt for Cordelia. "I did, but not the way you think. I wanted to, but in the end it wouldn't have worked."
"If you knew you were going to be human?"
"If she was still here and knew I was human, I would have hunted you down."
"Because you're the love of my life, Buffy. I've lived two and half centuries and it all comes down to you."
"I don't expect you to feel the same way or understand."
"Would you have come find me?"
"I would have eventually. I needed to get used to everything. It's all so new."
"It would seem you've got the suntanning down."
"Yeah, a slight shortage of sun exposure for far too long."
She smiled, grabbed a cheese puff. "So, this just sped up the process? Our ending up here at the same time?"
"Are you fully human? I mean, your life started again that night?"
"It would seem so. I have limited information. In fact, I signed away the rights to the Shanshu."
"I don't think that's really something you can sign away, Angel. I mean, it's either yours or it's not."
"I think that's why I got it."
"I think I proved to the Powers That Be that I was doing this for the right reasons. Not because it was another step on the way to Shanshu, but because I wanted to fight the Senior Partners."
"Well, it would seem you passed."
"Do you still want forever?"
"You know I do."
"Even though I'm human? I won't be able to help you, not like I used to."
"I'm not really making with the slaying anyway. I train the slayers. I'm moving to Cleveland. This time with Dawn was just a mini-vacation before I set down roots there. Just call me Midwest Buffy."
"But I can't help you."
"Sure you can. You can help me train. You can help me research. You still know how to handle a stake and a crossbow."
"So you just have to be a little more careful. So did Xander and Willow, but they still helped."
"On the other hand. Is it going to bother you that you're all human and normal and I'm still the slayer?"
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. I watched you last night and you have an air about you. Regal."
"I do not."
"To someone who doesn't know you they might not notice it, but I do. I see it. You're proud, you've embraced what you are, who you are, and the life you've been dealt. You carry yourself like a confident woman, sure of yourself, sure in what and who you are. I would be proud to be a part of your life, your team."
"You make me sound all heroic and noble."
"I'm not, Angel, I'm really not."
"I'm not going to argue with you about this Buffy. You see yourself that way, and I'm sure you believe your reasons are valid. I could stand here and tell you I don't deserve to be human. I don't deserve this gift, a second chance with you. A real chance with you. Shall I begin to recount the things I've done?"
"And have you done anything to compare to what I did?"
"Well, since you put it that way."
"I mean, anyone can look at their life and wish they'd done this or that differently. You wouldn't be human if you didn't. But you've sacrificed your life, your happiness, your future over and over again. Thanklessly. Without ever expecting anything in return other than maybe some fun after a job well done. Or when the stress was too much."
"Does it bother you that though we look the same age you have way more experience than I do?"
"No. I have very limited human experience, Buffy. And what human experience I had, times have changed. In my era, we wouldn't be sitting here talking like this. Not alone."
"I should ask you if it bothers you."
"No. I feel dumb sometimes, but I'm kind of used to that. It's just a little different knowing you were like actually there before telephones and electricity and stuff."
"What about The Immortal?"
"Spike and I, we were in Rome and saw you with him."
"Wait, Spike? I guess I missed it the first time you mentioned him. He died in Sunnydale."
"He came back. Another long story. He came back, was incorporeal for a time and then all of the sudden he was Spike again."
"Is he still alive?"
"As far as I know."
"Huh. Does Giles know?"
"I don't know what Giles knows, Buffy. He wasn't particularly chatty the last time I tried. Spike may have gotten in touch with him since."
"Can we not talk about Spike right now? I know you two got close, but he's not here. And he sure as hell ain't human."
"So, will you have me, Buffy Summers?"
"I don't know. You might get tired of me. Meet some cute girl a year or two down the road and realize you were wrong."
"If I didn't meet her in two hundred forty years. I'm pretty sure."
"But you're human now."
"Buffy. I've dreamt of nothing but you for the past two years. I've woken up hard and wanting you like you can't imagine. No one does that to me."
"Why don't we do this."
"Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to like this."
"Because this is Buffy's take it slow and a step at a time plan."
"Have we not waited long enough?"
"I'm here for eight more days. You're here to see Connor. Let's do our thing, do it together when we can, and at the end of those eight days we'll see where we stand. I have to go to Cleveland, Angel. It's all hellmouthy and Giles doesn't want to send someone there with no experience. Faith is busy doing the marriage thing."
"Yes, one baby and another on the way."
"No way. Who?"
Buffy laughed. "Robin Wood. His mom was a slayer, one Spike killed in New York."
"She was black."
"That she was, at least judging by Robin."
"Wow. Go Faith. What does she have?"
"A boy who is eighteen months and the next one is due in four months I think."
"They didn't waste much time."
"I think the whole no longer in prison, record expunged, chance at a new start got to her."
"I'd say. And you don't want to go that route?"
"The speedy route."
"Angel, it's a week. You may not want to give up sailing."
"We can keep the boat and sail together once in a while. You'd love it. They have marinas around there. The Great Lakes."
"I never thought of that."
He tapped his forehead with his index finger. "See, that's why you need me around. I'm always thinking."
"That you are."
"I just don't want to rush, you know. We were both surprised seeing one another here. I'd say me more than you, but that may not be true since I don't live here and you had no clue I was here."
"Will you stay the night with me?"
"Angel. That's not exactly going slow."
"First of all, it's close to one in the morning as it is. We've been talking for hours. Second, I wasn't implying anything but sleeping."
"Dawn's all alone. I'm not sure I trust some of those guys."
"Then I'll come stay with you. I want to hold you, Buffy. I need to feel you in my arms, know that this is real."
Tears formed in her eyes and she nodded her head simply. "Come on."
He stashed the cheese puffs in a cupboard and followed her to her boat. He had no choice but to follow her. He'd give her time and prove to her that he was for real. They had a chance at their forever. He wasn't about to let it slip through his fingers.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com