Chicago was fun. A little chillier than the California weather they had left behind a few days before. To see Dawn as happy as she was though was worth the sacrifice of layers of clothes. Even if it made it difficult to get dressed for dinner. Buffy was used to open backed dresses, tanks and the like. That type of wardrobe didn't fly in blustery Chicago, and likely wouldn't in Cleveland either.
She slid an earring into her ear and peered at Angel. He was entirely too calm. He was dressed nicely in a pair of khakis and a blue shirt. He looked sharp, business like, normal even. It was hard for her to get used to the fact that he was.
"Buffy, it's going to be all right."
"I'm not overly good with the meeting parents thing. What type of impression am I going to make? Contracting. What a lame job that is. It sounds like a job for someone who either can't find legitimate employment or tries to avoid it as much as possible."
"Buffy, they just extended the invitation since we're in town. Your mom is gone, you've been raising Dawn since she was fifteen. It's a normal thing for them to include you. It's a compliment. It means they realize you're an important part of Dawn's life. I don't think they're going to grill you on your job. They're interested in Dawn anyway and what she's like."
"Ugh. You're not helping."
She slid the other earring in and stepped back to look at herself in the full-length mirror. Dawn tried to get them into one of the guest rooms on campus but they had been full. So, they were at a hotel. Buffy would have opted for Red Roof Inn, but Angel wouldn't hear of it. So, she found herself at the poshest hotel she'd ever been in. She didn't even want to guess at what this stay was costing him. He insisted because the hotel was historical. Like that mattered to Buffy. They were right downtown, though, and were able to do all the human, daytime things they couldn't do before while Dawn was in class. Zoos, walks along the lakefront, and shopping.
He came up behind her and hugged her, drawing her against him. "You look beautiful."
"But do I look big sisterly?"
"You look like Buffy, and that's good enough for me. If it's not good enough for them."
"Yeah, but Angel, I think Peter's parents can afford Northwestern, where Giles pulled strings and called in favors to get Dawn in here."
"And she's holding her own, earning her place here. They're not going to be sorry they let Dawn Summers become a part of Northwestern's student body. And they'll be exceptionally proud to call her one of their one when she graduates and does great things."
"Piling it on thick much?"
"Is it making you feel better?"
"Yes," she said with a pout. She ran her hands along the length of his arms, enjoying the feel of being in his arms. She hadn't strayed far from them the past week or so. It was strange to be able to see them together like this. She was not used to being able to see him in a mirror.
"Are you ready then?"
"As ready as I'm going to be."
He ran his hands along the dress, caressing her hips. The last time she'd owned a velvet dress had been Christmas when she was like three or four. Angel had seen it and insisted on buying it. The fact that it was out of season and priced low was a bonus. And it did look fabulous on her. It was a simple shift-like dress, but with her hair up and the dangly pearl drop earrings she looked nice. Elegant even. It was a strange look for her.
"You look great. Smell nice, too."
"That's what you get for buying me all these things." She grabbed the clutch purse she'd found on sale that matched the dress. It was almost as if they went together. "Kind of like us."
"Was just thinking how my purse and dress go well together even though I bought them separately at different stores even."
"Okay. I'm guessing there was a compliment in there somewhere."
"Well, yeah, I mean, we're different. We've gone through so much to get here. Yet here we are. Who would have thunk?"
"Well, um, Buffy, someone must have."
"Okay, smartie, that's not what I meant. I meant, in the normal sense of things, not the supernatural."
"Well, in that case. You're a good looking girl, I'm a good looking guy. We're both from Sunnydale. I don't think it would come as a shock to very many people."
"You say you're from Sunnydale?"
"Well, yeah. How else would we have met? I certainly am not going to admit to falling in love with you when you were fifteen and following you from LA to Sunnydale."
"Yeah, that's probably best." She scrunched her nose at the thought. She tired to think it was creepy, but she couldn't. It wasn't like he met her in Sunnydale and tried to become her boyfriend right away or anything. He had fought it more than she had.
She took a deep breath when they walked outside. There was a crispness to the air that she wasn't used to. LA just didn't get like this, but she liked it. "Do you think we can take a walk along the lake later?"
"I think we can arrange for that."
"Good. I think I'll need it by the time this is done."
"Relax, Buffy. Have a martini at dinner or something."
"I don't drink."
"I'm not suggesting you get drunk. Have a glass of wine, it'll relax you. They're going to wonder what you're hiding if you're too tense. There's no reason you don't belong here."
"Um, have you seen the houses around campus?"
"Yes. And I remember what your house in LA looked like. It didn't look like you were hurting."
"Your parents divorced, split of incomes, you had to downsize, it doesn't mean you don't fit in here."
"Yeah, yeah, I hate when you're right."
"Well, that must mean you hate me most of the time."
She spotted Peter's car. Dawn looked so pretty sitting beside him. He was not a bad looking guy. Tall, a little gangly but he wasn't a bean pole or anything. His white hair had been a little startling at first. She couldn't recall seeing many people with hair that color before.
"Hi guys! Angel, you're sitting up front. Buffy, you look great."
"Oh, Dawn, no, you sit with Peter."
"No, it's okay, really. There's more room up front."
"All right then." Angel slid into the front seat, closing the door.
"So, how are you?"
"You look beautiful."
"Thanks, Peter said the same thing."
"Well, he's got great taste then." She brushed some of Dawn's hair away from her face.
"Sorry, going all maternal on you. I just like seeing you so happy. Even if Peter's not THE guy, it's nice to see you with a guy who is good to you."
"Well, we're working on it. Slowly."
"Slow is good, but he so wants to be with you."
"Let's go, or they're going to get anxious about what we're talking about."
The conversation in the car was somewhat stilted during the hour ride but it wasn't too bad. Part of it was the fact that Angel was still getting used to dealing with people when he didn't have anything to hide from them. She supposed he still did in a way. She listened as Peter pointed out places on the way. He seemed nervous, too, which was good. It meant he cared what his parents thought of Dawn. And maybe what Buffy and Dawn thought of them.
Buffy stopped once she'd gotten out of the car. She faked needing to adjust the strap on her shoe when really she just wanted to collect herself. She'd realized when Peter showed up at the airport in a convertible Saab that his family was doing okay.
"You all right, Buffy?"
The house was huge. Bigger than huge. Three of her houses in Sunnydale could have fit in the house and she might have still had room left over. She hung with the rich crowd at Hemry, so it wasn't as if she hadn't been to places like this. Dawn hadn't though and for a moment she felt sorry that she hadn't.
Angel placed his hand under her elbow. "Thanks, I'm fine, though, really."
"You'll be fine."
"For the first time tonight, it's not me I'm worried about. Dawn's never been around people like this."
"Buffy, she's been living with people like this for almost two years. You think Peter is the only one? Come on, you know better. Isn't that why you were so freaked about getting accepted here? Putting your mom in debt?"
"Well, sort of. I had other more pressing things on my mind. Like my calling."
"Well, right. There was that."
"There was always that. We'd better get to the door."
"Dawn looks nice."
"She does, doesn't she? I had so much fun shopping with her. She's never really seen that side of me. She remembers it, but," Buffy shrugged. "It never really happened, not in LA anyway and Sunnydale isn't exactly the hub of the Fashion District."
"What are their names?"
"I'm not sure. I mean, it's Richter. That's all I know. I guess I never asked. I'm sure Dawn would call them Mister and Missus anyway."
"I wonder what they do."
"Something that pays very well."
"Either that or he's a vampire that's accumulated a lifetime worth of wealth."
"Could be. Weirder things have happened."
"In our world yeah, probably not in theirs."
He chuckled at that as they approached the entryway.
"You must be Buffy and Angel. We're so glad you could make it. We weren't expecting Peter home again until Easter, but when he mentioned Dawn's family being in town. Well, we insisted."
"Thank you for inviting us. It was very nice of you."
"We know how college kids eat. We figured a home cooked meal would be welcome."
"Come in, please. I'm Allen by the way." He offered his hand to Buffy and then Angel. "My wife, Patricia. Peter was going to show Dawn our game room. Would you like to join them? Otherwise, I could offer you a cocktail before dinner."
Angel squeezed her hand as if sensing her instinct was to follow Dawn. "A drink would be nice." They followed Peter's parents to a nicely decorated sitting room.
"Buffy, Peter tells us Dawn spent Spring Break in California with you. You both look so tan, I guess I don't have to ask if the weather was nice."
"It was great. I've been out of the country for the past couple of years, so hadn't seen Dawn in a while. It was nice to have that time with her." Allen handed Buffy a glass with what looked like wine in it. Wine she could live with. "Thank you."
"And you're from there?"
"Yes. We moved from LA to Sunnydale, which is about two hours south, when I was a sophomore in high school." She should have known it would be the mother full of questions.
"And you were overseas for work?"
"Yes, but I'm home now. Well, Cleveland. That's where my next contract is. You have a beautiful home."
"Would you like to see the rest of it?"
"I'd love to." Buffy took a sip of her wine. She was hoping the offer would be made. She might not have the money but that didn't mean she didn't have the tastes or the eye that went with money.
"I'll take you, Angel can chat with Allen. I'm sure Peter and Dawn will be up shortly. Bring your wine with you."
Buffy stood, releasing Angel's hand with a gentle squeeze and followed Patricia. The house was amazing and decorated so perfectly. There wasn't a clashing or tacky theme in the whole place. Patricia timed the tour right down to the second because as they returned to the sitting room not only were Dawn and Peter there but a servant came in to announce dinner was ready.
"Thank you, Maria. Will you please call the children to the table?"
"Yes, Missus Richter."
As it turned out there were four Richter children, Peter, the oldest, and the youngest were twelve years apart. Both were boys with the middle two being girls. They made an attractive family. All had the white hair that Peter had. The dinner was formal, a little stiff, but the conversation ran the gamut of topics from things that would interest the seven year old to Peter. Buffy found herself a little envious. This was something she'd never had. There had been so much trauma and dire situations when Dawn came into the picture that they never got the chance to form many real family memories.
Buffy's eyes met Dawn's who smiled as if she was thinking the same thing. Angel was doing well at blocking Peter's oldest sister's attempts at flirtation. Buffy knew the girl, who was seventeen and a senior in high school, didn't mean anything by it. Buffy remembered how she felt about Angel when she was that age.
"So, how long have you two been together?"
"Nine years," Angel replied quickly before Buffy could even think about it. "Really closer to ten."
"You must have just been children."
"Yeah, I was sixteen, just moved to Sunnydale. He swept me off my feet."
"She says that now, but it didn't really happen that way."
"Oh come on, Buffy, you hated him at first."
"Dawn, you're not supposed to say things like that."
"Well, what does it matter now? And you did. I remember the night you met him. You came home from The Bronze complaining about him. You just wanted to have fun with Willow and Xander."
"Well, he didn't ask me to dance or anything. He just stood in the corner, stared and acted all broody. I was mad because the good looking guy was supposed to come ask me to dance. And he never did."
"And that had never happened to you before."
"Well, no, of course not."
"Which is why I didn't. I knew I had to play it cool with you."
"You did, huh?"
"It worked, didn't it?"
"I guess so."
"How did you meet, Mister and Missus Richter?"
"Well. At a concert really."
Peter smiled then. He'd obviously heard the story before.
"I had just come home from a summer abroad after graduating college. Colette, a friend I'd grown up with won the tickets from a local radio station. We happened to sit next to Allen and some friends of his."
"What concert?" Buffy asked, having no doubt they'd remember.
"Sting. His first solo concert. I remember I didn't really want to go. I was a big fan of The Police and wasn't sure I wanted to support his endeavors to perform on his own. Colette convinced me to go, said it was a graduation gift from her. How could I refuse a gift?"
"And I couldn't believe my fortune. My friend begged me to change seats because Colette and Patricia were talking so much. I've never understood to this day how he could hear them from the noise of the concert. I took one look at her and I knew I had to get her number."
"I gave it to him and it took him days to call. I thought for sure he'd forgotten about me or it had been some sort of joke. I was out the day he did finally call and I had all I could do to wait until the next day to call him back. He was busy back then starting the recording company, which is how he came by the seats next to ours. I was starting my decorating business. We married seven months later and ten months later we had Peter."
"Our parents would have loved your courtship. They swore six months wasn't long enough. We were too young. Patsy was barely twenty-three, I was twenty-six. But we both knew. And, of course, we deprived them of the wedding of their dreams. Neither of us wanted a big deal. Small and intimate is what we talked about and it's what we got. I look at photographs from our wedding and I can tell you each and every guest who was there and why."
"That's impressive." Buffy had to admit she had always envisioned the big wedding. She'd trimmed down some over the years. She'd be happy to just be a bride one day.
"That's so sweet," Dawn said.
"Our parents met at a college dance. Our dad had come with someone else."
"You didn't know that?"
"No," Dawn said with a roll of her eyes. "No one ever tells me anything good."
"She told me the night of my first Spring Fling in Sunnydale. I'd gone from being May Queen to being not the May Queen. The boy I wanted to ask me to the dance didn't and the one I didn't want to ask me did. So, I wasn't going to go, but Mom bought me this dress."
"That white one?"
"You remember that?"
"Yes, I remember how pretty you looked. I was like eleven and thought you were a princess or something."
"I remember it," Angel said. "And she didn't look like a princess. She would have put any princess to shame that night."
"Yeah, well, you say that now. You made me go alone, look like an idiot."
"But I was there, wasn't I?"
"Yes, you were." Boy were they fudging the facts of their history, but as long as they kept up with the lies they were okay.
"It took me a while after that to realize I wanted to be with her. She and Dawn spent the summer at their dad's and came back. I was excited, but Buffy acted like she barely remembered me."
"What they aren't telling you is that they only had eyes for each other from the beginning. It used to drive me crazy that they'd do that to themselves."
"Yeah, well, we caught on eventually." Angel leaned in and kissed her.
"What else are you doing with your time here? Have you been to Chicago before?"
"Well, we're staying downtown and just enjoying taking in the sights. It's our first time here, but won't be our last. Although, I don't think Angel will let me shop as much the next time around. I couldn't resist, though."
"Did you go to Water Tower Place?" Alicia, the seventeen year old, asked.
"We did. I loved it."
"I suppose you had shopping in LA, though."
"We did. And when I was overseas," Buffy shrugged. "Paris, Rome, Milan. You don't get much better than that, but I love Chicago, though. I'm not sure Cleveland will measure up, so that just gives me an excuse to come back and visit Dawn more often."
"I do have classes and homework."
"It's just an excuse. I don't really want to see you anymore than I have to. Two weeks with you is enough."
"Yeah, okay." They both laughed knowing Dawn wouldn't get upset over a Buffy visit.
"We have season tickets to the Bulls. I know Peter could care less, but if you're sports fans perhaps the four of you would like to go to a game while you're here."
"Oh no, that's too generous. I mean, I'm sure you were planning to go."
"Nonsense, Allen gives most of them away to clients. We've had them forever, so we've gone to more than our share of games."
"Patsy, they may not like basketball."
"Well, then they should say so."
"We'll go, Mom."
"Great." She seemed genuinely pleased. "There's a game tomorrow night, which should work since you're leaving Sunday."
"So, Dawn, Peter tells us you're a Journalism major. What will you do with it?"
"Well, of course I'd like to be the next Bob Woodward, but barring that I'd just like to find a niche and do it well."
"I don't think I could be a reporter," Alicia said. "They're so intrusive."
"Well, some are, sure, but they're just doing their job. And it's not like the people being interviewed couldn't say no. Besides, I was looking more at the arts or something. I don't know. We'll see what I get after I graduate and I know if I wanted something specialized I'd have to start at the bottom like everyone. But if I had a goal then I think I could do the other stuff."
"There are so many reporters, but there are very few good reporters," Patricia said. "We're fortunate in Chicago we tend to get the good ones, but we've endured a few of the not so good ones over the years. Allen's music company went through a difficult spell there when one of the musicians he contracted had some brushes with the law. Never mind that the company's image until that point was spotless. It reflected poorly on so many people involved."
"That's terrible. I guess I'm guilty of that, too, not blaming someone that didn't have anything to do with the person's mess, but especially when I lived in LA and lived so close to some of the people. It was hard not to read up and get your fill of the latest gossip."
"I don't imagine there will ever come a day when gossip doesn't sell. And some of it is probably harmless, but when people indirectly associated are hurt it becomes a different issue."
"Oh sure, but it sells. And isn't that what it gets down to? Profits?" Buffy shrugged. She pushed her plate away. They served way too much food, all of it was delicious. She'd have to see about using the hotel's fitness room to burn off some of it. She had to watch things like that when she wasn't actively slaying. She didn't seem to be the only one done, she noticed.
"Dawn, I hope we haven't scared you away for Easter."
"Uh, no, that'd be very nice of you."
"Buffy, Angel, if you don't want to be by yourselves you're welcome to come here, too."
"Oh, I'm sure I'll be busy getting organized but thanks." She wasn't sure this family would understand that she didn't go to church. Neither did Dawn. Or did she now? It wasn't anything Buffy was opposed to. "I'll let Dawn know to tell you if that changes."
"Allen, go get those tickets so they can go. I'm sure they don't want to be stuck here all evening on Friday night."
"The meal was delicious. Thank you," Angel said.
"Yes, thank you. I hope you didn't go through any extra trouble for us."
"You're welcome and Allen and I enjoy entertaining. It's even more fun when I can twist Peter's arm and convince him to come home. You'd think we lived hours away or something with how infrequently he visits. Maybe you can convince him to come around more often, Dawn."
"I'll try, Missus Richter."
Allen returned a few minutes later with an envelope he handed to Peter. Buffy wasn't much of a sports fan but she imagined it would be fun. For Dawn and her potential happiness she'd suffer through a sporting event. Soon, the two couples were on their way back downtown.
"Want to take that walk?" Angel made the suggestion as soon as Peter and Dawn pulled away.
"I guess my heels aren't that high."
"If your feet start to hurt let me know, I'll pick you up and carry you."
"I would, too."
"You're so sweet."
"Thanks. So, what did you think of them?" He took her hand as they began a leisurely pace along the sidewalk.
"I thought they seemed nice. They weren't too stuffy. I just wonder what they thought of Dawn."
"She was a little nervous tonight. So were you. She'll do better the next time and wow them with her personality and wit."
"You think so?"
"I know so. It's hard meeting important people for the first time, and if they're the first serious relationship for one another that's especially difficult. I'm sure his parents want to protect him from gold diggers. He's a nice guy and very smart. I've listened to him talk and he really does know what he's talking about. But he's not overly good looking or worldly, not the type that would normally capture a girl like Dawn's attention."
"A girl like Dawn?"
"Pretty, bubbly. Hot I think is the word used commonly today."
"You think Dawn's hot?"
"I prefer my women to be blonde and spry, not too tall, and able to drive a stake home without a flinch. But she's attractive."
"Hmm. Glad you clarified that. Had you stopped at blonde I might have had a word or two to say since I'm not the first blonde."
"I'm not dumb."
"No, you're certainly not."
"And you will be the last blonde."
"You got me there."
"Let's get back. It's colder than I thought and you're not wearing much."
He stopped walking and brought her to him, folding her easily into his embrace. "You're more than okay. I have to admit when I saw that dress in the store I wasn't thinking of having to contain myself for hours."
"Contain yourself? You? No way."
"Mm," he murmured, kissing her lightly. "Human now, have all the downfalls that go with it. Including impatience." His hands slid to her hips. "You feel wonderful. Good enough to eat."
"Angel," she whispered, but wasn't offended by what he'd just said.
"I want you, Buffy. I know you want to wait, and that's fine but please don't mistake my ability to hold back as any indication I feel differently."
"I wasn't. Not yet."
"Good." He kissed the tip of her nose. "I just wanted you to know."
"Whenever I'm ready you'll be the first to know."
"I'm holding you to that."
"I'm glad," she said with a light laugh.
"You think it's funny? You think it's easy for me to sleep with you night after night? So close and yet so far away?"
"And then when we get to Cleveland, you want us to have separate places. So I go from nothing to all to somewhere in between."
"Rethink the living thing, Buffy. I'll take a separate room if you want me to, but I can't live away from you. I want you to come home to me after a patrol."
"Yes, but if I come home to you after a patrol I'll be tempted to do things I shouldn't do."
"And I think we both know you'd be able to stop yourself unless you really wanted to. I just want to be near you whenever I can. And we can't do that living separately."
"And yet, you were sailing around the world without a care, in no hurry to find me."
"I already told you, I needed time. Just imagine, I mean it's not the same, but just imagine if you woke up tomorrow and you were no longer the slayer. The world you had belonged in for so long, that had shaped who you are was now closed to you."
"Okay, I can see that, and I'm not saying I don't understand. I do, I mean not really because you're right. It would never be the same. I've been the slayer for nine years, you've been alive for like thirty times that. But you've had two years to deal with this. I've had barely two weeks."
"I know." He slid his hand to her cheek, his fingertips stroking her hair. "I know I'm rushing you, but I want to be with you, Buff. I want the forever we talked about and I don't see any reason to put off the inevitable. I'm not going to change my mind. I'm not going to decide two years from now I want to be with someone else. And even if I did, which I won't, but if that was in the cards I'd do it whether we were together or not."
He kissed her again, gently. He was asking her to surrender, to give in to him. She wanted to more than anything. It was so tempting. She loved him. In all of her life she'd loved only him and Dawn enough to give up her life so that they could live. Nothing compared to that. Ever. Her hands slid around his neck, drawing him closer and deeper into the kiss. Wordlessly, she gave her answer.
"Is that a yes?"
"I think so."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com