Buffy shielded her eyes and looked out into the water hearing Dawn calling her. She couldn't get over how much Dawn had grown since they'd last seen one another. It was her own fault, she'd needed some major Buffy time. Dawn had needed to finish school. And now here she was in the middle of her second year at Northwestern. Once upon a time, Buffy was accepted into Northwestern. It seemed like forever ago.
"Come on, Buffy, the water's perfect."
Buffy was really of the mind just to lay on the beach and soak up some rays. Dawn was energetic enough for both of them. Giles had pushed Buffy to do this, not that she didn't want to see Dawn. Returning to the States was something she'd put off since Sunnydale's destruction. She'd traveled abroad, seen things she'd seen in books and magazines but never thought she'd get the chance to see them in real life.
The boat they were living on couldn't even be seen among all the other boats in the marina. Evidently, they were not the only ones to think this was a great way to spend spring break. Giles had even arranged for someone to take them whale watching the week they were here. Buffy was all for that.
"I'm good, Dawn," she called out, waving her sister away. Compared to some of the beaches she'd been to over the past three years, this was pretty dull but it was close to LA. Home. Almost ten years after being forced from LA she was back. It was wonderful even if she didn't really have any place to call home right now. Maybe Giles got that.
She felt eyes on her. She was used to that, though it still kind of unnerved her. She'd always known she was decently attractive. In high school and college she had the hard work outs of being the slayer going for her. But three years off from slaying full-time had softened her some. At least she thought so. She liked the new and improved Buffy. At least she knew she looked good in the two-piece suit she'd picked for today.
Dawn stopped with the swimming and they returned to the boat that was their temporary home on water for lunch.
"This is so cool. Giles like thought of everything."
"That's Giles. He's good with the always thinking."
"But, Buffy, right down to the Jif peanut butter. I mean, come on."
"He's so proud of you, Dawn."
Buffy felt her eyes tearing at the sound of doubt in Dawn's voice. She had wanted to go straight from high school into the slayer work. Buffy had put her foot down. One of the two Summers' girls was going to go to college on the normal schedule.
"Like you don't know that."
"Well, he's Giles."
"Not so forthcoming with the kudos. I understand, believe me, I do. We're all proud of you. Most especially me."
"Now, what's for lunch?"
"I thought you were making it."
She scoffed. "Me with the cooking?"
"I can do sandwiches."
"There are even some of those big pickles."
"That's what I say." Dawn dragged the makings of sandwiches out of the refrigerator.
Buffy wondered how much this was costing Giles. He knew the boat's owner and evidently the guy wasn't going to use it during this time, but Buffy believed money had changed hands to make the idea more appealing.
"I can't believe how late we stayed up. I haven't done that since high school."
"Well, not to talk."
"I don't want to hear about it."
"Buffy. Gross. No, studying."
"How is the love life?"
Dawn shrugged. Buffy didn't miss the streak of crimson that appeared on the back of Dawn's neck. She knew that mark well. It meant she'd scored an embarrassment point. "Two points for Buffy. Spill. Details. All of them. Who is he? What's his major? What's he like? Have you met his parents? And, hey, why haven't I met him?"
"Um, there are no points involved here. His name is Peter. He's a Psychology major." Dawn's eyes darted away from Buffy's at that statement.
"So over Riley. That was years ago. Over, done, married now. Go on."
"He's super nice, smart. I think he's cute, but it's kind of a geeky cute."
"Nothing wrong with that," Buffy said, popping a potato chip into her mouth. "Continue."
"We met at a basketball game if you can believe that. I was at the concession stand and he spilled my drink. It was an accident, but he paid for my refill and we started talking."
"Aww. That's sweet."
"Um, let's see. Haven't met his parents, but I've met his sister. She's younger and came to visit him for a weekend. And you haven't met him because, I haven't seen you in two years."
"Okay, fair enough."
"What's his sister like?"
"Like I was when I was fifteen."
"No one could possibly be that bad."
"Hey, finding out I was a ball of energy was pretty traumatic."
"No doubt. Finding out I was the slayer was a piece of cake compared to that."
"Hey, at least you really had a childhood."
Buffy bobbed her head at that. "You're right. So, is it serious?"
"It has the potential to be."
"Dawn's first serious boyfriend. What the hell am I supposed to do?"
"Just be my sister."
"Yeah, but you have to tell him if he hurts you I'll kick his ass."
"Um, no, no my sister is stronger than most everyone in the world threats."
"Hmm, you're playing hard ball. You must really like him."
"Love him?" Dawn blushed even more, Buffy wasn't sure how that was possible. "You do!" Buffy clapped her hands and rubbed them together. "That's great. It is, isn't it? He's not weird or anything, is he?"
"No, I just," she was busy cutting her sandwich in half. After finishing that she spread some chips on her plate and got a diet pop out of the refrigerator.
"I want you to be happy, you know? I feel bad that I'm all in love and feeling like this and you're, well, not."
"Oh, Dawn, I appreciate that. But I've been in love and I can't wait for it to happen now that I'm ready for it. And I am happy. That's how I know I'm ready this time around. But don't feel bad about what you're feeling. What you're experiencing, it's wonderful. Is he a good kisser?"
"These are details I have to know."
"Yes. Buffy, this is so weird."
"You're my sister. You're like a superhero, and have been more mom than sister since I was fourteen."
"Oh come on, we're like way past that sister thing. We're buds, in a inexplicable, paranormal kind of way. The Slayer and her Key sister. Who would have thought, huh? You kind of grew on me."
"So, he's a good kisser. Anything else I should know he's good at."
"No! That's all I'd tell you anyway."
"Hmm," Buffy said, stealing a chip off Dawn's plate.
"Get your own."
"I will, I will. I think this is cause for a celebration."
"Yeah, the Summers sisters do LA. Come on. You're happy, you've got a good guy, you're on your way to getting that high grade award they assign in college."
"I don't know about that."
"I do. My sister, the genius. Don't tell Willow, but you'd give her a run for her money."
"Now you're exaggerating."
"Am not. So, are you going to let me take you out?"
"I don't know."
"Oh come on. How much sitting on a boat and relaxing can we do? It's not like we have to wake up in the morning for any reason."
"Wouldn't it bother you?"
"Going into town? You know, where you used to live, where Angel ended up. Vampires and stuff can't be gone."
"I'm not here as the slayer, but you know I never go anywhere unprepared. So if we meet up with a vamp, I'll dust him in no time flat and we'll get on with the celebrating."
Angel was a sore subject, no one talked about him much. He was part of the reason Buffy had made with the making herself scarce the past couple of years. Giles had done two things in the nine years she'd known him that were hard to forgive him for. Trying to kill Spike was one. Not telling Buffy that Angel needed help was the second. No one had heard from him since. The world hadn't ended, LA was fine, so Buffy assumed all was well. But the not knowing was killing her.
She had cut her time in Rome and with The Immortal short. Willow had somehow found out about LA, but by the time Buffy could even start to assemble enough slayers it was done. Or at least she couldn't find any information about where she was needed. Apocalypses were funny things, not much with the forewarning so it had probably happened fast.
Since then, she'd been living like the buoys she spotted in the water. Bouncing around from one place to the next. She'd slay here and there if it was necessary, but each town she came to that had a demon or vampire problem she looked for him. She used to think, a long time ago when she thought her life would end without him in it, that she'd know if he was gone. She had believed that they were that connected. If she was right and that was true, she knew with all her heart he was out there somewhere.
"I'm sorry, Buffy, I shouldn't have brought it up."
"No, it's fine, Dawn." Buffy reached and placed her hand over Dawn's squeezing it. "It's hard, I won't deny it. I just wish I knew for sure, but I've resigned myself to the fact he's gone."
"Enough with the Angel talk," Buffy said, jerking her hand away from Dawn's. She stood and walked to the steps that would lead to the deck. "It's time for some sunshine and we can think about which bars we want to hit tonight."
"I still don't know if this is a good idea."
"You think Peter would mind?"
"No, I mean, it's not like I'm going to do anything wrong."
"Then let's go. Call him, tell him we're going out clubbing so you'll talk to him tomorrow."
"Oh come on, you were going to call him tonight. I heard you last night, knew you were talking to someone you didn't want me to eavesdrop on."
"Oh all right."
"Yay," Buffy said and walked up the stairs. She regarded the shoreline, LA. It was so familiar and yet such a stranger to her. Fickle. It could swallow someone up and if they were lucky they'd get spit out when it was done with them. She brushed away a tear at the realization that there would have been nothing left of Angel to spit out if that had happened.
Buffy groaned at the sound of Dawn's far too perky voice. She was still recovering from the night before. It didn't stop her from lazing the afternoon away on the beach, but she didn't move from her spot unless she had to. She hadn't had a night like the one before in years. Sure she'd clubbed in London, Paris, Rome, and Athens among other places but she could not remember the last sunrise she saw before going to bed. Thank God she wasn't a drinker or she'd be miserably hung over today.
Dawn, on the other hand, acted as if they hadn't done anything extraordinary. Buffy doubted life in Chicago was dull and Dawn probably enjoyed the freedom of being somewhere that allowed her to be her own person. It was part of the reason Buffy had stayed away. She didn't want the badness that always seemed to penetrate Buffy's life to leak into Dawn's when she had a real chance to succeed.
"You're in my sun." She pouted prettily, knowing it wouldn't have the desired effect on Dawn.
"Oh come on."
"What? You may be used to staying up all night, but I'm not." She noticed Dawn's quirked eyebrow and added. "Anymore. God I sound so old."
"You do. Hey, those guys I'm playing volleyball with, they invited us to their boat for cocktails and then clubbing."
"Mm, we can go but no drinking anything there. Clubs, fine, but you know the rules."
She shoved her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. "Yes, I know the rules. I'm not two you know."
"No, I do know that. I'm well aware of the fact that you're a young, nubile, and smart nineteen year old girl. I also know that guys can be pretty creepy. And that's why there are rules. If I wasn't capable of protecting you I'd say no to the cocktail hour, but it's not like I can't take them."
Dawn snorted. "I always love it when you talk like that."
"Because normally I don't think you dwell on how much stronger you are than everyone else."
Buffy shrugged casually, rolling her shoulders as she did. It was about time for her to flip over anyway. She was working on her tan. Too bad she had to wear a suit here. She'd have tan lines on her chest and back for the first time in a while. She wasn't an exhibitionist, and at first she'd been uncomfortable tanning topless. By the time she'd left France and hit Spain, she'd been fine. And Greece, it wasn't even anything for her to dwell on. She'd never gotten with the full nudity, but hey, her breasts were perky and stuff. And she'd seen some women who should have been covering theirs up decades ago. So, why not? had been her philosophy.
"So, cocktails and then clubbing?"
"Yes. I'm going to need a vacation from my Spring Break vacation, I can feel it already."
"That's the best kind of Spring Break to have. Besides, you don't work."
"Okay, much. At least not like normal people."
Buffy still slayed. There were salesman that traveled, Buffy was the traveling slayer. Have vampire or demonic activity? Slayer will travel. She'd come back to the United States to man the hellmouth in Cleveland. She hadn't exactly been a slacker the last three years. She'd trained so many slayers she'd lost count. And she was, much to Giles' pleasure, making with the research. At twenty-five it was too much to expect her to slay forever, though Giles had never really come up with an answer on what her life would be like. She was an anomaly having lived this long. So there were no notes or journal entries for him to look through.
She really just wanted to know if she had to worry about turning into a burning pile of ash at the ripe age of thirty. Drifting away in her sleep at a ripe old age surrounded by a husband, children and grandchildren would be ideal. Buffy was accustomed to her life falling outside the realm of ideal so she was not holding her breath.
"You want to come play volleyball with us?"
No, she really didn't want to, but it would make Dawn happy so she'd do it. She couldn't act like a complete bum the ten days they had together. Besides, volleyball was fun and maybe she'd wake up. "Sure, why not?"
Buffy managed to keep her mouth closed somehow when they boarded the boat hosting cocktail hour. The boat Giles' friend owned was nice. It wasn't overly as far as roominess went, but she and Dawn had their own bed and they weren't right on top of each other eating in the galley. This, on the other hand, was no mere boat.
"There they are." She glanced in the direction of the voice, recognized him as one of the volleyball players. Tim she thought his name was, but wasn't sure. They weren't the only girls there, and that made Buffy feel a little better.
"Hi," Buffy said, tucking some hair behind her ear. She was feeling a little shy, a little out of her league especially if one of these guys owned this boat.
"Buffy and Dawn, right?"
"You got it."
"Great. Help yourself. There's beer, pop, wine coolers, and the like in the bucket on the deck. If you prefer a cocktail, we can mix something up for you."
"I'll get us something, Buffy."
Buffy took his offered hand. "Hi, Tim, thanks for inviting us." Buffy smiled, glad she was right. He wasn't an overly memorable guy, but he was one of the couple that had taken the time to help her with her serve. She hadn't played volleyball since high school and she wasn't very good then. To say she was rusty and not real good was an understatement.
"Hey, we're neighbors, right? That's what neighbors do."
"So your sister, she's your sister, right?"
"A blonde and a brunette, lucky parents."
"Something like that."
"Anyway, she told us she goes to Northwestern. Do you live out that way?"
"I," Buffy frowned. "No. I've been kind of a wanderer the past couple of years. Traveling, working here and there if I found a place I wanted to stay put in for a while. But I'm back, moving to Cleveland."
"Home of the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame."
"Sure is," she said taking the can of diet pop Dawn offered her. "Thanks, Dawn."
"You're coming out with us, right?"
"Yeah, we were planning on it."
"Great," he pointed to her and then back at him. "I've got to get a dance in with you."
He draped an arm over her shoulder and drew her close. "Your sister," he said quietly. "Does she have an ID?"
"Good, good, I know she's not twenty-one and we'll be hitting a lot of places tonight."
"No problem. We're good."
"Great. I'm going to go get a drink. I'll find you later."
And then he totally freaked Buffy out and kissed her. It wasn't just a peck either, it was full, on the mouth, lips parted, tongue action. He pulled away almost right away, causing Buffy to blink and try to figure out if she'd just imagined it. By the shocked look on Dawn's face she hadn't. Great. She was so not looking for a Spring Break fling. Evidently, this guy was and thought she was an easy mark. Why? Because she was twenty-five and hanging out with her younger sister?
"Please tell me he's drunk and that combined with sun poisoning made him do that?"
"I don't know."
"I don't have a sign painted over my head saying I'm desperate or anything, do I?"
"Okay, good. That was just weird."
"Was it a good kiss at least?"
"I don't know, it was over so fast I didn't have time."
Cocktail hour turned into more like three hours. Buffy saw Tim a time or two, which she expected considering it was a boat and not a house. Each time he spotted her looking in his direction he held up his thumb. She wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry she'd gotten the guy's attention. Soon, though, the group that was going out clubbing was on their way out of the marina.
Buffy wore some of her best clubbing clothes. When she went dancing she was of the mind that she had it she may as well flaunt it. It had gotten her in trouble with The Immortal, but not over her head trouble. She'd caught on pretty quickly what he was about and had left Rome without hesitation or regret. She left no forwarding address, no email address. She was untraceable, though to someone like him she doubted that would stop him. He had more than likely moved onto the next girl, or two or three, by now so she wasn't worried.
He was Buffy's dirty little secret. There was no soul, no chip at work with him and his alignment with good or evil was clearly questionable. He changed sides like the wind blew. It was somewhat euphoric, but it had gotten old quick. It was the last relationship she'd been in, the last man she'd been with. She no longer wanted casual. She was finally ready for all out, mind blowing, earth shattering love and coming back to the States was the beginning of the best chapter of Buffy's life. It seemed sort of fitting to spend time in LA first at this juncture in her life. It was where the most significant change in her life had occurred. Her calling.
Tim and another guy paid their cover charges at each club, so by the time they were at the last club of the night Buffy and Dawn had spent less than twenty dollars between the two of them.
"I noticed you haven't protested what's his name paying for you."
"Butch, and no. There's nothing wrong with letting the guys pay."
"Absolutely. Just be careful."
"I totally love Peter."
"I meant be careful. He doesn't know you love Peter and probably thinks you're available."
"Am I horrible for not mentioning him?"
Buffy shook her head. "I don't think so. Omission isn't a sin. And you're not doing anything wrong."
"Thanks." Buffy could tell Dawn was relieved. "Just don't leave without me. I don't have superhero strength."
"I wouldn't let you out of my sight, Dawn."
"I know. Enough with the serious talk. Let's pick out some guys for us to dance with."
"Dawn, the two we have following us around aren't enough?"
"No worse than you were when you were this age."
"I guess you've got a point there."
"We won't stay out too much longer."
"Why stop now? Sunrises are in no way overrated. This is your week. Our week. Fun is the only thing on the menu."
"Okay," she said, tugging Buffy out onto the dance floor.
Finding dance partners wasn't difficult. It was closing time and they had been on the go all night. Buffy loved it, felt the adrenaline pumping through her. She was eager to go. She remembered this feeling, loved it. Only thing was, it made her want to go kill something, which was not of the wise if she was trying to be normal girl for a week.
Tim and Butch had seemed sincerely disappointed when Buffy and Dawn declined their offer to continue the night at their boat. When they returned to their boat, though, Buffy was too wound up to go to sleep right away.
"I'm going to go for a walk, Dawn."
"Just to watch the sunrise."
"You want company?"
"No, I mean, you look tired so get some rest."
"Positive." She did a quick change of clothes from her slinkier clubbing clothes into more conservative beachwear, which consisted of shorts and a tank with sandals. She slid into her windbreaker, knowing it could be cool this time of the morning.
She walked to the end of the marina for an unobstructed view. It was beautiful, breathtaking. Her life had revolved around the sun and its cycles for years now. It was odd to just be able to stand here and enjoy the beauty that was nature at work. Even the water seemed to cooperate with her more serene mood and was making gentle laps against the beach and the marina's piers.
She slid her feet out of her sandals when she came to some rocks and moved to sit on one. She suspected the guys they'd gone out with tonight would come around. Buffy wasn't sure how Dawn would want to handle that. Tim was not her type, she knew that already. She was all for giving a guy a chance, but he was too into the partying scene for her. She imagined he would make the same assumption about her not realizing what her life was. She took a deep sigh, arms going around her knees as she gathered them to her chest. Maybe she'd give him a chance. What could it hurt? Other than her scheduled to be in Cleveland in less than two weeks.
Her body went on alert. To anyone who knew her it would be apparent she was going into defense mode. Someone was watching her. She scanned the area but didn't see anyone who seemed to be focused on her. It wasn't an evil alert feeling. She couldn't shake it, though. Deciding it was probably best not to tempt fate and that Dawn's enthusiastic wakeup call would come all too soon she started back toward the boat.
She glanced around once more for any sign that her body hadn't been fooled. She saw nothing, so she went aboard more than ready to call it a night just as the sun was almost completely visible in the horizon.
What were the odds that he'd return to LA for the first time in close to two years and see her? He had pulled into the marina earlier in the afternoon. Not one for crowds he had waited until things had quieted down before heading into town to get a few things he needed. He didn't need much, but a few necessities were in order. Like cookie dough fudge mint ice cream. He was such a sap.
He had heard the laughter, the good time going on around him while he slept the day away on his boat's deck. He hadn't given any of the people a glance, though. There were attractive women in every port, but none turned his head or caught his eye. He'd seen the pained look in more than one woman's eyes when she realized that he was not going there with her. He couldn't believe the lengths some women went to. He wasn't used to women aggressive in the ways the modern twenty-first century woman was. In his day, even the promiscuous ones had dreams of marriage or becoming mistress to someone of means.
His skin was the color of worn pennies. He rarely took time to put on a shirt or wear anything beyond shorts. Underwear was way overrated when it was just him. His hair had lightened some. It was still brown but there were natural highlights in it now that he kind of liked. Of course, he liked everything about his existence now. Well, almost. He was happy until now.
What was she doing here? He could pick up anchor and take him and his boat to another marina along the coast. He had decided not to do that. He didn't work for the Powers That Be anymore, but that didn't mean that they were incapable of poking or prodding him in the direction they thought he should go. What else but fate could bring them together like this?
She was aware of him. Someone watching her. He would have to be careful. He had to investigate who she was here with. Was she married? He didn't need the bright light of day to notice how beautiful she looked. She still took his breath away. She was an angel, a very lethal angel but one nonetheless.
He watched from the shadows as she returned to her boat. She hesitated and it was tempting to reveal himself. No, tonight was not the time. There was too much to say, too much ground to cover. That was assuming she would even listen to him. He never thought he'd see the day she'd refuse to help him, but it had happened. That instance more than all others had driven home the point that she had moved on. It was more painful than a stake through the heart.
"Sleep tight," he whispered once he saw her go below, blowing her a kiss. He turned his attention back to the sunrise. He rarely missed one and doubted he'd ever grow tired of being able to see one while standing outdoors. So many things people took for granted. He vowed never to do that.
"I'll talk to her tomorrow," he muttered, rolling his eyes as he looked at the heavens above. Until then, he had a boat to clean up. He wasn't a messy guy, but a bachelor sailing the open seas with no one to be responsible to he had his bad days.
She didn't sleep well. Dreams, not of the strange variety. They weren't her slayery dreams either. She couldn't have described it if she tried. All she knew is that she hadn't slept well. It was going on noon and she could smell grilled cheese wafting from the galley into her room.
"It's the best," she heard Dawn say.
"No, my sister has been with me the whole time." She giggled then. A full-fledged, flirtatious giggle. This was no school girl crush giggle like she'd do with her friend Janice when Xander came around the house.
"I lived here for eighteen years, don't you think if I wanted a California guy I would have found one while I was here?"
"Yes, we went out last night, too. Well, you know I want my sister to have fun before she goes to Cleveland. And, hey, maybe she'll meet a guy while we're here."
"Well, yeah, I suppose living in Cleveland would make it difficult, but she's worth moving to Cleveland for. But, you know, she needs a bit of a push with her last boyfriend dying."
"Yes, I know she seems awful young to have a boyfriend die. But accidents do happen."
"No, Pete, you won't see me on any spring break videos anytime soon."
Buffy couldn't help but laugh at that. Dawn turned, startled, evidently having no idea Buffy was awake. Obviously, or she wouldn't have been talking about Buffy meeting guys. Or Spike dying.
"Yes, I have my computer, but I'm not checking my email. This is a vacation."
"I'm sorry you have to work, too. I miss you."
She turned away as Buffy headed toward the bathroom for her morning ritual.
"I didn't wake you, did I?" Dawn asked when Buffy finally joined her for the day for good.
"No, not at all. I didn't mean to cut your conversation short."
"It's fine. He's being all paranoid. I told you he's kind of a geek, so he thinks I'm like all hot and bothered for the surfers out here."
"Well, I've tried to explain that to him, but he's insecure I guess."
"How old is he?"
"I'm his first serious girlfriend."
"Oh," Buffy said. That explained a lot. More than a lot. Everything.
"He's not like socially inept or anything. I just don't think he made time for girls in high school or anything. The way his sister talks anyway."
"So you've talked to her."
"Well, she's stayed in my room the weekends she's come up, doesn't feel comfortable in a house full of guys."
"Can't say as I blame her there."
"He kind of reminds me of Andrew the way she describes him."
"And you like the guy?"
"Well, not exactly like Andrew. But, you know, into gaming and stuff. He's the only guy I knew like that to compare him to."
"Okay," Buffy said, bringing her bagel to the table to eat. "Whatcha working on?"
"Just checking my email."
"Didn't you just tell him you weren't checking it?"
"Yes, but you know."
"You miss him."
"This is so cool."
"He said his parents want to meet me."
"Ohhh, it is getting serious. How long have you been seeing him?"
"Like a year ago New Year's?"
"Oh my God, Dawn. I had no idea. I'm a horrible excuse for a sister and human being."
"No, you're a woman who had the weight of the world on her shoulders for seven years who took some time off for herself once that weight was distributed a little more evenly."
Buffy squeezed Dawn's hand, glad her sister was not just so understanding but forgiving as well. "It stops now. We're all we have. I don't want to be clueless as to your life. Over a year with a guy, Dawn, that's a big deal."
"They've invited me for Easter."
"Oh wow. That's like huge."
"Where does he live?"
"In Illinois, Inverness. It's not far from Northwestern I guess because he goes home quite a bit."
"But he hasn't offered to take you?"
"Well, he goes overnight to do laundry and sometimes stays with his sister while his parents go out of town and stuff. So, no."
"But you'll be staying Easter weekend?"
"I guess. I don't know. Buffy, what does someone wear for Easter?"
"Hmm, I'm probably not the person to ask. We were always casual. I take it he's not?"
"Well, we'll go shopping."
"No, Buffy, that's not what I meant."
"I know it's not. But why not? What else do we have to do? I swear if I put any suntan lotion on today I'm going to permanently smell like a coconut. So, let's take a break and do some girly things. There's Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom's, The Fashion District and oh God, so much stuff. You've never really done the whole LA shopping thing."
"No, I guess I haven't."
"Let's do it then. We can splurge and have lunch at some too expensive restaurant."
"Okay, we don't have to do that, but a new outfit that will both knock Pete for a loop and endear you to his parents. It's a difficult task, but we'll do it. We have over a week. You've never really seen me in Spordelia mode. So, let's go to it. Those sales clerks won't know what hit them when the Summers sisters are done."
"Are you sure?"
"Never been more sure. Dawn needs new clothes. And, hey, maybe I'll find some new shoes or something."
"Like you need more."
"Hey, I haven't even begun to replace all that I lost in Sunnydale. I've been rather conservative actually, given I've been the Council's traveling troubadour. But I have a home now, a permanent address to hang my crossbow and store my shoes."
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Troubadour, huh?"
"Yeah, you like it? I thought it sounded kind of witty."
"That's not what you told Tim you were last night, is it?"
"Well, that might explain why he was kind of clingy. He probably thought you were, you know."
"Easy, loose, you know."
Buffy laughed then and finished her cup of milk. "No, didn't make with the troubadour remarks."
"Well, that's good, because I've heard you sing. And a troubadour you aren't."
"Just for that, I'm going to get two pair of shoes."
Dawn rolled her eyes, but they both burst out laughing at the same time.
They walked to a nearby bus stop and waited for a bus. Being LA, they didn't have to wait long. Soon, they were on their way to a mall.
"I haven't been to mall since Sunnydale."
"No, I'm not."
"Buffy, I'd say you need to get out more but I'm guessing that wasn't your problem. More like you were too busy doing more fun stuff that you slacked."
"Yes, that's me, Buffy the slacker. It has a better ring to it than Buffy the Slayer I thought."
They laughed again, causing a couple of people to look at them as they got off the bus in front of the mall. Dawn probably had no idea that Buffy could quite literally make a day out of a trip to the mall. But when they left the mall about the time the sun was setting Buffy knew her little sister was in awe.
"Did I tell you we'd find you the perfect outfit or what?"
"And, hey, bonus, shoes to match. What more could a girl ask for?"
"That is pretty stylish."
"Oh, Dawn, you really need to get excited about such things."
"It's okay, Buffy, you're excited enough for the both of us."
Buffy took a sip of the pop from the food court. They had gone with a cheap and quick dinner instead of the swank restaurant. It was probably better. The house the Council was putting her up in was furnished, but she knew there'd be some personal touches she'd want to add herself.
"So, we've got the skirt that's not too short, the relatively conservative heels and a sweater that's Eastery in its color that covers everything it should but is soft to the touch. Cashmere, it's the best fabric ever if you want someone to touch you."
"Oh, I know you're seeing his parents, but you still have to hold his interest."
"I don't know that that's a problem."
"You know, I shouldn't ask this, but I have to."
"Okay. Do I want to hear this?"
"Probably not. Have you two slept together?"
"I have to ask, Dawn. You spent high school worrying about vampires and apocalypses. I don't think STDs or pregnancies were top at the top of your list of things to worry about."
"Ew, and no."
"But you know, right?"
"Yes. I know."
"And you have your own? I mean, you carry your own protection? You can't rely on the guy to do it."
"Dawn, I have to. If you've been with him for over a year and he's taking you to meet his parents. The next logical step is sex."
"We've barely gotten past kissing, Buffy. I've never had a boyfriend before him, he's never had a serious girlfriend before. It's new to both of us and we're both on the same page as far as taking things slow."
"Yes, well, sooner or later one of you is going to want to up the pacing a bit. Condoms. Buy them, keep one in your purse at all times."
"You bet. Now that we're talking about it, I should probably replace the one in my purse. It's probably long past expired. But I didn't have to worry about it with Angel or Spike. Always with Riley, though."
"There hasn't been anyone since Spike?"
"One guy in Rome, but it was nothing."
"Hmm. Three years?"
"I didn't think you had it in you."
"Me neither. Who knew?"
"You really are ready, aren't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're different. More mature. You've always been mature, but it was with the slaying and stuff. The relationship and interpersonal stuff you were kind of stunted in."
"Well, it's true. Understandable, but true. You've never gone three years without a relationship, Buffy."
"I've never gone a year."
"My point exactly."
"I'm holding out for the real deal this time, Dawn. No substitutes."
"He's not going to have an arrow over his head pointing at him."
"I know, and I realize I'll need to make with the dating again to find him, but I'll worry about it when I get to Cleveland. I just know that I'm ready to take the time and actually put myself out there to meet him."
"Maybe you can visit me at school and meet a professor or something."
"Just what we both need. I'd be so out of my league intelligence wise I'd never talk and your luck it'd be your advisor or something."
"He is kind of cute."
"Okay, okay, I'm kidding," she said as they boarded the bus.
"You will remember what we talked about."
"Yes, Buffy, I get it already."
Buffy turned to look at the person who'd just called her name.
"Yeah." It took her a minute to recognize him. She hadn't seen him since the day she'd moved from LA. "Tyler?"
"Yeah. I didn't recognize you, but the name."
"Yeah, it's kind of distinctive."
"How are you? You look good. Real good. Who's this?"
"My sister, Dawn."
"I don't remember you having a sister."
"Well, she's almost six years younger." Buffy hadn't encountered anyone she knew who didn't know about Dawn, it was kind of strange. There was a whole life full of people before Sunnydale, before the monks had brought Dawn to her. She'd never thought about it before, but she supposed messing with everyone's memory who'd ever encountered the Summers' was a little much.
"Oh. So are you back in LA?"
"Just vacationing. I've been abroad for the past couple of years, Dawn's in her second year at Northwestern."
"Oh cool. Very nice. How are your folks?"
"Mom died my second year of college. Dad's," she shrugged. There was no love lost between Hank and Tyler. Hank did not like Tyler at all. "Dad." Never mind other than Christmas and birthdays she hadn't heard from her dad in close to five years.
"Yeah. Sorry to hear about your mom. I always liked her."
"How are yours?"
"They're good. Mom's on a plastic surgery binge. Gotta get every defect fixed. Dad's still getting the crooks off."
She smiled. Tyler's parents were polar opposites of Buffy's. Buffy's were more traditional, down to earth where Tyler's were very in your face, hoity toity.
"What are you doing?"
"I lost my license so I'm busing it for a while."
"Oh. We're headed back to our boat, maybe take in some volleyball or a bonfire if we can get enough people together for it. There's a lot of spring breakers. You're welcome to join us if you want."
"Absolutely. Are you married? Bring the wife."
He smiled, Buffy realized he probably thought she was trying to find out if he was single. "No, I'm not married."
"Oh well, come alone then. It'd be fun to have someone I know in the mix."
"Sure," he said. Buffy wrote down their cell phone number and gave him the slip number their boat was in. "If we're not there, we'll be on the beach."
"I'll be there in a couple of hours. Thanks for the invite. It'll be nice to catch up."
"Bye Buffy. Nice to meet you, Dawn."
"Thanks, Tyler." They both waved as he left the bus.
"Don't I know it. He's even cuter than he was in high school. I had him wrapped around my little finger."
"You need to ask?"
"Oh right. Dumb me. Well, this trip is looking up, isn't it?"
"What, I can hope. I wonder how he lost his license."
"Knowing him, drunk driving."
"He drank at fifteen?"
"No, but it wouldn't surprise me. He was always the partying type."
"It's okay, Dawn, he's not going to become your brother-in-law or anything."
"He is cute."
"Yeah, yeah, he is."
"I wouldn't mind snuggling up to him around a bonfire."
"Dawn. I'm going to tell Peter. Oh, and by the way."
"I'm going to Cleveland by way of Chicago. I'm going to meet this guy. I want to meet him before you meet the ‘rents."
Dawn rolled her eyes, but Buffy knew secretly she was relishing the attention.
Buffy decided to wait for Tyler. Tim and Butch had made a beeline for them when they got back. It was almost like they'd been watching for them to return. That was creepy. Coupled with the kissing yesterday, Buffy decided she wanted to stay away. While she hadn't seen Tyler in years, she knew him well enough then to know she could just hang with him. That's all she wanted. Dawn, on the other hand, made a big play of making sure Buffy answered the phone in case Peter called. Butch, at least, had gotten the hint. Tim was probably a different story.
"Hi. You found us."
"Sure. It wasn't too hard. Just ask the guys with eyes where the two hot chicks were."
"Right. That'll do it I guess. Dawn's already down at the beach, I decided to wait for you. There's coolers full of stuff down there, unless you want something now."
"No, I'm fine."
"Okay then." She stepped off the boat and walked with him in the direction of the beach. There were a few new boats today. She'd never given much thought to people who traveled this way.
"So, what brought you back to LA if you don't live here anymore?"
"The past I guess. And the available boat that we didn't have to pay for."
"Ah, that'll do it."
"So, it's just the two of you ladies?"
"Yup, just us. A week of sun and sin."
He chuckled. "Yeah, you were made for a life containing lots of both. I always knew that."
She laughed. "Tyler."
"What? It's true. I was really bummed when you moved."
"And it was like you disappeared. No one knew where you moved to or anything."
"That was my mom's idea. Sever all ties, put the past behind me."
"I could see that. Burning down the gym, not exactly the way to stay under the radar."
"What do you do?"
"Oh really? Computers or what?"
"Yeah," she said simply. It was always iffy talking about what she did for a living. She hated having to lie.
"How about you?"
"Oh, I'm following in my father's footsteps. Law school. Only I plan to lock the guy's up he tries to get off."
"Ah. Will we be seeing father and son court battles?"
"I hope so."
"Cool. Let me know when the first one is, I'll be there."
He stopped walking and looked at her. Buffy wondered what she had said that was so surprising. "You really mean that."
"Yeah, Tyler, I do."
"Okay then. I admit, when you left like that I just assumed you hated me or something."
"Did you meet someone else?"
"Yeah, yeah, I did. Not like right away or anything, but yeah."
"That's good. Was he good to you?"
She shrugged. Simple questions with such complex answers. "For the most part. It was complicated. He was older."
"Ah. I can imagine how that went over with your mom."
He draped an arm over her shoulder. At fifteen there'd been nowhere she'd rather be than in Tyler's arms. Now, not so much. But she knew when he brought her to him for a hug that it was comfort he was offering her, nothing more.
"I'm really sorry about your mom, Buffy. And so young. All of you, not just your mom. You and Dawn. That had to have been hard."
"It was. I had to quit school to take care of Dawn."
"What about your dad?"
"You'd think, wouldn't you that he'd step in and help? But he was too busy with his secretary."
"Ah, I didn't know."
"No one did. It's okay. Mom before she died, she'd gone out on a couple of dates with a guy. He even sent her flowers. I thought she'd finally found the one. You know?" She hadn't thought of that day for so long. Coming home to the bouquet of flowers there. She had been so happy for her mother.
"Let's make with the good times tonight. Okay?"
"Sure, Buffy, no problem." He kept his arm around her as they walked arrived at the beach. They had a while to go until they could do a bonfire, but there was a game of volleyball going on. Some touch football she noticed, too. All seemed to be having a good time.
"Oh, hi. I thought it was just you and your sister."
"Um, it is. I went to school with Tyler."
"Oh, an old friend."
Buffy hoped Tyler would understand. She'd explain it to him later. She just didn't like the vibe this guy was giving off. She wished it was as black and white as his being a vampire or demon, but it wasn't. He just freaked her out. She placed her free hand on Tyler's abdomen. Oh yeah, the years had been good to him. There was nothing soft about him. "An old boyfriend actually."
"Oh I get it. Hey, it's cool. See ya."
Tyler burst out in laughter once Tim was out of earshot.
"I'm so glad you knew what I was doing."
"Hey, no problem. He was coming on a little strong."
"Uh yeah, you got that too?"
"Yes, definitely. Not that I can blame him. The years have been good to you, Buffy."
"Thanks. So, you don't mind I use you as a guy deflector."
"Use me, abuse me. That's what all the women want to do with me."
She laughed and smiled at him, kissing him on his cheek. "You're sweet, thanks."
"Let's see about that bonfire."
"Do you have marshmallows and stuff?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Cool. I haven't done this in years."
"Me neither." She felt it again. That feeling that someone was watching her. She'd felt it on and off while they were walking around the marina, but it was stronger now. She moved, standing in front of him, as if she was looking right at him. She hoped she could see someone, anyone. Out of the corner of her eye she caught movement, but when she looked whoever it was had left.
"Well, that sucks."
"Do you ever get the feeling you're being watched?"
"I've had it since last night."
"Hmm," he said, taking in their surroundings for what she thought was the first time. He wasn't very astute it seemed. Or perhaps it was just years of being hyperaware that around any corner evil and badness could lurk that made her instinctively look where she was going. And where she'd been.
"I don't see anyone."
"Me neither. Probably just paranoid with creepy guy hanging around."
"I can stay with you tonight if you want."
"No, not like that. I swear. I just, you know, don't like the idea of you and your sister being out here by yourself with a bunch of drunk guys."
"We're fine. They were drunk last night and didn't bother us."
"Well, if you change your mind, just let me know."
"You'll be the first."
"Good to know I'm first in something."
"Yeah, I opened myself for a lot of things there. Thanks for taking pity on a poor guy."
Buffy spotted Dawn in the volleyball pit and led Tyler in that direction. "I still can't believe I never knew you had a sister."
"I didn't talk about her much. You know, pesky, bratty, baby sister. She was a royal pain."
"Ah. But I was at your house."
"She stuck to her room most of the time. She was pretty bookish and shy, so anytime I had company she stayed to herself."
"Oh. She seems to have grown out of that."
"For the most part. She's still bookish and stuff, but not so much with the shy anymore."
"That's good. So, Northwestern. How is she funding that, if I may ask? With your mom gone and your dad not involved? Does consulting pay that much?"
"Yeah, yeah it does. When she's done I'm hoping maybe I'll be able to finish. But I wanted her on the right track rather than derailed from the beginning."
"That's nice of you. Very unselfish."
"You sound surprised."
"I am a little. The Buffy I knew, I'm not sure she was capable of thinking of anyone but herself."
"That was me."
"I like the new Buffy."
"I mean, I liked the old Buffy, but."
"I know what you mean." He was looking at her like he wanted to kiss her. "Um, just friends, remember?"
"Am I that transparent?"
"Just a little."
"No worries. It's easy to get caught up."
"And wonder what I lost out on."
"Yeah, that, too."
"Not so much anymore. I'm where I'm supposed to be. Sunnydale was where I was supposed to be. There was a time, sure I wanted to be back at Hemry before the gym incident. But I couldn't go back. Life went on, you know."
"True enough. You missed out on a killer senior party."
"I'll bet I did. Our class went out with quite a bang." Quite literally, she mused to herself. "It was good."
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."
"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 saying 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.
It was the longest week of her life. She had to remind herself more than once this time was about her and Dawn, though Dawn didn't seem to mind. Tyler had left his number with Dawn. Buffy called him the next day to apologize again, and he had been very nice about it. She guessed when you loved someone like she loved Angel it sort of came through however unintentionally.
The whale watching had been spectacular. Buffy had seen a lot of things during the past three years, but nothing prepared her for the beauty of nature at work in something so huge. They had spent the day packing and cleaning the boat. Any extra food they gave to Angel. It was still so weird thinking of Angel needing food. Tonight, they were going out for the last time in LA. Their flight didn't leave until tomorrow afternoon, but they were planning on getting a late start on the day.
"It seems so small until you have to clean it," Buffy said, wiping her brow with her wrist.
"There's just less space to live-in so it seems like it."
"How do you do it? I mean, almost two years like this?"
"Well, I wasn't going to do it forever. I just needed time to myself. To think. To get used to being human again. I stayed put for a couple of weeks, but I didn't fit in anywhere. I needed to figure out where I belonged."
"In Cleveland if someone I know will have me."
She smiled at that. Like there was any question about that. Evidently he did have some doubts, though. They had spent every night together since the first night. They hadn't had sex, but what they did was more powerful than sex. They talked, cuddled, laughed, and slept together. Angel seemed to need those things as much as Buffy did. They had to get to know one another again. Not only was Angel human, but it had been a number of years since they'd actually spent more than a few minutes together.
"I've already said you could. That I do."
"For now. Angel, I can appreciate your need to speed through this whole process. You're suddenly presented with the fact that you don't have forever to accomplish things. I'm not asking for years here. It's just that a week doesn't really tell us much."
"No." She put the last of the clean dishes away. "Since I was sixteen I've dreamed of a life with you. I understand now why you left. I needed time to grow up, to get to this point. Riley, Spike, The Immortal. They were all necessary. Without them I would have probably started wondering what I was missing, what else was out there. I know now."
"Which all points to being with me."
"I will be with you. You may end up spending all of your time at my place or the other way around. But I need to know that the option is there."
Angel raked his hand through his hair. Buffy felt for him. She really did. He had no idea how much she wanted to scratch her idea. She had to know that they could do it the right way. And she wasn't going to live with him. If he was human and they finally had their chance, she wanted it all. The stuff dreams were made of. She deserved it, and she believed someone thought so, too. Same for Angel.
"I don't want to screw this up, Angel. Okay? Can you understand that?"
"Yes. I don't have to like it, though."
"I know." She gave him her best pouty look and kissed him. "Life is so unfair."
"I'm beginning to find that out."
Dawn came out into the galley with her suitcase. "My bedroom and the bathroom are done."
Buffy laid the dishtowel out to dry and wiped her hands off. "Great. I think we're done. Giles' friend can't find anything wrong with the temporary Casa de Summers."
"So, what's the plan?"
"Well, we bring our stuff to Angel's boat and then go meet Connor for the night."
"Have you talked to Peter yet?"
"Yes, he's going to pick us up at the airport tomorrow night."
"And he knows there's going to be three of us?"
"I still don't get how Angel plans on selling his boat from Ohio."
"Well, Connor's close enough he can show it and act for me. People close on houses from different continents, I think I can handle a boat. And if it doesn't sell," he shrugged. "I'll see about moving it closer. I wouldn't mind having it, but I'm done with it."
"This is still so weird. You human, moving to Cleveland to be with Buffy. It's the stuff fairy tales are made of."
"My life was no fairy tale, Dawn. Not even close."
"I know that. You don't think I know that? I've read about you. More than Buffy probably knows. I was curious. When she was keeping Riley at a distance I wanted to know why. You were one of the worst."
"I was, I won't deny that."
"I suppose that's why you got the human thing. The prophecy."
"What do you mean?"
"To have someone go from so far on the end of one spectrum to the other. Well, that takes someone special. Even if you didn't know you had it in you. Someone must have, though, right? And someone like that deserves someone special."
"I couldn't agree more."
"Yeah, me too," Dawn said grabbing her suitcase. "Let's get this stuff to Angel's so we can get our night started."
"Yes. Our last night in LA, spring break is over. I've had a blast. I got tons of sun I'm ready to get back, though."
"You miss Peter?"
"And my friends, and school."
"I've never understood that mentality. I just don't get it, but Willow felt that way so I know you're not too strange."
"Here, let me get those," Angel said, grabbing one of Buffy's suitcases.
"They look so happy."
"They are." Dawn regarded Connor as they watched Buffy and Angel on the dance floor. The live band wasn't playing very many slow songs, but the couple didn't seem to notice. Dawn thought that was very cool. And very sweet. She liked seeing Buffy happy with someone who was obviously happy to be with her. And they made one another happy. That was the best part of all.
"I don't always know which memories are real, but I don't think I remember ever seeing him like this."
"Me neither. I think towards the end Buffy was happy with Spike, but it was different. It wasn't love with the big L."
"You and I are kind of freaks of nature. I'm surprised we haven't met before now."
"Not much of a reason to, I guess."
"No, I guess not. What he did for me, though. It was good. I remember enough, know that they're real memories I mean, to know he saved my life."
"One thing I know about Angel, he's real good at giving up something he wants or needs to help those he loves. I don't think he'll love anyone more than you and Buffy."
"I wonder if they'll have kids."
"I don't know. Do you think he can?"
"He had me."
"Well, true, but I mean. I don't know what the whole changing to human part does to him."
"Good point. I guess we'll have to wait and find out."
"I think we'll be waiting a while."
"She's going to make him sweat for a while, isn't she?"
"You know, I think she is. For the right reasons, though. Riley couldn't handle her being the slayer when all was said and done. That and Angel, vampire and all. I hope Angel doesn't think Buffy needs that. A vampire."
Both of them grew quiet at that. Dawn took a sip of her drink while Connor grabbed a fistful of popcorn from a bowl.
"You excited for classes?"
"Yes. I mean, breaks are great, but I miss it. You know?"
"Yeah, me too. Angel timed his trip here perfectly. I was just finishing finals when he got here. So, it was great. I needed it."
"Don't your parents care?"
"I just told them I was hanging out with some buddies. They know Angel, I don't think they'd care but they might wonder why I want to hang with him. They don't have the memories I do. So to them I'm their son."
"Do you want to dance?"
Buffy glanced over Angel's shoulder as Dawn and Connor joined them on the dance floor. "My sister and your son are finally joining us."
"I don't think Connor's much of a dancer."
"He obviously takes after you."
"Are you complaining?"
"No, I'll stand here in your arms for as long as you'll have me."
"Mm, I'll let you know when I'm done then."
"Okay." She tilted her head back, reaching up to kiss him. "So, you're going to be good meeting Peter, right?"
"Well, you act kind of paternal with Dawn, which I understand. I do it, too. But it might be a little intimidating since you're my boyfriend."
"By your choice."
"Hmm. Are you suggesting I make bad choices?"
"You know what I want, Buffy."
"Can we not argue about this tonight? When we get to Cleveland you can argue with me all you want."
"Well, arguing with the girl isn't exactly how I want to go about getting her to marry me."
"Well, you know what I mean." She stopped dancing and stared at him. "Did you just say what I think you said?"
"I didn't think it was a secret I want to marry you. I realize there've been times I've held back on the obvious."
"No, it's just that you've never said it."
"Well, I guess this isn't exactly how I envisioned doing it, but what's ever gone the way we planned?"
"Hmm, well, I suppose we can make like this conversation didn't happen and you could mention it later."
"And if I didn't want to wait until later?"
"Are you asking?"
"Let's finish this conversation at the boat."
"You just said you didn't want to wait until later. Which is it?"
He smirked at that. She'd seen him do it a hundred times before, but everything about him seemed so different now. She didn't think it was necessarily because he was human now. He seemed happier, more at ease, and like he had less stuff weighing on his mind. She imagined one hundred fifty years of bad stuff got pretty heavy.
"I just don't want to do it here. In front of a crowd of people. In a place I can barely hear myself think."
She snuggled up against him, resting her chin against his chest and looked up into his face. "Oh. Well, in that case. I'm all for later at your boat." She was giddy. It was stupid really. How pathetic was she that she got all weepy at the idea that she was on the verge of getting proposed to? Okay, maybe it didn't make her pathetic, particularly when she didn't think it was ever going to happen to her. A girl was allowed to get giddy about such a thing.
"Well, let's go get Dawn and Connor some late night junk food. Kids their age, they like that sort of thing. Right?"
"Yes, junk food after a night out is always a bonus. My friends and I used to go out all the time."
"They seem to get along all right, don't they?"
"Yes, they do, but then Dawn's easy to get along with. I'm not sure there's anyone Dawn doesn't like."
"That's not boosting my confidence."
"Connor's fine, Angel. He's a good kid. He told me he made the Dean's List last term. So, he's obviously smart. Whatever decision you made, whatever the reason, it was the right one."
"You don't think it was?"
"It's just nice to have my opinion reaffirmed. The only other person who knew is dead."
"I," Buffy felt tears form in her eyes. She lifted her head from his chest and looked at him. She couldn't apologize enough. She wasn't sure there was ever a way to make up for letting him down the one, the only, time he'd ever counted on her. "It makes me so angry that Giles would do that."
He ran the back of his hand along her cheek and smiled. "He knew what he was getting himself into, Buffy. It's not your fault. It's not Giles' fault. If I'd been able to tell him my plan, get word to him somehow, but I couldn't. It was too risky."
"He went out fighting. That's what we do. Well, not so much me anymore."
"You're still a fighter, Angel."
"Yeah, I know. I could never just let you go slaying and not help. Even if it's just keeping you company."
"Angel company. The best kind."
"I'm glad you think so."
"You know I do."
"You know, I lied to you."
He didn't answer her. Well, not with words anyway. Instead, he kissed her. Angel kisses were always welcome and this one was no different. Actually, she thought, as she parted her lips, welcoming him, this one was different. They'd all been different the past week. There was no holding back, she felt for the first time that he was giving her everything. She whimpered when he broke the kiss.
"I told you when I kissed you, you wouldn't wake up from a deep sleep and get a happily ever after."
"That was a lie?"
"Partially. I never dreamed."
"I did. I always did. Somewhere deep in my heart I knew. There was a reason I held back with Riley. A reason that once I got done being the self-destructive, depression-filled Buffy that I was more comfortable with Spike as a friend. A good friend, but once I felt like me I didn't want him anymore.
"Depression can lead us to do lots of things we wouldn't ordinarily do."
"I'd like to think that sex with Spike is one of those things, but it wasn't that bad. And, I honestly don't know where I'd be, what would have happened to me if I hadn't had him."
"I think that's more than I need to know."
"I know, I'm sorry to bring it up, but you need to know. I mean, next to you he's the guy I've spent the most time with."
"You spent quite a bit of time with Riley."
"A year, so not as much."
"Does that bother you?"
"I won't lie and tell you that I love the idea or I went to bed with pleasant dreams when I found out. Nightmares are more like it. I understand, though, and as much as I hate to say it I'm glad he was there for you. I wasn't in a real good place, so I couldn't have been."
"I know. And I think in some ways that's good."
"I'm not sure how good it is, but I think I understand."
"You could kiss me again."
"Yeah, to make sure you understand."
"Oh, well, since you mentioned it."
Even anticipating his kiss couldn't prepare her for it. They'd kissed before, hundreds of times. So intensely at times that she though she might float away and never have her feet planted firmly on the ground again. He knew she was going to say yes. They both knew it. Just a formality really. The idea that she accepted him, though, that she would say yes, put her life into his very human hands to care for. It seemed to overwhelm him and she fed off that emotion from him. God, she loved him and it was overwhelming to know that of all the women he'd known over the years he'd loved only her.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I think it would be prudent to continue this later."
"Yes, like in my bed."
"I don't know."
"We can leave the window open, we'll hear the water lapping against the side of the boat."
"Well, you know that has a calming effect on me."
"Just think how much fun it could be for me to see how uncalm I can make you."
"Oh," she said simply. What else was there to say?
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 hotels 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 and 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."
Buffy tightened the ponytail that held her hair in place away from her face. She was glad that Dawn wasn't done with school until now. It had taken her this long to get things organized. There wasn't a day that went by that she didn't wonder why she had accepted the job of guarding another hellmouth. Evidently, she was a glutton for punishment. At least she wasn't dealing with high school and the things that went with it while slaying. And it was only temporary until Giles found someone he thought could handle the pressures of a hellmouth.
"When does Dawn get here?"
"Should be any minute."
"And Peter's coming with her?"
"Yes, he'll stay a few days and then go back home. Dawn doesn't have a car and I guess I can't blame him for wanting to spend a few more days with her if he could."
"And when does Giles get here?"
"Mm, the day after tomorrow."
"How are you going to work this?"
"Well, Giles is bringing a slayer and she'll take the time that Peter's here to get used to the States, Cleveland, the house, just stuff."
"And you think that'll work?"
"It's going to have to."
"Buffy, you should know by now."
"Don't. Don't say it, Angel. I'm not going to be responsible for this guy, this nice guy who really seems to like Dawn, dumping her."
"Who says he would?"
"Well, you don't count."
He helped her make up the bed that would serve as Dawn's. She suspected Peter would sleep in Dawn's room, but she was prepared for him to sleep on the fold-away couch just in case.
She was excited about Dawn coming home for the summer. Added to the mix, almost like a bonus, was a visit from Giles. Granted it was business not pleasure that brought him here. He claimed he had finally found a slayer he believed of taking over as guardian of the hellmouth. Both watcher and slayer knew she couldn't do it forever. One of these days she'd have to call it quits.
"I hope she works out."
"Me, too," Buffy said simply.
"Do you think Dawn's going to be excited?"
"Angel. Do you even have to ask me that?"
"I don't know sometimes."
"It's just been so crazy. I'm happy and very excited. Most wouldn't understand why I thought this day would never come. I mean, I'm only twenty-five. That's fairly young by today's standards."
"Not by Slayer standards." He sat on the edge of the bed once the comforter had been put on.
"Exactly. I feel like I've lived two lifetimes so I'm so ready to turn over the baton or whatever it's called to this girl if Giles thinks she's capable."
"I can't say that I'm upset."
"I know you're not," she said, straddling him. Her arms went around his neck as she kissed him. She didn't think she'd ever tire of kissing him. They had spent the past couple of months doing lots of it in between getting the house ready and slaying. It had been years, since high school and Angel, that she'd been with a guy for this long and hadn't made love to him. It was kind of strange, but they'd both needed the time to get to know one another again.
"Not that I'd ever tell you to quit."
She laughed lightly, kissing him again. "Of course you wouldn't."
"I like that you can defend my honor."
"And I always will."
He leaned back on the bed and she toppled, splaying over him. She imagined that was what he'd had in mind. Both laughed as he shifted them so he was on top of her. It was times like this she noticed the difference in how happy he seemed. The broodiness he was known for was gone.
"You have such a nice smile," she whispered, blushing at the realization that she'd said it out loud.
"It helps that I have something to smile about."
She traced his mouth with her fingertips, eyes watching him intently. "I'm glad."
He nipped her fingers, taking one into his mouth. "Me, too."
It was strange, really, that he would seem happier now when he no longer had a purpose, a cause to work for. She wasn't sure how that worked. Maybe it was just the time he'd taken to himself. She had been hurt at first, but she understood now he really had needed that time.
Angel slid her finger deeper into his mouth, his eyes fell closed as he did. God, he wanted her. It was like torture being this close to her, knowing he could have her. He understood her hesitation, but it didn't mean he agreed with it all of the time. This was one of those times. It would be so easy to take things to the next level, but he had to respect her wishes.
He had been shocked she had accepted his proposal when he had presented her with a ring last week. He wasn't sure how long she had planned on waiting, but he wasn't in the mood to put it off any longer. Once Giles had called indicating he had a replacement for Buffy he acted.
In Angel's eyes there would never be a replacement for Buffy, but he knew even without him she was ready to only oversee life around the hellmouth. He wanted to help her do that. With Giles finding someone he deemed qualified to take Buffy's place, that meant Buffy and Angel could concentrate on their life. Angel was all for that. To him she would always be the slayer, it didn't matter how many others there were.
Giles' research indicated that the spell only activated those slayers already alive. So, one day years from now things would go back to normal. One slayer in all of the world. A dozen or so years from now that one slayer would have an army of slayers activated by Willow's spell to help train her and hopefully prolong her life. Once these slayers died off, though, the new slayers would be all alone again. He hoped it would be a long time before that happened.
He drew her hand away, placing it over her head on the bed. God, she was beautiful. He'd recognized it the first time he saw her, but to know that she was actually his brought the point home in full force. He didn't know what he'd done to deserve her, a chance like this with her, but he was glad someone deemed him worthy.
She claimed he seemed happier. She had no idea. A weight had been lifted off his shoulders when he had fulfilled the prophecy. He hadn't done it to become human. He'd done it because it was in his blood to fight. It still was. He helped Buffy on patrols. He no longer had his vamp strength or invulnerability, but he was still fast and could drive a stake through a vamp's unbeating heart.
How could he not be happy? Connor was alive and well. Buffy was, too, and living her life out with him. It was the stuff dreams were made of, something he'd never believed would come true for them. He imagined one of these days Spike would venture this way. Whether Illyria would be with him Angel did not know. Spike was unable to stay out of the fray of things for very long. And if the souled vampire knew there were slayers in need of assistance, he'd come.
The guilt of his actions for over a century and a half as a soulless vampire were still there in his mind, but he had to believe someone believed he had repaid his debt. Who was he to doubt them? And so, he had spent the two years on his boat at sea laying ghosts to rest. He wouldn't have been any good to Buffy without that time. She seemed to understand and he liked to believe it made him a better man. A more acceptable man for her.
Just as she was becoming pliant beneath him the doorbell rang. He groaned softly. He should have known. It was like that more often than not. It was as if fate was keeping them from getting any closer physically than they were. "What timing."
She laughed, draping her arms around his neck. She drew him to her for a kiss. The doorbell rang again and she groaned softly.
"I don't think she's going to go away."
"I know. I just love it when you're like this."
She shrugged as he stood from the bed, offering her a hand to get up. "Fun. Playful."
"Breaking in your sister's bed."
"That, too." She strode past him, brushing against him as she did. "We'll have plenty of time to break in whatever you want when she goes back to school in the fall."
"Yeah, yeah," he said. That was months from now. He got the impression she was waiting until they were married. He could live with that, he just wondered if it was a conscious decision on her part.
"Buffy, it's beautiful."
"It is, isn't it?" Angel knew that Buffy was proud of the house. Giles had done well. Angel had not been sure what to expect anymore than Buffy had. It wasn't as spacious as the Hyperion or anything, but it was bigger than her house in Sunnydale. It was out of town a bit so they had land. He had researched and discovered Giles had been able to get the property for a fraction of the asking price. He wasn't sure why, but it was Buffy's and that was all that mattered to him.
He hated finding out how she had lived after her mother died. It had been foolish of him not to ask or find out, but he had just assumed that Joyce had been prepared. Life insurance, pension plans, or something. And their father hadn't helped either. Angel hadn't known until it was too late. He was glad to see that Giles was doing something for her.
The council had no business not helping these girls financially. They should earn incomes, have homes and access to things without having to worry about where the money was coming from. The council had the power to do that, and he hoped with Giles now in charge things like that would be looked into.
"So, how did finals go?"
"Fine. I should be able to get my grades in a few days. I think I got a B, though."
"Oh, Dawn, that's great."
"I know, but I was so close to an A."
"Hi, Peter, sorry didn't mean to ignore you. How did your finals go?"
"Good. Glad the year is done though. I'm looking forward to summer. Well, except for Dawn being here."
"It's not like it's that far, though. I mean, you could visit if you want. And it's only a couple of months."
"Okay, okay, I'm sounding too much like a mom. Let me show you to your room, then you can unwind or whatever you need to do."
"Do you need to go out tonight, Buffy?"
"Nope. Angel and I have no plans but to spend time with you. Giles is coming the day after tomorrow."
"Great. It'll be fun to see him."
"He was glad you'd be here, he was afraid you'd stay in Chicago for the summer."
"It was tempting, but the rent was just too high for the type of job I could get."
"I asked my parents about letting Dawn stay at our house, but they weren't too hot on the idea."
"Mm, parents tend to frown on cohabitation."
"It's not like they wouldn't be home."
"Yes, but you know, they're bound to go out at some point and the temptation would be just too great if you were under one roof."
"I didn't say I was defending them. I just see where they're coming from. Mom wouldn't have agreed either. Angel is going to start on dinner. Take your time. You have your own bathroom. I just put the sheets on the bed. I hope your parents won't hate me because I'm letting you share a room."
"I don't think they're going to know unless you planned to tell them."
"That would be a no, so we're good." She led them upstairs and then up to the attic from the second floor. Whoever had lived here before had converted the attic to a third, fully functional floor. It was great, Buffy wished they had lived here when she was putting all of the potentials up. It would have been a lot easier.
"Giles will be downstairs, so you'll have the entire floor to yourself, Dawn."
"That's great. Thanks."
"I figured you'd like your privacy."
"And you and Angel do too."
"That has nothing to do with it. Anyway, come down whenever you want." Buffy gave Dawn a quick hug. "I'm glad you came here for the summer."
"Me, too. We'll be down in a bit."
"Yes," Buffy said from the doorway.
"Is there a reason that the bed looks like it's been slept in?"
Buffy smiled with a light laugh. "No. I just didn't straighten it out all the way I guess after I made it."
"Buffy must do pretty well if she can afford this place." Buffy heard Peter say as she walked to the stairs. She was glad he liked her house. She wasn't sure why exactly it mattered, but it did. She guessed it was because she was a reflection on Dawn.
"Hi," she said cheerily as she entered the kitchen where Angel was turning chicken in the marinade he had made.
"Hi. They settling in?"
"Yeah." She placed her hands on his back at his shoulders and stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "So what else are we having besides chicken?"
"Rice and some broccoli."
"Yum. I'm glad you know how to cook, because we'd starve or eat a lot of macaroni and cheese if it were up to me." She grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and leaned back against the counter. "What can I do to help?"
"Just keep me company. Did you tell her?"
"No, not yet. I will when they come down for dinner."
"What? It's not like the world's going to end if I don't tell her immediately."
"If I didn't know better."
"Don't start with that again. She just got here, I haven't seen her in a couple of months. I'll tell her."
"Tell me what?"
Buffy rolled her eyes and glanced from Angel to Dawn in the doorway. She hadn't heard Dawn come down the stairs. And Angel no longer had the benefit of enhanced hearing.
"Is there something wrong?"
"No, Dawn, nothing's wrong. Angel's just being pushy."
"Oh well, what else is new?"
"Thanks, a lot, Dawn. Don't be surprised if your chicken piece has some extra special flavoring in it."
"Eww. So, what's going on," Dawn said, making herself at home at the table.
"He's calling his parents to let them know we got here safely."
"So, what's going on?"
"Well," Buffy said walking to the table. She sat to Dawn's right, resting her left hand on Dawn's arm. "You're going to be a bridesmaid while you're home this summer."
Dawn glanced from Buffy's hand, to Buffy's face, then to Angel, and back to Buffy's hand. "No way. You're serious? You actually smartened up and said yes?"
"What? I kept waiting for you to screw it up."
"Well, I didn't and the end of August we're getting married."
"Because I actually want to have a wedding. With Willow and Giles and Xander and the others there. I want to actually have a dress that fits me, not one I picked off a rack. I want a real wedding."
"Oh for sure, you deserve it. I didn't mean it like that."
"It's okay." Buffy hugged Dawn to her, smoothing down her hair as Dawn hugged her back. She felt tears in her eyes and could tell by Dawn's breathing she was about to cry, too.
"I'm so happy for you, Buffy. I mean, I liked Riley and Spike and all, but it was so obvious even when you were with them you still loved Angel. And I mean, who would have thought you'd have a chance to have a real life with him."
"I never would have believed it."
"So, do I still get a piece of road kill surprise chicken?"
"No, I think, you've redeemed yourself."
"Good," she said and seemed to brighten. "So we get to go shopping for dresses and flowers and places to have it and music. Oh my God, Buffy, this is so exciting. A wedding. Is Willow going to help?"
"I hope so. I haven't told her yet. We wanted to tell you first."
"Why'd you wait?"
"I wanted to tell you in person."
"Oh, okay, I get that I guess."
"Am I interrupting?"
"No, Peter, come in. They're just doing girl things. Buffy just told Dawn we're getting married in August. You know how girls get."
"Oh, yeah," Peter said, suddenly looking uncomfortable as he shoved his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. "Congratulations.
Dawn stood from the table and went to him, throwing her arms around him. "Are you going to come?"
"Uh, sure. If it's all right."
"Well, I'm allowed to bring a guest. Right, Buffy?"
"Then I guess I'll be here."
"Good," Dawn said and kissed him. Buffy and Angel looked at one another. She could tell he was wondering the same thing she was. It wasn't really any of Buffy's business, but she didn't want to see Dawn hurt or pregnant. She wasn't sure Dawn could get pregnant. Could someone who wasn't human to start off with have babies? Then again, Angel had Connor and that defied logic. The fact was she was entrusted to caring for Dawn, she didn't take that lightly even if the danger was gone.
"Oh hey, Angel, are you going to invite Connor?" Dawn asked once she'd stopped kissing Peter.
"I was waiting to tell him until Buffy told you. I'll call him later tonight."
"I can't wait to see him again," Dawn said.
All three were silent for a moment. "He's the closest thing I have to family."
"Oh, cool." It was clear Peter didn't understand, he couldn't be expected to. Maybe he'd think Angel was an orphan or something. Buffy had to struggle not to laugh at that thought.
"Peter, do you know anything about starting grills?"
"Want to help me?"
"Do you have a dress picked out?" Dawn asked as soon as Angel and Peter were outside.
"No. I felt stupid shopping by myself."
"We'll go tomorrow."
"Okay. Peter might be bored."
"He can sit on the computer and play video games. He'll be fine with that."
"What? He will. Seriously."
"Okay. If you're sure."
"I am. Totally. This is so exciting, Buffy. You're marrying Angel and you get to do it during the day like normal people."
"I know, who would have thought, right?"
"You have to call Willow."
"It's late where she is."
"And you think she'd mind? You're going to ask her to be your maid of honor, aren't you?"
"I don't think she'll be upset, Buffy. Do it, call her. Maybe she can come with Giles."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"Oh hey, does Giles coming mean he's found someone?"
"Good, I'm glad. I hate worrying about you when I can't see you every morning to make sure you're okay."
"That's sweet, Dawn. I never knew you worried like that."
"Every night. I guess it didn't help knowing Spike and what he'd done to two of them before you."
"I'm sorry I worried you."
"You can't help it. It's who you are. Now, go call her."
"All right." "I think so."
"What can we do for her?"
Buffy smiled at the sincerity behind Angel's words. For a man who'd lived for over two centuries he wasn't overly bright when it came to things like this. Matters of the heart.
"There's got to be something."
"Just let her know we're here if she needs us, otherwise, she'll be fine."
"Buffy, she sits up in her room all day."
"She's probably talking to Peter online, Angel."
"Neither one of us really got to deal with the wonders of first loves without benefits of tragedy or trauma. It's normal, though. She misses him. He only left a couple of days ago. She'll be fine in a day or two. When Willow gets here especially."
"It doesn't help that I'm busy with Miesha. I thought for sure Giles was going to bring me another girl who didn't speak English."
"You lucked out."
"I did and it's a good thing, too, because I don't speak Russian. Well, I can say Vodka and Chekhov, but that's the extent of it."
"You know who Chekhov is?"
"Yes." She tried to be insulted that surprised him, but really it wasn't out of the realm of possibilities that she wouldn't. She couldn't even remember where or why she'd learned his name. "He was a writer or something."
"I just can't help but think I should be doing something. Take her out for a banana split or something."
"That couldn't hurt."
"Sure. Ice cream is like a girl's cure all. Heart break, cramps, failing a test, being stalked by the latest big bad."
He smirked at that and walked up behind her. "You're too darned cute sometimes. You know that?"
"No, I'm not trying to be cute here."
"And that's probably why you are. It's just some of the things you say."
"As long as you're laughing with me not at me we're okay."
"So, what's on the agenda for tonight?"
"Just the usual rounds."
"An early night then?"
She turned to face him once she'd finished with her hair. "Yes. Am I neglecting you?"
"No, I just like when you get done early because there's a chance we can watch the sunrise together."
She smiled at that. She placed a hand against his cheek. She knew how much he valued being able to stand outside and watch the sun appear. "I'll watch the sunrise with you anytime, Angel, you know that."
"I know it's just when you get in real late I hate waking you. You don't rest enough."
She snorted at that.
"Don't get huffy with me. You don't. I've been keeping track. You get by on four or five hours a night sometimes."
"That's not enough, Buffy."
"As soon as Miesha is trained I won't have to do late nights anymore."
"How much longer do you think it'll be?"
"Giles is going to come with tonight. I think she's pretty much capable of doing routine patrols on her own now."
"Well, she'd trained in Europe with Giles pretty extensively, so it was really just getting the lay of the land here. It would have been easier without Peter here, but I wasn't going to tell Dawn he couldn't stay here."
"And Willow will be here tomorrow?"
She slid her arms around her neck, drawing him to her for a kiss. "Yep. And then the house will be full of crazed women planning a wedding."
"Don't worry, I'm not going overboard. The important people will be here, that's all that matters."
"Giles said something about the other slayers."
She shrugged. "They weren't my friends. I mean, I have no idea how difficult it would be for them to all get here. So, no, I'm sticking with immediate friends and family. That should be more than enough. Speaking of, did you get a hold of Spike?"
"No. I put the word out I was looking for him, but I don't know if he stayed in LA."
"I'm not sure he'd even come."
"Maybe not, but at least he can't say we tried if he doesn't come and finds out later."
"You're right. It wouldn't be right not to try and invite him. And, hey, at least it's not Riley."
"Have you heard from your dad?"
"Nope, and I haven't even tried. As far as I'm concerned he doesn't deserve to be here. Giles is going to give me away and that's the way it should be."
"As long as you're happy."
"I'm marrying you. That's all I need."
"Okay then." She heard a door down the hall open and close, then another. This was followed by a light knock on her door.
"Buffy. Miesha and I are ready."
"I'll be right down, Giles."
"Okay, take your time."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "He's trying to seem so non-overbearing. He was never this nice when I was just starting out in Sunnydale."
"Things were a little different then. There weren't hundreds of you."
He kissed her before she could pull away from him. It wasn't a hugely romantic kiss, but it was good enough that it left her breathless for a second or two after he'd stopped. "You're still the Slayer to me I don't care how many others there are."
She rolled her eyes, but it made her feel good. She liked hearing that as much as she loved knowing she was no longer alone. "I'll see you when I get back. Have fun with Dawn."
"Thanks. I hope she wants to go."
"Who wouldn't want to go anywhere with you? You're the best looking guy this town has ever seen."
He scoffed but his smile grew bigger. "A little flattery will get you a long way, Buffy. I'll show you later just how far."
"I'll hold you to that." She left the room then, not wanting to get distracted more than she already was. Angel's idea of showing her things was always of the good but definitely to be kept private.
"Yes, Buffy. Miesha and I have already glanced through the obituaries and the police reports. There are a couple of questionable deaths I noticed, so I thought we should start at the morgue."
"Okay. Good enough. I'm just along for the ride. Unless you run into trouble, Miesha, tonight you're on your own. And then hopefully tomorrow you won't need me anymore."
"What? I didn't mean it like that. I just know what it's like to have someone following you around, looking over your shoulder, critiquing your staking style. She came here to be a slayer not follow me around watching me be the slayer."
"True enough. Of course, you're right. It's difficult to tell with you sometimes."
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed Giles' cheek. "You're the best, Giles."
"I am. What?"
"You heard me." She smiled widely and walked toward the door, catching a glimpse of Giles removing his glasses and pulling out his handkerchief from the corner of her eye.
"He is good man, yes?"
"He's the best. Really. He's kind of stuffy, but sometimes I think he acts that way on purpose."
"Yeah. You know, uptight, conservative, tweed wearing book guy."
"So you're comfortable with this?"
Her words were stilted and jerky at times, but overall Buffy had no problem understanding Miesha. She knew from some of the potentials that had flocked to Sunnydale how difficult a language barrier could be.
"Come on, Giles," she called from the car when Giles finally came outside with his glasses back in place. Both of them laughed like a couple of schoolgirls. It was good to know some things were funny no matter where you were from.
"Very funny, girls."
Buffy was still adjusting to needing to take a car to patrol. There were a few cemeteries clumped together, but things were pretty spread out. And they weren't sure exactly where the hellmouth was to focus on one particular area. So, Buffy was covering all of Cleveland. She hoped once Miesha got the hang of things that Giles would send more slayers to help her. Hellmouths were tricky things and it would be better to have too many on the job than not enough.
They did the business at the morgue first before spending the rest of the night patrolling the cemeteries.
"She's adjusted very well, don't you think?"
"Yes. She's great. Her English is good and she doesn't seem to be suffering from culture shock."
"Willow and I both thought Cleveland would agree with her."
"You were right. I think this hellmouth has an official slayer to watch over it now."
"And you are positive this is acceptable to you, Buffy?"
"Yes, more than acceptable, Giles. Why?"
"Well, you're relatively young yet. You might not want to stop."
"No, I'm ready to stop, Giles. I've been ready to stop for years. I never did, other than, well, you know. But, no, I'm ready."
"I just needed to ask." He draped an arm around her shoulders and she rested her head there.
"I know. I have a chance at a normal life. Married, Giles, can you believe it? To Angel? A chance to finish college. To get a job that I won't get fired from because I'm unable to show up on time or stay a full shift."
"You did sacrifice a great deal. No one knows that more than I do. And I can believe it. If anyone deserves those things, dreams coming true, it's you."
She shifted her head to glance into his face. It was hard for her to know sometimes how sincere he was about being happy she was with Angel. He'd hurt Giles, physically, which was something he'd never really done to her. It had to be hard for him to see Angel, talk to Angel and have him wear the face of the madman who tortured him in his attempt to end the world.
"You're welcome, Buffy. And if I haven't said it before or often enough for you to know I mean it. Thank you. The world cannot thank you so you'll have to accept my thanks in lieu of that and know that the sentiment is there."
"And you're sure you don't want to contact your father?"
"Are you getting cold feet?"
"Not in the least, Buffy. It would be my honor, sincerely, to give you away."
"Me, too. That you're willing to do it."
"Now that that's settled." They sat in companionable silence for a while as Miesha made the rounds through the nearby cemeteries. They straggled behind, staying close enough to see if she got into trouble but far enough away so that she got the feeling of what it would be like alone.
Buffy had rarely had to patrol alone. She always had someone willing to go along whether it was Angel, Willow, Xander, Riley, or Spike. Even Oz had a time or two. Patrolling alone sucked. It could be very mundane and there was always the idea that if something happened she'd die alone. The thought had crossed her mind when she'd fought Sunday years ago. At the time, she was feeling sorry for herself and wondered if anyone would even notice she was gone.
It was a slayer's lot in life to stand alone. She wasn't sure if Xander, Willow or Dawn ever got that. Even when they were with her, she was still alone. The one girl in all of the world. Now, there were hundreds of slayers, but it was still just those girls with the power.
"Oh she's got a live one."
"In a manner of speaking."
"Yeah, yeah," she said with a roll of her eyes. They dropped back a bit, watching as Miesha went through the motions. She wasn't overly graceful, more down and dirty, right to the point. That was fine, especially considering she got the job done and didn't seem to get hurt in the process.
"And Angel, he's content with Cleveland?"
"Yeah, I guess. I can't leave here. I wouldn't do that to you. Even if Miesha and five other slayers are here. I've survived life on a hellmouth. I get that I'm resource girl."
"Yes, well, I do appreciate your willingness to continue serving the cause."
"Hey, the new council, well probably it was you, picked up the house and a car for me. I'm sure you've got something to do with Dawn's school being paid for, too. It's the least I can do."
"No, you don't owe us anything else, Buffy. You've given more than enough for this cause. I'd say dying twice is payment enough."
"Yeah, well, you know I couldn't turn my back on it. Walk away."
"No, you don't have it in you. Nevertheless, if the day should come, please let me know. I can understand why Cleveland might not be considered a hotspot to newlyweds."
"I'm happy wherever Angel is and I can still be close to Dawn. I do think you're going to need more than just Miesha until we get some indication where the actual hellmouth is."
"I agree and I'm working on it. Miesha was the most promising and her English skills were good enough that she could get by here. We're working with a couple of others, but the language barrier has to be rectified first."
"Good, because Cleveland is bigger and more city-like than Sunnydale so I don't think just one will do."
"You're right. We'd thought of that, but thank you for bringing it to my attention."
They grew quiet as Miesha walked toward them.
"How did I do?"
"You did great. And we're done for the night. I think you can handle yourself on your own. Do you?"
"It feels comfortable. I might get lost but I'll find way."
Buffy smiled. She'd let Miesha drive the past few days so that she'd get used to the way Buffy did rounds.
"Do you want me to come with you a few more days?"
"No, no. I made directions."
"Okay. If you're sure. I don't mind. Really. I've been doing this for ten years, a few days or a couple more weeks won't hurt anything."
"I'm sure. Thank you."
"You'll stay with Buffy until the end of summer and then once we know for certain it's working out we'll arrange for permanent accommodations. Buffy and I were just discussing having more join you here. We're working on that, but until then should you need help you can call on Buffy. That's what she's here for and she is a good source for information. As is Angel."
"And of course I'll be here a few more days and am just a phone call or email away. Willow and Dawn are both excellent with research, though, so when I leave you'll be in very capable hands."
Buffy was more than relieved to end a night of patrolling without a shower and clean clothes being a part of her plan. Meisha, on the other hand, headed upstairs to clean up as soon as they walked through the door. She didn't look that bad, but trips to the morgue took a while to get used to.
Angel and Dawn were on the couch, both laughing like a couple of kids at whatever they were watching. Angel held a huge bowl of popcorn Buffy noticed was almost empty when she got close enough to see.
"Oh, hey, Buffy. Angel and I rented some movies. Um, The Pink Panther, the new one and Failure to Launch with Matthew McConaughey."
"Oh geez," Buffy said, turning her eyes when she saw a guy older than Giles naked on the screen. "What are you letting Dawn watch?"
"It doesn't show anything, Buffy."
"But he's naked!"
"Buffy," Dawn said with a roll of her eyes. "Would you just watch? It's funny."
Giles sat with them for a little while but having packing to do went to his room fairly early. Buffy and Angel were taking him to the airport and Willow would be there waiting for them. It worked out very well.
Buffy had to admit even though she missed the first part of the movie, it was funny. And the scene with the naked father wasn't as bad as it could have been. Other than having to look at an old guy's butt. Buffy glanced over at Dawn who was drifting in and out with her head resting on Angel's shoulder. She got a little teary-eyed looking at the two of them together like that especially since Angel was doing everything he could not to disturb her.
"You're a good man."
He sounded clueless as to what she was talking about. "Just thought I'd say it."
"Thanks." His brow furrowed, thinking about what brought the compliment on she imagined.
"I'm going to get ready for bed."
"Okay. Should I just cover her up here on the couch?"
"Yeah, that's fine. She'll probably wake up during the night at some point, but let her rest."
She kissed Angel's cheek before heading upstairs. She wiped away the tears in her eyes. She'd forgotten what it felt like to be a family, and it got to her seeing such a touching scene between the two most important people in her life.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com