Buffy didn't know what was wrong. She didn't think it was her. At least she hoped not. She was learning to be happy here, getting into this corporate wife thing. Lindsey seemed to be happy, too. Until tonight. He'd come home late. She ignored the fact he hadn't called to tell her like he usually did. Conscientious to a fault, she could excuse him forgetting once.
He hadn't said more than a gruff ‘hello' and ‘thanks for dinner'. As soon as he was done, he'd pushed back his chair and excused himself to his office. He hadn't even cleared his plate, which he usually did. He usually helped her clean up the kitchen, too. He liked to tease her about knowing his kitchen better than he did. She got the impression cooking wasn't something he did when he lived alone.
Everyone was entitled to a bad day, she reminded herself. She wasn't working. She wasn't dealing with clients that were demanding. She was in the living room now. The TV was on, she'd settled on the couch with a can of soda and the most recent Vogue. She liked to keep on top of things, especially now that she could. He'd come talk to her when he was ready. Pushing him wasn't the answer, even if it was the most difficult thing she had to do.
It was times like this, that she wished she could talk to her mother. She'd been tempted more than once to call from a pay phone, but she didn't. She didn't want to risk anyone having any idea where she was. LA was a large city, but it would help narrow it down from everywhere that wasn't LA.
She heard the doorbell, knew that Lindsey would get it. Maybe that was why he was in a bad mood. Did he have a late night business meeting here at the house? Or had something gone wrong that they were coming here to chastise him?
All was quiet and she was growing restless sitting there. She debated about going into the kitchen. He hadn't eaten much, maybe she could heat up a plate for him. She'd have to pass his office if she did. Chances were if it was something important or bad he'd have the door closed anyway. She heard voices, which meant the door to his office was open. It didn't sound like arguing or anything, so she continued on to the kitchen.
"There's my wife now. Anne, come in here."
Busted! She wished she'd stayed in the living room. After meeting Russell, she really didn't want to know any more of his clients. She could give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn't know who, or what, Russell really was. If she saw that he did, though, that was an entirely different thing. She couldn't ask either, because she'd be telling him she knew things she shouldn't. She was getting real good at living life not being the slayer, she didn't really want to jeopardize it.
"Did you need something?" Her eyes darted from the man with his back toward her to Lindsey.
She smiled, she couldn't help it. He had a habit of saying the sweetest things at times she wasn't expecting them. Like now, after he'd been so distant at dinner. She was surprisingly relieved to know he wasn't upset with her for some reason.
"Well, that I can do easily."
"I'd like you to meet my wife, Anne. I'm sorry, I didn't get your last name."
The man in the chair stood and Buffy wasn't sure how, but she knew instantly who it was. Oh God. Surely he'd recognized her voice. She hadn't been paying attention to him to notice if he gave any signs of it.
"Just Angel." He turned to face her. She couldn't read anything in him. "A pleasure, Missus McDonald. I'm sorry to intrude on your time with your husband."
She took his offered hand, felt the effect of that simple touch down to her toes. He felt it, too, she saw something flash in his eyes before he masked it again.
"I, it's not a problem."
"You look familiar. Have we met?"
"I don't think so," she said with what she hoped Lindsey would see as a polite smile.
"Probably just a case of mistaken identity."
"I won't take up anymore of your time, Mister McDonald. Again, I'm sorry to call on you at your home."
Lindsey stood then, walked around his desk and joined them, placing his arm around Buffy's shoulders. She saw Angel's hand ball into a fist and wondered if they were going to go at it here and now. She had so many questions. Too many questions. What was he doing here? How did he get here? How did he know Lindsey? Was he still Angel? Or had he lost his soul again?
"I'll show you out. Annie, would you pour me a brandy and bring it to the living room? I'll be back in a minute."
Buffy nearly splashed the brandy all over Lindsey's mahogany credenza her hands were shaking so badly. Would Angel tell Giles or her mother where she was? Why was he willing to act as if he didn't know her? What was he doing here? What did he need Lindsey for? Was he the reason Lindsey was in a bad mood earlier?
"Get a hold of yourself," she muttered. She had to think. She managed to pour the brandy without spilling any and brought it to the living room. She didn't glance toward the entryway on her way. Seeing him was like a miracle. He was dead, and yet here he was in her house, invading her new life. It made her rethink the dreams she'd had last year. And the whole fever, chest wound episode. Had he been sick? How had she known? And how had she known what the answer was?
She sat in her favorite chair and rubbed her temples. She always enjoyed the view out the window from here, but right now she couldn't focus on anything. If she knew Angel at all, he'd be back. He'd come back when Lindsey wasn't here. Then what would she do?
Seeing him had ripped open the healing wound on her heart all over again. She'd wanted to throw herself into his arms, cry in relief that he was alive and well. He looked so good to her. She didn't miss the life she'd left behind. She didn't miss the death, her life constantly being in danger, but she'd missed Angel. If she'd known that he would come back might she have returned to Sunnydale? Just how different would things be now if she had?
"What's a matter, Anne?"
"Nothing, just a headache. Who was that?"
"Just someone I met earlier today."
"And you invited him to the house?"
"Yes, it was a delicate situation that I thought should be handled on my time not company time. What's this about?"
"Nothing. I was worried about you, that's all."
"Thank you, but I'm fine."
"Yes, now. I think things will be all right from now on."
"They weren't before?"
"A difference of opinion, that's all. Angel will stay out of my way."
She wanted to argue that point, but she couldn't. Not without admitting she knew him. Admitting she knew him would mean confessing who and what she really was.
"You really don't look good. Did he upset you somehow?"
"No, he just," she shrugged. "He reminds me of someone I used to know."
"He said you look familiar."
"It's not him, Lindsey. It's just the type."
"Ah. Why don't you go take one of those bubble baths you enjoy so much. Relax. I'll join you in bed after I finish up a few things in my office."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm positive." He knelt in front of her, placing his hands on her knees. "I wasn't very good company at dinner. Things didn't go the way I'd planned today. That always throws a wrench in things, but today was really out there. I wasn't sure I'd still have a job."
"Oh," she said simply. She suspected Angel had something to do with things not going well. She wondered what had happened. She ran her hand along his face. He was so good to her. He'd asked so little of her, and now seeing Angel for two minutes she had been thrown off balance. She wanted to go after him, but she couldn't. The world was a better place with her far, far away from Angel. Hadn't they already proven that?
"Is that why you sent me there?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Did you know?"
"That she was there?"
"What is there an echo in here? You heard me. I went to visit Lindsey McDonald like you suggested. I still don't know why you wanted me to visit someone who represents scum like Russell, but I did it. You haven't steered me wrong. Yet."
"And? Didn't it go well?"
"It went just great. Until he introduced me to his wife."
"What does his wife have to do with anything?"
"Are you always this slow?"
"You haven't said anything!"
"His wife is Buffy."
"You heard me."
"Well, I didn't see that one coming at all. The slayer married to a lawyer that represents the things she hunts. But then she hasn't exactly been Johnny On the Spot lately, has she?"
"She's been missing for over a year and a half. Has she been here this whole time?"
"I don't know. Why don't you ask her?"
"That would mean seeing her again."
"That it would."
"I came to LA to get away from thoughts of Buffy."
"And how does not going to see her stop you from thinking about her?"
"You have a point."
Angel sat at his desk, picked up a pencil and tossed it across the room. "She's married."
"She's obviously moved on with her life. I need to do the same."
"If you think so."
"She's going by Anne now. Her middle name. I can't believe no one thought to check that."
"I'm sure her watcher has used every resource possible."
"Then how did an eighteen year old girl remain hidden in LA for this long? How did she get married? And why him? Doesn't she know what he is?"
"I imagine she doesn't."
"I can't go visit her. She's another man's wife."
"I would imagine he's not always at home."
"Yeah, during the day when I'm not exactly at my most mobile. I doubt his house has sewer access."
"How'd she look?"
"What kind of question is that?"
"Did she look like she was under duress or anything? Maybe she's not there willingly?"
"No, she seemed pretty happy. Actually, she seemed a lot happy. When I heard her voice, I thought I was dreaming at first. Hallucinating or something. And then I saw her. I couldn't believe it. I come all this way to forget about her. Only to find her."
"I know what you mean."
"You can't possible know. What are you? Twenty-five? Try ten times that and come talk to me."
Doyle held up his hands in mock surrender. "Don't bite my head off, Angel. I'm just listening. Isn't that what you want me to do?"
"No." He stood from his chair, not knowing what to do. Seeing her had been like getting sucker punched in the gut. He was still reeling from it. She had looked happy, but he'd seen something in her eyes. She didn't know he had come back. Yet, Giles had said he'd gotten a mysterious phone call when he had been poisoned by Faith. He had forgotten about the supply of Buffy's blood he kept on hand for emergencies. Without that phone call, Angel wouldn't be here anymore.
"Are you going to tell her mother? Her watcher?"
"You'd be interfering in her life."
"Well, it occurs to me that if she's stayed hidden this long, she obviously wants to."
"She shouldn't be playing house with someone. She's supposed to be saving the world. She should have been battling the Mayor with us. Her friends could have died."
"I doubt she's really thought that hard on how her disappearance is affecting anyone but herself."
"Who's side are you on, anyway?"
"I'm just saying. Angel, can you really blame her? She got her calling when she was what? Fourteen? Fifteen? She gets expelled from her school. She moves to Sunnydale, gets a boyfriend, things are going fine until she and the boyfriend hit the sheets. Then things get a little skewed."
"I know the story."
"Have you stopped to think what it did to her? Having to do what she did to you?"
"She seems to be over it now."
"And you know that from seeing her for a few minutes."
"She didn't look like she was yearning for me or anything."
"Well, of course not, she thought she'd killed you."
"She should have known better."
"Yes, because love is so logical."
"So, is he a cruel man?"
"Don't call him that."
"Well, is he?"
"Cruel? No, just incredibly naïve. He really thinks his clients deserve to be represented. I think he really believes he's doing the right thing. I don't think he knows the bigger picture. What's really going on."
"Does she look uncared for?"
"So, just why does it bother you?"
"Because, damn it, she's mine."
"What are you prepared to do about it?"
"I don't know."
"Are you going to tell her?"
"Tell her what?"
"That your soul's permanent."
"Because if she chooses me, I need to know it's me she wants."
"She's likely had a taste of married life now, all of it. It might be a difficult sell to convince her to run away with you never to experience that again."
"I don't want to think about it."
"How did this happen? She's the slayer, damn it. She should know what she's dealing with."
Angel glared at Doyle when he said nothing. "And don't look at me like that."
"Like I should already know the answer."
Doyle merely shrugged. "If that's all for the night, I think I'll be going home."
"Oh sure, send me out on a useless errand, turn my world upside down, and leave."
"I think you're world's been turned upside down for a while now."
He was right. It'd been that way since the moment he saw her. He wanted to punch Lindsey McDonald out when he saw him pawing Buffy. Okay, pawing was an exaggeration. She was his wife, he had the right to touch her.
He had sat on the street in his car for a few minutes looking at the house after he'd left. He tried to picture the Buffy he'd known before to this one. She was an adult now. Married. He was no longer her only one. That fact shouldn't have bothered him, but it did. He'd wanted something in his long existence that was just his. He'd thought Buffy was it.
When Angel said nothing else, Doyle turned and left. Angel cradled his head in his hands, searching his memory of the brief time he saw Buffy for any clues as to what she was doing. How had they met? These were all questions he could just ask her. He imagined she'd tell him. Maybe he was wrong, but he didn't think so.
It was moments like this he wished he had the stomach to hunt and kill, because he sure wanted to. Instead, he stepped into the elevator and went down to his apartment until tomorrow.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com