Buffy wasn't sure she'd ever get used to winter outside of California. The past week had been positively balmy with getting into the fifties during the day. Cleveland was where it was at, though, so she had little choice in the matter of where she chose to reside. She fed little Katarina while April slept in. They'd come up with a pretty strong vamp last night. Buffy hadn't realized until it was too late that he wasn't a newly risen vamp and April had paid the price. She'd be fine, but a little sleeping in was in order.
At twenty, April was one of the oldest slayers Buffy had found. She was not sure why that was the case. Maybe once potentials hit a certain age they couldn't become a slayer. There were some older that had gained some of the slayer goodies like strength, but they were just extra strong human women.
The light in April's eyes was beginning to come back. Buffy hadn't known her before, but she could tell the slayer was enjoying her new life. Buffy couldn't say that she blamed the woman. Katarina turned the sippy cup full of milk upside down on the highchair tray. Buffy was glad the top was secure. She'd never been around babies before and while Katarina qualified as a toddler not a baby it was pretty much the same to Buffy. Diapers needed to be changed and she couldn't understand more than a few words the little girl said. But even the little girl seemed to sense the change in her mother. She ate better and where she had originally fussed at the idea of Buffy feeding or changing her, the slayer and the toddler had come to some sort of understanding.
It was cases like this that Buffy was extra happy they'd gone with doing the spell. As much as she didn't want to imagine what a woman like April's life would have been like, she could see it clearly. And what would have become of Katarina? Would she have suffered the same, or a worse, fate as her mother? The idea of someone hurting her, marking her as they had April made Buffy want to vomit. From everything she could decipher from April's fragmented conversations about her life before Katarina and becoming a slayer, Buffy believed April had no idea who Katarina's father was. It was sad, really, the little girl was adorable. And April, even with the scars and the gang tattoos, was striking.
The doorbell rang and after making sure April was content for a minute, Buffy got up to answer the door. She was not too surprised to see him standing there. He had indicated he'd try to get here to check on them. Buffy wasn't sure why he felt the need to, but she didn't balk at his offer. She also wasn't counting on it happening. A woman not prone to give into her base urges since Parker, she had the night before leaving Trenton. Both knew what it was about so neither left her room the next morning with false hopes or broken hearts. It helped that he had been as amazing as she imagined.
"Hi," she said brightly. She noticed even his rental car was sleek and black. She wondered if rental agencies stocked the type of vehicle he preferred just for him. If she were an agent, she'd do it if he asked her to. He was that yummy.
"Katarina and I were having breakfast. Did you eat?"
"Okay then. Can I get you anything?"
He followed Buffy to the kitchen and regarded the toddler. "Just a glass of milk."
"I can do that," she said, setting about doing that as he sat at the table and regarded Katarina. It had been over a month since her trip to Trenton. No new slayers had been discovered so she'd been in Cleveland the entire time. She admitted that she hoped to see him again, but she hadn't counted on it. And she certainly wasn't expecting anything from him. She got that he wasn't capable of giving her more than he already did. It surprised her she was so okay with that.
"How is she?"
"Fine. She got a little beat up last night so I let her sleep in. I figured getting Katarina breakfast couldn't be that difficult. I mean, I slay vampires, how hard can one toddler be?"
His lips curved up into a smile as she set the glass of milk in front of him.
"Yes, I know, I'm an idiot, but once I got her settled in her highchair she was fine. Do you have kids?"
"Oh," she said, trying to picture what the woman looked like who had his child. Exotically beautiful and the child, too, assuming the child took after him. Okay then, he wasn't going to offer any information. Not surprising, but a little off putting to know she'd been intimate with someone she knew next to nothing about. He regarded her as he drank his milk and Buffy wished the ground would swallow her. She wasn't used to such intense scrutiny anymore.
"So, what brings you here?"
"Just wanted to see how a Buffy lives."
She snorted. "Right. You really need to get over my name."
He arched an eyebrow over the glass of milk.
"Okay, I admit, it is a rather silly name. I don't know what my mother and father were thinking. Perhaps they were both on drugs when they filled out the birth certificate. I don't know."
He set the half-empty glass on the table. "It suits you."
"I," she frowned. "What do you mean?"
He shrugged, the gesture should have been casual but on him she noticed it wasn't. "It just does."
"Thanks, I think."
"So, she's adjusting? Wants to stay here?"
"She seems to be and yes. Is that why you came?"
"No sense in making her think she is stranded here."
"Is there work for you every night?"
"No, not always. When I first got called I patrolled every night, but now I pick a cemetery or two, but otherwise read the obituaries, check online for death records."
"You're earning a salary?"
"Not much of one, but yeah. The house is paid for, the utilities and everything with it, too."
She shrugged. "The least they can do is compensate me."
"Agreed. Want some more compensation?"
"I'm here on a skip and it occurred to me that if I get skips in this area I could just forward them to you."
No response. Okay.
"Uh sure, I'd be happy to help."
"That will work out well."
"Do you get tired of traveling?"
"That's why I surround myself with the best people."
"I'm one of the best?"
"I knew after cleaning up that underground tomb that if I ever found the people responsible for such destruction I'd want them on my team."
"Well, it wasn't all me. I had help and there were demons that had gotten loose."
"Yet you survived."
"That's all the proof I need."
"Thank you." He placed his hand over the top of the now empty glass and spun it around on the table. "We're okay?"
"I'm not commitment guy."
"I already got that. I don't normally do that, but it's okay. I got the impression by the way you talked about this Stephanie that you could be commitment guy."
He chuckled, but his face was blank. "Not anytime soon."
"Well, I hope it works for you, however you want it to work. And we're fine."
"Morning," Buffy said brightly.
"Mommy," Katarina squealed in excitement.
"April," Ranger said simply.
"Good seeing you again."
"How are you feeling this morning?"
"I'm fine. I thought I'd be sore, but I'm okay."
"Benefits of slayer healing. You'll get used to it. I promise you, though, there are some mornings you will wake up sore."
"Thank you for getting Kat breakfast."
"You're welcome. I was up anyway so it was all good."
Ranger stood. "Walk me out."
"Sure, I'll be right back."
"No problem, I'll take Kat downstairs for a while."
Buffy followed Ranger out to his car. "I'll set you up with a few things you'll need. A fax for one. It'll be pretty simple and straightforward most of the time. I'll probably bring the first couple to you personally and work with you. We'll get you licensed, which isn't difficult."
"I have a name for you. I didn't want to mention it, but those tattoos are removable." He handed her a business card. "I've already talked to him, told him about April, he said he'd do the work. He's in Chicago, but he's good so it'd be worth the drive if she wants to do that."
It was the most she could recall hearing him say at one time. It touched her heart that he had gone out of his way to find out information for April. It was something that Buffy had thought about herself, but she had no idea where to begin. Or how to bring it up. "That's very nice of you."
"I'm just a nice guy."
"I get that," she murmured with a smile.
"Thanks for the milk."
"Hey, anytime, if the milk's better in Cleveland, come by anytime."
"Right." He slid onto the driver's seat. Buffy couldn't help but admire his movements. He was graceful but there was no denying he looked serious, deadly, a force to be reckoned with. "See ya, Bunny."
"Yeah, yeah," she said with a wave as he backed out of her driveway.
She stared for a minute at the business card. She wondered which April would prefer to lose, the scars or the tattoos. That was assuming she wanted either to be gone. She was still beautiful, Buffy had noticed Xander paid attention to her when they met.
She frowned as she walked inside, wondering just how much work he would send her way. Probably as much as she was willing to handle. For some reason she liked the idea that she impressed him. Giles had filled Buffy in on some details of Ranger's career and Buffy suspected it would take quite a bit to impress a man with his experience.
"What did he want?" Buffy had found April and Katarina sitting on the couch in the basement watching one of the children's videos.
"Nothing, he wanted to know if I'd be willing to help him out with some work."
"I just bet he did."
"Not like that. He also wanted to make sure you were okay."
"That was nice of him."
"I think he's a nice guy."
"That's a switch."
"It is, isn't it?" Buffy sat on a nearby chair, unsure how to approach the subject. "He gave me a card. A guy in Chicago he said could take care of your tattoos."
"No, April, I think he just thought now that you were out of Trenton, away from there, you might want the chance at a fresh start. Completely fresh. Here's the card. If you want to call and make an appointment, I'll arrange to get you there."
"I'll still have the scars."
"You're still a beautiful woman, April. And no one's making you."
"I know, I can't even remember what I look like anymore without them."
"I wish I could say I understand, but I can't even begin to. You don't have to decide today or even tomorrow."
"Hey, what are friends for?"
"I've never had a friend. Not a real one."
"You do now."
"I get that. I still can't believe I'm out of there. That Kat is safe."
"She is. I can't say that this life will be normal compared to what she would have grown up with, but we'll do what we can."
"Any idea where I might end up?"
"No. I don't do the assignments, but I could ask Giles if you want me to."
"Any chance I could stay close to Cleveland?"
"You can stay here as long as you want."
"But you think I'm ready to go out on my own?"
"Last night proved to me you are, yes."
She nodded. "All right. Tell Giles I'm ready then."
"Yes. If I do decide to get the tattoos removed, I'll need someone to take Kat."
"I'll take her, no problem. We're buds now."
"You changed our lives."
"I'm glad it's for the better. I admit when we did this, when I came up with the idea, I didn't really give much thought to the girls whose lives I was changing. I needed their power though, your power. No matter that you weren't in Sunnydale with me physically, without all of you we wouldn't have won."
"I still can't believe some of this is true. I've seen it with my own eyes and it's still weird."
"It will get more believable. You should have seen me in denial when I first got called. And I didn't have someone like me to train me. Watchers are great for the book stuff, but they're just not an effective trainer for the field. I'm not sure why the Council never realized that." She shrugged. "Now enough about that. I think we had talked about shopping today."
"That's right, because shopping can cure anything that ails you."
April laughed. She hardly laughed at all when she'd first gotten here, but now she was starting to more and more. Buffy liked to think that was a good thing, it meant she was healing. April missed her mother, Buffy knew that, and that made it difficult sometimes.
It was a difficult transition for all of them. There wasn't one so far that had nothing to leave behind. There were times Buffy felt guilty, but then she'd meet one like April and realize what a difference she'd made. No one had been hurt by what they'd done, some had been able to get out of impossible situations.
"I'm going to get Kat ready."
"Okay, no hurry, we've got all day."
Buffy let her head fall back against the chair's headrest and sighed heavily. That had gone better than she'd expected. She was afraid April would think she was telling her to change, which wasn't the case. She thought on Ranger, tried to get mad that he just waltzed in and out again, but just couldn't find it in herself to do it. She didn't take that to mean she was ready for casual relationships, something she didn't think she was capable of. She took it to mean that she was finally in a place where she could start thinking about her future. A relationship with someone who wasn't a vampire yet might not be averse to knowing the truth about Buffy.
She had been afraid that like Robin's mother she had gotten to be all about the mission, the slaying, but she knew now that wasn't the case. She just needed time to grow up, to adjust to her new status in life. Going from being the one to one of many.
She heard the squeals of Katarina upstairs as April dressed her for the day and Buffy's heart lightened almost immediately. The little girl tugged at her heartstrings, made Buffy wonder what type of mother she'd make. It was something she'd never thought of until now, having Katarina around the house.
No, there was nothing about doing the spell she regretted. Some might claim she was selfish because it made her life easier, but that wasn't really true. Getting out of her gig as the slayer had not really been a factor in her decision. She could not let evil win on her watch and she'd do it again if she had to. Whatever it took, she'd never done anything less and she wouldn't now either. She'd be right there with Giles and the rest of the girls for the next apocalypse. And as much as the new slayers liked to deny it, she knew there'd be another one. Evil never took a rest for very long.
They'd be ready.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com