“Okay, we’re going to try this one more time,” Angel said as he paced in front of the blonde, his hands steepled in front of him. “Who are you?”
“I told you. My name is Buffy Summers and when I get loose I am so going to kick your ass,” the blonde looked up at him with vengeance in her eyes.
“Right. If you were Buffy Summers you wouldn’t be tied to that chair so who are you?”
“Oh God. You ask the same questions over and over. Are you planning on boring me to death?”
“I could just kill you,” Angel snapped at her.
“Right. You’re Angel. Vampire with a soul. You don’t do killing anymore,” the blonde rolled her eyes and sighed. “So quit threatening and let me go.”
Angel stopped in his tracks, staring at the blonde. For anyone that didn’t know Buffy, she was a good duplicate. Her facial structure was similar but her eyes were blue instead of ever changing hazel and she didn’t have that Summers mouth. “You know me?”
“Duh. You’re in the slayer handbook. I put you there after the debacle with Dana. Chapter 23. Things to NOT slay,” the girl rolled her eyes. “You really don’t get out much do you?”
“Never mind. Where is she? I don’t even care why you’re impersonating her at this point. I just want to know where she is and that she’s alright.”
The blonde considered him, her stance softening. “Fine but you’re going to have to come closer. Little pitchers have big ears.”
Angel gave her a thoroughly confused look then glanced around the apartment. He was certain there was no one else there but if she was willing to tell him about Buffy, he was willing to listen. He leaned in, close enough that she could whisper in his ear.
And that’s how he ended up on his back waking up several minutes later. The slayer was gone and he still had no idea where Buffy was or why there were blondes all over the world impersonating her.
Angel was tired. He was stalking another impersonator and this one had noticed him. She’d given him the slip and he’d spent the better part of the night looking for her. He kicked the door shut and slipped off his jacket. He tossed it over a chair and walked to the fridge. He’d just gotten a container of blood out when she spoke.
“So, bondage and torture in the form of endless questions, I’m guessing this is a facet of you I never knew about.”
He swallowed hard and stepped in the direction of her voice.
“I thought by now you’d start locking your doors,” she said as she stepped out of the shadows into the light pooling from the lamp on the end table beside the couch.
“Buffy.” The universe screeched to a halt, narrowing to a pinprick with her at the center. His chest became tight and he gasped for air he didn’t need. Then as suddenly as it had stopped, it picked up again, moving as if it had never stopped.
“Got it in one.” She glanced at the couch then sat down. “Seriously Angel, if you were looking for me you could have called The Watcher’s Council.”
“I did. I talked to Xander. He said you were still in Rome with The Immortal.”
“Okay first of all, that was never my idea. The whole Immortal thing but slayers are head strong. She wanted to date the guy, said she wouldn’t be pretend me any other way. Giles caved with a tut tut and a warning about being careful. Second, I’m going to kill Xander,” Buffy sighed. She raked a hand through her blonde hair. It was longer than Angel remembered ever seeing it.
“Why did you believe him?” Buffy asked, watching Angel carefully.
“Why do you think I started stalking the impersonators? I didn’t believe him, Buffy. And I knew they weren’t you. “
“Well that gives me a happy. I told Giles it was a bad idea and yet…Do you know how weird it is? Having mini-me’s all over the world?” Buffy stood up and crossed over to the window. She parted the drape just enough to let the rising sun wash over her. Angel made a quick side step, staying in the shadow. He had forgotten she did that, opened curtains at random. It kept him on his toes.
“How did you know it wasn’t me?” she asked as the light bathed her. He shoved his hands in his pockets.
“I went to Rome. I saw the impersonator. She’s good but…she’s not you. Her heart beats too fast when she’s slaying, she doesn’t talk in her sleep and her nose is all wrong. From there I went to Paris. That one isn’t as good as the one in Rome. After that it was Berlin and New York City.”
“You’ve taken your stalking to international levels. That’s great,” Buffy grumbled as she let the curtain go and the light was extinguished. “So seriously, Angel…” She ducked her head as his name fell from her lips. She took a deep breath that trembled as she inhaled then looked up to him.
“Why did you kidnap a mini-me and tie her up to a chair? Giles thought you were evil.”
“I’m not evil. Did he send you here to kill me?” he asked.
Buffy shrugged in answer. After a moment she took the stake from the small of her back and tossed it on his coffee table. “I told him you weren’t evil. You would have been stalking the real me if you were evil.”
“I was trying to find you. I had heard you were dead,” he answered. “Xander was feeding me lies that I knew were lies. The underground was buzzing with your death and stories of you in New York and then in Rome and London. I didn’t know what to believe so I decided I’d go straight to the source.”
“Which would have been me. Not mini-me,” Buffy pointed out. After a minute she rolled her eyes and walked to the next window. This one she threw the drapes open completely so that she was standing in a square of sunlight. She turned to look at Angel.
“When I was seventeen, I used to think you’d be able to find me no matter what. I could drop off the face of this planet and you’d still find me. You were really good at keeping that belief alive, just a tiny flutter of it in my heart. You’d show up when I was going under and pull me out. That night I buried my mother…” she trailed off and glanced out the window. “Then I died and I didn’t expect you to be there when I died. It was too much and I was ready for it but I came back. I went under and I stayed under, just waiting…waiting and waiting.”
She turned to look at him, her eyes shattering him the way a stake never could. “You kept me waiting, Angel.”
“I’m sorry,” he offered quietly.
Buffy shrugged and looked back out the window. “Anyway, nostalgia really isn’t the point here. The point is…I thought you’d be able to find me if you really wanted to. Don’t I have this Angel homing beacon? Or did I lose that somewhere along the way?”
“You didn’t-there was never-“ he stopped.
Buffy laughed. “No right answers, huh?” She shook her head, waving it off. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not seventeen anymore.”
She walked out of the square of sunlight, leaving the drapes open. “You’ve found me. What did you want?”
“I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” Angel answered. He skirted closer to Buffy, unconsciously taking a deep breath of her as he did.
“You’ve made sure. Does that mean I can go now?” Buffy asked. She skittered away from him, even as she asked the question. Her arms remained firmly wrapped around her torso, holding everything inside. “Or would you like to tie me to a chair and interview me?”
He flinched at the question, just as she had intended him to. “No. I think I know everything about you that I’m interested in learning.”
It was like a physical slap and as soon as he saw the shock on her face, he regretted the jab. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-“
“Save it for someone who doesn’t know you, Angel,” Buffy said as she charged out of his apartment, her heels sounding like gunshots on the wooden floor.
It took him six months to find her again and he cursed the moment he hadn’t stopped her from leaving. Angel had never been able to let things lie with Buffy, not when they were lying badly. He hadn’t ever expected to find her in Scotland in a castle of all things but as he lurked in the shadows and watched her train the younger girls, there was no mistaking that it was her rather than an imposter.
Getting her alone was more difficult than he would have imagined. She hid in the sunlight, taking long walks in the afternoon, training in the clearing in the mornings and at night she was surrounded by a gaggle of adolescent girls. The Princess, it appeared, wanted to be locked in her tower. He rented a cottage not far from the castle and the days turned into weeks.
She knew he was there. He found little signs like a note stuck to her window that said ‘Go away. Stalking isn’t sexy anymore.’ There was a stake with his name written on it in permanent marker and a fake plane ticket that said one way to LA. It was game they could play, safer than the one they usually played and if she wanted him gone, she’d be a lot more direct about it.
Nearly six weeks had slipped by when he finally caught her in the woods one night. She stood in the slight clearing with her eyes closed, her fingers outstretched as she let the night’s mist wrap around her. The moon silvered her from head to toe and he knew he was the one caught as he crept closer to her.
“I thought I could wait you out,” she whispered, her words muted and weighted with dew.
He didn’t say anything still but shoved his hands deeper in his pockets. Waiting was what he did. Sometimes it seemed his entire life was all about waiting.
“I forget how patient you can be. Never really learned that skill,” she continued after a moment.
“You’re better at it than you used to be,” he finally said. He wanted to snatch the words back as soon as he’d said them, not because they were wrong but because they seemed so foreign in this place.
She rolled one shoulder in a shrug, her back still to him. If she were the prey, he’d say she was vulnerable now but they both know she had always been the hunter. “I’m older, Angel.” There was pause, a chance for him to argue. He didn’t take it and she continued. “Seventeen seems a very long time ago.”
“At least three or four lifetimes,” he agreed.
Buffy sighed, her posture wilting. She pulled her hands in, resting them against her legs. “And we still haven’t gotten it right. When I was little I used to put a light against my window in the summer and I’d watch the moths flutter up against the glass, trying to get to the light. They were stupid moths; they just kept battering themselves against the window until they died.”
“You’re not stupid, Buffy and we’re not moths.”
“Feels like it sometimes. You know what happens to the moth if they ever get close to the flame? They burn up. They go in this blaze of glory. I don’t do blazes of glory anymore, Angel. I don’t want to. I just want…” she trailed off, shaking her head.
He stepped closer, their bodies almost touching, her back to his chest. He bowed his head and took a deep breath of her. She still smelled the way he remembered sunshine smelling. His sunlight in the form of a girl. “You’re not a moth, Buffy.” It seemed stupid to say but this was an analogy he could work with.
“Yeah. I’m not cookies either and I’m not even sure I’m cookie dough now. I know what I am though. I’m in limbo. Dante wrote a story about that. It’s one of the circles of Hell or something. I think it’s the worst one too. The others are proactive. You’re doing something but in limbo you just wait. You don’t have a purpose or a routine or an anything.”
He sorted through her words before he spoke. Translating Buffy was something he was no longer fluent at. “You’re tired of waiting,” he finally stated.
Buffy sighed, exasperated as she stepped away from Angel then turned to face him. “Yes I’m tired of waiting. I’ve been waiting since I was sixteen years old which according to you is at least three or four lifetimes. Maybe five because we were working with seventeen. I’m just…my life is coming together here, Angel. I have a purpose and it’s not all about death. I mean sure there’s still plenty of slaying and monsters but I’m helping people. Individual people that sometimes know how to say thank you. Except for Kennedy. She never says thank you but then that’s not here or there or anywhere. Great, you’ve got me sounding like Dr. Seuss.” She bowed her head and buried it in her hands.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…to do anything. I didn’t mean what I said back in my apartment in LA. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting and I didn’t mean to let you go,” Angel responded. He looked up at the sky, picking constellations out as he spoke.
“Yeah. That’s the thing. We never mean to do anything, Angel. I’m tired of doing things I don’t mean to do,” Buffy answered. She looked up at him, watching for just a moment. “I thought this was supposed to be easy. The whole love thing. You fall into it and then it’s smooth sailing then I realized how can anything be easy if you’ve fallen into it? In general the falling makes things hard and scary and landing hurts. I don’t want to fall anymore. I don’t want to batter myself up against a window and I don’t want to hurt.”
Angel nodded as he took a step backwards. “I’ll go.” It was the barest whisper but it cut through the mist in the forest like her scythe through bone.
“Dammit!” She yelled, frustration making her words ring, echo and trip over itself. Her hands make themselves into fists and she wanted to hit him, knock him to the ground and pummel until his blood ran. “Can you even once act like it’s hard for you?”
His eyes met hers, widening in surprise then hardening as his words came. “Every day I struggle to figure out why I keep doing it. Why I keep fighting Angelus, why I keep saving people who are terrified of me and hate what I am, why I fight for a world that would rather see me dead and my answer is always the same.”
She stared at him, silently pushing him to continue speaking when he didn’t her eyebrows arched and she leaned forward slightly. “Well…what’s the answer, Bucko Boy? I’d like to hear it. Maybe I can cheat and use your answer.”
“You, Buffy. Since the moment I saw you sitting on those steps it has always been you,” Angel told her. Surprise colored his soft words and made his voice seem younger than he had felt in centuries.
“But…you’re there and I’m here and our here and there never mesh,” she said with a sigh. Her eyes shone with tears unshed but then that was a common affliction with Angel around.
“It doesn’t matter. You’re here, in this world that I fight for. That’s all the here I need.”
Buffy watched him, her expression one of someone who didn’t understand English. Finally she shook her head, spinning on the ball of her foot and walking a couple of steps away from him. “God, you suck.” The venom in her voice took him by surprise. He recoiled physically, stepping away from her.
“And I think I hate you a little,” she continued. “How am I supposed to respond to that? I finally get it together, face the fact that you are not going to be in my life and then you’re here and you’re saying things and you’re not being mean. It’s easier when you’re mean and what am I supposed to do?”
“What do you want to do, Buffy?” Angel asked.
For a split second the world stood still, time stopped and Buffy Summers could just want. Her lips were against his, her arms around his neck and his arms clutching her tightly to him because what she wanted was always the same. Since she was sixteen years old, which is to say a lifetime or five ago.
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Summary: She’s tired of waiting, tired of never meaning to do anything.
Spoilers: S8 Btvs comic book