Intermezzo

Intermezzo

By Maren
Author's Notes

There are many stories to tell about the days and years that followed the collapse of Sunnydale. A lot, maybe most, are the sad kind, the kind that make your heart ache, the kind that put a lump in your throat. In those days there was plenty of fodder for stories of betrayal, of loss, of anger, of grief.

This is not one of those stories.

This is a story of the in-between, of the moments of light in the darkness, the structure and routine amid the chaos. It’s a story about compromise, about friendship, about love.

It’s a series of intermezzos in a never-ending drama.

Buffy gets a little tired of explaining to people how she ended up back in L.A. working with Angel Investigations.

She keeps threatening to have the down and dirty story printed, telegraph-style, on cards so she can just send them out to everyone she knows, everyone Angel knows, and everyone who’s ever heard of either of them just to be done with it.

Dawn got homesick and wanted to go back to L.A. Stop. Yes, we both understand the irony of her getting homesick for a place that was never actually her home. Stop. No shortage of demons in L.A.—too big a job for just one person these days.Stop. It made sense to pool resources and muscle than to keep getting in each other’s way. Stop. No, Angel is not my boss. It’s still called Angel Investigations because of brand-name recognition (according to Angel- I don’t really care). Stop

The truth is that things didn’t happen exactly that easily, or that quickly, but then Buffy doesn’t really think the not-very-sordid details of her very complicated relationship with Angel are anyone else’s business.

Besides, it’s much less complicated now, so water under the bridge and all that jazz.

Really.

Faith comes to visit and when Buffy leads her to her office so Faith can dump her stuff before they go patrol, the other slayer starts smirking.

“Never thought I’d see the day when Buffy Summers let somebody else be in charge.”

“What?” Buffy frowns and follows Faith’s gaze to the big office Angel is sitting in, then back to the closet-size room that holds Buffy’s things.

Whatever.

She guesses his time at Wolfram & Hart created a monster, of sorts. A big office, leather-chair-loving monster. She’s dealt with much worse in her day so she let him have the honcho office even though she’d get more enjoyment out of the windows and instead took up residence in one of the smaller rooms.

Desks aren’t really her thing, anyway. She’s more of a doer. A mover. When they aren’t busy she ends up doing a lot of pacing, and finger-tapping, and sometimes shadow-boxing. It drives Angel crazy. He never says anything, but she can tell by the way his brow furrows and the way he starts holding his pencil too tight like maybe he’s wishing she were dustable with a tiny flick of his wrist.

Back when they started working together, it was a little awkward trying to figure out who was in charge. If one used “little” as a synonym for “massively”, that is. By that time she was used to her status as the leader, as slayer-numero-uno and if the new girls called her the little general behind her back. . . Well, they weren’t wrong. Angel wasn’t any better, especially not after his stint as CEO of Evil Incorporated and those first few cases they worked together were. . . rough.

But they’d figured it out without either of them having to officially assume the sidekick position and now things worked pretty seamlessly. It wasn’t magical or perfect. They didn’t always agree. They weren’t, like, mind-melded or anything and sometimes they had very different ideas about the best course of action. The crux of it all was negotiating whose plan was best in any given situation and going with it.

Turns out it isn’t that hard. They’d just forgotten how much they trusted each other is all. Once they remembered, the hows and whose of it didn’t really matter that much anymore.

She rolls her eyes at Faith. “Please. We’re all equal and stuff. Besides, who brings who coffee every day without even being asked?” Buffy points to the empty Starbucks cup on her desk and crosses her arms over her chest. Everybody knows bosses don’t bring coffee to their peons and Angel is diligent with his deliveries.

Faith waggles her eyebrows and gives her a knowing smile.

Buffy bites her lip to keep from telling her that it’s not like that, not anymore.

It’s not.

They date. Just not each other.

Her current boyfriend’s name is Cole. He’s a firefighter with the most amazing upper body she’s ever seen and she’s seen some amazing upper bodies. He also has an amazing DVD collection and sometimes they spend their rare nights off together mainlining Homicide and The Office before heading back to his bedroom for other activities.

It’s normal. Kind of boring sometimes, but normal, and isn’t that what she always wanted?

She would never have expected it but after the initial awkward period, when he introduced her to Nina and they navigated the ins and outs of being coworkers without the heavy duty epic romance shtick, they’d settled into a fairly comfortable place. They’d never gone on a double-date or anything—they weren’t that comfortable. But if she wanted to skip patrol or take a night off to go on a date she didn’t have to lie and if Nina popped in to see Angel, she could be completely civil. Friendly even.

Now that she’s gotten used to it, Buffy doesn’t mind seeing him with Nina at all and she’s pretty sure he’d say the same.

Who is she kidding?

Not Cole. Not the guys who came before him, either. She’s not sure about Nina.

They make the back storage room into a training room and start spending their down time sparring and working out. Buffy thinks Angel was just tired of her pacing and wanted to put her energy to less annoying use, but she doesn’t say anything because no matter the reason, it’s better.

Sometimes he brings Nina back to train with weapons. Buffy stays clear of the training room then because Nina may be a werewolf but in human form she’s not all that coordinated and Buffy’s afraid she’ll “accidentally” run her through with a sword. Other times Connor or Spike use it too and if she’s in the mood she’ll throw herself on the mats with them.

Most of the time it’s just her and Angel, and those are the times she likes best.

Because they’re the most evenly matched, that’s all.

It’s late afternoon, after her last class for the day, and Buffy’s working off some of her frustration after getting the first draft of her senior thesis paper back. It was covered in red and she thinks that if her professor knew how much red gunky stuff she has to deal with on an everyday basis to keep the world safe, he’d be a little more judicious with the negative comments. As she works the hanging bag she doesn’t go so far as to imagine her professor’s face on it, but the words run through her head and occasionally out her mouth.

She’s working so hard that she doesn’t immediately notice Angel’s entrance.

“Bad day?” He’s leaning against the door, arms crossed casually over his chest.

Buffy shrugs, then punches the bag again, sending it swinging wildly. “There’s no impending apocalyptic doom so I guess I’ve had worse.”

He nods and moves onto the mats. “I’m not sure how much more that bag can take. Want a partner?”

She stops and grabs the bag to still its movements, arches an eyebrow and lets a real smile cross her face. “You really think you can handle me today?”

Angel’s lips quirk, but he doesn’t say anything, just reaches down and pulls his shirt over his head and tosses it to the side. Back in the beginning, when they first started occupying one another’s spaces again, the sight of Angel half-bare would have put her in a physical tizzy. Get him sweaty and flexing on the mats and not respond? Forget about it. But now it’s nothing, just a sparring partner with a very nice torso and a great set of arms.

Well, maybe not nothing, but it’s nothing she can’t handle. Nothing she can’t ignore.

They spar for almost twenty minutes, full out, and when Buffy finally gets Angel off his feet and moves into a kill position, she’s sweating and breathing hard. She rolls off, and springs to her feet before reaching down to help him up. A grin stretches her face from ear to ear and he’s giving her that disgruntled indigestion look he gets.

He can be such a sore loser.

“You up for some weapons work?” he asks and she wants to laugh at how transparent he is. He thinks he’s better on swords than she is. She lets him, because anything she might say to dispel that myth might bring up things from their past that are better left there.

Buffy shakes her head. “Nope, gotta go.”

He raises an eyebrow and shoots her a challenging smirk. “Why, you afraid I can beat you?”

“Ha! In your dreams, vamp boy. I need to go call the Watcher’s Council. I have important information that needs to be recorded for posterity.”

Angel frowns and she can see him trying to figure out what information she’s gathered from their recent cases that needs to go to the Council. He grabs his shirt off the floor and wipes it over his face, still looking puzzled, and Buffy has to stifle a laugh as she continues.

“I need to let them know that 255 years seems to be when vamps hit their physical prime and that it’s all downhill from there.”

“Hey, I’m older than. . .” Understanding dawns

They’re both laughing as he chases her out of the training room.

It’s amazing how much better she feels.

Sometimes, the good times are scarce They live through it anyway, because they are survivors.

It’s not all fun and games. Sunnydale still collapsed. Some parts of L.A. still look like a war zone. They’ve both lost. They both grieve.

But this story isn’t about that. Still, it explains why sometimes the break comes late, why sometimes it seems like it will never come at all.

The thing is, it always does.

The office is quiet, too quiet, and considering she came here because she needs to study for her history final, her irritation at the silence is admittedly strange.

Angel’s in his office, caving to his obsessive-compulsive nature and finishing up a file on a case they closed the night before. Buffy never does the paperwork and after a few unsuccessful attempts at guilting her into it, Angel let it go and took it all over. She doesn’t get the point. It isn’t like there’s some demon fighting bureaucracy that mandates they keep carefully documented and labeled case files.

Okay, well there is version 2.0 of the Watcher’s Council but Buffy personally thinks it’s kind of dumb to leave a paper trail to the inner workings of the supernatural world for any old burglar to find. Plus, it seems kind of anticlimactic—this kind of information belongs in big dusty antique tomes with gilded covers, not standard size manila folders that are carefully arranged in green hanging files by Angel.

She taps her highlighter (orange) against the spiral of her notebook for a little auditory stimulation and tries to remember why she should care about the Protestant Ascendancy. She’s still tapping, still wondering when Angel wanders in with a stack of folders in his hand. Buffy watches as he thinks for a moment, then pulls a drawer open. She has to bite back a smirk when he curses softly under his breath and closes the drawer only to open another.

Watching him be completely mystified by the filing system he put in place is endlessly amusing but she tries not to make fun of him too much. The fact that he organizes things using a sentimental style rather than a, you know, logical one is actually too sweet to ridicule.

He tried to explain Cordy’s system to her once but Buffy had tuned him out because even if she could trust that he actually knew what the system was, it really didn’t matter. She still isn’t sure he understands her no-file policy extends to reading them as well.

She turns her attention back to her book as he finishes filing and sighs.

“What are you studying?” He’s standing next to her and she didn’t even notice he moved. Some slayer senses she had.

“History of 18th-Century Europe.” She stifles a yawn. It had seemed interesting in the course book and it filled one of her last gen ed requirements.

He ignores her boredom and gives her a half smile. “My specialty,” he says as he sits on the corner of her desk and angles her notes so he can read them.

She thinks, I knew that.

She says, “Oh yeah, that’s right. Well, as long as you’re here, what can you tell me about Irish politics?”

They’re out working a case. . . well, working an informant if you wanted to be all technical. Angel is vamped out and his voice sounds wicked and dangerous even without the extra-added terror of it coming out of his mouth around very sharp fangs. The little demon twerp they’re interrogating keeps looking at her with this pleading look in his eyes, like she’s going to help him. Like she’s the good cop to his bad cop.

Sucker.

The idea sticks though and when they get the information they need and leave, Buffy’s still thinking about it.

They are sort of like buddy cops of the demon world. Yeah. Like Cagney and Lacey or something. She’s not sure which one’s which because she’s never actually seen Hill Street Blues before, but they were buddy cops, right? Hmmm, maybe Pembleton and Bayliss then. Angel would definitely be the Pembleton there.

Working so closely together over the past year or so means that she knows how cranky Angel can get; say, when things aren’t going well on a case, or when he can’t get his hair to lay the right way, or especially when Connor shows up with a new hickey from Spike. (That one makes her grumpy too, but for different reasons. She hopes.). He’s actually pretty moody and considering she’s spent a considerable amount of time over the past couple years living and/or working with hormonal teenaged girls. . .

Well.

For the rest of the night she calls Angel “Frank”. Laughs when he stops looking at her like she’s lost her mind and adopts that cranky, Pembleton-like glower instead.

Buffy figures she has to take her fun where she can get it. Demon buddy cops, remember? Not a glamorous life.

Lorne needs some help in Las Vegas (apparently, it’s not the first time) and since it’s Vegas, Spike and Connor insist on coming along.

It’s really more muscle than strictly necessary, so the first thing she does after they check into their rooms is call the box office.

When they reconvene so they can meet with Lorne and take care of business, Buffy hands Angel a ticket and tells him the rest of them can square things away without him—he has a show to see.

Just the one ticket, though, because two would have seemed too much like a date. Plus, Barry Manilow is lame.

Dawn wants to spend Christmas with Giles and Buffy can’t imagine spending the holiday without her sister, so they go to London.

Things are still tense between she and Giles and by Boxing Day Buffy is about to crawl out of her skin. So she hugs Dawn goodbye, buys a ticket, and spends a few days by herself in Ireland. It’s cold and sort of muddy, not at all what she’d painted in her mind, but the people are friendly and she can feel the history in the cobblestones that line the side street that holds her hotel.

She does a little sight-seeing, more than a little shopping (duh), and on her second afternoon in Galway she ducks into a pub to avoid the rain. The barkeep takes one look at her and tells her she looks like she needs something a bit stout. He won’t take no for an answer and he puts down a beer that is so dark and thick it looks like a mug of hot fudge. She picks it up, and it would not be an understatement to say that eldest currently living slayer is scared. But when she takes a little sip she finds it isn’t that bad. The next sip is a little bigger.

And because it’s impossible to be here and not think of him, Buffy considers all of the times Angel has looked at her preferred girly drinks and grimaced with distaste. A smile passes over her lips as she remembers his promise that if she ever had “a real drink”, he’d try the fruitiest, sweetest, pinkest concoction she could come up with.

A wave of. . . something. . . passes through her and Buffy digs her phone out and dials Angel’s number. Her smile grows until it’s so wide it’s making her cheeks ache a little and as the phone rings she lets out an anticipatory laugh at the look on his face when she tells him she’s pretty sure whatever it is she just drank made hair sprout on her chest.

Seriously, she can feel the tingle.

But he doesn’t answer and when his voice mail picks up, Buffy hangs up the phone rather than leave a message. She guesses he’s probably busy with Connor and Nina and she shouldn’t bother them.

She heads back to London the night before she and Dawn are schedule to fly back home. Giles’ flat is dark when she gets there and there’s a note on the door, letting her know that he and Dawn went to grab dinner so she heads back to the guest room to drop her bags and maybe find something to eat herself.

When she flips on the light, the first thing she sees is a brown parcel package on her bed, covered in air mail stickers. Buffy has a brief paranoid moment where she considers things like mail bombs and anthrax but that goes away pretty quickly when 1)she recognizes Angel’s handwriting on the package and 2)the fact that she really likes presents overrides any other concern.

Inside the box there is a card and a thin, wrapped package. She tosses the card to the side for the moment because hello, it’s not like she has an audience and has to pretend to be more interested in the card than the present. Still, she’s careful with the wrapping and when she uncovers the book it holds she can’t stop the tears.

Buffy remembers telling Angel about how she used to love hearing her mom read to her as a child, how she’d saved all of her books to someday read to her own kids. Her favorite was The Velveteen Rabbit and she used to make her mother read it to her every Christmas. One of the things that she regrets losing the most when Sunnydale collapsed was that book and its connection to some of her best memories of her mother.

When she’s ready, she pulls the small linen card out of its envelope and opens it.

I hope this arrives on time, and that it brings you more joy than sadness. Merry Christmas, Buffy. ~Angel

She holds the old copy of The Velveteen Rabbit carefully to her chest and thinks about the antique dagger with Liam’s family crest inlaid on the handle that’s sitting carefully wrapped in her luggage.

She hopes it brings him more joy than sadness.

The day they kiss for the first time in almost three years isn’t notable for any reason. Okay, well for any other reason. They aren’t in any more danger than usual, no one’s sick and dying in the hospital. . . nothing particularly cliché at all. They’re just laughing about something stupid Spike did, totally behind his back, and when their eyes meet everything just clicks.

It’s all sparky and lusty, yeah, but it’s not out of control. Buffy knows what she’s doing and when she looks at Angel she can tell he’s being deliberate too.

She thinks, I don’t want to ruin our friendship.

She says, “You’re my best friend.”

Angel nods, swallows, brushes her hair out of her face and traces her cheek with his thumb (oooh, sparks). “We don’t have to do this.”

Buffy looks at him like he’s crazy and grabs his face between her hands. “That wasn’t an argument against anything. Just a statement. And we are so totally doing this.”

And their second kiss in almost three years is maybe just a little out of control.

Maybe it was inevitable, although Buffy’s past thinking of her relationship with Angel in terms of destiny. She thinks that the reason they ended back together is exactly because they worked so hard to be just fine apart.

Buffy knows no one really believes they can make it work. They all think they’re doomed, star-crossed . . . all of the other things that she herself used to buy into. But frankly, she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Because she’s in love with her best friend and things aren’t perfect but they’re good.

Sometimes they’re even great.

The story doesn’t end there and the fact that it continues at all for Buffy and Angel is happy enough on its own, but there are no fairytale happy endings. There are no sunsets to be ridden into, and if there were Angel wouldn’t be able to do so anyway.

However, there are no sad endings, either, and for a vampire with a soul and a woman destined to fight his kind until she dies, there’s something quite incredible in a normal ending, somewhere between happy and sad.

They live, they fight, and they make the most of each intermezzo.

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating:PG
Summary: Intermezzo: a short dramatic, musical, or other entertainment of light character, introduced between the acts of a drama or opera

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