San Francisco is different. It’s not Europe, or Sunnydale, or L.A. though at times, in certain neighborhoods, it reminds her a little of all of the places she’s called home.
She likes it.
A week in a cheapish hotel and she’s ready to find something more permanent.
There’s a public library not too far away so she walks there and reserves a computer. It takes about twenty minutes of her time to figure out that she’d better be looking for a job too, unless she wants to sell a kidney to find a decent place to live.
She’s fond of her kidneys. She’s almost positive they’ve served her well.
When she’s finished printing her saved searches from the newspaper classifieds and a few semi-promising leads from Craig’s List she has about five minutes left to check her email. She skips all the offers for a LaRGr PENis and hones in on the message from email@example.com.
The message is short, but filled with Dawn’s brand of bubbly excitement. Buffy feels a flash of something that makes her eyes ache and her throat feel tight but she blinks and swallows and pushes the emotion away. She knows Dawn has her hands full with her studies and her friends and all of the other things that keep a college student too busy to call or write.
She can’t resent her sister for growing up, for making her own life. It’s her turn to do the same.
She ends up renting a room on a month-to-month lease from a middle-aged woman who smells like garlic. The contents of her suitcase have barely been emptied into the dresser when she discovers why. For the next week, every meal that her landlady makes is infused with the stuff.
When the local vamps she’s dusting start cracking jokes about how cute it is that the slayer smells like she’s been bathing in garlic before informing her that it’s pure myth, Buffy figures out that she’s going to have to find a new place to live. Her decision is solidified when the landlady starts asking where it is a young woman is going that keeps her out all night.
The note reminding her that the terms of her lease prohibit drugs and prostitution is just the linchpin.
To move, though, she needs a job and no one really seems interested in hiring a 25-year-old college drop-out with a grand total of eight months job experience. Ever.
When the only jobs she seems to be getting interviews for are fast-food related, Buffy decides to fabricate her resume. There is no way in hell she is going to trade smelling like garlic for smelling like grease again, and anyway, it seems like a minor lie to say that she had three years experience as a personal assistant for one Mr. Rupert Giles.
She feels bad about it until the lie results in two new interviews with businessmen in need of her services. The first interview she blows by showing up twenty minutes late after a demon she’d been tracking turned the tables. She was forced to kill it in the alley behind the building and when the receptionist had coldly informed her that Mr. Stone wasn’t available to meet with her any longer, Buffy wondered for one brief moment if maybe she shouldn’t have just let the demon follow her all the way inside.
She blows the second interview by almost breaking the hand of her potential boss, Mr. McGrabbyhands. Apparently, “personal assistant” for a middle-aged Englishman who started out as her high school librarian gave entirely the wrong impression.
The resume goes through one more revision.
The owner of the independent coffee shop is impressed with her travel experiences and Buffy is impressed with the promise of a steady paycheck and free coffee.
She has a job.
She settles in quickly, learns how to use the espresso machine and manages not to break it in the process. The late-morning shift lets her do the slayer thing at night and still get enough sleep and there’s a girl about her age that works the same shift who is nice and helps pass the time.
The money isn’t great. She watches her bank account grow slowly and gets a sinking feeling in her gut at the thought that she’s probably going to have to do at least a couple more weeks in the garlic house before she has enough for a deposit. Still, she checks the bulletin board in the coffee shop for people looking for roommates every day.
She’s been there for a couple weeks when she meets a cute guy with blue eyes that are too old for his lanky frame and floppy brown hair. He’s got an easy smile and they flirt as she serves him his drink. He comes back during her shift a few more times after that and she finds out he’s in his first year of grad school at Berkeley. She wonders what he’s doing on this side of the Bay so often and smiles to herself when she realizes it’s probably because of her.
The fourth time he comes in he asks her out to dinner. She says no.
She’s as surprised by her answer as he is but he covers it better. He swallows and nods, then smiles and goes right back to their conversation. Buffy can’t stop her skin from flushing, or her stomach from giving a little roll and she makes a quick excuse about needing to get back to work.
Sometimes she doesn’t know what she’s doing anymore.
When she sees him the next time, it’s in a cemetery at 2:00 a.m. and this time she doesn’t know what the hell he thinks he’s doing.
She’s just about to ask him when three old vamps show up, looking for the new addition to their family to rise. Her mind flashes to Angel, Darla, Drusilla, and Spike and she shakes it off both because she doesn’t want to think about them (ever again if she can help it) and because she’s got to have her head in the game if she wants to get this guy out of here without a scratch. Though she guesses it would sort of serve him right for following her into a graveyard in the middle of the night. . .
The vamps ignore her and go for him, and she rolls her eyes because after a while it just gets old that none of them take her seriously because she’s small and blonde. She runs toward them and yells at Connor to watch out. He glances up at her, surprise written over his face for the briefest of seconds, and then he starts moving. Only he moves towards the vamps, not away.
She stops running, almost stumbles to the ground with the abrupt change in momentum. He’s fighting, skilled and strong, like a slayer or a vamp and she knows he isn’t the latter. She’s never heard of a male slayer though, so maybe he used to be a she? The hair, the build . . . maybe. . .
The newly-risen vamp sneaking up on her from behind gets a quick stake to the heart, and Buffy gets her head back in the game. Together, they take out the threesome, and when it’s over they’re left breathing a little hard. Staring at one another.
He has his hands on his knees and he’s looking up at her through the curtain of his floppy hair. Then he starts laughing.
“A slayer. Named Buffy. Oh, you’re. . . Oh.” He’s a little breathless with his laughter. Buffy is not amused.
She glares. “What’s so funny?”
He finally pulls himself together. He stands up and shakes his head. “Nothing. Just, for being Stanford educated sometimes I’m a real moron. Look, I don’t know how much you . . . ugh.” He runs his hand through his hair, and then shoves it in his pocket before meeting her eyes again. “Connor Reilly is my adopted name. My last name used to be Angel. Does that mean anything to you?”
It takes a second for everything to click into place.
She doesn’t feel like laughing.
He keeps coming in to the coffee shop but they don’t flirt anymore. He sits at his table and reads or works on his laptop while she brings him cup after cup of coffee. She can feel his eyes on her when he thinks she isn’t looking.
He isn’t nearly as good as his father was at the stalking thing.
She tells him so and he laughs.
They start to talk in snippets about supernatural activity around town. Connor tells her he lives on this side of the Bay because that’s where the action has been concentrated since what happened in L.A. Buffy wonders why she hadn’t heard about lots of problems in San Francisco in the years between then and now, then thinks about the way Connor can fight and understands.
She keeps checking the bulletin board for a roommate. She’s spent almost two months in her tiny rented room with her landlady who suspects she’s a hooker and she needs to get out of there. When she decided to get started on making a life for herself, this isn’t exactly what she had in mind. It’s not easy, though, finding a place she can afford with the kind of person who won’t start asking questions about her lifestyle.
One day Connor gestures her over to his table.
“You need a place to live? I’ve got an extra bedroom at my place.” The offer is straightforward. That’s the way he is, she’s coming to find.
She doesn’t know how to answer. It’s hard enough seeing him when he comes in to the café. He doesn’t look anything like his father, but that doesn’t really matter. The reminders are in his very existence and Buffy doesn’t want to be reminded. She decided a long time ago that it was necessary to the whole “moving on” plan.
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
He cocks his head and a lock of his hair falls in his eye. “Really? Because it sounds like a great idea to me. Who else isn’t going to question the late nights and the blood and demon guts? Plus, I guarantee you won’t find a cheaper deal.”
She snorts and crosses her arms. “Why? Do you live in a cardboard box? Everything is expensive here.”
He looks at her, and his blue eyes that are nothing like Angel’s are very serious.
“He left me a trust when he. . . Look, I think he’d want me to share it with you. I think he’d like us looking after each other.”
There’s a prickle behind her eyelids and she has to walk away. She doesn’t want to tell him he’s wrong.
She thinks it’s a very bad idea. She moves in with Connor anyway.
The apartment is nice, but not outrageously so. She has her own bedroom and her own bathroom and best of all, the place doesn’t smell like anything in particular.
She insists on paying Connor something for rent, even though she knows what she’s giving him isn’t anywhere near half of what it costs. She uses the deposit money she’d saved on a bed and then splurges on gorgeous heavy silk curtains for the window.
Before long it feels like more of a home than she’s had since Sunnydale.
They settle into a routine. Work for her, classes for him, patrol together, sleep. It’s not a bad life, if not what she expected.
They’re sitting on the couch watching a movie when Connor asks her if working in a coffee shop for minimum wage plus tips is her life’s dream.
She wants to punch him. Instead she tells him that she’s had plenty of dreams in her life. It’s better to live in reality.
College brochures start showing up in the mail, all addressed to her. They talk about “non-traditional” students, the possibility of getting an education while working and taking care of a family. She thinks of Dawn, happy and living her life across a continent and an ocean. There are people out there finishing their degrees who have full-time jobs and kids and partners and she realizes it’s time to stop making excuses.
She applies to U of SF and gets accepted. Connor gives her a smug smile as she sits on the couch with her feet tucked under her, picking out classes for the winter semester. She picks up a pillow and chucks it at his head even as she smiles back.
Apparently, Christmas is a prime time for the selling and drinking of warm coffee beverages, so a trip back to England is not in the cards.
Connor invites her to spend the holiday with the Reilly’s instead, so she packs an overnight bag. He introduces her to his family as his roommate but she can tell his mom thinks there’s something more going on between them. Buffy doesn’t try to correct her because what would she say? Telling the Reilly’s that she’s been in love with Connor’s vampire father since she was sixteen probably wouldn’t go over well anyway.
She listens to the teasing family banter, stuffs herself with turkey and mashed potatoes and tries not to think about how much she misses her mom and sister. She can’t stop herself from thinking about how much Angel would have liked to be here to see how happy his son is, how close he is to his family, how much they love him.
Mid-afternoon she gets a phone call from Dawn and Giles. When she gets off the phone she feels a little less lonely than before.
Connor starts dating a girl from his program. Her name is Lauren and she has long, dark curly hair and a great sense of humor. Buffy likes her and she tells him that.
Now that he’s regularly getting laid, he starts to bug Buffy about when she’s going to find someone. She scowls at him and tells him she’ll hurt him if she starts getting email from matchmaking websites. College was one thing. Dating is in a whole other universe, a place where anyone related to Angel gets absolutely no say.
The truth is, she knows she should be dating. It’s part of the plan. Growing up, moving on, and getting a life all seem to prompt the finding of a boyfriend and it’s been on her list after “get a job and a place to live” for months now.
She can’t figure out what her problem is until the night a missing man, presumed dead, shows up at their door.
The look on his face is carefully blank. His eyes track back and forth from Connor to her.
“Are you evil?” Connor asks, and she has to admire how his voice shakes only a little bit. The way her entire body is shaking is probably fairly predictive of what her voice would be like if there was any way she could speak past the hard lump that seems to swell from her chest into her throat.
He shakes his head. “No.”
She can see the truth in his denial. She remembers the day when she didn’t realize until it was too late. She doesn’t think he’d ever be able to fool her again. Connor must see it too because he invites his father into their home and pulls him into a hug. Angel reels his son in tight, closes his eyes and breathes in his scent. In that moment it really hits her that he isn’t a pile of ash scattered in the hot wind of a battle fought almost four years ago.
The lump in her throat breaks and she lets out an involuntary moan. It’s quiet but he still hears, and his eyes open and meet hers as he holds his son. They’re shining with unshed tears.
A memory of him on his knees in front of her, reaching, eyes wet with tears and love flashes through her head.
She closes her eyes and turns away.
She calls Giles from the kitchen. Her voice is low and strange in her own ears. She tells him that Angel is alive and promises to call back when she finds out more.
She isn’t sure she wants to find out more. She can’t not. The pull she feels for him is back, like it never died, like it never lay dormant for longer than she can pinpoint.
Filling the coffee pot is automatic. She waits for it to brew, fills the cups, adds cream to hers and dash of cinnamon to Connor’s. She hesitates, then grabs a third cup and fills it. When she’s pretty sure her hands have stopped shaking enough that she can carry the cups without sloshing coffee over the rim, she picks them up and takes them to the living room.
They look up when she enters the room. She can feel Angel’s eyes tracking her but she keeps her eyes trained on the coffee.
She takes a seat next to Connor on the couch and when she can’t avoid it any more she looks up at Angel. He’s watching them, his eyes sliding back and forth between them. Connor catches the look too and he shakes his head and holds up his hands, palm first.
“Just roommates, Angel. That’s all.”
She cocks her head, surprised to hear Connor call his father by his first name though she’s not sure why. In the time they’ve known one another she’s gotten the full story. She can’t imagine the confusion of three different fathers. She knows how Connor feels about Angel though. She knows it’s the love of a son.
They spend the next several hours in a bizarro role reversal, with Angel answering Connor’s questions nearly non-stop and Buffy not saying much of anything beyond a tersely worded prompt here and there. She watches him when she thinks he isn’t looking. She can’t keep her eyes away from the movement of his lips, the bob of the knot in his throat, his fingers as they alternately grip his knees and knot together in his lap. Her senses feel on overdrive, like she’s had more stimulation in this night than she has in the past six months combined.
Her head swims with it. When he looks up her reflexes are too slow and he catches her watching.
She holds his gaze. She makes a decision.
It’s almost dawn when Connor excuses himself to go to bed. He looks at her, searches her face for something she isn’t sure he can find. She nods at him anyway and tells him good night.
Then she’s alone with Angel.
“Buffy,” he begins, but she doesn’t want to listen. She’s been listening to him talk about portals and dimensions and fighting for hours now and she still hasn’t heard anything from him that she wants to hear.
She’s used to that.
She moves from the couch to the chair where he’s sitting in a heartbeat and places her hand over his mouth. The contact makes her gasp. She’s forgotten the feel of his lips, full and cool on her skin.
What she’s going to do is selfish, she knows that. But she’s been trying so hard to let him go and she didn’t realize how hard she was failing until he was right in front of her again.
His eyes are glued to hers. She lifts her free hand and passes her thumb lightly over his forehead and his eyelids flutter. She traces her fingers over his temple and cheek and he closes his eyes.
“Buffy,” he whispers against the hand over his mouth.
The sensation darts through her and she shudders. She has to clear her throat before she speaks.
“I’m trying to live, Angel, but you keep getting in the way. I thought you were dead and I still couldn’t move on. I just need. . . I need closure.”
His eyes fly open again, fix on hers with an intensity that she can feel deep in her bones. It feels so familiar.
She moves her hands to his, grips them, and pulls him to his feet.
Tomorrow she’ll be cautious. Tomorrow she’ll step aside and let Angel be Angel.
Tonight, tonight he isn’t dead and she couldn’t feel more alive.
She strips him bare, goes heavy and liquid with need as she runs her hands over every remembered plane of his body. There’s a buzz somewhere in her brain, a feeling like she’s drunk that intensifies when his hands return the favor.
When they kiss for the first time she can feel all of the emotion that’s been trapped inside bubble and threaten to break. She chases it away with the tangle of her tongue on his, ignores it all in favor of the taste and feel of him. She breaks away to catch her breath and he breathes her name again, like a prayer, like an acknowledgement that she didn’t even realize she’s been waiting for.
She presses him down into her mattress and rises above him. His hands settle on her hips and she falls, slick and ready to receive him.
Then she’s lost in the rise and fall, in the feel of him inside and below, his hand spanning the hot skin of her back, his lips demanding against her mouth and throat. With every rock of her hips against his she tries to remind herself that this is goodbye but she can’t hold onto it through the heat, through the feel of him.
She calls out his name as she shudders and clenches around him. It feels like coming home.
The sun sneaking in through the crack in her drapes teases her awake. Her body feels heavy and warm and it takes a second for her tired brain to realize that some of the heaviness is due to Angel’s body trapping hers.
She opens her eyes and turns her head. He’s awake and looking at her. The hand he has gripping her waist loosens and trails up her body to her cheek. She sucks in a breath at the sensation of his fingers on the shell of her ear.
“Did you get your closure Buffy?” His voice is a low rumble. She searches his eyes to see if he’s mocking her, but all she sees is worry and maybe a little regret.
She sighs and forces herself to be honest.
The corners of his mouth lift into the hint of a smile.
He kisses her. She gives up the ghost of goodbye.
Feed Maren Visit Maren
Summary: San Francisco seems like a good place for a fresh start.
Author’s Note: Title from Judy Garland’s San Francisco. I haven’t read the comics and have no idea if this fits with those or not. Consider it post-NFA just to be safe. Thanks to redbrickrose for the beta.