Waves crashed against the shore as Buffy walked along the length of the beach. She slipped off her sandals and felt the grit of the sand sliding between her toes. Her footprints lasted seconds in the wet sand before disappearing completely. The heavy breeze whipped her hair across her cheek as she arched her face towards the warm sun. Closing her eyes, she surrendered to this moment that was all hers.
She couldn’t remember the last time she could just be still.
Since the fall of Sunnydale five years ago, there were always things to talk about or questions to answer or decisions to make. There were calls from Giles to discuss the latest developments of The Watchers Council. Dawn called from college in Rome every week with dizzy chatter about the parties, the boys, and sometimes the studying. And, now that Buffy and Xander had opened their new training center in San Diego, they were in constant meetings about budget and supplies. The new slayers, who were still pouring in, had a million questions about the life of a Slayer. They were questions that were often hard to answer about life and death. But, even when she was by herself, Buffy’s head was buzzing with thoughts, trying to prepare for what was next. And, her dreams? Probably the most chaotic of all…the battle between her mind, her soul, and her heart, trying to find resolution. She’d wake up crying, her pillow damp with tears. She never remembered exactly what they were about. She only knew that she was searching for something that she hadn’t found.
Buffy hoped that tonight she would find peace.
She’d called Angel three weeks ago, forcing herself to finally put an end to the silent treatment that started four years ago and since then, every morning, she would wake up with a stomach tied in knots, nausea rising up her throat, choking her. Her body would be practically throbbing with the knowledge that she and Angel would be in the same room again. So much history. So much pain. So much love. But, this morning, there was a calm that was completely new. She hoped that it was sign that their meeting would go smoothly.
Buffy glanced at her watch. It was 10:00 am. Only six more hours to go. She was grateful that Angel had agreed to drive down from LA to San Diego to meet her that. This way, she had plenty of time to get ready to see him again. Taking another deep breath, she slipped her sandals back on and walked back down the beach towards her car.
Looking around, Buffy was beginning to think that this trendy bistro she’d picked out for their meeting place wasn’t such a good idea.At this time of night, it was completely packed and everywhere there were twenty-somethings in designer clothes talking on their cell phones or gossiping with friends in loud voices. It was official. The calm from the morning was gone. Sign, schmign. There were nerves. Everywhere. She couldn’t keep her hands still, she’d checked her makeup a thousand and one times, she’d straightened her silverware over and over…The waiting was torture.
She could see the sympathetic glances that the girls at the next table were giving her while whispering to each other. Perhaps they were feeling sorry for her because she’d obviously been stood up. She squelched the need to give a public announcement that he was coming and that she was actually the spaz who’d arrived 30 minutes early. She was stupid enough to think that the time would allow her to bask in the Zen place she’d found that morning on the beach. She’d been so centered. Her yoga instructor would have been so proud. But, no…apparently it was just enough time to second-guess this whole meeting.
Buffy sipped more of her water and realized that she’d already had three glasses. Well, at least, she hadn’t moved onto wine yet. That would be attractive, she thought sarcastically. Angel would come to the table and she would be the sloppy drunk draped across it. Not exactly the impression she was hoping to give after four years. God, had it really been four?
The last time had been tense and awful. She had no idea what to say to him. He was obviously hurt and angry that she’d believed the rumors about his supposed corruption after he’d taken over Wolfram & Hart. The Watchers Council had been anything but supportive when it came to his work there and he blamed her. And, truthfully, she deserved the blame. She knew better because she knew him. She’d wanted to talk to him about it, but there never seemed to be a good time with everything that was happening. LA was in ruins. People were dead. Spike was alive…lots of unfinished business there.
And, then it casually slipped out that Angel had a college-aged son which completely blew her mind. Didn’t Angel stake Darla, the kid’s mother, years ago? How could a vampire even have a child? And, how the hell was he born just three years beforehand and suddenly eighteen years old? There were so many questions, Buffy hadn’t even known where to begin.
And, then insult to injury, she finds out he has a girlfriend too. Buffy is the first to admit that she didn’t handle the news that well. She didn’t have any right for being so upset. After all, she’d certainly had other relationships after she and Angel had broken it off. But, still...the news cut deep. It’s not that she expected him to be single forever...or maybe she did. Honestly, she kind of thought he would always be waiting for her. But, that was no excuse. She just completely lost her cool.
Those weeks after the LA battle were a stressful time and Buffy found herself looking for a target. Angel was the unfortunate chosen one. She hadn’t intended for the discussion (turned argument) to get so out of hand. She said horrible things that she wished she could take back. She certainly didn’t mean it when she told him that she never wanted to see him again. She was sorry for it all. Impossible relationships had always been her forte and apparently, she hadn’t lost her touch.
So, that was it. In four years, she hadn’t seen him, hadn’t talked to him, and didn’t really know what he was doing. It was killing her. Three weeks ago, she came home from work feeling restless. She called Willow. She called Giles. She even called Faith who wasn’t exactly a phone buddy. But, it was really Angel she wanted to talk to and the feeling that he was lost to her was so intense that she had crumpled to the floor, her whole body shaking with sobs .
Kneeling on the floor, she’d realized that she needed him in her life. No matter what happened between them, they were connected in that special, crazy way. Maybe romance wasn’t possible anymore. She just wanted to know him again, but without the mixed signals, the misunderstandings, and the excuses that always seemed to plague them. This time, they were going to cut through the bullshit and find out where they stood with each other.
Buffy added another lemon to her water and swirled her straw around in the glass. All of these thoughts sounded really good in her head. But now, he was going to be sitting across from her, those dark, intense eyes burning into her, and she was terrified. Hell…might as well move onto wine now. At this point, she’d try anything. She lifted her hand to signal to the waiter and froze.
Angel was walking towards her. And suddenly…they were the only two people in the room. His expression was completely unreadable, much like his voice when they had talked on the phone. Buffy fluffed her hair a little, wondering if she still resembled the girl he loved. He looked exactly the same. Well, duh…but even down to his slightly stiff hair and billowing black coat. She It was disconcerting. He was so familiar. She knew every part of him. She knew the way his hair felt through her fingers when she’d kissed him. She’d been wrapped up in that coat with her head against his chest the day her mother was buried.
As he approached her, Buffy gave him a shy smile. She started to stand up just as Angel was sitting down. They both laughed in an attempt to shake off the awkwardness. When she sat down again, she noticed that his fingertips drifted over to straighten his silverware and she felt vindicated.
“So…how have you been?” she began. A beat later, she berated herself. Could she be more trite?
“Good. Things are good. You?”
“Couldn’t be better,” she replied quickly. Ok, what? She was supposed to give everything away immediately?
Buffy stared at her water glass while Angel fingered the cloth napkin in front of him.
After a moment of silence, Buffy sighed and felt an unbidden grin pull at her lips. “I don’t want to do this. Do we really have to do the small talk thing? I need a drink and I think you could use one too.”
Angel nodded, returning her grin. “Definitely.”
Half an hour later, Buffy finished off her first glass of wine and raised an eyebrow at Angel’s smirk. “Yes?”
“Nothing. I’ve just never seen you drink before.”
“Well, throughout most of our relationship, I was an innocent, young girl in my teens.”
Angel brought his hand up to his mouth, covering a small smile. “I don’t know about innocent, but young is true enough.”
“Speaking of which…how’s your son?” Buffy asked tentatively.
“Connor’s great. He’s going to grad school at MIT. Engineering. Engaged to a girl named Abby.”
Buffy melted at the smile that appeared on Angel’s face when talking about his kid. It was the same as the one her mom used to give her. It was a parent’s smile.
She took a deep breath. “What about Nina?”
She swallowed as she took in the look on his face. She could back up right now. Change the subject. She didn’t have to know. Part of her didn’t want to know. But, she had to do this. They had to get past it. That was the whole point.
“Angel, look…You and I have given each other the run-around for years.” She saw him open his mouth to interrupt. “Let me finish,” she gently cautioned him. He closed his mouth and leaned back in his chair. “We’ve done the ‘tragic lovers’ bit,” she continued. “But, after so much time…I don’t want to play games anymore. Our relationship has always been about what we couldn’t have or what wasn’t right, if you were taking advantage of me or if I was ready.”
Angel avoided looking at her as she spoke and his fingers drummed against the table nervously. She laid her hand on his, stopping the movement. His eyes met hers. “You haven’t been mine since I was eighteen years old,” she reminded him. “ If you’re in love, we can talk about it. That’s what friends are for. I just want to be in your life again. That’s all.”
Angel ran his fingers through his hair with frustration. “Ok…my turn. Nina and I broke up three years ago. And, I don’t want to be just friends. Buffy, you’re it. For better or for worse, you are the one I want to be with forever. Not because you’re a slayer and I’m a vampire. Not because it’s fated or destiny, but because I love you.”
Buffy sat there, reminding herself to breathe. Oh, God...too many thoughts flying around, impossible to catch one. Fuck the Zen place. No way was that happening. And, yet…after a moment, Buffy forced herself to be still and hew answer was clear.
“I love you too.” Her eyes filled with tears as she reached for him, her hands against his, palm to palm. He brought her hand to his lips, giving it a soft, tender kiss. She squeezed his hand. “No bullshit this time. Just honesty. Promise?”
He squeezed her hand back. “Promise.”
The restaurant seemed to have gotten just a tad quieter and Buffy looked past Angel at the girls at the next table. Drinks in hand, they had ceased all conversation and were now watching Buffy and Angel avidly.
Buffy gave the girls a quick “Mind your own business” look before focusing on Angel again. “I’m starving. I realize that we’re in a restaurant, but this place really isn’t my style. I’m thinking pizza. We could go back to my place, rent one of those black and white movies you love, and I might even have some cookie-dough-fudge-mint-chip in the freezer. You game?”
Angel nodded, smiling at her. “Sounds like a plan.”
As they rose from their seats, Buffy leaned in close, her lips grazing his ear. “And, afterwards, I’m thinking maybe some almost perfect happiness,” she murmured. She felt him grab her hand and giggled as he hurried her towards the door.
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Summary: For once, she was going to cut through the bullshit and find out where she and Angel stood with each other.
Author’s Notes: Very special thanks to my betas sarakat and especially soundingsea for keeping me from posting total jibberish! *g*