The sound of my heels clicking on gleaming wood echoed, and I had to admit I was a little surprised that the building was so empty. Sure, it was a Saturday, but shouldn't evil, suck-uppy lawyers be working weekends just to prove they shouldn't be fed to Senior Management?
Oh, right. Angel got rid of all of that. People here don't work weekends. Except him. But that's a given. Brooding soul and guilty over-achiever-ness have always been his thing.
I'm a sick, sick person to love that.
"Miss? Excuse me, miss, you can't go in there!"
I turned my head a bit, raising one eyebrow and stopping the nervous little watchdog in his tracks. "Try to stop me."
He wrung his hands and sweat popped out on his shiny forehead. "Is Mr. Angel expecting you?"
I put my hand on the door. "No. But it doesn't matter. He'll see me anyway."
I swung the door open before the guy could say anything, and my eyes fell on a face I hadn't seen in almost seven years.
"It's so not fair that you look like my hot younger lover," I complained as I crossed the expansive room and sank into one of the plush chairs in front of his desk. "I'm going to look like Mrs. Robertson or whatever her name is, the creepy older lady who's getting her kicks with a younger guy. It doesn't matter that you're actually like two and a half centuries old. You look three years younger than me already. Try another decade, and I'm going to be all wrinkly and worn with tired eyes and saggy boobs, and you're still going to look young and hot."
He grinned. "Hello, Buffy."
I grinned back. "Hi, Angel."
And in that instant, the years fell away. The distance between us, in miles and life and personality, disappeared. It was like I'd seen him yesterday, like we hadn't existed on a phone call or two a year, living our own lives with the other being no more than a thought or a memory every now and then.
I watched Angel's face as his eyes devoured me. I watched the pleasure, the awe, and the sadness flood through him as he took in my sleek French twist, the classy, elegant pinstriped suit, and the simple, high-heeled black pumps that made my legs look a mile long. He struggled with the fact that I had grown up. He expected me to be the same young girl with trendy clothes and stack-heeled shoes with clear plastic flowers on them. He was both disappointed and relieved that I wasn't.
My clothes aren't the only thing about me that's a little bit more mature, I guess.
"How have you been?" he asked finally, leaning back in the chair and placing his clasped hands on his lap.
"I've been good," I said simply. "Things are going well."
I smiled, a broad, bright one reserved solely for my little sister. "She's happy. She's just about done at Oxford, and Giles is way psyched that she's in line to be the class valedictorian. And Spike can't stop bragging about how his 'Little Bit' is smarter than everyone in the Scooby Gang combined."
Angel smiled slightly. "I guess it's a good thing that I let him run off to Europe and find you."
I rolled my eyes. "Like you could have stopped him. Spike doesn't exactly listen to anyone, except Dawnie."
"I could have shut him up in that box like I threatened," Angel retorted, and I snickered.
"Even you wouldn't consign yourself to a life of listening to him bitch endlessly," I noted with a wry grin.
Angel pretended to consider the thought, then shuddered. "No. I may like to be miserable, but I'd rather go back to Hell than spend eternity listening to Spike."
"Luckily, I don't think he has plans to leave Dawn's side any time soon," I consoled him. "You might have to see him if you show up for the graduation, but you can probably avoid him. He's actually gotten a little bit nicer since she collared and leashed him," I added.
Angel nodded and we both fell silent, having exhausted Spike as a topic of conversation. I knew he wanted to ask what I was doing there, since I hadn't "dropped in" inů well, ever. His eyes strayed to the box I held in my hands, and I could tell the curiosity was eating him alive. I set it on the floor beside my chair as if it were nothing at all, and inspiration struck.
"What do you have planned for the day?" I asked impulsively, and his eyebrow rose.
"Nothing much," he said cautiously. "Some paperwork I have to catch up on. We're all free of death-and-apocalypse cases at the moment."
I beamed my best sparkling smile at him. "Then why don't you show a girl around town?" I suggested. "I want to take the day to just have fun. I haven't done that in a long time."
Angel blinked, and I wondered for a minute if he was going to be able to do that. After all, "fun" hadn't been in Angel's vocabulary in a very long time. Even then, his idea of fun had been drinking and whoring. Or, you know, maiming and torturing and killing, depending on who was running his body.
He nodded, finally, and pushed the papers into a messy pile on the corner of his desk as he stood up. "Where to?"
I giggled mischievously. "The mall."
Angel groaned. "Buffy. A stake to the heart would be so much kinder."
I took his hand and pulled him with me. "C'mon, you big baby. A little shopping won't kill you."
He muttered something under his non-breath that sounded suspiciously like, "That's not a bet I'm willing to take," but I ignored it. I wanted to torture him a little before I gave him the pay-off that was waiting for him. Surreptitiously I used the toe of my pump to nudge the box under the edge of his desk, and tugged him out of the office, letting the door swing shut behind us.
He whimpered when we walked into the mall, and I laughed while I guided him through the crowds of people. "Buffy." My name came out sounding pathetic, whipped, like a kicked puppy. "Why are you doing this to me? We haven't seen each other in seven years. We've barely spoken in that time. The first thing you want to do is go to a mall?"
I shrugged. "I need to pick up a few things," I said vaguely, and his shoulders slumped in defeat. He had learned years earlier that there was no stopping me when I wanted to go shopping.
What he didn't know was that I was picking up an outfit and a few accessories for the interview I had the next day. Giles had arranged it. We'd decided that thirty, which I would be on my next birthday, was just too old for a Slayer to be out kicking around. We had more Slayers than we knew what to do with, and it was finally time for me to retire.
I'd decided L.A. was where I needed to retire to. Everyone in my life had their own, and I didn't need to be around to run them or be envious of them. It was time for me to have one of my own, one that went beyond the world of slaying and teaching and mentoring and running herd over the gang.
"I promise I won't take long," I told Angel, coming out of my fog of memories. "I really don't need much, and I'm not going to window shop for hours," I added, putting my hand over my heart. He couldn't help but laugh.
"I haven't yet seen the day that you could turn window shopping," he teased as I bee-lined for an upscale clothing boutique.
I glanced at him over my shoulder, one eyebrow raised scornfully. "Please. I said I wouldn't window shop for hours. I didn't say I wouldn't window shop at all."
Angel grinned ruefully. "That's my girl."
I smiled to myself, my back turned to him. That's the spirit, I thought in satisfaction.
It was a minor miracle, but it was only two hours later that I finally declared our shopping trip almost done. Angel exaggeratedly staggered back, his face contorted in shock.
"Ha, ha," I retorted, but I couldn't hide the smile that played on my lips. "I still have one more stop to make, and this one just might kill you."
He opened his mouth to ask what I meant, but his eyes widened and his mouth snapped shut as he saw the window display of the store I had one foot in. Sheer lingerie, black and red and pink and white and lacy and satiny and skimpy and mouth-watering hung everywhere.
"I'll be back," I said lightly, pushing two of my bags into his already-full arms, then nearly skipped into the store.
I browsed for almost half an hour, and could have gone much longer, before I finally made my selections. I paid for them quickly and strolled out of the store.
Angel looked like he was going to collapse right there as his eyes zeroed in on the small bag I carried. "Want me to get a couple of those?" I asked, my voice and face pure angelic innocence. I took some of the bags he was loaded with, and walked away. "We can go now," I called out over my shoulder.
The drive back to Wolfram and Hart was silent, and I didn't mind in the least. I was content to let my mind wander. Everything I wanted was finally within my grasp, and I just had to be patient for another twenty minutes, at the most.
Darkness had fallen by the time we made our way into his office, and I glanced out the window at the beautiful cityscape in front of me while I set my bags down in front of his desk. "You still live in the upstairs apartment?" I asked, striving for 'casual'.
Angel regarded me, his face showing his suspicions. "Yes," he said warily.
"May I see it?"
"Of course." He watched me in confusion as the elevator doors opened. I leaned down to get the bags and picked up the box I'd left earlier, stowing it in one of them. I gave him my cheeriest smile while I slid into the elevator beside him.
"It's nice to be back, Angel," I said quietly while the elevator ascended. "I've missed you."
It was sad to see how he struggled to keep the emotions off his face. If life had been fair, there would have been no reason for us to have had to hide things like that from each other. Unfortunately, life was never fair, as ours had proven more times than I cared to remember.
The view from his apartment was even more extraordinary than the one from his office. It felt like we were on top of the city, looking out over everyone. "Angel, this is gorgeous!" I exclaimed, dropping my bags and rushing to the window.
"One of the best perks about working here," he agreed as he walked over to stand beside me.
I looked up at him skeptically. "Since when did you start looking?"
"Since I realized I didn't have anything else to look at," he said softly, and I winced.
"Let me fix that for you," I suggested. Nerves fluttered in my chest for the first time. What if I was about to make the biggest mistake of my life? What if I'd remembered only a fantasy, a fairytale, and he didn't want the happily-ever-after?
I had to try. I'd never forgive myself if I didn't.
I made my way back to the bags, picking out one and pulling the box from another. "I have a gift for you," I said, trying to keep my voice even.
"You didn't have to bring me anything," he objected, and I shook my head.
"This, I did." I handed him the box, a small square one with a shiny black ribbon wrapped around it. "I'll be right back. Open it while I'm gone." His face displayed his confusion, and I turned my face away from it, clutching the small bag and running into the adjoining bathroom.
I wiggled out of my suit and pumps, then shimmied into the black satin nightgown. It dipped low in the front and even lower in the back, the hem skimming my ankles. Thin straps criss-crossed over my chest, wrapping around my neck and leaving my back completely bare. I unpinned my hair and let it fall to my waist in thick golden waves.
I looked at myself in the mirror and wasn't surprised to see my hands shaking. "C'mon, Buffy," I encouraged myself. "You've faced down hellgods and demon mayors and master vampires and the original Evil. You've defeated every apocalypse the prophecy books have thrown at you. You can seduce your ex-boyfriend."
Easier said than done.
Taking one last deep breath, I opened the bathroom door and slipped back into Angel's bedroom. He was staring into the box, not quite understanding the significance of what lay inside.
Then he looked up, our eyes locked, and he knew.
"Buffy." The syllables slid past his lips on a whisper, and he dropped the box. Chocolate-chip cookies tumbled out and rolled across the carpet, leaving crumbs and broken cookie bits everywhere. I doubted he even noticed.
I held my breath as I took the few steps that closed the distance between us. "I love you, Angel," I said, my voice trembling. "I always have. And now I'm finally ready to give you everything I have. Everything I am."
His face didn't change for several moments. Then a smile broke out, and he picked me up and twirled me around. My heart soared as he clutched me to him before laying me down gently across his bed.
"I love you, Buffy," he vowed, his hand stealing up to gently brush a lock of hair off my cheek, his eyes running over my face in tender adoration. "Now and forever."
I grinned cheekily. "I was hoping you might say that. Care to prove it to me?"
Angel growled as he pounced on me, and I went light-headed at the feel of his mouth on my skin. Oh, yeah. He could prove it. And I looked forward to him proving it every day for the rest of our lives.
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Summary: Buffy's birthday is approaching, and she decides to give herself a gift. A life.