Breaking Point

Breaking Point

By Kristi
Author's Notes

She nearly dropped the plates she was carrying when he walked in. It would have been a first for her. She recovered quickly delivering the food to the proper people, a couple of truck drivers on their way through Los Angeles, then narrowed her eyes in his direction. The diner tended to have repeat customers and he wasn’t one of them. New ones were a novelty.

“Look at the dream boat that just walked in. Haven’t seen him before,” Patty, the night manager, purred. Buffy enjoyed working for Patty. She had red hair that came from a bottle, teased into a relaxed version of a bee hive and she was fun. She was laid back but had a biting wit and she’d become almost motherly in the time Buffy had worked there.

“Yeah…I’ll take care of him,” Buffy replied and walked over to the corner booth he was sitting in. She stood with her arms crossed over her chest and an eyebrow arched. “What are you doing here?” She meant it to be an accusation but it came out softer then she’d intended. She was too busy focusing on the fact that he looked happy, the way he had that second year in Sunnydale before her seventeenth birthday, before things had gone sour. She wondered if there was someone new in his life and reminded herself she had no right to wonder that. Until Riley had left her for the jungle and demon hunting, she’d had someone new in her life.

“I guess you wouldn’t believe I came for a bite to eat?”

“Unless you’ve had a moment of perfect happiness and gone evil and evil’s fashion sense has drastically degraded, no,” she smirked. She was just being mean. His fashion sense was impeccable, understated and unchanged. Black pants, dark shirt, long black leather jacket.

“I like the coffee here?” he tried again.

“It makes you jittery,” she informed him, rocking her weight back on one foot.

“It used to,” he responded and it felt like a slap to her face. She had once known him so well and now with that one small comment she realized she didn’t anymore. She could see the furrow of his brow, the curve of his grin when he was amused with her eyes closed but she no longer knew the man behind that.

“Then would you like the whole pot or just a cup,” she snapped in retaliation. Her hands went to her hips as her stance became outwardly defiant.

“No.” His tone was soft, quiet in the constant murmur the diner emitted. He stared at the menu when he said it, finally turning his eyes to her. A perverse side of her was glad to see that while he looked happier, those dark brown eyes were still haunted with guilt. “Willow told me about Dawn. I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t even know Dawn,” she spat. “All you have are memories that some damn monks made up. Did you even get those? Or are you just here to convince me to keep fighting. That’s what she’d want…the only way to honor her blah, blah, blah.” The bitterness in her voice curled in her stomach, making her own stomach recoil.

“She caught us kissing once, threatened to tell your mom unless you let her borrow your green sweater. She said the green looked better on her anyway. She was wrong, but it was pretty on her.”

The pain took her by surprise, squeezing her lungs tight and flooding her eyes with tears. “I’m not talking about this,” she choked out and spun on her heel to get away from him. His fingers curled around her wrist and she hesitated only a moment before jerking away. She might not slay but she was still the slayer.

He let her go, ordered coffee from another waitress and remained in the corner booth. Buffy rolled her eyes, determined not to let his presence bother her. She took orders, delivered food and made small talk with the customers. Her shift was nearing its end when Patty walked up to her, elbowing her lightly and grinning. “I think Romeo over there has the hots for you, Sweetcakes. He hasn’t stopped staring at you since you walked away.”

“He’s just in shock. He’s used to doing the walking away,” Buffy muttered under her breath. She thought Patty’s drawn on eyebrows were going to hit her hairline.

“Sweetcakes! You gotta give a gal warning when an ex that looks like that walks in the room,” she exclaimed.

Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes. “His name is Angel. We used to date.” She knew Patty would ask and she hoped by volunteering information Patty would lay off the inquisition.

“Well his name certainly fits him,” Patty said. Her eyes raked Buffy from head to toe then flitted over to Angel’s booth. “Why don’t you take off early? We’re slow and he’s obviously waiting to talk to you.”

Buffy shook her head. “No. I need the money and he deserves to wait.” She hurried out from behind the counter before Patty could argue with her. She stayed an hour over her shift just to spite him, finally giving up when Patty told her the diner wouldn’t pay her over forty hours.

She didn’t spare a backward glance at Angel as she walked out of the diner, her bag slung over her shoulder. She felt him when he walked up behind her. His presence had always set her very bones on fire. “Why are you still here?” she asked without looking behind her. “You gave me your condolences. Your civil duty is done. Go home.”

“What are you doing, Buffy?” He finally asked.

“Going home. I worked a twelve hour shift. I’m tired and my feet hurt.” She walked faster, irritated that he kept up with her. He followed her silently to her apartment and up the stairs. She put her key in the door, unlocked it and stepped inside, leaving the door wide open. He stood on the threshold, unable to come in without her express invitation. She walked around her apartment, slipped her shoes off, undid the knot her hair was in and disappeared into the bedroom. She changed into soft workout pants and a wife beater before walking back into the living room to find him leaning up against the invisible barrier that kept him out. She rolled her eyes, got a glass with ice and filled it with water at the sink.

“How long were you planning on standing there?”

He shrugged in answer. “I’ve got nothing but time and the hallway is windowless,” he answered with a glance at both ends of the hallway.

“Fine. Come in,” she spat. The barrier disappeared and he stepped over the threshold, closing the door behind him. She studied him with narrowed eyes. She’d forgotten how stubborn he was, how he used to wait her out when he knew she wanted to say something. She continued about her evening routine, brushing her teeth and washing her face before she finally sat down on the couch next to him. She turned on the small black and white TV and pulled her feet up on the couch, tucking them underneath her. If he could be stubborn so could she.

He surprised her by wrapping his fingers around her ankle and pulling her foot into his lap. He started rubbing her foot, caressing the arch and putting pressure on the ball and heel. She watched him, denied too long the sight of him. She reached out and touched her fingertips to his temple, sweeping her fingers back through his hair and the down the curve of his neck, dipping beneath the collar of his shirt. He closed his eyes and leaned into the touch like a great cat. It brought tears to her eyes, wondering how long it had been since someone touched him like this.

“Is it just my touch? Or has no one touched you like this?” The vocalization of the words startled her. She’d thought them, but she hadn’t intended for them to come out.

“I don’t know what the right answer to that is,” he half smiled, still rubbing her foot.

“There isn’t one. Just try honest.”

He nodded. “Just your touch.”

“Good answer,” she smiled softly. He took her other foot in his lap and started ministrations on it. “Angel, what are you really doing here?” she asked softly after a moment.

“Your friends are worried about you. You’ve refused to see them since Dawn’s death…I was worried about you.” The concern in his voice was palpable. He focused on her foot, not allowing his attention to stray anywhere else.

“You know, the thing about being a savior is they never, ever fall. They don’t break and they don’t bend. If I saw them, they’d cry and plead, ask me to come back, remind me of my destiny. I’m tired of being a savior. I’m tired of being their savior. I sacrificed my life for the world. Sure it was a shallow life, but it was mine. I died to save the world and didn’t get to rest.” Her gaze went up to Angel. “I sacrificed you…I loved you more then I will ever love anything in this life and I stuck a sword in you." Tears filled her eyes and she took a deep breath. “I’ve given the world everything…I thought it was time it gave me back something. Dawn was my breaking point. She was that last little bit of me that was untouched. She was the part of me that was going to get everything I wanted. Now that’s gone and all that’s left is shell me.” Angel reached over and gently wiped the tears off her cheeks, then pulled her into his embrace. She relaxed there, finding a refuge that she could break down in and cry for the first time since Dawn’s death.

Buffy woke up with a crick in her neck. She grumbled and started to turn over; realizing she was not in the slightly lumpy bed her furnished apartment had come with. She opened her eyes to confront Angel watching her. “It always was creepy when you watched me sleep,” she grumbled. His arms fell away from her as she yawned and stretched, getting to her feet. Her stomach growled obstinately.

“Do you have eggs?” He asked as he got to his feet and went to her miniscule kitchen. He opened her refrigerator and started rummaging in it.

“Yeah, second shelf, in the back,” she directed. “I’m going to take a shower.”

She emerged clean and dressed to find an omelet waiting for her. She sat down, pulling one foot into the chair. Angel sat a small glass of orange juice on the table and sat across from her.

“So what are your plans for the day?” he asked.

“I’ve got work at six, until then…” she shrugged.

“So this is what you do every day? Work and…”he shrugged in imitation of her.

“Pretty much.”

He nodded and watched her eat her eggs. “You don’t slay…ever?”

“Kind of the definition of quit,” Buffy retorted. Her voice had turned cold and hard. She had known this visit was about talking her into fighting the good fight. “I really don’t want to talk about this.” She pushed the half full plate of eggs away.

He pushed the plate back. “Finish eating. You’re too thin.”

“How long are you going to put off the lecture?” She asked eyeing the plate of eggs before picking up her fork and fiddling with her food.

“What lecture?” He asked and irritation flared up in her.

“You know the one that goes, you’ve got a destiny. Dawn would want you to keep fighting. It’s the only way to honor her…so on and so forth.”

“Obviously you know all those things, so why should I repeat them?” Angel asked.

“So you think I should get right back to slaying, act like it never happened, like she never existed.”

“No,” Angel shook his head. “I’d never suggest that. You’re alive because she existed. To forget about her, or to act like she didn’t exist would be the greatest dishonor you could do to her. The only reason I’m here is because I am worried about you. LA is a big city. I thought you might like to see a friendly face.”

A smile curved Buffy’s lip and some of the hardness slipped away. “It’s a good face.”

They fell into a routine. He showed up every night at the diner about an hour before her shift ended. Sometimes they’d go eat. He always got an appetitizer and nibbled on it because she hated to eat alone. Sometimes they went to see a movie or took a walk in the park. They never encountered vampires or demons. She was never sure if it was by design or the powers were finally giving her a break. She was betting on the first.

One night they were walking through the park when she stopped and turned to him. “What are we doing here, Angel?”

He glanced around the park then back to her. “Taking a walk? You said you weren’t ready to go back to your apartment.”

She shook her head at him. She’d forgotten how literal he could be sometimes. “No…I mean here…us. Where is this going?”

Angel took a deep, unnecessary breath and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know. I’m trying not to think to far ahead regarding us. I know we can’t have what I want, but I love you too much to let you go.”

“Don’t,” she said as shook her head and fixed her eyes somewhere over his shoulder.

“Don’t what? Don’t love you? I didn’t know I had a choice in that.”

“And don’t repeat my words back to me, bastard,” she seethed, sudden anger flushing her skin red. She wrapped her arms around her waist because she desperately wanted to slap him.

“Tell me you don’t still love me,” he prodded.

Everything inside of her screamed. She felt the 16 year old girl she used to be take her last breath as she uttered the words, “I don’t love you.”

“Buffy Summers, you’re a terrible liar,” Angel said after a moment’s pause.

She shrugged. “I can lie to you if I want.” She looked over the lake and shivered. She wasn’t surprised when his jacket draped over her shoulders. She shoved her arms through the sleeves and pulled it around her. "Sometimes I wonder is it you I want or just the notion of your heart to wrap around so I can find my way.”

He stepped forward and enveloped her in his arms, pulling her back against his chest. He rested his chin on the top of her head and she could breathe for the first time since Dawn had died. “See, sometimes I think maybe I stopped loving you…maybe and that this is all I want. When you hold me I don’t feel lost. You give me a place to rest, a shelter from the storm,” she whispered. “And then…then I wake up in the middle of the night hurting so much…I lied.”

“I know,” he whispered back and placed a kiss on the crown of her head. They stood silently like that until the sun begin to turn the sky rosy, then turned and walked toward her apartment with their hands linked. He took the keys from her and opened her door, letting her step in ahead of him. She made them tea, using tea bags just because Giles wouldn’t have and then sat down on the couch across from him.

“I’m still not going back,” she said as she dunked the tea bag over and over.

“Do you think that’s what Dawn would want?” he asked.

“I think Dawn would want to go to her senior prom. I think Dawn would want to fall in love. I think Dawn would want to go to college to be a writer or maybe an art major. That’s what I think Dawn would want,” Buffy answered as she fixed him with a hard stare. “It doesn’t matter what Dawn would want. She jumped instead of me and now she can’t want anything because she’s dead.”

She sat her tea down so hard it sloshed over the edge of the cup and spread across the cheap coffee table. Angel reached out and pulled her close to him.

“I almost jumped after her.” Her voice was a cracked whisper against his shoulder. “Did they tell you that? Spike, of all people, stopped me. I nearly beat him to death as payment a week later.”

“I’ve lived with Spike. I want to beat him to death too,” Angel half smiled.

If it was a smile he was after, she gave him a brief one before it disappeared under the pain she wore like a heavy coat. “I can’t do it again, Angel. I can’t lose someone I love because of the life I live.”

“What if you lose someone you love because of the life you refuse to live?” he asked. “The Hellmouth is unguarded. You’ve got a crack team of a witch who’s just learning her own power, a boy who I’m amazed stumbles his way out of bed in the morning, an ex-vengeance demon and a girl who’s so shy I’m surprised she doesn’t jump every time they find something scary. It’s a matter of time before you lose one of them.”

“They lived for 16 years on an unguarded Hellmouth. I think they’ll make it,” Buffy answered. “I’m going home. I think you should go home too. Like you said, we can’t have what we want.” She turned and went to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. He was gone when she woke up later that afternoon.

They fell into another routine, one they were both much more familiar with. He stalked her, following her to work and home, even window shopping. She pretended he wasn’t there. She was sure he told himself he was protecting her but she didn’t need protecting. She’d never been a damsel in distress no matter how many guys had tried to put her into that niche, the one stalking her included. She felt safe with him there, safe and loved and she was content to let it go on most of the time.

He didn’t come into the diner anymore and Patty stopped asking questions after she’d caught Buffy in the bathroom crying one evening. The waitress didn’t know that she’d shed all her tears over Angel a long time ago. The tears were for a life she felt was pressing down on her waiting for opportune moment to get its fangs, pun intended, back into her.

She reached her breaking point in the middle of taking an order. She put the order pad down, marched out of the diner and looked around. He wasn’t forthcoming with revealing his hiding place. “Don’t you have damsels to rescue or a world to save?” she yelled at the empty night, scaring the life out of a homeless woman shuffling by.

He seemed to materialize out of the shadows, throwing them back like a cape. “I am.”

It took her a moment to realize he meant her. Her laughter sounded dry, like a bitter bark. “I don’t need you to save me, Angel. I’m doing alright by myself in case you didn’t notice.”

“I’ve noticed and that’s what worries me,” he responded as he fell into step beside her. “You’re too thin, you don’t have any friends and you don’t go out.”

“Sorry I’m not Miss Popular Party. I hear you’ve got Cordy working for you now if that’s what you’re after,” she snapped.

“Is it Survivor’s guilt?” he asked. “Whether you realize it or not, you’re not living this so called normal life you’ve always coveted.”

“I got over the normal life obsession a long time ago, Angel. You’re the one who covets a normal life for me.”

“Get out, Buffy. Make some friends, go to clubs, buy something pretty and live a little,” Angel continued to push at her.

She stopped, turning with all the speed of a predator and attacking with the same ferocity. “You want to know why I don’t go out?” she screamed. “I’m afraid! I’m afraid I’ll hear someone scream or I’ll see a vampire and I won’t be able to stop myself from doing something about it! I’m afraid that once I take that step I will never be able to go back. Once I fall off the wagon, it’s all over. My life goes back to slaying, sacrificing and losing everything that matters to me! That’s why I don’t go out at night! How do you like the heroine of this story now?”

“When was the last time you saw your friends? When was the last time you did anything you love? You’re sacrificing everything that matters to you right now, Buffy. At least before there was a purpose to your sacrifice,” Angel said.

“Is that what you think of me? My life doesn’t have purpose? Well guess what, my life is all purposed out,” she yelled.

“No…that’s not what I think of you. I look at you and I see a beautiful, strong woman who’s a little confused. You don’t know where you even want your life to go, only where you don’t want it to go. You’re scared. I get that. It doesn’t make you any less of a person. Everybody gets scared, Buffy.”

“Leave me alone, Angel. No stopping by the diner, no stalking me and no creeping in my window at night after you’re done saving the world. I’m trying to start a life, one that doesn’t involve slaying or creatures of the night. I can’t do that with you hanging around.”

She didn’t hear him or see him leave, but she felt it.

“Hey, Dawn! Wait up!”

Buffy spun around, dropping the cappuccino in her hand when she heard the blonde in front of her yell Dawn’s name. She watched, tracking the teenager as she ran past her, weaving through the crowd on the side walk until she caught up with a pretty, slim brunette that wasn’t her Dawn. They were never her Dawn. Nausea overwhelmed her as she stumbled into an alley and emptied her stomach. She straightened up and leaned against the wall, a cold sweat broken across her brow. Two weeks and two days ago had marked four months since Dawn’s death, and she’d forgotten about it. Her sister had been gone four months and already she’d forgotten. She closed her eyes, pushing her tears down into the deepest part of her.

The first place she considered going was Angel’s, but she pushed that idea away. As far as she knew he hadn’t stalked her or so much as walked by her apartment since she’d told him to leave so she wandered through LA, letting her thoughts run amuck. The sound of someone slaughtering ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ made her hesitate, half turning toward the noise. Dawn had loved karaoke. She and Mom had run around the house singing into hair brushes and trying to coax Buffy to do the same.

She hesitated again, frowning then shrugged. The sign over the building read Caritas. She’d learned bits and pieces of Latin due to Giles and hours of research, enough that she knew Caritas meant mercy. “Need a little mercy tonight,” she whispered to herself as she walked down into the club. One look around had her turning on her heel, not only was Caritas a demon bar, he was here. “Muffin!” Someone yelled. Buffy hesitated just long enough for the green demon in the bright suit to catch up to her. “Sweetcheeks, where are you going so fast?”

Buffy turned back to the green demon. “Excuse me? I’ve got to-“ she gestured to the door.

“Oh please, you’ve got sing for me. I insist.”

She shook her head. “No…I don’t sing.”

“Have you heard half of the patrons here? They don’t sing either; unfortunately that doesn’t stop most of them. I’m Lorne.”

Buffy shook the demon’s hand hesitantly. She felt like Alice down the rabbit hole. Lorne put his arm around her and guided her across the room. Her eyes strayed to where Angel sat at a table with Cordelia, Wesley, and two other people she didn’t know.

“Oh don’t worry about him, Cupcake,” Lorne smiled at her as he guided her over to the bar and sat her down. “Sea breeze? Martini? Something sweet and sugary?”

“Uhm…I don’t know,” Buffy answered distractedly.

Lorne nodded, mixed some things up in a glass and handed her a bright pink drink. “Try that Baby cakes.”

“Buffy…” she told him. “It’s Buffy.”

“Of course it is, Muffin.” He handed her a book with songs and lyrics in it. “Now excuse me. I’ve got to get Carlos off the stage before my ears start bleeding,” he said as he rushed off toward the small stage. He nearly had to pry the microphone out of the orange demon’s hands.

Buffy flipped through the book. She could feel Angel’s eyes on her and wasn’t surprised when he sat down next to her. He ordered a whiskey on the rocks from the bartender and withheld any comment until it had been sat in front of him.

“How have you been?”

Buffy looked over at him, watched him take a sip of the whiskey and shrugged. “I’m fine. You?”

“Fine,” he answered tersely.

“Good.” The silence hung between them unwieldy and stiff. “I’m going to-this was a bad idea. Tell Cordy and Wes I said I,” she mumbled as she slipped off the stool.

“And our next act is a very special one. I’ve got a little blonde bombshell and a half for you guys. Come on up here, Buffy,” Lorne crooned from the stage.

The ground did not comply with her fervent prayers that it open up and swallow her as she made her way to the stage. The powers that be did come through in making the stage lights so bright that the audience in front of her was blotted out. At least she wouldn’t have to look at Angel and try to sing. She took a deep breath as the music started and her voice trembled through the first lines of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ but gained strength as she went. Virgin Records wasn’t going to offer her a contract, but no one had to hold their ears and hum while she was singing. The last few notes of the song were still ringing in the air as she set the microphone down and rushed off stage with the intention of sneaking outside. Lorne was waiting there with open arms.

“Love dove, where do you think you’re going?”

“Home,” Buffy informed him. He was charismatic, charming and stylish but so was the devil and she was growing very tired of letting him manipulate her into staying longer.

“Don’t you want to know what I saw?”

She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Little, blonde, bad singer?”

“So much more, Sweet cakes. I’m an anagogic demon. I read people’s auras when they sing, see the future that might be.”

“I would not have sung if you’d told me that,” she groaned.

“I know,” Lorne smiled. “Nonetheless, you know what I saw. You’ve known in your heart for a long time.”

“Oh Gawd, how can it be considered a future when you’re so deliberately vague that could be anything. Maybe you saw that I desperately want to be home right now with my fuzzy slippers and a pint of Chunky Monkey!” she shrieked.

Lorne shrugged. “That too, but it’s not what I’m talking about. Some people have futures and destinies that won’t make much difference to anyone but their closest friends and families so if they abandon them or stray off the path, it’s not a world in peril situation. I wish you were one of those people, Slayer cakes.”

“Did Angel put you up to this? I swear to all that is holy I will stake his ass faster then he can blink if he did.”

Lorne chuckled. “Angel cakes? No, he wishes you were one of those people too, Honeybunch.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a group of men forcing their way into the club and spraying everything with gun fire. Buffy dove over the bar. Something semi soft broke her fall. Her eyes crept up a broad chest covered in black silk, a neck as familiar as her own and met brown eyes that always managed to reflect her soul. “Angel,” she half whispered unable to ignore that with her head tilted slightly up like this his lips were just a breath away from hers. The rat-a-tat of gunfire faded into the background.

“We keep meeting like this,” he whispered.

A woman’s scream shook them both out of their stupor and Buffy rolled off of Angel and to her feet. He sprang up beside her just as quickly. There were demons in various stages of dying all around them but so far the humans seemed to have remained unscathed.

“Yo, Charlie Gunn! Come on now. I know you’re here,” one of the men with a gun yelled.

“I’m right here,” the black man Buffy had seen sitting with Angel stood up. Buffy listened as they exchanged words. She glanced over at Angel. “Want to tell me what’s going on here?” she asked in a whisper.

Angel shrugged. “Not sure,” he whispered out of the side of his mouth. “Gunn is one of my crew. The guys with the guns used to be his gang. I think they’re a little upset because I’ve taken their favorite toy.”

“Tsk tsk, didn’t anyone teach them to share?” she whispered back with a grin. She dropped into a slightly offensive stance when Lorne was grabbed and pulled into the center of the room. The situation was quickly degenerating as the man Gunn called Rondell pointed a gun at him. She looked over at Angel. “This something you’re going to handle or did you want some help?”

“Kinda something I should handle,” Angel said as he vaulted over the bar. “Okay, let’s put the guns down and calm down just a little. You guys don’t have a problem with humans so why don’t you let them go.”

“Hell no. They’re all demon supporters. Wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Rondell said. “You’re the vampire, the one with a soul.” He rolled his eyes as he said it. Buffy bit her tongue to keep from interfering. This was Angel’s town and Angel’s problem and besides she didn’t slay anymore.

Rondell looked at Gunn, a smirk forming on his lips. “This is your chance, Charlie. Prove to us that this *thing* ain’t your friend. Prove that you’re still one of the gang.” He took a stake out of his pocket and tossed it to Gunn who caught it with one hand, his eyes never leaving Angel.

“This is madness. He has a soul,” Wesley intervened. He gained points in Buffy’s book for that.

“He’s a vampire,” another thug Buffy was fairly sure was named Gio insisted.

“With a soul.” She was unable to hold her tongue any longer. “He’s a vampire, with a soul.”

“You think that makes him the same as us?” Gio asked his attention riveting to Buffy.

“Well I’m not all judge-y but from my standpoint, it makes him better. He’s not the one shooting innocent people,” she shrugged and lazily leaned against the bar.

“These ain’t people, Blondie,” Rondell bite off. He shot at a demon in the head to illustrate his point. White blood splattered on the wall behind it. “Ain’t nothing human bleeds that color.”

“Buffy, maybe you should stay out of this. Let Angel handle it,” Cordelia piped up. She was busy cowering behind a table comforting Fred who was whimpering like a small child.

“Maybe you should worry about your clothes, Cordy. I’m betting blood is hard to get out,” Buffy snarked back.

“Maybe you should all shut up!” Rondell screamed. He sounded like he was beginning to lose it. He looked at Gunn. “So, what’s it gonna be. The vampire,” he said the word like it was dirty, “or your old gang.”

Gunn looked from Angel to Rondell and back to Angel. “Let me make it easy for you, Gunn,” Angel said as he let his game face slip into place. “Take a look. This is what I am. Deal with it or don’t. But make a damn choice.”

Buffy went into high alert when Angel stepped toward Gunn. It might be Angel’s problem to deal with but she wasn’t about to let anyone stake him in the process.

“That ain’t gonna happen,” Gunn said as he dropped the stake to the floor.

“I knew it!” Gio screamed. Before Buffy realized what was happening, Gio had his gun pointed at Angel. There was a deafening rat tat of fire and when the smoke cleared Angel was lying on the ground. Buffy cleared the bar in one fluid motion and started advancing on Gio.

“Uhm Slayer cakes, you might not want to do that!” Lorne shrilled.

Buffy grabbed Gio by the throat and shoved him up against the wall simultaneously twisting the hand his gun was in until she heard bone crack. The gun clattered to the floor with an unnaturally loud sound because the bar had gone silent.

“Oh…well never mind,” Lorne chirped. “Nice to know the demon anti violence spell doesn’t extend to slayers.”

“I really don’t like it when someone hurts my boyfriend,” she growled.

She caught a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye as Rondell grabbed Fred from behind the table. He held her in front of him like a shield.

“Alright, you let him go. I’ll let her go.”

Buffy twisted Gio’s arm up behind him and she shoved him away from the wall toward Rondell but she didn’t let go of him. “I don’t know her. She’s nothing to me. My main interest in this deal is getting Angel out of here alive.”

“Buffy…” Angel said as he got to his feet, his hand against his stomach. Buffy could see blood seeping through his fingers and staining his dark shirt even darker. “She’s one of my crew.”

Buffy looked to Angel and then to Fred. After a moment she sighed and let Gio go. She moved over to Angel, ducking under his arm to help support him. She touched her fingers to his stomach gingerly and they came away stained with his blood. She had to swallow past the lump in her throat, reminding herself that a gunshot wound couldn’t kill a vampire.

Rondell laughed and kept his tight hold on Fred. “I don’t make deals with demon lovers.”

“You know kids, as fun as it’s been, it’s really closing time,” Lorne tried to intervene.

“Shut up, Demon. We’re gonna close you down for good,” Gio said, quickly recovering his bravado.

Lorne looked at Angel and pointed to the watch on his wrist. Angel shrugged in an expression of what do you want me to do.

“I’ve got an early appointment tomorrow with three ladies. I’d like to look my best. You understand,” Lorne said to the gang members but his eyes never left Angel.

Angel looked at Lorne, his eyebrows shooting up toward his hairline. Lorne nodded and tapped his watch again.

“What the hell you talking about? You and the vampire?” Rondell asked as he grabbed Lorne by the suit lapels and jerked him to stand near him.

“Slow down, Stud muffin. Angel cakes and I were just talking about closing time,” Lorne assured him. Rondell looked from Lorne to Angel with narrowed eyes.

“Last chance, Gunn. You help us slaughter these guys and come back to the gang or take the vampire’s side and you’re on your own,” Gio offered, handing Gun another stake.

There was a bright flash that lit up the bar and a smile curved Angel’s lips. “Play time,” he whispered to Buffy as they separated. She disarmed Gio, confiscated his stake and tossed him toward the entrance like he was a rag doll. Angel took care of Rondell’s gun by kicking it out of his hand, into the air, catching it and pocketing it in his jacket. “Guns, never a good thing. They don’t kill vampires and they generally get humans hurt,” he warned.

Gio collected himself and shambled back toward his gang who were gathered into a tight knot, staring at the demons surrounding them. Buffy imagined they were feeling a bit like mice in a snake cage. She, Angel, Wesley and Gunn formed their own little force facing off against them.

“Come on! Fight back! It’s four against ten and one of them is a little girl!” Gio yelled.

“Yeah…we saw what that little girl did,” one of them observed. They watched her warily, expecting her to turn into something bloodsucking or human eating at any moment. Buffy just smiled at them.

One of the demons Gio had been mercilessly taunting and degrading slunk up behind him. Its head split and a huge insect type creature emerged. It dipped its head and gulped Gio down in one bite. Rondell picked up a shot gun and unloaded it into the demon’s chest. The remainder of the gang members scattered.

Buffy taped the end of the gauze she’d wound around Angel’s stomach and dipped her head, pressing a kiss to it. She sat back against the couch and glanced around the lobby of the hotel.

“I think I knew it all along.”

“Knew what?” Angel asked as he shrugged his shirt on and started buttoning it up.

“That eventually I’d have to go back.” Her voice was tired, resigned. “And part of me even wants it."

“We’re very much needed in the world, Buffy. We don’t always like being the front line, but until evil decides to give up its day job…we’re needed.”

Buffy nodded, accepting what Angel was saying. She looked over at him from underneath her lashes. “I don’t want to give everything up.”

“You don’t have to. Dawn wasn’t something you gave up. She knowingly sacrificed herself because she thought this world was worth saving.” He reached over and placed his fingers under her chin, tilting her head up to meet his gaze full on.

“And what about you? I had to give you up,” she asked her gaze never wavering from his. She watched fascinated at the gambit of emotions that ran through his eyes. Guilt, pain, love and finally hope.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” he said as his hand dropped to the curve of her neck. “When I left you it was because I didn’t want to be a burden to you, a hindrance. I foolishly thought that a love like ours could exist without need on both sides. The last few months that you’ve been here, I’ve realized you need me too. I can’t see you every day. In fact there are a lot of can't’s in our relationship and maybe there always will be but I’m willing to work with the cans and see what comes out of it.”

Tears shone in Buffy’s eyes and she leaned in and placed a chaste kiss on his lips, pulling away before it could become more for fear that he would change his mind the way he had when her mother had died. “Besides, you’re doing the saving Los Angeles thing and I’m doing the saving Sunnydale thing. That’s gonna take up some of our time.”

“Exactly, but occasionally I’ll have a free weekend,” Angel smiled.

“Or I will,” Buffy grinned.

Angel nodded. “I’m going to talk to Wes about doing some research into my soul and binding it. Don’t get your hopes up though. It’s an old obsolete curse. I don’t even know if there is any kind of precedence for magic like what I’m looking for.”

Buffy couldn’t contain the smile that lit up her face but her cheeks hurt with the effort of trying. “No hopes getting up here,” she promised even as her heart spun plans for long, lazy weekends spent in bed.

He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her into him. His lips caressed hers in a soft kiss and she was reminded of kisses before her seventeenth birthday, kisses filled with hope.

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: R
Summary: “It doesn’t matter. If Dawn dies I’m done with it. I quit.” Buffy in The Gift. An AU where Dawn does die in The Gift and Buffy makes good on her word.
Disclaimer: Not mine. All belong to Joss and his genius.

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