Angel glanced around the room, the colors and patterns swirling before his eyes like the kaleidoscope night-light he had bought when Connor was a baby. The light had turned the baby’s room into a virtual seascape at night, the twinkling colored fishes swimming amongst the swaying coral and sea grass. The night-light had given Angel nausea but had delighted Connor, his light gurgling and happy cooing thrilling the proud father. Now, in the office of the interior decorator--designer, he had been told repeatedly by both Buffy and the decora-designer himself—Buffy had hired to design the new apartment she and Angel were sharing, he felt that same nausea tightening his stomach. Only now, he could actually become sick. Normally any new experience with his recently granted humanity would have both he and Buffy giggling like school children, and rushing off to their bedroom to indulge in activities too long denied. Even now, years after he had awoken one morning, gasping for breath and with a decidedly growling stomach, the sheer thrill of humanity had never lessened. However, nausea was not one of those experiences to savor.
“Angel? Are you okay?”
Buffy’s voice broke through his thoughts and distracted him from the roller coaster that was his stomach. Angel concentrated on her face, at her concerned semi-frown and nodded, not trusting himself to speak just yet. Just behind Buffy, Michael Payne, the designer, glanced at him, his dark eyes behind the small round glasses reflecting the same concern. “Yes, Angel, are you okay? Do you need to sit for a spell? You’re looking rather… pale, I’m afraid.”
Surprisingly enough, Michael’s lilting accent helped to calm Angel more than Buffy’s gentle touch as she reached over and brushed her fingers through his dark hair. Although completely different from Wesley in every way, even in the voice, the older man’s accent still somehow managed to remind Angel of his fallen friend. As much as he loved every minute of the life he was building with Buffy, he still ached for his lost family—his beloved son who had been killed when he joined Angel and the others in the alley that night three years ago; Gunn, Wesley and Spike had also died in that fight against the Senior Partners. He was to the point now that thoughts of his son and friends didn’t send him into the bedroom he shared with Buffy, brooding for hours on end about the “what ifs?” “should haves,” “could haves.” Instead, he could remember his friends with a sad smile and an ache in his heart, but know that they had died with their lives meaning something. They hadn’t died in vain, and every day Angel lived to honor their memories.
Which, in a roundabout way, was why he and Buffy were in the offices of Michael Payne, ASID, to discuss the design of their open-floor apartment. He was, they were, moving on. Neither could, or even wanted, to forget their pasts but they also recognized that to move forward with their new life together wasn’t about running away from the nightmare and horrors that haunted every memory. It was about honoring the ones they had lost, both together and individually.
Although, the more Angel thought about it, the more he realized that no, meeting their interior decorator—Angel’s presence was only at Buffy’s insistence of course; he had been fine with staying home and watching the game—was not the best way to honor the memory of his family this crisp fall day. No, the best way to do that would have been curling up in the faded leather chair that Angel had brought into the relationship (the chair that had Buffy kicking and screaming the entire way that it wouldn’t fit with any of the new furniture) with a cold beer at his side in order to watch the USC/Notre Dame game. He could practically hear Gunn’s raucous laughter, Spike’s mumbled curses and demands for more beer, Fred’s endless ramblings about the best way to achieve optimal air time on kickoffs…
Realizing he hadn’t answered Buffy or Michael, Angel shook his head and offered a wry smile. “No, I’m fine. Distracted by the thoughts of what to do for the windows. Sheers, draperies… tough decisions.” He shook his head slightly when Buffy opened her mouth to question him further. Later, love, he mouthed to her, holding her gaze so that she would understand that he was okay, just lost in thought.
Buffy, being Buffy, refused to let it pass. “No way, you’re not getting off that easy.” She leaned in closer and lowered her voice. “Brood Boy was not invited today, okay? Angel, my loving, compromising partner is the one that was invited,” she said with an easy grin. “We’ll brood later. After we decide on the bedroom.” Turning back to Michael, she nodded. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Michael grinned and all but clapped his hands at Buffy’s words. In their previous meetings—design consultations, Michael had called them—Buffy and Angel quickly discovered that while they had the other’s heart, soul and body, what they did not have was each other’s taste in decorating.
Angel liked dark leather, rich, warm wood, earthy colors. Straight, clean lines. Modern with a contemporary twist. Everything in its place and a place for everything, was his mantra.
Buffy liked bright colors—blues and yellows and reds and purples. “Girly colors” she called them. Comfortable chenille, fringe on anything that could remotely resemble a pillow and did she ever love her pillows. Their bedroom looked like a pillow emporium, and the first time Angel had walked into the room after one of Buffy’s decorating sprees, he seriously wondered if she had replaced the bed with a mound of pillows. She loved mixing anything and everything for that “eclectic” look.
Personally, Angel thought of the word “messy” whenever she said her style was eclectic. His arm still ached from the time she hit him when he had accidentally let that tidbit of information slip.
To say that their styles differed was like saying that a Rialbeel demon was hard to kill. It was an immutable fact, much like the pesky prophecies that followed Buffy like an annoying puppy. In his sappy girl moments, as Buffy liked to tease him, he truly believed that he had been put on this Earth for Buffy and she for him. They were a perfect match in every way… except when it came to decorating. Then Angel was sure that was a she-devil come to life. It seemed that the issues that could have threatened to destroy the relationship they had slowly rebuilt after the final battle—Nina, Cordy, Spike, The Immortal, the struggle for power and leadership in the relationship, Connor--were nothing compared to the fights they had had about which couch to buy, what fabric to use, whether to use sheers or not in the living room… There had been nights when Angel swore that he would permanently sleep on the couch.
It had been messy, it had been frustrating, and Angel had loved every minute of it.
Being the mature adults that they were (he still remembered the minutes-long laughter fit he and Buffy had shared when she first mentioned that term), they had decided to call in reinforcements. She had gotten the name and number of Michael from a friend of hers who had used him when she and her husband were having problems agreeing on the design for their kitchen. They had made the call, set up the appointment, and here they were, a couple of months later, hopefully deciding on the final plan for their bedroom.
Michael Payne, ASID, (as he frequently liked to remind the couple) was known for helping couples with design dilemmas, i.e. wanting to maim or kill one another while the couple renovated or redesigned their home. He specialized in helping couples with different design tastes find a common ground. During one of their design consultations Angel had even learned that Michael had his own show on a network devoted to decorating. HGTV, he thought, a channel he had seen Buffy watch occasionally.
Once again focusing on the present, Angel turned to Michael and nodded. “The lady has spoken,” he said and settled into a chair for the presentation. If he had to be here, he might as well pay attention.
“Damn straight, buddy,” Buffy muttered as she sat next to him and entwined her fingers with his automatically. Before Michael could begin, she continued. “Why couldn’t you be this agreeable when we first started? You’re supposed to do the manly man things like change the light bulbs, kill the gross bugs, fix the sink and mow the grass while I do the fun things like decorate and shop. Instead, I buy a pillow or two…” Angel shot her a withering glance and she quickly added, “Okay, so maybe more than a pillow or two and you freak because it’s not in your colors. What are you, an Avon lady now? Please,” she grumbled, rolling her eyes.
Michael cleared his throat and Buffy blushed. “Sorry. But really, it’s his fault.”
“It most certainly is not,” Angel retorted. “You’re the one who decided to turn our bedroom into ‘Buffy and Angel’s House of Pillows.’ Besides, fuschia and bright purple aren’t anyone’s colors.”
“Ha! I’m surprised you even know colors besides black and dark brown.”
“I most certainly do--…”
Michael cleared his throat again and this time, both Buffy and Angel blushed. It certainly wasn’t the first time Michael had been witness to one of their “discussions” but it was still embarrassing. Angel glanced down at their joined hands—it was such a natural action for them both whenever they were near one another—and raised them to his lips, brushing a apologetic kiss to her knuckles. “Sorry, love.” Buffy smiled and mouthed her apology before he murmured with a wicked grin, “But really, fuschia and purple?” Although he could see the laughter dancing in her eyes, Buffy’s glare quickly ended the attempt at teasing.
So far Michael had never had a couple resort to bloodshed but Buffy and Angel were betting that they might be the couple to shatter that record. After all, the Slayer and her vampire (well, her ex-vampire) had defied all other prophecies or predictions. They had fallen in love when, according to Whistler, nobody had ever anticipated it. Even after his return from Hell, when everyone was against their relationship, neither Buffy nor Angel could deny the pull, the soul-deep bond they shared. After everything—his leaving, Buffy’s death and eventual resurrection, various battles, other lovers, a prophesized son—events that should have torn them apart and left them alone, broken and bleeding, here they were. Building a life together and all that entailed, which apparently included redecorating their apartment.
At first, they had originally only wanted Michael to design the living room and dining room. As the meetings wore on, it became clear that Buffy and Angel would never be able to decorate the rest of their apartment without possibly breaking into a sparring session. The couple, along with Michael’s heavily suggested hints, had turned the entire apartment over to the designer.
The design for the living room, dining room, and kitchen had been relatively pain-free. Other than a few slammed doors, no major fights had broken out between Buffy and Angel, and both had walked into the consultations about the bedroom sure that this room would be as easy as the others.
Never had they been more wrong.
Whatever one liked, the other hated. If one liked a certain color, the other liked a color on the opposite side of the spectrum. Angel wanted stripes, Buffy hated them. Buffy wanted flowers, Angel swore he would break out in hives. Compromises that had been so easy to reach in the design of the other rooms in their apartment were met with cold stares and stony silences. Michael had threatened to quit more than once but a flurry of apologetic phone calls, not to mention more checks being written, had solved that problem. Fed up with their stand-off, he had all but locked Buffy and Angel in his office one day with nothing but design books and a terse, “Please pick something as a starting point.” They had finally reached a common ground—one color that they both agreed upon. To Angel’s eternal relief, it was neither fuschia nor purple. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Michael had feverishly worked for the past two weeks on his design for the bedroom. Angel knew that the older gentlemen could sense that he had one shot to get it right or Buffy might kill one of them. It would be Angel, of that he had no doubt, but after Buffy’s last threat of “If this bedroom isn’t decided on NOW, someone is going to hurt and it won’t be me,” nothing Angel said could reassure Michael that Buffy wouldn’t really hurt him, she only liked to threaten.
Snapping back to the present as Buffy dug her elbow in his side to get his attention, Angel winced and focused on the board Michael had set up. He was motioning to it and asking something about placing the bed on the diagonal to open the room more. Buffy nodded eagerly and glanced at Angel, who knew he needed to respond and fast.
“Uh… sure. That sounds great. Diagonal it is.”
Buffy’s smile lit up the entire room and Angel breathed a sigh of relief. One hurdle cleared. Maybe they could get through this after all.
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Summary: When you’ve faced numerous apocolyii, hell gods, bloodthirsty Uber-Vamps, dragons, and hordes of demons, an interior designer is nothing. Right?
Author’s Notes: Many, many thanks to Maren for her extremely helpful beta work and for nudging me to write this.
All blame should be sent her way. And yes, this is a BtVS/HGTV crossover fic.