Buffy turns from the window and, like in all her dreams, there he is. Of course she isn’t 100 percent sure who he is, but it’s not often she gets handsome gentlemen callers. Sometimes the man who calls himself Xander stops by, (he has to remind her of his name every time) but he’s at least as old as she is, although more mobile. And a little bit randy, too. She has to give him her sternest look so he’ll keep his hands to himself.
With this handsome suitor so near, Buffy’s glad she finally relented and let the nurse put her in the soaker tub earlier. She’s glad, too, that her favourite sweater, the pale lavender one with the tiny row of seed pearls at the cuffs and collar, has finally been sent to the cleaners. She thinks she might have spilled something on it: tea or apple sauce. Today she’s wearing the rose coloured one. It’s plain, but clean.
She reaches out a slender hand and he takes it.
“How are you?”
She dips her chin in a gesture that others have come to know means that she is well. Any words she attempts come out garbled.
He pulls a chair next to her wheelchair and sits down beside it.
“I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come back,” he says. “I’ve been away.”
Is he her son? He’s certainly young enough to be. Buffy concentrates on pulling her lips into a smile. At least she hopes it looks like a smile. He’s smiling back, but it looks like it hurts him a little to do it. That’s too bad because Buffy thinks he has the prettiest smile she’s ever seen.
She pats his hand, which he’s rested on the arm of her wheelchair. Perhaps she should use the call bell and have someone come turn up the heat in the room; his skin is cool. She looks down at his hand, square and pale, and notices the ring. It looks familiar: crown, hands, heart. If only she could untangle the wires in her brain. But as fast as she wishes for it, the thought skitters away.
“Buffy.” His voice draws her attention and she looks back up at his face. He’s very handsome, whoever he is. His eyes are sad. He seems quite capable: broad shoulders, strong thighs. Yet, there’s something almost fragile about him. Buffy lifts her hand to touch his cheek. He captures her thin fingers against his face with his own large hand. It looks like he might cry.
She tries another smile and he kisses her palm before he releases her hand. Then he stands and leans over and rearranges the knitted lap robe, tucking it carefully around her narrow hips. He whispers in her ear. Her hearing isn’t so good anymore, but it sounds like he says “Always.”
Perhaps he is her guardian Angel.
By the time she gets to L.A. she has stopped hoping for the best and started imagining the worst. It takes calling in every favor the Council owes her, plus some Wicca magic to get her to the City of Angels in the first place and what she finds isn’t exactly promising. But so what? She’s faced a few apocalypses in her day. It probably looks worse than it actually is.
It looks pretty bad, though.
There’s a crater half the size of a baseball stadium in the middle of Sunset Boulevard. Buffy surveys it and says: “Pffft. Is this what they’re passing off as a hole in the world these days? Ever been to a little ‘burb called Sunnydale?”
She’s talking to herself, of course. She shifts her knapsack to her other shoulder and heads back the way she came. Although she’s never been to the Hyperion, she got Willow to write specific directions. Then Dawn Google-Earthed it, just because she was sure that Buffy was directionally challenged. Xander offered his GPS thingamajig, but at that point Buffy’s expression was enough for him to retract the offer.
It’s not so easy to get around L.A. There’s some spotty public transportation; there are some brave taxi drivers, although who can afford the fares, but Buffy is content to walk. It’s not the L.A. of her youth, but it’s home. Sort of. She keeps her stake handy and she has a can of pepper spray. (This was Satsu’s last minute contribution to the cause.) It’s still daylight and Buffy is pretty sure she can make it to Angel’s old hotel before darkness falls.
Spike is waiting for her.
“How did you know?” She asks.
“Didn’t,” he replies.
They stand awkwardly for a minute and then Buffy shrugs off her knapsack and steps into his arms.
“I’m so glad you’re all right,” she whispers.
Spike pulls back and rewards her with a beaming smile. “Take more’n a dragon and a horde of hell demons to take me down.”
“Speaking of demons…”
Spike’s smile straightens out. He reaches for her knapsack. “Come on, then, let’s get you settled.”
“Spike,” Buffy says, reaching out to stop him.
Buffy can see that Spike is considering what to say and suddenly she doesn’t want him to say it. More than anything, she wants him to make some snarky comment about Angel’s hair or massive forehead.
“Come on,” Spike says taking her hand.
They are half way through the bottle of tequila when Spike gets to the part where he and Angel and some blue chick slash God called Illyria and a dying man called Gunn are in the alley. Wesley is already dead. It takes considerable effort for Buffy to refrain from crying over this news, but she knows that she’ll need her tears, every last one of them.
“Course, ol’ Blue was packin’ quite a lot of power, so it was good that on this particular occasion she was playing for the home team,” Spike was saying. He refilled their shot glasses.
“Why was she blue again?” Buffy asks.
“Dunno? Good question,” Spike says. “Drink up.”
“Everything was blue?” Buffy knocks back the tequila and grimaces. There wasn’t any lime.
“She wasn’t always blue,” Spike says. “Once she was just a girl.”
Buffy understands this. “Once I was just a girl,” she says. “But it was a long time ago.”
Spike smiles briefly. “So anyway, there we were in the alley in the pissin’ down rain and all of a sudden there’s a fucking dragon as big as a…well…as big as a bloody big dragon.”
Buffy giggles. “You are not a good story teller.”
“Get to the good part, then.”
“So we’re standing there, in the rain. Gunn’s holding his guts in with one hand and he’s got his sword in the other,” Spike pauses, considering. “Good man, Gunn.” He pours more tequila. “You could barely bloody see. It would’ve been useful if Blue glowed or something. Course glowing’s not one of her powers.”
Buffy knocks back another shot and punches Spike in the arm. “Hurry up,” she says. “Get to the good part.”
“Bloody hell, Slayer,” Spike rubs his biceps dramatically.
Spike closes his eyes. Buffy imagines that it is so he can see the scene better in his head. She closes her eyes, too.
“So he says ‘I kinda want to slay the dragon.’” Spike whispers.
How did they get to the end of the story so quickly? Buffy wonders. She opens her eyes and finds that Spike is watching her. He has tears in his eyes.
“And did he?”
“Did he what?” Spike asks gently.
“Did he slay the dragon?”
“Yes, pet, he did.”
This has got to be the dumbest thing she’s ever done. Scratch that: she’s definitely done dumber things. Hello, Parker. Hello, The Immortal. Hello, Satsu. But never mind that.
Seven years have passed and she’s standing in front of Angel’s door with a box of assorted cookies, hoping that he’ll remember the stupid cookie dough analogy. Of course he’ll remember. He’s a vampire. Vampires have excellent memories.
Did she know that for sure, or was she just making it up because she wanted him to remember? Shit. This was stupid. She should have called. Or e-mailed. No, too impersonal.
Buffy considered the box in her hand (a dozen each of oatmeal, ginger and chocolate chip cookies). She considered her outfit (silky top, knee-length floral print skirt, gold flats). She considered her hair (chin length bob). She considered her opening line (“Hi Angel, remember me? I made cookies.” This she had narrowed down from several other possibilities including: “I know it’s been a long time, but I’m not burned. Honest.” And “I was in the neighbourhood. If you have the milk, I have the cookies.”)
Considerately, she’d waited until the sun had almost gone down. She was surprised, actually, that he’d moved out of the city and was now living in a small house on a quiet cul-de-sac near Hermosa Beach. Did vampires retire? He hadn’t been all that easy to find, actually. Her research skills were rusty – who was she kidding, she’d never been research girl – and so she’d asked Giles to find him. Even Giles’s stellar skills had turned up a big goose egg for the first couple of weeks.
Then: “That’s interesting. He’s living at the beach.”
“Who’s living at the beach?” Xander had said, lifting his head up from his own book.
“Angel, Angel?” Willow had said.
“Do you know other vampires with the same name?” Giles had replied dryly.
“Well, I hope he’s got excellent sun screen,” Xander had said, returning to his reading.
It was a pretty little house. Someone had planted annuals along the walk, and the shutters were painted pale blue. Although she couldn’t see the ocean from where she stood, Buffy imagined that Angel enjoyed a magnificent view from somewhere inside the cottage, from behind specially manufactured glass of course.
Well, no point in putting this off any longer. She shifted the box of cookies to one hand and knocked on the door. Silence. She knocked a little louder and took a step back. Perhaps she could risk peeking into the window. She knocked again. She was rewarded with a bang and then the door swung open.
So not Angel.
The girl was beautiful, if you liked wide-eyed babes with tousled hair wearing nothing but a shirt that was clearly miles too big. Buffy felt a stab of memory behind her eyes.
“Oh,” the girl said, letting go of the door to button one more button on the shirt. “Can I help you?”
“Um. Just hold…” she handed the box of cookies to the girl, “these.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a slip of paper. 1212 Mink Beach Road. She held the paper up to the girl. “Do I have the right place?”
“Yep.” The girl smiled, revealing even white teeth. “Are these cookies?” She handed the box back to Buffy. “Because they smell fantastic.”
“Yeah, thanks. I’m like Betty Crocker, if Betty Crocker were young and cool.”
The girl laughed. “Well, I wish I was the recipient of those cookies. I’m starving.”
Buffy nodded. Another sliver of memory wedged itself into her brain: the post-coital food frenzy. “I’m sorry I bothered you.”
The girl shrugged. “No problem.”
Buffy turned and started back down the walk. So typical of Angel to be elusive.
When she heard her name, she stopped in her tracks.
She swallowed and turned around. Angel was standing on the step, wearing only a pair of worn jeans. It was obvious that the missing shirt was otherwise occupied. Said shirt and the girl, who was no longer smiling, were still at the door, until Angel turned and said: “Nina, can you give us a moment?” She nodded once, and slipped out of sight.
Buffy was rooted to the spot. Despite her careful planning, she’d forgotten to make a contingency plan, and therefore she had no opening remark suitable for this unexpected turn of events. Suddenly the box of cookies weighed a ton.
All of a sudden Angel was standing right in front of her. “Buffy,” he said again.
“Is she your…?”
“Wife,” Angel said. “She’s my wife.”
“I’m sorry. I never wanted to,” he stopped. “I’m so happy to see you.”
“Of course I am,” Angel said.
“I don’t understand,” Buffy said. “You said you’d wait.”
“I did,” Angel said. “I did for a long time.”
“You said you weren’t getting any older.”
Angel sighed. He took the box from Buffy and placed it carefully on the walk. Then he took her hand and pressed her palm to the centre of his chest.
“I was wrong,” he said.
Scotland was miserable in January. How could he have forgotten that? Ironically, though, the dark skies made it ideal for getting around, so he didn’t have to restrict his travel to the cover of night. Only hours after landing in Glasgow, he was standing in the damp foyer of Buffy’s castle enclave. Giles was standing beside him, polishing his glasses.
“And you’re sure she’s expecting you?”
Angel shrugged. “I have no idea if she’s expecting me or not. Is she here?”
“Well, not exactly, here, no,” Giles said.
“Look,” Angel said turning to face Giles. “I know me being here doesn’t thrill you. I get it. Buffy and I have unfinished business.”
Angel tried to keep his features still. “Yeah, all right.”
“She’ll be back soon, I expect,” Giles said. “Let’s have a brandy, shall we? It’s bloody freezing.” *
Angel begged Giles not to let Xander or Willow know that he’d arrived. It was one thing to have to face Buffy’s former Watcher’s scrutiny and another thing altogether to have to exchange pleasantries with Xander. Seeing Willow would be nice, he thought, but it could wait. All that mattered now was Buffy.
It was warm by the fire and Giles’s brandy was a very good vinatge, but Angel was still restless. Over and over he kept replaying his last e-mail exchange with Buffy.
Angel: Things have settled down here in L.A. Business as usual. Buffy: Good to hear. Glad you’re okay. I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Angel: You’re staying safe, right? Buffy: Did you get my last message? Buffy: Angel?
Okay, maybe he’d jumped the gun. All he knew was he wanted to see her more than anything. Buffy was the closest thing to sunshine in his life and, even if it was just for a moment, he wanted to stand in her warm glow.
“You know,” Buffy said from the door, “it’s rude to end a conversation abruptly.”
Angel stood up and crossed the room. “E-mail is not a conversation.” When he was near enough, he cupped Buffy’s face in his hands and leaned down to kiss her. “Now that’s a conversation.”
“Sorry, could you repeat that,” Buffy said.
“Are you sure,” Angel asked. Although it had taken them only seconds to rid each other of their clothes, suddenly he felt cautious. Nervous as a virgin.
“I have never been more sure of anything in my life,” Buffy said. “You?”
“Do you really have to ask?” Wasn’t his raging hard on was proof enough?
Buffy smiled. “Just being polite.”
“I think we’ve been polite long enough, don’t you?” Angel said.
Buffy crooked her finger and like a hooked fish, Angel followed her to the bed.
Everything about her body was both thrillingly familiar and brand new: the curve of her hip, her peaked pink nipples, the thatch of dark hair between her legs, her smooth, rounded buttocks.
“Hurry,” Buffy said.
“Shhh,” Angel replied.
This was a moment he wanted to remember for the rest of his life - no matter how unnaturally long it might be. Conversely, he worried that if he could always be with Buffy, no life would be long enough. This moment, here: his golden girl spread out beside him, her skin supple and warm beneath his fingers, her breath stalled in anticipation, her body humming. He wants this moment to be a thing worth remembering. So he dips his head to her throat and carefully, with his tongue, starts at the beginning.
“This is never going to work,” Angel says.
“Course it will,” Spike says. “Do you always have to be so bleedin’ negative?”
“I’m not negative. I’m realistic,” Angel says.
“What have you got so far?” Angel asks, peering over Spike’s shoulder. Spike leans forward, obscuring the words. “Fine, read it out loud.”
Spike picks up the sheet of vellum writing paper. “Dear Buffy…” Spike reads dramatically. “I am a great big poof and don’t deserve your love…”
Angel cuffs the back of Spike’s head and reaches around him for the piece of paper.
“Hey! Watch the hair!”
“It just says ‘Dear Buffy,’” Angel says. “Is that it?” He drops the paper back onto the desk.
Spike settles back in the chair and folds his arms across his chest. “I don’t have a lot to work with, you know. It’s not like you two have a long dating history. Not like we had.” Spike sighs loudly. “We brought the house down, we did.”
“Oh, for the love of God.” Angel crosses the room and flops down on the leather settee. “I’ll just call her. I don’t know why I let you talk me into this.”
“As I recall, Angelus, I’ve always had more of a way with the ladies. Sure, in the brute force department you might have the upper hand, but something like this, well,” Spike pauses, “it calls for a little more finesse.”
“Okay, first of all, I have finesse. Back in the day, I brought Drusilla the still beating heart of a virgin. More than once. Second of all, you were a hack poet when Dru did you. Truthfully, I think she did you a favour; if she hadn’t killed you, someone in your audience might have done it just to shut you up.”
Spike sniggered. “You cut me to the quick.”
“I’ll eviscerate you, if that’s what it takes to make you stop,” Angel said.
“Fine,” Spike said petulantly. “But you should know that I do know exactly what you should say to Buffy if you want her to come-” (and here Spike paused lasciviously) “here.”
“Tell her you love her, you wanker. Tell her you love her more than life, that you’ve had more life than you deserve but without her, it’s meaningless. Tell her you’re sorry you walked away from her; she deserved more, better. You were a coward. You were a martyr. You were a fucking idiot. Tell her you want to worship her like she deserves to be worshipped – every day for the rest of her life. Tell her you didn’t know what it meant to lose her until you did. Tell her you’re human.”
“Do you think that’ll work?” Angel asked.
“Pretty sure, yeah,” Spike said.
For a long moment, the room was silent.
“I’m sorry about that evisceration thing,” Angel said.
“You wouldn’t have actually done it,” Spike said.
“Would too,” Angel said.
“Just write the bloody letter already,” Spike said.
So he did.
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