Buffy stopped in front of the building and looked up, marveling at how she'd come to be here, of all places on all days.
"Sweets for your sweet?" said the street vendor, shoving a handful of heart-shaped sugar cookies on a stick in her face.
"No, thank you," she said, moving toward the entrance, only to find vendor guy blocking her way and waving his cookies.
"You're going to meet your fella, right? You shouldn't go empty handed. Trust me, a guy loves it when his girl brings him something special on St. Valentine's Day."
"There is no 'fella'," Buffy tersely replied. "And unless vendor on a stick is big seller, how about you step aside?"
She must have put a little too much slayer growl into it, because he seemed shocked into paralysis. Either that or a 'girl' in front of the Empire State Building on Valentine's Day without a special someone was a novelty. Buffy sidestepped him and as she opened the lobby door, she could hear him calling out to the next unsuspecting passer-by, "Sweets for your sweet?" At best, today might be considered bittersweet.
She made her way toward the security check, fishing her ticket out and wondering how Dawn’s interview was going.
"How did you talk me into this again?" Buffy asked.
"Bait and switch," said Dawn. "I told you I was interested in attending a school in New York and you agreed, oblivious to my ulterior motives. Besides, you know I’m right."
"You are going on a campus tour and interview, aren't you? My sweet, studious sister would never play hooky, would she?"
"I'll make sure of that, Buffy," said Xander, shrugging on a jacket. "The not playing hooky part. At least not the whole afternoon."
"And somehow I'm not reassured. Maybe I should go with you. I can do my thing later."
"No can do, Buffy," said Xander. "You've got your marching orders and I've got mine. Ready, Commodore Dawn?"
"As soon as I give Buffy her ticket, I'll be good to go."
"Ticket?" Buffy parroted.
"Yep. This way you won't have to stand in line forever."
"When did you get so smug, I mean, smart?"
“Ticket,” Dawn said, handing it over. “And you’re welcome.”
Buffy handed her ticket to the attendant, joining a wedding party who was waiting for the next elevator.
"But there are supposed to fireworks," said the bride, stamping her foot. "My perfect, romantic wedding was supposed to have fireworks. Now it's ruined!"
"No, honey, it's not ruined," said the groom. "We've got our friends and family and each other. That's all that matters, right?"
The look Bridezilla gave him could only be translated as "That's the most asinine thing I've ever heard in my life, sweetie." One of the bridesmaids held the door for Buffy. Eighty floors with soon-to-be Mrs. Itsstillallaboutme. Fun.
"No thanks. I think I'll catch the next one."
"I wish I could," said the blue velvetted bridesmaid as the doors slid together.
Was putting up with lovebirds like that going to be worth it? Would this give her the "closure" Dawn kept harping that she needed? Couldn't hurt. At least not any worse than everything she'd touched in the last year.
Well, everything except her relationship with Dawn. Funny, take them out of California, remove the dozens of houseguests and add a year and they’d become sisters again. Dawn was still sassy and annoying, like a sister should be, but she was also pretty amazing. It was refreshing to be friends; to have someone to confide in, instead of being a drill sergeant and the 'other Summers'.
"Dawn, come quick," said Buffy. She couldn't be translating it correctly. Her Italian was still shaky, that was all.
"What?" Dawn called out from the other room.
"I need you to translate what they're saying," Buffy called back, her fingers tracing the shapes on the television screen. She recognized the place, at least what was left of it.
Dawn popped her head out of the bathroom, toothbrush garbling her words. "Is the world ending or can I rinse first?"
"Something's happened," she said, her voice cracking. "Something's happened to Wolfram & Hart."
She'd never expected they would do their best impersonation of Butch and Sundance. Big damn stupid heroes. She’d always thought there'd be plenty of time to reconcile. Eventually. After nursing her outrage for a little while. And maybe a little groveling on their part. Instead, they died believing she had lost her faith in them. She prayed they weren’t testosterone poisoned enough to think she actually hated them. They had known better, hadn’t they?
Andrew couldn't have said what she thought he just said. He wouldn't be blithely prattling on if he had. That's right, this was Andrew.
"Oh, I almost forgot, I brought this for you, Dawnie. Layover in New York," Andrew said, placing the item in Dawn's hands.
"They sell snow globes in February?" Dawn asked, sounding as muffled as Buffy felt.
"It's the Empire State Building. They sell them all year."
"What did you say?" Buffy demanded, interrupting the nonsense.
"Did you want one, Buffy? Sorry about that. Next time I'll get you one too," he said, moving toward their kitchen. "I'm hungry, you mind?"
"Not the snow globe, Andrew. Before that."
Andrew plucked an apple out of the bowl and bit into it. "Uh, let's see, then I told Angel we didn't trust any of them and they turned over Dana. It was just like when Boromir gave the ring back to Frodo, even though he really wanted it and it was singing to him and all that stuff."
Buffy took a deep breath. "Oh, we'll talk about that in just a minute. Before that."
Andrew swallowed hard. "I, uh, don't remember," he said, taking a big bite and making a show of chewing extra slow.
Her jaw muscles clenched and she fought the urge to shake him. "Spike, Andrew. I clearly heard you mention Spike."
"I did?" he squeaked.
"He's alive?" she said, sitting down next to Dawn.
"But I wasn't supposed to say anything."
She stood up. She was going to be sick. She sat down, hand over her mouth. He hadn't told her? Neither of them thought to tell her? She needed to hit something.
"Here," said Dawn, handing her the snow globe.
She wasn't sure which was more satisfying, the squeal Andrew made as he dropped to the floor or the way it shattered against the door.
She and Dawn had already said their good-byes to Spike. It had felt right to do it together. But this good-bye was different. This was one Dawn told Buffy she needed to do alone. Dawn was right. Buffy would never admit that to Dawn, but her sister was right.
The doors slid open and Buffy stepped onto the observation deck, grateful for the fresh air. Before, she’d wished she could have the place to herself, but now she was glad for the company, even if they were all strangers. She squeezed herself into an open space of railing and watched the sky become a palette of reds and oranges as the sun, and her thoughts, drifted toward the horizon.
Buffy leaned against his office door, closing it with a soft click. Because she wasn't going to be all angry and self-righteous. Instead she was going to calmly walk over to him and be mature and reasonable and Angel was kinda sexy when he was poring over paperwork. She gave herself a mental shake. Serious, Buffy, stay serious.
Angel raised his head, meeting her gaze. "Can I help you, Buffy?"
"Is it true?"
"Is what true?"
She resisted the urge to cross her arms and tap her foot. He knew exactly what she was asking about. As if he hadn't been hiding out here, waiting for her to hear the news from someone other than himself.
"Is it true that you're the new CEO of Wolfram & Hart?" He was still giving her that look. "Stop it."
"I'm talking about you and your sexy look."
"Sexy look?" Angel smiled. "So the law firm isn't an issue?"
Buffy blushed. She really needed to get that internal governor checked.
"Yes," she said, slapping her palms on the desk and leaning in. "It is."
"And your solution is to seduce me back from the dark side?" he asked, looking nowhere near her eyes.
Buffy glanced down, feeling her temperature rise as she realized her pose, in combo with the spaghetti strapped top, was creating the illusion of cleavage. She met his eyes, refusing to move an inch. "Focus, please. Subject is evil law firm and you and CEOness. You can't be serious."
He raised himself out of the chair, mirroring her pose, his face inches from her own. "I'm very serious, Buffy."
Her pulsed raced. He was so playing dirty. Must stay focused. "They're going to eat you alive."
"Not to me."
How did his mouth manage to massage her name just so? She stared at his lips, licking her own and thinking of all sorts of things she'd rather be doing with the desk she was gripping. "Why?" she managed to croak out.
"Because I think it's the best way to fight evil."
"By working for it? That’s not even troll logic.”
"I can think of a couple of cases where goodness overcame a fair amount of darkness. A century or two of it, in fact."
His hand had slipped forward and he was rubbing his thumb over her own.
"Angel…" Why exactly was she brushing her fingertips through the hair at his temples? "It's too dangerous." And I forbid it, she thought, but thankfully her governor had kicked in this time. She wasn't up for that kind of battle of wills with him.
"Buffy." There he went with the mouth massage again. "I have to do this."
"It's what I do now, you know that."
"Yes, but that's not the full story, is it?" She knew she was right. Even if he'd denied it, she'd have known she was right. But he didn't. Instead, his head dipped down and his eyes slid away, confirming her suspicion. He'd never been good at lying to her. She was relieved to see that he hadn't picked up the habit of trying.
"Buffy, it's complicated."
"You're talking to the girl who put the 'lic' in complicated." That got his attention, complete with that grin of his. "Um, that came out a little different than I intended."
Angel leaned in, his lips near her ear, his cheek brushing hers and he whispered, "That depends on what you intended."
"Uh." Such a quippy reply. She closed her eyes and felt his lips trace along her cheek, kissing the corner of her mouth, brushing across her lips and kissing the other corner.
This wasn't on the topic map. But it was just a little detour, right? They'd get back on track. In just a minute.
His fingernails ghosted up the length of her arm. She shivered. She traced the seam of his lips with her tongue. He nipped at it, catching the tip between his teeth and letting it go. Angel wanted to play, huh? Two could play that game. She would, she would… be so off course. It wouldn't be that much more of a tangent to ask him to clear his desk, would it? "Angel?"
"Yes?" he replied through the kisses, his thumb rubbing her collarbone, working the spaghetti strap loose.
"Desk. Stuff. Go."
"Gone," he replied, teasing her lips with smile filled kisses as the in box was pushed off, clattering to the floor.
"Buffy, you gotta see this!" Dawn said as she burst into the room. "Lorne's got every DVD that ever existed. And not just in this dimension. I talked him into doing a double-header of An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle. I'm betting on running commentary too. I figured you'd kill me if I didn't tell you, since we watched them, like what? A million times after you blew up the high school. I never did get the connection, but I thought the whole 'Sunnydale go boom' might be close enough for an encore."
Dawn's babblefest slowed to a trickle as the scene in front of her finally registered. Buffy tried to lean casually against his desk. She could hear Angel smoothing the crinkles out of the paperwork. Real subtle. You'd think Dawn had never burst in on them before.
"And I just figured out the why," said Dawn. "So I'll just pull my foot out of my mouth and back out slowly, 'kay?"
"Very good idea," said Buffy, drilling holes in her sister's retreating form. Too bad blush wasn't the new black, because Buffy would be on the cover of Vogue. She could complete this conversation without needing to turn around and look at Angel, right?
Angel cleared his throat. "Lorne and Dawn seem to be hitting it off."
It was so Angel of him to pretend nothing happened; that her sister didn't out her and her summer of pineage. However, it did make facing him easier and she happily went along with the change in topic. "Yeah, the singing, dancing demon set can't resist her."
"Long story," she said.
"They all are in our line of work, aren't they?"
"Speaking of work, you aren't gonna tell me the real reason for going to Wolfram & Hart, are you?"
"But this," Buffy said, gesturing to them both, "this wasn't just to change the topic, was it?"
"No," he said.
She waited and on cue, his sheepish smile crept out.
"Well, not the sole reason."
She waited another beat, flashing him the knowing smile that was guaranteed to drive him crazy.
"And maybe telling myself I was distracting you was just an excuse," he admitted.
"That's what I thought," she replied. They smiled at each other like fools. Finally, she folded her arms, forcing herself into serious mode. "You know I'll have to leave the Hyperion."
Stupidly, she found herself fighting back tears. It was just your basic post saving-the-world exhaustion, that's all. It wasn't because of the sense of hope that had snuck up on her the last couple of days. The hope that after so much senseless, senseless death, that the world might just be starting to make sense again. It was just exhaustion, that's all.
"Yes," he answered.
"And nothing you want to tell me?"
He didn't even answer. Not that she expected him to. Her hand was on the door handle when he called out to her.
"An Affair to Remember? Someone once pointed out to me that they did, eventually, find each other."
"After they did the whole ultra responsible thing. Someone, a very serious someone, once told me that was the most romantic part." She smiled in spite of herself. "I argued that point, of course."
"The responsible should get to have romance too," he replied. "Someone, a very passionate someone, once told me that."
"Yeah, they should," she said, watching Lorne herd some of her straggling Responsibilities off to the movies and wondering if the passionate girl Angel had known still existed. "But not today."
"No, not today. But someday."
"Promise," he said. Then he was right behind her, whispering into her ear. "One day, when we've seen to our responsibilities, we'll meet again."
"On the top of the Empire State Building?" Buffy murmured, closing her eyes and indulging in the 'let's pretend' as she leaned into his broad, solid chest.
"Sure," he said. "We can meet there. On Valentine's Day."
Buffy felt something resembling laughter bubbling up. "Will there be fireworks too?"
Angel's voice took on a seductive growl. "Quite likely."
She shivered and sought out his mouth, saying good-bye the only way they knew how.
Buffy shivered and pulled her coat tighter. The sun was gone, a breeze was picking up and she still didn't know how to say good-bye. She never thought she’d be the one left behind, not in the permanent sense.
“Sweets for my sweet?”
It couldn’t be. It was just some terrible, cruel joke of fate that made the hawker sound like Angel. She brushed away tears with the palm of her hand, pretending not to have heard him.
It just couldn't be. There must be another 'Buffy' in the crowd. And another man who rolled that same name on his tongue like a fine wine.
She turned around slowly. He really was there. Broad shouldered, billowy coated, broody and beautiful. And holding a bouquet of those crazy heart-shaped sugar cookies.
“Angel? How?” she asked, a million questions running through her head, all of them incomplete. “Are you? And how?”
“How is it I’m not dust? Long story.”
“They always are,” she heard herself say. She wanted to cross the space between them, but she didn’t dare, afraid she'd discover that he wasn’t real.
“Am I real?” He closed the space between them, brushing windblown strands of hair out of her eyes. “Very real.”
Her pulse raced and she tried to catch her breath as she searched his face, his beautiful, timeless face, for answers.
“And how did I know you were here? I had a promise to keep.”
“Angel,” she said, grabbing the lapels of his coat. He was real. “I’m going to be very angry later. I've got a year’s worth of 'you don't write, you don't call, you don't tell me when vampires come back from the dead' to get out of my system. Things could be thrown, including punches. And I’m going to demand answers. There will definitely be answer demanding.”
“But not right now.”
“And right now?”
He grinned like a sailor on shore leave, wrapping an arm around her waist and dipping her low. “I thought you’d never ask.”
She felt weightless and breathless in his arms. When their lips met, the wraith of doubt that had been whispering this couldn't be Angel disappeared like mist in the sun. Every bit of her being remembered these sure, searching kisses; the way her stomach fluttered wildly, the way the world fell away and all she could hear was her heart beating like a hummingbird's wings.
He brought them back upright and Buffy rested her forehead against his, catching her breath. "The clapping? That's for us, isn't it?"
"Yeah, pretty sure it is. You're shaking, Buffy. Are you cold?"
"No, not at all. In fact," she said, kissing him gently, "this is the first time in forever I haven't felt cold." People were still staring at them. "Maybe we should get out of here?"
"Not quite yet."
He glanced at his watch. "Five, four, three, two, one."
With a boom, the sky filled with a chrysanthemum of color.
"Fireworks?" Buffy hugged him close. "You did this, didn't you? You arranged for fireworks."
"I keep my promises, Buffy."
She searched his face, remembering Bridezilla. "You know you didn't need to do this. You know you're what matters to me, not all this girly romance stuff. Not that I don't love the girly romance stuff," she added hastily, "because I do. I just love you more."
Her eyes widened, realizing what she'd said. She thought about all the regrets she'd been carrying around, all the unsaid things she had come here to grieve. It was time to stop having regrets, stop leaving things unsaid. "You heard me, mister. I love you."
He stared at her wordlessly. Had her declaration surprised him that much? Sure, she'd been caught up in the moment, but she did love him, he knew that, didn't he? "Angel?"
"I love you, too, Buffy. I've loved you every day."
Now it was her turn to stare, heart in her throat. There was a time she'd taken his love for granted. Then a time when she was certain that his love was gone forever. And to hear him say it? It set off a whole other kind of fireworks.
She slipped her hand in his. "Promise?"
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