That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

That's The Way The Cookie Crumbles

By smiling_n_michigan

Rating: PG-NC17
Pairing: Buffy/Angel
Summary: This story is set five years post NFA and Chosen. Buffy gets a recon mission from Giles. Will she find more than she expected? Spike and Illyria all survived the big battle, but they went their separate ways afterwards. Buffy hasn’t seen Angel since he dropped off the amulet, but they do chat on the phone once in awhile. Angel’s too busy being on the run from Wolfram and Hart to actually stop by and see her.
Author's Notes: I own nothing. I just play. Exact quotes from BtVS and AtS courtesy of Buffyworld.com and yep, took creative liberty with those. Oh, and I’ve taken creative liberty with the Hilton in Phoenix, too!

***

“I was never much for preachers,” Angel says, smiling.

“Angel.”

“You look good,” he tells her.

She smiles. “You look timely. And also good.”

“Heard maybe you needed a hand.”

Caleb gets to his feet. When Angel moves to go finish him off, Buffy stops him.

“Ah, one of those things you have to finish yourself,” he says.

“Really kinda is.”

Angel backs toward a pillar so he can be out of the way but still see the show. Caleb walks toward Buffy.

Angel crosses his arms and licks his lips. “You are so gonna lose.”

Caleb takes the scythe away from Buffy and punches her, sending her stumbling across the room. Caleb points the stake-end of the scythe at Buffy and charges toward her, with her back against the wall, but he misses, lodging the scythe in the stone wall. Buffy pulls the scythe out of the wall and kicks Caleb away from her.

“God, I missed watching this,” Angel says.

Buffy swings the scythe at Caleb, slicing his stomach. He stumbles back, laughs heartily, wags his finger at her, and falls to the floor.

Buffy says, “See, under control.”

“Well... at least you could tell me you're glad to see me.” He walks towards Buffy.

Buffy drops the scythe to the floor and walks up to Angel, pressing herself against his body and kisses him deeply on the lips.

***

Buffy woke with a start. Angel? She was dreaming about Angel again? Where did that come from? She hadn’t dreamt this much about him since college.

She glanced at the clock. It was only 5:30 in the morning, and technically she had another hour to sleep before the alarm would go off. Figuring she might as well get a head start on the day before her, Buffy threw the covers back and got out of bed.

***

“Buffy!” Dawn yelled as soon as Buffy stepped into the new Watcher Council’s conference room. “You’ll never believe it! They spotted a Gorgon in Greece! I’m trying to convince Giles to let me go, but all he does is clean his glasses and mumble. Can I go to Greece? I’ll bring Andrew with me.”

“A Gorgon?” Buffy asked. She still wasn’t quite awake and she definitely wasn’t ready for the exuberance of her younger sister. Dawn was well on her way to becoming a full-fledged Watcher. “What’s a Gorgon?”

“In Greek mythology, a Gorgon is a feminine creature,” Andrew explained, “whose appearance would turn to stone anyone who laid eyes upon it.” Then he grinned. “And we think this one might’ve had babies.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “I’m gone one night and all this happens? What’s next? Someone see Bigfoot?”

“Actually-”

“No.” Dawn glared at Andrew. “No one’s seen Bigfoot, but the reports say this Gorgon is huge. Can we go to Greece?”

Buffy saw Giles sitting at the long, wooden conference table, sipping his tea, a smile playing across his lips in between sips.

“What?” Buffy asked, in her familiar pose of hands resting on her slender hips.

Giles placed his cup on the table. “I have already sent Faith and a team of Slayers to check out the Gorgon rumor. Andrew and Dawn do not need to follow.”

Buffy didn’t need to look to know that Dawn was the source of the audible sigh. It was no doubt accompanied by an eye roll. “Okay, so…” Buffy left the question hanging.

“I don’t want to look for Bigfoot,” Dawn proclaimed. “Giles is trying to make me and Andrew go to Canada. I don’t want to go to Canada. Canada is boring.”

Buffy arched an eyebrow in Giles’ direction. “You want to send Dawn and Andrew to Canada to look for Bigfoot?”

“Not alone,” Giles said, standing. “They will be accompanied by another group of Slayers.”

“Where am I going?” Buffy asked.

“Not to Greece or Canada, I’m afraid,” Giles said quietly. “We’ve come across information that there is possibly a band of Slayers gathered in Phoenix. We don’t want another… incident.”

Buffy’s sigh was even more impressive than Dawn’s. No, they weren’t sisters at all. “You don’t mean they’re using their powers-”

“Seduced by the dark side, I suspect,” Andrew interrupted. “Given the choice, I would join you in your quest, but alas, Sasquatch awaits me.”

Giles scowled at Andrew. “Willow and Xander are still in England and I need to stay in Cleveland, setting up an even larger command center for the numerous operations we have going on. We do not know if they are renegade Slayers. We’ve just heard murmurings of a ‘gang of women’ appearing in the middle of difficult situations on numerous occasions. Your mission would be one of reconnaissance,” he said solemnly. “And we’re not convinced of any of this ‘dark side seduction’ business. I need you to find out for sure.”

“So who is coming with me?” Buffy asked.

“I know this is not your favorite type of assignment. I’m afraid with Faith overseas, I have no choice but to send you alone.”

***

Dry heat? Like there’s a difference? Buffy could feel herself wilting as she waited for her cab outside the Sky Harbor International Airport. Using the magazine she had swiped from the airplane as a fan, she tried unsuccessfully to cool herself.

She just wanted to get back to her hotel and take a shower. Buffy didn’t really like flying. All that reprocessed air made her feel like she hadn’t taken a deep, fresh breath in hours. And that was the first thing she had done when she had gotten outside. Too bad the joy of fresh air was quickly replaced with the dawning awareness of how hot it actually was in Arizona.

Giles had made reservations for her at the Hilton Phoenix Airport Hotel, which sounded worse than it actually was. When he had told her she was staying in an ‘airport hotel’, Buffy was afraid that she’d have a bird’s eye view of the runway, a tacky hotel room, and no ice machines to be found anywhere. It was Arizona, after all. She was so gonna need ice!

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case; the hotel was actually a couple miles southeast of the airport. And since neither she nor Giles knew how long she’d be staying, he had booked her a suite. Buffy could’ve about kissed him, but that would’ve been way icky.

The hotel was beautiful and Buffy’s room was even better. Decorated in the deep, earthy colors of the southwest, and a balcony that overlooked the pool, Buffy had to keep reminding herself that she was working and not on the much-needed vacation she kept putting off.

She tossed her luggage onto the bed, and went to the balcony, swinging open the doors. The sun had just started to set and the lights of the city were coming alive.

Renegade Slayers? From up here, Phoenix looked perfect. But like anyplace else, Buffy knew better.

Sighing, she closed the balcony doorsand began unpacking. She grabbed what she needed for a shower and she practically dropped it all on the floor when she saw the whirlpool tub that stood in the center of the bathroom.

The jetted tub was big enough for Buffy and five of her closest friends. And if they got chilly, they could light the fireplace that was in one of the corners. Oh, and if they ran out of room in the tub, three or four of them could fit in the stand up marble shower in the opposite corner. If one was in the habit of showering with her three closest friends, which she wasn’t, unless there was a spell involved.

This wasn’t a bathroom, Buffy thought. This is heaven--or almost. She actually had a point of comparison.

***

After a good night’s sleep and a breakfast delivered to her door, Buffy had the entire day to herself. She was pretty sure there wasn’t much she could do to find her renegade Slayers during the day, but getting to know the area first was probably a good idea.

Giving the room a once-over before she left, Buffy saw that the message light on her phone was blinking. She had a message? She grabbed her cell phone to see if she had missed a call on that, too. She hadn’t. Curiosity got the better of her, so she picked up the hotel phone and dialed a few numbers. The message came through loud and clear. A smile slowly began to form on her newly-painted peachy lips.

“Buffy. He’s doing it. Giles is sending me to Canada. Are you sure I can’t sneak off and meet up with you?” Dawn’s voice enunciated the next sentence to such an extreme, Buffy couldn’t help but laugh. “I. AM. GOING. TO. CANADA. WITH. ANDREW. TO. LOOK. FOR. BIGFOOT. Help me!” Buffy heard one of those expressive sighs. “Fine. I’ll go. Giles said he hopes you made it okay and to keep him posted. He’ll call you later. Be safe, Buffy. I love you.” The message ended.

Buffy hung up the phone, the smile still on her face. Just when she thought it wasn’t possible to love Dawn more, she’d go and leave a message like that. It was no wonder that Xander had fallen in love with Dawn. Buffy was pretty sure if Dawn played her cards right, it wouldn’t be long before he was joining her and Andrew in their quest for Bigfoot.

***

“Not much luck, then?” Giles asked.

Buffy leaned back in the chair on the balcony. “Well, if you consider luck finding our renegade Slayers, then nope. No luck.”

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” he said. “Did you get anything accomplished today that could be of help?”

“Get anything accomplished? What? You think I’m just lounging around in my hot tub all day and eating popcorn out on the balcony?” she asked, reaching into her bag of microwave popcorn and popping a piece in her mouth.

Giles laughed. “Good heavens, Buffy. I can hear you chewing.”

Buffy grinned from ear to ear. “I can’t help it. It’s good stuff.”

“I suppose it is.” She could hear the smile in his voice.

Buffy put the popcorn down on the table next to her chair, exchanging it for her notes. “I’ve been going out to different places every night. Haven’t had much luck, so I figured I’d go to the library to look through old newspapers. You know me, research girl.” She rolled her eyes. “I think I may have actually narrowed down the area where our gang of Slayers could be hanging out. And Giles, they’re not bad. At least I don’t think they are. From what I get out of the papers, they’re considered troublemakers because they always seem to be around where trouble is going down. I don’t think they’re causing it; I think they’re trying to stop it.”

“Interesting. Has the newspaper mentioned how many girls we’re talking about? Can we narrow down their numbers yet?” he asked.

“The reports vary, anywhere from two to ten. Take your pick. There’s a town meeting tonight. They have them once a week and I’ve been going to those too. Everyone pretty much agrees with what’s in the newspaper, but no one can catch any of them to verify it.”

“Where do you surmise the Slayers are ‘hanging out,’ as you put it?”

“There’s a bunch of bars and restaurants along Camelback Road. It seems to be a pretty happening spot. A lot of reports have them being spotted after dark around there. Well, that is if you can believe what you read in the papers.”

“That’s where you’ll be going then?”

“As soon as I finish my popcorn!”

“By all means, one must prioritize.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Oh, and Buffy?”

“Yes?”

“Xander flew out to Canada tonight. If her husband can’t placate Dawn, nothing will.”

***

Buffy didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, but she didn’t want to look like goth girl either. She settled on wearing black jeans and a baby-blue, short-sleeved shirt, wanting to be able to fade into the night if she had to, she grabbed the only jacket she had--a black leather one. Leather in Arizona? Not the wisest of choices, but it would cover her shirt if necessary. She slung the jacket over her shoulder; it covered her weapons bag completely.

One day she’d learn to dress for the climate she was in. Today? Not one of those days.

After securing her hair in a ponytail, Buffy grabbed her keycard and put it into the back pocket of her jeans, thankful that they were the stretchy kind. They looked good and she could move in them. A Slayer couldn’t ask for more.

Buffy took a cab the fifteen miles to Camelback Road. Not sure where exactly to start, but knowing she needed something a little more substantial than popcorn, she stopped in a burger joint and ordered a cheeseburger. She made sure she sat in the back, out of the way. She didn’t want any unnecessary attention, and being a single woman alone was like having a big ol’ neon sign above her head reading, ‘Looky here, I’m available’.

“Mind if I join you?”

Buffy’s vamp tingle went off before he even spoke. It hadn’t been dark that long; guy must’ve been lurking in the shadows or something. Setting down her burger, she looked at him and said, “I was just having a quick bite and then I was going to leave. Maybe next time.”

“This time seems fine to me,” the vamp said, sitting down across from her. “From what I can tell, you got a few more bites left. It’s no fun eating alone… well, sometimes it can be, depends on what exactly you’re eating.” He winked at her.

Eww. Buffy lost her appetite. “I was done anyway.” She pushed her plate away. She was tempted to compliment him on his mullet hairstyle, but thought better of it.

“So, do you want to go somewhere? Have some fun?” he asked expectantly.

“Do I look desperate?” Buffy asked, the question flying out of her mouth before she had time to think about it. She really needed to work on that. “I mean, seriously. Does this work? This entire ‘eating’ thing you have. Do women actually say, ‘Gee. What a nice guy you are. Even though we just met, I’d be more than happy to walk off into the dark with you, because you’re so retro and talking about food?’”

“No wonder you’re alone. You’re kind of a bitch,” he said, leaning back in his seat. “You don’t know what you’re missing. I’m guessing I can thaw out that entire ice princess thing you got going there.”

“I believe she said she wasn’t interested.”

Knowing it was safe to turn away, Buffy looked at the four teenaged girls standing next to her table, not one of them looking older than fifteen. The girl who spoke took a protective stance next to Buffy. There was no doubt in Buffy’s mind; she hadn’t found her Slayers, her Slayers found her. For once, fate was being kind.

“What?” the vamp continued. “Did I interrupt a slumber party or something?”

He tried to stand, but the Slayer closest to him pushed him back down into his chair. “Hey!” he protested.

“Sorry, sometimes I like it rough," she said seductively. "I’m Ruth. We’ll party with you. Who needs her? You like having fun? We'll show you fun… times four," she said, jerking her head toward the other girls.

One minute, she was watching the girl’s interacting with retro-guy, and then the next, they had him convinced that leaving with them was a good idea. Buffy was suddenly alone at the table. She had no time to lose, so she guessed what her bill would be, throwing in an extra ten dollars on top of it just to be safe. Buffy grabbed her stuff and raced outside.

Glancing around, Buffy couldn’t see where they all had gone. “Shit,” she said, putting her jacket on. She took a stake out of her bag and tucked it into the waistband of her jeans.

Stepping back, she felt the brick wall of the restaurant. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes. Buffy needed to get in touch with the part of her that would know where they went without actually seeing them. Clearing everything out of her mind, she relaxed and listened. Opening her eyes, she knew which direction they had gone.

***

“Son of a bitch!”

Buffy recognized Ruth’s cry right away.

“Sarah, cover the others. Damn it!” Ruth yelled. A vampire rushed her, shoulder to her stomach, slamming her into the side of an adjoining building. Buffy heard an ‘Oomph,' and Ruth was down.

Buffy dropped her bag; one stake in her hand and another one in the waistband of her jeans, and ran to help Ruth.

Turning suddenly, the vamp used his free hand and knocked the stake out of her grip. Okay… that she wasn’t expecting.

“Hey!” Buffy yelled as she grabbed the vamp with one hand, trying to pull him off the helpless Slayer. She didn’t have much luck. The harder she yanked, the tighter his grip became on Ruth’s neck.

The younger Slayer’s face was contorted in pain and if Buffy didn’t do something quick, she was going to pass out. Buffy started landing punch after punch on the demon’s back until he let Ruth go. Getting up, he spun around, growling. Knowing Ruth was safe for the moment, Buffy reached behind her. She recognized the vamp as the one from the burger place. “Wow. Small world or what?” she quipped, the ‘O’ still forming on his lips as he turned to dust.

Buffy reached down and grabbed Ruth’s hands. “Looks like your friends need some help.” She saw confusion register briefly in the younger Slayer’s eyes, but it didn’t stop her. Ruth launched at the demons her friends had cornered, with Buffy not far behind.

In record time, the girls had taken out the gang of vamps. From what Buffy could tell, the girls had done a pretty good job on their own before she had even shown up.

Standing behind the building, all five of them breathless and dirty, Buffy asked, “Is everyone okay?”

“We’re fine,” Ruth said, eyeing Buffy suspiciously. “Who are you?”

“I’m Buffy… the Vampire Slayer. I’m here to help you.” So much for recon.

“Buffy?” Ruth asked. “You said, ‘Buffy’, right?”

“You’re kidding,” Sarah said. “That can’t be your real name.”

“What kind of name is Buffy?” asked the smallest of the four Slayers. She rolled her eyes. “Like I should talk. I’m Phoenix.”

Buffy was taken aback. “Phoenix?”

“Conceived, born and raised here. My parents don’t have much of an imagination.”

“And she’s the normal one,” the fourth Slayer said. “I’m Jill. Yeah, I know. Boring.”

“What are you doing here?” Ruth asked. “We would have known if there were more of us around.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “You said, ‘vampire Slayer’. It’s a thing? I just thought we liked to kick ass.”

Buffy relaxed. “That’s what we’re called. You’ve been at this a while now. I’m sorry I didn’t find you sooner. You shouldn’t have been left out on your own.”

Ruth shrugged her shoulders. “Like it matters. We kinda just fell into it. We do what we do. Not much choice.”

“We’re like celebrities,” Jill said. “Well, maybe not celebrities, but the paper talks about us a lot… but not ‘us’, because they don’t know who we are.”

“Yeah,” Sarah said. “They think we’re some girlie gang beating up the defenseless public. How dumb is that?”

“Welcome to the wonderful world of being a Vampire Slayer,” Buffy said. She glanced around. “They never know. Of course, being Slayers and hanging out behind this building like this, not a good idea. Come on.” Buffy headed around the side of the building, grabbing her bag in the process, hoping the girls would follow her.

Settling back down in donut shop, Buffy began to explain to them what they were and where their powers came from. Buffy was grateful when she realized that she had their undivided attention. Leaving nothing out, Buffy told them how they became Slayers.

“No shit,” Ruth said, taking a bite out of her jelly donut. “I figured it was a hormone boost or something. Some weird puberty thing that no one ever talked about.”

“How did you all get together?” Buffy asked. Giles always wondered if some slaying vibe brought them together in all different cities around the world. They always seemed to wind up in a group.

“Pretty much the way we met you,” Phoenix said after taking a sip of her ice water. “I was out with a bunch of friends one night. The restaurant was too smoky, so I went outside to get some fresh air. One of Anne Rice’s rejects grabbed me and tried to pull me away. And here comes Ruth, about to save the day, when I got the guy’s arm out from around my neck and threw him against the side of a building. Ruth tossed me a stake, and I staked him right there, ashes to ashes and all. We had each been doing it solo and then all of a sudden we had a partner.”

“Yeah, me and Jill hooked up with them after that,” Sarah said. “We just kinda of stumbled across each other one day.”

“Are there guy Slayers?” Phoenix asked, skepticism showing in her eyes.

“No,” Buffy said. “Just girls. Why do you ask?”

“Phee,” Ruth said, no mistaking the warning tone in her voice. “Don’t.”

“She’s one of us,” Phoenix said. “She might know. She seems to know a lot of stuff.”

“Know what?” Buffy asked. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“There’s this guy…” Phoenix began.

Jill cut her off. “He’s been following us. Once in a while he helps us.”

“He never talks. He just kinda disappears into the night,” Sarah added.

“He talked to us that one time,” Phoenix countered.

“He was lying,” Ruth said. “No way I believed any of that.”

“Any of what?” Buffy asked, trying desperately to keep the frustration out of her voice.

Ruth heaved a sigh. “He said something about his name being Angel and that he helped people out, the helpless ones or something.”

“Ruth didn’t trust him,” Phoenix said.

“Ruth doesn’t trust anybody.” Sarah shrugged her shoulders. “The rest of us did and Jill thought he was kinda hot.”

The Slayers then started arguing about what was hot.

Buffy didn’t hear anything except, ‘Angel’.

***

“They said it was Angel, Giles,” Buffy said into the phone. “That’s what they said. He told them his name was Angel and that he helped the helpless.”

“What are the chances that Angel is in Phoenix with you?” he asked.

Buffy sighed. She knew they weren’t good. Angel was on the run and there was no way he’d stay in one place too long. Phoenix had told her that it had been at least a month since the last time they’d seen him. No way Angel would leave a group of young Slayers on their own unless he had to. It just wasn’t like him. He would’ve called Giles to let him know. He had to be gone--left to go someplace else.

“You’re right. I just can’t believe I could’ve been this close to him and not even known it.”

“What else did you learn?” Giles asked gently.

“The girls were on the trail of a gang of vamps that pick up women who are out alone. One would do the picking, so to speak, and bring her to the rest and… well, you know, they’d play first. I don’t need to go into the details.” Buffy shuddered. “But they, I mean we, got all of them tonight. They were really proud of themselves.”

“Do we need to send a Watcher out there? Immediately, I mean,” Giles asked. “Or do you need more time with them?”

“They seem to be adapting pretty well, but they do need a Watcher.” Buffy paused. “I haven’t told them about that part yet. Kind of lost track after they brought up Angel. Maybe in a week or so?”

“Whatever you suggest, Buffy,” Giles said. “I trust your judgment. Please keep me posted, though.”

“Yeah. Sure. Posted,” Buffy said distractedly.

“Buffy? You will see Angel again one day. Of this, I am quite sure.”

“I’m glad one of us is.”

***

This is all Faith’s fault and Buffy is beyond pissed off. He needs this. How can he not see that? He gets weaker as she watches him. Buffy pulls back her right fist and hits his left temple. Angel’s head snaps around but he stays on his feet. He turns back to look at Buffy and she hits him again. He still won’t go down, but it takes him a little longer this time to come back up. Buffy hits him a third time and this time Angel spins back with a growl, vamped out.

He just stands there; staring at her, while Buffy pulls down the shoulder strap of her shirt, knowing what needs to be done, she grabs him by the hair at the back of his head. She looks at him for a moment, making sure he understands what is going to happen. And that it will happen, Buffy firmly pulls his head down against her neck and holds him there, waiting, leaving him no choice.

For a moment they remain like this. Buffy wondering if he’ll do it. Wondering what she can do to convince him that he has to do it. Angel suddenly bites down, shocking Buffy. She gasps with the pain but holds still.

He is holding on to her now, their bodies pressing tightly together. All Buffy can feel are his lips on her skin, his teeth in her neck and her life force slowly being drained from her.

Buffy whispers, “Oh, Lord,” and she slowly sinks backwards to the floor, Angel following her down.

Buffy moaned in her sleep, touching the mark on her neck and whispering Angel’s name.

***

“Where’s the last place you saw him?” Buffy asked, smiling as she watched the girls check out her hotel room.

“Wow!” Phoenix said. “When we grow up, will we get to stay in rooms like this, too?”

“Have you seen the bathroom?” Sarah asked. “I could live in there!”

“She’s not much older than we are,” Ruth said, ignoring Sarah. “Are you?” She glanced at Buffy, obviously waiting for an answer.

“Kinda thinking I am,” Buffy said.

“Who cares?” Jill said. “Gives us something to look forward to.”

“Yeah, if we live that long,” Sarah added.

“I hate it when you’re PMSing, Sarah. You're such a bitch.”

“Hate to interrupt,” Buffy said, interrupting, “but can we talk about Angel?”

Phoenix plopped down on the bed. “Oh, sorry. Last time was… Shit. Where were we?”

Ruth sat down next to her. “That cemetery off of 23rd. What’s it called?”

“Greenwood Memorial, I think,” Jill said. “They combined a bunch of them into one.”

Combined cemeteries? Buffy quivered at the thought.

“That’s right,” Sarah said. “Like four of them.”

“So what is this Watcher thing?” Ruth asked, changing the subject. “Somebody is gonna spy on us all the time or what?”

“No,” Buffy said. “They’ll help train you. Be there to help you out. Moral support. Pinpoint badness before it actually happens, which is a really good trick… portents and all.”

“Por-what?” Phoenix asked.

“Portents,” Buffy clarified. “There are certain signs that tell you if something really bad is coming. With the help of your Watcher, sometimes you can stop it before the badness goes down.”

“What kinds of signs?” Sarah asked.

“Earthquakes, frogs falling from the sky, stuff like that. But being Slayers, you need to pay attention to your dreams,” Buffy said. “They tell you a lot, even though you may not realize it at the time.”

***

“You know, in the midst of all this insanity, a couple things are actually starting to make sense. And the guy thing…” Buffy sighs. “I always feared there was something wrong with me, you know, because I couldn't make it work. But maybe I'm not supposed to.”

“Because you're the Slayer?” Angel asks her.

“Because… okay, I'm cookie dough. I'm not done baking. I'm not finished becoming whoever the hell it is I'm gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day I turn around and realize I'm ready. I'm cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat…” Buffy’s eyes go wide as she catches herself, “or enjoy warm, delicious cookie me, then...that's fine. That'll be then. When I'm done.”

Angel is thoughtful for a moment, a small smile flits across his lips. “Any thoughts on who might enjoy…” Angel sighs. “Do I have to go with the cookie analogy?”

***

“I can do this,” Buffy whispered to herself as she walked through Greenwood Memorial. The girls weren’t kidding; this place was huge, and kind of creepy.

Buffy had been tempted to invite them along, but that would entail explaining something Buffy didn’t feel like going into. The girls thought Angel was a guy that helped them out for a while and then disappeared and that’s how Buffy was going to leave it. For the time being, anyway.

Oh, look, a newbie. Buffy could sense him circling around behind her. Before he could do anything, Buffy turned on him, throwing up her arm to block his attack, and then she staked him with her opposite hand.

Sometimes she thought it had become too easy… but only for a second, and then reality usually came crashing back in.

Buffy trudged along. She checked mausoleum after mausoleum, not finding much of anything but a newbie here and there. She came across yet another crypt, expecting an undead-ugly or two, but instead, she found herself face-to-face with a baker’s dozen… and they weren’t all that new.

This couldn’t be good. “Hey, guys,” she said, cheerfully. “Think I took a wrong turn someplace.” Using her stake, Buffy motioned back over her shoulder. “Guess I need to back up and see exactly just where that wrong turn was.”

Buffy managed to dust four vamps before she was surrounded. Two of them held her arms tightly behind her back. She sucked in a sharp breath, hoping they didn’t pull her arms too much tighter. If they did, she was pretty sure they wouldn’t be attached anymore.

One of the demons stood just in front of her. Buffy would’ve struggled to get loose if she wasn’t in so much pain. She hated when they got in her face. Still, he got closer, his chest lightly brushing hers. She wished she could stop breathing. If she could do that, he wouldn’t be touching her at all.

“You must be a real Slayer,” the vampire said. “Not one of those prepubescent pains in the ass that have been running all over town. Easy to get away from them, but you’re different. I can tell.” He kept his eyes on her and slowly reached behind her, taking the stake out of her waistband with one hand, his other hand lingered on her hip. “I’ll take this one, too.”

“You know what they say,” Buffy said. “Dare to be different.” The two behind her jerked on her arms again, rougher this time. “Fine. Enough. Uncle.”

“Bring her!” he demanded. “She might come in handy.”

The Brother’s Grimm dragged Buffy toward the mausoleum she’d had the misfortune of stumbling across. Another vamp opened the door and shoved her through.

“Put her in the back,” the lead vamp ordered.

Buffy was always surprised how many chambers these things could have… if people only knew.

Opening another door, she was shoved roughly into another room. She tried her best to maintain her balance and she would’ve been okay if she hadn’t had tripped over something on the floor. Buffy flew into the back wall, skinning the palms of her hands in the process, but at least she didn’t fall.

“Ow. They really need one of those, ‘warning bump’ signs in here,” she mumbled, wishing her eyes would adjust to the darkness a little faster.

“I’ve been called a bump on a log before. Does that count?””

Buffy’s breath caught in her throat. She wasn’t sure what registered first. The familiar vamp tingle or the voice she had been dreaming about. It couldn’t be.

“Angel?”

“How’s it going, Buffy?”

“Angel?” Buffy repeated, grateful that her eyes were finally starting to adjust to the darkness, if only a little. She went to him and bent down. “Is it really you?”

“Last time I checked,” he said.

Angel tried to stand, obviously weak, so Buffy took his arm and helped him to his feet, ignoring the stinging sensation she felt in her skinned palms at the contact. “Are you okay? How long have you been here? What happened?”

Buffy didn’t need a lot of light to see the smile that flickered across his lips. “Did you want me to answer all them or can I pick the one I want to answer?” he asked.

Buffy smiled. “Sorry. I came here looking for you. I guess I’m just surprised that I actually found you.” Buffy squinted and tried to see if there was more than one door in and out of the place. “Thinking we escape now, catch up later.”

“Don’t need to tell me twice.”

“Are you strong enough? Can you fight?” Angel’s confidence flickered briefly, but Buffy caught it. “What?”

“They haven’t been giving me… much to eat. I’m hanging in the ‘a little weak’ section of the bench right now.”

Buffy sighed heavily. “There’s got to be a way to get out of here. Sit,” she said. “I’m going to check things out.”

“Buffy,” Angel said, moving to a corner and sitting down. “There’s a window over there.” He pointed to the furthest corner. “I was too big to fit through it. You’re looking a lot better than the last time I saw you, but might be just the right size.”

“What? Are you saying I’m fat?”

Angel put his hands up in surrender. “No, you look good. Really good, actually.”

Buffy didn’t have the desire to argue with him, and to be honest with herself, the last time she had seen him she wasn’t looking her best. The stress of dealing with The First and all the new Potential Slayers had gotten to her and she had lost a lot of weight. Add that to seriously lacking in sleep… “I get it. It’s okay,” she finally said.

After making her way to the corner, she examined the window. It was kind of small, but she was pretty sure if she could pry the bars out, she could wriggle through. The only problem that Buffy could see was getting the stupid things out. “Okay, need something for these bars. They don’t look all that sturdy, old and crumbly is more like it.” Buffy shook her head. “Can you help me try to pull them out?”

Angel hesitated and then said, “I’ll try.”

Buffy watched as he got up slowly, he could barely walk. She hadn’t seen him this weak since… Buffy flashed back to her dream. Drink me. Buffy’s talk with the Slayers, “Watch your dreams, they tell you a lot, even though you may not realize it at the time.”

“You need to… drink? Don’t you? It’s been too long since you’ve fed?”

Angel walked slowly to her. Taking her hand, he placed it on his chest. “It wouldn’t help.”

“What?” she stammered. Buffy kept her hand on Angel’s chest. The realization hit that the throbbing she felt wasn’t from her injured hand. It was Angel’s heart… his heartbeat. “What?” was all she managed to say.

“Shanshu.”

“Sand shoe? What’s a sand shoe?”

Shanshu prophecy. Thought I signed it away. I guess The Powers figured my name on it sealed the deal.

Buffy was beyond confused. “What deal? What are you talking about?”

“The ‘humanity’ deal,” he said, somewhat disgusted. “Would’ve been nice to have been warned. Thought I was dust one minute, and I’m breathing it in the next.”

“So you’re human and now you’re here?” Buffy said, still having a hard time getting her brain around what she was hearing. “What are you doing here?”

“Your welcoming party,” Angel motioned to the door, “has been trying to work a deal with Wolfram and Hart... too dumb to realize that the big old evil law firm isn’t interested in me anymore.” He shook his head. “Maybe I should thank them. At least now I know.”

“So they just left you here?”

“Figured they would’ve turned me. Told me I was more manageable this way.” He shrugged. “No one wants Angelus as their enemy. Can’t say that I blame them.”

“And you’re alive.”

Angel smiled. “Yeah, we pretty much just covered that.”

“So you need food. Like real food, not the luscious goodness that’s me,” Buffy said.

Angel arched an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t exactly say that. Could go for a cookie.” He smiled.

Buffy blushed. “You remember that, huh?”

“Memorable analogy.”

“Wait!” Buffy said as she began going through her pockets. “I forgot I had this.” She pulled a king-sized candy bar out and handed it to him, catching the bemused expression on his face. “It’s a girl thing. Sugar buzz. Never know when you might need one.”

Buffy glanced over her shoulder and watched as Angel ate, no inhaled, the chocolately goodness she bestowed upon him. She was having a hard time understanding everything she had learned in such a short period of time. She was trapped with Angel, human Angel, and he was eating candy. Shaking her head, and making herself focus on the task at hand, Buffy took the belt off her jeans, and knotted it through the weakest-looking bar. Making sure she had it tied securely, and using the wall for leverage, she began to pull—hoping her strength would be enough to free them both.

Buffy’s raw hands were screaming out in protest every time she pulled, but all that was soon forgotten. Her breath caught in her throat when she felt Angel’s body slide up behind her, she automatically leaned into him, using his body for even more leverage as his arms came around her sides, Angel grabbed the belt and she could feel him from head to toe. She relaxed against him as they began pulling hard on the bar.

Knowing she should be focusing on their escape, and not the feeling of the man behind her, or the thought of a gypsy curse that no longer existed, or a stupid cookie analogy she had used once upon a time… Buffy pulled even harder.

***

They waited until dawn before Angel hoisted Buffy up and started pushing her out the tiny window. Since neither one of them had anything to launch their assault with, they figured they’d use the only weapon they had - Mr. Sunshine.

“Hey!” Buffy protested as he pushed a little too hard. “Watch it.” Hmm, Angel hands on her butt.

“I am.”

She could’ve sworn there was a mischievous grin accompanying those words. And then she noticed the one on her own face.

They couldn’t have timed it better. The sun was up and Buffy could see it shining over all the buildings and through the trees. “Wait here,” she said.

Buffy cautiously worked her away around the side of the tomb, it might be daylight, but she still didn’t want to take any chances. She passed by the front of the building quietly, making sure no one had spotted her yet. Moving beyond it, Buffy looked for anything she could use as a weapon. She came across a wooden bench a few yards away. Buffy kicked at it a couple times, hoping she wasn’t making too much noise and quickly scooped up her makeshift stakes. With the sun at her back, Buffy slowly opened the crypt door.

Two of the undead dudes had the misfortune of being on guard duty. As Buffy peeked inside, she saw that they had fallen asleep in direct line of the door. Opening it quickly and quietly, Buffy watched as the sun hit them. They gasped and quickly tried to move out of the path of light. Buffy rushed in and staked them both, not wanting to draw any unwanted attention. By her count, she had seven more to go.

The next four were sound asleep in another room. Moving quietly and expertly, Buffy took all of them out without waking up the others before it was their turn.

She searched all the remaining rooms, and couldn’t find anymore vamps. Figuring they had gone someplace else for the night, Buffy went to get Angel out of his cell.

Kicking at the lock on the outside of the door, it finally broke and fell to the floor. “Let’s go,” she said.

“Yes. Let’s.”

Buffy was just about to take Angel’s hand when he suddenly grabbed the stake she was holding and pushed her down to the floor. Looking back over her shoulder, Buffy saw the head vamp standing behind her. Where had he come from?

One minute he was standing there and the next he was turning to dust. The demon had never seen the stake Angel had hurled into his chest.

“Couldn’t let you have all the fun,” Angel said, reaching down to help her up. “Now, we can go.”

***

“The sun isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” Angel said, holding the door open for Buffy as they walked into the hotel lobby.

The temperature in Phoenix was pushing one hundred and ten degrees. “Nothing like a little dehydration to put things into perspective,” she said, walking in front of him and pushing the up button on the elevator.

“You'd think I’d be getting used to it by now,” he said, following Buffy into the mirrored elevator. “Maybe I should’ve gone someplace else besides the desert this time.”

Buffy didn’t need to ask how long the ‘now’ was. The big battle with Wolfram and Hart had gone down almost five years ago. What Buffy wanted to know was why Angel had hidden himself away from her all that time. As usual, what came out of her mouth was something entirely different.

“What is it with all the ‘dry heat’ talk anyway? Hot is hot. Dry, moist, whatever--like it makes a difference.” Buffy glanced over at him. “How come you don’t look all wilty? You look good and you’ve been a prisoner for a month.” And hiding from me for even longer, she thought. That was when she caught their reflections in the mirror, her own questioning thoughts quickly forgotten. “Wow.”

“What?”

“Shh. I’m basking.” She met his gaze in their reflections, holding it until they stepped out of the elevator.

***

Standing in front of her door, Buffy hoped that she hadn’t lost her keycard in the scuffle. Fishing into the back pocket of her jeans, she located it and slid it into the lock. After hearing the familiar clicking sound and seeing the indicator light go green, she opened the door.

“Finally,” she exclaimed, tossing her key on the nightstand. Buffy fell onto the bed, grabbed a pillow and shoved it under her head. “I’m a little out of practice of being up all night. That’s what the younger slayers are for,” she said, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a yawn.

Angel looked at her expectantly, arching an eyebrow. Buffy’s eyes grew wide, realization dawning a little too late. She might’ve well just have held a sign above her head saying, ‘Take me.’

What was she thinking? Oh, right. She wasn’t. Buffy jumped up. “You need something to eat and, um, drink and maybe a shower? You don’t have any clean clothes to change into, do you? Maybe I could call the concierge to bring you something up? What size are you? Or maybe you should call?” Buffy babbled. She grabbed the room service menu off the side table and tossed it to him. “Order anything you want. Anything. If you can’t wait, there are some glasses and there’s a small fridge with bottled water and stuff. I think you should start there. I’m going to take a quick shower because of the hot and dirty… from the heat… the heat outside and the fighting… which you know about ‘cause you were there… and now I’m leaving."

Buffy bolted into the bathroom and slammed the door shut. What in the hell was that about? Tired. She was tired. She imagined the longing way Angel had looked at her when she tossed herself on the bed. She had to attribute everything that ran through her mind, and body, to exhaustion. She was tired, dirty and hungry. Everything would be a lot clearer once she took care of those extenuating circumstances.

***

A cool shower was doing wonders in more ways than one. The shock of the water reduced the shock of finding out that Angel was alive; even though she was pretty sure she had just made a fool out of herself.

Buffy should be used to living in the shock-zone. Shock was part of her everyday life. She thought she had gotten used to it, but this entire dead/not dead thing? Not so much.

Spike’s undead, then dead and then undead in L.A.; Angel’s undead and then Angel’s alive in Phoenix. Buffy had even done the dead and alive thing a couple times herself. If that wasn’t enough to make somebody crazy, nothing would.

She got out of the shower and reached for a towel, realizing a little too late, that she had forgotten to grab a change of clothes in her rush to be free of Angel’s penetrating gaze. Too bad she had left the hotel-supplied robe on the chair next to the bed.

Knowing there was no way she was putting her vamp-dust coated clothes back on, Buffy made sure her towel was wrapped securely around her and peeked out the bathroom door.

Angel was sitting in one of the chairs by the balcony doors, bare feet crossed at the ankles, staring at the room service menu. Without looking up, he said, “I don’t know what to order. I think I want it all.”

So much for the quick dash. “Angel, I kind of forgot to grab something to wear. Do you mind?” she asked timidly.

Angel finally looked up. Buffy didn’t need to see her reflection in the mirror to know that she was blushing from head to toe.

“Can’t say that I do.”

And he so wasn’t helping. “Can you toss me that robe, please?”

Buffy watched as his eyes scanned the room, locating the robe. He picked it up, calmly looking her over as he took his time moving across the room to hand it to her.

“Nice towel,” he said, a look of approval taking over.

“Thanks,” she said, reaching for the robe. In her haste she didn’t pay attention to where she was grabbing and found herself clutching Angel’s firm arm instead of the thick terrycloth. “Sorry,” she blurted out. Buffy pulled her hand back as though she had touched something hot. Where was all this coming from? It was Angel!

She tried again, this time successfully snatching the robe, and for the second time in less than an hour, Buffy was slamming the bathroom door again. Now how in the hell was she going to get her clothes?

She put the robe on and made herself relax. She was acting like a teenager with a crush, and it was getting old quick. Things had changed too fast. For years Buffy had refused to think about herself and Angel being anything more than friends. The curse. That stupid curse always came to the forefront. Friends. That's what they were. That's what they were always going to be. Right?

But now? Gathering all the courage she could, Buffy opened the bathroom door and walked out into the hotel room. “I forgot my clothes,” she said, snatching some quickly out of one the drawers. “I’ll be right back.”

As she closed the bathroom door again, she thought she heard Angel call out, “You’re not the only one who gets to bask.”

***

Once Angel had finished his shower and changed into new clothes, neither he nor Buffy had much luck in deciding on what they wanted to eat. They finally ordered a little bit of whatever sounded good.

They started off with soup, lobster bisque, and from there went to their salads and bread with butter. In no time at all, they were sampling their main courses.

“Taste this,” Buffy said, passing her fork to Angel. “Melts in your mouth.”

“What is that?” he asked. “The steak?”

“Yes, with the garlic mashed potatoes…” Buffy paused, her eyes growing wide. “I dipped the steak in the potatoes. Garlic! Sorry about that.”

Angel laughed. “Garlic? Not much of an issue anymore.”

Guess he had a point there. “What was the deal with the vampire-garlic thing anyway?”

“Fends off evil spirits and it represents health and life, two things vampires aren’t big fans of. Besides, with enhanced vampire abilities, it smells really, really bad,” he said smiling and handing Buffy her fork back.

Once they finished their entrees, they moved onto dessert. “I can’t do it,” Buffy said, pushing the plate of half-eaten blueberry cheesecake away. “I think I may burst.” She stood up and stretched. Looking at his empty dessert plate, she said, “I can’t believe you ate that much.”

“I haven’t eaten decently in a month.” Angel stood up and walked out onto the balcony. “Nice view. Glad to see everything is working out for you,” he said as he leaned on the balcony railing.

Buffy followed him out, stopping beside him. “Kinda is. Who would’ve thought it?”

Angel turned and looked at her. “You’ve earned it.”

“You sound like Giles.”

Angel laughed. “Four words I never expected to hear.”

Buffy yawned. “Okay, now I’m even more nappy.” She glanced at him, a sly look on her face. “That’s what happens when I eat too much. I’m surprised that you’re not passed out on the floor by now.”

“You’re not going to let me forget how much I ate, are you?”

“Not today and probably not tomorrow. I’ll get back to you about it sometime next week.”

Angel’s quick grin vanished as his eyes took on a thoughtful quality.

“What?” she asked.

“I missed you,” he said.

“I missed you, too.”

“So,” he said, standing back up. “I bet Giles will be all over this Shanshu thing, huh?”

Buffy wasn’t one to look a gift change-of-subject in the mouth. They were starting to tread in territory that neither one of them thought they’d ever step foot in again. There were so many things Buffy wanted to ask him, the big one being why he hadn’t told her he was human again, but she didn’t have the energy for a big discussion right now, and by the looks of Angel, he didn’t either.

“Giles?” she said. “Just wait until Dawn finds out.”

“Dawn.” He sighed. “She’s not a kid anymore is she?”

The pride radiated off of Buffy in waves. “Nope. Dawn’s basically a Watcher, even though we keep teasing her that she’s still in training. And, um, she’s a wife.”

“What?” Angel blurted out. “She’s married? Somebody actually made it past you?”

“You know him.”

“I do?” Angel asked, confused.

“Pretty well, too.”

Angel’s eyebrows creased in concentration. Buffy turned her head and laughed quietly. She knew no matter how long he thought about it, there would be no way Angel would figure out who Dawn had gotten married to.

“I give up,” he finally said.

“Xander.”

“Harris?”

“That would be the Xander.”

Angel walked inside and sat down on the bed… hard. “Xander?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Harris?”

Buffy couldn’t help but laugh. Following him in, she went and sat down next to him. Taking his hand in her already healed one, Buffy felt the warmth that resided there for the first time. “Wow,” she said, Dawn and Xander’s nuptials quickly forgotten. “You’re so warm.”

“Takes some getting used to.”

“I don’t think it will take that long,” Buffy reassured him.

Their eyes met and held. Buffy wasn’t sure who moved first, but before she knew it, their lips were touching. Buffy closed her eyes, just savoring the feel of Angel’s warm lips on hers, enjoying the feel of him as he stood up, taking her with him. Lips slowly opened and tongues began to entangle, tentatively at first and then with more longing… their gentle kissing turned into something more.

Buffy’s arms moved slowly, encircling Angel’s neck. She pulled him closer to her, wanting to feel all of him, taking absolute pleasure in his warmth from head to toe to… Buffy smiled to herself as she realized that wasn’t all she was feeling.

“Buffy,” Angel began, suddenly pulling away, “We should…”

“You’re right,” she interrupted. What was she doing? What were they doing? “We need to, um, get some rest. Rest is good.” She walked around him and pulled the covers down on the king-sized bed. Should she have gotten him his own room? Maybe he could sleep in one of the chairs? The too-small under-stuffed chairs. No, that wouldn’t work. The bed was big enough. Maybe they could manage it without things getting even more uncomfortable?

“Good thing this bed is big enough for both of us. And we won’t even need to worry about getting in each other’s way,” she finally said.

“Buffy…” he tried again.

“Angel, it’s all good. Let’s just get some sleep. Okay?”

Angel just stood there and looked at her. Buffy knew there was more he wanted to say, but knew when it was time to back off. He knew her that well.

Finally, he nodded his head in agreement and walked to the opposite side of the bed. He took off his shirt and tossed it into a nearby chair. “Are you okay?” he asked one last time, glancing at her over his shoulder.

“It’s fine. I'm fine. Now let’s sleep.”

With one last look at him, Buffy climbed into the bed, making sure she faced away from him. Even though the bed was large enough for a couple of people to fit between them, she hung as close to the edge as she could.

Every time Angel moved, Buffy's heart raced. Adrenaline and sleep were not mixy things, but exhaustion finally took its toll. She listened as Angel’s breathing steadied, and then deepened and then finally turned to snores. And then shortly after that, Buffy’s eyes finally fluttered closed.

When Buffy awoke hours later, her head was on Angel’s chest and his arm was wrapped around her. It was the most secure she had felt in a very long time.

***

Angel was awake and afraid to move. He didn't want to startle her. A startled Buffy would be a Buffy who bolted out of bed. She would start puttering around the room and babbling about how much they had to do, what they should do next, and God only knew what else.

He just wanted to lay there with his eyes closed, his nose nuzzled in her hair, taking her in and enjoying every single moment of it. Part of him suspected it would end too soon, that he wouldn't get another chance.

How many second chances did one man get?

Why had he hidden himself from her? He knew it would only be a matter of time before she asked him. What would he say? There was a time when he thought she'd be the first one he would run to if the Shanshu prophecy actually got fulfilled. It did, he didn’t and he had no answer why.

Who was he trying to kid? He knew why. The temptation would be too much. They’d been here once before, even if she didn’t know it.

The Mohra demon had said that the End of Days was coming. Angel needed to be exceptionally strong and immortal to be able to battle whatever that was. Everyone's lives would depend upon it. Well, the End of Days had come and gone, and Angel was still here. So was Buffy.

What made this time any different than that one?

What if something similar came across their paths again one day? Would Buffy need to protect him? Would he eventually become a liability? Angel honestly did not know.

They hadn't crossed the line yet and the longer Angel stayed here like this, the greater the chance he had of totally losing himself in her. He’d just succumb and not hold anything back. He would tell her that she was and would always be his everything--that he had never stopped loving her.

Angel never really believed in fate, and he never really longed for much; but here he was again with Buffy. He had felt a sense of duty more than anything else, and he knew he had done a lot more bad than good in his lifetime.

Buffy deserved to be happy. Did he?

***

Buffy didn’t know how long she had being lying there in Angel's arms, awake and wondering how she could move away without waking him up. The thing that troubled her most was part of her didn't want to move at all. Part of her wanted to snuggle even closer to him, wanted to leave her head on his chest and just listen to his heartbeat.

His heartbeat. Buffy knew it was the first time she had ever heard it, but she had a strange feeling of déjà vu. When she was in college that was all she ever dreamed about--Angel being human and her being with him like this.

And why did she suddenly have a craving for cookie-dough-fudge-mint-chip ice cream?

She nuzzled even closer to him, only realizing her action when she heard, and then felt, his sudden intake of breath.

She could feign sleep. He wouldn't know she was awake. He didn't have those vampire senses that would monitor her pulse rate and body temperature anymore. And then there was that smelling thing. Could a vampire smell when a person was awake? From his vantage point, there was no way he could see if her eyes were open. Should she just keep pretending that she was sleeping and then slowly turn away from him? Make the current situation a non-situation as quickly as she could?

Buffy sighed heavily. She didn't want to. She didn't want to pretend anymore. Life was too short. That, she was beyond pretty sure of. And if she had learned anything, it was to make the most out of what she had, because she never knew when it would be taken away. Buffy wanted him--wanted to be with him.

Last night, she thought he had wanted the same, but she still wasn't sure. If he truly wanted her, why hadn't he told her what had happened to him? Why hadn't he told her that he was alive? Why did it take a chance encounter for her to find out the truth? There were just too many whys in this equation.

All thoughts stopped when Buffy felt Angel move, just a little, but he moved. Holding her breath, she waited to see what he was going to do. Don't get out of bed, she repeated silently to herself. Not yet. Don't ruin this chance. There has got to be more than this.

Buffy's fears were allayed when she felt Angel gently brush away a strand of hair that had gotten entangled in her eyelashes. He didn't stop there. She felt his lips press a soft kiss to the very spot that had once been occupied by that piece of straggling hair.

"Angel..." Buffy began, raising her chin to meet his eyes. The eyes that were saying so much, Angel didn't need to speak. He didn't need to say anything. Buffy knew that look all too well. It was the look that she had grown up with. But the longer she met that gaze, the more she realized that the look was new and old, all at the same time.

The look of love was there; the look of longing was still there. Those were easy to identify since they were so familiar. The other look was new. Or maybe she should say the 'lack of a look' was new. There was no pain. This was the first time she had looked into Angel's eyes and not seen the pain of wanting her and not being able to have her.

As he lowered his head, his lips mere inches away from her own, she pulled away. "No."

"Buffy-"

Buffy raised her hand and placed her fingers lightly against his lips. "Not no as in, 'no'. No as in, 'give me two minutes with a toothbrush.'" She lifted her hand and placed her own soft kiss on his lips. Then she was up and out of the bed, making her way towards the bathroom. Tooth brushing, really good about now.

As she quickly brushed her teeth, she caught sight of the large, marble shower in the mirror’s reflection. A quick rinse wouldn't hurt either. This would be only her second time with Angel, not that the first one wasn't good, but Buffy had been an inexperienced girl then. She was a woman now, and she wanted to make sure that this 'first time' would be the best she could make it. After putting her toothbrush back into the holder, Buffy began stripping off the clothes she had worn to bed.

Reaching into the shower, she fiddled with the knobs until the water was as hot as she could stand it. Buffy opened the door and stepped into the shower, enjoying the feeling of the hot water even more than she thought she would. She scanned the shelves, wanting to pick just the right fragrance for her truly indulgent girlie shower. She settled on the one the hotel provided; thinking something different would be nice. The entire bathroom soon smelled like cucumber-melon.

Buffy couldn't see out of the shower since the glass was steamed up, but her hearing was just fine.

"You're not the only one who gets to brush their teeth," Angel said, walking into the room.

Buffy smeared a clear patch in the glass with her hand and watched as Angel, still wearing the pants he’d worn to bed, walked over to the sink. He wiped his own spot in the mirror and proceeded to brush his teeth. Buffy jumped back when she realized that he was watching her watch him, in the same exact mirror she had used to remind her of the shower.

Buffy was grateful that her face was all he could see through the steam that the shower had created. She backed up, stopping when she felt the warm marble against her back.

"It smells good in here."

"Hotel soap," she blurted out. "I don't usually use it but I wanted something different." Oh, like he cares about that.

"Is there anything in there that won't make me smell like a girl?"

Buffy scanned her collection quickly. "Not looking like it," she said. She watched in amazement as the shower door slowly opened.

"Maybe I should just check for myself?"

Somewhere in between brushing his teeth and opening the shower door, Angel had lost his pants.

So much for the awkward! Angel had gotten rid of that in one fell swoop! Buffy couldn't help it; she let her eyes take him in. All of him in. God, she had missed him. From the immediate reaction she got, he didn't seem to mind the once over, either. She quickly averted her eyes from that one thing that definitely made him all male, willing herself not to blush.

"I think I forgot how to do it," he said, a small smile playing across his lips.

Buffy figured the next move was hers. Moving toward him, she said, "I think it might come back to you… with a little help."

Angel reached out and took her hands in his. "I think you might be right."

Ignoring the water that was raining down upon them, she leaned in and kissed him on the lips. "Minty freshness. Always a good thing."

Apparently, he had had enough flirting. He pulled Buffy to him, their lips touching and their bodies molding to each other. Between the pounding of the shower and the pounding of Buffy's heart, she didn't hear the small groan that escaped her lips. She couldn't do much of anything except react. Angel's hands and mouth were all over her. Where one trailed off, the other one picked up the abandoned trail.

His lips toyed with her lips, his tongue teased her tongue, his hands cupped her butt and pulled her closer to him. Close enough that Buffy could feel his hardness pressing up against her. Angel didn't stop there; his kissing and teasing never lingered in one place long, but long enough to make her shudder. She moaned as he trailed his tongue down her neck and across her shoulder. Not stopping, not ever stopping completely, he continued down, pushing her back against the shower wall, out of the range of the shower spray, teasing each nipple briefly with his tongue, not favoring one over the other. He didn't stop there, but continued down her stomach, circling her bellybutton with his tongue.

Buffy’s breath caught in her throat—Angel was now on his knees and spreading her legs open. She didn’t put up any resistance as he placed one of her legs on his shoulder. The anticipation of what he was going to do was almost more than she could take.

His tongue immediately found her essence, and it took all of her strength not to collapse on the floor as he teased her with his tongue and fingers. Buffy tried to control it, but she couldn’t, it just felt too good. It took all her strength not to collapse onto the floor as Angel brought her to a quick, sweet release.

"You..." she said, breathlessly. Buffy pulled him up and kissed him briefly, he wasn't the only one with a talented mouth. She trailed kisses down his chest, taking her time over his nipples and the muscles of his abdomen before finally taking him fully into her mouth.

Moaning, Angel began to buck his hips. Buffy used her Slayer strength to her advantage and grabbed him from behind so he couldn't pull out or away, which only made him thrust faster and moan even louder.

Holding him completely in her mouth, and working wonders with her tongue, Buffy didn't stop until his thrusts slowed. Only then did she ease up and let him go. She reached up and took his hand as Angel helped her stand. "Told you that you didn't forget how to do it."

Pulling her into his arms, he replied, “We haven't actually done it."

***

Buffy sat on the thick, soft rug as Angel lit the fireplace. Being in the water was fine and good sometimes, but now that she was out, she was cold and kind of wrinkly.

"There," he said, sitting down next to her. "That should help. I've been around awhile, and I can honestly say that this is the first fireplace I've ever seen in a bathroom."

"Kind of nifty, isn't it?" she said, snuggling up next to him. They had called down for another complimentary robe and now they were both bundled and cozy. "You warm enough?"

"Never been warmer. You okay?"

"I'm thinking that I'm way okay," she said, smiling. "Very okay, as a matter of fact." Buffy hadn’t realized how tense she was until she had found a really, really good way to release a lot of it.

"Hungry?"

She was surprised that she hadn't thought of that first. "Now that you mention it, I'm starving."

Angel smiled. "They have a fireplace in here. Would it be too much to ask for a phone? I'll be right back."

He wasn't gone five minutes, but it still felt too long. Buffy was tempted to go and see what he was doing, but the comfy warmth of the fireplace changed her mind. She was far too content to move at the moment, but she did turn around when she heard the door open.

"Breakfast should be here in about twenty minutes. How does strawberry Belgian waffles sound to you?” he said, sitting down next to her again and pulling her into his arms. "Nothing's too good for my girl."

Buffy watched as the shock of what he had said registered on his face. “Buffy… I’m-

She didn’t let him finish. “Your girl,” she stated, tilting her head up toward him and smiled.

Angel met her eyes. "You still my girl?" he asked tentatively.

"Always."

***

A half an hour later, breakfast was delivered. Buffy and Angel sat down to enjoy every morsel of it. "Coffee!" she exclaimed. "Coffee, good. Very good."

"Got to have the cream," Angel said, pouring some into each of their cups. "The flavored ones are the best."

Buffy took a sip and looked at him. She was tempted to pinch herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming. She couldn't help herself. She put her cup down and started laughing.

"What?" Confusion creased his brow.

"Nothing," she stammered, still laughing. She couldn't seem to control herself.

Angel grabbed her coffee cup. "Just how much do you want this?"

"No fair!"

He wasn’t going to budge an inch.

Finally calming herself down a little, she said, "It's just, of all the times I imagined this happening, I never imagined us talking about different flavors of creamer. Ice cream? I could see that. Coffee cream? Not so much."

Angel laughed and set Buffy's cup back down. "It just shows how much we've grown up. We've moved on to the adult-cream-portion of our relationship."

Buffy broke into a smile. "You could say that."

“Now, about your coffee…”

"It'll keep," Buffy said, standing up. "Who needs coffee anyway? Makes you all jittery and spazzed and stuff."

The breakfast cart was quickly pushed aside, their lips meeting in the space where it had stood. Buffy reached for the tie that bound Angel's robe and released it, pulling it off his shoulders, and not bothering to watch it as it pooled at his feet.

"Only one of us is naked," he said, a husky tone taking over.

"That’s okay," she said, pushing him gently until the backs of his knees were against the king-sized bed. She gave him one final shove. "My turn."

"This'll be... interesting." He laced his fingers behind his head.

Buffy stood at the foot of the bed. She untied her robe, but didn't let it drop to the floor. She opened it up just enough so he could see the curve of her breasts.

"More."

Buffy put her index finger up to her lips. "Shhh."

Kneeling on the bed, she slowly moved toward Angel, who had maneuvered his entire body onto the bed, his head and laced fingers resting on one of the pillows.

She reached behind her and tugged the tie off her robe, her entire front now exposed. She sat down gently on his thighs and bent forward, robe tie in her hands.

"You're kidding!"

Buffy shook her head. "Hands, please."

Angel considered it briefly and then presented his hands to her. Buffy made one simple knot and then a more complex one. His hands were now bound together above his head in a funny-shaped, upside-down 'V' and were secured to the headboard.

Knowing that she had him where she wanted him, and knowing that he was extremely curious as to what she was going to do, Buffy leaned down and kissed him, teasing him with her tongue. "No touching."

"Who are you trying to make crazy? Me or you?"

Buffy began feathering kisses along his neck, his ears and his face. Occasionally, her tongue would dart out and catch him off guard; his breath catching and then speeding up again. She leaned forward again, keeping her nipples just out of reach of his mouth. Every time he tried to snare one, she'd raise herself up just far enough so he'd miss, barely.

She had planned on prolonging this entire experience. The plan had been to bring him to the brink and then back off, but when Buffy had leaned forward to tease him once more by licking his nipple, she was a bit too slow and he was ready for her, flicking his tongue out quickly, he licked one of hers and pulled it into his mouth.

Buffy couldn’t control the reaction her body was having to his nearness, so she gave up on the prolonged seduction idea. Pushing herself up to her knees, she positioned herself over him and lowered herself slowly. She stopped when she barely brushed against him.

"Buffy..." Angel moaned.

Breathing even harder, Buffy lowered herself a little further, his tip just inside her. She knew she'd be tight, it had been a while… and it wasn't as though Angel was small.

Angel probably thought she was going slowly to tease him, to make the moment last, which was true, but it wasn't the only reason. She knew she fit him like a glove, that much she remembered. Now she wanted to feel it again.

"I want to feel all of you," she said as she eased herself down a little more, still not taking all of him into her. She knew that all he had to do was push his hips up once, and it would be over, he would be completely inside her, but thankfully, he restrained himself.

Buffy slid all the way down. “God!" She began moving up and down, slowly, her fingers splayed across his hard stomach muscles.

Angel matched her speed at first, and then he started thrusting faster. Buffy didn't think having his hands restrained was such a great idea anymore, so she reached over and untied the knots, tossing the piece of cotton to the floor. His mouth found one of her erect nipples and his hands grabbed her hips. Angel lifted her up and slammed her back down. Up. Down. Up. Down.

Sitting up, Angel buried his face in Buffy’s chest. He held her tightly, thrusting even harder than he had before. She was on the verge; she had that funny feeling in her stomach and she knew it wouldn’t be much longer before everything spilled over into sweet release yet again.

"Angel," she whimpered, feeling her walls tighten around him.

Buffy didn't have time to react. Before she could say or do anything else, Angel lifted her and moved out from beneath her. He took her by the waist, and turned her slowly around on her knees, facing away from him.

“That wasn’t all of me,” he said as he moved her robe out of the way and moved up close behind her. Buffy felt his hardness before she felt the rest of him. Bending over slightly, all she wanted was to have him back inside her again, her insides craving him. As she felt him sliding in, she moved back, taking him in once more, no more teasing. She was too close and she didn’t think she could take one more second.

Angel’s hands came from behind her; one hand began rubbing an already erect nipple. The connection sent a sudden jolt through Buffy’s already over-sensitive body. Before she could recover from that, his other hand found its way between her legs, his fingers squeezing, teasing and rubbing the most sensitive part of her. All his motions were perfectly synchronized and she wasn’t sure how much more she could take.

As he slid in and out, the tempo began to change. Whenever Angel gently squeezed her nipple, Buffy would grind against him harder; whenever he touched her warmth, she would shudder and then move even more quickly. She sensed the urgency in them both.

Angel had been right. Buffy could feel all of him and in this position, his erect penis rubbed against that one spot deep inside of her, all it would take would be for him to hit it one more time--and when he did…

“Angel!” Buffy felt herself tighten around him, her spasms grabbing onto every inch of him.

That was all it took for him. “Buffy. Good! So good.” He pulled her even closer, thrusting even harder.

Buffy shuddered; all of her senses were alive. She could feel everything; the feeling of the cool, crisp sheets as she fell onto her stomach, the sudden rush of cool air as her robe fell away; and then she felt Angel collapse against her back and then she felt him move a little to one side so most of his weight was off of her. She quivered when the soft puffs of his breath caressed her ear. Buffy could hear their heartbeats slowing down. She felt her own pulse return to normal. Nothing could shake her out of this wonderful bliss of being in his arms again, warm and satisfied and loved.

Except…

“Hey, Buffy! You in there?”

It was the unmistakable sounds of her slayers gathering outside their hotel room door.

***

“So what’s up?” Buffy asked, pulling her robe tighter around her as the four girls walked into the room.

Angel had grabbed some clothes and made a mad dash for the bathroom. If Buffy hadn’t known better, she would’ve sworn that he had some leftover vampire speed.

“We woke you up?” Phoenix asked. “It’s like afternoon already.”

“No, I was awake. Had kind of a late night,” Buffy said. She might as well jump in with both feet. “I found Angel.”

“You did? Where is he?" Sarah asked.

“Where is who?” he said, walking out of the bathroom, fully clothed, and looking as though he had been that way for hours.

“Um, you,” Sarah said, turning about four different shades of red.

"Oooh… that explains a lot. Nice little love nest you got going here," Phoenix said, scanning the room and nodding her head.

"Whoa," Buffy said. "There's no nest of love or any other kind!"

"Who could blame her? Look at how hot he is," Jill added.

Angel looked as though he regretted ever having stepped out of the bathroom.

"Besides, if this is a love nest," Ruth said, ignoring Jill and admonishing Phoenix, "it's none of your business."

"All I said was..." Phoenix pushed.

"I'm saying ‘shut it’,” Ruth said. “The reason we’re here,” she said, turning to face Buffy, “is we were talking about that Watcher thing and we think it would be a good idea to get us one.”

“Where’d she find you, anyway?” Jill asked Angel. Apparently it was her turn to ignore someone, Ruth being that someone.

“Cemetery,” he said, standing next to Buffy.

“As in the cemetery we all were in together?” Phoenix asked.

“That would be the one,” he replied.

“What were you doing there?” Sarah asked.

“He was being held by a bunch of vampires,” Buffy supplied.

“And we left you there?” Phoenix asked.

“Oops,” Sarah and Jill said in unison.

Ruth shook her head. “Told you we needed a Watcher.”

***

It was almost two weeks before the new Watcher could fly in from England. Giles kept apologizing to Buffy because he had promised it wouldn’t take longer than a week, but she really didn’t care how long it took. The sooner he showed up, the sooner she’d need to find out what Angel was going to do when she had to go back to Cleveland.

They had spent a lot of time on the phone with Giles during those two weeks, Giles asking them all sorts of questions regarding Angel’s newfound humanity. A prophecy had been fulfilled and it came as no surprise that Giles required all of the details. Every time he would start to ask her another question she didn’t have the answer to, she would interrupt and tell him that he probably should be talking to Angel. Maybe Angel would tell Giles what his plans were and then Buffy wouldn’t need to ask him herself.

In the meantime, they spent most of their time training the four Slayers. Angel taught them defensive moves and swordsmanship… with it only taking a week for the girls to get over their awe of his hotness. Now, they were beyond impressed with how much he knew and how graceful he was. Their respect was ever-growing.

Buffy was grateful for his help. There was no way she could closely train all four girls at the same time—especially with the luck she had with the Potential Slayers back in Sunnydale. Training wasn’t exactly her forte. Now she was starting to understand why Giles sent her on recon so much.

Since Angel was human now, the training left him exhausted. But no matter how tired he and Buffy were, they always found time for each other.

Tonight was the night they all had been waiting for. The new Watcher was flying in and the girls were excited about meeting him. All told, Buffy was ready to go back to Cleveland. She missed everyone, but Dawn most of all.

“Do you know this guy?” Angel asked as he tucked in his shirt and zipped up his pants. “Ever meet him?”

“Yeah,” Buffy said, applying a coat of lip gloss to her kiss-swollen lips. “Dane seems to be a pretty good guy.”

“Dane?”

“Yeah.”

“As in ‘great’?”

Buffy smiled. “I wouldn’t know.”

***

The meeting went more smoothly than Buffy could have hoped for. Add that to the fact that Dane looked like a younger version of Sting with eyeglasses, didn’t hurt either.

The girls and Dane hit it off almost immediately. Most of the time, Buffy found herself just sitting back and watching the interaction between them, Angel saying even less than she did.

“How old are you anyway?” Phoenix asked, taking another bite of her cheeseburger.

“Does it make a difference?” Dane said.

She shrugged. “Guess not.”

“I’m twenty-seven.”

Saran and Jill both dropped their burgers into their plates and then gave each other a high-five.

“Told you! You owe us twenty bucks,” Sarah said to Phoenix. “Ten for me and ten for Jill, baby.”

Phoenix rolled her eyes.

“What’s that all about?” Buffy asked, setting her fork down.

After shooting a disgusted look at Sarah and Jill, Phoenix said, “When we were in the bathroom, we started talking about how old we thought Dane was. I said thirty, and they said he wasn’t that old. We bet on it, and as you can see, I lost.”

“So now I’m old?” Dane asked amused.

“Nooo, if you were thirty you’d be old,” Phoenix corrected him.

Buffy laughed. “Thirty is old?” She felt Angel nudge her under the table. Had she been like that at fifteen? She smiled when she thought what their reaction would be if they ever found out how old Angel actually was.

“Trust me,” Angel added. “Thirty isn’t even close to being old.”

“Doesn’t matter to me how old he is,” Sarah said. “I got ten bucks coming.”

Buffy wondered if the girl would ever see the money.

Before the entire age discussion popped up out of nowhere, Dane had been talking to the girls about their new-and-improved training schedules. Buffy smiled as he expertly steered the conversation back on track.

“Thank goodness my age won’t hinder my ability to ensure that you are properly trained,” he said. “Our first priority is to hone the skills you already possess. In order to do that, we must train daily. Mostly we will train as a group, but as I get to know each of you better, there might come days when I will work one-on-one with each of you. All these skills will help keep you alive.”

“That ‘entire keeping yourself alive’ thing… really important,” Buffy said with a little more emotion than she had intended. “You can’t keep others alive if you’re dead. So make sure you pay close attention to Dane, just like you did with Angel during your training--especially the one-on-one training. That’s very important.”

“Like by ourselves? With just Dane?” Ruth asked.

“Is there an issue with that, Ruth?” Dane asked.

“Um, no. That would be okay,” she said, not exactly looking him in the eye.

It took a minute for it to hit Buffy, but if she didn’t know better, she would’ve thought Ruth was blushing. It couldn’t be. A crush? The tough, no-nonsense Slayer had developed a crush on her new Watcher?

Throughout the rest of the conversation, Buffy stole occasional glances at Ruth. She would look at Dane briefly, but quickly avert her eyes if his glance ever came her way. If their eyes did meet by chance, Ruth would smile nervously and then start fiddling with something on the table. Jeez, maybe Buffy should give Dane a heads-up. Being a guy, he probably didn’t even notice.

In that moment, Buffy felt a sudden rush of sadness. She was going to miss these girls. She always tried not to get too attached when she met new Slayers. She knew that if they did survive, she would probably never see them again. But, as usual, she couldn’t seem to heed her own advice.

“I guess that means you’ll be leaving soon, Buffy,” Phoenix said in a hushed tone.

At the sound of her name, Buffy tuned herself back into the conversation. “Yes. Now that Dane’s here, he can teach you so much more than either Angel or I could. That’s what he does.”

“So Angel’s going with you?” Jill said. “What am I asking? Of course he is! How could the master of hotness not go with you?”

Not exactly the way Buffy had wanted to bring the subject up, she didn’t even look at Angel before she responded.

“Actually, haven’t really planned on a leaving date yet. Usually hang around a little while once a new Watcher shows up. It doesn’t always go this well; sometimes it’s like oil and water.” Buffy glanced at Dane. “But I can tell that won’t be an issue here, so plane reservations will be in the making.” Wow, it was awkward trying to avoid ‘I’ and ‘we’ in casual conversation. There was no telling how Angel was taking all this, with his whole ‘strong, silent’ thing.

“Splendid!” Dane said. “I am very pleased the way this has turned out myself. I cannot wait to get started.”

After dinner they all helped Dane get settled into his room, and the girls made sure to mention that his room wasn’t quite as nice as Buffy’s.

“This will be only temporary,” Dane assured them. “I will eventually find a permanent place of residence.”

“You’re going to live here… with us?” Ruth asked.

“Well, not with you. I am pretty sure your parents would object,” he said, smiling. “But somewhere close by would be almost as good.”

It was official. Ruth was crushing huge.

“Buffy,” Dane said. “How much longer do you anticipate staying in Phoenix?”

Was anyone going to let this drop? “I’ll need to check flight schedules first; I could probably let you know tomorrow or the day after.”

“That sounds good. Until then.”

The girls were starting to get restless, so Buffy took that as her cue. “Why don’t we all call it a day? I’m sure Dane would like to unpack and get settled in without an audience.”

“Why not?” Sarah said. “We could get a good hour or two of slaying in before our parents notice that we never came home for dinner.”

“Mind if I tag along?” Dane asked. “I can take care of the rest of my things later on.”

Surprised that he even asked, Buffy said, “I’m sure the girls won’t care and they can impress you all their skills.”

“Damn straight!” Jill said, grabbing Dane’s arm. “Let us show you how we slay in the southwest.”

***

Buffy and Angel didn’t say much on their way back to their room. Usually, quiet didn’t bother her, she relished in it. This time, however, it was bugging her. Angel was taking the expression ‘strong, silent type’ to a whole new level. She knew there was something they needed to discuss, and she wasn’t quite sure how to bring it up again without the segue her slayers had provided her earlier.

So Angel, ever been to Cleveland?

Angel, I heard that the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland. You like music, right?

The plane ride is long and boring, Angel. It sure would be nice to have someone to talk to on the way back to Cleveland.

Angel, come back with me, my life isn’t complete without you.

“He seems to be a nice guy,” Angel said, opening the door to their room. “Easygoing, too.”

Buffy was thankful for the thought interruption. “That’s pretty much what I remembered,” she said, kicking her shoes off and walking out onto the balcony. “I’m going to miss this view. Phoenix may be hot, but it’s a lot prettier than Cleveland.”

“Never been to Cleveland.”

Buffy’s heart sped up at Angel’s words, and she felt her hopes growing by leaps and bounds as she heard him approach; he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. “Usually I’d take your word for it, but I figured maybe I’d see for myself.”

Buffy’s breath caught in her throat and a huge grin started to form. Did he just say what she thought he did? Did he answer her unspoken question? Could he still read her that easily?

Without turning around, she said, “I didn’t know how to ask you.”

“I kind of got that,” he whispered in her ear.

The vibration of his voice and the feeling of his breath on her ear gave Buffy a sudden chill.

“Are you cold?”

She finally worked up the nerve to face him. “No.” She rubbed her arms.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” She was feeling too many emotions all at once and she was having a hard time focusing on any one of them. “This has been the best time of my life.” Her smile faded almost as soon as it appeared.

“That’s a good thing. Why do you look like someone just ran over your puppy?”

“So much has happened in my life, Angel. Good and bad, and then some more bad, and then a little more bad and what the heck, let’s throw in a little more. This,” she said, “this thing with us, is the best. That doesn’t happen to me. It doesn’t happen without paying a price. There’s got to be some badness to counter it. That’s just the way it works. The pendulum swings one way, to the good, which is here, now, which means it’s got to swing back the other way. The bad is going to be around the corner. That’s the way it works with me. Always.”

Something flickered across Angel’s face, something he wasn’t telling her. Her suspicion was confirmed when he turned from her and walked back inside.

Following him, she asked, “What? What is it?”

“It already happened.”

“What already happened? What are you talking about?”

Angel took her hand and led her to one of the chairs, he pointed and she sat down, looking at him, curious as hell as to what he was going to say.

Oh, God, she thought, here comes the bad. She knew this was coming, she just didn’t think it would be this soon. “I don’t know where to start,” he began, running his hands through his hair.

“The beginning. Start at the beginning, that’s always a good place to start.”

Angel grabbed the other chair and dragged it over to where Buffy was sitting. He sat down, and took her hands in his, their knees barely touching.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve been human.”

“What?” Buffy exclaimed, pulling her hands out of his. “You’ve been human before?”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t tell me?” She was crushed. She jumped up, pushing the chair back so hard, that it tipped over and landed on the floor. “I knew there was something you weren’t telling me. I kept asking myself why you wouldn’t tell me you were human. For five years, Angel. You have been human for five years and never told me.” Unwanted tears sprang from her eyes. “I kept telling myself there was a good reason, something important that kept you away from me. But now,” Buffy stormed to the other side of the room, putting as much space as she could between them, “I know it’s because you didn’t want to tell me. You were human before and you didn’t tell me then, either. How could I be so stupid?”

“No!”

Angel rushed to her, grabbing her hands when she tried to turn away. Buffy, now much stronger than he was, pushed him harder than she had intended. He flew back and landed hard on one of the tables, crashing through it and falling to the ground.

“Angel!” Buffy cried running to him. “I’m sorry!” She bent down to help him up and Angel pushed her hands aside, getting up on his own. “You think I was hiding from you? That I didn’t want to see you? You’re wrong, Buffy. That’s all I wanted to do. Run to you. Be with you, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t after what happened before.”

“Before?” Buffy clenched her fists at her sides. She had no idea what he was trying to say. “Enough with the cryptic. Just tell me what you’re talking about.”

Angel was still glowering at her, but she watched as he took a deep breath, visibly trying to get himself to relax. He walked back over to the upturned chair and righted it. “Sit.”

“I am not sitting down.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Talk.”

“I am not talking until you calm down. Now come over here and sit down.”

“So it’s a standoff?”

“Buffy…”

“Fine!” she said through gritted teeth, knowing they weren’t going to get anywhere like this, she stomped back to the chair and sat down.

Sitting in front of her once again, he began, “Chumash Indians.”

Buffy remembered the Chumash. Not something you’d forget. “Thanksgiving. The Indian spirits who tried to kill all of us. Xander got syphilis. You all lurky in the shadows. What about it?”

“You came to L.A.”

“To see my dad and to yell at you for being all lurky in the shadows.”

“What do you remember about your trip?”

Okay, those details? Not all that easy to recall, she had to think for a minute. She was having a lot of ‘human Angel’ dreams around that time. Buffy needed to separate the dreams from what really had happened.

“Cordelia, the other guy you worked with… Doyle! And then they left. Me in your office, and then some ugly green guy crashed through the window, me pretty amazed that you killed him so quick and then we agreed to keep a lot of distance between us. Did I miss anything?” Only the part where the demon blood made him human again--Buffy had forgotten how vivid those dreams had been.

“About twenty-four hours.”

How could she have missed twenty-four hours? She hadn’t. There were no lapses in her memory, just mixing the reality with the fantasy.

“I didn’t lose a day, Angel. I don’t know what you’re…” She didn’t get the chance to finish. She suddenly felt dizzy and there was ringing in her ears. Closing her eyes to try and steady herself, past dreams began to rush through her mind.

She and Angel are fighting a Mohra Demon; Angel slides across the floor and picks up the demon's sword and then stabs it in the gut. Some of its fluorescent green blood runs down the sword onto Angel's hand.

“I feel weird,” Angel says.

As Buffy walks through the park that overlooks the beach, she feels the sudden need to turn around. She can’t believe her eyes, Angel is stepping through a shadowed arch in a hedge. She watches as he walks towards her—in the sun—and then he kisses her.

Buffy jumps up and wraps her legs around Angel’s waist. Still kissing, he carries her over to the kitchen table. Angel sweeps it clear and lays her down on it.

Buffy is wearing a black robe. She smiles at Angel. “This is a dream. You're human for like a minute and already there is cookie-dough-fudge-mint-chip in the fridge."

“A minute? No. No, it's not enough time!"

“No one will know but me," Angel says, trying to comfort her.

“No. I'll never forget. I'll never forget. I'll never forget. I'll never forget."

“I forgot. Oh my, God. I wasn’t dreaming,” Buffy said, shocked. “How could I forget?”

“Buffy? What happened? Are you okay?”

As the flashes of memories past slowly began to fade away, Buffy opened her eyes. She let Angel raise her chin, looking him deep in the eyes. “I saw it. I saw it all. I promised I’d never forget, but I did.”

“How?” Angel said, standing up. “How do you know? You weren’t supposed to ever know.”

Buffy looked up at him, realizing that she didn’t have the strength to stand. “It was just… there, everything that happened that day. As soon as you started to tell me, I knew it was true and then I remembered everything. I used to dream about it, but I figured it was just my subconscious or something. What do they say? Dreams are our fears or hopes?”

“I’m sorry,” Angel said, more as a sigh. “I should’ve told you before now. But I couldn’t. I was afraid the same thing would happen again.”

Buffy finally found the energy to stand; she wrapped her arms around Angel’s neck. “It’s okay. You couldn’t. It was part of the deal you made with the Powers.” Buffy kissed him softly. “It’s going to be okay. Everything’s different now. It’s not just us anymore. We’re not alone. There are others who can fight, Angel. The fate of the world doesn’t rest in just our hands anymore.”

Angel’s eyes shone in the hotel’s light. “We’re not alone anymore, are we?”

“No. Not anymore.”

***

Buffy and Angel waited for their boarding call. She really hated this part. It was time to say good-bye,

They would be in Cleveland in less than five hours, greeted by a squealing Dawn and Xander, who Buffy hoped wouldn’t be squealing.

“I’m going to miss you,” Phoenix said, hugging Buffy hard. “I kinda liked having you around.”

“I’ll miss you, too,” Buffy said, suddenly finding herself stuck in the middle of one big slayer hugfest.

“Group hug!” Sarah cried. “Phoenix doesn’t get all the hugging. I don’t care how cute she is.”

Buffy glanced over her shoulder and watched as Angel hung back. He wasn’t even trying to hide his discomfort. “I think Angel is feeling left out,” she said playfully.

“No, I’m fine, really!”

“Just because you’re hot doesn’t mean you don’t need hugs there, pal. There’s no such thing as too many hugs,” Jill said, breaking up the circle and walking over to him. “You’re leaving. You’re still hot and I’m so giving you a hug.” She flung her arms up around his neck and hung onto him tightly.

Buffy couldn’t help but laugh as the rest of the girls followed suit. She was surprised that Ruth had followed. She didn’t seem to be the huggy type.

“Okay, you guys,” Ruth finally said, “they need to get going and we have work to do. Dane is waiting for us. Let’s go.” She jerked her head toward the exit.

Phoenix walked up to Buffy. “I still want to be like you when I grow up.” She wiped a small tear from her eye. “Thank you, Buffy. You’re pretty cool even though you have a funny name.”

“Yeah, and keep your eyes on the hottie,” Jill said. “Jeez, I think I want to be you when I grow up, too.”

“Let’s go, already,” Sarah said, grabbing Jill and Phoenix by their arms. “At this rate, they’re going to miss their flight.” She dragged them both towards the door, as Buffy and Angel’s flight to Cleveland was being called.

“You ready?” Angel asked, putting his arm around her waist.

“Yes,” she said, glancing up at him.

Angel kissed her softly on the tip of her nose. “I love you, Buffy.”

“I love you, too,” she said. “Now let’s go home.”

The End

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