A Coming of Age
Summary of the Story: Sometimes life takes things away, only to give things in return.
Buffy sees him for the first time in almost twenty years at Giles’ funeral. It’s a brightly sunny morning and his hair glints with traces of red under the light. She feels a small start of surprise, a fresh well of grief, but then she blinks it away and concentrates once again on the service.
She’s been in this world too long to really be surprised or grieved by anything for long. Angel is just one more person she’s loved and lost in a horrifically long line of people.
She does acknowledge that it’s good that he isn’t as dead as she thought though.
Yeah. Good for him. Yay for Angel.
The post-service gathering at Giles’ country house in Kent is well-organized and well-attended, both thanks to the gaggle of Slayers he’d mentored in the years before his death. The house is so crowded that people spill out into the gardens in spite of the chilly weather, plates of food held precariously balanced in hand. They huddle near the doors, bodies close as they reminisce about the deceased.
Buffy sits in the back corner on a stone bench under the huge apple tree. She wishes she’d thought to bring a jacket with her, but she probably can’t hide for long anyway. She just needed a little break from all of the people, from all of their grief. She’s been living here for so many months, just her and Giles, that the sudden rush of people and tears has her feeling a little overwhelmed.
She crosses her legs, then her arms, trying to keep some of her body warmth. She isn’t really surprised when Angel suddenly appears at her side. Scooting over, Buffy makes room on the little bench and pats it in invitation. He only hesitates a moment before dropping down beside her. The bench is small enough that she finds herself pressed against him, hip to hip.
The thrilling frisson of awareness that shoots through her body at the contact doesn’t really surprise her either.
“So, you’re alive huh? And, well, not dead anymore to boot.” It’s strange enough to see him again after decades of assuming he was dead. The warmth coming off his body is downright surreal.
Angel huffs out something that sounds sort of like a laugh, though he isn’t sure what he might find amusing about this situation. “So it would seem. I’m sorry I didn’t get in touch as soon as I got back, but. . .”
Buffy interrupts with a pshh and a wave of her hand. “You don’t owe me anything, Angel.”
His brow wrinkles as he frowns, but he doesn’t argue.
They sit in silence for several minutes. When Buffy glances at him again, she sees him staring at the hands he has clasped in his lap. The tips of his fingers are white, the tight grip he has on himself restricting the blood flow.
It’s downright bizarre, yet so natural at the same time. She can still remember when she longed for him to be human instead of vampire. Now that he is, she doesn’t really know what to say about it so she ignores it for the more mundane.
“Thank you for coming. Giles would have been glad to see you survived after all,” she says politely.
He scoffs. “Giles hated me. I took something precious from him and he never forgave me. I doubt he spared a second of thought for me after I disappeared.”
Buffy opens her mouth to argue, but then stops herself. The truth was, Giles didn’t think very highly of Angel. She didn’t believe for a moment that he’d actively wished Angel dead after La’apocalypse, as Dawn had coined it, but other than expressing his sympathy over Buffy’s loss, he hadn’t seemed to spare much thought for the vampire.
Instead, she settles for something that she knows to be true.
“Well, I’m glad to see you survived.”
He turns to her, that look of intensity on his face that she remembers so well. “Will you let me explain?”
She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, a shudder running through her body from the chill or maybe, possibly, something else.
“Someday. We should go back inside. Have you eaten? There’s tons of food.”
Several minutes later when they are both inside, Buffy hugs one of the crying Slayers and watches Angel out of the corner of her eye as he loads a plate. She can’t help but wonder what kinds of food he likes best.
And then, with a morbid kind of curiosity, she wonders if he ever misses blood.
Buffy doesn’t see him again for nearly five months, and when she does, it’s across the ocean.
And by the ocean, as a matter of fact. She’s taking her nightly walk along the water, stopping occasionally to pick up seashells that she’ll only toss away later. It’s off-season, so there aren’t many tourists around, and she enjoys the solitude as the sun sets and the waves retreat.
In the distance, she sees a very wet, very black dog running into the waves and then back to its owner. The local township is very loose with the leash laws so this is a normal sight, particularly in the evening. As it gets closer, Buffy takes note of the owner.
Tall, muscular man. Dark hair. Larger than average forehead. She’d know him anywhere.
When they meet on the sand, the poodle-looking dog runs around her in circles. She can feel droplets from its fur hitting her clothes and she knows she’s going to smell like wet dog later.
That seems fairly inconsequential, given the circumstance.
“Imagine seeing you here. You wouldn’t be stalking me again, would you?” She cocks an eyebrow, gives him her best suspicious look.
Angel’s face tightens in discomfort, but he doesn’t deny it. It makes Buffy want to laugh but she holds it in.
“I wanted to talk to you.”
Now Buffy does laugh. “I have a phone, you know. And a computer. I even have a mailbox if those newfangled ways of communicating terrify you too much.”
Angel rolls his eyes at her, but there’s the start of a smile painting his lips. “Ok, fine. I wanted to see you.”
She takes a moment to take him in. She’s thought a lot about seeing him in the last several months too. There had been too much to do with the funeral, and then settling Giles’ estate when he’d first popped up and honestly, she hadn’t been up to it. But she can’t deny that the months between then and now have often found her thinking about him, trying to remember the way his face had looked lit by sun.
He looks the same as he always has, which makes it easier to remember. She, on the other hand. . .
Buffy shakes her head. This isn’t the time for that.
“I’m guessing you know where I live,” she says instead.
When he slowly nods, she smirks, then laughs.
For as much as he’s changed, he really hasn’t changed.
There’s a wet dog on her screened porch, flopped out on the rug, and a vampire turned human in her living room, sitting almost stiffly on her couch.
Buffy tries for something in between. She takes the chair and casually pulls her feet up and to the side. Her hand finds the hem of her pants and she picks at it, an old nervous habit that hasn’t gone away over the years.
The silence between them borders on uncomfortable. Buffy has some questions, though she isn’t one-hundred percent convinced she wants to ask them. Anyway, he came to her so she figures he can be the one to start. Maybe it’s a little petty, but in the moment, she doesn’t really care.
“You said someday I could tell you about where I’ve been. Is it someday yet?” Angel finally breaks the silence, his voice a soft plea.
Buffy shrugs. “Sure, if you want.” Her throat is a little dry and she picks up her glass of water to take a sip.
He nods, swallows, smoothes his palm against his pants and she wonders if it’s sweaty. She thinks how weird that would be. . . Angel, with clammy palms. The thought almost makes her giggle again, but she bites it back. It’s really not that funny.
He doesn’t seem to notice her temporary, bizarre amusement. “I was trapped in a Hell dimension after what happened in L.A. I had to. . .” He pauses, his face shifting with some dark emotion before she sees him push it away. “. . . take care of some loose ends. When I got spit back out, I expected to find that all of that time I’d spent there was only hours here, but instead. . .”
“Wonky Hell time, huh? More time passed here than there?”
Angel sighs, nods. “Yes.”
“Ah, Hell dimensions are tricksy like that.” Buffy shoots him a look of sympathy.
“When I found Connor, I was shocked to find that he suddenly appeared older than me and had been married for a good ten years.” He stops there, seemingly lost in thought. Buffy thinks he must have been equally shocked to lay eyes on her that first time. She thinks she’s pretty hot for over 40, but she’s not the girl or the young woman he’d known before.
All of this explains a lot, at least about why he’d let everyone think he was dead for years and years, but there’s still the glaring issue of humanity.
Since Angel looks like he could be getting broody, a state that is never conducive to getting answers, Buffy decides to cut to the chase.
“Are you going to tell me about how you’re human now? You are human, right?”
“It was a prophecy, and yes, I’m human.” He looks up, catches her gaze and stares at her like he wants her to hear something in his words that he didn’t actually say.
She’s caught in his stare, feels a little trapped in the intensity. “There’s always a prophecy,” she says, trying for light airiness, but it comes out weak and dry.
He looks down, into his lap and mumbles something to himself.
“Always a destiny,” she thinks she hears him say.
Angel is waiting for her on the sidewalk when Buffy comes out of the house for her run the next morning.
“What’s the story with the poodle?” she says in greeting, pointing at the dog in question.
He looks insulted at the question. Angel, that is. Well, maybe the dog too.
She takes off, and Angel quickly matches her step.
“This is an Irish Water Spaniel and her name is. . .” He trails off, like he doesn’t want to tell her.
Buffy starts laughing, hard enough that she stops moving and just stands on the sidewalk, giggling. Angel just stares at her, irritated.
“You did not name that dog Cordy!” she wheezes when she can catch a breath.
Angel scowls. “She’s a good dog. Ancient breed—I had two when I was alive. The first time,” he sputters. “I meant it as a compliment, memorial, whatever.” Finally he stops and his shoulders droop. “Wherever Cordy is, I’m sure she’s pissed. It felt like a good thing when I did it.”
Buffy takes pity on him and stops laughing. On the outside. She bends down and takes a good look at the dog- for the first time. She could swear dog-Cordy gives her a dirty look before squatting right on the sidewalk and doing her business.
“Oh yeah, Cordelia is going to make your afterlife rough” she calls out over her shoulder as she takes off running again.
The smile on her face stretches her muscles in ways she hasn’t felt in a very long time.
She leaves the door unlocked and makes enough dinner for two. By the time she’s turned off the heat and uncorked a bottle of wine, she thinks maybe he isn’t coming but just as she pulls out a container to put away the extra portions for tomorrow, a quick knock sounds on her inner door. She calls out for him to come in, and then starts ladling the stew into two bowls.
“Would you like wine?” She gestures with her head back at the open bottle. “There’s red open.”
Angel pours them each a glass and follows her back into the living room. She’s greeted by the sight of Cordy spread out on the sofa.
Buffy squints at the dog, gives her best evil eye. “Off my couch, bitch,” she orders. As Cordy slowly and reluctantly obeys, she looks over her shoulder at Angel and smirks. “You have no idea how many times I’ve wanted to say that in the past.”
He rolls his eyes, but she’s sure she sees the corners of his mouth fighting not to rise.
“I hope you don’t mind. I didn’t want to leave her alone in the hotel room.”
“No big,” she says, waving him off. They sit down and dig in.
She finds herself watching him while he eats. He doesn’t seem to notice, but she has no idea how. Every bite, every drink he takes is fascinating to her and she watches for signs of enjoyment, or distaste. He seems to like it all, the stew and the fresh-baked bread that she picked up at the bakery.
Eventually the food is gone, but the wine keeps flowing and as it does, the conversation gets looser.
“I’m actually a grandfather now. Bea, Connor’s wife, had a baby girl about eight months ago. . . “
“Wait. Connor’s wife’s name is Bea? Like Bea Arthur, rest her soul? Like short for Beatrice? I didn’t even know people had that name anymore. This isn’t a like father, like son situation is it? Young man hopelessly in love with an older woman, doesn’t care what society thinks. . .”
“First, stop making fun of my daughter-in-law’s name. It’s a family name. Second, you’re not seriously insinuating that you’re older than me, are you? Just because my heart has only been beating for 20-odd years doesn’t mean you can discount the centuries when it wasn’t.”
“You’re about to call me a whippersnapper, aren’t you?”
“I’m about to take you over my knee is what I’m about to do.”
“Such a tease, grandpa.”
And just like that, the mood changes. The light, casual veneer they’ve been sticking to is gone in the wake of the sudden thick tension.
“It doesn’t have to be a tease, Buffy,” Angel says, his voice so quiet and his gaze is so dark, so heavy and unrelenting.
She doesn’t think he means he really wants to spank her. She does think, by the way he’s looking at her, that he really wants to pull her onto his lap.
Buffy sets her wineglass carefully on the table, then crawls the short distance that separates them and takes him up on the offer without any further thought.
This has been inevitable.
Eventually they make their way to her bedroom. By this time, Angel is shirtless and his chest is benefitting from the state of undress. Buffy can’t keep her hands off of the smooth planes of warm muscle, or stop them from straying frequently to the place over his beating heart. His breath is heavy and real, every break he takes from her lips a need just like hers and not an artifice.
When he moves to pull off her clothes, she pulls back for a moment, hesitates for just a second. While she’s been reveling in how humanity has changed her memories for the better, she’s certain he won’t be able to say the same of her. She was seventeen years old the last time they made love and she was perfect youth, in full bloom. Now she’s a woman over forty. Where he is physically the same as he’d been then, she isn’t anywhere close.
Angel frowns. “What’s wrong?” He looks like he’s afraid she’s going to put a stop to the whole thing.
Fuck it, she thinks. She is who she is and he came to her. Besides, she’s got good genes (Joyce and Slayer both), and everybody knows 40 is the new 20.
She steps away from him and his frown deepens a bit before she strips off her own shirt. She’s left in a little lacy bra and his frown disappears as his eyes immediately drop to take in the new landscape. Her jeans quickly follow, before she loses her nerve, and she’s instantly gratified to see the hint of a tremble in his hand as he reaches for her again.
He kisses her then, leaves her hot and breathless as his hands roam up and down her sides before settling heavily on her hips. His lips drop to the juncture between her neck and shoulder and she shivers at the contact, her whole body breaking out in the good kind of goosebumps.
“You are so beautiful,” Angel murmurs against the skin of her shoulder before kissing her, then dragging his lips to her neck. He nibbles at the skin there, lips and teeth and tongue and she is caught in a breathless cross between lust and laughter.
Apparently the former vampire still has a neck fetish.
But then, so does the former Slayer and lust wins out in no time. Buffy grabs at Angel’s pants and focuses her attention as best she can on getting him out of them.
It isn’t until they are firmly ensconced on the bed, fully naked and fully refamiliarized with each other’s naked parts that she thinks about birth control. She’s on top of Angel, and he’s already edging inside her when she suddenly stops and pulls away.
She can’t believe she almost forgot. She may be older, but as far as she knows her baby makers are still in good working order and she’s not about to test them now. She’s spent too much of her life already taking care of other people and she’s not sure she ever wants that responsibility again. Certainly not now, and not with someone who may or may not intend to be in her life even for as long as it would take a baby to gestate.
“Condoms? Tell me you’re one of those guys who carry condoms now,” she pants at him, pleading and more than a little desperate.
Angel groans but nods, carefully shifting her off of him so that he can lean half-off the bed to grab his pants. She enjoys the resulting view of his tight, muscular backside.
When he turns back around with a condom, his face intense but triumphant, Buffy grabs it from him and rips it open.
“So you do carry condoms in your wallet. Interesting,” she comments as she rolls it on. She can’t help the fleeting wonder of how many women he’s been with since he lost the threat of the curse. She can’t really blame him any indulgences, not logically anyway, but there’s still a pang somewhere in her chest.
Angel moans at the contact of her hand on his erection. Then he pulls her in for a kiss.
“I bought them on the way over tonight,” he whispers against her lips.
Buffy smiles, satisfied already. “Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, and you wear lacy see through matching lingerie around the house everyday.”
She laughs, giggles turning into a breathless moan as he flips her over and surges inside her with fluid, perfect movements.
For the moment, there’s nothing more to say. Not with words, anyway.
They settle into a routine.
It’s a routine largely comprised of food and sex, with a little bit of exercise (mostly for Cordy, who is not impressed with the sex part of the routine).
On one particular day, maybe a week into his visit, they are laying in bed in the dying light of late afternoon. Buffy briefly considers pulling herself away so that she can take her sunset walk on the beach, but Angel’s arm wrapped firmly around her middle and his body curved around hers is better.
Better than almost anything.
“Will you tell me about Willow and Giles?” His voice is a soft, gentle whisper against her ear, like he thinks the quieter he is, the easier it will be for her.
It isn’t. She stiffens, shifts, but he soothes her with his big hands, long fingers trailing across her skin in patterns she recognizes at an instinctual level. He doesn’t say anything else, just touches her and holds her and it’s been so long, soooo long since anyone has cared for her like this that a lump forms in her throat.
Eventually, she clears her throat. She knew this would come up, and no matter when it did, it would be too soon.
“Willow, “just saying her name was painful. She clears her throat again, and blinks her too dry eyes. “She went bad again. She’d been working with a very powerful mage, learning stuff we couldn’t even really comprehend and . . . . she lost control. She accidentally killed some of my Slayers, just crazy blowback from a really powerful spell. I know she didn’t mean it. But, she couldn’t forgive herself. And that was kind of the end. She. . . I couldn’t let her live, not with what she was doing to people. I had to kill her to stop her from hurting Dawn and Xander.” Her voice is tight, the words sharp and scratchy in her throat. She can hear the defensiveness, knows that no matter how justified it had been she will never forgive herself. “I don’t know what else you want me to say.”
His lips trace the shell of her ear, the feeling more comforting than sexual. “I’m sorry you had to make that choice. Again,” he says, with regret and a guilt of his own that flashes her back to stone statues and swords and an emptiness that she thought would drive out even her breath.
Her hand reaches down to grab his and squeeze. Their fingers lace together and Buffy takes a moment to concentrate of the feel of him, warm and big around every part of her.
“Giles is an easier story, believe it or not. Nothing supernatural, just plain old cancer. I left my Slayers with Vi and went to live with him those last few months.”
“You took care of him? I’m surprised he let you.”
She shakes her head. It wasn’t like that at all. “We took care of each other,” she says, smiling at the memory of the quiet existence they’d eked out together. “By the end, we were both ready, I think. Ready to be done with that part of life.”
“You’re not going back?” He’s genuinely surprised, from the tone of his voice.
“No. They don’t need me anymore.”
“What about you, Buffy? What do you need?”
She wishes she knew the answer to that.
The relationship talk comes several days later. It is both too soon, and absurdly belated given the weight of the history they share.
“How long are you planning to stay here?”
Buffy looks up from her book (trashy romance, check). His question seems out of nowhere, and she’s stuck without a good answer.
“I don’t know. Until it feels like time to move on.” She rented this house after Giles died to vacation at the beach. It seems strange, even to her, that this vacation has turned semi-permanent. And because it makes her feel defensive, she turns it back around on him. “How long are you planning to stay here?”
He gives her a long, impenetrable look. He’s always been so good at those and she wants to fidget under his perusal, but she’s way too old for that so she forces herself still.
“Well,” he eventually says, “that sort of depends on you.”
There is no mistaking his meaning, but it makes her nervous, this unexpected opportunity for something that had died a fiery and painful death a long time ago. Resurrections scare her, for good reason.
“I don’t want you to put your life on hold while I figure my crap out. You’re human now.”
He raises an eyebrow, skeptical. She doesn’t remember him pushing her like this before, but she supposes things are very different now. He has reason to push. He can’t wait around forever.
“Is what I feel for you one-sided then?”
“Are you asking me if I love you?” She laughs, the corners of her eyes crinkling as she does. “Angel, you’re not the only man I’ve ever loved, but you are the only man I’ve never been able to stop loving.”
His face softens, and she can see what her declaration means to him. His showing up like this, insinuating himself in her half-life like this, makes her feel the same way when she allows herself to think about it.
“So why do I feel like you’re fighting this?”
It’s simple really. Fighting is all she really knows. But that answer seems like a cop-out, so she just starts talking, listing things that maybe have been on her mind, though maybe some of it is made up too, right on the spot.
“How can this work, Angel? You’re younger than me. Which, ok, is not the issue it was going to be if you stayed a vampire because at least now you’ll be aging with me along the way, but still, I’ll forever be the C-word! And I’d be ok with that except there are other things that go with being younger. You love being a dad, and I bet you want to be a dad again, but I don’t think I can give you that. Not to mention that I know you and you will never be able to give up your ‘helping the helpless’ shtick, not for good, but I don’t know if I want that for my life anymore. I just don’t see. . .”
He cuts her off by picking her up and crushing his lips to hers. His tongue invades her mouth, stealing her words, stealing her senses. It doesn’t take long before she’s boneless against him, clinging and breathless and moaning into his mouth. She wants him to take her to the bedroom, but instead he sinks to the couch and pulls her into his lap.
His eyes meet her and she’s caught in the depth of emotion she sees there.
“Maybe you’re not the only one who’s ready for a new kind of life,” he says quietly.
It’s amazing, really, how easy it is in the end for her to give up the fight.
A year later, they’re still in a house by a beach with a dog named Cordy.
But it’s a different beach, on the other side of the country. And it’s a house that they bought, not for vacation purposes but because it’s close to Connor and Bea and baby Sarah.
Buffy’s still a good fifteen years older than Angel in human years. She’s still finding herself, this delayed adolescence built on discovering who she is when she’s not a killer or a savior. Angel’s still sort of grouchy and broody, pretty much an old man hidden in a hot young package.
But he makes up for it by holding her close, tucked safe against his chest every night of every day that they live in the new kind of life they’re making together.
It’s turning out to be the best kind of life.