Grateful

Author: Spiralleds

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Rating: PG13

Summary: Angel and Buffy take in the Black Friday sales. Sequel to last year's IWRY:  As I'll Ever Be

 

**

“Here we are.”

 

Angel unrolled the building schematics across the dashboard. “Let’s go over the plan one more time.”

 

“Or not,” I replied as I pulled the key from the ignition.

 

“Successful execution is all about the planning and considering every contingency.”

 

“There may be another type of successful execution soon,” I muttered as I twisted around and leaned through the space between the seats to reach the bags. Not just any bags - and definitely no purse for me. Angel has insisted on backpacks because they ‘maximize both the range of motion and ability to effectively obtain our targets.’ There was not any element of this night being left to chance. I smiled and shook my head, remembering when a good plan consisted of ‘you take the ten on your left, I’ll take the ten on the right.’

 

“Don’t move!”

 

I froze. Which wasn’t an easy thing to do, given the awkward angle of my stretched out arms as well as my head lower than my heart. Add in the kick of adrenaline, and the blood pounded in my temples. I risked a whisper, “What is it?”

 

“You have an amazing ass,” he answered.

 

“What!?” I sputtered as he hooked an arm around my waist and hoisted me up and onto his lap in one fluid motion.

 

“You have an amazing ass.” His smile hinted at the predator he was. Shivery goodness. I then shifting said ass a bit to distract him as my hands reached around his neck, fingers twining in his hair to pull him into a kiss.

 

I wish I could claim that it was a the type of kiss that made both of us forget everything, but I can’t. This was a one-night-every-365-days event and we’d been planning toward it for weeks. Even so, as I leaned by forehead against his, I couldn’t resist saying, “I think we figured out the one contingency you didn’t take into consideration.”

 

He groaned. “And it should have been the most obvious. Rain check?”

 

Resisting the urge to test his dedication to the plan, I gave him a quick peck before scrambling up and out. I reminded myself that cashing those rain checks was always worth the wait - we both made certain of that. Though it did heighten my desire to get in, get the goods, and get out.

 

Shrugging on our backpacks, we faced our first destination of the night: Toys R Us. Even though we’d agreed to stick together, Angel couldn’t help but look over his shoulder  and assess the clump of people milling in front of Best Buy.

 

“Sure you don’t want to split up?” I asked. “I can get the toys while you get the Wii.”

 

“No,” he said firmly. “I’m not taking any chances on missing out on the Tickle Me Elmo TMX, especially since we need two of them. Besides, knowing Nintendo, the market will be flooded with them in January and at a better price. I can wait until then.”

 

I grinned at the wistful sigh that followed the pronouncement. You’d think he was sacrificing a chance at mortality, not the latest electronic craze. It was so gloriously normal and I was determined to enjoy every wacky moment of it.  I twined my fingers in his, and even after all this time, marveling at their size and the strength they represented. “Who knows?” I offered. “There might be some left when we get done with the toys.”

 

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Angel snarled.

 

“Hey!” I yelped, confused by his ferocity. “I was just being supportive!” .

 

“Look!" He pointed toward the store. "They aren’t supposed to open for another hour!” Squinting, I could see the lurching crowd of humanity already inside.We sprinted the remaining distance. Weirdly, the automatic doors didn't live up to their name and needed a little encouragement from us before we could join the party.

 

Once inside, the store was a cacophony of chaos, with parents as crazed and determined and Angel and I were. With a nod, we split up. My mission was Ellie's gift while Angel was going for double or nothing for Ryker and Wyatt's presents.

 

Several of the people I passed shuffled  like sleep walkers and muttering what sounded like, “brands”. Yes, yes, we were all slaves to the brands insidiously marketed to the youngest consumers, but there was no need to moan about it out loud. Or move so sluggishly. Hadn’t parenthood prepared them better for the occasional sleepless night? With a shrug I darted between two of the slow pokes; to the quick go the spoils. Or something like that.

 

I was so goal oriented, that it took me longer than it should have to notice the bundled up nature of the other shoppers - lots of hat and scarf combos or ski masks. Who wore ski masks inside. Everyone wore gloves. At first I shrugged it off; maybe they'd been camped outside for the last couple hours, wanting to claim the limited-to-the first-twenty-five-patrons door busters.

 

It wasn't until after I'd found the Pirates of the Caribbean 3 Singapore set and started looking for Angel that I realized something wasn't quite right.  The giveaway was seeing a woman bite off Piglet’s head. At least I thought it was a woman under the layers of winter wear. Paying closer attention, I realized she wasn't the only one. Further down the aisle headless Barbies were strewn everywhere.

 

I sighed. Why again had I thought that this could be a normal night and Angel and I could be normal people?

 

Ducking out of the aisle, I rummaged through my backpack. There were logical things, like a flashlight, bottled water, and chemical hand warmers. Then there were the items unique to us. While I could see the value of a well placed flash bomb while holiday shopping, I was baffled at what contingency Angel had in mind when he packed the miniature grappling hook and rope.

 

Not my first choice in zombie fighting weapons, but better than a barrel of beanie babies. Certainly it would work better than a Red Rider BB gun and actually poke an eye or two out. I exchanged the grappling hook and rope with the play set in my bag and then went searching for Angel.

 

We found one another as we both ran toward the screams in the stock room. The screams came from a trio who were stranded on a platform and were kicking at the hands of creatures who were reaching for them; for the moment they were keeping the creatures at bay. Below them a swarm  of the things were tearing flesh off a body like a pack of hyenas. There was blood everywhere.

 

"Are they possessed? Under a spell?" I whispered, trying to sort out how human and victimized or not these people were.

 

"Zombies," Angel replied.

 

"How do you know?"

 

"Besides the lack of heartbeat, there's this." He held up a blotchy, grey arm that dripped green gore. "Just snapped off when I shouldered him out of the way of the Elmos."

 

"Dare I ask?"

 

He grinned. "Bagged two."

 

"So what next? I don't recall a zombie invasion contingency plan."

 

 Angel shrugged. "If I take the ones on the show floor..."

 

"Then I'll take the one back here." With that, Angel threw one of the flash bombs and we both covered distance. As I ran, I swung the hook on its rope over my head like Thor's hammer and then let it loose with a battle cry. It connected with the head of a zombie with a satisfying crack, shattering its skull... with gore everywhere. In the category of "Could it get any more disgusting?", its partners dropped to all fours and began licking up the spatterings of brain matter.

 

As I cracked open skulls, I mourned my cream colored coat. It would never be the same. I worked my way toward the break room, hoping for some sort of blade.  The good news: I found a knife. The bad news: it was a it was a butter knife. I pulled opened draws, looking for anything useful. When I found a lighter and birthday candles, I knew I'd hit pay dirt. I made molotov cocktails out of the hand warmers, throwing them at the clustered creatures. It hit one, whose paper thin skin instantly caught flame, and as that one ran in fright, it caught others on fire. Thankfully the backroom floor was cement, which kept the fires local.

 

Eventually Angel and I reconnected at the door between the front and the back. I gave him the honors of taking out the last one, which was did with a snow shovel.

 

We then helped the employees down from their perch. Two were in shock and there wasn't much that could be done but wrap them in fleece Disney princess blankets and set them in a chair. The third one, Rachel, was mostly coherent.

 

"It's so weird. We were joking about zombies and then--" Her voice cracked and she covered her face with her hands. "Poor Dana."

 

"Was Dana the one who was eaten?" I ventured as I rubbed Rachel's back.

 

She nodded to the affirmative.

 

I waiting, letting her gather herself.  Eventually I prompted, "And you said you'd been talking about zombies?" 

 

Again she nodded. Hesitantly she said, "We were pulling these late arriving door busters out of their box. These funny looking Aladin-like lamps. Joey was saying how ungrateful and self-obsorbed all the shoppers are on Black Friday - like zombies. We were totally agreeing. Next thing we know, they're breaking down the back door and  trying to eat us."

 

While Angel talked Rachel into ringing up the presents we’d come for, I took a picture of one of the - literally - door busting lamps and sent it to Dawn. She and Xander were still up, and without too much trouble found a text that talked about one such lamp that made one's spoken imagination a reality.

 

Without a way of knowing which lamp was the one, we boxed up the lot for Giles to sort out. Per Dawn's instructions, we avoided direct contact or any sort of conversation while they were in sight. Even after boxing them up, we said little until they were tucked into the back of our SUV and the door closed.

 

“Home?” I asked.

 

“Not yet.”

 

I looked down at the spattering spray of blood, brains, and general gross across my clothes. “Please tell me you aren’t looking to cash that rain check now.”

 

“I was thinking more checklist than rain check.”

 

“Checklist?”

 

From his pocket he produced a piece of paper and unrolled it like a scroll. The list written in his perfect script - complete with precise squares in front of each. Where the check mark should be in front of Tickle Me Elmo, there was a bloody thumbprint.  Under that was Wii.

 

My eye roll ended in a sideways look at him. “Perseveration, thy name is Angel.”

 

He raised as eyebrow.

 

“You know, as in 'to obsess'?”

 

“Oh, I know what it means.”

 

“You’re just surprised I do,” I accused, turning on him with crossed arms. "Before dying to save the world, I was acing psychology, thank you very much!" He opened his mouth, then closed it with a tip-lipped frown and glare that I returned in kind. As fast as the ire flamed between us, his look shifted. "What?" I asked.

 

"You're shivering."

 

I realized he was right. There might not be any wind, but standing out in the dark November cold after the sweat and adrenaline of taking out a horde of zombies had its logical consequence. 

 

I shrugged off the backpack while he found a rag and wiped off the flecks of gore on his leather trench coat. Then after helping me peel off my gore-covered jacket, which was beyond hope of recovery, he wrapped me in his coat. Which never wasn't comical.

 

Thankfully it was his shorter one, so it skimmed my ankles rather than dragging on the ground, but that didn't stop the shoulders from nearly reaching my elbows. I lifted my arms, the sleeves flopping where my fingers ended. His smile was a tender one that made my heart ache; it was the type of smile I'd grown to associate with his dad time, like when he was teaching the boys to skater, rather than with me.

 

As he cuffed up the sleeves of his coat, I had the epiphany that being cherished by Angel didn't change the fact that we were fully partners and he respected me as such. He loved that I was as strong-willed, opinionated, powerful, and passionate as he was. The whole Buffy-know-big-words was my issue and no one else's trauma.  I basked in his tenderness, realizing how much I had to be grateful about in my life and making a mental note to more often indulge Angel's yen to do this cherishing-me-thing.

 

“I’m sorry,” we simultaneously said, then laughed. Who knew that in parenting our brood and teaching them the basic courtesies would rub off on us?

 

“There’s two more items on my list,” he offered, the corner of his mouth quirking up.

 

“Oh really.”

 

He stepped closer to me, reaching into the pocket of his jacket, which produced a whole different kind of shiver from me. I examined the list. The next item was Go Home. After that? Have mind-blowing sex with Buffy. Glancing up, I saw that the predatory gleam was back in his eyes.

 

“You up for a little wager?” I asked, my voice low and silken.

 

His smile widened, and he answered, voice equally husky, "What did you have in mind?"

 

"If you snag the Wii, you can to pick your prize," I purred, "And if I snag it, then I get--"

 

 "--everything you want."

 

Clasping hands, we raced for the doors.