The Stuff Life Is Made Of

 

AUTHOR: Susan / apckrfan

SUMMARY: Ten years after Sunnydale was turned into a crater, Buffy uproots herself from a stable, relatively nice existence at Giles' request when a previously unknown about hellmouth is discovered in Florida. There she has to deal with an inexperienced slayer and encountering someone from her past she hasn’t seen for years.

RATING: FRT / PG-13

WEBSITE

 

DISTRIBUTION: My site www.phantomroses.com/apckrfan/fanfic/BtVSfic/, my Yahoo Group: groups.yahoo.com/group/apckrfansfic2, and my LJ: community.livejournal.com/apckrfansfic Anyone else, please just tell me where it's at.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own any characters. They are owned by Mutant Enemy. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is made.

SPOILERS: General spoilers for everything aired on Buffy and Angel, no comic spoilers, though

CHARACTERS/PAIRING: Buffy/Angel, Buffy/OMC implied, Dawn Summers, an OFC slayer, and three little OCs.

DATE STARTED: May 2011

STATUS: Complete

WORD COUNT: 29,923

FEEDBACK: Please, I can't write better without it.

NOTES: This was originally started for LJ’s het-bigbang. I, however, did not finish in time. So, when I saw the post for the 2011 IWRY Marathon: http://iwry.darkstarfic.com I figured why not? I had to drop out of it last year and I was 20,000 words into this baby.

NOTES 2: I'm borrowing elements from other verses in that people outside of Buffy actually know about the evil baddies and have law enforcement branches devoted to these things. I don't think that's suspending belief in the Buffyverse too much as Mayor Wilkins and Principal Snyder knew, just covered things up. This will be set in the Buffyverse, but Buffy has met people who not only believe in but know full well they're real as well.

BETA: The ever-awesome paynesgrey and elliesmeow. Any mistakes are mine as neither read the entire piece, I just needed a helping hand through the beginning and they gave it.

 

**

 

†††Part One†††

Word Count: 3,860

 

Buffy placed her flowers in the permanent vase. Unlike what she normally brought here, this bouquet was made of silk. Three individual white roses and one red soon followed, placed on the ground instead of in the vase. They'd whither and die while the silk ones wouldn't, but that wasn't important to her today.

 

"Ow," Sierra said softly.

 

"What happened?" Buffy asked.

 

"I hurt my finger."

 

"Oh. Let me see," Buffy said. "Owie for sure, that does look like it hurts. Here," she said, stooping carefully so that she could take hold of Sierra's fingertip and kiss it.

 

"There. All better," she said, running the pad of her thumb along the small prick spot.

 

"Thank you, Mommy."

 

"You're welcome, Princess."

 

"You'd think she would know how to hold it without catching a thorn," Marcus said.

 

"I know how," she said defiantly.

 

"Do not," Marcus taunted.

 

"I do, too. I just forgot."

 

"You just want Mom to pay attention to you instead of Cat."

 

"Do not."

 

"Yes, you do. You act like you're still a baby."

 

"Stop it, both of you," Buffy said, straightening carefully so as not to dislodge the aforementioned Cat from her hip. "This doesn't belong here. It was an accident. We all have them. Sierra didn’t do it on purpose, Marcus, any more than you fell off your bike last week intentionally."

 

"I don't know why we had to come here anyway."

 

"To say goodbye."

 

"I already did that."

 

"Well, we're going to be away for a while, Marcus. I don't know when we'll be back."

 

"So?"

 

"I needed to leave these flowers, honey. I don’t like the idea of there being nothing here until the next time we come."

 

Buffy sighed softly, adjusting the front of Cat's jacket and the bonnet that matched. This was hardest on Marcus, and she tried to understand that. Buffy was an adult when her mother died. Marcus wasn't close to being an adult. Joyce Summers wasn't killed by the things that Buffy hunted.

 

Buffy didn't have to look Dawn in the eye every day and know that if she'd been out there doing her job that Joyce might still be alive. Or if she'd somehow equipped her better. With that thought, she grazed the silver cross-shaped lapel pin that she now wore everywhere she went.

 

Buffy had to look at Marcus every day and know that his mother was perfectly capable of stopping what had hurt his father. Taken him away from him. All of them, of course, but Marcus most especially. Buffy knew what killed Steve, just not who.

 

As easy as it would be to do nothing with her time but hunt down who made her a widow and her kids fatherless, Buffy knew she couldn't do that. Besides, the police would find him and ensure justice was dispensed.

 

Steve had been one of their own and they had access to research that Buffy couldn't compete with. Willow's computer skills could only get her so far and it wouldn't net her answers the same way as his department's connections would for them.

 

"So, we're saying goodbye before we go."

 

"I don't know why we have to leave," Marcus said as they walked toward Buffy's SUV. Another aspect of all of this that was hardest on her son. Moving to Sunnydale hadn’t been a picnic for Buffy at sixteen, but she knew the reasons behind it. Marcus had no clue why they were leaving the only house, neighborhood and friends he’d ever known behind and moving clear across the country. To a town where he knew no one but his mother and baby sisters. Not cool as far as he was concerned and Buffy tried not to take it personally. It wasn’t easy some days, though.

 

"People move, Marcus."

 

"None of my friends have."

 

"Well, it happens. Believe me. Aunt Dawn and I did when I was older than you are. And we're going. Mr. Giles has things for Mommy to do."

 

“I know,” he said, begrudgingly.

 

Their things were already on the way. Buffy could have had the SUV towed with the moving van and flown with the kids, but she decided to make a mini-vacation out of it. There'd been so much sadness and grief recently that it seemed like a good idea. Marcus' attitude was making her rethink it, but there was nothing saying they had to stop anywhere but at hotels to sleep.

 

She'd said goodbye to everyone from this life over the past month or so. If he thought this was easy on her, he was sorely mistaken. Not that she’d ever let any of the kids see how hard it was for her to leave this life she’d led with Steve behind.

 

And what a life it'd been.

 

She'd done it. Led a normal life. Granted, it was a life in which the monsters still existed, but it wasn't steeped in it. She'd met Steve one night while on a patrol. He’d thought at first she was an intruder to his crime scene. It wasn’t instant love, but she knew that she liked him when he didn’t question her credentials or poo poo inviting the Slayer into the investigation.

 

Like grew quickly into fondness and incredibly (to her) love. That was over ten years ago. They were married fourteen months later; Marcus came a year after that. He hadn't been planned, but Buffy couldn't say she was unhappy with the turn her life had taken. There was a four-year gap between Marcus and Sierra. Three years separated Sierra and Catherine.

 

Their life hadn't been perfect or a monetarily rich one. She expected that when she said yes to a cop. While they had arguments over the years, their life had been comfortable and loving just the same. What they may have lacked in physical riches they more than compensated for what was missing with rich personal lives. Good friends, good jobs, good family, and enjoying good times with those family and friends. Even with the kids, it seemed they were always doing something on Steve’s days off. He was all in like that, and Buffy had loved it, as did Marcus who reaped the benefits of being one of the only players on his teams to have a dad show up at every game.

 

Buffy had learned that doing things like taking a trip to the zoo with her kids didn't have to end in anyone getting possessed by hyenas. A trip to the science museum didn't result in a mummy coming to life. Chaperoning school events didn't mean hell hounds were going to be unleashed. Buying a Halloween costume could be done without batting an eyelash. Marcus could play baseball without it ending in everyone’s nightmares coming true.

 

Life, for lack of a better way to describe it, had been ideal. Steve and Giles liked one another, so the rare occasion Buffy got taken away for Council business Steve didn’t get upset or resent her responsibility.

 

Ideal at least until Steve requested a transfer to his department's preternatural team. The night they had met had been a fluke; he hadn't been thrown into the lion's den yet. He'd known vampires and demons existed but he hadn't actually fought any to that point.

 

He was a detective. They’d met a few times while he’d been investigating a murder or crime that was more her territory than his. They were paired together about a month after their initial meeting when his murder case and her hunt for a vamp were obviously connected. It was his first time working a vamp case full-time, and would be his last for years.

 

She'd tried to talk him out of the transfer, not wanting to lose him. She knew she'd lose him. It was inevitable when you fought the things that went bump in the night and weren't gifted with enhanced goodies. She’d died twice even with the enhanced goodies.

 

He'd insisted, though, and no matter what Buffy had said as an argument he'd transferred. That was in response to the death of one of their friend's teenaged daughter. She hadn't just died, she'd been turned and had to be staked in order to stop her killing spree.

 

Fortunately, Buffy had not done the staking. She would have, it was never easy to stake someone she knew but the job had to get done. She just wasn’t sure Steve and Jill’s parents would understand her being the one to turn their daughter to dust. And not in the ashes into an urn kind of way.

 

He'd been gone almost a year now, taken from her less than two years after his transfer. She’d gotten longer with him than she originally thought. Cat was only one month old when Buffy got the late night visit a cop's wife feared more than anything. Their youngest daughter would never know him beyond pictures and stories.

 

There were nights Buffy still cried herself to sleep. His side of the bed remained untouched. Cold. She hated that because one thing they'd had in their marriage had been warmth, closeness. Love. He always came home at night. To her. To their kids. He was able to leave what he'd seen at the door. Not to say he didn’t talk to Buffy about things that happened, but the kids never knew any of it bothered him.

 

When Giles called wanting Buffy to work with a slayer being assigned to a newly discovered hellmouth in Florida, she'd balked at first. St. Louis had been her home for so long now she didn't want to think about living anywhere else. Her life with Steve was here and she didn't want to lose those memories.

 

She was no longer actively slaying despite the fact she could be, but Giles was nothing if not convincing. Buffy was familiar with life on an active hellmouth in a way no one else was. She'd cut her slayer teeth on one and though it'd been forever since she was active on one she remembered vividly.

 

Really maybe a change of scenery would be good not just for her but for Marcus, too. One day she'd be able to tell him the truth behind his father's death. A truth that went beyond Killed In the Line of Duty. He wouldn't believe Buffy at first, but lucky for her there was an endless supply of evil baddies out there for her to prove to him she was telling the truth.

 

So, she’d accepted Giles’ offer, put their house on the market, and made arrangements to move her family to Florida.

 

A new chapter in her life. She doubted any of the kids would mind Florida winters. She didn’t mind the cold so much, but she was admittedly kind of looking forward to a green Christmas for the first time in a decade.

 

The house sold surprisingly fast. The Council picked up the tab for movers to pack and move the heavy stuff, Buffy did the rest herself with some help of her friends and neighbors. She would miss it here, but no one seemed completely surprised when Buffy mentioned moving.

 

A trip that should have taken barely two days took three. Buffy didn't mind. The kids didn't seem to either, even Marcus enjoyed being able to spend time swimming in hotel pools. The route they took wasn't the most scenic or one filled with things to do, but Buffy had tried to make it fun. And they’d all enjoyed the trip through the mountains never having seen them before now.

 

Cat was the only one who seemed more than ready to get somewhere fixed and permanent. She did very well, but Buffy could tell when they pulled up in front of the house Giles had arranged for her family to live in that Cat was tired of riding in a car all day long.

 

If all went off without a hitch, the house would be setup with everything ready to go. Except Marcus' room. Buffy had promised him he could do as he liked with it. Buffy hoped that would make moving seem a little more exciting. Sierra was starting school this fall where Marcus had to leave his friends behind and start at a new school all over again. Buffy couldn't say she blamed him for being mad.

 

Buffy's biggest concern with taking Giles up on his offer was what to do with the kids. None of them was old enough to be on their own. Even if she did feel comfortable leaving Marcus on his own in a year or two he couldn't take care of Sierra and Cat by himself. Giles assured her it would be taken care of.

 

The house was a nice one. A step up from the three bedroom ranch they'd had in St. Louis. Sierra was absolutely tickled at the idea of no longer having to share her room with Cat. And having stairs to climb that didn't lead to a basement she was frightened of. There was a fifth bedroom off the laundry room, which was furnished but not with anything Buffy had sent ahead of them.

 

She frowned as she investigated the bedroom. It looked lived in, from the bedspread that looked rumpled to the computer being on and clothes draped over a desk chair. Giles would have told her if she was going to be living with someone. At least Buffy thought he would.

 

"Hello?" Buffy called, not happy about someone being in her house before she could even settle in. While things were supposed to be set up and put away, Buffy had no doubt she'd have things to rearrange and change the location of.

 

It was a nice setup, Buffy noticed as she looked around further. It was like a mini-apartment complete with a door off the laundry room that led outside. So, whoever was staying here could come and go without going through the rest of the house.

 

She heard a door open and turned, eyes widening in surprise.

 

"Buffy! You made it. I didn't hear you pull up, I'm sorry. I was in the shower."

 

"Dawn? What are you doing here?"

 

"I'm your live-in babysitter," she said, toweling off her hair.

 

"What?"

 

"Well, Giles was going to ask for volunteers, but I told him that I'd do it."

 

"But you have a job somewhere that’s not here."

 

"Put in for a leave of absence and if I end up having to quit no big deal," she said with a wave of her hand as if it was in fact no big deal.

 

"A house."

 

"I'm going to rent it out until it sells and I can always get another one."

 

"A boyfriend."

 

She shrugged at that one. "If it's meant to be, the distance won't hurt anything. And, hey, maybe he'll come down here where the weather is nice."

 

"Dawn,” she said, ecstatic at the idea but still not liking that Dawn uprooted her life for this. The Mission. Once they’d gotten out of Sunnydale, Dawn had been able to have a life away from preternatural stuff. She didn’t have her head in the sand, and Buffy knew she’d been called upon a few times for her researching skills. Still, Dawn’s life had been normal.

 

As normal a life as someone who used to be a ball of energy could have anyway.

 

“Are you sure?"

 

"Absolutely! I love the idea of seeing my nieces and nephew every day. You, too."

 

"It's too much."

 

"Only if I didn't volunteer, which I did, Buffy. Tasha is going to need a watcher."

 

"Dawn, I don't want to take you away from your life. Coming here part-time is one thing, but signing up for watcher duty is another thing entirely."

 

"Buffy, you don't think I know what you did for me. What you sacrificed to keep me safe. I’ll be close to you and the kids. I’ve missed you, Buffy. I'm not really doing anything that extraordinary."

 

She slid into some clothes and Buffy couldn't help but realize how much Dawn had grown. They'd been apart for so long now; it was strange to think they might actually be living together again. Like sisters. Just without Social Services breathing down her neck.

 

"Moving across several states is not ordinary."

 

"That's what sisters do for one another. At least when they're the Summers sisters," she said, walking back to what Buffy presumed was the bathroom to put her towel away. “And really, looking at a map, it’s a straight shot down the Interstate from Philadelphia and doable in a day.”

 

"Yeah, I guess that's true. You aren’t going to want to live with us forever, though, Dawn.”

 

“No, I know that. Giles picked this house because of the extra bedroom setup so I could have some privacy. Also so that you guys can have your own time, too, you know. Eventually, when my house sells and we know what’s going on I’ll look at getting my own place. I may not like being a watcher full-time. I don’t know.”

 

“I think you’ll be a great watcher.”

 

“Well, only because I had a great teacher.”

 

“Giles is a good teacher for sure.”

 

“He is, but I was talking more about you than him. Everything I know about slaying I learned from you, Buffy.”

 

“Well, hopefully Tasha will appreciate you.”

 

“I’m sure there will be an adjustment, especially being I’m your sister.”

 

“And you’re certain you want to do this?”

 

“Positive. I have my own space and everything here, so that’s not a problem.”

 

“You know that I don’t expect you to stay in your room like a hermit or a servant.”

 

“I know, but the option is there. I won’t disturb the kids if I can’t sleep or am out late with Tasha.”

 

“This is the best news I’ve gotten in a long time. I don't know if Marcus will be very excited to see you, but Sierra will be I'm sure."

 

"Bummed about the move?"

 

"That's putting it mildly."

 

"He'll be fine once he realizes it's cool here."

 

"I hope so, because I don't want to add to what scars he probably already has from Steve dying."

 

"Well, let's go find out."

 

"When did you get here?"

 

"Yesterday. I had it a little easier than you. I don't have kids or anything so I just shipped some furniture ahead of me, packed things up and here I am."

 

Buffy stopped in the kitchen and gave Dawn a hug.

 

"What's that for?"

 

"I just realized it probably seems as if I'm not super excited to see you. To know you’re living here and I’ll be able to see you all of the time. I am. I was just surprised and don’t want you doing something drastic because you feel obligated or something."

 

"I'm glad to see you, too," Dawn said.

 

They continued on upstairs where Marcus and Sierra were exploring their rooms.

 

"Hey guys," Buffy said. "Come see the surprise I have for you."

 

Marcus was the first to come into the hall. His eyes widened; eyes that looked so much like Steve's it was eerie.

 

"Aunt Dawn."

 

He started to run to her, seemed to catch himself, and then strode up to her almost as if he didn't care. Buffy knew that wasn't the case and she could see the pain that crossed Dawn's face at his gesture. The gesture was more for her benefit than Dawn's.

 

Dawn couldn't have kids. Her being willing to leave her boyfriend behind probably meant that he'd been talking about the future and Dawn was having second thoughts. She'd been married once before and the scumbag divorced her once he realized Dawn was "defective" in that department. Adoption wasn't an option to him.

 

If only Buffy could slay bad guys who weren't demons or vampires. She wanted to cut out her former brother-in-law's heart and force-feed it to him when he'd left Dawn for someone who could give him children.

 

It was one of the reasons Dawn cared so much for Buffy's children. Not that Buffy had ever pictured herself with kids or the life she'd had with Steve in a million years when she'd been living in Sunnydale.

 

Dawn hugged Marcus tight. Even not seeing his face, Buffy could tell Marcus was loving the attention even if he didn’t hug her back right away.

 

"Look at you, little man. You've grown to be so tall since I saw you last."

 

He smiled the first real smile Buffy could remember seeing him give since the talk of moving from St. Louis started.

 

"Auntie Dawn," Sierra said. She didn't hold back or try to stop. She full-on ran into Dawn's arms once she'd let go of Marcus.

 

"And look at my princess. Getting all grown up, going to start kindergarten soon."

 

"I know."

 

"She still acts like a baby," Marcus said.

 

"Well, that happens sometimes, Marcus," Dawn said. "We all act younger than we really are from time to time. Even me and your mom."

 

“And we both have stories to prove it,” Buffy said from behind them. She was so glad to see Marcus show some sort of emotion, even if he was holding back.

 

"Yeah, okay," he said, not sounding entirely convinced Dawn was telling the truth.

 

Dawn kissed Sierra, holding her close as she looked at Marcus.

 

"I noticed your room wasn't unpacked, Marcus."

 

"Mom's going to let me do it myself."

 

"She is. How cool. Can I help?"

 

"I suppose."

 

"I'd love to."

 

"Cool."

 

"Tomorrow," Buffy said.

 

"But Mom, Aunt Dawn."

 

"Will be here tomorrow. And the next day. She's staying with us for a while. And you guys need to go to bed. It's been a long few days."

 

"You mean it?" Marcus said.

 

"Yes, she's staying. Longer than just a visit."

 

"I'll be here for a while, Marcus, and we'll work on your room together to be sure it's cooler than cool. You’ll be the envy of all of your friends at your first sleepover it will be that awesome."

 

"Awesome!"

 

"Brush your teeth, both of you. Pajamas and bed," Buffy said.

 

Sierra ran to the bathroom to start on that. Marcus wasn't so fast.

 

"Marcus."

 

He followed Sierra into the bathroom they shared. Buffy had her own thank God. It didn't seem to matter how much effort she put into keeping things clean with three children, by the end of the day when it was her turn to get ready for bed the bathroom was always a disaster.

 

Cat was still sound asleep. Her sleep schedule would no doubt be off for a few days, so Buffy wasn't expecting to have a solid night's sleep as a result. Seeing Dawn, knowing she’d be here with Buffy for a while at least made the lack of sleep seem well worth it.

 

Buffy stopped in Cat's room to get the baby monitor receiver and brought it down to the kitchen hoping Dawn would be in the mood to talk for a while. Doing little more than drive for three days with nobody but kids to keep her company she was ready for some adult company.


†††Part Two†††

Word Count: 4,038

 

Giles had been thoughtful. Buffy had a month to get settled before the new slayer arrived. If it was just her that wouldn't have been an issue, but with kids. Well, it would take a while for Marcus in particular to adjust. Sierra loved that they weren't far from the beach. Dawn had taken Sierra and Marcus to Disneyworld their first week here, giving Buffy a full day to work on the house with only Cat as a distraction.

 

Tasha didn't live far from Buffy, but not so close to where being friendly was going to be forced upon them. Not that Buffy didn't like Tasha even if she didn't know the girl real well. She was nice enough, but she was nineteen to Buffy's thirty-two. They had very different lifestyles and priorities in their respective lives. Buffy was there to train and act as a research person who had the ability to help slay if the going got tough. Once comfortable in the area, though, she'd be on her own in general.

 

No doubt that was when Giles would start looking for someone to send to Sunnydale. They'd rebuilt her former home. It had taken them some time, but it was there. New and shiny above ground, all dark and evil below.

 

Buffy had no doubt that her next stop after training Tasha would be Sunnydale to train the new slayer there. At the very least LA, discreetly setting the groundwork for getting her back home where she had no desire to go again. Giles was just breaking her down, getting her back in the saddle before hitting her with the tough stuff. Setting foot in Sunnydale again would be tough. He probably didn't realize she'd think that far ahead, but she knew eventually one day someone would be in Sunnydale again. The hellmouth was still there and would need a guardian.

 

So, she was glad Giles hadn't gotten them houses right next to one another or expected them to live together because Buffy moved here to train her. Hopefully doing so would help ensure she lived for a long time. At first Buffy had laughed at the thought of training someone because she wasn't eighteen anymore. Except, to look at her, one wouldn't know that wasn’t the case. Her strength and agility hadn't gone away at all. There were times that she had to remind herself that she wasn't the slayer anymore because she didn't look or feel any different. There was a reason for that, but only a few knew what it was.

 

She had to admit, the idea of getting out there again but knowing she wouldn't have to every night had some appeal. She missed it in a crazy sort of way. Not that she'd ever admit that to anyone, especially not Giles. She was sure he'd find her something to do beyond merely training a slayer if he knew she was willing and capable of doing more.

 

Of course, there was the possibility Tasha and Dawn would become friends and Buffy would end up spending time with her regardless. They were both single and Buffy couldn't expect Dawn to be home every night. She just wanted her kids safe from all of it. It would not come to her house if she could prevent it. She hadn’t been good at keeping it away from her home in Sunnydale, but that was different. She no longer had a target on her head for simply existing in the eyes of the bad guys.

 

Buffy spent a lot of her time getting adjusted to the area. There was lots to do like mapping out area cemeteries, hospitals, and funeral homes. The Internet and her being much more proficient at computers these days helped. Personally, figuring out where Marcus and Sierra would be going to school, how to get there, and a daycare for Cat if Buffy ever needed one.

 

All that working around Dawn’s schedule when she went on interviews. Buffy knew it wouldn’t take her sister long to find a job. Buffy hoped that her Council stuff didn’t interfere with her job, but Dawn knew what she was getting herself into by agreeing to come here. Agreeing to be Tasha’s watcher.

 

Buffy was getting enough from Steve's pension and Social Security that she didn't need to get a job anytime soon. She still needed to know there were places for all of her kids to go just in case. Dawn was living there to be around at night in case Buffy needed to go out not to give up her career.

 

A career.

 

Buffy had to think about what she'd do when the time came for her to get a job. She'd worked as a secretary for Steve's department. It hadn't paid a lot, but they liked knowing the person typing up their reports and answering calls had some knowledge of what was going on. One who wouldn't run away screaming. She hadn't gone back after Steve's death, though she supposed no one expected that she would.

 

"So, you and Tasha are going out tomorrow for the first time, right?"

 

"Yes," Buffy said as she and Dawn cleaned up the kitchen from dinner. Spaghetti with meatballs had been the meal du jour and as expected, Cat’s high chair was the messiest of all the spots to clean. You’d think she’d learn after the first two kids not to serve spaghetti, but Cat loved it so Buffy always caved and gave her it to her.

 

It was nice having someone to help with the cleanup. Steve worked nights, understandably given the department he worked in. So, five days a week she was on her own to get dinner on the table, clean everything up, and get the kids ready for bed. By the time nine o'clock rolled around most nights, she was beyond exhausted. The two nights he was home, the kids still came to Buffy for things because they were just used to her being the one to go to. Steve always helped, but sometimes it was just easier for Buffy to do what they wanted instead of explaining to him all over again what they needed.

 

She got the easier end of the deal, though. Steve was home with Sierra and Cat during the day while he was supposed to be sleeping. She at least had nights off so she could sleep without the kids pestering her. They had a couple of women and older school kids who helped by watching the kids for a few hours, but it wasn't the same. He didn't sleep well, knowing the kids were awake.

 

She wondered how she would adjust to having that type of schedule again. Sunsets being a bad thing, all-nighters being the norm rather than the odd happenstance, and the sunrise representing the end of her day. A schedule that matched that of vampires and demons.

 

"Are you anxious?"

 

"A little. She seems nice, just not much experience, but Giles wouldn't send someone here who couldn't handle it."

 

"Right. It's not like it's Boise."

 

"Are there even vampires in Boise?" Buffy asked.

 

Dawn gave a soft laugh. "You would know better than me."

 

"I've never been there, so I don't know."

 

"They have to be everywhere, right?"

 

"I guess so, though I think they live places they're less likely to stand out. I'm not sure they could pull that off in Boise. I mean, could you imagine Spike trying to keep his secret there?"

 

"Well, yeah, but they're not all like Spike. I mean, Angel would blend in."

 

"To a point, sure," Buffy agreed.

 

"So, how long do you think it will take for her to get comfortable here?"

 

"I'm not sure. Why? You dreading having your nights occupied already?"

 

"No, you know I am totally looking forward to some good Auntie time."

 

"As if you haven't spoiled them already. A trip to Disneyworld their first month here."

 

"They deserved it. You have to admit, Marcus has been better since."

 

"Yes, he has. Did you threaten him or something?"

 

"No, I think he just realizes that it's not going to be so bad here. Auntie’s here with more disposable income than you have since I don’t have kids or a husband. Plus, you're happier, too, and I think he sees that."

 

"I'm not any happier than I was two months ago."

 

"You are so."

 

"Dawn."

 

"No, Buffy, listen," she said, putting the last of the plates away.

 

She poured them each another glass of wine. One of the last Buffy would have for a while no doubt. Drinking and slaying didn’t mix. Well, she could pull it off, sure, but she didn’t like to risk being off even just a little bit. She wouldn’t have it on her conscious Tasha got hurt or died because Buffy had been even a beat too slow due to impairment.

 

"I'm listening," Buffy said, taking a seat at the table.

 

"I think getting out of St. Louis was the best thing you could have done. It'll take Marcus a while, but I've seen you smile and heard you laugh in the last couple of weeks."

 

"That's not a crime."

 

"No, of course not. It’s a great thing, but the past year you've acted like it just might be."

 

"I've been mourning my husband, Dawn! Meanwhile, caring for three kids by myself and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for them. It’s not easy when on the inside I wanted to do nothing but lay in bed all day."

 

"I know, and I have been, too. I loved him like a brother. He gave me a great nephew and two beautiful nieces. You’ve been doing a great job with them. Anyone can see it, even Marcus."

 

"He gave them to you?"

 

"Well, you both did, of course, but he got you to love. You know? I didn't think you'd do that again for a while there. To want to get married and have those kids. So, yes, he gave them to me. He wouldn't have wanted to see you so sad, acting like your life ended, too."

 

"He'd understand, Dawn."

 

"For a while, sure, but he would have wanted you to continue on with life."

 

"I am continuing with life. I’m here, aren’t I? I don’t have a choice in the matter anyway! Where is this coming from? As if you knew him so well. You saw him once or twice a year for a long weekend, maybe a week."

 

"You'd be surprised. There were days after what happened with Davis. I needed to talk, you were working and Steve was home. We’d talk. I’d talk, he listened mostly. Sometimes he’d offer advice, but most of the time he listened and told me I’d be all right."

 

"I didn't know."

 

"I asked him not to tell you, because I didn’t want you to worry about me more than you already did. Besides, he helped me realize Davis was just maybe the exception to the rule of there not being good guys out there."

 

"Dawn."

 

"No, I'm fine now. It's just, God, do you know how useless I felt?"

 

"You didn't do anything wrong."

 

"I know that, knew it then, but it doesn't mean it didn't hurt. I mean, it's bad enough I'm defective."

 

"You're not defective. Not being able to have kids does not make you defective. Thousands of people who didn’t have the beginnings you did can’t have their own kids. Deciding to stop loving someone because they can’t reproduce is defective."

 

"Being a former ball of energy makes me defective."

 

"That's so not true. There are a ton of kids who need good homes, Davis just couldn’t accept that."

 

"That's so not the point. And this was about you. How glad I am to see you moving on. I have moved on from Davis. I didn't like you being there by yourself. I know you had friends, but they were all your friends with Steve. There wasn’t anybody who really understood who and what you are. Coming here, accepting Giles' offer. That means you're moving on. Even if it's just a little."

 

"I moved here to help Tasha because Giles asked me to and it’s the right thing to do. Not to forget about Steve. Not to get married again."

 

"I think a new look at things is good. I didn’t say you were here to get married again, but there’s nothing wrong with seeing what is out there. Being open to doing that doesn’t mean you’re going to forget about him. Or that anyone would think that. You’re young, Buffy, no one would blame you or think badly of you for going out on a date."

 

"As if I'm going to go out and do anything. I've got kids to raise and the task of making sure that Cat knows who her father is. Slaying again will keep me busy enough I’m sure. I wasn’t able to balance slaying with a social life in high school with no kids thrown into the mix; I doubt I’d be able to balance both now. At least in high school the ditzy blonde thing worked. Not so much now, unless I want to lose my kids because someone thinks I’m unstable."

 

"I know that, and I know Cat and Sierra will know and love him as much as Marcus does. Sierra’s pretty young, too. It's still a good thing that you were willing to leave your house. Your life there. It means you’re ready for something. Whatever that something is."

 

"And you, giving up on a boyfriend? Moving across the country to play Mary Poppins?"

 

"Would you rather a stranger take care of your kids? Giles was going to ask for volunteers, I didn't think you'd be comfortable with a stranger taking care of them every night. Things weren't that serious, Buffy. It's not as if we never talk. We'll see what happens, and maybe it's good for the relationship. Once Tasha's settled maybe you can take over as her watcher or something if I decide to move back."

 

"I think the kids might have something to say about that. Giles, too. I have a feeling my being open to this today means he'll ask me to do it again."

 

"We'll see when the time comes. I'm in no hurry either way. And you'd do the same for me if the situation was reversed."

 

"Maybe."

 

"No maybe's about it."

 

“So, what did Chris do anyway? Start talking about marriage? Kids? A future?”

 

“None of the above,” she said without meeting Buffy’s gaze. So, Buffy knew she was lying. “I’m not running away from anything. I promise. I just wanted to help you.”

 

Buffy took a sip of her wine followed closely by another. She’d had no idea that Dawn and Steve talked. She knew, of course, they liked one another and got along, but she had no clue that Steve had gotten personally involved with Dawn when Davis had left.

 

Dawn had been a mess for a while there. Understandably. Davis had seemed so nice, and he was at first when he went through testing to ensure the problem wasn’t with him or his sperm count. When he came up fine things changed. There were options that might prove viable to Dawn, but Davis hadn’t stuck around to find out if they would take. As soon as it was discovered that the old fashioned way of making babies wasn’t going to cut it he vanished.

 

He turned up a few months later with divorce papers in hand. Fortunately, the house had been Dawn’s and he’d laid no claim to it so she hadn’t lost completely everything. Buffy knew at the time, though, it had seemed like it. Dawn would have given up ten houses to have Davis back.

 

Until she’d spotted him with the bimbo. Before the ink was dry on their divorce papers Davis became a father. Dawn found out by reading it in the local newspaper one day. He hadn’t been unfaithful before leaving, but he certainly hadn’t wasted anytime finding someone once he’d vanished.

 

"You really talked to Steve that much?"

 

"Well, it's not like we were having a torrid affair or anything, but we talked more than you probably realize. He never called me or anything. Well, a couple of times he did just to see how I was after a particularly bad time or something, but it was always as my brother. You know? He was looking out for your little sister."

 

Tears welled in Buffy’s eyes at just how far Steve’s kindness had reached. Of course he would have looked after Dawn and not said a word of it to Buffy. It was just the way he was, same as why he’d wanted the transfer. He didn’t like to see good people suffering. Dawn had been suffering for a while there.

 

"I didn't realize you talked at all. I mean, beyond him answering the phone when you called and saying hello or whatever."

 

"Well, like I said, he didn't tell you as a favor to me. It was cheaper than therapy. A couple of times he offered to have him arrested," Dawn said with a laugh. “He was kidding, of course, but just knowing that someone was that mad, too, made it a little better.”

 

"I'm glad he was there for you when I couldn't be."

 

“You were there for me a lot, Buffy, but you had kids and a job, I knew that. Sometimes I needed to talk to someone who wasn’t my sister, so close to everything that had happened to me all of my life.”

 

Buffy could understand that. There was a reason Willow and Xander didn’t know Steve real well. She wasn’t ashamed of her friends or her past, but she didn’t want her life before St. Louis to bleed into her existing one there. Bad thinking perhaps, but she liked having some secrets. Giles knew him fairly well. Steve had gone with her to England on more than one trip and the two men seemed to bond over being the only human amongst a bunch of slayers. She also knew that she could count on Giles not to be overly share-happy with Steve about Sunnydale.

 

“Still, I feel like I failed you not being able to help you out.”

 

“Unfortunately, your slayer skills weren’t what I needed. You know, he was a good guy, Buffy."

 

"You think I don’t know that?"

 

"I think you need to be reminded of that because I don't want to see you close yourself off again."

 

"I'm not. I won't, but I'm not going to go out drinking at a bar and pick up a new guy every night either."

 

"Well, the idea that you're open to picking up a guy is good."

 

"What is that supposed to mean?"

 

"It means you're open to the idea that there might be another guy out there."

 

"Well, yeah, sure, one day. I mean, Steve and I talked about it."

 

"You talked about other guys?"

 

"No,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “We both knew our lives were risky. Hugely risky. I mean, sure I wasn't slaying all of the time, but if Giles called I helped. So, we both knew one day, one of us could very possibly be left alone with the kids. We wanted one another to know we were okay with moving on, marrying again."

 

"I'm glad you guys talked about it."

 

"He insisted. You know me. I'd stick my head in the sand if I could, but we did the whole drawing up wills thing after Marcus was born."

 

“There are other good ones out there. Chris isn’t so bad.”

 

“So bad?”

 

“Well, we haven’t gotten real serious. We go out every Friday or Saturday, rarely both nights. Once in a while we’ll meet for a drink after work during the week.”

 

“Really?”

 

“I won’t deny I’m scared, Buffy. Davis and I never got to the point of finding out if any of those other ways will work.”

 

“So you be honest about it. Tell him, and if he leaves or pulls away you know he’s not the guy for you.”

 

“We’re not even to that point yet. And, yeah, okay, you were right to a point. He’s started wanting to see me more often lately. If we have a date Friday night, he wants one of us to stay over at the other one’s place and extend the date to the next day.”

 

“Is that so bad?”

 

“I’m just not ready for that.”

 

“Sex?”

 

“Not yet,” she said with a shrug.

 

“He’s made moves?”

 

“Yeah,” she said.

 

“Dawn.”

 

“I’m fine, Buffy, I am. I didn’t move down here to avoid getting serious. I promise. I don’t want to get hurt again. I jumped in with Davis. Fell head over heels without looking at the whole picture. Without looking at anyone but him ever from the day we met.”

 

“I know. I remember.”

 

“I don’t want to do that again. I’m in no hurry.”

 

“As long as you know what you’re doing.”

 

“I’m just being careful.”

 

“Then you’re doing the right thing. I don’t want you to get hurt again.”

 

“I don’t want to hurt him either. Misleading him into thinking I’m ready for more.”

 

“So, moving to Florida is a way to pull away without really doing it.”

 

“Kinda. I guess it’s a test. Not for him, but for both of us. And, really, it’s not that long of a drive if he wanted to come down for a weekend.”

 

“I know. You’re right. I’m glad you’re being careful, but don’t push me either.”

 

“You’re situation is different! You had it. Happiness. A good guy. You should want that again, Buffy. Love. You were made to love more than your kids and your weird sister.”

 

“You were always a little odd.”

 

“Ha ha,” Dawn said.

 

Both grew silent, thinking about different yet similar things more than likely.

 

"So, one last night of freedom," Dawn said finally, obviously she too wanted to lighten the mood.

 

"Yes, I'm so not ready to give up my life."

 

"It's just for a while."

 

"You don't understand, Dawn. If Giles is sending a slayer to a hellmouth here they didn’t even know existed, Sunnydale isn't too far behind. That means he thinks something's brewing. With a capital B. I mean, if they haven’t known about this one before now, how active could it be?"

 

"Without telling you?"

 

"He would want the slayers ready for anything not something specific. And you know how evil works. They plot and plan, get their ducks in a row, and make sure the prophecies line up with what they want to do."

 

"Well, we'll be ready when it comes. Whatever it is."

 

"If that happens, I want the kids as far away from here as possible."

 

"Of course."

 

"That means you, too. You're their guardian, which means you leave town with them. Keep them safe. And you."

 

"Buffy."

 

"No arguments. I'm not going to leave them orphans without knowing you're with them. I won’t have them go through what you and I went through after Mom died. We don’t know for sure how this whole thing with me works, so I will go into any life threatening situation thinking it could be my last."

 

"All right."

 

"Thank you. If I find out you did anything else, I'll haunt you for the rest of your life."

 

Dawn laughed. "If it were anyone but you I'd think you were joking."

 

"I'm not, remember I know a powerful witch," Buffy said with a laugh. "Now, let's go watch a movie."

 

"So much for a last girl's night out."

 

"There's nothing wrong with a girl's night in."

 

"Our lives are just too exciting."

 

"You chose to come here."

 

"So did you."

 

"Not much choice for me. It's part of who I am, I can't walk away from these girls when they need me."

 

"So, HBO?"

 

"Yes."

 

“Popcorn?”

 

“Oh, yes, Steve’s popper is in the pantry, I think. I haven’t used it since before he died.”

 

“Well, let’s break it in here.”

 

“Sounds good, it always made better popcorn than microwave.”


†††Part Three†††

Word Count: 2,403

 

Buffy dreaded this part of the day. It was the end of it for the kids and Dawn, most normal people really when hers was just beginning.

 

She hated tucking her kids into bed not knowing if she'd be the one to wake them in the morning. It was terrible to think like that, but it was always on her mind when she kissed them good night. She never left without that, and telling each one she loved them. Even Marcus despite his not wanting his mother's kisses so much anymore.

 

Tonight, Sierra wanted an extra bedtime story and Buffy gave in without much of an argument. If it had been Marcus he'd have known something was up, but Sierra was too little to think twice about her mother's willingness to let her stay up a little later to read about the Velveteen Rabbit.

 

Fortunately, the kids were fast asleep by the time she had to leave. Marcus would be full of questions as to why Buffy was leaving at night. She didn't want to lie to him more than she had to. She was doing a lot more slaying than she thought she would have to when agreeing to come here. Tasha had the knowledge; she was just too hesitant to put it to work. Hesitant enough that if it weren't for Buffy, the slayer would already be dead.

 

She already called Giles and complained. More like yelled. She assumed when he told her he was sending someone not just to the field but to a hellmouth that she was experienced. Had clocked some field time, had staked a vampire or two away from the controlled environment Giles' group of watchers gave the slayers.

 

He insisted she was as prepared as she was going to get and had shown more aptitude than any of the other candidates who weren't already assigned a city or territory.

 

That didn't bode well if she was the best The Council had to offer.

 

She asked why she couldn't have been sent somewhere a slayer already was, pulling one with experience to this new hellmouth.

 

Giles stammered, but had no real reply. He had to know Buffy was right. Buffy didn't know anything about other areas in the world, but she knew that hellmouths always had excessive amounts of vampire and demon activity.

 

The funny thing was that it felt good to be out there again. Normal. As if.

 

Well.

 

As if she was born to do this.

 

She never thought much about that. It was a given that she was getting a bit long in the tooth to continue slaying despite her particular circumstances, but it felt like she was flexing muscles that had been dormant for years.

 

Not just the ones that controlled her arms and legs, but muscles in her mind and (oddly) her soul. She hated admitting as she got into her SUV to meet Tasha for tonight's patrol that she felt better than she had in years. Both physically and mentally.

 

She was used to holding things she had to be careful with in Marcus, Sierra, and Cat. As bad as it sounded and as much as she loved her kids, she never felt right or completely at ease holding them. They were so fragile; she had to be so careful with them. Even now, with Marcus at eight, she had to be careful she didn’t hug him too tight or something. Having Slayer strength had its drawbacks from time to time.

 

Now a stake, crossbow, or battle-axe; those things felt right when she held them. They fit in her hands just right. She knew exactly how to balance them, how much weight to put behind each one against an opponent. Blindfolded she’d be able to fire off a shot and know where it would end up. She didn’t need to worry about breaking or damaging it because she gripped it too tightly.

 

She supposed there was something to the whole destiny thing.

 

She'd never really been in a position before now to test it. To see if it would go away or diminish as her use of her gift decreased. (Funny that she now thought of it as a gift, it didn’t seem like so long ago she considered it more a curse much like the clause that went with Angel’s soul.) There were no other thirty year old slayers walking around, at least none with Buffy's experience. So, comparing and contrasting wasn't possible.

 

She parked on the street where they were set to meet. Tasha wasn't there yet, so Buffy sat and waited. Traffic could be hard at this time of night so Buffy had no doubt Tasha would be there shortly.

 

She ran a fingertip over Steve's pin she wore each night she came out on patrol with Tasha. It and the cross Angel had given her forever ago. The lapel pin had been blessed by a high-ranking priest in Steve's local Diocese. Buffy wasn't too hip on religion, but being a first generation Catholic Italian-American Steve believed in it. They'd gone to mass every week and she'd keep taking the kids because it was what Steve would want. Supposedly, because of his belief the blessing made the little cross more powerful in fighting the baddies.

 

It hadn't helped in the end, but she wanted to wear it anyway. Stupid maybe, but it was something of his she could wear out here, doing this, that made her feel close to him. She wouldn't fit into any of his clothes, so the pin was the only option she had.

 

She got out of the car at the sound of another one approaching. She had no idea how long tonight was going to be. Tasha didn't even seem to know what to look for, how to go about finding where to go and that bothered Buffy. She wondered what the other slayers, the ones assigned to other cities who didn't have Buffy to help train them, did.

 

Buffy regarded the other slayer as she approached. More than one person had voiced surprise when they found out Buffy was the slayer because of the fact she was on the short side. Tasha, however, was anything but short. She was probably more in line with what people pictured when they heard what a slayer was and what she could do. Tall and muscular. She looked as if she was the one born to slay vampires.

 

She was, of course, but wasn't taking to it as naturally as she looked as though she would.

 

She supposed there was something to the looks could be deceiving thing, because more than once she'd been underestimated. Or taken for granted that she'd be easily beaten.

 

They made their rounds, talking some. Buffy didn't get too personal with her, but they were both pretty much alone here. Buffy understood what it felt like to have no one else to talk to. She knew Tasha had a younger sister that she missed, but that was about as chummy as they’d gotten beyond every day conversation about their current situation and slaying. Buffy wasn’t even sure if the other slayer knew she had kids, though she imagined so.

 

She had a few hours before sunrise when they'd finished for the night. Tasha was on her way home and Buffy was organizing the weapons in her chest before doing the same. At this rate, she'd be home in time to get a decent nap in before the kids woke up so Dawn wasn't stuck getting them dressed and fed for the morning.

 

She took her time, because there was something about this time of night that Buffy liked. A city normally bustling with activity was quiet. A few cars drove on the area streets, but overall it was just Buffy and the buildings. It wasn’t something she’d gotten a chance to get accustomed to in LA, moving so soon after her calling. Sunnydale wasn’t exactly a thriving metropolis, so the quiet of a Sunnydale night was different somehow.

 

Everything in its place in the back, she closed the door and was about to leave when she heard a scream. It was loud enough that Buffy could tell she wasn't far. The chances at this time of night that it wasn't a vampire were fairly slim. Even if it wasn't a baddie, she couldn't just walk away after hearing someone scream for help. She might not kill humans, but she’d intervened more than once on a mugger or rapist about to go to work.

 

The scream stopped, cut off more than likely, so Buffy didn't waste time digging through her bag of tricks. Armed with the few stakes she always kept on her on patrols she ran the direction of the scream. If it wasn't a vamp or demon she couldn't use a weapon beyond her fists anyway.

 

She found them easily enough. The sounds of a struggle and growling were hard to miss. Three vampires against one woman. Not good. She was alive at least when Buffy strolled further into the alley. She didn’t appear to be hurt beyond scared yet either, so they evidently hadn’t gotten a taste of her.

 

"Really? Do you guys have radar or a sensor to know when I'm in the area?"

 

"Go away," one of them said. "This doesn't concern you."

 

"Well, that's where you're wrong. She doesn’t look like she wants to be here."

 

"She does."

 

The look of fear was written clearly on the woman's face. More people knew about vamps and demons than did ten years ago, but there were still a lot of people who didn’t know. Or didn’t want to know. It was so much easier to chalk the stories of Dracula and werewolves up to fiction then to take them seriously. To take them seriously would mean you’d have to be careful and so many people just didn’t want to do that.

 

"I don't think so."

 

"She made a deal and must pay the debt."

 

“Let me guess, she agreed to go home with one of you not knowing you got all bumpy in the face.” She regarded the three vamps. “Must have been you, you’re the better looking of the bunch.”

 

“She needs to be taught it’s not okay to play games.”

 

"Not on my watch," Buffy said, hands at her hips, fingertips grazing the top of a stake. “Maybe you should learn to be upfront with people.”

 

"Just pretend you didn't see anything."

 

"I can't do that. Let her go and we can talk about it."

 

The one holding her regarded Buffy, sizing her up. She knew what he saw. She didn't look like much of a threat. He was probably thinking he'd get two for the price of one at this buffet. Little did he know and by the time he figured it out, at least one of his friends would be dust.

 

"See, you're taking too long to decide. Let me introduce myself," she said as she moved in to stake one of his pals. "Because you're going to want me more than her when you find out who I am."

 

"Who's that?"

 

The stake came out from behind her jacket smooth as butter, quick as a blink and was impaled in the other vampire's chest before anyone could say anything else.

 

"I guess word hasn't spread too fast, which amazes me, but Orlando’s protected by a Slayer now," she said as the vamp disintegrated into dust particles.

 

As expected his easy prey of a victim was tossed aside, the prospect of being able to best and drain a slayer too tempting to resist.

 

"Run," Buffy cried out as she settled in to take on the two remaining vampires.

 

Vaguely she heard the sound of footsteps as she fought. Neither were much of a challenge, but she was always up for toying with them a bit after spending the night doing rounds with Tasha. The other slayer couldn’t afford to toy, so Buffy had to be very straight and to the point about any vamps they came up against on their rounds.

 

Plunge and move on Giles used to say.

 

Here, though, Buffy could do battle, prolong the ending for just a little bit by getting in a good roundhouse kick or a few good punches. Flex the slayer abilities she was coming to realize were just as much a part of who she was as the color of her hair and eyes. Honing her skills Giles would say.

 

One dusted followed rather quickly by the second, finally she was done. She glanced around the alley to ensure the woman had gotten away. No sign of her, so Buffy assumed that was the case.

 

Now that she was done with her fight, the adrenaline pumping through her was slowing down she had time to focus on her surroundings and realize that she was not alone. There was another vampire around somewhere, lurking in the shadows.

 

Very odd for a vamp, especially when they realized a slayer was around. Most of them were chomping at the bit for a chance to take her on.

 

“Don’t want to come out and play today?”

 

No response. She wasn’t surprised. She supposed he saw his three comrades get bested by her and wisely was going to stay hidden. There were too many hidey holes around for her to hunt him down.

 

And the thing with whatever it was in her that sensed vamps she was rather out of practice so determining how far the creature was from her was out of her realm of abilities just now.

 

“Soon though,” she whispered, knowing that she would do everything she could to ensure a bad guy didn’t live an extra night because of her inability to find him on her watch again.

 

“I will find you,” she called out. “You think you’re getting away tonight, but it won’t be for long. I will hunt you down and what happened to your friends will be child’s play compared to what happens to you when I’m done with you.”

 

Still nothing.

 

She imagined as threats went it wasn’t a great one, but he couldn’t know she hadn’t been adverse to a bit of vamp torture over the years. Only that was to get answers. Extending the battle a bit here and there to get some good licks in was different than outright torture.


†††Part Four†††

Word Count: 7,506

 

Angel remained in the alley for a good twenty minutes after Buffy left. He’d gotten the woman in trouble out of there without distracting her. As tempting as it was to say or do something when he first realized it was her, he didn’t want it on his conscious she got hurt. Or worse, dead, because he distracted her even for a moment from the fight she was in.

 

He hadn’t responded when she called out because he was still shell-shocked at seeing her after all of these years. She looked good, better than really because she looked the same as he remembered the last time he saw her. He couldn’t even be sure that he’d seen her and not some other slayer just superimposing Buffy’s face onto her. He’d done that with human women more than once over the years, sending him into an emotional state for a while after he realized what he had done.

 

That was why he’d stayed out of view, afraid it wasn’t really her. He hadn’t been in Orlando real long, but the town needed help. A slayer being here was a step in the right direction. He’d have called Giles himself and requested help if he thought the watcher would listen to him.

 

That brought him to the second reason he’d stayed out of view. He had no idea what Buffy thought of him. The last contact he had with her group he’d been told in not so many words that he was persona non grata. They couldn’t trust him. They were not sure he was on their side.

 

As if none of them had ever done something questionable in the name of good. Hell, they’d stood by and let him deceive Faith into thinking he lost his soul again. Evidently, that was okay because he was helping them, they were in on the plan.

 

And now?

 

Something had brought him to that alley. It wasn’t an area he’d been prone to going before being an overall decent part of town, but something had drawn him there. Just as had happened when Whistler had brought him to Los Angeles all those years ago, his life was thrown off-kilter again. In an instant, barely a blink of an eye, he remembered what she’d made him feel in that moment. Evidently still felt. A decade of not seeing or even hearing anything about her hadn’t diminished her effect on him.

 

He doubted very likely anything ever would.

 

Love.

 

One woman in two hundred fifty plus years.

 

Cordelia? Nina?

 

They were just a temporary balm to prove to himself (and others) that he’d moved on. That he could at least try to find it again. Who wanted to spend eternity utterly alone? He’d known, though, all long it was futile.

 

There was no other for him. Ever.

 

When she was gone? Taken from this Earth and him?

 

Well, when that time came he knew he’d have a void the size of the Hyperion in his soul for the rest of his days. He’d contented himself with that fact long ago, knew she was still alive despite not physically knowing for certain. He’d know if she was gone. He’d feel it down to his core. That part that animated him would be incomplete because since before he even knew she existed he was certain she’d been the reason for all of it. Darla. Romania. The rats. It had all led him to where he was supposed to be.

 

Buffy.

 

She was here now, though.

 

In Orlando.

 

From what he gathered that night, she wasn’t just passing through or here on vacation. Why would Giles send her here instead of someone younger? Clearly, she could handle herself, but she was in her thirties now. Not that he’d noticed a slowing in her movements or anything.

 

He could swear she was the same woman he’d seen at the vineyard defeating Caleb. He hadn’t seen her fight since. She’d gotten better, something he hadn’t believed possible. She was smooth, graceful. She’d always been that, once she’d gotten the hang of it anyway. No, there was more now. A confidence that bespoke experience, more than experience really, contentment if that was a proper thing to feel under the circumstances. Somewhere along the line from when he’d last seen her, she’d given in to what and who she was and it was obvious. She showed no fear either, something vamps smelled and fed off of like a drug.

 

No one seemed to know anything about a slayer being in town. He’d asked around since that night discreetly. He was new in town and had been living off the grid for years so people knowing a vampire with a soul was in the area wasn’t a concern. He was nowhere near the state Willie had found him in almost two decades ago but as far as interaction with the public. Well, he didn’t do it any more than he had to. Butchers were about the extent of it lately.

 

So it was easy enough to visit bars that catered to demons and vampires and ask around about what the pickings in Orlando were like. He wasn’t the only one who’d found their way to Orlando. Tourists who wouldn’t be missed for a while. Vagrants migrating south for the warmer climate. Transplants. College students on vacation. The offerings were endless despite being smaller than cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

 

He returned to the alley where he’d seen her more than once, but saw no evidence she’d come back. Not that there would be any if she’d been there and dusted vampires.

 

And so that left legwork, using the detective skills he’d honed in Los Angeles. He hadn’t used them much since but the knowledge was still there, easy enough to access once again and dust off. Despite being rusty from years of lack of use he cracked his knuckles and got to work. Hard to believe he was the same guy who’d had to ask Willow to research that Fordham character. He knew the ins and outs of the ‘net as well as anyone and had resources available to him not many others had access to with his active PI’s license.

 

How difficult could it be to find one Buffy Summers?

 

He lived in an abandoned warehouse that he’d slowly converted to his personal domain. The upper level that once served as storage was now his apartment. Here he had everything he needed to exist, work out, and patrol. As if designed with his living there in mind, the storage area had no windows so it was perfect for him. Whenever he craved a view he went downstairs.

 

The main level he’d left pretty much as it was when he found it. The lone exception being one section he’d turned into an office in the event he ever decided to embark on Angel Investigations again. He was a long way from doing that, but he had the paperwork and the tools to do it if he decided. He’d even gone so far as tinting the windows in the office so that he could be there during the day.

 

He tried not to think of Doyle or Cordelia when he’d been setting up the place. While he wasn’t surrounding himself with people here and hadn’t done that since his battle with the Senior Partners, he knew they’d both be happy to know he wasn’t giving up on interaction with humans entirely.

 

He just wasn’t ready to extend himself. A decade might seem like a long time to a human, but to a vampire it was nothing. Some might think that would mean he’d get over the loss of so many quickly because of that. He’d been the cause of so many deaths over the years that to lose even a few under his command didn’t sit well with him.

 

Illyria was still out there, walking around in Fred’s body, but she wasn’t Fred and Angel knew it. What was more Illyria knew it. It got to the point neither could look at the other without that knowledge silently communicated between them. The former god and Spike had long ago left Angel to go off and do their own thing. That had been fine with Angel. After losing Wesley and Gunn, Angel didn’t want to be around anyone else. He didn’t want to be responsible for any more blood on his hands.

 

Death.

 

As he searched various databases he had access to, he wondered at the wisdom in seeking her out. A month had passed since he’d seen her. He remembered the moment he realized he could be a hindrance to her rather than a help. He’d been tempted to jump in, be her white knight, and save the day. Clearly, she’d been doing all right without him and his help. She was alive and well, which was more than he could say for anyone on his team.

 

The human ones anyway. Connor was the only exception and Angel still wasn’t completely certain his son was human. Not one hundred percent anyway.

 

He sipped on his warmed blood, tapping frustrated fingertips on the desk as he thought of what to try now. His search of databases throughout the state of Florida netted him nothing. No property, no vehicles, no driver’s license, and no criminal record. He’d checked the last thinking there might be a chance he could find her that way when nothing else had given him results.

 

He’d even gone down to the courthouse in the event there was something more recent on paper that hadn’t been entered into computer databases yet. Nothing there either.

 

So what could he do?

 

He didn’t believe it was a coincidence running into her in the alley that night. Both of them being in Orlando at the same time could perhaps be dismissed as one. Not the alley at that precise moment.

 

Someone, something had brought them here at the same time after all of these years and he wasn’t going to give up until he found her again. If only to talk to her, reassure him that it really had been her that night in the alley.

 

“If she tells you she doesn’t want to ever see you again?”

 

A possible outcome. He knew he had been on the Council’s Top Ten Least Trusted list, but he’d fallen off the grid after he took down the Senior Partners same as her after she’d finished gathering her slayers. So, maybe the Council no longer saw him as a threat.

 

He’d done his best to put her out of his mind when no one had shown in that alley in LA to help him. While he hadn’t expected it, he had hoped somehow that she’d know he needed her and come even without Giles taking his calls. She hadn’t and while he hadn’t felt betrayed exactly he knew going out and finding her after that wasn’t wise.

 

He couldn’t stop though. No friends and no job to keep him occupied left him time to obsess. To research. It took over a month, but finally he started hearing rumblings in the underground bars he visited about a slayer being in town. The lesser demons, those who were weak or weren’t outright evil and didn’t want to risk being caught in the crossfire, began to migrate elsewhere. Hellmouths weren’t so appealing when they were guarded by someone with the birthright to kill you.

 

He could not have known when he started searching for her after that night in the alley that he wouldn’t be the one to find her at all. It would instead be the other way around.

 

It happened so fast. He was caught off guard because no one had given any indication that he’d been making any waves with his questions. Told to meet someone for information, Angel found himself abducted. Sack cloth over his head, chains designed to hold someone preternatural securely around his wrists behind his back he was pushed into a van and transported away from the bar.

 

There was no powerbase in Orlando that Angel had heard about, but he quickly discovered when he was at last freed of his head covering that there was a rather large nest of vampires with one clearly in charge.

 

Days. He could tell by the hunger in him they’d been holding him for days. When being held with a sack over your head it was difficult to tell time, but he was weak. Famished. If he was a vamp that fed on humans there’d be a bloodbath when he got free the bloodlust in him would be so strong.

 

“Angelus,” the other vamp said. “You’ve been drawing attention to us with your questions.”

 

“I haven’t done anything. Questions aren’t a big deal.”

 

He stepped into the light, knife in hand and Angelus recognized the vamp. He hadn’t seen him in over a century, but he had been one of the Master’s. Had he been in Sunnydale when the Master tried to rise? Angel didn’t know, he certainly hadn’t seen them all and once the Master had been killed a lot fled the area. Most remaining after that left once the Anointed One was destroyed and Spike took over.

 

Despite the demon inhabiting them, many vamps still required the structure of a hierarchy type society. Being told what to do, having someone to be responsible to. Without his soul, Angel had surrounded himself with minions, those willing to do his bidding. Not that he didn’t enjoy getting his hands dirty himself from time to time.

 

“What do you know of Orlando?”

 

“Nothing,” Angel replied.

 

It was true. He’d come here after hearing reports about an apparent sink hole. Sink holes happened all of the time in Florida, so that in itself wasn’t a big deal. But the opening of the sink hole seemed rather suspect as from everything Angel had found, the particular area it had opened up in was stable. A quick search indicated with the sink hole opening there was an uptick in violence and no matter what the streets department seemed to do the sink hole wouldn’t stay permanently closed. Sometimes hours would pass, sometimes days, in one case it had been close to a month, but always it re-opened. And always there were casualties.

 

It wasn’t until he’d gotten here, investigated it himself that he realized he was dealing with another hellmouth. Smaller than the one in Sunnydale, but a hellmouth just the same that required protection. And just like the one in Sunnydale, Cleveland, and others around the globe it drew demons like a magnet.

 

“See,” the vamp said, tracing the tip of the knife along Angel’s jaw and throat. “I don’t believe you. You come here and not too long after that there are reports of slayers in the area.”

 

“I didn’t bring them.”

 

“You were in love with one. Helped her kill us.”

 

“That was a long time ago,” Angel said.

 

“You didn’t pay your respects.”

 

“I don’t involve myself in vampire affairs or politics.”

 

“No, you just kill your brethren.”

 

“You are not my brother.”

 

“Once upon a time I was.”

 

“Things change.”

 

“Like your involvement with the slayer?”

 

“Yes,” Angel said.

 

“Lies!”

 

“I have no reason to lie to you.”

 

“He’s just biding time until they get here. He was probably set to meet them with information.” Angel couldn’t see who spoke, but the voice wasn’t one he recognized.

 

“They would have come by now if they were waiting for me,” Angel said, not even sure who they was.

 

Had it been Buffy that night or another slayer that looked like her? No records in the state of Florida system seemed to indicate he’d been wrong. He was certain it was her if not for the fact she looked younger than she should, given the time that had passed since he’d seen her last.

 

Days it continued. Torture. Torment. Hearing the vampires feeding on humans out of sight but within earshot. Helpless to do anything to stop them. Envious in a way, because at least they were getting sustenance where he was allowed none. He was weak and his opponent was powerful. He was an old one as Darla and the Master had been. Angel came to wish the knife his captor wielded would be shoved through his heart so it could be over. The Powers That Be help him, but he didn’t want to endure this endlessly. He’d gone through it once before in Acathla’s realm. Did he really deserve it a second time?

 

He’d lost track of time. So weak from lack of feeding he could barely sit up, he crawled to his prison cell’s door when he heard the sound of fighting on the other side of it. Panic was heavy in the air, even in his current state he could feel it. The vamps were screaming frantically. Fear was in the air now, too. He’d say endless, but it wasn’t and eventually the sounds of screaming dwindled down to a dull roar. They were being defeated.

 

Someone (Buffy?) had finally come. He tried to gather the strength to pull on the chains that bound him to escape and join in the fight going on beyond the door, but he had none. That bit of exertion was the last straw for Angel as his cell’s door diminished from his view, fading from brown to gray to complete black.

 

And then nothing. Not even hunger possessed him.

 

†††

It had been a while since Buffy had fought a vamp this tough. They just didn’t make them like this in St. Louis. She wasn’t sure that was a good thing. All she knew was that Tasha wouldn’t have stood a chance on her own.

 

It had been since Dracula and the Master before that Buffy had seen vamps with parlor tricks as she called them. From the banter she’d exchanged with the one in charge she came to realize there was a reason for that. He was one of the Master’s.

 

She’d never asked Giles about that. Why some vamps could do things that others didn’t seem to have the power to do. And why she had become immune to them once the Master had killed her. She’d sort of forgotten what with dying and all, it had slipped her mind.

 

He’d been more than surprised his tricks hadn’t worked on her, because they’d certainly stymied Tasha and gotten her more than a little wounded.

 

Eventually, the nest was empty. The main bad guy taken out. Others had fled. They’d come back, and so would Buffy to winnow them out until they moved to some place else.

 

First things first, she ensured Tasha was alive before setting about checking the rooms in the nest. Judging by the locks on this side of the doors she didn’t think the occupants were here by choice.

 

Ten of the rooms had someone in them. Six were dead, two of them resulting in Buffy having to do a beheading to stop them from rising. Three were passed out and badly wounded but still alive.

 

And the last room?

 

Buffy stared, certain she was seeing things, having a dream, or something because there was no way Angel was here. She bent to check for any signs of life. Obviously, he was still alive in the vampire manner of speaking or he’d be dust.

 

Tasha snuck into the room. She probably hadn’t really snuck; Buffy just wasn’t paying attention due to the shock of seeing him again after all of these years causing her to let her guard down.

 

“Why are you waiting?”

 

“For what?” Buffy asked.

 

“To stake him.”

 

“I’m not staking him, Tasha. He’s chained up.”

 

“The police and an ambulance will be here soon.”

 

“I know,” she said, using her axe to get Angel out of the chains as quickly as she could. “Grab his feet,” she said as she reached for his torso.

 

“Buffy,” Tasha said and Buffy knew what the other slayer was thinking without her having to say a word.

 

“You’d be dead if it weren’t for me and you’re going to question me on this.”

 

“He’s a vampire.”

 

“I know very well what he is and what I’m doing. If you’re not going to help me then get out of my way.”

 

Whatever the reason, Tasha helped Buffy carry Angel out to her SUV. They got out of there minutes before the authorities arrived. Buffy didn’t like sticking around in situations like this. Not everyone believed. Some were doubters and some just denied what they’d seen was real. There were some that did believe but did not believe in slayers. She had no authority or rapport here in Orlando so anonymity was their friend. She wasn’t even sure how open Orlando’s police force was about the preternatural problem. Not all forces were as open as St. Louis, this Buffy knew first hand.

 

Neither slayer spoke as Buffy drove from the scene. She checked her rearview mirror frequently not just to see if they were being followed, but also for any signs of life in the back of her SUV. She dropped Tasha off at her own vehicle, knowing whatever she did with Angel she couldn’t involve the other slayer.

 

“What are you going to do with him?” she asked once out of Buffy’s vehicle.

 

“I’m not sure but I couldn’t just leave him there. Paramedics can’t help him and who knows what they’d do to him.”

 

“He’s a vampire.”

 

“Yeah,” Buffy said.

 

“Buffy, I think this is a mistake.”

 

“Then report me to Giles. Do whatever makes you feel better, but don’t call me the next time you need help cleaning out a vamp nest because you know you’re in over your head. I didn’t get any help.”

 

“And I didn’t ask for this,” the younger slayer lashed back.

 

Buffy gritted her teeth, fighting back the retort that was on the tip of her tongue. There was no use arguing so she had to hold herself in check. Buffy hadn’t asked for this either. Any of it. She’d done what she had to in order to save the world. She’d do it again in a heartbeat. Whether they understood, she knew exactly what each and every one of them was going through. She still remembered vividly the day outside of Hemry she got called. She’d remember it forever, she was sure of it. Witnessing her first vampire rising from a grave and the staking that soon followed, not that it had been pretty. These girls at least had help, people on their side to train them. Buffy hadn’t had anyone but a cryptic Watcher who didn’t feel that he owed her anything by way of explanation beyond it was her destiny.

 

“Close the door,” Buffy said not wanting to argue about this tonight. Stepping on the accelerator once Tasha had done just as Buffy asked and slammed the door she drove not knowing where she was going. The fact that no sound was coming from the cargo area made her nervous. Shouldn’t he be waking up by now if he’d been knocked unconscious or hurt or something?

 

She flipped open her cell phone and called home.

 

“I’m going to be a little late. Like maybe all day late. I’m fine, though, so please don’t worry.” She disconnected, knowing Dawn wouldn’t get the message for a few hours yet.

 

There was a time years ago that she wouldn’t have thought to check in. She knew her mom, Giles, and friends worried, but it was part of the Slayer package. Her life with Steve had changed all of that. She understood now what they had all gone through, wondering when sunrise came and there was no sign of Buffy if she was dead in a ditch somewhere. Or worse, in someone’s lair being turned.

 

And so she knew a phone call was warranted telling her sister that she was alive and well.

 

She had no idea what to do with him. She drove around Orlando for over an hour and when he still didn’t wake up knew she had to do something. No sound, no movement. Nothing. And the sun was due to rise any minute. If she knew the area better she would have had a plan in mind beyond driving to a motel not far from her house.

 

She paid for a room with westerly exposure and then went about getting him out of the back of her SUV by herself. No easy task when he was dead weight like this, but she managed. She wondered, not for the first time during her span as a slayer, how people without slayer strength transported bodies in the commission of crimes.

 

Hours she sat there, staring at the bed he was resting on for any signs of life. Her phone rang once and she talked briefly to Dawn, assuring her she was all right and that she’d explain later.

 

She must have dozed off in the chair, hard to imagine because it wasn’t comfortable in the least, but the next thing she knew the sun was about to set. Angel was still not moving. She remembered how weak Spike had been not feeding for long periods of time when he returned to Sunnydale with a soul.

 

Only thing she was fresh out of blood or little critters to give him. If he wasn’t awake how was she going to get him to feed on something anyway?

 

“I hate this,” she said, walking to the bathroom to splash some water on her face. She had to think. She couldn’t stay here with him endlessly and she didn’t know anyone in town who could help him. So, that left her and only her.

 

She let her hair down, running her fingers through it before refastening it into a ponytail. Fingertips grazed the spot on her neck only a select few knew the truth about how it got to be there. Steve knew the truth, just not exactly who Angel had been to Buffy. She hadn’t lied just omitted the part of her life’s history where she’d been in love with a vampire. Steve wouldn’t have understood what made Angel, and later Spike, different.

 

She knew what she had to do then. She walked to her slayer bag and withdrew a dagger before walking to the bed. She had no idea if this would work or whether he would drain her dry if it did, but she had to try. She couldn’t sit here forever waiting for him to wake up, and needing to feed was the only reason she could think of stopping him from waking up.

 

She hissed from the searing pain of the blade as she drew it across the flesh of her arm, hoping it was deep enough. She brought her now bleeding wrist to rest over his mouth making sure her aim was accurate. After a few minutes she saw his throat move as he swallowed. That gave her hope this was working. She rubbed her wrist around his mouth, coating his lips with her blood. She hoped that would encourage the demon’s survival instincts to kick in.

 

She cried out a second time as fingers topped with claw-like nails gripped her wrist and he clamped down for all he was worth with his fangs. She groaned, biting her lower lip to stifle any noise someone on the other side of the wall might hear as she felt him sucking greedily at the wound she’d made.

 

The growl should have frightened her. She had no idea if he had his soul, but suspected he did or he wouldn’t have been locked up in a cell. Instead, hearing the low growl coming from his throat as he fed reassured her that he was merely hungry and she’d done the right thing.

 

In a flash, faster than she would have thought possible considering how unconscious and just lying there he was moments ago he released her wrist and was on top of her. His body heavy on hers, fitting intimately over her with an ease that should have made her uncomfortable. At least under ordinary circumstances it should have.

 

“Angel,” she managed to get out before his mouth was on hers. It took her a few seconds to realize he wasn’t kissing her. She must have bit her lip too hard and drawn blood while he was feeding from her wrist because he was licking and worrying her there as if he thought he’d get a treat out of it if he continued.

 

It’d been years since she’d been up close and personal with a vampire and she’d never kissed Angel or Spike after they’d gotten done drinking blood. So, tasting her own blood on his lips as he fed on her there was odd to say the least. She tried to be grossed out as she had been seeing Spike lick his own wounds clean, but she knew the demon was only thinking of survival and it smelled a freshly opened wound.

 

He hadn’t taken near as much as he had after Faith poisoned him, so while she was feeling a little lightheaded she wasn’t a weak kitten either. She took hold of his head, tugging him away from her. He fought, but not too hard. She didn’t want to make him mad. A mad hungry demon was not a good thing.

 

“Angel?”

 

Silence. He nuzzled against her neck. At least that was what she thought he was doing until she felt the tip of a fang brush against the scars from the last time he’d fed off her. It was tempting to close her eyes and let him take whatever nourishment he needed, but she knew if he was strong enough to overpower her as he was just now he was okay enough to stop.

 

“Mine,” he murmured as she felt his fangs pierce her neck.

 

“Angel!”

 

She tipped her head back, unable to stop herself from giving into the feeling that washed through her as he fed from her there. She knew it was nothing more to him than his survival instinct kicking in, but damn it all if it didn’t affect her the same as it had the first time she’d let him feed off of her.

 

Eventually, not longer than maybe five minutes had gone by, he stopped of his own accord.  His mouth still at her neck, a fang grazing her skin but she didn’t get the impression he was looking to find another pulse point to feed from. She felt his breath there, warm against her now achy and sensitive skin. This time she didn’t imagine the nuzzle and her arms went around him instinctively. Years, more than a decade, and he still made her feel things she had no business feeling.

 

He was suckling the spot now. It felt strange to say the least, different than when he was full-on game face, fangs imbedded in her skin. No less arousing, though, that was for sure. He stopped, thankfully, because Angel arousing her was not what the world needed right now.

 

“How did you know?” His voice was barely a whisper, but so close to her ear as he was at the moment she heard him just fine.

 

“Know what?”

 

“Where to find me?”

 

“I didn’t. I mean, patrols led to that nest. It took Tasha and me over a week to find a vampire dumb enough to lead us to it.”

 

“Thank you,” he whispered, hugging her so tight he might have crushed her if she was human.

 

“You’re welcome. How long have you been there?”

 

“I don’t know. A week, ten days, maybe two weeks.”

 

“No blood that whole time?”

 

“No. I saw you a while ago and I was asking questions, trying to find out if it was really you.”

 

“You saw me?”

 

“Yeah. One night in an alley. You stopped three vamps from making a snack out of a woman.”

 

“You were the other vamp,” she said. It wasn’t really a question. She understood why he wasn’t quick to show himself if he wasn’t certain he’d seen her.

 

“Yeah. I was so surprised, wasn’t sure it was you so didn’t say anything.”

 

“So, you went around asking questions, drew attention to yourself, and got yourself kidnapped?”

 

“Yeah, they really don’t like mentions of a Slayer in town.”

 

“No, I know they don’t. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for it to get around.”

 

They were quiet for a few minutes, which made Buffy acutely aware of the fact he was still on top of her. Obviously she wasn’t the only one who still felt things despite years passing since the last time they were in this type of situation. His reaction was a little more obvious than hers, so she hoped he wasn’t aware. She doubted it with his acute sense of smell, he was just too polite to do or say anything to let on he knew.

 

She took what he was offering. Closeness. Intimacy. Love. She’d gone without those feelings for a while now, so to be this close to someone like this was overwhelming. She couldn’t help but remember vividly how Steve felt on top of her, his body pressed intimately against hers as Angel’s was now. She hadn’t even realized she missed this. So focused on trying to be normal for her kids and what losing their father meant to them that she hadn’t really allowed herself to feel what losing him did to her.

 

Her fingers went through his hair, Dawn’s words about trying to move on coming back to her. It would be so easy to give into this moment, the familiarity that was Angel despite the years since their last kiss. She rubbed her cheek against him, kissing his ear. She stopped there, though. She wasn’t a girl anymore, wasn’t in a bad place where sex with him for sex’s sake was appropriate. Not with Angel. Besides, she still remembered her walk down the path of sex helping her to feel and she was not going to go there again. If, when, she had sex again it was going to be because she was ready. Mentally as well as physically. There was certainly no question she was ready physically. Her body was telling her none too subtly that Angel would feel good.

 

She felt tears stinging her eyes as her breath hitched. She could not cry now. Not here. Not in front of him. He’d know something was wrong and she wasn’t in the frame of mind to explain anything to him. Not now. He had his soul, but that didn’t mean he was definitely on their side. She’d let herself cry later, at home in the privacy of her bed where no one else would see or hear her let loose.

 

“Um, Angel,” she whispered. Her voice sounded normal to her. She hoped it did to him as well.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Can you, I mean are you strong enough to get up now?”

 

“What?”

 

She blushed, knew her face had to be the color of a tomato when she realized what it probably sounded as if she was asking.

 

“Off me. Are you strong enough to get off me?”

 

“Oh, yeah,” he said.

 

“I wasn’t sure if you’d taken enough.”

 

“I don’t need much of your blood to make me strong.”

 

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

 

“Yeah, you wouldn’t remember from the last time,” he said, not sounding happy about there being a last or this time. He moved beside her, but she could tell he didn’t want to any more than she did. “You didn’t have to do that.”

 

“Well, I wasn’t sure what was wrong with you and I didn’t want to risk leaving you alone to try to find a butcher who would sell me blood. It’s not like I haven’t done it before.”

 

“I know and you shouldn’t have done it then either.”

 

“You’d be dead.”

 

He shrugged, hands going behind his head as he stared at the ceiling above the bed they were on.

 

“How long have you been here?” he asked. Obviously, he wanted to change the subject from the Buffy donating her blood to him subject. Fine by her, because she didn’t want to think about what it all meant.

 

“A few months. There’s a…”

 

“Hellmouth.”

 

“You knew?” she asked.

 

“Heard reports of a sink hole and came to investigate just to make sure. I mean, it’s Florida, a big sandbar, sink holes happen, but something struck me about this one.”

 

“Yeah, Giles, too.”

 

“Are you going to report to him you saw me?”

 

“I have to.”

 

“He doesn’t trust me.”

 

“That was a long time ago, Angel. We had a lot on our plate and you were doing things he didn’t understand.”

 

“That may be true, but I imagine he won’t trust me being near you again.”

 

“Well, you were already here. What can he say about it? He sent me here!”

 

“Where are we?”

 

“A motel. I didn’t know what else to do with you. The sun is just about down now, though, so I can take you home.”

 

“Home sounds good about now.”

 

“I can imagine.”

 

“I must look a sight.”

 

“I’ve seen you look better for sure, but I’ve seen you look worse, too.”

 

“Yeah, I guess you have. You, on the other hand,” he said, turning onto his side to face her. He ran a fingertip along her neck. The disdain in his eyes as he did she knew was directed at himself for feeding off of her again rather than aimed at her.

 

“What about me?”

 

“You haven’t changed at all.”

 

“My. Flattery will get you everywhere.”

 

“No, Buffy, I’m serious. One of the reasons I didn’t show myself to you in the alley that night was because I couldn’t believe it was really you. I mean the chances of us being in Orlando at the same time aside not to mention in that alley particularly. It’s just that you look the same as the last time I saw you.”

 

“I don’t know what to tell you because I can assure you I’m older.”

 

“I know,” he said, sliding his hand up from her neck to her face. She didn’t draw away as he cupped her cheek with his hand, a thumb stroking just under her eye there. “I can see it in your eyes,” he said.

 

She wondered what he saw in them. She had a good life since leaving Sunnydale. Could he see that? Could he look at her and know the things only Giles, Willow, Xander, and Dawn knew?

 

“I should get you home,” she said, realizing that it was getting late and Dawn was bound to be worried if she didn’t show up soon. “I’m sure you have some recuperating to do or something.”

 

“I feel great, really, but I understand if you have to go.”

 

“Yeah,” she said, unwilling to let him in on why. She had nothing to hide, but she didn’t know anything about him any longer. Ten years changed people, even vampires. “I kind of do,” she said, pulling away from his touch.

 

“All right. If I didn’t say it outright, thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome,” she shrugged. “I could never just leave you behind.”

 

“I’m glad that’s the case.”

 

“Yeah, well, if it was up to the other slayer.”

 

“I can imagine.” He watched her closely as she sat up. “It’s not Faith, is it?”

 

She laughed. “No, why would Faith want to stake you?”

 

“I don’t know. I’m not really sure what the Watcher Council’s thinking is on me or Spike.”

 

“In general, there is no thinking.”

 

“Sounds like the Watcher Council I know and love.”

 

“Well, no, that’s not what I meant.”

 

“It’s okay, Buffy, I was teasing. I know what you meant.”

 

“Good, because Giles does do with the thinking. Very well even. You’ve both been off the radar for so long there just isn’t an opinion any longer. I think Giles trusts me enough to believe me when I say you’re okay.”

 

“I don’t know that I’m okay, but I haven’t been on any killing sprees lately.”

 

“That is very good to know.”

 

Her cell phone on the small table by the window started ringing. She groaned, knowing full well who it was going to be. She stood from the bed and grabbed the phone.

 

“Hello.”

 

‘Buffy. Are you coming home soon?’

 

“Yeah, Dawn, sorry. I’ve got one stop to make and then I’ll be on my way. Okay?”

 

‘Is everything okay?’

 

“Yes,” she said, eyeing Angel who was watching her very intently as well. She saw a look of relief on his face when she said Dawn’s name. Admittedly, she’d done that deliberately for reasons it was best she didn’t think about. “I’ll tell you later.”

 

‘Marcus and Sierra have been asking for you.’

 

“I’ll be home soon.”

 

‘Okay,’ she said, but Buffy knew Dawn was confused by Buffy’s unwillingness to talk to her kids. It was usually the highlight of the end of her days (when they got late) to hear their innocent voices.

 

“Thanks. Love you,” she said, disconnecting.

 

“So, Dawn’s down here, too.”

 

“Yeah,” she said.

 

“That’s good. You two have stayed close then?”

 

“Not always physically, but for the most part we are.”

 

“I’m glad. Relationships with family can be hard once you grow up and life gets rolling.”

 

“She hasn’t had it so great.”

 

“Oh. Sorry. Is she okay?”

 

“Yeah, we’re survivors anyway. You can’t keep the Summers’ sisters down it seems.”

 

“Well, I won’t keep you any longer then. I didn’t realize you had her waiting for you. Probably worried you were dead or something.”

 

“It’s okay, Angel. I made my choice, I’d do it again.”

 

They cleaned up the room as best they could. It wasn’t a five-star place by any means, but neither seemed to want to leave a bloody towel behind. There wasn’t a lot of blood, but enough that a nosy housekeeping employee might call the police. No problem, except Buffy had provided her license plate number at check-in.

 

That taken care of, she led him to her SUV and followed his directions through the streets of Orlando.

 

“This is where you live?” she asked.

 

“Yeah. You know me; I like to have my space.”

 

“Yeah, but it’s a warehouse.”

 

“It was. Been vacant for years. It was ideal for me. There was a storage area upstairs that I converted to my apartment. You can come in and see it if you want.”

 

“I, no, some other time maybe. I really do have to get back. I’ve been gone since last night.”

 

“You’re not making me feel better about the whole thing.”

 

“I’m not trying to make you feel bad, just stating facts, Angel.”

 

They’d talked about mundane stuff on the way here. Safe things. No talk of the past ten years beyond generalities. It was all she was willing to give and he seemed to begrudgingly accept that.

 

“Do I get your number at least? In case I could use some help one night or something.”

 

“Oh, yeah, sure,” she said. “I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be patrolling. I’m not happy with Tasha at all. I’m going to call Giles when it’s a decent time for him and really demand she got moved somewhere less active.”

 

“Well, it’d still be nice to have.”

 

“Yeah,” she said, writing it down for him. He did the same in return. Plus she had an added piece of information about him that he didn’t have in kind. She knew where he lived.

 

He leaned over, grazing her cheek with a kiss.

 

“Thanks again, Buffy, really. If I sound ungrateful, I’m not, I just don’t like that it’s you saving me. It’s supposed to be the other way around.”

 

“I haven’t needed saving for a very long time, Angel.”

 

“I know,” he said with a shrug. He chose that moment to open the door and she saw his tight smile in the dim light of the car. “Humor me.”

 

“Okay,” she said. “Good night. If you need anything later. More blood or whatever.”

 

“I’m not taking any more of your blood,” he said from outside the car now.

 

“I wasn’t offering that, geesh. I was going to offer to go to a butcher for you.”

 

“Thanks. I should be all right. I’ll shower and change and head out to get what I need before the sun comes up.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Drive safe,” he said, tapping the roof of her car lightly before he closed the door.

 

He stood there on the street under the streetlamp, watching as she drove out of the area. She felt as though she was seventeen again, him looking for her after their battle against the Mayor to be sure she was okay before he left town.

 

Only this time it was her leaving him.


†††Part Five†††

Word Count: 2,634

 

Buffy parked the SUV in the garage, closing the door automatically behind her. She wasn’t at all surprised that the door leading from the garage to the laundry room opened before she could even get out.

 

“You really are okay?”

 

“Yes, Dawn, I told you I was,” she said, going to the rear of the vehicle to ensure everything from her patrol had been put away properly. She didn’t like using it for both patrols and a mom vehicle, so it was a good thing that she and Steve had both had a car. Hers had been paid for by the Council so it was a little nicer than his, but until she got a slayer here who could actually do the job she was stuck driving Steve’s for everyday use.

 

“You are not! You were bitten? Buffy?”

 

“Mommy?” Sierra’s voice came from behind Dawn. Buffy closed the tailgate right away.

 

“Hey, Pumpkin, how was your special day with Auntie Dawn?”

 

“It was nice, but I missed you.”

 

She scooped up her daughter, hugging her tight and kissing her cheek. “And Mommy missed you, too. In fact, I bet Mommy missed you more.”

 

“I missed you this much,” she said, spreading her arms out as wide as they could go. “Well, then I guess we’re even. Go on inside, Mommy will be right behind you.”

 

“I’ll tell you once they are all asleep, but I promise you I’m fine.”

 

“Buffy.”

 

“Just get me some gauze and stuff while I check on Marcus.”

 

“He’s working on homework in his room.”

 

“Good. Thank you. For everything. I know it goes above and beyond.”

 

“It doesn’t go above and beyond anything. It’s why I’m here.”

 

“Still. Thank you. You didn’t sign up for all-day duty with three kids.”

 

“Well, it was really only one since the other two are in school all day. And Cat was great. We watched PBS Kids and stuff.”

 

“Good.”

 

“You sure you’re all right?”

 

“Positive,” she said. “I’ll meet you in my room in a minute.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Actually, make it the kitchen. Break open a bottle of wine. I think I need it tonight.”

 

“All right.”

 

Buffy wasn’t a huge drinker when she actively slayed. A glass or two didn’t impair her too badly, but she just never knew when something was going to come knocking on her door. So, she liked to keep clearheaded all of the time.

 

She pushed the sleeves down on her shirt, hoping to cover most of the bite wound there. Her hair did the trick for the one at her neck. At least she hoped. Both were still very raw, the one at her wrist by far the worse of the two. Buffy knew by tomorrow they would be much better. In a couple of days it’d be as if it never happened.

 

“Marcus,” she said, knocking on his door. “Can Mommy come in?”

 

“Yeah,” he said.

 

She could tell from his voice that he was on the top bunk of his bed.

 

“Hey, whatcha doing up there?”

 

“Reading.”

 

“Oh. Okay. I’m sorry I wasn’t here to get you to or from school today.”

 

“It’s okay. Aunt Dawn did it.”

 

“Yeah, I know. I like doing it.”

 

“I know,” he said, and sounded mostly sincere. Most importantly, he didn’t sound put out by the idea that his mom still liked seeing him off to school.

 

“I’m going to talk to Aunt Dawn for a while, but I wanted you to know I’m home in case you were waiting up for me. You get ready for bed.”

 

“Okay,” he said.

 

She knew that was the closest he would get to admitting he was in fact waiting for her. She was sure he didn’t miss out on the fact that his dad worked nights much like Buffy was these days. So, whether he admitted it or not, it had to be on his mind. A lack of denial was a good clue that was the case. She walked to his bed, stepped on the rungs of the bottom bed and stretched up to kiss him.

 

“Good night, honey. I love you.”

 

“Love you, too,” he said. She knew he’d wait a bit to get ready for bed, but he’d do it as soon as he heard Sierra was done in there.

 

After checking on Sierra and finally Cat, she made her way downstairs where Dawn waited. First aid supplies and wine ready to go.

 

Her wrist bandaged up and neck tended to (it wasn’t bad enough to need bandaging) Dawn filled Buffy in on the day while Buffy ate dinner.

 

“I never knew you could cook,” Buffy said.

 

“Yeah, because basing your knowledge of my houseaunt skills on the last time we lived together is so valid.”

 

“Wow, I was just saying. It’s not something that comes up in conversations. You know? I know you’re not a kid anymore, Dawn.”

 

“I know. It’s just sometimes.”

 

“It feels like we’re still there, doesn’t it?”

 

“Yes. And knowing that one day I’m going to …”

 

“Stop it,” she said, glancing at the stairs. All was quiet up there, but she was putting off talk about Slayer business until she knew for certain all of the little monkeys were down for the night.

 

After checking in on the kids and assuring herself they were snug in their beds, sleeping soundly she met Dawn in her bedroom. The baby monitor would tip her off if anyone got up, because she’d left the door to Cat’s room ajar. So, it should pick up any sound in the hallway.

 

“First of all, you can’t freak out.”

 

“Okay,” Dawn said, though Buffy knew she would anyway.

 

She told her everything. It was an odd thing for her, to be in a place in her life where things dealing with Angel weren’t tricky. Oh, she imagined they still could be, but as far as feeling the need to hold back or hide things. Nope, not this time.

 

“So, you just dropped him off?”

 

“What was I supposed to do? We exchanged numbers and stuff, but I doubt I’ll ever use it. For all I know, now that he knows for sure a slayer is in town, he’ll move onto the next troubled spot.”

 

“Well, do you want him to go?”

 

“I don’t know and I don’t have any say over what he does anyway, Dawn. I only spent about an hour with him when he was awake.”

 

“But, Buffy, if he knows.”

 

“I’m not going to tell him.”

 

“Why not? It was the main reason he left you. Thinking he’d outlive you.”

 

“I know, but I’m not ready, Dawn. Even if this is The Powers That Be at work, I’m not ready.”

 

“You’re never going to be ready if you don’t try!”

 

“I know, but I need to try at my own pace. Baby steps. I need to, you know, date, find out who this Buffy is.”

 

“And you can’t do that with him?”

 

“Maybe I can, but I don’t want to use him or settle either. It was tempting today. We were alone, and I realized as he was on top of me that it’d been so long since I’ve had that kind of closeness. I mean, Cat was only three months old, I’d been cleared medically and all but with a baby and two kids who in the heck had time for sex?”

 

“I understand, and you have nothing to feel guilty about. Steve knew you loved him.”

 

“Oh, I know. It’s not as if we did nothing after Cat was born.”

 

“So?”

 

“It’s a big step, Dawn. Dating. Sex. I need to make sure that I’m not settling just because of what I know about myself. I don’t want to force myself into a relationship that’s not meant to be. And so soon.”

 

“It’s not!”

 

“It is. For me,” she said. “I realized tonight,” she said, feeling the tears that had threatened to fall earlier at the motel with Angel start again. “I miss it. Having someone. That one person I know I can always be close to. There’s so much more to intimacy than just sex. I never knew that before Steve. Not really. Not the way I learned it with him anyway.”

 

“I know,” Dawn said, hugging her. Buffy took her offered comfort and for the first time in she didn’t know how long, she cried on Dawn’s shoulder.

 

Neither sister spoke. Buffy wasn’t sure how much time had gone by, but she knew it was a while. Dawn didn’t seem to mind and that made Buffy love her even more. She kissed her, smiling at the shocked look on her sister’s face.

 

“I love you.”

 

“I love you, too.”

 

“I need to call Giles in the morning.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because Tasha is just not getting it. Not like she should. And before you say it, I’m not being judgmental or expecting too much. She would have gotten killed tonight if I wasn’t with her.”

 

“You had help.”

 

“Not every day, and I didn’t need it to survive a routine patrol. I don’t mind helping, you know that, but I’m slaying way more than I should be. I’m thirty-two, even if I don’t look or feel it. I want to be here with my kids, I don’t want to miss out on things.”

 

“It was one day, Buffy.”

 

“It was one day too many.”

 

“You could ask Angel.”

 

“I’m not going to ask Angel to babysit a slayer so that I don’t have to.”

 

“No, that’s not what I meant. I’m guessing her problem is the fighting. The slaying.”

 

“Well, yeah. I mean, she’s gotten down where to find them. And if it’s an easy staking, like a newly risen vamp, she does all right. But when they fight back and are tough she just doesn’t know what to do.”

 

“Well, Angel is a vampire.”

 

“I’m aware of that.”

 

“And he does know how to fight.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Not just like a good guy either. He knows how to fight like a vampire.”

 

“I am aware of this.”

 

“So, maybe he’d help you train her. You’re not a vampire, Buffy, and no matter how much you try to fight like one in your sparring sessions, you don’t have the mindset.”

 

“And you think Angel would?”

 

“You two didn’t hold back with one another.”

 

“That was because we knew one another’s abilities.”

 

“He’d learn hers.”

 

Buffy leaned back against the headboard of Dawn’s bed and sipped on the glass of wine.

 

“I mean, he’s here so why not use him.”

 

“Dawn.”

 

“Okay, use is the wrong word. You know he’d help.”

 

“Yeah,” she said. She didn’t know for sure he’d help, but she couldn’t see him saying no either. Unless he held a grudge against her for stuff that had happened ten years ago, which didn’t seem to be the case. She ran her fingertips along the bite at her neck. She hadn’t dwelled on it earlier, not wanting to but she’d heard full well what he’d said before biting her there. She wasn’t sure what he’d done, if anything, but she imagined he’d be willing to take one for the home team of good guys if she asked.

 

“I’ll think about it. I still want to call Giles, though. I have to tell him about Angel being here, and if I do decide to go with this idea he needs to know that, too.”

 

“It is a good idea.”

 

“It’s not a bad idea, because you’re right. No matter how hard I try, I don’t have the mindset of a vamp. I’m a defensive player more than an offensive player. And clearly what I’m teaching her, or trying to anyway, just isn’t good enough. Or enough period.”

 

“I’m sure you do fine, Buffy. She just may be one of the ones who can’t have a territory on her own.”

 

“Maybe. I still don’t know why Giles sent her here when there are more slayers experienced with fieldwork out there.”

 

“Maybe he was testing you.”

 

“Me?”

 

“Seeing if you were ready.”

 

“For what?”

 

“Well, you said you think he’s going to send someone to Sunnydale.”

 

“No! And he knows the answer would be no. I will not under any circumstances expose my kids to that kind of life. I’m here to help, that’s it. Once Tasha, or whoever the slayer of this hellmouth ends up being, is ready I’m done.”

 

“Buffy.”

 

“Giles knows I will always be here to help. The Council will always have my contact information for the rest of forever in case of emergencies, but I am not active. I have three human beings that I’m responsible for raising and seeing to it that they become normal adults.”

 

“I’m normal.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Just pointing out, it is possible. Xander’s normal, Willow’s normal.”

 

“I’m not doing it. What are you? Gathering information for him?”

 

“No, I just realize it’s a possibility. I mean, who better to have guard the mouth of hell than a slayer who will live as long as the vamps who want to open it. That way no one will ever forget.”

 

“I don’t have to be active to stop people from forgetting, Dawn. I couldn’t let The Council forget anyway. I will think about talking to Angel. He would probably say yes.”

 

“Ha!”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, taking another sip of her wine.

 

“Does it hurt?”

 

“What?” she asked.

 

“Your wrist and neck.”

 

“Oh, yeah. I mean, in a weird way. The wrist is worse. It aches and all. I kind of like it.”

 

“What?”

 

“Not him biting me. I did what I had to do. Being able to feel pain. Sometimes I wonder what this immortality means for me beyond the obvious. I get that I’ll live forever, but does that mean I’m no longer human?”

 

“Of course you are.”

 

“I wasn’t human to begin with. Not entirely. Slayers have just enough demon blood mixed in to activate the slayer magic. I get that, but to feel pain. Well, it means I’m still as human as I ever was.”

 

“Buffy.”

 

“No, I get it. Well, I don’t really. I mean, why me? Why now? Why do I get to be the slayer that re-writes watcher journals again and again?”

 

“Obviously, there’s a reason.”

 

“I guess. I wish I was clued in as to what it is,” Buffy said.

 

“Where would the fun in that be?”

 

“Right. And, of course, you think that Angel being here has something to do with it.”

 

“No, but I think he deserves to know.”

 

“We’ll see. For all I know he’s got a wife or girlfriend.”

 

“I doubt it, Buffy, if he kissed you.”

 

“You kiss people you love, it doesn’t always mean anything.”

 

“For you two?”

 

She shrugged. Dawn had a point. There was very little between Buffy and Angel that meant nothing. They just weren’t wired that way. Spike had it right all along. They were never just friends, couldn’t be.

 

“That was then,” she said.

 

“What?” Dawn asked.

 

“Nothing, just thinking. I think I’m going to get ready for bed.”

 

“All right.”

 

“Thanks for talking.”

 

“Thanks for telling me everything,” Dawn said, sounding so sincere Buffy almost started crying again.

 

“I’m glad you were here for me to tell.”

 

“Me, too.”

 

“And Dawn?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I do love you. Those aren’t just words.”

 

“I know, Buffy, I do. Me, too.”

 

“Goodnight then,” she said, making her way to the kitchen to drop off her wineglass before heading upstairs for the night. Dawn’s idea of asking Angel to help with Tasha was a solid one. She wasn’t sure she was ready to be around Angel again, but she’d have to put her personal feelings aside for what was best for her slayer if she wanted to get off full-time patrol duty anytime soon.


†††Part Six†††

Word Count: 6,577

 

He’d discovered a new kind of hell. He was certain of it. He’d been surprised when Buffy had called him days after seeing him. He’d gotten the impression when he’d left her car that the exchange of telephone numbers was just a polite thing for her to do. It’d been years, so he couldn’t blame her, but still it stung a little.

 

So, he was more than a little shocked to see her number show up on his cell phone screen. He’d run a trace of her number and found nothing identifiable about it beyond the fact it was a St. Louis, Missouri number. He had no idea if that was where she was living with plans on returning there as soon as the slayer she was here to help was capable of running things on her own.

 

It was a cell phone, too, registered to The Council out of London. Big surprise. So, other than knowing the number itself was out of Missouri, he knew nothing about where she had been.

 

“Hello,” he answered after the third ring. He didn’t want to appear too anxious to talk to her again. Truth was, oddly, despite living basically alone for the past decade and not minding it in the least he was anxious to talk to her. He wanted to know this Buffy. The woman she’d become. The woman who’d been able to drop him off at his place after saving his life again without a backward glance. And she hadn’t looked back. He watched, waited for some sign that it had been difficult for her to leave him not knowing one hundred percent he was okay. Of course, he was. Slayer’s blood would heal most any wound in a vampire.

 

‘Uh, hi, this is Buffy.’

 

“How are you?”

 

‘I’m good. You?’

 

“Good,” he said.

 

The effects of her blood didn’t last as long as he would have liked. It wasn’t just the difference between fresh, warm human blood and the stuff he drank normally. It was Slayer blood. Buffy blood. It made him stronger even if he wasn’t deserving of such things.

 

‘Listen, I have a favor to ask.’

 

“I think I owe you one. So ask.”

 

‘I mentioned the other slayer here in town,’ she said.

 

“Yeah.”

 

‘Well, she’s really having some problems getting into the saddle. You know? I mean, I remember getting my calling and I didn’t get it right away. It didn’t take me this long, though.’

 

“Okay.”

 

‘Well, Giles insists she’s capable. I’ve asked him to transfer her somewhere that’s not near an active hellmouth and give me someone with more field time than her.’

 

“Right.”

 

‘Well, the other night, the night we found you. I mean, Angel, she’d be dead if I wasn’t there.’

He still wasn’t sure where she was going with this.

 

‘So, Dawn and I got to talking after dropping you off and she mentioned something.’

 

“Okay,” he said to let her know he was still listening.

 

‘And I’m sorry, I’m taking an incredibly long time to get to my question.’

“It’s okay, Buffy, I’ve got plenty of time.”

 

‘Ha ha. Yeah, I guess you do. Well, I was thinking maybe you’d help me work with her.’

 

“Help you how?”

 

‘Train with her.’

 

“Why?”

 

He was going to say yes. There was no question about that, but he wanted to understand where she was coming from with the request.

 

‘Well, like Dawn said. I can train with her, fight her, but I’m not a vampire. I don’t think like one. I don’t fight like someone who’s going to kill her. That thirst for blood. Her blood. And while you wouldn’t hurt her, I know that you’d approach any sparring differently. With that edge that maybe I’m missing.’

“Okay. Sure.”

 

‘I just want to tell Giles I’ve tried everything before I call him again. If this doesn’t work, though, I’m going to have to. I mean, I don’t mind helping and all, but I sort of hung up my full-time Slayer gloves years ago. I don’t want her to die.’

 

“Buffy, I said okay.”

 

‘Really? I wasn’t sure you were just saying that so I’d know you were still there.’

 

“I wasn’t. And, yes, really. I was sent to help you years ago. That didn’t end just because you stopped needing my help. Whatever you need. I have plenty of space here at my place. A whole training area at your disposal if you need somewhere to go.”

 

‘That’d be great.’

 

“When did you have in mind?”

 

‘Tonight?’

 

“Okay.”

 

‘Thanks, Angel, I really appreciate it.’

 

“No thanks necessary. Whatever I can do. You remember how to get here?”

 

‘Yeah.’

 

They’d hung up after establishing the time. No small talk. No pretense of friendship or a past existing between them that went beyond the Mission. That bothered him deeply. He knew leaving Sunnydale was the best thing for everyone, but he hadn’t anticipated how much it would hurt to realize she’d put everything they meant to one another behind her so completely.

 

They’d shown up every night for three weeks now. Always together. He’d say thick as thieves, except he didn’t get a vibe off of them like he would about Buffy and Willow or Buffy and Xander. They worked together, but he didn’t sense that they were friends.

 

They left as soon as the training session was done. Sometimes, Buffy would spar with him, but it was mostly to show Tasha a maneuver she needed to work on. A few times Angel joined them for their patrol, but he drove separately. Buffy was pleasant to him. Tasha was clearly unsure and untrusting, but she was progressing and seemed to understand that it was due to his help. At least in part. He was sure the more field experience she got she improved as well, but the sparring certainly didn’t hurt. Evidently, Buffy’s idea of fighting someone who got how the enemy thought was a valid one.

 

He hated that they never got beyond superficial conversation.

 

How are you? How was your day? How was last night’s patrol? Nice weather we’re having.

 

No substance. No meat. No emotion.

 

For someone who had craved a lack of involvement and emotional entanglement after losing every human member of his team in Los Angeles he found it rather ironic that he was the one upset that these things were lacking in his relationship with Buffy.

 

Relationship was stretching it. They didn’t even talk to one another like friends. He had to wonder if anyone from The Council but Dawn knew he was in town. Did Tasha know who he was to Buffy? Obviously, she knew he was a vampire so had to know something was different. That didn’t mean she knew their history, though, what had brought him to Sunnydale and caused him to leave a short while later. Short while to him anyway.

 

He didn’t know any more about her or her life now than he had weeks ago. There wasn’t much time for small talk when she came there with Tasha. She showed no sign of wanting to see or talk to him outside of the training sessions and he’d tried to respect that. He didn’t want to seem like a lovesick fool who hadn’t moved on.

 

Truth of the matter was he was a lovesick fool. For her. He liked to think he’d tried to move on. Move past her. He hadn’t succeeded too well when it got down to it. He still loved her. Still longed to be with her. Time and distance didn’t dissipate his feelings in the least. He hated that of all things he understood how Spike felt when he’d come to Sunnydale looking for a way to get Drusilla back years ago.

 

Love.

 

When you found it. The real it not the fake it that Hallmark and Hershey’s tried to market in their one size fits all flowery take on the subject. Well, there was no getting over it. At least when you’d lived as long as Angel had and knew how rare it was to find.

 

Humans probably didn’t have as difficult of a time moving on as he did because they truly believed there’d be another one around the corner. He had turned a lot of corners. Peaked around a lot of them, taken a few for a spin even. None could compete. None completed him like Buffy. None he’d give up being human for.

 

A lot of good that had done him. She’d ended up dying anyway. Willow brought her back, but there’d been a while after he heard what had happened during her battle with Glory where he’d wondered what he’d done it for if she was going to be gone anyway. He cursed himself for getting so involved with his own stuff that he hadn’t been there during her time of need. He doubted she blamed him for it. They’d both moved on by that point, but he couldn’t help but believe if he and his team had been there perhaps she wouldn’t have had to jump off that tower at all.

 

Hindsight was twenty-twenty.

 

He knew the expression, he just hated thinking he could have prevented her death and her later suffering. She had to know if he’d been in LA he would have been there in the blink of an eye. Unlike Giles, Angel would never have doubted Buffy or her methods, if she’d called needing help he would have offered her whatever he could. It hadn’t made him leave LA and run back to her, something he’d thought on more than once over the years especially when he and Spike got into one of their funks regarding her.

 

He’d stayed away for the same reason he left Sunnydale to begin with, it was the best thing for her. She deserved better than a life riddled with nastiness, regret, and suspicion. He had put the cart before the horse, he knew this, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots as to what Mayor Wilkins said and what he actually meant. His wife would have questioned his faithfulness when she had gotten old and he stayed the same. One aspect of marriage was growing old together, something the mayor nor Angel could have done with their loves. Yet, the mayor had done it, married his love, stayed by her side, and for all of his faults as far as being evil Angel sensed from the way he treated Faith that he had a genuine ability to feel and offer love.

 

That was what brought him here tonight. To what he presumed was her house. He’d followed her a couple of times and she always ended up back here, parking in the garage. He couldn’t let their relationship stay as it was. He didn’t expect anything from her beyond friendship, but he thought he deserved at least that much from her. There was a reason they’d been brought here at the same time. He believed that, and thought she did, too. It was not a coincidence after all their years apart, the disasters she and he had both averted separately, that they were fighting together once again.

 

He sat parked in his car on the street for a while, watching the area. It was a nice neighborhood. Middle class, nothing flashy but most of the yards were well kempt. There were always exceptions to the rule, but even the unkempt ones weren’t unruly. Her house, he presumed it was her house and not the other slayer’s because Tasha had never come back here with Buffy, was nice. Two-stories, rare for the neighborhood he’d realized driving through it a couple of times now. Not outrageously big, but big enough and he wondered what she had to fill the space with.

 

She’d mentioned Dawn a couple of times. Did Dawn live with her? He remembered the day in the motel room that Dawn had called her. From Buffy’s side of the conversation, Angel gathered Dawn had been expecting her.

 

Angel was glad to know someone missed her when she was out. Worried about her. Would wonder where she was when the sun came up and she wasn’t home yet. Living the type of life they did could get old and very depressing if there was no one out there to live for. Angel knew that, because he’d been living that way the past decade.

 

He pocketed his keys, opening the driver’s side door and made his way along the sidewalk to her house. He wasn’t sure what he’d say now that he was actually here doing this, but knew he needed something more than what they had currently. Even just an acknowledgement that his presence in her life meant something beyond a means to an end of getting a slayer trained.

 

He opened the screen door that led to an entry way and rang the bell. He smiled a little at the sound of a dog barking excitedly on the other side of the door.

 

He was not prepared for the sight that greeted him when the door was finally opened. A miniature Buffy was looking up at him. Well, what he envisioned Buffy looked like as a little girl anyway, he’d never seen pictures earlier than her being a teenager.

 

“Hi,” the girl said.

 

The dog next to her was remarkably well-behaved. Angel had been around dogs who went nuts when he, or any vamp, came around.

 

“Um hi,” he said. “I’m looking for Buffy Summers.”

 

“You forgot the check, Sierra,” a voice said from out of Angel’s view. Not Buffy’s voice. There was no mistaking he had the right house, though. He didn’t need to have seen pictures of Buffy as a little girl to know this one looked just like her.

 

“It’s not the pizza man,” she said.

 

“Who is it then,” the voice said.

 

“I don’t know,” she said, looking back at Angel finally. “I can’t invite you in. Mommy says I’m not supposed to.”

 

“That’s right,” Angel said with a smile despite the shock. She was a cute little thing and her hazel eyes were wide with curiosity. He stooped so he was at her level, careful that no part of him attempted to breach the threshold. “You always make sure to let your mommy and daddy invite people into the house. That’s very important.”

 

She scrunched her nose a little and looked as if she was about to say something, but stopped. Angel looked behind her and saw the shocked gaze of Dawn watching him.

 

“Angel,” she said, hand going to the little girl’s shoulder almost possessively. “Hi.”

 

“Hi, Dawn,” he said, standing up again. He hadn’t seen Dawn in years. The last time she’d still been a girl, a teenager but still mostly a girl. That was no longer the case. “You’re beautiful.”

 

She blushed, petting the girl’s hair. “Thank you,” she said finally.

 

“Are the pizzas here?”

 

“No,” Dawn said as Buffy came into view. “Not yet.”

 

“But I heard the doorbell.” She stopped, staring much the same way Dawn had moments ago. “Angel. What are you doing here?”

 

Not how did you find me. That was good.

 

“I, uh, wanted to talk. To you.”

 

“Well,” she said, glancing at the little girl.

 

“Mom,” another voice came from out of view. “I need the computer.”

 

“What for?” Buffy asked.

 

“I need to type my book report for school tomorrow.”

 

“You shouldn’t have put it off until the last minute, but I’m done with it so go ahead.”

 

A boy a little older than the girl who’d answered the door appeared. He did not share in the wide-eyed wonderment that the girl did when he looked at Angel. He looked at Angel with clear distrust in his eyes.

 

“Who are you?”

 

“Marcus, that’s rude.”

 

“I was just asking.”

 

“Come on, guys, let’s go into the living room,” Dawn said. “Here’s the check for the pizza, Buffy.”

 

“Thanks,” she said.

 

Dawn and the two children left the doorway. The dog, however, stayed put. He’d never pegged Buffy for a pet person. Perhaps that was her mom’s doing, the lack of pets. Angel wasn’t sure and he’d never gotten around to asking things like that. He felt tonight like an intruder on such a domestic scene.

 

“What are you doing here?” she asked. Again.

 

“I told you, I wanted to talk.”

 

“Has something happened?”

 

“No,” he said with a shake of his head, hearing the car pull onto Buffy’s driveway. The pizza delivery guy, he imagined. “I really just wanted to talk to you.”

 

She glanced behind her, a hand absentmindedly petting the top of the dog’s head. And then the pizza guy came to the screened door. She looked conflicted and he hated being the cause of that. Had he known. Well, he wasn’t sure he would have stayed away even then.

 

Buffy handed Angel the check, which he took and in turn gave it to the pizza guy.

 

“You can come in, Angel,” she said, stepping aside as he crossed the threshold with the boxes of pizza.

 

“Guys, the pizzas are here,” Buffy called out.

 

“I’m starved,” the little girl called out, running toward them so fast Angel thought for sure she was going to knock him over.

 

“Here, I’ll take those,” Dawn offered. “I assume you’re not going to have any?”

 

“Uh, no, thanks,” he said.

 

“Okay. Come on, guys, I’ll get you plates and stuff,” Dawn said.

 

“I shouldn’t have just shown up like this.”

 

“No, it’s all right. There’s never really a good time around here anyway. How did you know I wasn’t going to be out tonight?”

 

“I took a chance,” he said with a shrug.

 

The two kids came back into the living room each carrying a plate with pizza on it. Just cheese it appeared. He wasn’t sure how he knew that was common with kids; he’d never had much reason to be around kids. Dawn followed with two glasses of milk.

 

“I can get Cat,” Dawn said.

 

“No, that’s all right. Angel can join me in the kitchen. Is that all right?”

 

“Yeah, sure,” he said. He didn’t really have much choice other than to turn around and leave. That was probably the wisest choice, but she didn’t seem put out or upset that he was here so he had to trust she knew what she was doing by inviting him to stay.

 

“I’ll be right in,” she said, pointing in the direction Dawn had just come from.

 

“Okay,” he said. “Are you sure I’m not going to cause a problem here?”

 

“It’s just dinner,” she said with a shrug. “Kitchen. Go. I’ll be right there.”

 

He hadn’t really taken the time to look around the living room beyond noticing it was nicely furnished. He’d been sort of shell shocked to realize that Buffy had a family. He presumed they were hers and not Dawn’s. The kitchen, though, was homey for lack of a better word. It wasn’t until she came into the kitchen holding a baby that he noticed the high chair.

 

Where the boy had dark hair, this one like the girl who’d answered the door had blonde hair like her mother.

 

“Wow,” he said for lack of anything better to say.

 

“Right?” she said, settling the baby in the high chair and strapping her in. “I normally wouldn’t let Sierra and Marcus eat out there, but I guess Dawn figured I’d feed Cat and let them.”

 

“I can come back.”

 

“No, you’re here, and like I said there’s never really a good time around here. Cat still wakes up sometimes, getting used to a new house. And the dog, I swear she’s worse than a baby.”

 

He chuckled a little. “Yeah, they can be a lot of work.”

 

“The kids love her, though, so she’s worth some sleepless nights.”

 

“Or days in your case.”

 

“Right!”

 

“So, just the three?”

 

“Three isn’t enough?”

 

“Well, yeah, I guess I’d think one is enough.”

 

“Believe me, there was a time I thought none was enough. Yes, just the three. Marcus, Sierra, and Catherine.”

 

“They’re cute.”

 

“Thank you. Not that I really had anything to do with it.”

 

“I know how reproduction works, so I imagine you had a lot to do with it.”

 

“Well, yeah, but I mean, you know. It’s all random, not like I had any say over anything, or I’d make sure Cat and Sierra were safe from ever being like me.”

 

“You think it’s hereditary?”

 

“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. “Giles says there’s no evidence of it, but other than Robin Wood no one really researched or knew about ones before me having kids.”

 

“Right,” he said.

 

“Sit,” she said, gesturing to a chair. “I just have to get her some vegetables and I’ll sit, too. I promise.”

 

“Okay,” he said.

 

“So, how long’s it been?”

 

“Since what?”

 

“You’ve been around a baby?”

 

“This age? I can’t say that I ever have been.”

 

“I suppose not. Connor was pretty young when he went missing, right?”

 

“Uh, yeah,” Angel said.

 

She sat down finally with a plate of vegetables and a few small pieces of pizza. A cup of milk completed the picture. He felt more comfortable with her sitting like this than when she’d been busy doing things that were so foreign to him.

 

“Buffy,” Dawn said and Angel stood to leave. This was getting him nowhere.

 

“Yeah, Dawn,” Buffy said, settling a hand over his arm to stop him from standing up completely. “I told you there was never a real good time. Just hang on a minute. Usually I get the kids fed earlier than this, but we decided on pizza kind of late.”

 

“You’re busy. I should just talk to you tomorrow or something.”

 

“Um hello? Why don’t you and Angel go upstairs to your room to talk? I can feed Cat. Sierra and Marcus are fine. They’ll tell me if they need seconds, but they probably won’t finish what they have on their plate.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Positive,” she smiled at Cat in the high chair and picked up the small fork. “One of these days I will get her fed with more landing in her tummy instead of on the front of her bib. It’s a challenge I vow to win.”

 

“Okay then,” Buffy said, standing. Angel could tell she wasn’t entirely certain about the change in venue.

 

Angel followed her without a word up the stairs.

 

“Buffy,” he said as his way of protesting stepping foot in a bedroom she shared with another man. It was one thing to see the lives she created with him, but another entirely to sit in the same room where she slept with the man she’d done the creating with.

 

Except the bedroom was clearly only inhabited by her.

 

“Their father?” he asked, eyeing everything. From the feminine bedding to the furniture, nothing remotely masculine was present that would suggest a man lived here.

 

“Gone a year ago.”

 

“Gone?”

 

“It’s okay,” she said, apparently hearing the tone and the soft growl that came with it. “I mean, it’s not okay, he died, but he didn’t leave me or anything.”

 

“That’s good.”

 

“It was a vamp,” she said.

 

“What?”

 

“That got him. I lived in St. Louis, and you know they have that hoity toity preternatural department.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve heard about it, enough to know to stay away from St. Louis until they realize not all vamps are evil.”

 

“Well, other than you and Spike.”

 

“Harmony hasn’t fed off a human in years, Buffy. Some can make the choice.”

 

She held up her hand. “I’m not trying to argue, Angel, I’m just saying they wouldn’t realize it because it’s far from the norm. Harmony only turned over a new leaf because of you; otherwise she’d probably be out there still trying to kill me.”

 

He shrugged, conceding that point.

 

“Anyway. A friend of ours, their daughter was turned and it changed Steve. It was one thing I guess to have it be faceless people, but once it affected someone we knew and knew well. He asked to get transferred to the unit.”

 

“Why weren’t you part of the unit?”

 

“I was a civilian. I wasn’t going to become a cop to do what I did without a badge. Besides, I worked at the precinct. Answered phones, typed reports, dealt with the grieving families. They liked having me there.”

 

She closed the door and moved to sit on a chair that was near the window. There was a second one there, but he could tell that it wasn’t used as often as the one she was sitting on now was.

 

“I’ll bet,” he said.

 

“What’s that mean?”

 

“I said I’ll bet.”

 

“You didn’t sound like you meant it.”

 

“I did! I would want you on my team.”

 

“I begged him not to transfer. He was a detective, so not quite as dangerous as being a beat cop or working narcotics. I mean, still a cop with risks, but like I said it changed him somehow being someone we knew. I couldn’t talk him out of it, and I guess I didn’t try very hard. I wouldn’t really stand in the way of him doing what he felt he should be doing. And he did help a lot of people over the years.”

 

He could tell she was putting on a brave front, that talking about this was painful. The look in her eyes. No tears were present, but it was still raw for her and he hated that she’d experienced so much pain. It was bad enough she lost her mother at such a young age, but to become a widow in her early thirties.

 

“Now, you didn’t come here to talk about my marital status or my job,” she said, brushing back some hair.

 

“Actually, I did.”

 

“What?” She frowned, generally confused it seemed.

 

He took a seat on the edge of the other chair, eyes falling on the assortment of children’s books on the floor between the two chairs. At least one for each child, judging by the titles.

 

“I just don’t like what we’ve been doing.”

 

“We haven’t been doing anything.”

 

“That’s my point, Buffy.”

 

“What is it you want, Angel? I don’t know what point you’re trying to make.”

 

“I want to get to know you.”

 

“Angel, you know me better than anyone else alive.”

 

“Then. Not now. I want to know this Buffy. You. I want to know about your kids, your husband, how you came to be in St. Louis to begin with, and here now.”

 

Buffy had no idea what to say. Finding him as she had while shocking wasn’t as crazy as some might think it would be. The idea that he wanted to get to know her made her feel good. It meant he wasn’t seeing her as unchanging, stagnant, the same as when he’d left Sunnydale.

 

“Angel.”

 

He stood then and in barely the blink of her eye was kneeling by her feet. He took her hands in his, clutching them almost. She’d forgotten how fast he could be when he wanted to be. He didn’t do that often. In fact.

 

“Mind tricks.”

 

“What?”

 

It was his turn to appear confused and she laughed lightly.

 

“Why can’t you do mind tricks?”

 

“I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

 

“You’re of the Master’s line. I saw the things Drusilla could do, not all of that was because she was psychic. I remember the Master freezing me in my tracks. Xander said Drusilla was able to do that, too, in the library when they came to get Giles,” she said, noticing the look on Angel’s face when she brought it up. “I remember the guy at the nest being able to do the same thing to Tasha.”

 

“It’s because I don’t feed like they do.”

 

“Oh human blood?”

 

“Well, that, and I don’t gorge myself. I drink enough to feed the hunger. And I don’t drink it fresh. The bagged stuff or residuals from butchering just isn’t the same. I mean, animals can provide just as much sustenance as a human. It’s not as tasty,” he said with a grimace, “but years ago when we had to travel on ships and stuff. Well, rats.”

 

She held up her hand, stopping him from going further. She knew what he’d fed on over the years. He’d talked about it, albeit briefly, his life after getting the soul before coming to Sunnydale, but she didn’t like thinking about him living like that.

 

“So, after drinking my blood?”

 

“Yes,” he said with a grimace. “It didn’t last more than a few days either time, but I was definitely at full power.”

 

“I know you don’t like that I did it either time, but I’d do it again.”

 

“I know,” he said, glancing at their hands.

 

“Tell me what you want from me, Angel. To get to know me? And then what? Leave again when we get too close and you decide for a second time what’s in my best interests without consulting me?”

 

“No. I’m not going anywhere. The life I led since LA has been pretty colorless. We’re here for a reason, I believe that. I don’t expect anything from you other than being in your life.”

 

“And you can do that?”

 

“Do what?”

 

“Watch me grow old? Watch my kids lose their mother? Get to know them and have to explain to them why you look no different. Watch me die? All those things Mayor Wilkins talked about, you’d still experience them as my friend.”

 

He gripped her hands hard and she had to wonder how much stronger he’d be with her blood running through his body instead of whatever he’d drank today.

 

“Yes.”

 

“You mean that?”

 

“I do. I let you go. I had to. You have to know that now.”

 

“I do,” she admitted. “I know why you did it; I just wish you’d been honest with me. You could have broken up with me without making it sound like I was crazy for loving you.”

 

“It was the only way I knew how, Buffy. Your mother. Mayor Wilkins. They made me see how different our lives were going to be.”

 

“My mother?”

 

“Yes. She was trying to protect you, Buffy, make sure you had a chance for what you have here.”

 

“Yeah, it hasn’t been fun and games the last year.”

 

“I’m sure it hasn’t. And that little girl Dawn’s trying to get to eat her peas won’t make it fun when she gets old enough to ask questions.”

 

“Marcus already does.”

 

“Yes, but by then you’ll have answered them already and you’re going to wonder when it’ll end. The hurting. The pain.”

 

“I have no idea what to tell him. They don’t know. I’ve managed to keep them sheltered from the truth. One day I know I’ll have to tell them. Everything, including the fact that I had the ability to stop him from dying.”

 

“You didn’t. Buffy! What were you supposed to do? Follow him around everywhere while he did his job? I don’t know him, but no man would let you do that. I take it by the pictures,” he said, glancing at the one on a shelf just above the chair he had been sitting on moments ago of her family. Her whole family. It was the first and last picture they’d had taken of all five of them together. “You were happy, loved by him. He wouldn’t have, it would have eaten away at him if he thought even remotely you didn’t think he was capable.”

 

“I know,” she said. “No man, huh?” She knew what he’d meant as sexist as it sounded, he was right.

 

“At least they know not to let anyone in the house.”

 

She smiled slightly and realized she was crying. “Yeah,” she said, wiping the tears away. “Steve and I drilled that into them from before they could understand much of anything.”

 

“So you’re doing all right, Buffy. They’re clearly doing okay, healthy and happy even if they miss their dad, which that’s inevitable. You’ll handle the rest, that’s what you do. What you’ve always done. You shouldn’t have to do it alone. Shoulder the pain by yourself.”

 

“I have to, Angel,” she said. “I lost a husband, but I’m an adult. They lost their father. Cat will never know him. Ever.”

 

“She will, Buffy. You will be sure of that, just like I’m sure they know about your mom even though she’s gone.”

 

He reached for her then, touching her face and it was her undoing. Like back in the motel room that night she’d found him she couldn’t stop from relishing in the comfort he was offering. Even if he didn’t know that was what he was doing.

 

His arms went around her and before she knew it she was settled on his lap on the floor. She fit against him comfortably, head against his shoulder as she sobbed uncontrollably. He didn’t say anything, didn’t really do anything beyond hold her. He rubbed her back a little, kissed the top of her head once in a while much the way she did for Cat or Sierra when they were upset.

 

She lifted her head away at that thought.

 

“I’m not a child, Angel,” she said.

 

“I know.”

 

“Do you?”

 

“Yes,” he said with a little laugh. “I’m very much aware of the fact that you are all woman.”

 

“Then what is this?”

 

“Even adults need comfort, Buffy. Have you talked to anyone?”

 

“No,” she said with a shrug, resting against his chest again. “Marcus has been to a grief counselor, but I just didn’t have time for it.”

 

“Dawn?”

 

“She just moved here when we did. We haven’t always lived together and she has her own stuff to deal with,” she said, explaining about Dawn’s marriage. She added her suspicions about the latest boyfriend getting serious being the reason Dawn was willing to move down here.

 

“Friends back in St. Louis?”

 

“Oh sure, and they were great. Don’t get me wrong, but Cat was just a baby so life went on. You know? I couldn’t have a break down.”

 

“Well, I’m here now. So you can if you want to. Use me.”

 

She pushed away from him then. Tried to anyway. He was too strong and she didn’t push that hard, but she did get away from the closeness of resting against his chest.

 

“I’m not going to use you. I did that once, and I felt awful the whole time.”

 

“I didn’t mean it like that, Buffy. I just meant, take advantage of having someone, an outsider, being around who loves you. Grieve. You loved him, don’t lose that or think that you’re any less deserving of missing him than they are.”

 

“Loves me?”

 

“I told you a long time ago forever, Buffy, nothing has changed that. Just because we haven’t been together doesn’t mean I don’t feel the same way. Or that I’d ever turn my back on you when you’re in need.”

 

Like she did to him, though that went unsaid. She hadn’t really, though. If Giles had told her about Angel’s calls she would have gone to LA herself to find out what was going on. By the time she’d found out, though, it was too late. Downside of activating all of the potential slayers, she spent almost a full year finding them. That left her out of touch, out of the loop. She hadn’t even known until much later that Giles doubted Angel was still on their side. She’d had no clue.

 

“Feel?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And how do I know you’re not going to wake up in a week or two and rethink our being in the same town again?”

 

“You don’t, I guess you just have to trust me. Believe that seeing you these past few weeks, being in your life but not really, made me realize I want to be in it again. All in, Buffy.”

 

“And if I meet someone?”

 

“Just be honest with me so I know.”

 

“It would bother you?”

 

“Buffy, the demon is predatory and possessive. It sees you as belonging to us, so yes, but I’d survive as long as you’re honest and I don’t find out some other way.”

 

“Like smelling him on me,” she said.

 

“Now you’re taunting me.”

 

“No,” she said with a laugh, snuggling into him again.

 

She liked this. She tried not to be overly excited at the idea he wanted to be in her life not knowing the truth about everything.

 

“I didn’t know,” she whispered after a long moment of silence.

 

“What?”

 

“About LA, that you needed help. If I hadn’t been so busy chasing down newly activated slayers I wouldn’t have been out of pocket.”

 

“It’s over.”

 

“I know, but people died. Good people and I could have maybe prevented it.”

 

“No, I don’t think so, Gunn maybe, but the rest,” he shrugged. “It’s all right, Buffy, I know you would have come if you’d been able.”

 

“I just feel bad, because you’re right I know I can count on you but I haven’t exactly been on the ball lady for you.”

 

“Knowing you were out there fighting was good enough.”

 

“Still. I’m sorry.”

 

“Thank you, but Whistler didn’t send you to help me, Buffy. It was the other way around. You were doing what you were supposed to, no one is going to fault you for that. I don’t hold anyone but me responsible for the deaths.”

 

“It’s not your fault either. They knew going into it. They had to. Fighters of evil read the warning label, Angel.”

 

“I still wish there’d been another way.”

 

“You would have thought of it if there had been.”

 

“You have way more confidence in me than I do, even all these years later.”

 

“I should…”

 

“Get back downstairs. I know,” he said. “I’m glad we got to talk.”

 

“Me, too,” she said, but made no effort to move just yet.

 

She must have dozed off because the next thing she knew there was a knock at her door and Angel was calling her name.

 

“Huh?”

 

“Dawn’s at the door,” he whispered.

 

“I, oh,” she said, sitting up. “I guess I was tired.”

 

“Who could blame you?”

 

She stood then and walked to the door.

 

“I’m sorry, Dawn.”

 

“No, it’s okay. I got everyone to bed and everything, but Sierra wants a good night hug and kiss.”

 

“Okay,” she turned to look at Angel who was standing now, too. “I’ll be right back.”

 

“I’ll go downstairs.”

 

“Okay,” she said, realizing that was probably a good idea.

 

Sierra was hugged and kissed and she stopped to check on Marcus, too, even though Dawn hadn’t mentioned him wanting a hug and kiss, too.

 

“Sleep well, Marcus.”

 

“Who is he?”

 

“An old friend of Mommy’s.”

 

“Did he know Dad?”

 

“No, Marcus, I’m sorry, he didn’t. I knew him before I met your dad.”

 

She pushed back some hair on his forehead and kissed him there.

 

“We just needed to talk, honey, that’s all.”

 

He sighed a little, as if relieved to hear that.

 

“I love you, Marcus, see you in the morning.”

 

“Love you, too,” he said and her heart felt just a little bit lighter at how easily he said those little words he’d gotten rather stubborn about saying for a while there.


†††Part Seven†††
Word Count: 2,896

 

Buffy felt guilty just sitting on a headstone near the entrance to the cemetery while Tasha made her rounds. She was finding it a little more difficult to relinquish her Slayer reins than she anticipated when she realized Tasha was going to need a bit of help before she was patrol-alone worthy. It was actually at Angel’s insistence that Buffy was starting to let Tasha make rounds on her own with the two of them backing her up.

 

She and Angel hadn’t talked too much longer at her house the other night. Cat had been difficult to get put down for bed and Angel seemed to realize that she was ready for an early night for a change.

 

Their last bit of talking, though, had been about how it was time to see what Tasha could do without Buffy’s help. They had met at Angel’s tonight, Tasha driving her own vehicle for the first time since they’d started going to his place for her sparring sessions. She and Angel had remained in the background as much as possible while she went over the obits and police reports she’d researched earlier that day.

 

Nothing in particular jumped out at Buffy that Tasha had missed and so they’d started their night, Angel riding with Buffy for the first time since she’d driven him home after their day in the motel.

 

Now that they were virtually alone again, though, she wasn’t quite sure what to say. Their conversation the other night had been pretty intense, and she wasn’t sure how Angel felt about that. She knew it couldn’t have been easy for him to admit and say the things he had.

 

“I was a little surprised,” he said, breaking the ice, “that it was Dawn helping you out and not Willow.”

 

“Well, Dawn is my sister.”

 

“Oh, I get that part of it, but like you said she had a life in Philadelphia. A house and job, a boyfriend.”

 

“Well, I think she wanted to for one. Like I said the other night, I think the boyfriend may be getting serious and that’s causing Dawn to pull away.”

 

“She’s young yet and after what you say she went through with her first husband I can’t say as I blame her.”

 

“No, I can’t either. I feel kind of bad sometimes. I mean, we weren’t even really trying and kids came so easily. I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids when I got pregnant with Marcus.”

 

“Really?”

 

“God, yes. Everything was still so new to me. No longer being The Slayer and trying to settle into a life that went beyond all that went with that. I didn’t tell Steve for a long time I was pregnant.”

 

“You thought about not having it?”

 

“I did,” she said with a shrug. “I hate saying that out loud, have never admitted that to anyone. Ever. I love them so much, can’t imagine life without them anymore, but those first couple of weeks I wasn’t sure I was grown up enough to be a mom. I barely convinced myself when Steve proposed that I was grown up enough to be a wife.”

 

“You’ve obviously done well.”

 

“Yeah? Thanks,” she shrugged. “So, I think Dawn wanted to come here. And to be honest Willow and me. Well, things aren’t real chummy best friend like these days.”

 

“Oh? I thought she’d gotten better.”

 

“Well, yeah, but as it turns out Giles’ warnings about magic always having repercussions was very accurate.”

 

“Well, yes, magic isn’t something to be messed with. What did she do? I can’t imagine anything possibly more questionable than the things she did in Sunnydale the last couple of years.”

 

She was quiet, debating on how much to tell. If to tell him at all. Then she remembered all of the times she’d gotten hurt, or someone else had, because she’d withheld information. She had no idea how much help Tasha would need from this point forward, but she’d feel horrible if something happened to Angel because he thought he had to protect Buffy somehow.

 

He would think that, too. Slayer or no, he’d do the chivalrous thing. She was a mother, had small children, and he’d put himself in front of her to take a blow from some baddie meant for her.

 

That sealed her decision. It wasn’t so much going through life without him because there was always the chance he’d get staked one day. No, it was that if he did get staked she didn’t want it to be as a result of him protecting her.

 

“Well, apparently when she did the spell to bring me back she forgot to put an expiration date on my return.”

 

“What?”

 

“I was the warrior of the people, allowed to cross over, and now there’s no going back to where I was.”

 

“What does that mean, Buffy?”

 

“I’m here for good. Apparently, phrasing in spells is just as tricky as in prophecies. I was allowed to come back, whoever deemed it necessary the people’s warrior be returned. But now I’m stuck here. Forever.”

 

“That’s why you don’t look any different,” he said his eyes wide as he stared at her.

 

“Yeah,” she said, knowing what he meant. She’d look twenty-two forever.

 

“Steve knew?”

 

“Yes, I didn’t find out until after we’d already gotten married so I had to tell him.”

 

“How did you find out?”

 

“Well, I asked Tara to research things because I was having sex with Spike.”

 

“A visual I do not need.”

 

“Well, it’s part of it. She was the one who knew I wasn’t me when Faith pulled the body switching thing.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Well, evidently while she found nothing wrong with me that allowed Spike to hurt me, she did sense something was different. She asked Willow to research it.”

 

“Right.”

 

“Well, we got kind of busy as life in Sunnydale will do. Apocalypse. Potential slayers swinging from the rafters of my house because we were full beyond capacity. The First.”

 

“I get it,” he said with a soft chuckle.

 

“What’s so funny?”

 

“Picturing slayers swinging from rafters.”

 

“Yeah, well, I’m only slightly exaggerating. It was bad. I mean, that house was not designed for three women let alone over a dozen.”

 

“Right,” he said with another chuckle.

 

“It wasn’t funny.”

 

“Oh, I can imagine.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” she said.

 

“I don’t know why you didn’t use the mansion.”

 

“I never even thought of it honestly,” she said, wondering now why the idea hadn’t occurred to her. She saw it on patrols so it wasn’t as if it was out of sight out of mind. “But the next time it comes up there I’ll be sure to remember.”

 

“So, Willow found out she hadn’t worded things specifically enough?”

 

“Right. Apparently, I’m viewed as the people’s warrior so I have to stick around.”

 

“I can’t argue that.”

 

“That may be, but I’m not going to die.”

 

“It’s not so bad,” he said.

 

“I’m going to have to watch my kids die. Their kids die.”

 

“That will be tough,” he agreed. “Parents aren’t supposed to see their kids die.”

 

“I know, right? I think about that a lot. I watch them as they are sleeping and realize one day they’re going to be grownups. Not too long after that they’ll be gone and I’ll still look like this.”

 

“Just make the best of every day you have.”

 

“And yet, you left.”

 

“That,” he said, standing from the headstone. He settled himself between her legs, drawing her to him to kiss her. His mouth found its way to her ear, kissing it before he continued. “Was entirely different. You weren’t my child. I thought we were safer. The whole world was safer. With us apart.”

 

“And you don’t think that now?”

 

He shrugged, mouth at her neck now. He found his scar there and kissed it. “No.”

 

“Why not? And don’t tell me it’s because I’m going to be around for a while.”

 

“No, that has nothing to do with it. You asked me the other night if I could watch you die and I said I could. I was willing to do it this time, because I realize what a void there is in my life without you in it. No matter how you choose to be a part of it. I cut you out, and that was wrong but it was the only way I knew how to handle it at the time.”

 

“I understand,” she said softly as he kissed the scar again. His mouth skimmed lower along her collarbone to her shoulder, pushing aside her shirt collar there as he did. “Angel?”

 

“God, I love the way you call to me.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“You. Everything about you. I’d forgotten. It’s not just your blood, though that’s definitely there, too.”

 

“Eww.”

 

He chuckled a little, kissing the skin at her shoulder. “But you. Your goodness, your light, your essence. What makes you not just the Slayer but Buffy. It’s intoxicating. It’s why I couldn’t have stayed in Sunnydale. I wanted to lose myself in you just as The First prompted me to.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be. It makes me feel alive in a way I can’t describe.”

 

She felt his fangs at the scar and she held her breath for a moment, eyes falling closed. She trusted him, but it’d been a while since she’d been this up close and personal with a vamp.

 

“Come home with me,” he whispered.

 

“Oh God, Angel, I can’t. We can’t.”

 

“Why? You could leave a message for Dawn, be home before Marcus and Sierra have to leave for school.”

 

“Badness. Evilness. Soullessness.”

 

He ran a fang along her jaw and she shivered instinctively.

 

“Not going to happen.”

 

“How?”

 

“Permanent. Shaman bound it to me for good after Willow returned it the last time.”

 

“How?”

 

“Magic of some sort. The Powers That Be didn’t want to risk losing me from their side again over something like that.”

 

His soul was permanent? He’d known it the last time he saw her in Sunnydale and said nothing? Not that there’d been a heck of a lot of time during his brief visit.

 

She pushed on his chest, pulling away from his gentle assault on her neck with the tips of his fangs.

 

“So you think that means we should hook up?”

 

“What? Hook up? Buffy, no. I have never treated you like that’s all you were.”

 

“Then what?”

 

“I told you I wanted to be a part of your life.”

 

“You didn’t mention sex or even wanting to be a couple. Until I revealed I’m going to be around for more than the next fifty years. And now suddenly you want to sleep with me.”

 

“I wanted you to sleep with me the night in the motel. The other night at your house. Every night I’ve seen you I’ve wanted to kiss you, talk to you. That’s why I came to your house, Buffy. I needed more.”

 

“And you assume I do, too?”

 

“What? No! Why is my wanting you turning into an argument?”

 

“Oh God, Angel, it shouldn’t, but I have to be sure that you want me. Buffy. Not immortal Buffy. Or whatever I am. I mean, they could be wrong. Or Willow could find a way to reverse it or change it somehow.”

 

“Then I’d live with that.”

 

Her hands went to his face, cupping either cheek. His human disguise had given way to his real one. “You would?”

 

“Yes!” It wasn’t a shout, more of a growl, his demon surfacing.

 

“Hmm, which of you is more adamant about that answer?”

 

“Both of us are in agreement. You are ours. We want you back.”

 

She ran her fingertips along the bumps of his game face gently. She’d never had a problem with him like this; he was always the one who shied away from letting her see him like this. He didn’t shy away now.

 

“And if Willow finds a way to change it back thirty years from now?”

 

“If you decide you want her to go ahead with it, I’d respect that. I’d have to, Buffy. You’re human and were always meant to be.”

 

“And?”

 

“I’d stay until the end,” he said, knowing what she was asking.

 

“Who’s end?”

 

“Until the Summers’ bloodline ends.”

 

“And when Tasha’s ready to be on her own?”

 

“When Giles ships you off to the next town in need of help, you mean?”

 

“Yeah,” she said with a light laugh. A fingertip slid over the tip of a fang but he made no attempt to bite her.

 

“If you’ll have me I’d go.”

 

“Why? Why would you do that? What about your life?”

 

“My life is helping people. I can do that wherever you go. In fact, one could probably argue where you’re sent is probably where I should be. I haven’t been doing too good of a job of it since LA until coming here. Seeing you again, getting back involved with the slaying even if it is only from the sidelines, realizing I love you. This is what I’m here for, the stuff that makes it worth living. I’ve been alone for far too long.”

 

“I have one condition.”

 

“It seems to me you’ve just listed off a few already, but go ahead.”

 

“Those weren’t conditions. Those were questions needing answers.”

 

“Okay, go ahead.”

 

“You’re not going to like it.”

 

“Try me.”

 

“I want you at full strength.”

 

“Buffy.”

 

“It’d be a huge advantage, Angel. Not just your strength and speed, but whatever other enhanced goodies would come with it. I’m offering, you’re not asking.”

 

“I’m not going to let your kids see your neck look like a human pincushion.”

 

She tugged him to her and kissed him deeply, lips parting as her tongue stroked his lower lip. It was her turn to draw away and kiss along his jaw until she found his ear.

 

“I guess that just means you’ll have to get creative on where you take it from.”

 

“So, does that mean you’re coming home with me?”

 

She gave a soft giggle, biting his neck. She stopped before drawing blood or leaving a mark.

 

“For now. We’ll have to ease you into the kids’ life a little before you can come stay with me.”

 

“I understand. I’d feel weird if you were willing to bring me home to stay overnight so soon.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I have a question,” he said. Judging by his hands sliding lower along her back to her hips she wasn’t sure she wanted him to talk anymore.

 

“Okay,” she said.

 

“What happened to the if you get involved with someone?”

 

“It was a question, to find out where you were. I had no plans on getting involved with someone again.”

 

“What?”

 

“Please don’t say you told me so, but I get it. I get why Mayor Wilkins’ words hit you so hard. Steve and I didn’t have fifty years together, but it was still hard watching him die knowing I couldn’t. So, I get why you felt the way you did. Not to say I wouldn’t have dated or whatever, but I had no plans on ever getting married or anything again.”

 

“Well, I can’t marry you.”

 

“I know. I’m honestly not sure I’d want anything more about me in court documents anyway. You know? I mean, I haven’t figured out the ins and outs of this living forever thing yet, but I think less of a paper trail is of the good.”

 

“Very true, and I can help you with that. Living close to three centuries I have a few tricks up my sleeve. I can give you the anything, you know.”

 

“I know that, too,” she said softly.

 

“And that’s all right with you?”

 

“I had the til death do I part thing. I lived it, I loved him, still love him, and will always love him. I hope you know that and are okay with that. I don’t need a ring on my finger or a piece of paper signed by a priest or a judge telling me how I feel or how committed I’m going to be to someone.”

 

“Oh, you’ll have a ring.”

 

“I will, huh?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Will it be big?”

 

“The biggest.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

“It would have to be to be a true representation of how I feel for you.”

 

“You think you can fit all of that into a ring?”

 

“If I could, Buffy, I sure would.”

 

“Me, too,” she said.

 

“Now, about this condition of yours.”

 

“I’m not backing down on it, Angel. It’s not fair to our side if you fight at less than full strength. It could be a huge advantage, especially if other vampires don’t know you’re fighting with us. Maybe you could help condition Tasha and other slayers so they aren’t so susceptible to the mind tricks, too.”

 

“As much as it bothers me, your point is a valid one. Before, though, it wasn’t an option for a multitude of reasons least of which I’d never suggest you letting me feed off you. I know better than to argue with you, though.”

 

“You do, huh?”

 

He chuckled, game face falling back into place as he nuzzled her neck again. A hand was sliding along her thigh, pushing the hem of her skirt up as it went.

 

“I think I have an idea on where to start.”

 

~The End~