Two Lane Blacktop

Author: shrinky_mojo

Summary: AU adventures on the road with Angel and Buffy.

Rating:  PG-13 for language and sexual situations

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Word Count:    12,850

Author’s Note:  My first story for IWRY.  I don’t have a beta, but a big hug and thanks for tips and guidance from Kairos!  Bear with me while I learn!

 

**

 

 

It was a good night for travel.  The full moon illuminated the streets of LA and a gentle warm breeze curled around the buildings.  Perfect weather for the beginning of a long trip.

 

“Did you pack my new tee shirts?” Angel asked Buffy as he loaded suitcases in the trunk.

 

“Yes, I did.  Everything you had laid out.  It’s all here,” Buffy replied, absently handing more baggage into Angel’s hands.

 

“Just checking.  Oh, and did you find my navy blue shirt?  I wanted to take that one, too.”

 

“It’s in here, Angel.  I double checked.  You’ve got a change of clothes for every day we’ll be gone.”

“Good.  You know how much I hate…”

 

“Dirty clothes.  I know,” Buffy quipped.  “I swear you’re fussier than a girl.”

 

“I am not,” Angel groaned.  “I just like to be clean.”

 

“So clean you squeak,” Buffy muttered under her breath.

 

“I heard that,” Angel replied, slamming the trunk lid down and guiding Buffy toward the passenger door. 

 

“We didn’t forget anything, did we?”  Angel asked anxiously, sliding into the driver’s seat.  “You got the list?”

 

Buffy huffed, “List in hand.  And everything’s on board the Batmobile, so can we just get going?”

 

“It’s a Belvedere,” Angel corrected.

 

“Whatever.  Starts with a B.”

 

“The Batmobile belonged to Batman.  There’s a big difference.”

 

“So why don’t you call your car the Angelmobile?” Buffy snickered.

 

“Uh, maybe because that sounds like a bus full of missionaries?”

 

“Hmm, I guess you’re right,” Buffy agreed.  She glanced at the list.  “Really, I think we’ve got everything.”

 

Angel grumbled something about re-checking the list but Buffy ignored him, adjusting her seatbelt.  Angel always worried too much about everything.  Someday she was going to have to sit him down and explain the world didn’t end if you forgot your favorite toothbrush or, heaven forbid, an extra pair of underwear.

 

“Did you get gas yesterday?”

 

Angel winced, “Ah, dammit, I knew there was something I forgot.”

 

Buffy thumped her finger on the list.  “It was right here on top.  Get gas.”

 

“Well, I was busy checking the tire pressure and oil.  No big deal.  I’ll stop before we leave town.”

 

“You know, you’re forgetting a lot of stuff lately.  Making endless lists.  You sure you’re ok?” Buffy asked.

 

“I’m fine, and why would you say that?  Just because I forget the little stuff doesn’t mean I’m losing my mind.”  Angel replied indignantly.

 

“As long as you remember me, then I guess there’s no problem.”

 

“Very funny.  Now where’s the car keys?”

 

“In your right hand.”

 

“I knew that.”  Angel jammed the key in the ignition and pulled out into traffic, his mind still running through the list.

 

“We’ve got the address, right?”

 

“Yes.  It’s in my purse,” Buffy sighed, “where it’s been since you put it there last night.”

 

 “Good.”

 

“Will you stop worrying about everything?  You’ve been nonstop with the did-we-forget-this? stuff.  It’s starting to bug me,” Buffy quipped.

 

Angel pretended to focus on the road.  “What was that?”

 

“Nice try.  Look, I’m sorry.  I guess I’m a little nervous about this mission.”

 

“There’s nothing to be nervous about.  We get the vessel and bury it.”

 

“The mystical vessel that we’re supposed to protect and bury so the demons can’t get in from some unknown dimension that Lorne’s friend says is way beyond normal evil.”

 

“Yeah, that’s it.”

 

“And that’s why I’m nervous.  We don’t know much about this vessel.  And even if we bury it, will it keep the monsters at bay?  All too iffy, if you ask me.”

 

“We’ve handled a lot worse, Buffy.  And no one knows we’re on our way to get it.  Just relax.”

 

“As far as you know, Mr. Maybe He Doesn’t Know Everything He Thinks He Does.”

 

“Lorne’s friend is reliable.  And Lorne told me everything we need to know.”

 

“Uh, huh.  Sure.  I’ll remind you of that if anything goes wrong.”

 

“I’m sure you will.  I can always count on you to point out my failings.”  Angel sounded miffed. 

 

Buffy felt a twinge of regret.  She knew she had a worrisome tendency to do that when it was uncalled for.  Angel always felt guilty enough without her expounding on his shortcomings.  She smiled to herself.  If anything, Angel was just too spontaneous for his own good when it came to altercations with evil.  At home was another matter.  She loved those spur-of-the-moment times when Angel swept her off her feet and carried her in the bedroom in the middle of dusting or doing laundry.  She’d giggle and pretend to be furious.  He’d get that fake serious tone in his voice as he shouted he was saving her from demonic dust bunnies and wicked washers.  Life was good.

 

“Sorry.  I don’t mean to do that, Angel.  I speak before I think.  I swear my mouth is possessed.  If you trust this guy, then I trust you to trust him.  But you gotta admit sometimes you go off on half-cocked and end up in deep… ”

 

“Don’t say it,” Angel interrupted.  “I know. Sometimes I get a little too eager and get into trouble.”

 

“Trouble. All caps,” Buffy added quickly.

 

“And you bail me out.”

 

“That’s right.  The continuing episodic adventures of slayer saves vampire’s ass.”  Buffy giggled, lightening the mood.  By the gleam in Angel’s eyes he was taking it all in stride.

 

Chuckling and sighing at the same time, Angel replied, “Alright.  I give.  You always win.”

 

Buffy looked at him, biting her lip.  “I should give you more credit than I do.  I just seem to have this need to be contrary, you know?”

 

“Oh, believe me, I do.  But your heart is pure, Buffy.  I see beyond the words and the scowls.”

 

“Mmm, I gotta keep you around.  I mean, who else is gonna put up with me?”  Her beaming smile was melting Angel’s heart.

 

“Nobody I can think of,” he murmured, pulling into the gas station.

 

Standing by the gas pump, Angel was rummaging through his pockets, frowning.  Buffy leaned her head out and asked, “What’s the matter?  Lost something?”

 

“Uh, it’s got to be here.”  Angel was turning his pockets inside out, finding only three pennies among those mysterious fuzzy balls that always ended up at the bottom somehow.

 

“Can’t find your money?”

 

Angel threw up his hands, embarrassed.  “I swear I had it when we left the house.”

 

Buffy sighed and pulled money out of her purse.  She waved it in Angel’s face and he snatched it from her hand.  He filled the tank and paid at the window, sulking.  Maybe he should get a wallet.

 

Before he could open his car door, Buffy stuck her head out again and yelled, “If there’s any money left, would you get a biggie soda and a bag of chips?”  Angel glanced at the change in his hand and nodded, returning to the station’s convenience store for Buffy’s snacks.

 

As he handed them to her she thanked him and shoved the cup in his face. “You wanna a sip?”

 

Angel shook his head no and got in the car.  He steered back onto the street and made a left turn onto Highway 40, settling down for a long drive.

 

Buffy slurped her soda and munched on chips, irritating Angel’s sensitive ears, but he said nothing.  If she was busy eating and drinking, she wouldn’t be reprimanding him for losing money or obsessing about the list.  He liked lists.  Lists were handy for keeping track of all the small stuff he should pay more attention to but didn’t.  And it was just that.  Small stuff.  He had more important, bigger things to remember.  Like where Tossakian demons made nests or which weapon to use on a Sturg.  That’s what he cemented in his mind.  Everything else was secondary.  Except Buffy.  He’d committed every move, every smile, every laugh to memory.  Then at night or when she was away, he would bring them out and page through them like photos in an album.  He couldn’t pick a favorite.  He loved them all. 

 

To pass the time Angel turned on the radio, punching the pre-set buttons to find something that didn’t rattle his nerves.  Modern music was too jarring.  He finally found a classical station and raised the volume to fill the car with Mozart.  He hummed along with the music.

 

Buffy glanced over in surprise, still crunching on chips.  “You’re humming.  You never hum.”

 

“I hum.”

 

“No, you don’t.”

 

“Well, I’m humming now.  Helps keep me alert.”

 

“Yawn-fest music?  Not my thing.  Just makes me wanna curl up and sleep.”

 

“Feel free.  You’ve got plenty of time.”

 

“I just might,” Buffy huffed.  She chewed on another mouthful of chips, turning her head toward the window.  It was ten o’clock at night, not much to see in the darkness.  She took a drink of soda and laid her head back on the headrest.  She could already feel herself relaxing, the droning music lulling her into a mindless daze.

 

“Ok, so I nap for a while, but wake me up if you want me to take over the driving,” she offered, yawning.

 

Angel winced.  “Best I drive.”

 

“Hey, I haven’t hit anything in a long time.”

 

“What about that curb last week?”

 

“That wasn’t my fault.  I was trying to avoid that crazy kid on a bicycle swerving into my lane.  It’s his fault the tire blew.”

 

“Then what about the time before that when you pulled into the path of that car?”

 

“Again, not my fault.  The guy didn’t give me the right-of-way.  Besides, I braked, only scratched his door.”

 

“Buffy, we can’t afford any more accidents.”

 

“Fine, but if you fall asleep and run off the road, I will be wagging my told-you-so finger at you.”

 

Angel chuckled.  “If that happens, you can wag all you want, but you know it won’t happen.  I’ve never fallen asleep at the wheel in all my very long life.”

 

“There’s always the first time,” Buffy added.

 

“Well, I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen.”

 

“And the second half of the trip, I get to pick the music.”

 

Angel sighed.  “Fine, but if I get jittery and go crazy, it’ll be your fault.”

 

Buffy giggled.  “GO crazy?  You’re already crazy.”

 

“Not crazy enough to let you drive.”

 

Buffy leaned over and kissed Angel on the cheek.  “I like crazy vampires, don’t you know that?”

 

Angel grinned, “and I love a feisty slayer.”

 

“I put up with you and you put up with me.”

 

“Because we love each other,” Angel finished her thought, grinning.

 

“Yeah, that’s gotta be it.”  Buffy scrunched the empty chip bag in her hand and tossed it in the backseat.

 

“Hey, you mind?  Remember the last time?  The backseat looked like the inside of a trash barrel.”

 

Buffy wrinkled her nose and shrugged.  “The backseat doesn’t mind.”

 

“Buffy…”

 

“Ok, already, I’ll throw it out next time we stop.”

 

“Thank you,” Angel sighed, “but it might be a while before we see another sign of civilization.”

 

“Civilization?  You make it sound like we’re heading to the dark side of the moon.”

 

“Not exactly.  This just isn’t a heavily traveled route since they built the interstate.”

 

“And remind me why we’re on a two lane road when we could be cruising down that interstate?”

 

“This is the scenic route.”

 

“Oh, yeah, there’s so much cool scenery to see in the middle of the night.”

 

“Scenic also means relaxing.  You know I hate crowded freeways, insane drivers weaving in and out, riding your tail.”

 

“I hope you included yourself in that insane driver group.  I think you broke the speed of sound on our last trip.  How you outran that cop was beyond me.  This car must have, like, a super souped-up engine thingy to go that fast.”

 

“It does.  There’s no such thing as too much horsepower when you’re being chased by demons on wheels or a cop.”

 

“Right.  They’re handy those powerful horses.  But just think how much faster we could be there if we took the highway.”

 

“Faster isn’t always better, Buffy.”

 

“Oh, yeah?  That’s not what you say when I…”

 

“That’s different,” Angel interrupted with a sly grin.

 

“Very,” Buffy purred back, reaching over to kiss Angel’s neck, her hot breath sending shivers down his spine.

 

“If you keep that up, we’ll have to pull over,” Angel warned playfully.

 

“Hmm, that sounds like a good idea.  We haven’t done it under the stars in a long time.”  Buffy nudged him in the side and chided, “I’d stay awake for that.”

 

Angel groaned.  “Not now, Buffy.  You know what happens when we stop.”

 

“Yeah,” she cooed dreamily, “Hours of hot sex in wide open spaces.”

 

Angel could feel the tingle starting below his waist, desperately trying to concentrate on the road.

 

“But you know sex makes me sleepy.  We’d lose more travel time.  And don’t even think I’ll let you drive while I’m asleep.  Not gonna happen.”

 

Buffy scooted over to the window, sulking, and sighed heavily.  “You’re no fun.”

 

“Look, Buffy, there’s a motel about fifteen miles up ahead.  We can stop there and do whatever you want.”

 

“Maybe I’ll be out of the mood by then,” Buffy pouted.

 

“Since when?”

 

“Well, I could change.”

 

“And the sky could fall.”

 

“You know me too well,” Buffy murmured, reaching over to playfully glide her fingers down Angel’s cheek to his neck. 

 

Angel squirmed.  “You’re an evil tease.”  He jammed his foot down on the accelerator, sending the car shooting off at an incredibly high speed.

 

“What’s the rush?” she taunted, brushing her fingers across his lips.

 

“If we don’t reach that motel soon, I won’t be responsible for my actions,” Angel muttered seductively.

 

*

 

The Dew Drop Inn wasn’t exactly Buffy’s idea of luxury accommodations.  It had the basic necessities but not much else.  It would do for one day.  She chose to ignore the dreary room and attacked Angel as soon as he’d set their suitcases down, proving him right.  She hadn’t lost the mood.

 

An hour later Buffy lay curled up in Angel’s arms, spent and satisfied, tracing around his navel with her fingertips. She noticed the grin plastered on his face.

 

“You good?” she murmured.

 

“Better than good,” he whispered, kissing the top of her head.

 

“Sometimes I wonder how you control yourself, cause it sure seems to me you’re really, really happy.”

 

“The alternative is not an option.”Angel replied adamantly. “I won’t let that happen ever again.”

 

“Sorry I brought it up,” Buffy replied, “I do trust you.”

 

“Do you?  Sounds to me like you have doubts.”

 

“If I doubted you, I wouldn’t be here,” Buffy stated emphatically, then added playfully, “but I have Mr. Pointy, just in case.”

 

Angel wrinkled his brow.  “Do you have to call it that?  It’s weird you named your stake.”

 

Buffy started to explain she didn’t name it herself but realized it was better not to open that can of demons.  “I think it’s cute,” she replied instead.

 

“Puppies and kittens are cute,” Angel retorted, “not stakes.”

 

“Ok, well, at least I’ve got something to keep you on the straight and narrow,” she teased.

 

Angel’s eyes were almost closed.  “Hmm, I trust you to keep me in line.”

 

“I try.”  Buffy leaned her head back on Angel’s chest and closed her eyes.  They both slipped into sleep as the sun sneaked up on the night.

 

*

 

Angel woke to the rustling of bags and munching, noting Buffy wasn’t snuggled on the bed with him any longer.  He opened one eye, catching a glimpse of her walking around the room clad only in her underwear, a half-eaten donut in her hand.

 

“Morning,” Angel said, sitting up.  He yawned and swung his legs down to the floor.

 

“It’s actually afternoon,” Buffy corrected, “late afternoon to be exact, sleeping beauty.”

 

“I didn’t mean to sleep so long.  Why didn’t you wake me?”

 

“Well, first of all, I just got up myself.  And second, you looked pretty worn out last night, what with all the driving and the sex,” she explained, “plus, it doesn’t matter anyway.  We can’t start out again until sunset.”  Buffy licked the donut glaze off her fingers and wiped them on a paper napkin.

 

“Did you bring the cooler in?”  Angel asked.

 

“Right here,” Buffy replied tapping the top of it with her hand, “breakfast for champions.”

 

She grabbed a plastic cup and filled it with blood, handing it to him with a smile.

 

“Thanks,” Angel said, taking a big gulp.

 

Buffy picked out another donut from the bag.  “This place doesn’t have a restaurant,” she complained, “but it did have yummy snacks.”

 

Angel eyed the array of junk food spread out on the dresser.  “That’s not a good breakfast, Buffy.  You need some protein.”

 

“Says the guy who drinks blood,” she chided.  “I can get by until we find something better.”

 

By now Angel was out of bed, striding toward the window.  “It’s overcast today,” he commented, gazing up at the sky.  “We could take off now.”

 

“But what if the sun comes out?”

 

“It won’t.  Looks and smells more like rain’s coming,” Angel answered, flinging open his suitcase.  He immediately burst into laughter.

 

“What’s so funny?” she asked innocently, a wicked grin spreading over her face.

 

Angel held up the garment on top of his neatly folded clothes.  “Superman underwear?”

 

“Why not?  You could use a little color in your wardrobe.”

 

“Really, Buffy.  I’m a little old for these.”

 

“Oh, you’re never too old for fun underwear.”

 

“But I’m over 250 years old.”

 

“So?  Who says you have to wear boring boxers?  Go ahead, try them on,” she snickered.

 

“I’d feel weird.”

 

“Don’t be such a stick-in-the-mud.  Superman doesn’t care.”

 

Angel gazed at Buffy with adoring eyes.  “This is why I love you.  You make me laugh, never let me get too serious.”

 

“Serious is for stuffy old people.”

 

“But I am an old stuffy guy.”

 

“Nuh, uh,” she blurted out.  “You just think you are. I know better.”

 

Angel grabbed Buffy around the waist and kissed her passionately.  “I love you.”

 

“And I love you,” she cooed, adding with a chuckle, “and I promise not to tell anyone about your new underwear.”

 

*

 

Back on the road Buffy kicked off her shoes and propped her bare feet on the dashboard, gazing at the mountains looming in the distance.  Angel had turned on the radio again, filling the air with classical music. 

 

Buffy groaned.  “It’s my turn,” she said, reaching for the radio buttons.  Punching one after the other resulted in nothing.  She frowned.

 

“What’d you do to the radio?  Sabotage it?”

 

“I didn’t do anything, Buffy.  This is an old car.  Maybe they’re just stuck.”

 

More punching didn’t help.  “Well, I can’t get any of them to work,” she snapped.

 

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to hog the radio.”

 

“Yes, you did.  You’re happy the buttons don’t work.”

 

“I’m not, really.”  If he’d been honest, he would have said yes.

 

Buffy folded her arms across her chest and shut her eyes.  “Fine.  Just wake me when we get there.”

 

Angel smiled to himself, thankful he wouldn’t have to listen to her music.  Last night and this morning had left him in a warm, euphoric bliss.  He didn’t want to spoil the mood with thumping drums and screeching guitars.

 

The next seventy-five miles were quiet as Buffy napped and Angel continued humming to the classical selections filtering through the audio system.  He occasionally glanced up at the sky, kept an eye on the approaching storm.  Thick gray clouds obscured any possibility of the sun’s rays getting through, affording them extra travel time.    

 

He didn’t see Buffy stirring.

 

“I have to pee,” she said abruptly, startling Angel.

 

“Now?”

 

“As in before now,” Buffy added impatiently.

 

“Alright, but I’m not sure we’re close to anything with a restroom.”

 

“Well, then put the pedal to the metal.  I can’t wait much longer.”

 

“Look at the map in the glove compartment.  See if there’s a town or gas station up ahead.”

 

Buffy opened the overstuffed compartment and pulled out a map.  Holding it up, she asked, “This it?”

 

A quick glance and Angel replied, “No, it’s the next one.”

Buffy put it back and grabbed the next map, awkwardly struggling to unfold it while Angel snickered.

 

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “You know I’m not map girl,” she said.  “All these curvy lines and squiggles and dots don’t mean much.”

 

“I’ll walk you through it,” Angel replied.  He gave her step-by-step instructions on what to look for.  Sighing every few seconds Buffy finally pinpointed a truck stop ten miles ahead.

 

“This is it for the next one sixty miles,” she declared.  “Larry’s Truck Stop Diner and Bar.”

 

“Sounds charming.  Are you sure you want to go in there?”

 

“Unless you find a tree I can hide behind, I’m thinking Larry’s is my only hope.”

 

“Sorry.  Treeless stretch of road here.  I just don’t like truck stops.  Big burly guys spitting tobacco and drinking beer before they hit the road again just doesn’t seem like a good combination.”

 

“Downright scary.  But hey, when you’re on a scenic route, you can’t be choosey,” she retorted, raising her voice in sing-song sarcasm.

 

“I’ll watch your back,” Angel said, ignoring her last comment and stepping on the gas a little harder.  “A pretty blonde is bound to cause a scene.”

 

“Well, it’s not like they’re in prison.  Surely they’ve seen a woman lately.”

 

Angel chuckled.  “Yeah, most of them are prostitutes that hang out at truck stops.”

 

“You think they’ll mistake me for a hooker?”

 

“When in Rome…”

 

“What’s that mean?”

 

“I mean truckers will assume you’re looking for a good time.”

 

“A good time?”  Buffy giggled.  “Well, that’s true, but not with them.  Ick and eww.” 

 

“Just stay close to me, ok?”

 

Buffy nodded.  “Gotcha.  Oh, and food.  Those donuts didn’t do it for me.  I need protein.”

 

“I remember mentioning that,” Angel gloated.

 

“You did.”

 

“So, I win this time?”

 

“Win what?”

 

“I win because you shouldn’t have eaten all those donuts.”

 

“Ok.  You get a point for that.  See?  You win sometimes.”

 

“I’m glad you can admit that.”

 

“It’s hard but I forbear.”

 

Buffy was batting her eyelashes, knowing Angel loved it when she teased him.  And he didn’t mind if she won every argument.  He was just happy to have her in his life, more fortunate than he ever expected.

 

Angel had resigned himself to living a solitary life.  During the last year, both their paths had taken disastrous turns, disintegrating at the same time.  Too much pain and too many responsibilities filled their days and nights, leaving little time for personal lives.  They’d both survived the fights and the battles, their physical injuries healing well, but the emotional wounds were raw and deep.  They’d lost so many and so much. 

 

But the moment came, unexpected and shocking.  Buffy had moved to LA, seeking him out.  He remembered like yesterday how his knees went weak when Buffy asked him to live with her.  She’d announced she was tired of being alone, tired of pretending he wasn’t in her thoughts constantly.  She wanted to spend her life with him.  Angel had pulled her into his arms and whispered he loved her and she’d cried, professing her love and promised she was his forever.  They vowed nothing would keep them apart again.

 

*

 

Larry’s Truck Stop was everything Angel had said it would be.  Actually worse.  Buffy scanned the room warily and kept close to Angel.  She overheard bits of conversation as she made her way to the restroom, mostly leering remarks directed at her.  Angel was right.  These men acted like they hadn’t seen a pretty girl in a century.  Disgusted, she ignored them as best she could and kept her head up high, thankful Angel was with her.  One old man grabbed her arm as she passed his table, told her to ditch the prissy guy and go with him to the back room, adding he only had fifty dollars and would that be enough.

 

Angel stepped in.  His face changed briefly as his anger raged, but he fought the urge and turned back.  He snatched the man’s hand away from Buffy and squeezed it tight, nearly breaking the trucker’s fingers. The man cried out in pain.

 

“Leave the lady alone,” Angel growled, staring down the cringing trucker.  “Touch her again and you die.”

 

The shaken trucker nodded he understood, nursing his throbbing, bruised hand Angel had released from his grip.  The other truckers watched in awe.  If it’d been anyone else, they all would have called the dark stranger out for a fight, but none of them tried.  Some had witnessed something happening to Angel’s face but then it returned to normal in an instant.  A few what-the-hell-was-that comments rumbled through the room.  Whoever Angel was, these men wanted no trouble with him.  Just the intensity of his dark, glaring eyes was enough to keep them humble.   

 

Buffy and Angel continued walking calmly through the crowded, smoke-filled diner, feeling all eyes watching their every move.  Angel could smell their fear.  Good, he thought.  Fear’s good.  He straightened his posture and intensified his scowl for an even more intimidating effect. 

 

“Touch her and you die?” Buffy repeated.  “That was a little harsh, don’t you think?”

 

“No.  And I would have killed him.  He had no right to touch you.”  Angel was still seething, clenching his teeth together.

 

“Well, I was ready to break that guy’s hand myself.  I didn’t need your help.”

 

Angel shifted his gaze away from Buffy.

 

“I know you want to protect me, and I love that you do.  But sometimes you go overboard.  You know that.”

 

“I can’t help it, Buffy.  I just react.”

 

“I know.  But you almost vamped out back there.  I’d just like for us to get out of here without causing a bar fight.”

 

“I won’t touch them if they don’t touch you,” Angel replied, glowering. 

 

“That’s a great plan,” Buffy agreed.  “You put the fear in them.  They won’t start anything.”

 

Buffy slipped into the restroom and Angel stood guard outside the door, his eyes darting back and forth around the room.  The truckers had gone back to eating and talking among themselves, giving Angel a moment to relax.  But only a moment.  Two men in the back got his attention.  He was too busy studying them to notice when Buffy came out.  She noticed Angel staring at the men.

 

“You’re boring holes through those guys,” she quipped.

 

Angel linked his arm through Buffy’s and led her toward the counter.  “Just order so we can leave.”

 

“Angel, what’s up?”  Buffy took a good long look at the two men Angel was still watching and it hit her.  “Geez, I can’t believe I didn’t pick up.  They’re vampires,” she whispered.

 

“Yes, they are.”

 

“Do you think they know who we are?”

 

“I don’t know, but they seem interested in us.  Just hurry and order.”

 

Buffy didn’t hesitate.  She flagged down the waitress and ordered a burger, fries and soda to go.  Angel was on high alert now.  Two vampires wouldn’t be hard to take down, but they might have friends outside.   

 

Finally, food bag in one hand, soda in the other, Buffy was ushered out of the diner by an overly anxious Angel.  Neither of the vampires made a move, but that didn’t ease the concern in his mind.  He opened the door and Buffy stepped out into the night.  For a brief moment Angel thought they’d get away without incident.  He was feeling even more confident as they pulled away from the truck stop and no one was following them.  His confidence was short-lived. 

 

Barely out of the parking lot, one of the vampires flung himself into the car, attacking Buffy.  She dropped her hamburger and wrestled with the vampire as Angel braked hard, skidding the car to a screeching stop.  The second vampire appeared on Angel’s side of the car.  Using his vampire speed Angel quickly swung his legs up to kick the vampire in the head, sending him reeling to the ground.  He leaped out of the car and pummeled the vampire, easily knocking him unconscious, turning his attention to helping Buffy.

 

Buffy’s vampire was also sprawled on the ground, having felt the powerful kick of a slayer on his chest.  Before the vampire recovered Buffy stuck her hand in her purse and pulled out Mr. Pointy.  She jumped out just as Angel came around the back of the car.  The rest was a hazy blur.   They were always so careful to watch out for the other in a fight, so both were at a loss to explain exactly how it happened.  The result was Angel lunged at the precise moment Buffy took aim and struck out at the vampire, putting himself in the path of Buffy’s stake.  He didn’t see it coming, but he felt the stake pierce his right side.  Buffy gasped, her eyes widening in horror.

 

Angel hissed and grabbed his side.  He yelled at Buffy to watch where she pointed that thing.  She shouted sorry and tightened her grip on the stake, trying to calm her rattled nerves and focus on staking the right vampire.  In one swift movement she pivoted and drove the stake deep in the heart of the intended.  Choking on vampire dust she looked over at Angel leaning against the car.  In her rush to get to him she collided with Angel’s formerly unconscious vampire, now fully awake and pissed off.

 

Buffy immediately plowed her fist into his nose, sending him backwards on the ground.  She muttered, “I don’t have time for you,” as her stake hit the mark.  His dust fluttered behind her, already forgotten as she went to Angel.

 

“Oh, god, I didn’t see you,” Buffy moaned.

 

“Obviously,” Angel mumbled, releasing a painful sigh.  “I didn’t see you either.”

 

“What happened?  It’s not like us to get sloppy.”

 

“I don’t know.  I guess it was bound to happen sometime.”

 

“Well, maybe if you didn’t run like hell to my rescue.  Didn’t we just talk about this?  You leaping in to save me when I don’t need it?”

 

Angel winced.  “You’re right.  I overreacted.  It’s my fault.”

 

“Not all of it.  I stake first and ask questions later.”  Buffy squinted in the dark and demanded, “Let me look.” She pushed Angel’s bloody hand out of the way.  “You’re bleeding a lot.”

 

“I’m aware of that.”

 

Buffy exhaled a long breathy sigh.  “I’ll get the first aid kit.  Just sit down here.”

 

Angel protested but she insisted, gently guiding him to a sitting position.  Then she grabbed the car keys and opened the trunk.  Angel saw her head disappear inside the trunk as she rummaged through their luggage.  Straightening up, she frowned.  “I can’t find it,” she said disappointedly.  “I’m sure I packed it.”

 

“Check way in the back.”

 

Buffy flung suitcases out on the ground.  “Not here,” she declared.

 

“But it was on the list,” Angel pointed out.  “It has to be there.”

 

“It isn’t.”  Buffy opened one of Angel’s suitcases and picked out two of his brand-new white tee shirts. She held them against the wound.  “Sorry.  No bandages.”

 

Five minutes later both tee shirts were bloody and the wound had stopped bleeding.  Buffy looked forlornly into Angel’s eyes saying, “I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

 

“It’s ok, Buffy.  Don’t worry about it.  It’ll be almost gone by morning.”

 

“It’s a hundred miles south of ok,” Buffy whined.  “Still.  Just slow down a little and back off on the gotta-save-the-damsel-in-distress thing, ok?”

 

“You’re welcome,” Angel spit back, then sighed. “I’ll work on it.”

 

Buffy looked at him with remorseful eyes.  “I’m really sorry.  You can yell and scream at me all you want,” she offered.

 

“It’s not that big a deal, Buffy.  I’m more upset that I’m down two new tee shirts.”

 

Buffy chuckled.  “Of course you are.  Never mind the big ole hole in your side.”

 

“It’s healing as we speak,” Angel purred leaning over to kiss her cheek.

 

“You’re totally too lenient with me,” Buffy replied, jamming her hand in her jeans pocket.  She pulled out Angel’s wad of cash and waved it in front of his nose, grinning.  “But look what I found.”

 

Angel smiled wide.  “Where’d you find it?”

 

“In the trunk.  Probably fell out of your pocket when you were loading suitcases.”  She took Angel’s hand and placed the bills in his palm, closing his fingers over them.  “You should get a wallet.”

 

“I’m thinking about that.”

 

Buffy fluttered her eyelashes.  “Now can I drive?”

 

“No!” Angel blurted out.  “I’m thankful you found the money.  Doesn’t mean I owe you a turn behind the wheel.”

 

“But what if you pass out? Go all weak from blood loss?”

 

“Won’t happen.”

 

“It might.”

 

“No, it won’t.  It was a tiny stake, not a tree trunk.”

 

“Well, the least I can do is get you some blood before we take off.”

 

“Thanks.  That’ll help.”

 

Buffy was back in seconds with a cup of blood from the cooler. “I think you need to rest a little longer,” she said.

 

Angel took the cup from her and drank all the blood in three long gulps and replied, “Not now and not here.  We need to put a lot of space between us and Larry’s Truck Stop.  There could be more vampires coming out of the woodwork.”

 

Buffy thought a moment before she said, “You know, I always wondered why people say that. How could anything come out of woodwork?  Maybe a ghost, but that’s about it.”

 

“It’s just a figure of speech.  Would you rather I said vampires might come out of the sky?”

 

“That’s more believable, but barely.  I’m thinking those two were just loose cannons.  We didn’t sense any others,” Buffy announced with timid confidence.

 

“We can’t take that for granted.”

 

Buffy let out a loud exasperated sigh, slumping her shoulders.  “Great.  I was sort of beginning to like the scenic route until you said that.  Now I’ll have to ride shotgun and keep a lookout for critters.”

 

Angel giggled so hard his side ached.  “Critters?”

 

“Yeah.  It might not be just vampires stalking.”

 

“Fine.  That’ll give you something to do.”     

 

Buffy fussed over Angel, helping him stand, following him to the driver’s door to open it for him.  He told her he was fine and to stop acting like he was an invalid.  She’d pouted and said she just wanted to help make up for what she’d done.  He said thanks, but repeated he was fine and just wanted to get back on the road.  She backed off, apologizing, and got in the passenger seat.       

 

Finally, speeding down the road again, Angel relaxed slightly, but his side ached and throbbed more than usual.  He hadn’t wanted to admit to Buffy that it felt like a Mac truck hit him when she drove her stake into him.  Making her feel more guilty wasn’t going to help.  He glanced at Buffy sweeping the darkness for signs of critters.  It made him smile.  She was so cute when she was on guard.

 

“You realize it’s your fault the first aid kit wasn’t in the car,” Angel said quietly, his smile a little twisted.

 

“How so?” Buffy asked absently, never taking her eyes off the terrain.

 

“Well, I seem to remember I wanted to double check the list and you ignored me.”

 

“Oh, right.  Got me on that one. ”

 

“Not that I’m keeping score.  But you forget things, too.”

 

“Alright, I admit I forgot the first aid kit.  Do I have to say I’m sorry again?”  Buffy blinked her eyes rapidly, hoping to elicit forgiveness.

 

Angel shook his head.  “Nah.  Just remember that next time you shake your finger at me.”

 

“Fine, I will.”  

 

Suddenly a vivid flash of lightning lit up the sky and a loud clap of thunder cut their banter short.

 

“Rain’s coming,” Angel moaned.  “Let’s get the top up.”

 

Angel pulled the car over and stopped.  They both got out and tugged on the convertible top.  It didn’t budge.  They tried again.  Only a small section unfurled before it jammed and refused to move any further.

 

“Hmm, great,” Buffy snarled, giving it one more try.  “What’s wrong with this thing?”

 

Angel was grunting from the pained effort.  His side was oozing blood again.  “I don’t know.  It worked fine a few days ago.”

 

“Well, it’s not now,” Buffy huffed as another barrage of lightning and thunder rumbled through the sky.

 

“First the radio and now the top.  Is there anything in this car that works?”  Buffy’s woeful tone revealed how flustered she was.  The night’s drama was getting to her.   The unthinkable horror was stuck in her mind.  She shuddered, knowing if her stake had been just a little higher and wider…

 

Angel’s low guttural moan jerked her out of her morbid thoughts.  She noticed his face was scrunched in pain again and caught the glint of fresh blood on his shirt.

 

“Angel, stop.  You’re opening that wound again.”

 

“I know,” he grunted, “but we’ve gotta get this thing up.”

 

Buffy moved over, grabbing his hands away from the car and said, “Let me do this.”  Angel started to protest but Buffy gently but firmly pushed him aside.  Her stern look warned him to stay put.  He knew she meant it.

 

Tiny drops of rain began to spatter the ground.  Buffy gripped the convertible top, gritting her teeth as she yanked on it.  She was determined to win over a stupid car top.

 

Now the rain was falling steadily, soaking both of them and the inside of the car, but Buffy wouldn’t let up.  Again and again she put all her strength into nudging the top into motion.  Eventually it broke free of its frozen state.  She looked up and grinned at a dripping wet Angel who smiled back.  He helped her bring the top over the car and snap it into place. 

 

Finally, they were on their way again.

 

“Yuck,” Buffy muttered disgustedly, “everything is so watery and squishy.”

 

“But you did it,” Angel declared proudly. 

 

“Yeah.”  Buffy swiped the water from her face with the tail end of her shirt.  “Amazing what I can do when I want.”

 

“You’re always amazing” Angel murmured.

 

“You always say that,” she cooed back.

 

Angel felt bad the top hadn’t worked and Buffy was drenched.  She was probably cold.  “Hey, there’s a small town coming up soon.  We can spend the night and clean up.  That’ll put us about five hours from Santa Fe.”  Angel looked encouragingly at Buffy.  She seemed pleased.

 

“Suddenly, I am feeling tired and cold.  A soft dry bed sounds nice.”

 

Buffy leaned over and stretched her hand out to Angel’s side.  “It’s not bleeding anymore,” she remarked, gently placing her hand over the wound.  “Soon as we stop, I’ll fix it.  Get you a clean shirt.”

 

Angel gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head.  “That’d be great.  I didn’t think it would hurt this much.  You really jabbed me.”

 

“Well, I was aiming to kill that vampire, not you.  So yeah, I was putting all I had into it.  But I’ll make it up to you.  I promise.”

 

“How?” Angel teased.

 

“I’ll be really nice and I won’t mention how you forget things and lose money.  That you didn’t get gas and that you should have checked to make sure the top went up before the trip, and then, let’s see, there’s the radio buttons that wouldn’t work.  Am I forgetting anything?” she taunted.

 

Angel feigned disinterest. “You’re rambling, Buffy.”

 

“I know.  Bad habit.  Just call me Chatty Cathy.”

 

“Who’s that?”

 

“Chatty Cathy.  You know, the doll that talks when you pull the string?  You can make her talk constantly.”

 

Angel’s confused look made Buffy snicker.  “Ok, not familiar with little girl toys.  She’s a chatterbox like me.”

 

“That I understand,” Angel replied.  “What does Chatty Cathy say?”

 

“Well, she says lots of things, but she really likes to say I love you.  Repeats it over and over.   Silly doll.”

 

Angel grinned, playing along.  “Who does Cathy love?  Does she have a boyfriend?”

 

“Hmm, I believe she does.  Chad Champion.  She loves Chad Champion.”

 

“And what does Chad Champion say to Chatty Cathy?”

 

“He says in a much deeper, manly voice, of course, that he loves Cathy and wants to spend his life with her.”

 

“So, does she?”

 

“Does she what?”

 

“Does Chatty Cathy want to spend her life with Chad Champion?”

 

“Of course she does.  She’s not a fool.  She knows what a good-time guy Chad is.  Very handsome, too.”

 

“I bet Cathy is a beautiful doll that Chad can’t resist.”

 

“Goes without saying.  They’ve got the hots for each other.”

 

“Sounds serious.”

 

“Very.”

 

*

 

The New Moon Motel was a step above The Dew Drop Inn but only slightly.  Neither Buffy nor Angel cared all that much, being too tired to notice the rough edges.  Buffy let Angel shower first while she went to the office and asked if they had any bandages.  She explained that her husband had injured his hand trying to get the top up on their convertible in that downpour this evening.  The manager expressed his sympathies, told her to wait and disappeared into the back office.  He returned with a small first aid kit and handed it to Buffy.  She said she would return it in the morning.  Thanking him with a grateful smile, she hurried back to the room.

 

Angel was emerging from the bathroom.  She winced at the hole in his side and motioned for him to lie down.  Rifling through the first air kit, she found a suitable bandage and pressed it gently in place.  Buffy managed to stifle the laugh welling up inside, but a faint giggle escaped her pursed lips.

 

“What’s so funny?” Angel asked.  Then he smirked.  “You’re laughing at my underwear, aren’t you?  You said you wouldn’t.”

 

The laugh exploded into the room before Buffy could stop it.  “I never said that.  I said I wouldn’t tell anyone about your Superman underwear.  They’re so cute.”

 

Angel huffed, “Don’t say my underwear is cute.”

 

“But it is.  They’re cute because you’re in them.”

 

Angel blushed, shoving his head back into the pillows.  “Enough about my underwear.”

 

“Fine.  I said I’d be nice, so I apologize.  I won’t laugh at them anymore.”  Buffy paused, a gleam of mischief in her eye.  “But don’t you feel a little more heroic when you wear them?”

 

Angel twisted his mouth in a playful grin.  “Nothing heroic about what I’m feeling.”

 

“Hmm, and would this feeling have anything to do with me?” she teased.

 

“It might.”

 

Buffy leaned down and kissed him, her fingers tracing his cheek.  “Well, hold that thought, Superman hero guy.  Gotta shower.”  She bounced off the bed and headed for the bathroom.  Angel relaxed, listening to the sound of all that steamy water spraying over his naked Buffy.  He smiled and closed his eyes, visualizing her body all wet and sleek.

 

When Buffy opened the bathroom door she paused, planting her hands on her hips.  Angel was sound asleep on his stomach, the blanket rumpled and forgotten at the foot of the bed.  She shook her head and draped the blanket over Angel and herself as she slipped in beside him.  For a moment she paused, admiring the curve of his body, and whispered, “Sleep tight, Chad Champion.”

 

*

The next morning was free of the night’s stormy clouds, too sunny for traveling.  Angel made it up to Buffy for falling asleep earlier, satisfying her with a passionate session of lovemaking.  She was left breathless.  Cuddled up in Angel’s arms she was dreamily peaceful, happy they had this time together before they hit the road again.

 

“That was a fancy new move there, pardner,” Buffy commented, wiggling her toes up and down Angel’s leg.  “Where’d you learn to do that?”

 

“Do what?” Angel asked innocently, tracing invisible circles with his fingertips on her shoulder.

 

“You know.  That last thing you did?  I don’t remember the pleasure of that move before.”

 

“Oh, that.  Mmm, don’t remember.”

 

“Oh, like I believe you.  You can act like Mr. Forgetful, but I’m thinking you know.”

 

“Can’t I have one little secret?”

 

“I’ve got it!  You learned it at a demon brothel and you’re ashamed to admit it.”

 

“No, Buffy, that’s not it.”

 

“Then you learned it back in the day, and you’re afraid I’ll freak if I know who you did that with in the past.”

 

“Wrong again.”

 

“You’re really not going to tell me?”

 

“That’s right.  And I might have more secrets.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Really.”

 

Buffy was staring into Angel’s eyes hoping if she prodded enough and batted her eyelashes a few more times, she’d wear him down.  He didn’t look the least bit affected by her flirty wiles.

 

“You’ve been holding out on me,” she quipped. “Please share.”

 

“All in good time, Buffy.”

 

“But that’s not soon enough,” she wailed. “Could you give me just a teensy little demonstration?”  Her eyelashes were fluttering shamelessly.

 

“Maybe later.”

 

Buffy pouted.  “But we’ll be on the road later.”

 

“Later could mean five minutes from now.”

 

Buffy grinned.

 

It was actually ten minutes later when Angel shared his secrets with Buffy.  She was thrilled for the rest of the day, snuggling next to Angel while he napped, thinking how happy she was.  A far cry from the previous hellish year.   These last precious months had turned out better than she’d ever allowed herself to hope for.  She’d been seriously nervous about asking Angel to live with her.  She’d even practiced presenting her argument that their lives would always be in turmoil and full of danger, so why not be together – as a team of lovers and fighters.  He’d listened attentively, impatiently waiting for her to stop talking so he could kiss her and say yes. 

 

Angel woke up to the annoying rumbling sounds of Buffy’s stomach.  He pleaded with her to eat and make it stop.  She admitted she was hungry.  Bounding off the bed, she declared she was going for food.

 

Despite Angel’s reluctance to let her go, Buffy walked across the street to a fast food restaurant.  He watched from the window, mumbling to himself how stupid to think he could protect her in the middle of a sunny day if something did jump out of the bushes.  Angel laughed, realizing how pathetic he sounded; positive Buffy would give him one of her stop-hovering-I-can-protect-myself looks if she knew what he was thinking.

 

There’d been no signs of anyone following them since the vampires attacked at the truck stop, which led Angel to conclude they were merely a nuisance and not part of a larger conspiracy to snatch the vessel.  But he didn’t relax until Buffy was back in the room, cross-legged on the bed, munching fries and biting chunks out of a hamburger.

 

“When we get to Santa Fe, we should go to a good restaurant,” Angel said.  “You haven’t eaten right since we started this trip.”

 

“Thashts shweeth,” Buffy replied with a mouthful of fries.  She swallowed and added, “but you wouldn’t enjoy it.”

 

“Doesn’t matter.  You’re the one who needs to eat.  I can watch, have a glass of wine.”

 

“Can we afford to?  Don’t we have to, like sooner than now, bury that evil vessel?”

 

“It can wait,” Angel replied.

 

“Actually, something besides hamburgers sounds really good.”

 

“Then it’s a date.”

 

“We’re going on a date?”

 

“Yes, we are.”

 

“A pick-me-up-at-seven, fancy clothes type date?”

 

“That’s the idea.”

 

“But I didn’t bring a fancy dress.”

 

“Well, I did.”

 

“Dresses are all wrong for you.” she chided.

 

“Very funny.  I hid one in the trunk before we left.”

 

“You planned this all along?  That’s so sweet, Angel.”

 

“It was the least I could do after dragging you on this trip.” 

 

“Mmm.  This sounds like grown up stuff.”

 

“Well, we can be grownups for an hour.”

 

“I’ll have to practice.”

 

“Practice what?”

 

“Being grownup.  Every time I try I end up embarrassing myself.”

 

“That’s not true.  Well, except that time you stepped in the demon puss and danced around the Bronze for five minutes trying to shake it off.”

 

“It smelled like rotten eggs.”

 

“It was nasty.  But don’t worry about the date.  Just be yourself.”

 

Buffy leaned in and kissed Angel.  “Thanks.”

 

“For what?”

 

“For not expecting me to change.”

 

“I don’t want you to change, Buffy.  You’re perfect.”

 

“Perfect?  Ha!  Me?  Angel, that’s laughable.”

 

“I’m not laughing,” Angel replied seriously.  “You are.”

 

“How could I be perfect when I just staked you a few hours ago?”

 

“Yeah, that still hurts by the way.  Perfect doesn’t mean perfect in the sense of never doing anything wrong.  You can yell at me, scold me for being forgetful, even stake me.  But I know you love me.  That’s what’s important.”

 

“Perfect equals unconditional.  I get it.  That’s always been our thing.  I mean, if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here, right?”

 

“Right.

 

“Well, we agree on that,” Buffy chuckled.

 

*  

 

As dusk settled in and the sky prepared for night, Angel and Buffy were on their way again for the last few hours of their long trip.  They’d cleaned the car interior as best they could, soaking up as much water as possible with towels from the motel room.  Angel found an old blanket in the trunk and tore it in two, so he and Buffy wouldn’t have to sit on damp upholstery.

 

Buffy was huddled in her seat, wrapped in an oversized cardigan.  Angel noticed she was shivering every now and then.

 

“You cold?” he asked.

 

“Did my blue lips give it away?” she quipped.  “Would you mind?”

 

“No, of course not.  You should have said something,” Angel replied, turning the heat on.

 

“Well, I figured the heater probably didn’t work either,” she mumbled.

 

A blast of cool air came first, quickly followed by warmer air that enveloped Buffy, bringing a smile to her face.

 

“Hey, how ‘bout that,” she said, leaning her head on Angel’s shoulder, “it works!”  She kissed Angel’s neck.  “I take it back.  I love this car.”

 

Angel grinned and pushed the radio button.  To Buffy’s amazement the music wasn’t classical.

 

“Ok, two miracles?  Heat and music?  How’d you get the radio to play something besides your old stuffy stuff?”

 

“I came out here before you got up.  I may not be Joe Mechanic but I fixed the buttons.  No miracle.”

 

Buffy kissed him again.  “Thanks.”  She played with every button, finding all of them in working order.  She found a station she liked.   “Is this too rock-n-rolly for you?”

 

Angel wanted to scream hell yes, but instead calmly noted, “Uh, no.  It’s ok.”

 

Buffy knew he was lying, but she kept the station on. Thoughtfully she turned the volume down a little lower.  She hoped Angel wouldn’t start banging on the steering wheel like the last time he heard Metallica.

 

In less than an hour they were in the thick of Santa Fe, darting in and out of traffic on the city’s inner loop.  Buffy was desperately trying to read the directions to Angel as he cursed every driver who cut him off.

 

“I hate this!” he snarled.  “What makes people go nuts behind the wheel of a car?”

 

“You mean like you are?” Buffy reminded him.

 

“They think they’re gods or something,” he muttered with disdain.  “I’d like to…”

 

“Cut off their heads and feed them to buzzards.  I know. You say that every time you get on an interstate.”

 

“Right now that sounds too good for this bunch of lousy drivers.”  Angel snarled and stepped on the gas, cutting in front of a semi.

 

Buffy was hanging onto the dashboard to keep from being tossed around by Angel’s daredevil driving. “If I’d known you had a death wish today, I’d have worn my helmet,” she snapped. 

 

Angel let up on the gas and sighed.  “Sorry.” 

 

“That’s better, lead foot.”

 

“So where do we go from here?”

 

“Well, home I guess.”

 

“No, Buffy.  I mean, according to the directions, where do we go here in Santa Fe?”

 

“Oh, you mean Lorne’s friend.”  Buffy scrutinized the directions scrawled on the back of a large envelope she took out of her purse.  “It says take the exit for Santa Ana Boulevard North.”

 

“Good.  I just saw a sign for Santa Ana.”  The words were barely out of Angel’s mouth when the exit appeared and he steered the car off the highway, relieved to be free of the heavy traffic.  “What’s next?” he asked.

 

Buffy scrunched her face in thought.  “Mmm, we go about six blocks and turn right on Lincoln Avenue.”

 

A right turn on Lincoln, another right turn on Santiago Trail, and a left on Chapelle Street were supposed to lead them straight to the house.  Angel fussed that none of the house numbers were close to the one on the directions.

 

“You sure about those turns?” he asked.  It was obvious to Angel they were lost.

 

“Yeah.  A right, a left and a right.”

 

“That’s not what you said, Buffy.  You told me to make two rights and a left.”

 

“Well,” she said, studying the map.  “Oh rats.  Maybe you should take a look at this.”

 

Angel pulled over to the curb, jerking the car into park.  “Let me see,” he said snatching the paper out of Buffy’s hands. 

 

A moment later, Angel pointed to the streets in question. “We should have turned left on Lincoln and right on Chapelle.”

 

“Yeah, what I said.”

 

Angel tried to hide his frustration.  Buffy was cowering close to the window, her head leaning on the glass.  “Sorry,” she whimpered.  “I should never be put in charge of directions.”

 

“No big deal, Buffy.  I’ll just backtrack.”

 

“But you’re mad at me,” she pouted, “with every right.”

 

“I’m not mad.”

 

“Yes, you are.  It’s ok.  I deserve it.”

 

“Buffy, will you please let me concentrate on getting us back on point here?”

 

She slid her fingers across her tight lips, implying they were zipped shut and looked over at Angel, grinning sheepishly.  He couldn’t help but grin back.  She was so damned adorable when she tried to appease him.

 

They drove in silence.  Within five minutes Angel had navigated his way back to the right street. The second house on the left was 7354 Chapelle.  He pulled into the driveway and turned off the ignition.

 

Turning to Buffy, he said, “Stay here.  I’ll be right back.”

 

Buffy sat up straight.  “Why can’t I come?”

 

“Well, you could, but I was trying to do this as fast as possible.”

 

“You afraid I’ll turn into Chatty Cathy?” she teased.

 

“It was a thought.  But seriously, it’d just be easier if you stayed here.”

 

“Fine.  I’ll guard the car,” she retorted.  Her twinkling eyes looked up at Angel’s spreading grin.

 

“Thank you,” he replied.

 

Buffy watched Angel walk up the short path to the front door and ring the bell.  A questionable creature stuck its head out.  Buffy almost laughed out loud.  Its skin was a reddish pink color and it had huge, cobalt blue eyes.  Thick red horns sprouted on either side just above each ear and a shaft of unruly, long black hair covered its narrow, oblong head.  She heard snippets of their conversation but not enough to understand what was being said.  Seconds later large wrinkled hands shoved a box into Angel’s waiting arms and he walked back to the car.  He opened the trunk and carefully placed the box between the cooler and a suitcase.

 

“See?  That was quick.”  He slid in the driver’s seat, started the car, backed out of the drive and sped down the street.

 

“What’d that thing say to you?”

 

“Just thanks, have a nice day.”

 

“That’s it?  No dire warnings?”

 

“What?  Oh, he did mention a Bracken demon was lurking in his backyard yesterday.  He chased it but it got away.  Lorne told me about Brackens.  They’re just flunkies.  Not too smart but loyal.  If one is this close, it might make a move to grab the vessel.  But Lorne told me how to kill it, if it shows its ugly face.”

 

“That’s good to know.  You think it’ll follow us?”

 

“Maybe.  But that doesn’t change anything.  We’re still going on our date.”

 

“Oh.  That’s right.  Tonight is THE night.  But we need a room first.”

 

“Done.  I made a reservation at the Radcliff Hotel before we left LA.  Lorne says it’s nice and reasonably priced. Definitely a step up from what we’ve had so far.”

 

“Mmm, sounds comfy. But I’m getting hungry.  You can drive a little faster now.”

 

Within twenty minutes they were checked in and luggage deposited in their spacious, well-appointed room.  Buffy called dibs on the shower, dragging her suitcase with her into the luxurious oversized bathroom.  Angel opened the hidden package from the trunk and pulled out his only suit and Buffy’s dress.  He laid the suit on the bed, smoothing out the wrinkles and hung Buffy’s dress in the closet nook.

 

He was tempted to surprise Buffy in the shower, but decided against it.  One thing would lead to another, resulting in a long, steamy hot shower of soapy sex.  They’d never make it to the restaurant before it closed.  There’d be plenty of time after dinner to try out the king-size bed.

 

Fresh from the shower a pleasantly surprised Buffy tried on the slinky, pale blue slip dress Angel had picked out for her.

 

“I thought you meant you brought one of my old dresses,” Buffy said.  “I didn’t expect a new one.”

 

“Well, you haven’t bought anything for yourself in a long time.  You should have pretty things.”

 

“Thank you, Angel.  I love it!” she gushed, kissing him on the cheek.  “But you’re being too nice to me.  I yell at you and you give me presents.  Not exactly fair and balanced.”

 

Angel shook his head.  “You’ve given me the best present I could ever have.”

 

“But I haven’t given you anything, well, except for the Superman underwear.”

 

“Yes, you have.  You gave me you.”

 

Buffy threw her arms around Angel’s neck and kissed him fiercely.  “God, I love you,” she whispered in his ear.

 

*

 

Seated in a discreet corner of the restaurant, Buffy was drooling over the menu.  She asked if there was a limit to spend.  Angel replied not tonight.  Those words would haunt him later.  He didn’t realize how much a tiny person could eat when faced with a gourmet selection of seafood and desserts.  Soon he was wishing he’d given her monetary guidelines.

 

A lobster, several oysters, baked potato and a salad later, Buffy was happily spooning a custard dessert into her mouth, oohing and awing over every bite.  Angel sipped on a glass of red wine, watching in horror as the dollars racked up on the bill.  He didn’t have the heart to stop Buffy from seriously dipping into their bank account.  She was enjoying every minute.  And she deserved the finest.  He just wished he could afford it.

 

“Are you done?” Angel asked nervously.

 

“Hmm, don’t know yet.  I was thinking about…”

 

“Well, it is getting late.  The restaurant is closing,” Angel interrupted.

 

“No, it’s not.  What’s wrong?”

 

“Uh, nothing.”

 

“Yes there is.  You’ve got that look you get when I spend too much money.”

 

“I have a look for that?”

 

“Yeah, you do.”

 

“Well, we do have a budget, Buffy.  But I wanted you to have what you wanted.  Guess I underestimated how much you could eat.  And lobster?  Since when do you eat lobster?  It’s practically the most expensive thing on the menu.”

 

“I never ate lobster because it cost too much,” Buffy explained matter-of-factly.

 

“That’s my point.”

 

“Well, how much does your O pos cost?  Hmm?  That’s not cheap either.”

 

“I can buy enough blood to live on for two months for what that lobster cost.”

 

“Oh.  Bargain blood.  That’s cost effective,” Buffy replied, swirling her spoon through the custard.  “Sorry I’m such a chow horse.”

 

Angel chuckled.  “You really can eat like one.”

 

Buffy huffed indignantly, “Well, I have to keep up my slayer strength.”

 

“Of course you do.” 

 

“But I guess I am full.  We could go.”

 

Angel grinned.  “You’re not too full, right?”

 

Buffy grinned back.  “Not too full for that.”

 

They’d tried out the king-size bed.  It was heavenly soft, hugged them while they made love and warmed them as they slept like babies in a crib.  Both overslept but didn’t care.  Their mission here was complete.  

 

*

 

“Santa Fe’s a nice town,” Buffy commented as Angel loaded suitcases in the trunk again.  “I could live here.”

 

“You’d get bored.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

“It’s too normal.  I mean that in a good way.  But it’s not us.”

 

“Speak for yourself.  Normal might be a welcome change of pace.”

 

Angel chuckled.  “For a while.  But I doubt they have job openings for a slayer.”

 

“Well, we know they have demons.  You met one.  I bet they could benefit from my expertise.”

 

“Well, how ‘bout we wipe out the demon population in LA before we take on Santa Fe?”

 

“There’s more evil there for sure.  You’re right.  It’s too normal here.”

 

Angel started to close the trunk but Buffy put up her hand. “Wait!  Can I look in the mystery vessel box?” she asked.

 

“Why?”

 

“Just because.”

 

“Later.  We need to get going.”

 

“Just a peek?  I wanna see what all the fuss is about.”

 

“It’s probably not all that special.”

 

“For all the fuss it should look special.”

 

“I rarely find anything evil looks special.  Just big or ugly or both.”

 

“Yeah, evil isn’t pretty.”  Buffy fidgeted, staring out the window.  “Guess I can wait.”

 

The city landscape was fading.  Hundreds of miles of desert and not much else stretched out before them. Buffy was already bored.  “I wish I could fall asleep and wake up at home.”

 

“Well, if you need something to do, you could keep an eye out for critters,” Angel replied with a smirk.

 

“I could.  Yeah, I guess I should.”  Buffy turned towards Angel. “By the way, where are we supposed to bury this evil thing?”

 

“In an unmarked grave in Resting Palms Cemetery.  Last one in the last row.”

 

Suddenly Angel braked and the car swerved.  Buffy braced herself against the dashboard giving Angel a what-the-hell look.

 

“Sorry,” Angel said bringing the car back into the lane, speeding up again.

 

“What was that all about?” she asked.

 

“I just didn’t want to run over that black cat.”

 

“What black cat?  I didn’t see anything.”

 

“Lucky for us I saw it,” Angel remarked smugly, “or we’d be scraping fur off the hood.”

 

“Gross!  But speaking of luck, isn’t that supposed to be bad?”

 

“Only if you’re superstitious.  Which I’m not.”

 

“Well, neither am I.  Just seems a little freaky that a black cat happens to dart across the road in front of us on our way home with evil vessel in the trunk.”

 

“Buffy, don’t read too much into it.  It’s just a coincidence.”

 

“Still.  Better not be some kind of omen.”

 

Buffy sighed and laid her head back, closed her eyes and tried to relax.  She wasn’t completely convinced the black cat’s appearance was a random event.  In her short but very active life in the world of demons and mystical occurrences, anything was possible.  But a black cat wasn’t a big deal.  Or was it?  If she’d dreamed it, she’d be more concerned.  Finally, she decided the cat was an innocent player, nothing to fret about, and fell asleep.

 

*

 

Uneventful miles ticked by.  Mile after mile of seemingly endless blacktop.  The white center line was hypnotizing Angel.  He tried not to look at it, but it glaringly stood out in the moonless night’s blackness, impossible to avoid.  He jerked his head up when his eyes closed for a second, and glanced over to see if Buffy had noticed.  She was still asleep.  That was a relief.  If she knew he’d almost fallen asleep, he’d never hear the end of it.

 

Their last stop before home was the Dew Drop Inn again.  Buffy winced at spending another night in that dingy pit.  Angel explained they didn’t have a choice.  The downside of the scenic route.

 

Buffy had settled in bed after her shower, watching Angel emerge from his turn in the bathroom.  He was towel-drying his hair, another towel wrapped around his waist.  She wanted to pull him down on the bed with her, but he walked over to his suitcase and pulled out a clean pair of underwear.

 

“Wonder what evil we’ve missed back home,” Buffy asked curiously, playing with the satin edge of the blanket.

 

“Well, we know it didn’t stop because we were gone,” Angel noted wryly, dropping the towel and stepping into his underwear.

 

“So we probably missed some big ole evil thing we should have killed.”

 

“There’s always the next one.”

 

“Well, I’m getting a little twitchy to get back in action.  I’m done with this sitting and riding.”

 

“We’ll be home soon, Buffy.  Then you can take out your road rage on all that evil stuff.”

 

Angel finally strode back towards the bed, close enough so Buffy could grab his arm and send him tumbling onto the bed with a laugh.  She rolled on top of him and smothered his mouth with a long, sensual kiss.  For her effort Buffy got more samples of Angel’s secret moves. She made him swear he’d do those every time.

 

After the sex and the inevitable nap it was dusk.  Time to go.  They gathered suitcases and closed the door on their last motel room for hopefully a very long time. 

 

Buffy walked out first, saw it and shouted to Angel.  He turned when he heard Buffy, saw what she saw.

 

A demon was in the process of closing their trunk, vessel box in hand.  It jerked its head in their direction and bolted into the night.

 

Angel dropped the suitcases and flung open the trunk.  He pulled out his sword and ran after the demon with Buffy close behind.

 

“I take it that’s a Bracken demon,” Buffy yelled as they ran.  “Must have followed us from Lorne’s friend’s house.”

 

“Yeah, it’s just like Lorne described it.”

 

“Looks kinda silly with that big, fat long nose.  Are there such things as elephant demons?”

 

“No, but this thing gets all its power and energy from its nose,” Angel shouted back.

 

“A power nose?  Wow.  That’s new.  You said you know how to kill it.”

 

“Yeah.  If I can catch it.”

 

They weaved in and out of the darkness, slowly gaining ground on the Bracken.  Their stamina was no match for the Bracken who was visibly tiring.  It threw a look back at them, growling, but kept going.  Within moments the gap between them closed.  Angel launched himself in the air, kicked it in the chest, knocking it to the ground, but only for a second.  It jumped up immediately, roaring.  Buffy stepped in between Angel and the demon.  She threw a punch at the Bracken that missed.  The Bracken grabbed her arm and pulled her tight against his hairy chest with one arm while he held onto the box with the other.  Buffy squirmed and kicked but couldn’t free herself from its powerful grip. 

 

“Back off” the Bracken roared, “or I’ll kill her!”

 

Angel growled, circling the Bracken.  He had to take out the Bracken without hurting Buffy – and soon.  The demon was squeezing her so tight Buffy was struggling to breathe.  He only had one choice.

 

“Sorry, Dumbo.  You’re not gonna win.”  Angel turned his eyes to Buffy and yelled, “Duck!”  Buffy did.

 

In one swift, fluid motion Angel swung his sword, slicing off the Bracken’s nose.  The Bracken screamed in agony, releasing its hold on Buffy and dropped the box.  Its nose flew into the air and landed several feet away.  Buffy ran over to Angel, and they watched the Bracken dissolve into a puddle of reddish brown goo and puss.

 

“Are you alright?” Angel asked worriedly.

 

“Yeah.  Just a little out of breathe,” Buffy replied, her chest heaving in and out rapidly, “but another second or two and I’d be nursing cracked ribs.”

 

Angel wiped the Bracken’s puss from his sword on the grass.  “You know, you could’ve been hurt worse.  You got between me and that thing.  What if I’d…”

 

Buffy cut him off, “I know.  My bad.  I did the same thing you did to me, didn’t I?  Sorry.  I’ve got no room to talk.”

 

“Well, when we get home we’re going to work on our timing,” Angel replied.  “We can’t be getting in each other’s way like this.”     

 

“Yeah, definitely,” Buffy said, pinching her nose. “Ok.  That’s the smelliest demon I’ve ever met,” she said disgustedly.  “Why does evil have to smell so bad?”

 

“It makes them easier to track,” Angel said, “so I’m happy.”

 

“I don’t know how you stand demon smells with your sensitive nose.”

 

“I’ve gotten used to it.  This one smells like dead rats and gasoline.”

 

“Well, I’ll never get used to the yuck factor,” Buffy huffed, walking over and picking up the box. “Can I open it now?”

 

Angel chuckled.  “Curiosity killed the cat.”

 

“I’m not a cat.”

 

“Go ahead.  Make sure it’s alright.”

 

Buffy tore into the box and sighed.  Her worried eyes looked up at Angel.  “Oh, shi..”

 

Angel cut her off, “What?” He leaned over and looked in.  The vessel was smashed to bits.  He frowned.

 

“This doesn’t mean it’s unleashed a whole new demon population, does it?” she asked anxiously.

 

“I don’t know.  Lorne’s friend didn’t say what happens if it gets broken.”

 

“Well, he didn’t tell you everything then, did he?” Buffy scoffed.

 

“Maybe he didn’t mention it, because it doesn’t matter if it’s broken.”

 

“Hmm.  I don’t like this.”  Buffy peeked in the box again and sighed, “evil is ugly.”

 

“Well, we’re still gonna take it back and bury it,” Angel declared, “keep it out of evil hands.”

 

“Fine.  But I don’t want to get home and find a Welcome Wagon of demons on the front steps.”

 

Angel picked up the box and started for the car.  “I don’t either.”

 

*

 

Los Angeles was a welcome sight for Buffy’s road trip boredom, but her mind was focused on the vessel. Angel didn’t seem to be worried, or at least he was hiding it well.  She, on the other hand, couldn’t shake the feeling this vessel was still powerful, even in tiny pieces.  She finally gave up the worry, knowing they were powerless to change what had happened.

 

They arrived at the Resting Palms cemetery and trekked to the last grave as instructed.  Thankfully it was already open and waiting.  Angel flung the box to the bottom and began filling the open pit with dirt using the shovel they’d brought along.  Buffy offered to help but Angel said he would do it.  When he was finished, the last shovel of dirt packed on top, Angel stood back and declared, “Now we can go home.”

 

“Home.  I’ve missed home.  I won’t be happy until we’re in our own bed.  And next time you volunteer us for a road trip, I might have to stake you,” Buffy muttered with a playful grin.

 

Angel rolled his eyes and shook his head.  “No more road trips.  Next time I’ll just tell Lorne to find someone else.  There’s gotta be other champions who could do this.”

 

Buffy thought a moment.  “There are no champions like us,” she finally replied.  Then she giggled, “You knew I’d say that.”

 

“It crossed my mind,” Angel admitted with a twinkle in his eye.  “And you know it’s true.”

 

“Yeah.  Sad but true.”

 

Once they were home, Buffy and Angel headed straight for the bedroom.  The trip, the tension, the vampires, the near-misses, the Bracken and the broken vessel dramas had worn them out.  It felt good to completely relax and lay in each other’s arms.

 

Buffy cleared her throat and looked up at Angel.  “I’ve been thinking…”

 

“About what?” Angel interrupted, slightly irritated.  “Buffy, if it’s not something involving the end of the world, can you save it for later?  I’m beat.”

 

Buffy bit her lower lip and said, “Well, I don’t think it would.”

 

“You don’t think it would?  But it could?” Angel asked warily.

 

“It’s just that we haven’t talked about something and I think it’s time.”

 

“Haven’t talked about what?”

 

Buffy ran her fingers up and down Angel’s arm, gathering the courage to say what was on her mind.  “Ok, here goes.”  There was a very long pause.  Now Angel was concerned.

 

“Buffy, if something’s wrong, tell me,” Angel fretted.  “Whatever it is we can work it out.”

“Oh, it’s not that,” Buffy responded slowly.  “We’re good.  Better than good, actually.”

 

“Then what’s the problem?” Angel’s patient was thinning.

 

Finally Buffy blurted out, “I was wondering if you’d marry me.”

 

Angel nearly choked.  The immediate shocked expression on his face was quickly replaced with a wide grin.

 

“You know I will.  I’d do anything for you, Buffy, if it makes you happy.  I just didn’t think you went in for the formality.  We aren’t exactly Ozzie and Harriet.”

 

“Who’s Ozzie and Harriet?”

 

“The quintessence of normal,” Angel replied.  Buffy looked confused so he added, “Nothing like us.”

 

“Oh, well, good for them.  But it’s not a piece of paper I need or want, and we’re already committed to the til death do us part thing.  That’s not it.”  Buffy hesitated, sniffing back a tear, her voice cracking.  “I just want to belong.  Call me old fashioned, but I like the idea of being a family, even if it’s only a family of two.  Maybe to be somewhat normal after all.”

 

Angel hugged Buffy tighter and kissed the top of her head.  “I’ll be your family,” he whispered lovingly.

 

The smile on Buffy’s face was the widest Angel had ever seen.

 

“Great!  Then it’s a date, or, I should say wedding,” Buffy said excitedly.  She raised her head and gave Angel a long passionate kiss.  “But just so you know?  I don’t care about the ring.  I’m not the diamonds-are-a-girl’s-best-friend type, so something much less expensive is fine with me.”

 

Buffy could almost hear the sigh of relief from Angel.  She knew he’d get her the biggest diamond in the world, if she asked, even if he had to dig it out of the ground himself.  She also knew he’d faint when he saw how much one cost.

 

“But you should have a nice ring, Buffy.  If it’s going to be the symbol of our love, it should be special.”  Angel thought a second and added with an impish grin, “within our budget, of course.”

 

Buffy chuckled, her eyes twinkling mischievously.  “Well, on our budget we could afford a ring from the Grab-A-Prize machine at the Quick Stop.”

 

Angel laughed.  “That’s cute, Buffy.  I think I can swing something a little better.”

 

“Well, it doesn’t have to be big – but shiny is good.  Lots of sparkle.”

 

“To match the sparkle in your beautiful eyes,” Angel murmured lovingly.

 

Buffy blushed.  “But please don’t even think about a Sakron demon crystal.  They’re a gorgeous sparkly pink but they smell like dandelions.”

 

“I was thinking of a real jewelry store, not a cave.”

 

Buffy giggled and squirmed, pulling the covers over her body and settled her head against Angel’s shoulder.  “Ok, that’s settled.  We’ll talk more later.”

 

Angel was a little confused. “So that’s it?”

 

“Well, yeah.  I asked, you said yes.  What’s to discuss?”

 

Angel wasn’t sure how to react.  If Buffy was satisfied, then why should he complain?  Yet he’d thought about this moment many times.  This wasn’t exactly what he’d imagined it would be like.   “Uh, I guess I was expecting something a little more romantic.”

 

Buffy grasped Angel’s face in her hands and looked him square in the eye.  “More like this?”  She leaned in and smothered his lips with hers in a kiss that would have knocked his socks off if he was wearing any.  When their lips finally parted Angel grinned and whispered, “Yeah, like that.”  More crushing kisses and several groping hand movements later, they both laid back, legs and arms entwined, smiling like fools.

 

Angel slept soundly.  He always did.  Buffy was jealous he could do that and be awake in a second if danger showed up.  She never slept as good as Angel anyway.  This night was no exception.  Especially tonight.  It was hard to make her mind stop spinning, even harder to wipe the grin off her face.  When she finally succumbed to exhaustion, she slept fitfully, dreaming.

 

The sky was quivering in the moonlight.  Waves of demons poured out of the black hole sliced open at the horizon.  Ugly, smelly demons.

 

They kept coming.  Together and alone.  Snarling and growling.  Black ones, red ones, gray ones, purple ones.  All different.  All deadly.

 

The earth shuddered.

 

Evil was on the loose.

 

 

~ end ~

 

November 2011