Disclaimer: I do not own the characters used in this fic.
A/N: This is the extended version of a drabble that got somewhat out of hand. Originally for Comment Fic in response to Tigriswolf's prompt "there will be a day when I no longer love you."
"Be safe," says Angel.
Buffy puts her hands on her hips and for a second he wonders if he's in for a girl power speech, menfolk not always around the protect the womenfolk sort of speech, which maybe he's due for because he hasn't had one in a while, but she just says mildly, "Maybe I can be if you don't piss off any more law firms."
"It was just the one," he points out weakly.
She smiles and he smiles back. When she turns her head he follows her gaze over the balcony and down into the Hyperion's lobby where her little army of teenage girls are rechecking their bags. "They're strong," he says. "You trained them well."
Buffy nods. "Yeah. They're good. They work well together." Her voice is distant, detached.
"Not with you?"
"It's… it's different." She sighs. "It's good. It's just… It's a little lonely sometimes."
"I've had some experience with loneliness myself, actually."
"Oh, really? You? No!" She grins, for a second, and it makes him feel warm where there's been cold since Cordelia (and now Fred, Wesley, Gunn…), but then her expression freezes and falters and she looks away. "God, I really need to get out of here. You don't know how close I am to asking you to come with me."
"You don't know how close I am to asking you to stay."
"But it's not… we can't. It's a bad time and there are things…"
"Right," Angel nods. "You're still turning into a cookie."
Buffy's face pinches up. "I'm a little metaphorically challenged."
"But this is how it needs to be. We need to be apart, we need space. It's good."
"Right. And if we keep thinking about the maybes of it all…"
"You're not going to bake evenly."
He can tell how hard Buffy is trying to turn her smile into a frown as she says, "I want you to please erase from your mind the terrible train wreck that is me creating analogies."
He thought it was cute. The whole tangled, misuse of the English language is part of her charm. But she's right. He can't keep thinking about it. He needs to let go of her 'sometimes' and the maybe of their future and focus on the fight he started here and let her focus on the army she's building there (there in Scotland because Andrew double-crossed them again somehow).
"We should get going," says Buffy. "Long flight. And I left Xander at HQ with just a bunch of baby Slayers, so that's probably not going well."
"Yeah," says Angel. "That's probably… that's smart. You should… go."
But she doesn't. She hesitates and stands there, still and quiet and almost awkward but somehow not quite. Moments pass. Seconds. He stares into her eyes and she stares into his. He doesn't want to see her go. He never does.
"How is this still so hard?" Buffy asks finally. "Shouldn't we be used to it now?"
"We could fight," Angel suggests. "We haven't had a big argument this time."
Buffy grins at him and shakes her head. "Thanks for the offer." She looks back down at the lobby. "Do you think Spike was right?"
"No," says Angel. "About what?"
"About us. That we can't be friends. That we'll always be like this. Always…"
Right. He remembers that. Aching from a fight in the magic shop and aching in his heart later at home when she turned and left him for one of the first times. And what can he say? 'No, it'll always hurt like this?' Is that better or worse than 'no, someday I won't love you anymore?'
Instead, he just answers, "I don't know."
Below them, he can see Spike talking to two of the Slayers who had recognised him in the middle of the fight. One of them looks a little moon-eyed.
"You didn't ask him to go back with you either?" He's still not sure what to make of Buffy's relationship with Spike. He's not sure he wants to make anything of Buffy's relationship with Spike. But he knows, whether it's love or not, they care for each other.
"I did," says Buffy.
Realising, or maybe just finally growing annoyed, that he's being watched, Spike turns and looks up at them. He makes a face, eyebrows raised, lips nearing a sneer. An expression of challenge. Of course Spike didn't tell him. The only thing bad enough to keep him from rubbing Buffy's offer in Angel's face would have to be choosing Angel.
"You're doing good things here, Angel," says Buffy. She lifts her duffel bag from the floor and pulls the strap over her shoulder. "I know sometimes it doesn't feel like it. I know feeling alone. But there are people who believe in you and what you're doing."
He wants to hold her. He wants to beg her to not go. To stay here, with him, with Spike. To tell him these things in the mornings when she wakes up in bed beside him with a sleepy smile and her hair in a tangled mess.
He lied. He does know. Of course he knows. How could he ever be over her?