"New Life, New Problems"

by Sophia Prester

Rating: PG-13, for salty language

Disclaimer: They belong to Joss and Mutant Enemy, not me. I'm not doing this for pay, just for fun, so please don't call the lawyers.

Notes: This was writting shortly after "Smile Time," and was inspired by a 'what if' discussion about something that happened in that episode. This story is AU in regards to everything that happened after that episode. Also, even though this is a "Smile Time" fic, there are no puppets. Sorry.

* * *

When it finally happened, it happened quietly, with no fanfare, no booming voices, no flash of mystical light. He, Wesley, Spike, and Lorne were just sitting around his office on a Wednesday afternoon, talking about the demon cult they had defeated only a few hours before.

"It's fortunate we found them when we did," Wesley said. "It turns out that if they had completed that spell, the results would have made last year's blackouts and fire storms seem like a summer squall."

"Another day, another apocalypse," Spike said. He lit a cigarette. "You sure you stopped the spell, Watcher? It still looked pretty glowy to me when we legged it out of there."

Wesley lapsed into his bookish, Watcher mode so easily it was hard to believe that earlier that day, he had been mowing down demon acolytes with evident satisfaction and a very large axe.

"The foundation spell the Tenenit cultists used--a variant on a classic Etruscan summoning spell--only remains potent for three hours. There's no way to undo the spell, but there's no danger since there's approximately 50 tons of rubble preventing any spell caster from getting close enough to it to finish the ritual. Besides, the foundation spell should dissipate on its own in the next fifteen minutes or so, if it hasn't already."

It was exactly ten minutes later that the spell faded away, the potential for apocalypse fading away right along with it.

As it turned out, the apocalypse wasn't the only thing that faded away with the spell. The first thing Angel noticed was that he felt truly calm for the first time in centuries. The roiling, crashing restlessness and turbulent desire that he kept fiercely in check every waking moment subsided first to a ripple and then to the utter stillness of a pond on a windless day.

"Angel, are you all right?" Wes asked. He leaned forward in his chair, peering suspiciously at his friend. "You look rather...flushed?"

The second thing Angel noticed was that he felt a little bit warm. He wondered if the heat had come on for some reason, but this warmth was coming from the inside out. He held out his hands and examined them. Was it his imagination, or was his skin a little pinker than before?

"Something's happening, Wes. I think I can feel...ouch!"

Somewhere in the past two hundred and some-odd years, he had forgotten the whole pinprick sensation of blood rushing back into his extremeties after they'd been asleep. Angel stood up, and just before the last of the demon's physical strength faded away, hurled his chair through the necro-tempered glass.

Spike dove out of the way of the unfiltered sunlight and glared at Angel as he beat frantically at a smoking spot on his leg. "What the hell was *that* for, you wanker?!"

"Shanshu."

Angel walked towards the light, nearly breaking into giggles as he realized that he was actually holding his breath. He reached out to stick his hand in the sunbeam, drew back out of habit, then deliberately held his hand in direct sunlight.

Nothing happened.

"Oh my God..." Wesley said. He stood up and walked hesitantly towards Angel, eyes fixed on the not-burning hand.

"Way to go, Angel!" Lorne crowed. "Oh, this calls for some kind of party! Don't worry, though. I'll make a point of *not* inviting Arch-Duke Sebassis."

Then, Lorne was up from his seat, Wesley broke out of his state of shock, and the next thing Angel knew, he was getting fiercely hugged by both men. One of them even ruffled his hair.

Meanwhile, Angel just stood there, stunned, wondering when it would finally sink in that this had actually *happened*, that it was *real*.

Spike didn't say a word. He just stared at Angel for a few minutes, completely expressionless. Eventually, he turned and stalked off who-knows- where and who-*cares*-where, at least as far as Angel was concerned. Maybe Spike would do everyone a favor and go drown his sorrows in a pool of sunshine.

No, this was no time to be petty. Angel closed his eyes and enjoyed the simple sensation of having a heartbeat. In fact, maybe he should try to help Spike out a little bit. Being a vampire with a soul was no easy task.

A task he no longer had to worry about.

"You know, Angel-cakes, if you don't stop smiling, your face could freeze like that."

"Fine by me," Angel said. "That would be just fine by me..."

He turned his hands this way and that in the late-afternoon sunlight, marveling at how golden it made his skin, and how warm it felt. How much better would it feel on bare legs, bare arms, a bare chest?

He couldn't wait to find out.

His sunlight was momentarily blocked by Lorne, who was mere inches from him, circling around, and peering at him critically from every angle.

"It is *amazing* what a little blood circulation does for your complexion, honey-bun. You're still pale, of course, but you don't have that whole pasty thing going on any more."

"Pasty? I was *pasty*? Why didn't anyone ever tell me I was pasty?" Angel looked around, but of course there weren't any mirrors in his office. That was just one of the things he would have to change.

Lorne waved away the comment. "Let it go, Angelcakes. Fact is, you need to get out and get a little bit of a base tan. It will do *wonders* for your appearance. In fact," he said, giving Angel another lingering once-over, "I think we're looking at a top contender for the next *People* '50 Sexiest People' issue. I'll have to get my people right on that."

"Oh, we'll definitely have to get you out on the town," said Wes.

"Abso*lutely*." Lorne peered at him some more, and Angel knew from the heat in his face, that he was blushing fiercely. "Plus, we need to hit the stores. The whole dark-and-gloomy thing simply won't work for you any more."

Harmony came in with a tray of coffee--a tray with six full mugs and not a drop of blood anywhere to be seen or smelled.

"Spike told me all about the good news! And he wanted me to tell you that he's taking out the new Lamborghini for a road-trip to Vegas and that he doesn't know when or if he'll be back. He also said you said it was okay to give him fifty thou out of petty cash, which is so incredibly nice of you! It was okay for me to do that, right?" She put the tray down on the desk. "Oh, and by the way, Lorne is totally right about the fashion thing, Boss. I mean, now that you're not the walking dead any more, you're..." she squinted a bit, then leaned back to study him, tapping her chin with one finger. "A spring. Yeah, definitely a spring."

Lorne took a mug of his usual complicated coffee. "Good eye, kid! Angel, if you don't mind, let's do the shopping trip tomorrow evening." He gave Harmony a one-armed hug. "I bet that this little cutie knows her way around a clothing store like nobody's business."

"You mean I get to go shopping with you and Angel?"

"You betcha, sugar-plum. If you want, I'll see if I can talk my boy Carson into flying in from New York to give us a hand. He owes me a favor or two-- *and* dinner, but that's another story."

Harmony squealed with delight, and she and Lorne started babbling about all the stores they would visit.

"Get ready to find out how sore your feet will become," Wes said, shaking his head. Even so, he was smiling. "I'm not sure I could stand going shopping with those two, but it will be quite the new adventure for you."

Wes took his usual mug from the tray, leaving behind four unremarkable W&H mugs in an assortment of colors.

Angel finally interrupted the chorus of shopping-raptures. "Uh, Harmony? Who else is having coffee with us?"

"Oh! I'm sorry. Since you normally drink blood--well, up until now, anyway-- I didn't know how you liked your coffee, so there's black in the blue mug, sugar only in the red mug, cream only in the green mug, cream and sugar in the white..." She looked up at him, wide-eyed. Her lip quivered. "Oh, no! I didn't even think about artificial sweetener, or all the different flavored syrups..."

Angel took the mug that had cream and sugar. The heat made him flinch, so he set it back down and picked it by the handle. A lower pain threshold was something he'd have to get used to. "Harm, it's fine. You did good."

"Really? In that case, is it okay if I take all the leftover otter blood home with me? I mean, it's not like--"

"Drink it in good health," Angel said. "Now I think there's a stack of invoices in your in-box that need to be filed..."

"In the meantime," said Wes, "why don't the three of us go out for a little walk. It is, after all, a nice, sunny, spring afternoon."

Angel looked out the window. A walk. Outside. In daylight.

He wondered if he'd ever stop grinning. "Well, what are we waiting for?"

As they walked out into the lobby, Harmony stopped them.

"Hey, boss, I forgot to tell you, Nina's here for her kennel appointment. She wants to know if you're still on for breakfast in the morning?"

Angel's grin was so wide it almost hurt. Was this turning out to be the best day, or what?

"Yes, we are. Don't tell her about..." he thumped on his chest, "you- know- what. I want it to be a surprise."

"Okay, I'll let her know." Harmony looked down at the phone as if the buttons would dial themselves if she furrowed her brow hard enough at them.

"No phone in a cage, Harm."

"Oh, right." Harmony hit another extension, and passed the message along to the attending veterinarian.

"Things are going well with Nina, I take it?" If Wesley's smile was a little wistful, Angel pretended not to notice.

Angel nodded, but also tipped one hand from side to side. "It's going okay. She's fun, she's nice, she's pretty, good sense of humor... She's more-or- less okay with the vampire thing--which is now a complete non-issue." He could barely keep from laughing.

Maybe later he'd be overwhelmed by the magnitude of what had happened, but right now he could enjoy gloating and giddiness. Time enough to deal with reality tomorrow.

"How close are we to moonrise, anyway? You think I have time to go down and see her tonight before she changes?"

Wesley checked his watch and pushed a button. "Fourteen minutes and... ten seconds to moonrise," he said. Angel wondered if the moonrise function on the watch was a Wolfram and Hart idea or a Watcher's Council idea. "I would strongly advise against going down there right now. Every werewolf has a slightly different sensitivity to the moon's mystical pull. Some have been known to change nearly a quarter of an hour before moonrise, while others can resist the change for up to an hour or more. There have been some recent rumors in the mystical community about some Tibetan meditation techniques..."

"I'll wait 'til tomorrow," Angel said abruptly. "The last time I made the mistake of visiting her too close to moonrise, she wound up using me as a chew-toy. Not exactly an experience I'd like to repeat."

Wesley stopped dead in his tracks and grabbed Angel by the arm. He looked Angel over as if expecting to see horrible injuries. "You mean Nina mauled you? When did this happen? Why didn't you say anything?"

Angel pulled free of Wesley's grip, confused by Wes's over-reaction.

"There wasn't any reason to, Wes. It happened during that whole puppet incident, which, by the way, you are *still* not allowed to mention. *Ever*. Anyhow, I was standing too close to her cage, and I guess she thought I was a squeaky toy. I was able to get away, Lorne found me and got me back to my office, and I was able to fix myself up with some thread and a little poly-fill, so no harm done." He thought for a moment. "I've told her over and over not to worry about it, but I get the idea she still feels kinda guilty about it."

"While you were a puppet, eh?" There was something odd about Wesley's voice, but Angel couldn't figure out what it was. "Well, she's a very nice girl. In fact, I think you may find that the two of you may have a surprising amount in common."

Wesley turned to whisper something to Lorne, who nearly choked on his caramel-soy decaf latte. Angel ignored them and kept walking.

"I wonder what she'll think. The visit before last, I was a puppet."

"A *vampire* puppet..." Wesley still sounded as if he was puzziling something out.

"Shut up, Wes. Then, back to a vampire for the next visit. Now... ha!... human!" He looked at his faint reflection in the glass of the Immigration Services office, admiring himself for a moment before waving cheerfully at the family of Minoto demons waiting inside. The two adults looked at him warily, but the little one waved back enthusiastically.

He barely resisted doing a little dance-step as he started walking again.

"Human. God, I *love* being able to say that! Anyhow, too bad Nina didn't get in until late. Still, I can take her out to breakfast tomorrow, go sit at a nice, *sunny* outdoor cafe..."

Wes rested a hand between Angel's shoulders and gently steered him towards his office. "Yes, yes. I'm sure the two of you will have an absolutely wonderful time."

"Yup. And, no more gypsy curse, so no need to worry about having too wonderful a time."

"R-right." Wesley stared at Angel for a moment, once again giving him the kind of head-to-toe survey that was only one step down from open flirtation. "Angel, can we step into your office for a moment? There's something we need to, err, discuss."

"C'mon, Wes! This is my first day as a human. In fact, it's the end of the day. People have gone home for the night. Can't whatever it is wait until tomorrow?"

No answer. Angel looked around. Wesley had gone over to Harmony's desk and was giving her instructions of some kind. Harmony looked both befuddled and startled, but that was a pretty normal state of affairs for Harmony.

"You just go on in, sweet-cheeks," Lorne said. "Wes will only be a minute."

"Whatever." Angel headed for his desk, but the sound of his door locking stopped him cold. He turned to ask Lorne what the hell was going on.

Lorne wasn't there.

This was clearly *not* good.

"Lorne? You want to tell me why you just locked me in my office?"

He thought he heard Lorne yell something back to him, but it sounded less like an explanation and more like orders to various flunkies to start shoving desks and filing cabinets in front of the door. The *locked* door.

"Oh, I don't *think* so..." Angel muttered. He ran up and gave the door a flying kick that would knock it off its hinges and very likely rip the frame out of the wall.

As he hopped around in agony, Angel realized that "blinding pain" was a surprisingly accurate expression.

"ShitpissfuckdammitalltoHELL!!"

Well, kicking down doors was clearly not an option. He eyed the frosted glass panel between his office and the reception area, debating whether or not he wanted to risk multiple lacerations when the glass suddenly darkened. From the sound of things, Wes had ordered Harmony to use her vampire strength to stand her huge oak desk on end in front of the window.

Angel grabbed the doorknob and shook it furiously.

"Wes! Lorne! Harmony! If you don't let me out of here RIGHT NOW, you are all going to be very, *very* fired!"

"Sorry, Angel-muffin, but I believe the appropriate phrase in this situation is 'No way, Jose'."

"Lorne..." Angel was pleased to find that even without the demon, he could still growl quite effectively.

His hearing was also better than he'd expected. He could hear Wes's exasperated sigh as clearly as if the man were standing right next to him.

"I do apologize for this, Angel," Wes said, "but it's probably best that you remain isolated until we can do a little more research on how your reversion to human state might have effected your vampiric...ah...*immunity* to certain, well, things..."

"Things? What kind of things?" Angel snarled. Wes was so lucky that Angel was no longer a vampire, or he'd find himself missing a chunk of his throat. Despite his regained humanity, the idea of sinking his teeth into Wes's neck held a certain, visceral appeal.

Wes's voice grew slightly fainter, as if he was stepping back from the door. "Well, it's entirely possible that you were, well, exposed to various...conditions...and you could have some viruses and bacteria lingering in your system that could have unpredictable and adverse effects now that they are in a living--and human--host. Current occult theory says that vampiric healing power would destroy any infectious agents but--"

"That still doesn't explain why you locked me in my office, Wes."

He grinned in satisfaction as he heard Harmony 'eep!' at the threat in his voice.

"I'll, um, see you tomorrow, Boss!" she squeaked. "Bye!"

"Oh, is that the *time*?" Lorne said. "My, my, my."

Angel heard the sound of two sets of footsteps fading rapidly into the distance.

"Think of this as being kept overnight for observation," said Wes, from just a little further away than before. He sounded calm, but Angel could tell the man was faking it. He could *smell* the fear on him. "It's nothing more than a precaution. I'm sure everything is just fine, and we'll all have a good long laugh about it in the morning."

"Wes, what do you mean you're sure everything 'is just fine?!' Are you trying to tell me there's a chance that things are *not* fine?"

No answer.

"Wes?"

He counted to five.

"WES!!!!"

Nothing.

Angel mulled over the events of the last half hour, wondering what, exactly, had just happened. Maybe this was some weird practical joke that Spike and Harmony had thought up to tweak him for his newly human status, and Wes and Lorne would be back any minute now...

Or not.

"Fuck."

Angel took a deep breath, not even stopping to marvel at the fact that his lungs were now actually using the air that was coming in.

Ever since Angel first heard about the whole Shanshu deal, he'd daydreamed about what he might do if he actually *did* become human again. There were, of course, the obvious fantasies involving Buffy, not a few involving Wes, and one very special one involving them both.

Up in his penthouse suite, tucked away in his nightstand drawer, was his constantly revised list of "Top Ten Places I Want to See in Daylight." In the back of the closet was a box full of recipes for various garlic- intensive Italian and Asian dishes he wanted to try.

The list of baby names, however, had been torn up and flushed down the toilet a little over a year ago.

He was reasonably certain that there wasn't anything in any of his fantasies or on any of his lists about being locked up--all alone--in his office overnight. It wasn't right. This was his first night as a human, as a 'real boy,' and it should have been special.

He sighed again, wondering if he was ungrateful to be thinking about the unfairness of the situation.

Look on the bright side, he told himself. After all these years, he could live as a man, not a monster. He could have a *life*, and not just a tortured existence in which he tried to maintain a balance between the two states.

He took a breath of the night air that came in through the broken window. Despite the ever-present smog, it still felt fresh, and the sultry spring humidity did something oh-so-pleasant to his spine and his stomach. He wanted to go out and enjoy the night as a human, to run and chase, and...

No, he wasn't going to start being bitter again.

In the morning, he could go out not in moonlight, but in honest-to-goodness *daylight*. Maybe he could go up on the roof and start working on that tan Lorne had suggested. He held up his hands to see--for one last time--the vampire paleness illuminated by moonlight.

Huh. He frowned at his hands. Somehow, his skin looked a little darker than he remembered. Darker, and...hairier?

All at once, he knew why Wes and Lorne had been in such a hurry to get away. He looked up in horror as the first full moon of spring rose above the Los Angeles skyline.

"ohshit..."

Angel's--literal--howl of frustration could be heard all the way down to the basement, where wolf-Nina dreamed sweet, sultry spring dreams about her destined mate.