Title: Without a Second Thought

Disclaimer: I guess Joss still owns them, doesn't he? Even if he gave up on their story. Anyway, no profit being made here, Buffy and Angel still belong to ME, blah, blah, blah.

Spoilers: Major spoilers for 'Not Fade Away' as well as most of season 5 and all B/A canon.

Pairing: Buffy/Angel

Summary: Will Buffy ever be finished baking?

Timeline: Directly post NFA

A/N: Long time no B/A, I know. I'm surprised I managed to get this thing out. I actually kind of like it. It's an idea I've had floating around in my head for a while. Follows the Buffy and Potentials come to save Angel's ass after NFA cliché, but it was kind of fun to write. Plus, with all the HP writing I've been doing lately, I really missed writing Buffy. Hope that I got her voice down.

Feedback: Would be muchly appreciated.

BUFFY: Angel. I do... sometimes think that far ahead.

ANGEL Sometimes is something.

-'Chosen'

---

You saved me.

Angel paused, the words sounding trite and meaningless to his own ears.

You saved us.

It was true, she had saved them, saved them all, but he could not say so. To say so would be to put himself out there. Besides, that was what she did, after all. She was the slayer. It was her job to come to the rescue, to fight for those in need, to stand against the demons, the darkness, and the forces of nature...

You saved the world.

As usual.

He approached her slowly, words of thanks and gratitude flashing in and out of his mind. Sirens shrieked in the background as hospitals and police reacted to the destruction the battle with Wolfram & Hart had wrought down upon them. Rubble lay strewn by his feet, and scores of buildings were burned and destroyed.

L.A. was in shambles. People were screaming, yelling, running, crying... but they were alive. There were all alive. And, most miraculously of all, they had won.

You saved me.

He reached her, his meaningless words still floating around in her head. She smiled weakly at him, stretching her shoulder.

"Hey," she said quietly, wincing a little as she continued to loosen out her shoulder.

He tracked her movements with his eyes. "Your hurt," he said quietly.

"Just a scratch," she said with a small shrug. "Be gone in a jiffy. Perks of having uber, slayer strength."

"Buffy... I..."

"I know," she answered, raising her eyebrows. "You're very thankful, blah, blah, blah. I'm only sorry I didn't get here sooner." She sighed, letting out a long breath. "You should have called."

"Couldn't... I wasn't sure if I still had that right." He paused, shifting his eyes to the blackened ground. "You didn't trust me anymore."

Buffy snorted. "That's a lousy excuse and you know it, Angel. You should have called... mission like you pulled... if I hadn't showed up with the Calvary—"

"I'd be dead," Angel interrupted. "I know."

Her eyes darkened momentarily. "I was too late as it was. You lost people tonight. You lost... friends."

"Wes."

Buffy cracked a smile. "I'm sorry, Angel."

Their eyes met and Angel knew that she was and that she understood. She had to lead people into battle before, she had to bring her friends face to face with death, knowing that they might not all survive. And she'd paid. She'd paid several times over.

The shrieking of the sirens got louder. Buffy glanced around, breaking their eye contact as she surveyed the area, looking deeply troubled. "I should..."

"Yeah..."

"I have to see how everyone is, who needs medical attention and who doesn't..." Buffy shook her head. "No rest for us veteran slayers, huh?"

"How are Xander and Willow?"

"They're..." Buffy trailed off. "Xander got pretty beat up, but he's used to it by now. Willow was... incredible. Without her... it wouldn't have mattered how much slayer power we had. She's drained... she tends to need a good week of sleep after doing spells of this magnitude. But otherwise... she's okay."

"Good," Angel said, feeling relieved that Buffy's friends had survived coming to his aid. "So..."

"So..." Buffy said, beginning to look uncomfortable. "How about... coffee?"

"Coffee?"

"Sure," she said, smiling easily. "Coffee. Let's see... tomorrow night? Anywhere good in L.A. that wasn't destroyed during the apocalypse?"

Angel stared at her for a moment, taken slightly off guard. "Are you... do you think this is a good idea?"

She rolled her eyes. "Coffee. Just coffee. It's no biggie. If we both decide that, hey, we aren't soulmates, after all, we can cut our losses and run."

They shared a smile. "Coffee sounds nice."

---

Just coffee.

It's just coffee. It's nothing earth-shattering. It's a little cup of coffee in a little mug.

It's just coffee.

Buffy took a deep breath, pausing outside the café, one hand on the handle. The entire thing was so ridiculous... going for coffee... with Angel of all people...

He's just been through an apocalypse. He'd lost people. He needed time to heal, to come to terms with his losses... to start to re-build... he didn't need... coffee...

But she wanted so badly to see him. She wanted to talk to him, she wanted to babble aimlessly on and tell him every second of her life post-Sunnydale. She wanted to know how he ended up working at Wolfram & Hart. She wanted to know about Spike and everything else....

Just coffee.

She smiled wanly to herself. When it came to Angel... things were hardly "just." They were all too often horrible, end of the world, painful death type coffee dates.

But they had to start somewhere.

And she figured that jumping him after the battle ended and cheerfully bursting out that she was definitely baked and how was he and, hey! still had that pesky soul problem?

"Buffy."

She jumped guiltily, whirling around. "Oh... Angel..." she stuttered nervously. "How long were you standing there?"

He looked uncomfortable. "To be perfectly honest, I was already here when you showed up."

She couldn't help her grin. "Guess we can skip all the awkwardness then, huh?"

Angel didn't crack a smile. He opened the door, gesturing her inside. "How are you?" he asked quietly, leading her to a back table.

She shrugged, sitting down across from him. "Not so bad... bit beat up, but nothing I'm not used to. A couple of the girls are in the hospital, but nothing major. You?"

Angel stared off into space. "I'm alive," he said tersely.

Buffy sighed and shifted her eyes to the tabletop. "Can I ask you something?"

"Yes, but I already know what you're going to say."

"Why, Angel?" she asked softly. "Why did you do this? You knew you couldn't win... you knew that you were leading your friends into a battle that was going to kill them. Why didn't you call me? Why didn't you wait?"

Angel swallowed. "Do you really need me to answer that? How many times have you lead people into battle when you knew it could be their end? And did you ever call me for help?"

She nodded bleakly, accepting his words, though they stung. He was right, of course. She'd fought a similar battle nearly a year ago... the battle to end Sunnydale once and for all. She would've gone into that battle without any hope of winning. Because it was what she did. It was what they did.

"Sometimes," Buffy said quietly. "When I see Xander he's just... sitting there... he's staring off into space and I know that he's thinking about... he's thinking about Anya. He's thinking about Anya and about how she's never coming back and how she's dead because he chose to be my best friend. Same with Willow. She can't watch movies with guns in them anymore, did you know that? She can't deal with it..." Buffy paused. "A slayer wasn't supposed to have friends. I wouldn't be what I am without them, but they've..."

"Paid."

"I just wish it would stop," Buffy said quietly. "Wish that things wouldn't always keep coming. I can't turn my back on it—I won't. But I wish it would end."

Angel took that in silently.

Buffy stood up, fidgeting nervously. "So... I'm thinking a mochachino. What about you?"

Angel glanced up, a bewildered expression on his face. "A... excuse me?"

"Mocha—never mind. What kind of coffee did you want?"

"There's... there's more than one?"

Buffy smiled at him sadly. "Angel, you live in L.A. Take a trip to Starbucks every once in a while, okay? It'd do you much good." Angel continued to stare at her blankly. "You know what? I'll surprise you."

Feeling somewhat shaky, Buffy got in line. Somewhat dazed she gave her order and paid mechanically. Complicated. Things in her life were far too complicated. She slowly returned to their table, setting their steaming coffee mugs down. Angel accepted his, stirring it idly while his mind was clearly wandering in other directions.

"Angel..." she started, wanting desperately to get him to talk to her, to understand why he chose Wolfram & Hart, why he had been so ready to give up.

He smiled weakly, taking a sip of his coffee. "Not now. Things are... they haven't really set in yet. I want to know... tell me about you. You and Dawn and Europe..."

"I—okay," she said, dumping ungodly amounts of sugar into her coffee mug. "Things have been nice. Easy, I think. For once. Turns out, the house was worth a whole lot more at the bottom of a Hellmouth than it was just sitting there. Giles and me—we opened a school for slayers in Tuscany. He's recruited some of the surviving watcher's to help. We've traveled a lot." Buffy made a face. "Whole time... I felt like I was missing something... I finally realized that it was my nightly patrols. Not that there aren't baddies to be slain in Europe, but it's no Sunnydale Hellmouth."

"Do you miss it? Sunnydale?"

"Not even remotely," Buffy said immediately. "Dawn does a little. It's hard for her, all the moving around. I think she just wants to settle down and finish a year of high school for once." Buffy chuckled. "She's happy, though. I think... I think she's beginning to feel normal for the first time. I'm glad I can give her that."

"I heard L.A. has some good high schools..." Angel shifted. "Well... in the nicer areas, at least..."

"Uh huh. Props for subtlety there. Hmmm... I wonder if I could send her to Hemery..."

Angel looked eager to change the subject. "And Willow and Xander are doing well?"

"Yeah. They are. Willow's going back to university next year. She got accepted to Oxford with full scholarships and everything. It's... good for her. After Tara and her magic addiction... she's beginning to turn things around. She keeps joking that it's no Hogwarts, but she'll take it anyway."

"Hogwarts? I've never heard of—"

Buffy waved a hand. "Angel, if you don't know what Hogwarts is, you've clearly been living under a rock." She thought for a moment. "Or you're a 250 year-old vampire that doesn't read."

Angel gave her a patented half-smile and shrugged apologetically. "I haven't had much... free time. Lately."

"Yeah. Running an evil law firm must keep you busy."

"You could say that."

The tone of his voice made her feel bad and she concentrated on her coffee. "Sorry," she said softly. "That was... I know it's not that simple. I guess I just don't understand why you ever went there in the first place."

"I have my reasons. And... if I had a choice... even knowing what I do now... I'd do it over."

Buffy blinked. Reasons he won't tell me. She shook her head and accepted it. They hadn't been together in years, Angel owed her nothing.

Didn't he?

She pushed that thought away. Too complicated. Far too complicated. She had to stick with coffee. Coffee was easy and simple.

"But..." he said slowly. "You saved... me. Us. So... thank you."

She felt her mouth dry and she blinked back tears that suddenly sprang up in her eyes. "It's what I do," she whispered. "I save people. I help people. I'm the... slayer."

"I was ready," Angel continued. "To go down fighting. What we did... we told them that we wouldn't ever stop. That... they could kill us but that we'd always fight back. I never expected to come out of it alive."

"We knew something big was up," Buffy shared. "They keep all kinds of hooglie magic-sensor type things going at the Slayer School. We felt the big build up in apocalypse-y energy. Kind of like the Bat single, ya know? Only for slayers. Benefits of giving supernatural powers to hundreds of unsuspecting girls? Great for fighting hopeless battles."

"Do you regret it?" he asked suddenly.

She looked at him, not needing to ask what he meant. Did she regret foisting slayer powers on so many? The very thing that she'd spent her entire life hating, her slayerhood, her impossible responsibility and early death expiration date. She'd been personally responsible for laying that burden on hundreds of innocent girls. All she ever wanted was to be normal and she'd stolen that from so many.

"I don't know," she said, suddenly feeling weary. "I think... at the time, it was my only choice. It's good for our side, it makes the life of the one and only slayer less... lonely. But, yeah, sometimes... I wonder how, after everything I've been through, how I could just... force slayer powers on so many young girls."

"It's not fair," he said softly.

"Angel, nothing in our lives is fair."

"I'm tired of it," he said darkly, anger beginning in his voice. "I'm tired of giving and giving and giving and getting nothing back. Doyle's gone, Cordy's gone, Fred's gone, Wesley's gone, Gunn's gone. What use is the fighting when it brings nothing but death?"

Their eyes met and Buffy felt her heart go out to him because she understood. She understood all too well. She understood how unfair it all was. She knew what it was to watch as the people she loved died for the fight. She could understand the helplessness and the desire to just give in, to give up, to let go, no matter what the cost was.

"Because..." she said simply. "It's what we do."

Angel let out a wry snort. "That's the most pathetic explanation I've ever heard."

"Hey," she said, pretending to sound offended. "It's the best I can offer. It was either that or, 'Screw it, I'm going to Disney World.'"

More relaxed now, Angel leaned back in his chair, cradling his coffee mug closer. She watched his eyes, relieved to see that his old determined look was back. He still cared, she could see it reflected in their depths. A small pool of sheer relief formed in her stomach.

"So..." she said lightly. "Were you happy to see me?"

His smile was fast and easy. "I don't know... what would quality as 'happy to see you?'"

"Well..." she said, frowning thoughtfully. "You could have dropped everything in favor of a kiss hello."

"Sorry," he said. "I was a bit distracted by the fire-breathing dragon at the time."

"Yeah, I have a vague memory of that. When I showed up, I had a horrible few moments when I thought you were about to become a nice dusty pile of ash. Thank goodness Spike was there to distract it."

Angel rolled his eyes. "It was an accident, I'm sure."

"I talked him," she said quietly, avoiding his gaze. "Earlier..."

She heard Angel shift uncomfortably and felt the tension begin to radiate off him. "Oh?" he asked neutrally.

"Yeah. We're not... if you're wondering... there's nothing between us. I think... I care about him. I always will, but whatever we had... it's over. I said good-bye to him a long time ago."

"The Immortal?"

She blushed, squirming a little. "Oh... that... over. Very over. So over. Finished."

"Hmmm..."

"Well, you know... me and older men..."

"So you don't... you're not..."

"In love with him?" Angel made a face, growling softly under his breath. "Naww, purely physical. Not much of an emotional connection. Okay, yeah, it was hot, and he really knew what he was doing and—"

Angel coughed. "Buffy, please, I don't need to hear..."

"Sorry," she said, laughing. "I couldn't help torturing you a little."

Angel cracked a tiny smile. "Thanks."

Buffy grinned. "So how about you? Been getting any recently?"

Angel steadfastly avoided her gaze and Buffy's jaw dropped, feeling a tight clench in her stomach.

"There was..." Angel swallowed. "There was... someone. But she's not—"

Buffy sighed. "It's okay."

"No," he met her eyes. "She wasn't you. She wasn't... no one could ever be you. You're the only one that..."

"Brings you true happiness," Buffy finished miserably. "And why we can't ever be... anything."

"I didn't say that," Angel said quietly. "I never said that. But things aren't the same as they used to be."

"They aren't," Buffy agreed quietly. "Angel, I'm older now. I've been through... the metaphoric hell and back. I'm not the same high school girl that you fell in love with. I have darkness in me... I'm not sure you'd understand."

"Of course I'd understand."

The phrase, so short, so simple, brought Buffy crashing down to earth. Their eyes met and Buffy found herself sucking a breath. Of course he'd understand. Of course. Time stopped as they stared at each other, a hundred memories flashing through her mind.

She saw herself knocking him down in that alley behind the bronze, their first kiss, she loved him but she didn't trust him, they were making love, she was sending him to hell, he was breaking up with her, he was holding her as she grieved for mom, he was asking her if she was happy to see him.

They stared at each other and Buffy found herself blinking back tears. "Angel..." she whispered quietly. "If we let something happen here..."

He flinched a little and she didn't have time to wonder why because he was taking her by the hand and leading her out of the coffee shop because coffee was ridiculous and they were so much more than coffee and what were they doing sitting there discussing their lives over coffee. They were never just about coffee, they were more than coffee. They were warriors and their lives were hard and painful and they had to keep fighting, always keep fighting. They loved each other, forever, always... that was the whole point.

"The whole point," she echoed unconsciously, only vaguely aware of what was going on. "That's the whole point."

"Buffy..." her name was soft as it left his lips, reverent, like she remembered it. Like he always said it back when she was sixteen and in love and he was the only one that mattered.

"We should think about this..." she said, her mind catching up to her. Simple, things were never simple. They always had to think. Never throw caution to the wind because last time they did...

"We've thought about it long enough," Angel said firmly. "When will it be enough time, Buffy? When will our doubts ever go away? We'll never be over each other. We can try and love other people, but it doesn't work, it won't ever work."

Her breath caught in her throat and she found herself nodding her head in agreement even though her common sense was screaming at her. "Always..." she whispered. "I'll always be your girl."

He was still leading her by the hand and she wasn't sure where, but it suddenly dawned on her that she trusted him. She trusted Angel. She loved him and she trusted him. Which really shouldn't have been that much of a surprise, she'd trusted him even when she hadn't. And he'd trusted her enough to close his eyes when he had no inclination of what was coming...

This thought made her pause and she turned to look at him, his finely chiseled cheekbones dark in the LA night.

"If I told you to close your eyes..." she said softly. "Would you?"

"Without a second thought."

Without a second thought.

Without a second thought.

Without a second thought.

Buffy stopped him. "Let's do this," she said. "Damn the consequences, damn the world. I don't care if we have the forbidden love of all time, let's do it. You know what? I'm baked! I'm finished baking! I'm tired of being cookie dough!"

Angel's eyes darkened and she didn't know who moved first, but next thing she knew was that they were kissing. They were kissing and it was just like she remembered it, hot and passionate and desperate and nothing else mattered. Not the world, not the consequences, because it was Buffy and Angel and they loved each other (still) and love really was enough.

The End