May 2004 – Los Angeles

Buffy caught her breath. Her body was numb, long past the point of aching. How she'd kept swinging the sword she had no idea. She still couldn't believe they'd gotten away with it. Their plan had worked and with Riley's help they had taken on the Senior Partners of Wolfram and Hart. And survived. Granted, there were a good number of losses but there were for the other side, too. The street before them and the alleyway they were standing in was covered in blood, guts, and bodies. Riley's team would ensure that there were no remains or signs of anything happening here.

Buffy had spent the last year collecting and training as many newly activated slayers as she could. She wasn't sure it was enough, as it was so many had died. None of them knew why either. It had to be that way. She, Giles, and Angel were the only ones who knew the plan. Riley was apprised at the last minute.

She spotted Faith in the distance, alive and still standing. She felt a wave of relief wash through her at the sight of her counterpart. She wouldn't have been able to sleep at night if Faith had come along and gotten killed in the process. Not with her whole life ahead of her and her being on the right track for a change.

She spotted Spike, Angel, Connor, and a woman she didn't know in the alley, too. She breathed a sigh of relief. Both her vampires were alive.

"I always knew I could count on you for a good time."

"You liked that, huh?"

"You bet. It's the most fun I've had in quite some time."

"Demon hunting for the Army isn't all it's cracked up to be?"

"Oh most of the time it satisfies. We don't get to blow stuff up on such a grand scale though."

"Well, glad I could help."

"I'm glad you called."

"Me, too, we couldn't have done it without you and your firepower."

"So now what?"

Buffy shrugged. "I ride off into the sunrise with my man."

"I wish I could say I understand or approve."

"Good thing you're not my mom or dad."

"I'm not sure you'd listen to them either."

"It's my heart. My life. I have to do what I think is right."

"Yeah, I know. I have to admit, I'm glad it's not Spike."

Buffy couldn't help but laugh. "Yeah, I can see how you'd feel that way." She reached out and hugged him. "Thanks, Riley. There's no way we can repay you for this."

"Oh, I haven't even gotten to the good part."

"There's more?"

"Definitely." He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and had a smug smile on her face. How it had remained intact during the battle she didn't know. "Before I collapse on you. You have a week to get to D.C. and make this scheduled appointment. That should give you and Angel plenty of time to drive there around the sunlight."

"Why am I going to D.C.?"

"Trust me on this one, Buffy. And read the letter."

"Okay." She took the envelope, glancing at it. It was plain white, nothing was written or printed on it.

"You guys go. The sun's going to be up soon. We'll have this alley cleaned up in no time."

"I think I'll be smelling fried dragon guts for days."

"Yeah, that one exploded pretty good, didn't he?"

"Sure did." Angel finally made it to her side, draping an arm around her shoulders. "Hi."

"Hi, she says. The woman who helped carry my plan off without a hitch."

"All in a day's work."

He extended his free hand to Riley. "Thanks, man. I'm glad you took Buffy for her word."

"When it comes to apocalypse stuff I've learned not to doubt Buffy."

"Yeah, me too. We're out of here. Faith, Spike and Illyria will meet up with us tomorrow night."

"Tomorrow?"

"I wanted you to myself tonight."

"On that note, I'm out of here. Good work."

"You, too, Riley."

"Were you trying to get rid of him?"

He shrugged. "A little. What's that?" he asked, tapping the envelope.

"I don't know. Riley gave it to me, told me to be in D.C. in a week."

"Why?"

"I don't know. He told me to read it, trust him and show up. You get to come along it."

"Well," he said as he guided them out of the alley into the street. She wasn't sure where he was leading them. She was too tired to care at this point. "What does it say?"

"It's a meeting with the Department of Defense."

"What?"

"You heard me."

"I wonder what that's about."

"I'm not sure. I'm curious enough to go."

"Me, too. I forgot something."

"What's that?" He stopped on the sidewalk and kissed her. It wasn't the best kiss they'd shared, but it conveyed well enough the message he was trying to send.

"You're welcome."

"Was I thanking you?" He grazed her chin with his thumb.

"Mm hmm."

"The sun's almost up. We've got to find shelter fast."

"Did you have some place in mind?"

"Not really." He glanced down the street. "Most of these buildings are abandoned or dilapidated. If you want to go somewhere else."

"No way. I'm with you, baby."

"Good. The offer wasn't a sincere one. I promise you, though, this is the last night you'll ever have to sleep on a floor."

"I still can't believe we pulled it off."

"Me either to be honest. I thought for sure they'd catch us when we met. I think it was early enough into it they didn't suspect. And Giles' adamant denials of assistance were helpful, too, I'm sure. I'd tell you to thank him for me, but I'm sure he enjoyed it a little too much."

"I never doubted you, Angel."

"I did."

"Well, maybe I have more faith in you than you do."

He led her into one of the buildings through a backdoor. "This should do. I'll check and see if there's anything we can use as a blanket or something."

"Angel. I've spent the last few hours fighting, sure I was going to die. I don't care. I'll sleep."

"All right."

They did manage to find an old couch in what was probably once upon a time a break room. It had seen better days and was probably infested with things she didn't want to know about but she had to admit it was better than a cement floor. And for the first time in close to two years she had a dreamless sleep.

Washington , D.C.

"Have you ever been here?"

"Once."

"When?"

"During the McCarthy era."

"So, a while ago?"

He chuckled and she smiled. "Yes, a while ago."

"You're laughing at me."

"I am not. You're just so cute sometimes. I wonder how you passed school, but you're still cute."

"Thanks a lot."

"So, what do you think this is about?"

"You're asking me? I don't know."

"Well, I guess it's do or die time. Shall we go find out what this Mister Coleman wants with you?"

"I guess."

Whoever had set the meeting place must have known Angel was a vampire, because they'd set it for thirty minutes after sunset. As it turned out, it was just enough time for them to get from the hotel they were being put up in to the restaurant. Buffy was even more confused at this. What type of business meeting took place in a restaurant? She found out soon enough when they went in and were led to a private back room.

She paused in the doorway. She wasn't sure what she was expecting but ten men was not it. They were rather intimidating looking, too, in an official I can fuck with your life way.

"Miss Summers. And you must be Angel."

"Here," Buffy said eyeing the room. Angel didn't respond she noticed.

"Have a seat, please. Can we get you anything? Once we close the doors no one will come in."

"Um," she said taking the seat she was offered. There was a glass of water at her spot and the table had food on it. "No, I'm fine." She noticed there was nothing for Angel and wondered about that. They were done experimenting on vampires? Riley wouldn't do that. At least she didn't think so.

"You're probably wondering why you're here."

"Yeah, you could say that. Can I ask who you are?"

"I'm Jack Coleman."

"Okay," she said when no one else offered up their names.

"It's been brought to our attention what you do. Who you are. It's also been brought to our attention that we could probably use you."

"Use me?"

"Our information is to put it mildly incomplete. Our training is not to the standards it could be. We know who and what you've defeated and how. You're resourceful. You don't stop. We've heard even death hasn't stopped you. You know about the Initiative project and what a failure it was. And while we have no desire to pursue a project of that scope or type again we do need units designed and trained to combat these things."

Buffy glanced at Angel. Was she hearing this right? He seemed to be as shocked as she was.

"So you want me to what? Help you?"

"Help? No. We want to hire you, Miss Summers. It would be full-time until we get the units ready that we want to mobilize. And then it would be on a case by case, as we need you, basis. We'd expect this to be your first priority, barring events the scope and magnitude of what you both just faced."

"Umm, not that I'm trying to be greedy, but are you offering to pay me for this?"

"Yes." He slid a large manila envelope toward her. "You'll find the terms of your contract with us in there, including monetary compensation. Travel expenses would of course be included later on. For now, you'd be here. Actually, Baltimore. You do, however, have to make a decision today."

"I don't have to make a decision. I'll do it."

The man smiled as if he already knew that was going to be her answer. Damn, she hated that people knew she was prone to doing the right thing. It didn't matter what they paid her. "You haven't even looked at the contract or the compensation."

"I don't need to. You're after the same goal I am, and if you are aware of what went on in LA you're aware that sometimes I'm not enough."

"Yes, we are aware. Staff Sergeant Finn apprised us of the details he felt he could divulge."

He had a rank now, Buffy noticed. Maybe he had before, but she hadn't really paid attention. Sadly, she realized now there was a lot of lack of attention on her part where Riley was concerned.

"All right. I just want to make sure I'm not going to be contributing to another project like Maggie Walsh's."

"No, Miss Summers. These are military operations, not government. Our orders are to seek and destroy."

"Not all need to be destroyed."

"That's where you come in. We understand there's a bit of a gray area. We want to know that."

"Okay. Can we have a minute to talk?" She wondered why it took so many of them if only one was doing all the talking. The government at work. They got up and left the table, going to the other end of the room.

She opened the envelope then and glanced through the papers, handing each one to Angel when she finished reading it. She dropped the page that came to the money they were offering. She had no idea what to expect, but this was more than she would have guessed.

"They want to pay me an annual salary even if I don't work all year long."

"That seems fair considering if they do need you you'd have to drop everything and come here."

"Why did they want you here, too?"

He snorted. "I don't know. I did work for them once."

"You did?"

"It was a long time ago. Like maybe even before your mom was born long ago."

"Oh." There was so much about him she didn't know.

"But if you agree to it, I will help you. Maybe this is part of what I'm supposed to do. And, hey, with your income and what I have stashed away we can spend the time not here helping people."

"I like the sound of that."

"I do, too. I got away from it for a while there. Things were such a mess I forgot what I'd come to LA to do in the first place. But, Buffy, this is a commitment. I mean, there's no deciding in a year you don't want to do this."

"I know, Angel, I do. It'd be nice to help without the person in charge trying to kill me."

"So, you want to do this?"

"Angel, the money. Where am I going to find something earning this much?"

"I have money. I can take care of you."

"I know, and I appreciate that, but there are some things I have to do on my own. One of them is know I can survive. I don't want you taking care of me. I'm twenty-four years old, Angel. I want us to be on equal footing."

He leaned in and kissed her, tucking some hair behind her ear as he drew away. "Listen to you."

"Well, it's true."

"I know. I'm glad to hear you say it. Where do you sign?"

It didn't take long for them to gather around the table again.

"Nice to have you with us, Miss Summers."

"Sure."

Once the paperwork was signed all but Jack Coleman left the room. "You come highly recommended. We cleared this with the President, just so you know how far up the chain of command knowledge runs. When he found out that last year you were working at a fast food restaurant. Well, let's just say he wanted to be sure that changed. We understand there are more of you, slayers, out there now, but we want the one with experience."

"You know, one day I will give it up."

"Yes, and hopefully you can pick your predecessor. We want this to be the beginning of a long standing partnership." His gaze flickered to Angel briefly and he gave him a tight smile. "Enjoy the accommodations. We'll be in contact with you for your first assignment."

"We're not going to stay at the hotel, are we?"

"No, Miss Summers. A car will pick you up from here in a short while, you can pick your things up from the hotel and the driver will take you to your temporary housing. You will report the day after tomorrow. Instructions will be in your home."

"It will be someplace Angel can sleep?"

"Yes, it's not the most extravagant of places but we've outfitted it with everything we thought you'd need, including the specialized ones required."

"Thanks."

"Thank you, Miss Summers. I'm glad Staff Sergeant Finn was right about you. It's a tricky call, exposing such a division of the military to civilians. There were many against the idea. If you find anyone gives you any problems, give me a call."

"Thanks." She was saying that entirely too much, but didn't know what else to say.

"Good bye, Miss Summers. Angel. Oh, feel free to eat. We paid for it, someone might as well enjoy it. I'm sure you two want to talk privately for a while anyway. The car will be out front shortly, but take your time."

"Right," Buffy said with a smile. She kind of liked him, though she wasn't sure why. He was pretty non-descript. If she hadn't met him tonight she really wouldn't have paid him much attention passing him on the street. Not tall, not short, not fat, not skinny, not attractive, not unattractive. He blended, which she imagined was probably part of his job.

She grabbed a biscuit and broke it open. "So, did I make the right decision?"

"I don't think there's any other decision you could have made. I'm not sure they would have let us freely leave here after what they offered you. The information you have."

She hadn't thought of that. "Then why meet somewhere so public?"

"Probably to seem less intimidating. If they'd brought us to some government building it would have been a little much. That's not your style. They know that, or they do if they did any research on you. I mean, it's what I would do if I wanted someone to do what I was asking them to do."

"Hmm. But now I'm working for them. The military. The people who chipped Spike and created Adam."

"That was Riley's professor, Buffy, not all of them."

"I know."

"Are you doubting your decision?"

"No, I mean, a little, wouldn't you?"

"I guess so, yeah. You never know who's being honest."

"That's it I guess." She finished the biscuit and drank her water. "I guess I'm ready. Baltimore. What's in Baltimore anyway?"

"Not much of anything."

"They must have been pretty confident I'd accept to set up a house and everything for us."

"I imagine Riley thought you'd do it. He hasn't been around for a while, but he still knows you pretty well."

"I've changed."

"Not that much, Buffy. Parts of you have changed, sure, but the basic things that make you Buffy haven't."

"You don't think so?"

"I know so."

"You think the Buffy you knew before would have been with you without the soul?"

"I know she would have. Had I been willing to accept the fact I loved you, soul or not," he shrugged. "But we don't have to worry about that anymore."

"No, I know. I can't say I'm not glad, but you know I'll never forget those two days I had with you."

"Are you saying you prefer me that way?"

"No, you just have no idea how much faith I had to put in the fact you wouldn't kill me." She snorted, realizing that sounded pathetic. "I guess knowing that without the soul that you loved me, wanted me, could admit what you couldn't with the soul. That meant a lot to me. You have no idea how much it hurt when you left."

"It hurt me, too."

"I know that now. I really believed you thought we were a freak show. I guess I needed to know that you didn't really think that. Even if we hadn't ended up together like this, had I just had those couple of days with you at least I'd know you still love me."

"Always, Buffy."

"Good, because I really hated that you could just turn it off like that. Boom, you were in LA and I was just your ex."

He laughed with a sigh. "You were never just my ex. Anyone who tries to tell you differently is lying. I tried to move on, I wanted to move on, thought it was the best thing to do. Who knew it would take losing my soul again to make me realize that the best thing to do is take advantage of what time I have with you."

"And here I am dragging you into military stuff."

"It doesn't matter."

"You're sure?"

"Positive. You're sure we're okay?"

"Yes, Angel, we're fine. More than fine, I'd say we're pretty damn good. I wonder what there is to do for fun in Baltimore."

"What did you have in mind?"

"Oh, I don't know. Some dancing, dinner maybe, a movie. It's been a while since we've seen a movie together."

"Yeah, I remember the movie we saw together."

"Me, too." That had been the longest two hours of her life. Well, she had thought so at the time, but facing a dying Angel soon after had pushed the movie back to the recesses of her mind pretty quickly. She grabbed another biscuit from the basket on the table and took a bite. "I'm ready."

"Buffy, if you're hungry, eat."

"No, just nerves I guess, or coming down from the nerves. Something like that. I wonder if we need to grocery shop?"

"I'm not really up on grocery shopping."

"No, I suppose you wouldn't be. We'll make do." She slid her hand in his. "Okay then, let's go see what this house looks like."

"If it's the same car that brought us here, tell the driver to put the guard up on the way there."

"Angel."

"What? I thought you were up for a little adventure. When are we going to ride in a limo again?"

"Well."

"Oh come on."

"He's going to know."

"And we're ever going to see him again? Or, for that matter, why should I care? You're an attractive woman, I've been told I'm an attractive man. We want to pass our time the best way possible."

"Best way possible?"

"Are you going to deny that would be the best way possible?"

"Well."

"Buffy."

"Okay, okay, it could potentially be the best way possible."

"You're toying with me again, aren't you?"

"Just a little."

"A little my ass. If you go along with it, I'll make it worth your while."

As if he didn't always, but she was intrigued. "Fine."

"Ha! I knew I could get you to do it."

She rolled her eyes doing her best to look insulted, though she wasn't in the least. She wagered he was well aware of how insulted she wasn't. "Come on, adventure man, let's get out of here."

She still had things to think about, worry about. She'd never thought of having a life after Sunnydale, because she thought she'd be stuck there until she died. There was no Sunnydale now, which meant she had to find somewhere else to call home. Giles had suggested Cleveland. She'd probably end up there. A year away from a hellmouth and she kind of missed the action. She had no idea what Cleveland's hellmouth would throw her way, but she had no doubt that with Angel by her side and the support of the others that had survived she'd come through it all right. She was, after all, getting her shot at forever.

The End