Author's Note: Brought on by a late-night viewing of most of the BtVS Season 1 DVD and putting KT Tunstall's Under The Weather on repeat. Warning: all chapters will probably contain equal amounts of sappiness. Also, my name isn't Joss and I don't speak Italian (so don't get on my case about non-English grammar).
1. Blue Skies
"Che bella giornata!"
Buffy Summers leaned back into the cushions of a wicker armchair, tipped her head back and shut her eyes against the sunshine that bathed the entire overgrown garden in deliciously balmy warmth. "Mmm," she agreed, in a tone that denoted deep satisfaction. "But it's pronounced 'kay', not 'chay'."
"Really?" Dawn Summers leant forward so that her chestnut brown hair, long grown past waist-length, cascaded onto the pages of the language textbook she had spread open on her lap. "Oh, right. Why can't they just write it the way you're supposed to say it?"
Buffy couldn't be bothered to respond. A beautiful languidness was slowly settling over her, and she knew that in a few moments she would probably fall asleep. With a springy three-inch growth of grass under her bare feet and an ancient lemon tree spreading its branches barely a foot over her head, she couldn't think of a better place to do it in.
"Come sarà il tempo domani?" Dawn sighed and repeated the phrase more slowly, trying to lock it in place in her memory. Although her Italian was rapidly improving, it still wasn't as good as Buffy's. She squinted at her sister and stuck her tongue out at her. It wasn't fair. But then again, she reflected saucily, Buffy did have the best of teachers helping her, while Dawn harbored the theory that her own Second Language Italian teacher had died back in the 60's and no one had noticed.
She shut the textbook, promising herself that she'd look over it again later. She turned to Buffy. "Isn't Marius supposed to be coming over tonight? Because if he is, I think I might as well warn you that we've got nothing left to eat in the house. Well, except for that funky cheese Signora Albertinos gave us last week, and I'm not sure that it's poisonous, but going by the number of mice that ran away from that piece I dropped yesterday, it probably is."
This information was greeted with a silence broken only by faint birdsong. "Hellooo? Buffy?"
"Who are you?"
It was stupid question, really. Like she was expecting him to provide a full name – something normal and boring – and tell her what he did for a living. As though he looked like the kind of guy that spent most of his days at a desk, typing up reports and crunching numbers.
"Let's just say... I'm a friend."
So simple, that word. Friend. It didn't really mean anything, if she thought about it. The milkman whose name you didn't know and didn't care to know could be your friend, just because you exchanged polite smiles with him every morning.
"Yeah, well, maybe I don't want a friend."
Fake bravado. But in one sense, she had been right. She didn't want friends – she needed them, the same way she needed the sharpened stake she carried constantly. The same way she needed to not show that he had made an impression on her.
"I didn't say I was yours."
And then he had walked away. And in some very small way, that had hurt. She wasn't expecting it. It added another quality to the short but unique mental list she had drawn up. So far it read: pale, tall, broody, handsome (she had added this reluctantly), annoyingly cryptic, and slightly less annoyingly unpredictable.
So this was Heaven.
He wasn't lying on a fluffy, blindingly white, illogically substantial cloud. There were no weight-challenged, scantily dressed cherubs twanging miniature harps over his head. As far as he could tell, he hadn't grown any massive feathery wings, and he still had no idea what a pearly gate was supposed to look like.
Apparently, Heaven didn't involve any of those things.
What it involved was a small, innocuously charming diner in in downtown Los Angeles. An unusually mild summer's day – just enough sunshine to keep the smiles on people's faces, not enough heat to irritate anyone. And a plate of pancakes. No one had ever told him about the miracle that was a pile of hot pancakes. If he hadn't tasted it for himself, he would never have believed anything could be so heart-warmingly good as the luscious mixture of maple syrup and melting butter. After over two hundred and fifty years of being exclusively bound to the harshly metallic taste of blood, he still wasn't quite sure he believed it.
He wasn't eating quickly. There was absolutely no need to rush. There was nowhere he needed to be that day, no one to please by showing up at certain place at a certain time, wearing a certain type of clothing. There were, perhaps, a few lives that needed saving, but someone else would deal with those. He didn't even feel guilty about leaving the hero act to the humans. He was certain they'd do just as good a job of it as he ever could, since he was no longer stronger, or faster, or more able than the average human.
No, he was the average human. Beating heart, working pulse, regular inhale-exhale breathing. Warm skin (he had washed his hands in hot water that morning and watched in wonder as the skin on his palms turned red), solid reflection (he had spent an immeasurable amount of time staring montionless at his reflection in a store window, until one of the store clerks had come out to shoo him away). He felt hunger, and thirst. He finally understood the purpose of sunglasses.
He didn't have a job, or enough money to cover next month's rent on the tiny apartment he slept in every night. He wasn't sure what the purpose of his life was anymore. And it didn't matter. Because incredibly, wondrously, amazingly enough, he was happy. And it wasn't the vague snatched-in-small-doses happiness of a vampire burdened with eternal remorse, either. It was there, all the time, completely, like gold dust running through his veins.
If there was anything missing from his better-than-perfect new existence, he wouldn't have admitted it for all the pancakes in the world. Not even to himself.
"Love makes you do the wacky."
She had said it so matter-of-factly, as though she, with her sixteen years of life experience, was already an expert on love. It had made him want to smile, but he'd stifled it for fear of insulting her.
"Oh. Crazy, like a two-hundred-and-forty-one-year-old being jealous of a high school junior?"
He had meant it to sound self-deprecating, but he had suddenly realized that it might just have sounded pathetic and mentally kicked himself for it.
"Are you fessing up?"
That tone, that teasing, a-ha-I've-got-you-now tone. It drove him wild.
"I've thought about it. Maybe it bothers me a little."
He was such a bad liar. It had bothered him more than just a little.
"I don't love Xander."
And he had needed badly to hear her say that. He had already known it, but being the insecure wreck that he was whenever she was inolved, he had needed to hear it.
"Yeah, but he's in your life. He gets to be there when I can't. Take your classes, eat your meals, hear your jokes and complaints. He gets to see you in the sunlight."
A lot of things had changed since then. Some things hadn't.
Author's Note: To be continued on condition of feedback and/or cookies.