Author's Note: Yay, I got feedback and cookies. :-) Although I gotta say, there was a lot less nitpicking involved in the cookies. Artistic license is a good thing, people.
2. Nothing To Lose
"Y-you even look pretty when you go to sleep."
The first real compliment he'd ever given her.
"Well, when I wake up it's an entirely different story."
She'd brushed it off, not wanting to show him how pleased she was. It had been difficult enough just dealing with having him in her bedroom. The fact that he was going to sleep on a comforter on the floor rather than in her bed didn't seem to make her any less nervous.
She still wasn't completely used to saying his name. To herself she admitted that she'd never really gotten used to it, because there was always that tiny thrill involved in saying it out loud.
"Do you snore?"
She hadn't known then that he didn't breathe. She had thought of him as a man – perhaps not the most normal of men, but one who at least had a heartbeat.
"I don't know. It's been a long time since anybody's been in a position to let me know."
And that answer had made her happy, because lurking in the back of her mind had been a vague jealous worry about other girls. Prettier girls. And just like the thrill of saying his name, even after years of separation, that worry was still there.
She became gradually aware that someone was asking her a question, and as she snapped back into the present a familiar face came into focus. Regular, graceful features, including gorgeously expressive hazel eyes; skin tanned by regular exposure to the Italian sun; a mass of collar-length silky black hair and, of course, that smile. Before she'd even known his name, she'd fallen in love with Marius De Martino's smile.
"Thank God. I was starting to think about pulling over at the nearest clinic." The smile wavered and he laid a gentle hand on her cheek, keeping the other one on the steering wheel. "Are you all right?"
She put an effort into looking as though she hadn't just slipstreamed into a vivid flashback involving an ex-lover. You're here now, she reminded herself. Here. Now. With Marius. Not… anyone else. "Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry for zoning out on you."
"Nessun problema. You didn't miss out on much." He gestured with his free hand to indicate the empty stretch of road ahead of them. The scenery on either side consisted mainly of steep hillocks covered in straggly brushwood and gnarled olive trees, and Buffy realized that they were at least half an hour's drive out of Rome and heading towards the Alban Hills. Marius's family lived in one of the villages in the area known as the Castelli Romani, where they owned a considerably large vineyard.
"My mother called a while ago to tell us that they're going to be through the piatto secondo by the time we get there, and to not blame her if we end up going hungry."
Buffy laughed. "Did you happen to mention that we've already had dinner?"
He looked shocked. "Are you mad? Saying that to my mother is like telling her we don't like her cooking. She'd kill us both just to save her reputation as the best cook in Monte Compatri."
Alessa De Martino was a staunch, sun-bronzed woman whose fierceness belied her warm heart. She'd been initially aloof with Buffy, unsure of what her son saw in the petite blond American that made him prefer her to a decent Italian girl. But as time went on she grew accustomed to Buffy's quirks (of which, in the eyes of a mother-in-law, there were many) and came to regard her as a welcome addition to the family.
"I should probably warn you, she's going to pressure us about setting a date as soon as we walk through the door."
"Again? I thought you'd out-maneuvered her the last time with that talk about unstable weather patterns and 'letting destiny decide'. Which, by the way, was very impressive. I was about two seconds away from cracking and agreeing to whatever date she suggested next."
"Really?" He darted a quick glance at her. "So how about we save her the trouble and set a date ourselves?"
"What, now?" She hadn't really been expecting this turn in the conversation. "Wouldn't that be a little spur-of -the-moment-y?"
"Maybe. But we've always said we wanted a July wedding, so all we're really doing is putting a number on it."
She was silent. Part of her wanted to tell him that she'd been thinking about next July. That was the part that was still Buffy Summers, queen of failed relationships and dysfunctionality; the same part that was afraid of commitment and of trying to lead any kind of normal life.
But another part wanted to marry him as soon as possible. That was the part that was tired of being a Slayer, tired of saving the world and having nothing to show for it, tired of being abandoned. Tired of being alone. Marius was offering her the kind of life she'd always dreamt of – stable, happy, comfortable. And as a bonus, Dawn definitely approved of him and they got on astonishingly well together.
So she had nothing to lose by becoming Buffy De Martino, except perhaps a last lingering thread of hope that someday she'd be reunited with Angel. And as far as she was concerned, it was about time that thread was cut.
It was time to stop wanting what she couldn't have.
Author's Note: Next chapter, it's Angel's turn.