A/N: And this is all she wrote folks. Thanks for sticking with me, for reading, and, as always, enjoy!
Angel was brooding.
At a distance, an observer would wonder why the intense, souled vampire would have reason to dwell upon the negative aspects of life, for, seemingly, his undead existence had never before been better. The curse upon his demon was fully intact, he had a purpose in fighting evil, and, most importantly, his mate was now by his side and would remain there indefinitely. And Buffy was happy, too. She smiled more - her real, honest, genuine smile that had the power to nearly resurrect his centuries dormant heart, her laugh seemed more enthusiastic, more open, and she no longer felt torn between two lives that mixed about as well as oil and water did. However, there were still fleeting shadows in her expressive, hazel eyes, and those ghosts of discontentment haunted his every waking hour.
There were several things that bothered the slayer turned part vampire, but he knew that it was her mother that troubled the woman he loved the most. To say that Joyce Summers had not taken the news of her teenage daughter's elopement well would be like saying that Giles kind of liked tweed. As soon as the words had left his mate's mouth, the only parent she had really known for the past year had shut down upon her. Joyce had refused to listen to anything her only child had to say, immediately giving her an ultimatum. It was either an annulment or she moved out for good, never to come back.
Although moving out had been the plan all along, to hear her own mom order her out of their home had crushed Buffy, and there had been nothing he could do about it at the time. Instead, he just stood by his mate, silently lending her his strength and support as she battled her own insecurities and personal demons face on. There had been no talking to Joyce, no way to reassure her that they weren't rushing into something foolish or ill-advised. After all, for all intents and purposes, to the single mother, it appeared as though her newly turned seventeen year old daughter was running off with a much older, mysterious, unknown man. She had even questioned whether Buffy was pregnant, further hurting and enraging the blonde.
As soon as the words slipped past Ms. Summer's thin lips, Angel had witnessed the slayer struggle for control. The feelings of rejection and resentment that the confrontation with her mother was inspiring within Buffy had brought forth the urge for the blonde to reveal her demon. It had not been an antagonistic response but merely a defensive one. Still a fledgling, it was her body's natural reaction to the fiery situation, and the only thing he had been able to do to calm her down was stand a little closer and rub comforting, soothing circles on the back of her alabaster, porcelain hand, occasionally caressing the piece of jewelry that adorned his mate's left ring finger.
Eventually, their showdown had ended in a stalemate, both women refusing to back down, and he had led the silent fledgling up to her room for what the Irishman feared to be the last time. While Buffy cried, he had packed, taking everything they could feasibly carry to his apartment. Clothes, shoes, books, stuffed animals, weapons – anything and everything that made Buffy the eternal seventeen year old she was had gone with them that night to their now shared apartment.
Glancing up from the book he was only pretending to read, Angel could still see several unpacked bags that were carelessly thrown onto the floor in an unused corner of the large, solo room. Much of what they had brought with them, the woman he loved had no further use for. Someday, he knew that, together, they would sort through Buffy's belongings, throwing out or giving away the things she no longer wanted or needed, but, until the slayer was ready for such a physical purging of her old self, her things would remain, haphazardly piled aside. Surprisingly, the clutter really didn't bother him, but, perhaps, that was because of whom the clutter belonged to.
His mate entirely believed that, someday, she and her mother would be able to work through their problems. She contended that, after Joyce saw how happy they were together and that their decision to marry had not been a hastily made, foolish whim, the art dealer would come around. She would concede that she had been too harsh upon her only daughter and that the two of them would make up. However, he didn't have as much faith in the Summers women's penchant for compromise.
If nothing else, their disagreement with Joyce had shown the souled vampire exactly where Buffy's extreme sense of pride and her stubborn nature came from. At least, in those two aspects, she was exactly like her mother, and, even after they proved to Ms. Summers that they did really love each other and their relationship would last, he didn't believe that his mate's mother would admit that she made a mistake in turning her daughter away. Rather, he had the suspicion that the older woman would simply become bitter and would find some other fault to her only child's actions to hold on to.
However, he didn't tell this to the woman he loved. Instead, he kept his fears to himself. Someday, when their lives settled down and the hurts of the past no longer stung as much as they did presently, he would talk to the blonde about his doubts, and, someday, when Buffy would have to confront the reality of his misgivings, he would be there, by her side, supporting her, protecting her, loving her – always. Until that point, though, they had other things to worry about, some more pragmatic than others.
Despite the fledgling's promises to the contrary, Angel was worried about more than just her reaction to her mother's rejection. While she claimed to have completely weighed her decision to remain a vampire, he agonized over the things such a choice forced her to give up. Or, perhaps, it was more accurate to say that his unease stemmed from his own selfish disappointment.
The idea of never again seeing Buffy in the sunlight nearly brought the Irishman to his knees. After all, one glance at her on the steps of her former school in Los Angeles had been enough to give his entire existence meaning. Before Buffy, he had been struggling to find a reason to not walk into the light and give up eternity once and for all, but, after seeing her for the first time, she brought the light into his dark world. And never before had anything or anyone ever made the sun look so good; never before had anything or anyone ever rivaled the sun's beauty. But, perhaps, that was why she was forever cursed to live in the dark; maybe the powers had been jealous that a mere human had possessed so much radiance.
Dragging him from his rather sentimental, quixotic thoughts, Angel heard his mate laugh. It was a deep, rich giggle that warmed his otherwise cool skin, washing him in the blonde's passion for life and tenderness of spirit. While he had been sitting and brooding while pretending to read, she had been studying with her watcher. Since Giles was there with them that evening, the souled demon knew that the woman he loved was reviewing her history. Giles was responsible for teaching the eternally youthful slayer history, he himself was to handle literature, and Willow had agreed to tutor her best friend in the math and sciences, all of them working together to prepare Buffy to take the test for her GED. While she still asserted that such a step was an unnecessary and unwanted headache, the three of them had stood strong, and she had no other choice but to cave to their collective whims. A college degree was their next battle.
Although he had no idea what the intended lesson of the evening concerned, just by glancing at the slayer-watcher pair, Angel knew that it wasn't progressing according to Giles' wishes. While his mate appeared entirely pleased with herself, smirking wickedly, the librarian seemed distracted and thrown, confused and baffled. Without even having to ask, he knew that the blonde had said something completely preposterous and flippant, somehow mocking the watcher's words, but, at the same time, she had probably also managed to bring some playful truth to the lesson, a ludicrous truth not even the British man had been able to deny.
Interrupting his surveillance, Buffy's amusement, and Giles' bewilderment, there was a knock at the small flat's door, immediately stilling and silencing the comfortable group of three. The woman he loved was the first to move, bouncing up and floating across the dimly lit space to answer the door. Though whimsical, there really was no other way to describe the slayer's movements. They were too energetic to simply say that she stood or that she walked, and they were too graceful to say that she bounded or that she skipped. To Angel, she was an animate if not breathing piece of art.
As the door swung open, it revealed a timid and unsure Oz, perhaps the very last person the souled vampire had been expecting to see. It wasn't so much because the musician was unwelcome. In fact, of all of Buffy's friends, Oz made him feel the most comfortable. His surprise didn't stem from the fact that the guitar player seemed awkward or unnerved around him and his mate. To the contrary, just like with everything else in life, Oz seemed to have taken Buffy's recent transformation in stride, adjusting well and easily to her new state of being. It was just that they never really saw him unless Willow was there, too, and the slayer's best friend was nowhere in sight.
"I'm, uh, sorry to just barge in like this… uninvited. I know invitations are especially important in the vamp world."
The sentence, though awkward and apprehensive, was, maybe, the longest he had ever heard the musician utter.
"No, no, come in," his mate insisted, ushering the self-conscious, living teen into their apartment. "What's up? You okay? It's not Willow, is it?"
With just the articulation of his girlfriend's name, Oz appeared to settle down some, and he smiled crookedly. "No, she's good. In fact, she's at home, preparing your next chemistry lesson. She's really excited about this whole official tutoring business."
Glumly, Buffy frowned. "Well, that makes one of us."
As she collapsed into a chair, Giles stood from his. "Well, if it's not about Willow, what brings you by," the watcher inquired. "I highly doubt this is a social call."
"It's not," the musician stated definitively. Shrugging his shoulders and shoving his hands into the front pockets of his baggy jeans, he smirked and tilted his head to the side as if to already dismiss what he was about to say. "I, uh, I think I'm becoming a werewolf actually."
"Oh my goodness," the watcher remarked softly, following his slayer's example and collapsing back onto his chair.
Continuing as if he had not been interrupted, Oz said, "and I thought, if anyone could help me, it'd be you guys – two souled vampires and a guy who knows more about the supernatural than what has to be psychologically recommended. So…"
After several minutes of absolute silence and where the only movement in the room was the ill at ease teenager's rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, Angel was the first to speak. "What exactly do you want us to do?"
"Well, at first, I kind of wanted you to wave a magic wand and make it all disappear."
"A reasonable if not realistic request," the librarian stated, removing his glasses for what was sure to be the first of many compulsive lens cleaning endeavors. "And now?"
"Now, I figure this is probably not something you can just erase. I mean, I highly doubt there's some werewolf cure all pill that will just make this whole mess go away," Oz remarked. "So, I'm going to need your guys' help to make the most of the situation." Meeting the Irishman's gaze, the guitar player continued. "Containment is my first concern. At this point, I can't control what's happening to me, and the last thing I want to do is hurt anyone, especially someone I care about."
"So, you want us to restrain you," the centuries old vampire surmised.
"Exactly, but that's only during the nights around the full moon. During the rest of the time, I want to train. I've thought a lot about this, and I realized that, if the two of you can use your supernatural strength and power to fight evil, then why can't I as well? If I can't beat this thing, I might as well use it to my and everyone else's advantage. Plus, three against the rest of the world is better than just two, right?"
"This is all rather extraordinary," the British man breathed out, evidently lost in his own thoughts. "I mean, what would be the statistics of, first, the slayer turning part vampire and, then, on top of that, one of her few, select friends becoming a werewolf. It's all quite astounding, really."
"If you could just forget that you're a watcher for a few second there, Giles, and focus," Buffy beseeched the librarian, "that would be great. You can go crunch the numbers and research later. Right now, Oz needs you to focus."
"Right, right," the older man agreed, sitting up slightly straighter. "Of course, but you have to admit that it's all rather mind-boggling."
Smirking, his mate teased, "I drink blood, and I like it. I really don't think anything is going to shock me at this point, do you?"
Realizing that the two of them needed to get back on track, Angel asked, "what do you think the council's stance upon Oz's… condition will be, Giles?"
"Oh, their usual, narrow minded, intolerable perspective," the librarian regrettably stated. "I'm afraid, just like with Buffy's recent transformation, this is something else it will be prudent of us to keep secret from them for as long as possible."
"So, then, does that mean that you'll help me," the musician asked, for the first time since he arrived sounding slightly hopeful.
"Of course we'll help you," Buffy promised. "That was never in question, Oz, and it'll be fun, too, right Angel, training with someone new?"
The older souled vampire smirked. "I don't know about fun, but it'll be nice to have someone else around for Buffy to kick the crap out of." While all three of the males chuckled at his teasing remark, his mate pouted playfully. "Seriously, though, this kind of gives me an idea."
Rising, he moved to stand behind his chair, positioning his hands onto the back of it and leaning forward. "I've been thinking about the future even before you came here tonight," he addressed the werewolf directly, although his comments were meant for everyone in the room. "If there are three of us here, in Sunnydale, that wish to fight evil and are capable of doing so, then there have to be others in the world as well, and, as you said, we'd be stronger together than apart."
"So," Giles asked, his brow wrinkling in thought, "are you proposing that we seek out these other supernatural entities and invite them to join us?"
"That's exactly what I'm suggesting," Angel answered. "And I think we should make it official, legal… as in a business."
"Like a detective agency," Oz asked, "one that would investigate the unexplainable?"
"Well, we already know that you look good in a trench coat," Buffy ribbed, grinning towards the vampire in question. "Just stick to the leather, though. That's all I ask."
Addressing the guitarist's question, the Irishman responded, "and help the helpless, the hopeless while, at the same time, earning a living. After all, Buffy and I can't exactly get real jobs, and, after next year, it wouldn't make much sense for Giles to work at the high school any longer. While Willow, Xander, and Cordelia are in college, they can help out part time, and, as we find new recruits, they would join us."
Only partially serious, his mate complained, "Xander, really? He is negotiable, right? I mean, all he really does is get snacks, and that's recently lost its appeal to me."
"We'll need more space, a place to run our operations out of," the watcher remarked, sounding entirely enthusiastic about the souled demon's proposal and ignoring the slayer's protests. "And what about start up money? I'm afraid I won't be able to contribute much. One doesn't take a job with The Council due to their benefits package, and I think it's well known just how difficult it is to amass wealth while working in the public school systems."
"And I tapped out my savings account the last time Willow and I hit the mall," the blonde added.
"Don't look at me," the werewolf warned. "I'm a struggling musician. I'm supposed to be poor."
"Angelus has money," Angel revealed, smirking. "And what better way to annoy him than to use his money to help others?"
"So, then, it's decided," Buffy announced, moving to stand beside her mate. Taking her lover's left hand into her right one, she squeezed his fingers before smiling in Oz's direction. "Welcome to Angel Investigations." Turning to glare at the agency's namesake, she warned, "and don't even think about arguing with me about the title, mister. This was your idea. Besides, I think it'll be comforting for our clients."
And he wasn't going to – argue with her, that was. After all, as he had stated earlier, she was stronger than he was, what with her combined slayer and vampire skills. She could kick his ass, and, if there was going to be any physical activity between them, Angel much preferred for it to be of a more enjoyable, satisfying nature.
"First thing first," the fledgling pressed on, "I think we need to discuss our work dress code." Rattling off her points, she listed, "absolutely no suits. Sorry, Giles. Rule number two: no pink. It would just be wrong. Rule three: we're not buying coordinating outfits or matching…"
He laughed, drowning out the rest of what his mate had to say. He had no doubt she would tell him again later.
While some things were different, drastically different between them, Buffy was still Buffy – the woman he planned on spending eternity with, and, in that moment, he realized, breathing or not breathing, living or not living, human or vampire, she always would be. While the insight didn't alleviate all of his worries, it did comfort him somewhat. There would be problems, and issues, and bad times aplenty in the future, but they would handle them together… just as they had handled their shared adverse reaction to his curse. Maybe he wasn't ready to consider the surprise side effect a blessing in disguise like his mate did, but he was getting there, one purely happy moment with Buffy at a time.