Author's Notes: Set before Season 3 of Angel starts, & after Buffy episode 6.3 "After Life". AU from there. Also: Angel didn't go to a monastery after Buffy died.
((Re-uploaded because ff net seems to have eaten the story. Grr!))
"I gotta say," Gunn started, "this is boring." Wesley glanced up from the book he was reading. Gunn shrugged and said, "I am all for a lull in the demon fightin' now and then – but we ain't havin' a lull! We're just havin' Angel, all gung-ho to take on any demon-killin' cases we get."
Wesley sighed and marked his place before closing his book. He turned to Gunn and said, "Angel is dealing with the loss of Buffy. Personally, I would rather have him off killing demons than sitting in his room brooding."
Gunn snorted. "Yeah, I s'pose. But still, I mean – this has gotta be like the second time I've heard of this chick and I've been with y'all for almost two years. How can he be so messed up over her if he never sees her? I know way more 'bout Darla than I do her."
Wesley pushed his glasses up and pinched the bridge of his nose as he tried to figure out just how to explain Angel and Buffy's relationship (of which even he didn't know a great deal, having arrived in Sunnydale towards the end of it all.).
"Angel… Angel has been alive for almost two-hundred and fifty years. Of all those years, the only woman he ever loved was Buffy."
"What about Darla?" Gunn asked. "Guy ran with her for almost half his unlife."
"Yes," Wesley said, "but that was as Angelus. A sire's bond is a powerful thing, but Angelus never loved Darla – he was incapable of it. Once he regained his soul, he left Darla. When Darla showed up in Sunnydale and attacked Buffy, Angel killed her." This much he knew from reading Giles's Watcher Diary. Buffy's first Watcher had point-blank refused to help Wesley in any of his endeavors, but he had allowed Wesley to read all his journals of Buffy's exploits, including the one that detailed Darla attacking Joyce and Buffy's account of Angel killing Darla at the local club.
Gunn still didn't get it. "So if they're so in love, how come he left her?"
Wesley sighed. "If you were going to live forever, would you want to watch as your loved one grows old and dies? Would you want her to never be able to have a picnic at the park with you, or a stroll on the beach during the day? Never have children? And don't forget, Angel can never be intimate with anyone, lest he lose his soul." He let his words hang for a moment, before saying softly, "I don't think Angel left Buffy so much because he didn't love her enough, but… because he loved her too much."
Gunn looked down, then away from Wes. There really wasn't anything to say in response to what Wes had revealed. Star-crossed lovers. Romeo and Juliet all over again, only with even more melodrama, because Romeo was a vampire, and Juliet a vampire slayer. Doomed from the start, apparently.
Wes picked up his book and pointed toward the office. "I'm going to begin cataloging some of the demons Angel has been fighting recently. Let me know when he gets back."
Gunn shook his head and went back to oiling the weaponry. He should just kill demons, and stay away from emotional issues. He had enough emotional issues of his own, without worrying about other peoples'.
The sound of the front doors opening had Gunn glancing up in time to see a young, pretty woman walk in. She had long, honey blonde hair that framed a delicate face, and an all-around petite frame. She began looking around the hotel's interior with an impressed look on her face.
Gunn put down the sword and greeted her with what he considered the 'company line.' "Welcome to Angel Investigations, where we help the hopeless. Is there anything I can do for you?"
The girl looked at him blankly for a minute before saying, "I wanted to see Angel for a minute."
The way she said it made Gunn ask, "You know Angel personally?"
The girl nodded. "We're… yeah, we know each other."
Gunn shrugged. "Well, he's not here right now – he's off fightin' some nasty. You wanna wait for him? Or I can take a message for ya."
The girl glanced at her watch before saying, "I'll wait for him, if that's okay."
Gunn shrugged again. "Make yourself comfy, then. He should be back soon, but… y'never know with these things." He picked the sword back up and began wiping it down with a dry cloth.
"Can I help?" the girl asked.
Gunn glanced at her in surprise, and she gave a faint smile. "I've never been very good at just waiting."
"You know how to clean weapons?" He was treated to another long blank look, and Gunn got the feeling he was missing something, but eventually she said, "Yeah, I've got some experience." She went over to the pile waiting to be cleaned and selected a broadsword he knew for a fact weighed almost ten pounds. It didn't sound like a lot, but most people found it difficult to lift upright and awkward to hold, due to the strain on the wrist. But he watched as this little blonde thing picked it up like it weighed nothing, and even spun the hilt in her hand, inspecting both sides of the blade like a pro. She walked over to the counter and took a seat beside him, then grabbed the oil rag and began rubbing down the sword with sure, even strokes. Gunn shook his head and went back to his own cleaning.
They worked in silence for a while, until someone else came through the front doors. Gunn glanced up to see Cordelia standing at the top of the steps, her sunglasses pushed onto the top of her head, her purse hanging from one arm, a Starbucks cup held in her opposite hand. What confused him was the stunned expression on her face. Before he could ask her what was wrong, she spoke. What she said shocked him.
The girl beside him looked up from the double-bladed axe she was currently cleaning and said casually, "Hey, Cordelia."
Cordy rushed down the stairs toward them. She stopped right in front of Buffy, making the other girl lean back on her stool, and said, "Willow told us you were dead!" It sounded like an accusation.
"Wait," Gunn interrupted, his brain finally catching up to what Cordelia was saying. "You're Buffy? Angel's Buffy?"
He watched as a strange, almost confused expression passed across her face, before she replied, "Yeah, I'm Buffy. Sorry for not introducing myself."
Cordy made an impatient noise and asked, almost angrily, "Why aren't you dead?" Gunn and Buffy both looked at her in surprise, and she sighed heavily. "Not that we're not happy that you're alive," she explained, not sounding happy at all, "but Willow told us you'd died. We mourned – there was a bunch of mourning around here."
Buffy gave her a confused look. "You mean no one called to tell you I was back?"
Cordy threw up the hand that wasn't holding her coffee in exasperation. "Uh, no! Or I wouldn't be so surprised to see you, here and alive! I cannot emphasize the 'alive' enough."
Buffy sighed. "Sorry. I thought someone was going to call you. They must've… gotten sidetracked," she finished softly, seeming to be saying it more to herself.
Cordelia looked toward the office and saw Wesley, writing at his desk and completely unaware of the bombshell that had been dropped in the lobby. She put her purse and coffee on the receptionist's side of the counter, then walked briskly to the office and rapped on the door's window. When Wesley glanced up in surprise, Cordy jerked her head toward the lobby. She pushed open the door, but it wasn't until Wesley was in the doorway that he understood what she was gesturing about. His eyes widened and his mouth opened slightly. Finally he asked quietly, "Buffy? But…"
Buffy nodded. "I was dead, yeah. Cordy said Willow told you about me dying. I thought someone had told you I was alive again. Sorry for the surprise."
Wesley continued to stare at her for a few seconds before shaking his head. "Er, no, that's, that's alright. You didn't know… how are you alive?" The question seemed to burst out of him, and he quickly backpedaled. "Not that it's not – fantastic, but… Willow said you sacrificed yourself, jumping into a hell-portal in order to close it. She said by the time you had… landed, you were already dead."
Cordy frowned at him. "When did she tell you that? She never said that to us."
Wesley looked a little discomfited. "I asked her in private, before she left, if she could give me the specific details. I knew Angel wouldn't want to hear it then, but... I thought perhaps eventually, he would."
Gunn watched the exchange for a minute before saying, "She still hasn't told us how she ain't dead anymore."
Buffy glanced at him in surprise before shrugging. "Willow and the others did a spell; here I am, in all my Buffiness," she explained nonchalantly.
"A spell?" Wesley asked, sounding very surprised. At Buffy's nod, he said, "A spell to raise the dead – do you know what spell?"
Buffy shook her head. "I just know they were desperate when they did it. And whatever magick they did, it had consequences. Some demon manifested itself because of it, or something."
"Thaumogenesis," Wesley murmured. At Gunn and Cordy's looks, he explained, "Thaumogenesis is when the magick used is so powerful, it actually creates a supernatural entity." Seeing Gunn's nonplussed look and Cordelia's raised eyebrows, he tried again. "When they used the spell to bring Buffy back, it was so powerful, it created something else, as well. The pure energy of the spell was so powerful, it manifested itself into something physical."
Buffy gave a small snort. When everyone looked at her, she said, "It took the others hours of research to figure out what was happening."
"What about Giles?" Cordy asked. "I mean, if Wes knew about it..."
Buffy gave her a look. "His Slayer died. The Council wasn't gonna pay him just to stay in America. He went home to England."
Cordy shrugged. "I figured he'd stay in Sunnydale. Wes stayed in America and made it work."
Wesley grimaced. "I stayed in America because the Council refused to fund my plane ticket home. I doubt Rupert had that problem." He didn't mention that he really didn't have anything to return to in England, even if he had returned.
"So, no one told him they were gonna do this spell thingy to bring you back?" Cordelia asked.
Buffy shrugged. "I got the feeling they figured he'd be against it." She wished they had told him. Maybe Giles would have been able to stop them.
At that moment, the basement door opened and Angel stepped through, carrying a battleaxe and covered in thick blue goo. He spotted Wesley right away, and pointed the axe at him menacingly. "The next time I go out to fight a demon, you'd better warn me if it explodes when I kill it. That thing –" he cut himself off, having finally seen who else was in the room. He stared at Buffy, a look of pain crossing his face. The arm with which he was pointing the axe at Wesley dropped to his side. He seemed suddenly unaware of anyone else in the room, except her.
Buffy appeared to be in a similar state. She took a step hesitantly toward him. "Angel…"
Her voice was a catalyst, breaking him free of his immobilization. He dropped the axe, and in four quick strides he was standing in front of Buffy and pulling her into a tight embrace, which she immediately returned. She pressed her head into the curve of his neck even as he slid one of his hands up her neck and twined his fingers in her hair, holding her against him. He bent his head and buried his face in her hair and murmured, "Buffy…"
After some time in the same position, with both of them coming to grips with the reality that they really were together again, they pulled slightly apart, only for Angel to tilt his head down and claim her lips in a passionate kiss.
Gunn raised his eyebrows in surprise. He didn't think he'd ever seen Angel kiss anyone before – let alone so passionately. Gunn had seen him when he was with Darla when she was human – he'd looked saddened, apologetic, but above all, he was her champion, trying to give her a second chance. But this was different, the look he'd given this girl. Gunn looked over at the others to gauge their reactions.
Wesley looked slightly uncomfortable at witnessing the display, but Gunn figured it was because of the fact that it was Angel, who Wes looked up to, as well as the fact that it was such a private moment between the two.
Cordy, on the other hand, didn't seem at all happy that the two lovebirds were reunited. In fact, she seemed to be sneering at the whole display, and Gunn could almost hear the sarcastic jibes she must be thinking.
There was an awkward silence after Buffy and Angel finally pulled away from each other. They both seemed to come to their senses at the same time, untangling themselves from each other self-consciously.
"What are you doing here?" Angel eventually managed to ask. He hadn't said it unkindly, yet he registered the hurt look that briefly crossed Buffy's face. He winced and tried again. "I didn't mean – I meant, Willow came and told us you'd died. Was that… not true?"
"No," Buffy said quietly, "it was true. Willow and the others did a spell, and brought me back. I-I was trapped in a, hell dimension… or, my soul was, at least." She looked down and fiddled with the hem of her shirt as she revealed this newest detail.
Angel watched her closely. There was more to the story than that, much more, from the way Buffy was acting, but he didn't call her on it. They may be acting like this was a private conversation, but Angel was aware of the three spectators they had. "So," Angel asked, "what're you doing here?"
Buffy looked confused. "I just told you –"
"No, no," Angel waved his hands a little. "I meant, here in LA. You don't generally come here unless something's up."
"Oh!" Buffy's eyes widened as she suddenly remembered the official reason for her extended trip to LA. She brought her arm up to check her watch – and let out a cry of dismay as she saw her entire front was covered in blue slime. Suddenly she was acutely aware of it where it clung to her bare skin, especially her arms and – the back of her neck?! One hand flew to the back of her neck where, sure enough, she could feel the viscous fluid slowly sliding down her skin. Moving her hand up, she discovered that it was even in her hair. she looked at Angel in horror, noting that he too was covered in blue gunk; of course, he'd transferred it onto her during their embrace. Buffy stared down at herself again and found herself exclaiming, "This is disgusting!"
Angel looked at her, then down at the state he was in, then back at her helplessly.
"What is this stuff, anyway?"
Angel hesitated before answering, "Demon guts. It kinda… exploded, when I killed it. I got most of the big chunks off, but…" he finally just shrugged helplessly.
Buffy shook her head, and checked her watch. She blanched as she saw what time it was. "Oh my God," she started panicking. "I have a meeting in, like, an hour, and I don't have a motel room yet, and I've gotta change – shower! Ugh, I'll never make it in time!"
"Buffy." Angel said her name calmly but firmly, making her pause and look at him. Her eyes were wide and the look he saw in them, while manic, was also vulnerable. She was barely treading water, floundering, and Angel was afraid that without help, pretty soon she would start sinking, and no one would be there to pull her up to the surface, much less to safety. And as much as her friends helped her, it was obvious – to him, at least – that they weren't – or couldn't – help her now. So, he decided he would help her. They may not be a couple anymore, and they may never be able to be just friends, but he would always be there for her when she needed him.
"Tell me what the problem is, and I'll see what I can do to help," he said softly, his tone of voice sounding very much like he was trying to talk her off a ledge.
Buffy gave an explosive sigh and said, in a much calmer manner, "I have a meeting that starts in just over an hour. It's a long story, that I promise to tell you later, but I'll be staying in L.A. for an indefinite amount of time. So I need to find a – fairly cheap – motel to stay at, take a shower now, and be able to make my meeting. In an hour."
"I have an idea," Wesley spoke up, startling almost everyone. "Why don't you shower and change here – we have plenty of spare rooms. Once you're ready, I can drive you to your appointment. When it's over, you can find a motel, and not have to worry about rushing."
"In fact," Angel began, already knowing it was a bad idea, but unable to resist offering, "why don't you just stay here?" He noted that Buffy's wasn't the only incredulous look he was getting, though the look Cordy was giving him was by far the most potent.
"I don't know if that's a good idea…" Buffy replied, but her response was quiet and doubtful.
Instead of dropping it (like he knew he should), Angel pushed that little bit more, sensing she was close to giving in. "It is a hotel," he pointed out, "and Wes is right, we've got lots of spare rooms. Plus," he gave her his best optimistic and persuasive smile, "it's cheaper than the cheapest motel you could find."
Buffy couldn't help but return his smile. "I s'pose… at least for a few days, until I figure out just how long I'll have to be here…" Angel flashed his smile again, and even wiggled his eyebrows a couple times, making Buffy laugh. "Okay, fine, you win. Let me grab my bags and you can show me to the nearest shower."
Angel nodded. "I think I'll join you." Everyone froze, and Buffy turned around to look at him dubiously.
"Not, join you, because that would be – but, at the same time as you, only, in separate showers, in separate… rooms…" Angel trailed off uncomfortably. Buffy stared at him for a few seconds longer, then turned without comment and went to pick up her bags that sat by the door.
Angel glanced at his friends before jogging up the lobby steps to catch up with Buffy. He automatically reached down to pick up one of the bags, but stopped when Buffy gave him a mock-glare.
Angel gave a little chuckle as he pulled his hand away from the bag. "Sorry. I'm used to girls wanting help with carrying their things."
Buffy smiled a little. "Not this girl."
Angel nodded. "Yeah, I'm remembering that," he said softly. For a second their eyes locked and something indefinable seemed to pass between them, before Buffy looked down, ostensibly to gather up the rest of her bags.
The other three Angel Investigation employees watched as Angel and Buffy made their way upstairs.
"So," Gunn finally broke the silence, "that was Buffy."
"Yeah," Cordelia crossed her arms tightly under her breasts, her tone indicating she was not very happy. "That was Buffy."
"She looked well," Wesley decided to put in, "for being… raised from the dead."
Cordy scoffed. "Unbelievable!" She turned to face the two men. "She comes back, and he's suddenly all laughing and happy! What is that about?"
"He's glad she's not – dead?" Wesley turned his words into a question at the last moment, wilting slightly under the weight of Cordy's fierce look.
"What's the problem?" Gunn asked Cordelia. "I thought you wanted him to stop mopin' around and killin' all them demons."
Cordy sighed and dropped her shoulders. "I know – I don't want him all mopey and depressed and desperate to kill things, but…" she trailed off, trying to find the right words for what she was feeling. "Is this really the best thing for him? I mean, he thought she'd died, and look how he reacted. Not ten minutes after he finds out she's alive again, and he's moving her in!"
"There are circumstances, Cordy…" Wesley began gently. He recognized now that under the bitchiness and catty remarks, Cordelia was worried. Angel, strangely enough, was her best friend. She had just gotten him back from his self-imposed exile and walk on the dark side, only to first be thrown into a strange dimension, then have Angel retreat into himself again after learning of Buffy's death. Now, finally, he might return to at least a semblance of his old self, only to have Buffy show up and draw all his attention.
"I know, Wes," Cordelia said in exasperation. "She needs a place to stay, he's offering her free room and board – which I want to protest against! While he's feeding her, who's gonna be feeding me? Food doesn't grow on trees, y'know! Or, well, it does – but the money to buy it doesn't!" Cordy sighed and shook her hands to relieve some tension. "I'm just saying, what's gonna happen when she has to go back to Sunnydale?" She looked piercingly at both men in turn. "She said herself she's staying 'indefinitely' – what happens when the 'definitely' runs out, and she leaves him?"
To that, none of them could come up with an answer.
Unaware of the conversation downstairs, Angel showed Buffy to a vacant room. "Mine's two doors down, and across the hall," he said, pointing out his door. When he turned back to look at her again, he realized it might seem strange to place her so close to himself, so he tried to explain. "It's close, but not too close, in case you have questions or anything. We don't have a lot of rooms cleaned up and ready to live in, so—"
"Angel," Buffy interrupted, giving him a reassuring look. "This is fine."
Angel nodded. He felt oddly like a schoolboy with his first crush, something Buffy always seemed to bring out in him. Of course, with his actual first crush, Fiona Reilly, he'd put a toad down her bodice. Later in life, he'd ended up kissing her, but both of those options were off-limits with Buffy.
"The doors are old-fashioned for hotels," he began explaining, just to fill the silence. "I'll have to get the key for you later – they're all at the desk. There's a lock on the doorknob, as well as a door chain, but no fancy hotel card swipes. I guess just leave the door unlocked when you leave until I can get you a key."
Buffy nodded, but then paused and asked, "Do you have a key to all the rooms?"
"Oh, there's a master set at the desk," Angel began, before realizing it might not comfort her that he could get into her room whenever he wanted. "But, I don't, I don't normally use them – I'm not even sure exactly where they are…"
They both lapsed into an awkward silence, the kind they always had when they saw each other anymore. Finally, Buffy motioned toward her room. "Well, I'm gonna go take a shower—"
"Right," Angel quickly agreed. "Me, too – shower…" both turned and went into their respective rooms. Buffy was looking forward to a nice, hot shower. Angel, on the other hand, was bracing himself for a very cold one.
As she showered, Buffy started making a list of things she had to do. First, of course, was go to her meeting. Well, no, first, was get dressed, maybe put on some makeup. Had she brought any makeup with her? It was okay to go without it today, but she'd need some before her first court date. She'd have to wear something sensible then, too, something that said 'mature' and 'responsible.' But that was later. Right now she just had to get ready and go meet with her attorney. They had spoken on the phone several times before, but she had wanted to meet with Buffy in person to go over what to expect in court.
Everything was so difficult now. Her body was still adjusting to being alive again, and it was all she could do to act like her normal self around others. It was hard for her to just get out of bed in the morning, and now they wanted her to deal with all sorts of adult issues, as well as be the Slayer, to dole out ugly death, when all she wanted was to go back to sleep. Some days she wasn't sure she would make it. Some days she wasn't sure she wanted to. But she had never surrendered to anything in her life, and she wasn't going to start now.
She rinsed off the blue gunk that was on her arms and upper chest – fortunately, most of it was on her shirt and not her body. She might not be able to salvage the top, but at this point in her life she was used to losing clothes to the forces of darkness.
She had to rinse her hair twice to get all of the slime out of it (she vaguely recalled Angel burying his fingers in her hair as he kissed her, but she tried not to examine that memory very closely), then she conditioned and turned off the water.
Wrapping herself in a towel and twisting her hair up in a smaller towel, Buffy began to get dressed.. She got a plain white button-down top and a pair of black dress slacks out of her luggage, as well as a tan bra and black panties. She'd only brought two pairs of shoes, a pair of regular tennis shoes, and a pair of dress shoes. Fortunately, the dress shoes were multi-purpose black slingbacks with an open toe and a sensible one-inch, fairly thick heel. She could dress them up, she could dress them down, and most importantly, she could slay in them without breaking her neck.
After she was dressed, Buffy unwrapped her hair, grabbed her blow drier and hairbrush and headed into the bathroom. A quick check of the time made her decide to just flip her head upside down and blow dry her hair and nothing fancier. She had just finished and was giving herself the once-over in the mirror when there was a knock at the suite's door.
Buffy wasn't surprised to see Angel through the peephole, and pulled the door open. "Hey," she greeted.
"Hey," he returned. "I see you got all the demon… stuff, off alright."
"Yeah," Buffy said. "Was there something you needed, or... were you just checking up on me?" Everyone was always checking up on her lately, asking how she was doing. She really should start charging people to ask her that. Might help with her financial situation.
Angel shrugged slightly. "Can you tell me now why you're in L.A., indefinitely?" he asked softly.
Buffy looked down and sighed, before meeting his gaze. "You want the long or the short version?"
Angel glanced at his watch. "Do you have time for the long version before you have to leave?"
Buffy looked at her own watch and decided, "Medium version, then. The night I – came back, a group of demons showed up and began trashing the town; they'd just learned I was dead, and decided to make Sunnydale their new home. Well, I took care of them, but the looting got some news coverage, saying there was rioting in Sunnydale. Dad heard about it, and got Child Services to give him temporary custody of Dawn. He said it wasn't a safe place for her to live, which, duh, Hellmouth! But, now I have to go to court to contest custody, which is so not going to be fun." She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair.
Angel wasn't comfortable with asking, but he wanted to know, "Why don't you just let her stay with your father?" The look she gave him wasn't very friendly, so Angel tried to explain himself. "I just mean – is there a reason she shouldn't be with him? I just remember you wishing you could see him more often… that's all."
Buffy sighed wearily, her anger rushing out, leaving her deflated and looking tired. "It's not that she shouldn't be with him, necessarily, it's just – he visited us less than a handful of times during the five years we've lived in Sunnydale, he couldn't even—" she took a deep breath before continuing, "he couldn't even come to Mom's funeral because he was in Spain. He's never shown any interest in helping us, or having Dawn live with him before this, and she's all I have left!" She was surprised when she burst into tears, and mortified that Angel had to see her break down. She put her hands up to cover her face; an instant later, Angel had his arms around her, holding her tightly.
"She's all I have," Buffy said through her tears. "She took care of me when I came back, when I was confused, and lost, and hurt – and now I can't take care of her!" She couldn't stop herself, so she just let herself sob against Angel's chest.
Angel never knew what to do, when anyone cried, but especially Buffy, because it was more important to him to get it right with Buffy. He wanted to take all her pain away, so she could always be happy and smiling and carefree. He could handle pain, he'd dealt with pain for centuries. But seeing her in pain was something completely different. The longer she cried, the tighter he wrapped his arms around her, cradling her head in his hands and pressing his face against her hair, pressing kisses to her hair every now and then.
Eventually, Buffy's sobs tapered off. With a sigh, she pushed gently away from Angel. "Sorry," she said softly, wiping at her cheeks and eyes, avoiding looking at Angel.. "I guess I'm not handling this as well as I thought." She looked at her watch again. "I'd better get going, if I wanna make the lawyers' in time."
Angel nodded, but frowned as he began to follow her. "Your lawyers aren't from Wolfram & Hart, are they?"
Buffy glanced back at him with a puzzled frown as she began descending the stairs. "No, why?"
Angel shrugged. "Nothing, it's just – they're evil."
Buffy raised her eyebrows at that. "Evil like, they're lawyers, or evil like, demonic?"
Angel winced slightly. "I think all of the lawyers themselves are human, but a lot of their clients are evil demons, vampires… homicidal maniacs. That kind of thing."
After a minute of silence, Buffy's response was, "Oh."
When they reached the lobby, she turned to Wesley and said, "I'd like to go pretty soon, if that's okay. If I'm not early, I tend to be – well, late."
Wesley nodded. "Of course. Let me grab my keys…"
"Here," Angel held out a set of keys. "You can take my car."
Wesley paused to scrutinize Angel. Angel stared back for a few seconds before folding and asking, "What?"
Wesley shrugged. "I just wonder why you've never offered me the use of your car before."
"I just thought Buffy might like to arrive in style; you know, make an impression." He paused before saying, "The right impression."
Buffy looked between the two of them. "Okay, why do I have the feeling this has nothing to do with impressions?"
Cordy snorted. "Because it doesn't. Angel just doesn't want you riding on Wes's bike."
Angel threw a look at Cordy that clearly stated, Stay out of this; aloud, he said, "That's not true."
Before he could say more, Buffy interrupted. "Wait, bike? As in, motorcycle? Wesley Wyndham-Price has a motorcycle?" She turned to look at Wesley, who nodded. Buffy slowly smiled. "Way to go, Wes. I'm impressed."
Angel scowled. "That thing is dangerous."
"You're just jealous, 'cause Wes here has a sweet ride," Gunn decided to put in his two cents.
"I'm not jealous," Angel said, trying not to grit his teeth. "And, my ride is 'sweet,' too."
"What kinda car do you have?" Buffy asked. It was hard imagining Angel driving, because he never had in Sunnydale. But then, Sunnydale was small enough you could walk everywhere, and a lot of the time, Angel's walking was underground, anyway.
Angel puffed a little with pride and said, "1967 black Plymouth GTX convertible." He was pleased to see that Buffy looked suitably impressed.
"You'll have to give me a ride sometime," Buffy said, before smiling innocently. "But right now, Wes and I need to get going." She felt the strange urge to laugh at Angel's consternated expression. She hadn't felt like that in a long time.
Wesley stopped his bike in front of the law firm about ten minutes before her meeting was scheduled to start. Buffy stepped off the motorcycle and pulled off the spare helmet, habitually shaking her hair out. She handed the bright pink helmet over to Wesley. "Thanks for the ride, Wes. It was fun."
Wesley nodded, removing his own helmet. "Would you like me to pick you up with Angel's car—?"
Buffy shook her head. "Nah. We'll let his feelings of vehicular inferiority stew for a while." She couldn't help grinning. "How much you wanna bet he starts looking at Harley-Davidsons?"
Wes chuckled briefly and shook his head at the image. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card and a pen. He flipped the card over and scribbled a telephone number down. He handed it to Buffy with the explanation, "This is my cell phone number, in case I'm not at the hotel when your meeting is finished."
Buffy looked at it, then with a peculiar expression crossing her face, she asked, "Does Angel have a cell phone?"
Wes nodded. "Yes, though we don't call it often. He hasn't quite grasped how to operate it completely, yet. The voicemail in particular still eludes him."
Buffy looked relieved. "I was gonna say. Angel's got a car, now I find out he's got a cell – a girl dies for a few months and everything changes." Her words were blasé, but her tone was soft and serious in a way that seemed at odds with her recent nonchalant behavior. Wesley was uncomfortable with discussing one's personal feelings, but he had learned a few things since moving to L.A., and one of those things was that to work through problems, you had to talk about them. So, feeling completely out of his element, Wesley began, "Buffy—"
"I better head in, Wes," Buffy said, not seeming to have heard him. "I'll call you when it's over."
Wes watched her head into the large building, and wondered if she'd meant for her last words to sound so final.
It had only been about an hour since Wesley had returned to the hotel that his cell phone began ringing. Not recognizing the number that flashed on the screen, he could only assume it was Buffy. "Wesley Wyndham-Price," he answered.
"Hey," a female voice responded. "I hope you don't mind, I just called your cell right away. Figured it might save me some dialin'."
"That's quite alright," Wesley said, well aware of the looks he was getting from Cordy and Angel, and that Angel at least could hear the entire conversation. "Is your meeting over?"
"Yeah," came the disheartened response. "I am so ready to blow this joint."
"Alright. I'll be there in about ten minutes."
"Okay. Thanks, Wes."
Wesley frowned, but merely said, "It's no problem, Buffy."
There was a short silence, then, "Okay. I'll see ya soon." Shortly after, he heard the dial-tone.
When they arrived back at the Hyperion, Buffy was once again silent, heading inside while Wesley finished parking his motorcycle. When he walked into the lobby, he was immediately assaulted by an angry vampire.
"What happened?" Angel demanded. Wesley looked at him in confusion. "I asked how everything went, and she said she was tired and was going up to her room! Did she say something to you, tell you anything–?" Angel's anger was quickly being replaced with worry.
Wesley sighed. "She didn't say anything really, Angel," he said candidly. "I tried asking earlier if everything was alright, but she decided not to hear me. Of course," he conceded, "I'm not one for having heart-to-heart talks, anyway, and considering the last time we saw each other she pretty much fired me--" Wesley sighed. "I really do have a way with Slayers, don't I?"
Cordy wrapped an arm around his shoulders and gave him a companionable squeeze. "I don't think it's Slayers, Wes." When he turned to look at her, Cordy smiled. "I think it's just women in general."
Wesley spared her an exasperated glance before turning back to Angel. "She did make a few comments that seemed... not in keeping with her normal behavior." He paused, trying to come up with just the right wording. "I think... I think perhaps she isn't dealing with her resurrection as well as she wants others to believe."
Angel sighed and looked at the balcony of the second floor where Buffy's room was. "I'm gonna go talk to her."
"She said she wanted to be left alone," Cordy reminded him gently.
Angel turned his intense gaze onto her. "If she really wants to be left alone, she can kick me out. Otherwise—." He left the thought hanging as he stood up resolutely and headed for the stairs.
Cordy watched him go, her face carefully blank. "This is not going to end well," she murmured. "It never does with those two."
Gunn frowned. "I thought they were like, soulmates or somethin'. If you believe in that sorta thing. The only thing keepin' 'em apart was Angel's curse, and the whole 'vampire' thing, but from what I saw earlier, Buffy didn't seem to care."
"First, it went bad with the curse," Cordy explained. "Then afterward, it was the whole 'Angel, I want to be with you, but we both know we can't let it go too far!'" Cordy threw a hand up to her forehead in dramatic heroine fashion, pretending to be Buffy and making Gunn laugh. "'Maybe we can still be just friends, even though there's enough sexual tension between us you'd have to cut it with a broadsword. No, no, we can make our relationship work, I know we can.'"
"'No, Buffy,'" Wesley replied, surprising Cordy as he took over Angel's role in her little impromptu docu-melodrama. Wesley yanked his glasses off in a suitably melodramatic fashion and squinted at her, both because he couldn't see as well, and to look more like a brooding Angel. "'This just won't work between us. I have to leave, so that you can have a normal life.'"
"'But I love you, Angel!'" Cordy cried, taking a few impassioned steps toward Wesley with her arms spread beseechingly.
Wesley turned partly away from her, and said over his shoulder, "'I love you too much to see you throw your life away on a creature such as I.'" Cordy moved toward him again, and Wesley slowly turned back toward her.
"'You should go,'" Cordy said demurely, looking down at her clasped hands.
"'I should,'" Wesley agreed, but instead of turning away, he stepped into Cordy's personal space and gently tilted her head up to look at him. There was a look of frightened adoration on Cordy's face. Wesley leaned forward...
"Is this a private show, or can anyone watch?" Wesley and Cordy sprang apart and turned to look guiltily at Buffy, who stood on the stairs landing with Angel beside her. Gunn started laughing at his friends getting caught acting out the starcrossed scene.
"We were just, erm... that is..." Wesley floundered before blurting out, "Cordelia started it!"
Cordy scoffed at him, and Wesley could only shrug in silent apology. Turning back to the ex-lovers in question, Cordy asked with forced nonchalance, "So, um, how much of our little—thing, did you see?"
Angel pursed his lips, clearly not happy, but Buffy actually started smiling. "Enough to know I should probably be angry, if it hadn't been scarily accurate." She shook her head, still smiling slightly. "For a minute, it was like going back in time. Only, without the whole blowing-up-the-school thing."
Cordy waved her hand. "That's so overdone these days." She and Buffy shared a smile, before both seemed to realize just who they were talking to, and looked away.
Angel placed a hand on the small of Buffy's back, and they shared a long look before Buffy sighed and the two made their way down the steps and over to the other three.
"So," Buffy began, settling herself on a chair at the check-in counter, "Angel thinks you guys can help me brainstorm about my problem."
Several looks were shared among the others, but Buffy ignored them. Finally Wesley said, "Of course, we'll help however we can. What, exactly, is the problem?"
Buffy took a deep breath, then looked at Angel, who nodded in encouragement, before starting. "Okay. The short version is, my dad is trying to get permanent custody of Dawn. He's already been granted temporary custody, because of the 'riots' in Sunnydale."
"Riots?" Wesley said in surprise.
Buffy saw that no one seemed to know what she was talking about. "See, a couple weeks ago there were some riots in town that got some news coverage; vandalism, looting, that sorta thing. What the news didn't mention, of course, was that it was a gang of demons that had decided to make the Hellmouth their new home after finding out I was dead." She couldn't quite suppress the shudder that passed through her at the memory of seeing the Buffybot torn limb from limb by the bikers.
"Anyway, I got rid of the demons, but – damage was already done. Dad got Social Services to take Dawn." She sighed. "Long story short, Dad's got temporary custody of Dawn, and I'm trying to get her back. My meeting today was with my attorney, to discuss what I'll need to do to prove I'm a 'fit guardian' for Dawn. I have to be able to show that I am 'financially and emotionally competent' in raising a child." Buffy made a face. "Never mind that we haven't seen Dad since before I graduated high school, and he couldn't be bothered to come see us after Mom died, or even give us an accurate emergency contact number. Apparently that doesn't matter. Since he's got a job, and isn't likely to die, he's a better candidate than I am." Buffy heaved another sigh. "So, that's what's going on."
The group was silent for a moment, until Wesley spoke up. "How, exactly, are you to prove you're 'financially and emotionally competent'?"
Buffy shrugged. "The lawyer said it would be a huge help if I had a job, some sort of steady income to show I can provide for Dawn. All I've got now is Mom's insurance money, and that's getting eaten away by the mortgage. 'Emotionally competent' just means that I'm able to provide a stable home-life for her. That's obviously not going to happen, being the Slayer, but the legal system doesn't know about that. They just need to see that I'm not out partying every night, or bringing home strange men or anything. She said Dad's lawyers are gonna bring up the fact that I had so many marks against me during high school, absences and fighting and breaking rules – and Snyder expelling me at the end of Junior year, not to mention burning down the gym at Hemery. Plus, I did drop out of college, but she said that might actually work in my favor, to show that I'm more concerned with taking care of Dawn than my own education. I told her about how we haven't seen Dad in years, and him not showing up after Mom died, and she said that might work in our favor, too. But, I still don't have a job, and since I'm the Slayer, it's not likely I'm gonna find one. Unless it's flipping burgers or serving coffee."
Wesley looked at the completely dejected expression on her face, and came to a decision. He was sure Angel would agree to it; Gunn would probably not care, and Cordelia... well. He'd figure out some way to persuade Cordy. Taking a deep breath, Wesley made his offer. "You could work here, for me."
Buffy frowned, clearly surprised and not expecting the offer. She glanced at Angel. "Work here?" Her frown deepened as she registered the rest of Wesley's words. "For you? I thought it was Angel Investigations." She watched as everyone glanced around, yet no one quite looked at each other. "Oh. It's one of those stories."
Wesley cleared his throat. "Yes, well... that is to say, there was some upheaval earlier, and I became manager of Angel Investigations."
Buffy looked doubtful. "I've never had a job before, Wesley..."
Wesley drew himself up and tried to look as serious and official as possible. He spoke with as much pompousness as he could muster. "Yes, you're quite right. We'll conduct an impromptu job interview now. Ms. Summers, I realize you don't have a written resume, but I have heard of some of your previous jobs. You once defeated and killed a vampire known as 'The Master,' correct?" Buffy nodded hesitantly. "You successfully killed a full demon after his human host had transcended?"
Buffy frowned. "Actually, that was more of a team-effort sorta thing—the whole school pitched in."
"But you lured him into the school," Angel interrupted softly. Buffy glanced at him, but quickly turned to look back at Wes.
"A team effort, yes, that brings me to my next point. Our employees here at Angel Investigations are a tight-knit group, who must at times rely on each other with our lives. I know in your previous employment you worked with a group known as the 'Slayerettes.' Do you believe you can work with another, similar group?" If Buffy realized that he was teasing her, she didn't let on as she nodded seriously. Wesley continued. "Very well. But, in many cases we must split up to perform individual tasks. Do you think you're capable of working on your own, to help the group reach its goal?" Buffy nodded again. Wesley nodded in return. "There's just one more topic to discuss, and this is where most applicants turn away. Are you prepared to fight for your life, and the lives of others, to protect innocents from the forces of darkness, the vampires and demons that roam the world, on a nightly basis if need be, for little pay and no recognition from the public at all?"
Buffy blinked a couple times. "Little pay? Absolutely." She smiled. "It's like I'm getting a raise." Angel and Gunn laughed a little, and even Cordy had to grudgingly smile at that.
Wesley gave a friendly smile, dropping his superior act, and extended his hand for Buffy to shake. "Welcome to Angel Investigations, where we help the hopeless."
Buffy smiled teasingly. "'Protect innocents from the forces of darkness'? Did you butcher the Slayer Handbook for that?"
Wesley shrugged. "I felt I should give you something familiar for a mission statement."