Title: And the Feeling Returns

Author: Carrie aka Buffychick

Summary: After a phone call from her father sends Buffy to LA, light is shed on the theory that she came back "wrong."

Rating: PG-13

Archiving: Sure, but ask me first please!

Spoilers: Everything up to and including Season 6 for BtVS and Season 3 for AtS.

Feedback: Would make my life shimmer.

Website for more fanfic and other fun stuff: http://www.angelfire.com/mo3/fanfic/SMGMain.html

*~*~*~*~*~*~

The phone call came completely unexpectedly on a rainy Wednesday night. A storm raged outside, to the point that Dawn insisted that she, Willow and Buffy light candles and plan on a slumber party in the living room. There she was now, the Slayer's younger sister curled up on the couch underneath several heavy blankets, though it wasn't really cold in the house, watching the lightning show, fascinated. Willow sat on the floor in front of her, absently leafing through a textbook, pretending to study.

Things for the witch had been tough lately, especially with Tara leaving, and especially since she had decided to stop using magic. Buffy had yet to see her go back on her word, but knew that Willow had a long way to go. They all did, when you thought about it.

The Slayer observed this as she crossed the room to pick up the cordless phone. "Probably Xander, wanting to know if he can come over and comfort us," she mused out loud. Willow locked eyes with her and gave her a small, knowing smile.

"Hello?" Buffy asked as she put the phone to her ear. Her eyes flew wide at the voice that came over the airwaves.

"Buffy, hi…it's dad."

She was silent for a moment. "Dad…hi."

Dawn's ears perked up, as did Willow's, but neither girl moved. Since the death of their mother neither Buffy nor Dawn had heard from their father. He had not attended the funeral, and as far as they knew, still did not know of Joyce's death. He certainly didn't know about Buffy's demise seven months earlier and as far as she was concerned, he never would.

"Sweetie…I just got back…my trip, well, I was actually living in Spain, all over Europe really…I just heard…my phone numbers here constantly changed and my secretary didn't even have the right ones very often…" her father said, somehow managing to keep his voice smooth as he stumbled over his attempt at comfort.

"Dad…"

"I'm so sorry to hear about your mother, honey. Are you okay? Dawn? Is Dawn okay? What can I do?" Hank Summers asked his oldest child.

Buffy stared at Dawn, stunned. "Uh…I…nothing, really, dad. We're fine. We've got the house and…my friend Willow lives with us now…"

"Oh, good. You had the sense to take in boarders. That will help with the house payment."

She rolled her eyes. "Well, actually, she's not paying rent…" she began, then decided that wasn't important and moved on. Running a hand through honey-blonde hair she took a breath. "So, dad…what did you need?"

Her father was quiet for a moment. "I just wanted to know how my daughters were doing, Buffy," he said, his tone somewhat hurt.

"We're fine, dad. Really. Dawn's still in school, I'm figuring out what I'm going to do…we're all fine."

"I want to come see you," he said urgently.

Her eyes flew open. Her father, here, was the last thing she wanted right now. "Come here? Why?"

Dawn's eyes matched hers and she violently began shaking her head.

"Because I want to see you two, honey…I need to know that you're all right. And we need to figure out what we're going to do."

"Do?" Buffy asked dumbly. "Do about what?"

"Why, honey…about you and Dawn. We can talk about all this when I get there…how's this weekend? I can take a few days off work, maybe come down Thursday night or Friday…"

A heavy weight settled into Buffy's stomach. "No…don't come here. We're okay, I promise. If we need anything, we'll call."

Hank chuckled. "Don't be ridiculous. I want to see my two favorite girls!"

Where the hell have you been for eight months then? No, scratch that, try the last 6 years, she thought angrily. Pressing a hand to her forehead she closed her eyes tiredly. "No, really dad. How about…how about if I come there? I can leave tomorrow, we can see each other, talk…"

Hank considered. "Well…are you sure? I mean, bring Dawn, of course…unless she can't be pulled from school…but that would really be a lifesaver to me…I can work tomorrow and then some from home on Friday that way…" he trailed off thoughtfully.

Buffy rolled her eyes again. This was typical. "Fine then. I'll come up tomorrow, okay?" Dawn collapsed back on the couch despairingly. Buffy eyed her. "But Dawn has to stay here. Willow and the others will watch her…" Buffy questioned, glancing at the witch, who nodded and smiled. "But you and I can talk," she finished, her tone flat.

Hank smiled on the other end of the phone. "There's my responsible daughter. I knew someday you'd grow up and become a mature woman."

"Yeah…well…I'll see you sometime tomorrow, okay?"

"Sure, sweetie…love you."

"Yeah…" was all Buffy said, and hung up.

"You're going? You're really going to see him?" Dawn asked in disbelief. "Why?"

Buffy sank into a living room chair. "Because it was that or he was coming here. And we don't need him here."

"We haven't needed him in years," Dawn said, echoing her sister's thoughts. "I don't want you to go, Buffy."

Buffy smiled lovingly at her sister. "I don't want to go. But…"

"You have to," Dawn finished. "Just for the weekend, right?"

Buffy nodded. "Will, are you sure you don't mind?" The last time Willow had been responsible for Dawn's well being had ended with a car accident and Dawn's now broken arm.

Willow swallowed hard. "You can trust me, Buffy," the little witch told her best friend. "I promise. I'll keep her under lock and key, no pun intended. And Xander and Anya will be here."

"And Spike," Dawn added helpfully.

Buffy cringed. "No. No Spike. None. He doesn't come near this house," she said so vehemently that both Willow and Dawn exchanged surprised glances.

"Sure…okay…but how come?" Dawn asked hesitantly. "Spike's harmless to us…and he can help keep out any baddies that come around."

"Just…no. Please. I'll have enough to worry about leaving you here and being with dad…promise me," the Slayer insisted.

Willow rose to her feet and crossed to her friend. "Okay, no Spike, Buffy. Promise."

Buffy took a breath and smiled calmly. "Ok. Sorry. I guess dad's phone call just threw me." She stood. "I'd better go get packed."

"When are you leaving?" Dawn asked.

"Right after you leave for school. Might as well get there early, get this over with," Buffy said reluctantly. "I'm sure it'll be a visit to remember…me convincing my father that I'm a responsible adult, capable of taking care of myself and Dawn."

"Are you going to tell him you're the Slayer?" Dawn asked cheerily. "That's what ended up convincing mom, remember?"

Buffy caught eyes with Willow. "I doubt it, Dawnie. It'll just complicate things further," she told her sister, and walked upstairs to her room.

***

Oversleeping meant she didn't leave for LA until early afternoon. Guess even my body's telling me not to go see my dad, she smirked at herself in the rearview mirror. The drive took less than two hours and Buffy made her way to her father's apartment easily despite the afternoon traffic. Using the spare key he had thrust upon her with what he probably thought were sincere insistences that she come visit him "whenever," she opened the door and dropped her bag onto the couch. The apartment hadn't changed much in the two years since she'd last visited him. Same mauve-gray carpeting, same art-deco splatter-paint framed artwork that probably came with the display apartment…same steel gray furniture.

The one thing that had changed, she noticed, was that the room that had once been hers and Dawns for their infrequent visits was now filled with boxes, a computer desk and chair, and several pieces of computer equipment. No bed was in sight.

"Wonderful," she muttered, and walked back out to sit on the couch that would now be her bed.

She hadn't been in LA in two years…not to see her father, anyway. She was in Angel's town now. Not that she had any intention of seeing him while she was here. Two years ago her heart would have been leaping at the thought of being this near to him…of the possibility of being close to him. But a lot had happened in two years. She'd been dead, for one thing. And things really weren't the same since that happened.

No, the complication of seeing Angel was really not something she wished to add to this already dreadful situation. Things in her life were screwed up enough as it was…being a mother to Dawn, dealing with Giles' departure, Willow's addiction and withdrawal from magic…and Spike. The only thing in her existence right now that invoked even a single emotion from her…My worst enemy.

And your lover, a part of her whispered.

Shut up, she told that part. He's not my lover. He was…he was a one-night stand. A mistake. A bad decision. I'm twenty years old. I'm supposed to make mistakes right now. I can't know everything.

You know enough to know you just wanted to get off for a night.

I said shut up! She pushed off the couch and began to pace angrily. So she'd slept with Spike. A couple times. But all in one night! she defended herself to herself.

And what did you get out of it? Do you feel alive again? Did all those human emotions come rushing back? the voice taunted.

Buffy sighed. They hadn't but for a brief second. As soon as she was released from his arms…as soon as her quaking body had calmed…she returned to where she was now. Dead inside.

This isn't real, but I just want to feee-eeel, the voice sing-songed to her.

Buffy growled. I am never going to get those songs out of my head, am I? she asked, punctuating her frustrations by punching a throw pillow.

The voice laughed at her.

"Screw this, I'm leaving," she hissed, grabbing her bag and slinging it over her shoulder. She'd go to the pier, wander around in the open-air market that she used to love so much as a kid. The ocean would calm her, she was sure of it. Checking to make sure she had both money and a stake with her, she scrawled a note to her father, muttering to herself that he hadn't done her the same consideration, and walked out of the apartment into the afternoon sun.

***

The market did little to ease her after all, but she continued to walk around, determined. She would be in a better mood, damn it. She would see something that would spark a smile from her. Lighten her heart a bit. Cause it to beat, maybe?

Jesus, she laughed to herself. Could I be any more morbid? Here I am, in one of the prettiest areas of this town. The sun's shining, the ocean breeze is blowing in my hair, kids are laughing…and I don't care about any of it…that thought registered with her and brought tears to her eyes.

I can get worked up about exactly two things: the fact that I *can't* feel and a bottle-blonde evil vampire. It's official, I'm the most pathetic person ever.

She plastered a content look on her face and continued to stroll, feigning interest in the items the street vendors had for sale, until she reached the end of the pier. Sitting on one of the faded green benches she watched sailboats drifting by, listened to the gulls call to each other, and wiped at the tears that continued to stream down her face.

***

"Step forward." The voice came from out of no where, darkness filled the room adjacent to a section of the Los Angeles sewers.

The vampire, able to see clearly in the blackness, walked into the room. A match was struck and a candle lit, casting an even eerier glow to the room.

"She's on her way, Master," the vampire whispered. "Our sources are following her, limited, of course, because of the daylight, but they're tracking her nonetheless."

His companion leaned forward to blow out eyes glimmering. "Excellent. When will she arrive?"

"Tonight, sir. In just a few hours. She's going to visit her father for the weekend, leaving her sister and her friends at the house in Sunnydale."

"They are nothing."

"But sir…"

"They are of no concern to us," his Master snapped. "The Slayer is all that matters. Go, watch her. We will approach her tonight."

The vampire nodded and disappeared into the shadows.

***

The sun set and still she sat on the bench, her tears long dried but her heart still dead in her chest. It beat…but it didn't feel. Her brain continued to process thoughts, but it didn't react.

Something in her head clicked when the ocean air brought a chill over her arms and she wrapped them around her body for warmth. Time to go. Pushing off the bench she walked down the pier, noting how the crowds had thickened since night fell. Slowly making her way back to her father's apartment she tried to concentrate on what she would say to him when she arrived, if he was even home.

It didn't take her long to discover that he was. Her heart sank just a little when she slipped her key into the lock, opened the door, and was greeted with the sounds of laughter as her father chatted on the phone. He waved to her and pointed to the phone, indicating he'd be a minute. Buffy nodded and shrugged out of her shawl, setting her bag on the kitchen counter.

"Ok Jim, right. Tomorrow morning, 8am, 18 holes. You got it. Uh huh….Uh huh. Sure thing. See you then." He hung up the phone and crossed to Buffy, enveloping her in a warm hug. "Honey, how are you? Sorry I wasn't here when you arrived…work--you know how it is. I've got this merger going through right now and the other company's trying to weasel out of some of our requirements…well, you don't want to hear about that."

Buffy pushed back from her father and gave him a hesitant smile. "Hi, dad."

"What time did you get in?" her father beamed.

"Uh…about three hour ago, I guess. I just went down to the pier for a while."

He smiled at her again. "That's my Buffy…always up for shopping."

She didn't bother to point out her lack of bags, or funds, for that matter, and sat on one of the barstools that flanked her father's kitchen table. "So…did you want to talk?" she asked reluctantly.

He gave her a knowing smile. "Not here…I'm taking my beautiful oldest child out to dinner! What sounds good? Want Frederics? I know it was your favorite…"

She shrugged. "That's fine…if you want…"

"Great. We can talk there, have some pesto…maybe a little wine?" he continued, turning away from her and rifling through his mail.

Buffy glared at his back. "I'm not old enough to drink yet, dad."

Hank turned. "Hmm? Oh, no, of course not. How stupid of me…of course I know you're twenty, not twenty-one…but soon…just a few more weeks, right?"

Buffy nodded as her father turned from her once again. She'd thought this was going to be a long weekend. Now she was wondering if she'd get through the night.

***

"You're so wrong, I can't believe we're even still discussing this."

"Wrong? I don't think so."

"You're wrong about that, too."

"You're impossible! I am not having this discussion with you."

"Don't walk away from me! Come here and defend yourself!"

Cordelia whipped around to face Gunn who was trying to stand as imposingly as possible over the slender brunette. She stabbed a finger in the air. "I don't have to prove myself to you."

"Wrong, wrong, wrong!" Gunn grinned back at her. "This is a matter of honor, now, chickie."

Cordy sighed. "Fine." Straightening up to her full height she took a breath. "It goes…'Oh I wish I were an Oscar-Mayer Wiener, that is what I'd truly like to be. 'Cause if I were an Oscar-Mayer Wiener, everyone would be in love with me," she sang. She smiled triumphantly. "Told you I knew it."

Gunn's grinned widened. "Knew I could get you to do it."

Cordelia's eyes flew open and she ran at Gunn, screaming. "I hate you! Oh my God!!" She chased him around the counter of the Hyperion, bursting through the door of Wesley's office where their boss stood, talking on the phone to the namesake of their company, and examining some artifacts they had found when working on their most recent case.

"I'm going to kill you!" Cordelia shrieked, swiping at Gunn, who nimbly danced out of her reach.

"You gotta catch me first!" he called, ducking behind Wesley's desk.

Cordelia let out a strangled sound and grabbed at him again over the desk, knocking a statue off that Wesley was able to catch at the last second.

"Excuse me!" Wesley shouted. "These are artifacts from the C'hol dig that date back to the early 600's, I would appreciate it if Romper Room could take place at least fifty feet away from anything resembling old, spiritual and/or ancient!"

Cordelia and Gunn exchanged glances and hung their heads. "We're sorry," Gunn mumbled, moving around the desk. With a grin he flicked Cordelia on her ear and took off running, the seer screeching and running after him.

Angel sighed and laughed over the phone to Wesley. "Just when you think they've grown up…"

Wesley glowered and went back to studying the medallion in his hand. "The inscription on the medallion appears to be instructions…for what I'm not sure."

"A spell maybe?" Angel guessed.

Wesley shrugged and squinted. "Perhaps…but judging from the markings here…" he pointed to a section of the small medal when a crash sounded from the other room. He sighed. "I knew one of them would get hurt with their antics," Wesley chided when suddenly Gunn shouted.

"Wesley! Vision!"

The Englishman rounded the desk quickly, taking the cordless phone with him. "Cordelia's having a vision, Angel," he told the vampire as he entered the grand lobby to find her on the ground, her head cradled in Gunn's lap. Fred was coming down the stairs, Connor in her arms.

Gunn slid to the floor beside his friend. "Cordy, Cordy…what do you see?"

"What's going on?" Angel shouted into the phone, so loud that all four of them could hear.

Cordelia opened her eyes and sat up. "I'm fine, by the way. Oh…God. That one hurt! Gimme a break once in a while!" she shouted to the ceiling.

"Shhh!" Fred hissed, indicating the baby in her arms.

"Here, help her up," Wesley instructed. "She's okay, Angel," he said into the phone.

The men lifted her to her feet and sat her on the couch. "You alright, Cordy?" Gunn asked sincerely.

She raised her eyes to his, wincing at the pain, but nodded. "Yeah…uh…I saw a couple demons, nothing I've ever seen before, and a whole bunch of vampires. Near Penhurst and McConlin."

"Got it," Angel said into the phone.

"No, Angel, wait…" Wesley said, but it was too late.

Gunn cocked an eyebrow. "He just hung up? What's with him lately?"

"Call him back! I didn't tell you the most important part! They were attacking someone!" Cordelia cried, scrambling to her feet and grabbing the phone from Wesley's hand.

"Why?" Fred asked, juggling Connor and a bottle at the same time.

"Not why, who," Cordy stressed as she dialed.

"So it's who they're attacking that we need to be worried about?" Gunn asked.

Cordelia glanced at him and nodded, then cursed and dialed the phone again. Slamming it shut a moment later she looked up at her friends. "We've got trouble."

***

Dinner with her father was as excruciating as she'd expected, though Buffy thought that the lobster ravioli helped ease her pain just a bit. The restaurant had been her favorite when she'd lived in LA. In fact, the last time she'd been there was for her fourteenth birthday, and right about the time the arguing had started between her parents. It had started out as light banter over what appetizer to order and had somehow wound up with a whispered-shouting match over what college Buffy would attend someday and whether or not Hank had always wanted Joyce to lose five pounds. In the end Buffy and Dawn had ended up sitting in the fancy powder room outside the women's restroom, braiding each other's hair. It had taken a full twenty minutes before either parent had noticed they were gone. Such lovely memories, she sighed to herself and returned her concentration to her father and what he was saying.

"…you can finish school up here and Dawn will go to Hemery, just like you did, or would have. Now the tricky part will be waiting until June…I don't want to transfer her this late in the year, so we'll have to work up some sort of living arrangements…maybe a live-in housekeeper or someone who can take care of things for you. You know, like bills, groceries, that sort of thing," her father was saying when Buffy rejoined the conversation.

"I'm sorry…huh?" she asked dumbly.

Hank squinted at her. "When you move in with me. I'll have to get a bigger apartment, of course, and I do have another nine months on this lease, so you and Dawn will have to share a room for a bit. Boy, that'll be a treat, won't it?" he chuckled.

"Move in with you?" Buffy stared at him, fork still raised, ready to spear a ravioli bite.

"I hate to break the lease, they charge you so outrageously when you do that, so for a few months we'll be snug as bugs, but that's okay, it'll give us a chance to really get to know each other again. Though I imagine you might want to live in the dorms again, do you think? I know how you girls can be with your independence," he grinned at her.

"But dad--"

"And with the money we'll get from the sale of the house, that will certainly help with expenses for college for you, and eventually for Dawn. I doubt your mother had the good sense to set up a portfolio or anything like that for herself."

"Dad…you want me and Dawn to move in with you?"

Now Hank stared at her. "Well, honey, of course. I can't just leave you, in charge of your fifteen-year-old sister, in Sunnydale."

"Why not? I've been doing it for months now. Almost a year. And mom had some money, she wasn't stupid," Buffy snipped.

Hank smiled at her like she was a simpleton. "Well, honey, what kind of father would I be if I just ignored you?"

Buffy swallowed, closing her eyes, and slowly lowered the fork and sat it on the table so as not to be enticed to use it as a weapon. "Dad…you haven't exactly been around these last, oh, five or six years."

His eyes flickered but the smile never wavered. "Buffy, things have been different for us. Your mother was awarded custody of you and Dawn, and you moved to Sunnydale. I had my career here. It was impossible for me to see you as much as we both wanted, you know all this."

Buffy sighed, her temper rising. "So what happened? For that first year I saw you pretty regularly. Then the cancellations started, the worst one being on my birthday. And you never see Dawn. You've been so out of contact with us that you didn't even know that mom died."

"Buffy…" he warned but she kept going.

Buffy slammed her napkin down on the table, jostling the place settings. "No! You disappear for months while I deal with my mother dying and saving the world on a daily basis and trying to get back into the swing of even living again and you just swoop in down here and want to take over? I don't think so! Dawn and I have a good life in Sunnydale. We've got friends and responsibilities there. We've got a life there. And Dawn won't like living in LA--neither will I! Our best memories aren't exactly of this town, you know. All Dawn remembers are arguments and fighting between you and mom. And she barely even knows you. I won't let you take her out of there," she rambled, feeling herself begin to unravel.

Her father stared at her blankly, then glance around, embarrassed. "Lower your voice!" he whispered. "What are you talking about? Saving the world? Honey, I think you're under some stress. I'm worried about you. You don't look good."

Buffy's eyes widened at her father's gall. "Dad, I'm telling you. Dawn and I are fine. We don't need to move to LA. We're handling things. There were some bills, some problems in the beginning, but we've got it under control."

"So, are you going to get a job them? Rear your sister on your own? Sweetheart, I'm your father, I want to be involved in your lives. And do you really think you're responsible enough for parenting?"

"Dawn's fifteen! Who better to understand her than her twenty, almost twenty-one, year-old sister?" Buffy cried, causing several people to turn around and look in their direction. "And as for responsible, God!" she gave out a maniacal laugh, "I'm the Slayer. I've been killing demons since I was her age…I died to save the world! Twice! How much more responsible can you get?"

Her father put his hand on hers. "Buffy, please, calm down. You're talking crazy. Lower your voice, people are staring."

"I don't care!" she cried, pushing back from him and the table. "I don't care. You're not taking Dawn, you're not making us move. We're staying in Sunnydale. Don't cross me on this, dad," she warned, her voice low and dangerous now. With that she stomped away from the table, angrily throwing her wrap around her shoulders.

She trounced outside and onto the street, making a sharp right and heading into the night. Her father followed her out a few minutes later, practically running down the street. "Buffy! Buffy Anne Summers! Stop right now!" he shouted to her.

She whirled on him. "Don't. Don't even use the full name on me like you're my father. My father? He's in England. The only man who ever loved me for who I am, who I really am. He accepted me. He trained me, cared for me, hugged me, gave me advice. I was never inconvenient to him."

She turned again, only to be grabbed by the arm and pulled back. "Buffy, you're talking crazy. Who's this person? What are you talking about with saving the world and dying? Honey, I know your mother's gone, so it feels like you died, but you're right here, with me. And I'm your father…I'm not in England. I'm right here…" her father said.

Buffy blinked for a moment, stepping back to look at Hank Summers fully. Then she burst into giggles before turning around and walking up the street.