Chapter 26: Choosing a Direction

Lindsey looked at his paper strewn desk trying to figure out what was missing. A knock drew his attention away.

"I heard they gave you the Stephens case." Ian grinned. "I bet Lila's jealous."

For some reason, Lindsey's coworkers seemed extra friendly lately. While remaining wary, he tried to go with it. He smiled. "Being entrusted with something this big is a way to prove yourself; it's also a way to get yourself fired."

Ian leaned in and whispered, "Or worse."

Lindsey chuckled. "I'm looking forward to the challenge, and everyone else is hoping I'll get skinned alive."

"That's a reason to celebrate if I ever heard one." He clapped his hands. "First round on me."

"Thanks but I think I'm just going to head home." He started collecting the papers together. "Maybe grab a cup of coffee somewhere."

"At nine o' clock at night?"

He slipped the folders into his briefcase. "I'm in the mood for something different - or familiar. I don't know."

"Well, I do. Good days deserve bad hangovers." He set down his brief case to slip on his coat. "Come on, you have nothing to go home to except more work. You can be boring after they fire you."

Lindsey smirked, "Or worse."

"Come on Mr. Bigshot. This is what the single life is all about. One day you have it all, and the next, wonder where it went." As they left his office, Ian slapped his back. "So, we are celebrating because tonight, it's all good."

Lindsey suppressed his disappointment at having his plans squashed. He could wander the city for a cup of coffee any time.

This, however, was a valuable opportunity to cultivate better work connections. He good naturedly let his coworker pull him along. "I don't really have a choice to I?"

Ian just laughed.

Sighing, Buffy unplugged her laptop. "Okay, I'm done here, now unless you need anything else, I'm gonna jet."

"You know, even if the Lilly thing counted as a case, you've already worked off your debt like 3 times over. Pretty soon the guys are going to going to get guilt attacks again over your meager pay." Cordelia pushed her chair back to look at Wes. "Why don't guys ever feel guilt over my pay check?"

Purposefully ignoring her, Wes glanced at the clock. "This is a proper hour for departure. Of course, you have places to be, people to meet perhaps?"

She scrunched up her face. "Like a date? I'll let Cordy handle that department."

"Thank you." Cordelia huffed as she finished painting her nails.

Shaking her head, Buffy grinned. "I promised to meet Gunn for patrol tonight."

"Anything we should be concerned about?"

Cordy put her polish aside. "Please say no."

"No." Buffy smiled as Cordelia slumped back in relief. "There's just this vamp gang that decided to crash a few blocks from the shelter. I could handle it myself, but Gunn's guys found it first and called dibs. They're only letting me come along if I promise to leave them some vamps."

Wesley coughed. "They certainly are a spirited group."

"Spirited, reckless . . ."

"Too young for dating material," Cordy added thus making Wesley blush and cough again.

"Indeed, well, I hope you will be safe at least."

Buffy tilted her head. "There's a safe way to take out vamps? Cuz I certainly haven't found it."

Seeing him scrounge for reply, she saved him the trouble. "No worries, Wes. I'm full of caution."

"When the big guy gets back from patrol, we'll let him know you left at a 'proper hour.' Then, he can start feeling bad about my starving salary."

Wesley scowled at her primping. "I'm sure he regrets giving you one at all."

"Night guys." Buffy walked out of the office with a smile on her face. It faded soon after leaving.

Her melancholy had a simple source: she missed Lindsey.

She missed calling him to say when she'd be home. She missed making messy meals with him and chatting about their boring days. Most of all, she missed getting home at proper hours and curling up beside him to whisper a playful, "Honey I'm home."

That life was now lost to her. Walking to meet her patrol group confirmed that.

Depressed Buffy needed her nightly dose of coffee. Caffeine could jitter her memories out of focus. She liked them better fuzzy.

As she entered her old diner, she casually scanned it for familiar faces. Seeing none of her kids working the night shift, she took a seat at the counter and ordered coffee to go.

"Anne! How you been?"

She smiled at her old boss. "Getting along."

"I never see Lindsey around here anymore. He doing okay too?"

Not having a good answer, she blew out a big breath. "Work has kinda taken him over lately. I don't see much of him either these days."

Clyde leaned over and patted her hand with a smile. "I'm sure he'll come back to you. Just give him some time to remember what's important to him."

In moments like this, he reminded her of Giles. She guessed it was the eyes. "I don't think time is up to this challenge."

"Sometimes a man has to take a few steps back before he realizes he moved forward for a reason."

She watched as he poured her cup of coffee."And if what he left behind isn't ready to let him go?"

"When he's ready, he'll figure something out. Your Mr. is up to the challenge."

She placed some bills in his scruffy hands. "Thanks Clyde."

"You should sit down for real next time, have some cobbler. Staff likes to see you around here."

She left with a sad smile. The truth was she liked being around here. It was the one place where the life she wanted still seemed possible

They used to split Clyde's greasiest sandwiches here and read the paper together - well, he read while she people watched. That was their Sunday lunch tradition, her and Lindsey's. They'd talk about her kids, the people bugging him at work, and the pros and cons of getting a dog.

The staff weighed in on most of the topics with new hires quickly becoming new friends.

It was a good life, and if it had continued, it would have been a life with a Newfoundland. With the help of staff and new baby, Lindsey eventually won the dog argument. He had his eyes on a particular girl puppy. He explained his choice by saying it would keep the boys from outnumbering her.

After things changed, one of her the first calls had been to the breeder. She let him know they wouldn't be picking up the puppy after all. He assured her little Charlotte would find a good home.

Just remembering the call made her eyes water. She growled at herself, This is pathetic. After everyone you've lost, you're seriously going to cry over giving back a puppy?

She wiped her eyes angrily and took a big gulp of coffee.

"Hey, you okay?"

Seeing Sunny eye her massive cup, she felt relief that that's what drew his concern. "It's just been a lot of late nights lately."

"You know, you don't have to come along tonight. We haven't gotten worse or anything."

She smiled encouragingly. "You guys are getting better."

"That why you've been doggin' our patrols?"

She took another big gulp and decided to just go with the truth this time. "When I'm not helping out somehow, I seriously wonder what I'm still doing here. I mean, let's face it: my life is over. Lindsey and I are done and the same goes for my anonymity. Exactly what else am I supposed to be doing with my time?"

He stayed silent as he searched for a solution. Finding one, he gave a nod of satisfaction. "When junior gets out, he'll keep you occupied."

Unable to disagree, she looked up with a gleam in her eye. "I promise not to purge the city of evil before then."

She noticed his weak smile. "Hey, are you okay?" She held her cup. "Want some coffee? The mocha part makes it only semi-girly."

He shook his head keeping his eyes on the sidewalk. "I'm not tired, it's just we have another stop to make on our way back."

Her hands dropped to her sides. "Don't tell me."

"Lilly has the details. She's meeting us there."

She took one last big gulp of coffee. "Did they call?"

"Two of them did."

Hurling the cup into a trash can, she surmised, "None for me."

He lengthened his stride to keep up with her increasing pace. "It's a phase. It will pass."

She shook her head. "I hate predicting the bad things. Can't adolescents be just a little more unpredictable?"

He smiled at her comment. When she was annoyed, she said the silliest things. It was the one bright side to delivering this kind of news.

Across town, one adolescent was doing what Buffy said she wanted: being unpredictable. Stepping off the bus, the girl shifted her duffel took in her first L.A. breath.

She smelled dirty air, dirty streets, and even dirtier people. Smiling, she concluded it was just the place for her.

Glancing around, she tried where to decide where to go first. A fellow passenger stopped beside her grabbing his bag from below. "You wear the lost look well. Can I help you get where you're going?"

She shook her head but grinned. "I'm five by five."