EASE S. J. Smith (laughnfx@yahoo.com)

Summary: Sharon Jane tries her hand at another songfic.

Distribution: FF.net (if it ever comes back up). Land of Denial, Adult B/A. Want it? Let me know, I'm sure we can work something out.

Disclaimer: Much as I might want to be, I'm not Joss or part of his team.

Dedication: To Flippy, for sending me the soundtrack in the first place and copying me the lyrics when I whined.

AN: The song used for this story is "Call Me, Call Me" by Tim Jensen, from the "Cowboy Bebop: Blue" soundtrack. What can I say, I love Japanime soundtracks and this one actually had people singing in English! Whoo-hoo!

Thanks again: To D. M. Evans, for all da' readin'.

* * * * * *

Sunlight beamed down over the city like a benediction. The light shone gently, illuminating all that had been dark. Its warmth crept along the roads and paths, over houses and through parks, past cemeteries and playgrounds, finally seeming to stop, resting before moving farther, past that final battleground.

The earth itself was torn here, a great, gaping wound sunk far into the soil. It was here that the last battle was fought; in truth, that all battles since the Master first attempted to escape his prison had been waged. It was here that the mouth of Hell could be opened and here that the Slayer was sent. And finally, on this field, all manner of demons were forced back, all magics sucked away, a great barrier erected with the blood spilled from the warriors on the side of human life.

It was here that a small band crawled forth, the Warrior, wounds criss- crossing her body, right eye swollen closed, cradling one arm carefully in the other; the Witch, almost as terribly banged up, limping badly, with an arm slung around the Jester, who for once, had no jokes nor japes to offer up, only quiet thankfulness that he and his got out of this one alive. The Key staggered behind, using a sword as a walking stick, helped by the Watcher, missing his glasses, a cut smearing blood across his face. Two more trailed the rest, the Unwilling, who stared at the sun that didn't burn for the first time since he'd risen from his grave and the Vengeful, commenting that she was surprised that the world hadn't ended.

But that was days past, days in which they were surprised and yet, somehow not that surprised, that their actions hadn't been noticed, that the world went on without any accolades, without congratulations offered them. And one by one, they returned to their other lives, the Jester to his construction, the Witch and the Key to their classes, the Watcher, amidst many tears, flew away to his own land. The Vengeful and the Unwilling, no longer demons, since all demons had been banished with the final confrontation, carefully began building human lives, tentatively reaching out to this brave new world.

And the Slayer was left to her thoughts. No longer a Warrior in a never- ending battle, because, hey, she'd won; she had to decide what to do with her life. She'd been floating since high school, sometimes through rapids rather than gently moving streams but floating nonetheless. And now, it was time to stop floating, time to make decisions.

Time to decide what to do with her life.

One of the ex-demons, the one she had once taken as a.not a lover, though she wasn't quite sure what to term the relationship they'd had, only that it had reached a semi-amicable stalemate, slurped down tea the way he once had blood at the breakfast nook in her kitchen and complained about needing to find a job, needing work.

"What are you gonna do now, pet?" Spike asked, waving the mug at her, somehow managing not to spill his tea all over the countertop.

She smiled slightly, shrugged; folded her arms. "I don't know."

"Well, you're a sight better than fast food," Spike said before swallowing another gulp of tea. "You oughtta go out, find a good job." He kicked his heavy boots, carefully avoiding contact of the toes, which would blacken the white paint, with any of the fixtures. "Maybe try L.A. No Hellmouth, no Slayer needed to guard it."

"I know," Buffy sighed. "There's nothing really in Sunnydale.well, besides Dawn. I don't want to move her." She mulled over the idea that had been planted by Giles, his offer for both her and Dawn to come to England. Willow and Xander were included in the invitation as well. Willow thought a trip 'across the pond' would be good for her; she thought her parents could be counted on for the money. Xander had some saved up as well, enough, more than enough. None of them had really made any decisions, nothing hard and fast, just.long, easy discussions about what it might be like to see Giles in his natural element. And, of course, the sudden flurry of buying passports and checking what medical records might be needed to enter the British Isles.

"Well, then," Spike said, peering into his mug as if he weren't sure if he should pour in something a little stouter than English Breakfast. He cradled the cup in his large hands and peered at her. "It comes down to one thing. What is it you want?"

After that final battle, she'd slept nearly twenty-four hours. Since she'd woken from her sleep to rival the dead, she'd been thinking. What did she really want? She wasn't a Slayer anymore. What could she do? Her skills weren't many; how do you put "Saved the World a Lot" on a resume? She might be able to become the female Jackie Chan but that would mean Hollywood and she didn't think she had that type of personality. Bodyguard? Law enforcement? Martial arts trainer? Buffy had grown used to an active life, a double life, and having only one brought home a single fact: She wasn't really as good with the real world as she thought she was. Oh, she could manage in a superficial way. But she'd always had that buffer of being the Slayer. That was her real job, even more than being a sister or a daughter or a best friend. Now what was she?

She found herself walking around the house when no one else was there, staring out of sun brightened windows and pacing on. She'd catch herself gazing into mirrors at her reflection, almost wondering who that woman was looking back. She'd see things in the image and wonder at them, things that didn't exist anymore. Sometimes she wondered if they ever had.

The past was the past. Buffy knew that. But when she closed her eyes, when she dreamed, it seemed close enough to touch. And when she woke she had to remember where she was, when she was.

Who she was.

And she wasn't sure of that one any more.

//I close my eyes and I keep seeing things Rainbow waterfalls Sunny liquid dreams//

Sometimes, she'd see the telephone and hesitate, picking it up, nearly dialing numbers. The thought would come, almost unbidden, that maybe she needed to talk to him. She understood, deep inside, that if he hadn't survived the battle, whatever form of it he'd had to fight, she'd know. But doubts always crept in. Would they call, if they needed her? If he'd needed her? Surely, surely they would.

But maybe.maybe he didn't need her any more.

She'd heard rumors, strange things, filtered through from the vampire and demon grapevine. Once Willie had offered her his condolences on something that hadn't made sense, that he was sorry Angel was missing. But he wasn't missing, he was in Los Angeles. If she'd not been busy with something else, always something else, the end of the world, most likely, she'd have called. But time slipped away, until now, when all she had was time.

But was that enough?

//Confusion creeps inside me raising doubt Gotta get to you But I don't know how//

In another world, or might as well be one, the strange, rarified place known as Los Angeles, other debates went on. A short time ago, there had been a minor earthquake. Very little of the city was actually damaged though people still brought it up and how odd it had been. Newscasters and reporters still joked about the claims of some of the city's inhabitants and their beliefs that they had seen strange things that Tuesday night, two weeks ago. Dragons? Surely not. UFOs, more like. Sure. Swamp gas? In L.A.? Ha. Giants? Huge blue people, creatures wearing uniforms like Nazi storm troopers? A man, dressed in a long black jacket like a cape, wielding an axe like Paul Bunyon kept appearing in the stories, maybe it all had something to do with him? But no one seemed to be able to find him. But the stories grew, until it seemed he and his merry band (for certainly, there had to be a merry band, didn't there?) were all over the city, often at more than one place at the same time, doing impossibilities. The mayor's constituents were heard to joke amongst themselves it was a good thing that Mr. Black-Coat Hero couldn't be found, since it was an election year.

But in the courtyard of a glorious, run-down hotel, a man sat in the sunlight, in awe that the light didn't send him into flames. His friends stared at him from inside the lobby, through the glass doors, wondering at his wonderment. One, a brunette who'd recently gotten fed up with her blonde look and returned to her natural color, crossed her arms and made an exasperated noise deep in her throat. "Look at him," she said, throwing out her hands as if anyone couldn't guess who she spoke about. "He's going to get a sunburn. I told him about sun block, but nooo, he knows best."

"It is rather overwhelming, though. Only imagine, to have finally granted the one last thing you'd hoped for, the one thing that perhaps you'd put aside in belief that you'd never truly be worthy?" The ex-Watcher shoved a pair of glasses up his nose. "Better silent contemplation than the other."

"And that other would be?" the one-time street punk asked, leaning on the counter. "Cause Angel contemplating his belly button for the next five years is gonna get really boring."

"Better this than being driven mad," Wesley said, with quiet authority.

"Oh, please," Cordelia said. She rolled her eyes. "He's human. His son is back on speaking terms with him. What else could he possibly want?"

Fred cut in with her familiar good cheer. "We could ask him."

The other three turned to her, each with varying degrees of dismay on their faces. "Oh, no, we need to let him have his space," Wesley said.

"Besides, we know what he'd answer," Cordelia ran right over the end of Wesley's sentence.

"Do we? I mean, yeah, we do," Gunn tagged on the end.

"We do?" Fred cocked her head in that fetching way she had. "What does he want?"

"Well," Cordelia said, taking on her role of best friend and authority on Angel, "he's got it. He's got us, his family," she swept her hand at each of them, "and Connor, and still has his business, which ought to pick up, now that there won't be any more supernatural weirdness going on." She gave a delicate shudder, not missing that much at all, except for, well, her powers had been so cool, but being human was better than any of that.

"But can he cope without the supernatural weirdness? He's been a vampire way longer than he was ever a human," Gunn said.

"Oh, I think he'll settle in nicely, we just have to give him time," Cordelia said. She glanced at the watch on her wrist. "And I think we've given it to him. Time to drag in Fish Belly White before he turns into Lobster Boy." But even as she stomped out into the courtyard to collect Angel, former vampire-with-a-soul and now guy-without-a-last-name, she wondered if she was right. Had he spent too much time as a vampire? Could he deal with being human? She'd been human a lot longer than she'd been a half-demon, after all; returning to fully human wasn't that much of a stretch for her. Not having to fight off supernatural weirdness wouldn't be a bad thing; Gunn and Fred were talking about a trip to Texas to see her parents. Wesley was making plans, she knew. But Angel had a freaky life, one that very few people would actually understand.

"Come on, buddy," she said, wandering up behind him, still surprised she could sneak up on him and not have him hear her. He'd always heard her before that final battle, before he'd been turned human. Now, he was just like everyone else. "Time to get out of the sun before you turn into bacon."

He turned his ghostly face to her and gave her a faint smile. "Okay, mom," he said, getting to his feet. Human, he didn't have the same grace he'd had as a vampire; he moved more like a man now, less like a hunting.thing. Still, Cordy had to admit, he still moved with a fluid ease that very few humans could mirror.

She swatted his shoulder. "I'm nowhere near old enough to be your mother," she said, marveling at the heat that rose from his skin, a sensation she wasn't sure she'd ever become accustomed to.

He caught her hand before she could remove it, his reflexes still justhatfast and rubbed his warm thumb across her palm. "Cordelia," he said, his expression not changing, remaining in that familiar, carved-in- stone-if-I-crack-a-smile-it-might-shatter, intense way. "If you wished for everything in the world you wanted and it was all given to you, what would you want then?"

She stared up into his eyes, finally breaking the gaze to look over her shoulder at the doorway into the lobby. Her friends, his friends, their friends watched behind the glass, Wes and Fred and Gunn and she smiled and curled her fingers around his and squeezed them gently. "I've got it, Angel," she said, turning back to him. "And now, so do you."

The barest of frowns marred his forehead but he nodded and let her hand go. When he said nothing more, she slid her hand through his arm and led him back towards the lobby. "Come on, before you really do burn. Trust me, it won't be anything like being staked through the heart. It'll last a lot longer."

Angel allowed himself to be welcomed back into the group, let them make plans he could agree with, listened to their decisions and their concerns and for now, let them steer his rudderless life. But a part of him knew he could only relax this way so long and that part was already starting to get restless. And at the end of the day when his friends left him, when all immediate ties were severed, his impatience grew. He'd pace through the hotel at night, his feet still unerringly avoiding the bad spots in the floor, the ghosts in his head not laid to rest. Echoes came to him from long ago, from another lifetime and he'd wonder.

What did he want?

And the answer always came back, you have everything.

But he'd find himself next to a telephone and curl his hands to keep from picking up the receiver and dialing a number that still burned in his mind.

// Call me, call me Let me know it's all right Call me, call me Don't you think it's 'bout time Please won't you call and

Ease my mind Reasons for me to find you Peace of mind What can I do To get me to you//

Surely, if something were wrong, someone would have called, Angel would tell himself; surely she didn't die (again). The world didn't end, so she couldn't have. She was the Slayer, the last one who would ever be called. She would be the one famous in the Watcher history for vanquishing the demons in the final battle. And he had to content himself with the fact that once he knew her and once he'd loved her. But that was a long time ago. She'd had boyfriends since him; he'd even heard rumors that she'd taken on another vampire as a lover (couldn't be true, could it?), one who'd given up on evil. He hadn't even heard those whispers in a long time.

He shouldn't try to wedge himself back into her life, not even make contact, should he? Even if his heart now pounded her name in its rhythmic beats, she'd moved on. He'd moved on. Even if now, when he lay down to sleep, he'd catch her sweet scent on the air, feel her head pillowing on his shoulder, hear her voice saying softly, "I don't want to sleep. I want this day to go on and on."

Still, he could remember the last time they'd seen each other, after she'd returned from the dead. The agreement they made to contact each other only in emergencies. And they'd stuck to it, even up through the last battle. He'd not spoken to her though he expected Wesley and Giles had exchanged information and wishes of luck. Or maybe Willow had emailed Cordy.

Where once there had been love between himself and Buffy, they'd learned to excise each other completely from their lives.

But now, now their reasons for being separate weren't there any longer. Unfortunately, a habit long enforced is the hardest to break. He had no emergency, because being given life, that wasn't an emergency, was it? It was a gift, and therefore, he had no reason to call.

Except for the most important one.

// I had your number quite some time ago Back when we were one But I had to grow

Ten thousand years I've searched it seems and now Gotta get to you Won't you tell me how//

He had his family, he had his son, even if Connor had elected to not stay in L.A. and had left after the battle to seek out his own fortune. He had more than many men did and still, he found himself wanting more. Angel wanted one last thing then maybe, finally, all ghosts would be laid to rest.

He wanted to hear her voice. He wanted to say her name without knowing that someone was rolling her eyes; that someone wasn't coughing into his hand. He wanted to make sure she was fine and then he could go on with his life. He could learn to be the man his friends seemed to think he was, when in fact, he wasn't sure who or what he was any more. Angel knew it was a lot to expect from a phone call. Too much, really. But it kept haunting him, the thought that he should talk to her. That she should talk to him. That they should maybe do the talking thing even if it led to nothing more, just to put a final closure on all of it.

But the longer he delayed making that call, the harder it was to make. What would he say? "Hey, Buffy, glad you survived, I did, too. Yeah, it was bad here, too. By the way, I'm human now. Thanks, yeah, it's great. Okay, I've gotta go, too. We'll talk another time." Would they finally say goodbye, the word that they'd managed to avoid through everything? Or would it open communications again?

Angel laughed to himself at that thought, 'open communications', like they were two superpowers trying to make peaceful contact. But it all boiled down to that, didn't it? They had been at the top of their game and they'd survived. How many got to say that? His fingers coiled compulsively around the receiver and he yanked it up with more force than necessary, staring at it as it buzzed gently in his hand, waiting for him to punch in the numbers.

//Call me, call me Let me know you are there Call me, call me, I wanna know you still care//


She should be outside, running around in cemeteries, fighting vampires or demons, not stuck at home. Still, it was pleasant here, with her friends and sister crowded around, a bowl of popcorn in her lap, Xander's arm draped around her shoulders, Willow's feet in his lap, Dawn sprawled on the floor in front of the television set, "Dirty Dancing" on the screen.

"I don't get it," Xander was saying, "I've got the moves of Patrick Swayze and no woman's ever asked me to teach her to dance."

"You mean the moves of Snoopy," Willow said, drumming her feet gently on his thigh.

"You mock me, woman?" Xander said, his voice thundering, grabbing a handful of popcorn out of the bowl and flinging it at the redhead, who shrieked in mock terror. "For that you must face the wrath of Xander, he who cows vampires and demons! He who faced a hellgod! He who raised the Slayer from the dead!"

"He who shuts up!" Dawn yelled from the floor, "this is the good part!"

"Oh, fine, spoil my fun, Dawnster," Xander said, throwing another handful of popcorn at the girl so it landed in her hair like buttery snowflakes.

She shrieked in return and leaped off the floor, diving onto the couch on top of the Xander. Buffy lifted the popcorn out of the way, sliding out of harm's reach as Willow did the same on her end of the couch. "I think I'm for a drink," Buffy announced to the Dawn/Xander war.

"Me, too," Willow said, slithering out of Xander's reach. "No screaming for help and try not to break anything."

"Wait! Mercy!" Xander howled as Dawn managed to get her fingers on his ribs and started tickling.

The two women smirked at each other and the scene before them and sauntered into the kitchen. Whoops of laughter followed them as Buffy opened the refrigerator and peered inside, pulling out a mineral water and tossing it to Willow, then taking one for herself. "Somehow, I don't think we're gonna see the rest of this movie," she said, hopping up onto the counter.

"Not like we haven't seen it a few thousand times before," Willow said, twisting open her bottle and taking a swig. "Dawn can quote it from memory."

"So can Xander." Buffy grinned. "I think that should scare me."

"Oh, pfft. He can quote any movie he sees, Buffy. He's a guy." Her smile disappeared behind the mouth of the bottle and reappeared when she said, "It's what they do. Comic books, movies, TV shows. It's up to us to fill our minds with more practical matters."

"Like the best way to stake a vampire? Oops, I mean, take down a criminal?"

Willow set down her bottle with a thump. "Training not going so well?"

"Maybe. No. I'm not sure." Buffy shrugged elaborately. "I mean, I'm doing okay training for the police force-god, when I think back to that Career Day thing in high school, remember?-but I'm not sure I want that to be my life's work." She looked at the bottle situated between her knees. "I'm not sure what I want my life to be. I mean, I wasn't supposed to survive this long. I never thought I would, you know." She lifted her head to meet Willow's eyes. "Not really." The corner of her mouth curled up in self-mockery. "All my talk was just that. But now that I'm not doing the saving the world thing, I don't really know what to do with myself."

"Well," Willow said practically, "what do you want to do?"

"I don't know. I guess being a cop is good, I mean, I'd still be helping people and I've gotten kind of used to doing that. But at the end of the day, it's kinda weird." One of her hands caught a strand of hair and began twisting it around her finger. "I keep expecting another shoe to drop. Or something. It's like, I survived all of this and, you know, shouldn't there be something else? I have everything I want," her voice caught and she forced herself on before Willow could notice, "but it's like everything is on hold. Like the world is holding its breath. I keep thinking, no one would understand this, what I'm going through. That there isn't anyone else who knows." She gave Willow a bright smile. "No big. I can deal."

Willow frowned at her. "Don't lie to me, young lady," she said, wagging a finger. "You're not so big I couldn't take you over my knee."

Buffy winked. "I think you'd like that too much," she said as the telephone rang. Leaping from the counter before her friend could grab her, she ran for the dining room, hearing Willow pounding after her. "Truce! Truce! Have to get the phone!" she said, laughing, grabbing the receiver as Willow mock-glowered at her from the doorway. Breathless, trying to sound normal, she asked, "Hello?"


Her bones turned to mist and she grabbed the doorframe to keep from sliding down the wall. "Angel?"

"Yeah, it's me. I know we said nothing short of the end of the world, but since I didn't talk to you before and it didn't happen, well," his voice trailed off.

"You thought you'd give me a call?" She couldn't seem to catch her breath, had to turn away from that sudden, knowing grin on Willow's face.

"Yeah. I didn't call at a bad time, did I? If you're busy, I could call back or something."

"No, no, we're just watching movies," Buffy hastily said, making a shooing motion at Willow. "Me, Will, Xander and Dawn. You know, the old gang." The redhead folded her arms and danced out of reach of her friend, obstinately leaning against the wall and smirking.

"Not Giles?"

"He went back to England," she said, mouthing "Go away" at Willow, who shook her head and grinned evilly. "I think for good, this time. We're all supposed to go see him."

"I hope you have a pleasant trip," Angel said, sounding a little stiff, like he was trying to be polite.

"Buffy? Who's on the phone? It isn't Spike, is it, asking for bail money?" Xander asked, piling into the hall with Dawn right behind him.

"No, it's," she covered the mouthpiece and hissed at him, "Angel."

"Angel?" Dawn grabbed the receiver out of Buffy's grip. "Hey, Angel! How are you? When are you coming to visit?" She dodged Buffy's grab as neatly as Willow had. "I'm glad you survived the final battle. I've been worried about you." She didn't quite leap out of Buffy's range and she wrestled the phone away from Dawn. "So has Buffy, even if she doesn't say it," Dawn shouted as Buffy managed to reclaim the receiver.

"Would you be quiet?" Buffy hissed through her teeth.

Xander took Dawn and Willow's elbows and forcibly turned them away. "Come on, let's let Buffy finish her talk with Dead Boy in private."

"Aww, I wanna eavesdrop," Willow whined.

"Me, too," Dawn said, twisting around in Xander's grasp.

"Thank you, Xander, I owe you," Buffy said before putting the receiver up to her ear again. "I'm so sorry, Angel. Things got a little out of hand here. What were we talking about?"

"That I'm glad you survived the End of Days, too," Angel said, that soft rumble of his voice doing funny things to her stomach.

Stop it Buffy, she chided herself. You're over him. Really. Truly. Over him. "Thanks," she said. "Um, maybe I'd better go, make sure they're not destroying the house. I mean."

"I understand. It was good.to talk to you."

"I'm really, really glad you called, Angel." Buffy smiled at the receiver. "I thought someone might call, if anything happened, you know."

"Yeah, me too," he said, "but I thought, why not call, make sure?" There was a slight pause. "Well, you'd better go."

"Yeah, I'd better." She caught her upper lip in her teeth, twining the phone cord around her fingers. "Um, I'll talk to you again, sometime?"

"Sure. Take care, Buffy."

"'Bye, Angel." She carefully set the receiver back in the cradle, staring at it. Finally, shaking her head, she went back into the living room and took her place on the couch again. Funny, the room didn't seem the same and it wasn't just the three pairs of eyes staring at her expectantly.


Willow's voice dragged her back from wherever she'd gone. "Well, what?" Buffy asked, smoothing down her hair with one hand, glad her own voice remained level.

"What'd Angel have to say?" Xander asked, the bowl of popcorn firmly in his lap now.

"You know, the usual, glad you survived the fight check-in type of thing," Buffy said, giving him a one-shouldered shrug. When they all stared at her, she widened her eyes. "What? Was he supposed to say something else?"

"He did make it through the End of Days," Xander said, giving her a look that made her feel like she was being particularly stupid.

"I know, Xand, otherwise he wouldn't have called."

"And?" Willow drew out the word.

"And what?"

"That's all he said?" Willow asked.

"I told him we were going to see Giles and he told me to have a nice trip." Buffy glanced from one face to the other. "What is it? What do you know that I don't?"

"Oh, come on, Buffy," Dawn said, exasperated, flinging her hair back off her shoulders. "He lived through the End of Days."

"Emphasis on the 'lived' part of that sentence," Xander said, popping a handful of popcorn in his mouth.

"Really feeling like 'dense Buffy' here," she said, raising her hand and waving it in the air. "What are you talking about?"

Willow groaned. "Honestly, Buffy. He didn't tell you he's alive?"

She sank back into the couch. "A-alive?"

"Yeah, there was some prophecy. Cor told me about it a while back," Xander said, chewing away. "He had to get through an apocalypse or two, you know, be a good Do-Bee, prove himself and he'd be human."

"It wasn't exactly that easy," Willow said shooting a glare at Xander, "but that is pretty much it, Buffy. He didn't say anything to you about it?"

"You knew? You all knew?" She glanced from one to the other.

"I didn't, but I figured if Anya and Spike were turned human, Angel ought to be," Dawn said smugly.

"Cordelia emailed me with the news a few days ago when I checked in to make sure they were all right," Willow said, twisting her fingers together, her expression chastened. "I thought, you know, he ought to tell you."

"Cordelia told you? How long ago?" Buffy rounded on Xander.

"When I called her to see if she wanted to come to the wedding, we got to talking," Xander said, shrugging his shoulders.

"The wedding? Yours and Anya's? Xander, that was over two years ago. You knew that long ago and didn't tell me?" Buffy flung herself off of the couch, staring down at her friend.

He pointed at her. "She didn't know when it was gonna happen, Buff," he said. "I didn't want you to get your hopes up and, you know. It not happen while you were, uh." His hand made a circular motion. "Alive."

"But you knew," Buffy insisted.

Xander sighed. "Buffy, you were going through a lot of stuff then. I wasn't going to bring up an ex-boyfriend with everything that was happening." He met Buffy's gaze steadily. "Besides, you never brought him up after that last time you saw him. Ever. We all thought you were finally over him. Why open up old wounds?" He spread his hands. "If I thought you'd wanted to know, I would've told you but it didn't seem like you wanted to talk about Angel and we all," his gesture took in not only those in the room, but Buffy realized Giles and even Tara and Anya, as well, "were going along with that. If that's not the way you wanted it, I apologize."

Buffy sighed, shaking her head slowly. "You're right, Xander," she said. "I shouldn't have jumped all over you." She gave him a tentative smile. "Friends?"

"You betcha. Now, are we gonna watch the rest of the movie, or what?"

There was a long, expectant pause, everyone staring up at her. Buffy made her decision. "Movie," she said, dropping back onto the couch and grabbing the remote from Xander's hand and hitting 'play.'

//Come on now won't you Ease my mind Reasons for me to find you Peace of mind What can I do To get me to you//

So, he'd done it. He'd made the call, talked to her, heard his name on lips, tasted hers on his tongue. Nothing changed, they were still worlds apart, two different people than they'd been back when she was in high school and he'd walked away from her the night of her graduation. This time, she'd said 'goodbye.'

She had her life stretched out in front of her and that was good. She didn't need an ex-boyfriend cluttering it up. She deserved better than that, better than him. She always had. The familiar pang that was caused by hearing her voice would dissipate. It always did and the pain didn't even seem quite so bad as it had, before. It was something he could-he smiled, albeit faintly-live with. She was all right. She would be all right. She didn't need him, never really had, and if that was something that hurt, well, he'd get over it and be proud of her, anyway.

Rising from the chair and stretching, Angel reached over to turn out the light at the desk. He hesitated, staring at the doodle he'd done on the notepad; Buffy's face, her eyes shining out at him. Tearing it from the pad, he crumpled it. He didn't need a reminder, he knew what Buffy looked like. He would carry her likeness with him all his life. Tossing the page into the wastebasket, he started for the staircase and his room. It was late; he should get some sleep before Fred and Gunn showed, bright and early, with coffee and doughnuts, ready to take on the world.

Pausing at the foot of the staircase, Angel glanced around. Alone at night, the hotel held its own counsel; kept its own secrets. He wondered if there was somewhere else they should all go, move Angel Investigations to someplace else but then decided against it. This was the place Darla had returned, pregnant. This was the place he'd first brought Connor home. This was the place where he'd laughed and learned to truly live.

The telephone began to ring.

Angel hesitated, thinking that the machine could get it then shrugged mentally. He was here, might as well answer. It might be someone who needed immediate help. He jogged back across the lobby, wanting to grab the receiver before the machine picked up. He managed it, nearly sliding over the top of Cordelia's desk to get to the phone and knocking a bunch of stuff onto the floor that he'd have to pick up, but he got the phone. "Angel Investigations," he said, a little breathless, "we help the hopeless."

"So, were you planning on telling me you were human any time in the near future or what?"

He nearly dropped the receiver. "Buffy?"

"Is there some other person who doesn't know you're alive?"


"Were you gonna tell me at all?"

Angel opened his mouth to reply in the positive and hesitated. She deserved the truth. "No," he said, "I wasn't. But before you get all crazy, I figured, you have a life of your own. I don't belong in it any more. I mean, yeah, it's news, but I wasn't sure you'd really want to share."

There was silence on the other end. Angel licked his lips, tightening his grip on the receiver. He strained his ears, hoping he'd hear something other than a dial tone. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to call her back if she hung up on him.

"I ought to stake you for that."

"Doesn't exactly carry the threat it used to," Angel said, relaxing ever so slightly. Buffy still sounded hurt but not as much as she had. "But if it helps any, I'm sorry. I should have told you when I called earlier."

"Damn straight, skippy." Her voice was still a little stiff.

"So, you just called me back to yell at me or was there something else?" He pushed a few more things off the desk to perch on the corner.

"What was that noise?"

"I'm rearranging Cordy's desk and you're avoiding my question."

"Okay, no pressure here," Buffy grumbled.

"Still avoiding the question."

"I wanted to yell at you."

"You did a nice job of it," Angel said.

"Thanks. I wouldn't have to yell if my friends didn't have to tell me what my ex-boyfriend wouldn't." There was a calculated sniff. "Even Dawn knew."

"I didn't know Cordelia had talked to Dawn," Angel said dryly.

"She figured it out on her own, unlike her supposedly wiser sister," Buffy said huffily. Another pause, and when she spoke again, her voice was changed, gentle, wistful. "So. You're alive. What's it like, Angel?"

"Well, I can go outside in the sun now," he said. "That's different. Cordy's always yelling at me that I'm going to get sun burnt. And then there's the shaving thing. I have to do that a lot more often. I have to figure out a way to get an identity, so I can do the human thing, you know, have a driver's license; pay taxes, that sort of thing."

"Paying taxes is highly overrated," Buffy said with a snort.

"Yeah, well, it is the human thing to do." He shrugged even though he knew she couldn't see him. "Besides, how else am I going to get a library card?"

"Oh, please, like you don't have enough books already," Buffy said. "Between you and Giles, you could sink California if your collections were in the same place."

"Knowledge is an important thing," Angel said loftily, "besides, I don't want to buy the next Stephen King book without reading it first."

There was a sound on the other end of the line that he hadn't expected to hear, one he hadn't heard in a very long time. Buffy, giggling. Something eased inside him and he found himself grinning as he asked, "What's wrong with that? I don't want to waste my money."

"You," Buffy gasped, "read Stephen King?"

"I'll let you in on a secret: he's actually a Nerakev demon in disguise."

"Still trying to get a handle on you reading Stephen King."

"Yeah, well, I do a lot of things that you don't know about," Angel retorted playfully, realizing as soon as the words were out of his mouth what he'd said. "Um, that didn't come out the way it should."

"No, no, you're right." Yet another pause. Angel fidgeted, wanting to say something, not sure what to say. "Maybe," Buffy said hesitantly, "we can do something about that. After we get back from England. If you'd like."

Angel found himself getting to his feet, feeling something in him gearing up. "How about before you go to England?"

"Well," Buffy hedged.

He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry, his fingers clutching the receiver tightly. "How about," the last word came out as a whisper, "now?"


"I'm mortal, Buffy," Angel said. "I don't have a lot of time to wait around. I've got a life and I don't want to waste it." He waited, hearing her draw in a breath. "Buffy?"

"We can't just rush back into each other's lives, Angel," she said, "we're different people now."

"I know," Angel said. "Can I see you?"

This pause was longer than all the others. Angel wondered if he hadn't pushed too much, tried too hard. It didn't matter. It all boiled down to this, this one conversation, with the one girl in all the world who'd once upon a time loved a vampire with a soul.

//Ease my mind, Reasons for me to find you Peace of mind Reasons for living my life Ease my mind Reasons for me to know you Peace of mind What can I do To get me to you//

The word was so soft, so tentative, Angel wasn't sure he'd heard it. "What did you say?" he asked, breathless, wondering when he'd started holding his breath.

"I said yes."