Angel might have lived next door, but Buffy did not see him again for two weeks. This was odd to her, and it made her anxious. He had obviously come to see her, and yet he made no efforts to do so. When they finally did see each other, it was three times in as many days.
It was a Monday when Buffy saw Angel by his door, his keys in his mouth, grocery bags in both arms and scattered around his feet. The total normalcy of the moment made her breath snag in her throat. He looked up at her and smiled. She ignored him, unlocked her door and got into her apartment before she could consider smiling back.
Angel didn't see her the next time she saw him. It was quarter to midnight and she was writing at the kitchen table. As a teenager, she never would have thought that she would ever grow up and still write things longhand like in school, but she did often. She finished her writing and got up to get a glass of water from the tap. Out on the street, the street-lamps beamed dim, orange light onto the concrete and she could see a tall, dark-haired man walking quickly with his shoulders hunched. She leaned closer to the window and saw that it was Angel. As she watched, he disappeared quickly down the street.
Buffy had trouble sleeping that night. She convinced herself that she was just worried about all the bills.
The next day, she confronted him as he was picking up his mail in the lobby. She had stopped by quickly before she had to pick Ren up from school. She had planned to storm up to his apartment, but she preferred their meeting to be this way: in a public, open place where it probably wouldn't dissolve into a screaming match (or anything else).
"Are you a drug dealer?" she demanded as he looked at her, mildly surprised.
"No," he told her patiently. "Why would you think that?"
"Regular people don't sneak around alone at midnight." She crossed her arms, firm and protective, not giving at all.
"It's for my job, Buffy." His voice was actually starting to get a little annoyed. "I do have one of those."
"Drug dealer is a job." She realized that her argument was starting to get weak, or maybe it had always been that way. Perhaps she had jumped to conclusions just to talk to him, and only part of that was because she was nervous about why he was waiting so long to make his plan known.
"My job," his teeth were gritted slightly, "is being a tour guide. One of my friends asked me to take over her Sleepy Hollow midnight tour."
She stared at him. He let her. She blinked, slowly. In her mind, in her memories and dreams, the ones she so rarely allowed herself, Angel was a detective. Just as she had never allowed herself to believe that he was alive, much less human, she had never allowed herself to think that he might have a normal job.
"Does it pay well?" She almost laughed at this. She was just on autopilot, making small talk with her ex, like they were at a party and they just happened to run into each other. But that was not how it was: he was in league with the friends she ran from four years ago and he tracked her down.
"Not really," he said, his face impassive. He was handling this so much better than she was. Then again, he made this an issue at all. He was the one stalking her. Although he didn't seem to be, actually.
"Why aren't you trying to see or talk to me?" She refused to believe that she wanted to continue the conversation. She told herself that it was strategy. She'd been lying to herself, denying herself for so long that she actually almost believed it.
For the first time, he looked relaxed, even slightly amused. "I told you, Buffy. I just want to see you happy."
"Yeah, well that's not going to happen. You know what happened in Rome."
Any happiness was erased from his face- simply gone, like his eyes had never broken their serious gaze. "That was nearly five years ago. You could have made new friends, you could go out more."
Her mouth tightened. She could practically hear Dr. Shusterman, her long-ago orthodontist reminding her not to grind her teeth. "I could report you for this, Angel. Do they already have a file on you?"
"We live next door to each other." He crossed his arms- defensively, she thought triumphantly. "I go out late at night. I notice things. Things like you never have visitors, that Ren is the only other person who steps foot in that apartment."
She stepped towards him. "Don't call her that." That was probably all Angel knew to call her, but using her daughter's nickname made her feel trapped, like he was getting too close. "And I'm a single mother. We don't get to go hang out with our friends and get drunk."
"You can hire a babysitter."
"I like to spend time with my daughter." She stepped back, towards the pools of light the glass doors let in. "Maybe you don't know anything about this, but I'm a parent, Angel. A good one."
His sudden, surprising look of pain made her wish she hadn't said anything. He looked shocked and ill and sad. He turned away from her. She leaned against the bar of the door, gripping it so hard she was sure she had left finger marks on the metal. She watched him walk away for the she-couldn't-count-by-now time, his back looking so angry and sad that she actually wanted to call out his name. Instead she turned also, headed into the weak winter light to go get her daughter from school.
When Buffy arrived at the school, everything was in chaos. The teacher, a single, harried woman only a few years older than Buffy herself, was trying to calm twenty or so terrified looking children.
"Ms. Winters!" The teacher, Ms. Langley, looked up as Buffy entered the room. "I was just about to call you."
Buffy felt nervous and wary. As Ms. Langley waded her way through the gradually calming children, Buffy looked around the room for exits, for suspicious glowing, for any sign of Willow-red hair. There seemed to be no signs that Angel had told anyone where she was, so she moved toward Ren's teacher.
"Is Ren okay?" It was the immediate, obvious question to ask and she wanted a simple answer: yes, your daughter is fine, we just had a fire drill and the children are a little frightened. What she was told instead was, "Your daughter is out in the hallway with Mrs. MacGrady."
Ren was sitting with a narrow, middle-aged woman whose thin, silver-rimmed glasses made her eyes look small and stern. The little girl was shaking, her trembling more pronounced due to her size.
"Mommy," she said, not even looking up at her mother, just recognizing her by her shoes. Her voice lacked its usual spark and Buffy felt ill because of it. She folded down so she was at eye level with her daughter.
"Sweetheart, what happened?"
"I got angry at Cody. He took my book before I was done, so I pushed him. I know it was bad but then he fell really hard and he hit his head and he looked dead, Mommy!"
Buffy glanced up at the nurse to confirm the story.
"Cody Baxter was taken to the hospital. He appears to have only a concussion and possibly a broken arm, but he was bruised very badly." She drew Buffy away from Ren, but kept a suspicious, glaring eye on the little girl. "Ms. Winters, I would suggest having your daughter examined by a pediatric specialist who I know at Children's Hospital in Boston."
"There's nothing wrong with my daughter." Buffy's voice was a frozen snarl.
"I'm not saying that there's something wrong with her," Mrs. MacGrady replied, moving a hand as if she were going to touch Buffy's forearm before she thought better of it. "But something strange happened. That little boy's head left a dent in the wall, with just a push from your daughter. I would also suggest getting Ren a psychiatric evaluation. She seems very distraught."
"I can see," Buffy replied through pressed-together lips. "I would like to take her home now."