Disclaimer: I wish I could say the characters were
mine, but they're obviously not. Only Joss could be so mean to his own
Rating: PG13. My first try at gratuitous violence! And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy
Spoilers: Up to "The Initiative."
Author's Note: Sequel to "The Road Home" Since this only runs up to "The Initiative," then projects forward a few months in my own universe, there are a few differences from the shows. Doyle is still alive, Wesley is nowhere in sight, Oz and Willow are still together, Spike has been "neutered" but is not part of the Scooby Gang and Riley has no idea that Buffy is the Slayer. Remember when things were that simple?
Buffy sat bolt upright in bed, automatically reaching for the stake on her nightstand.
She had been peacefully curled up next to Angel, dreaming of making love in a moonlit garden. The Sunnydale commandos in full attack mode suddenly interrupted their idyll and Angel was whisked away before she could stop them, leaving Buffy to be hurled into the daylight by a loud noise.
A moment later, she realized it was the combination of the bad dream and a car alarm going off down the street which had awoken her, not anything of the actual demon variety.
After taking a quick peek at Angel, still slumbering beside her, she yawned and stretched and tried to relax. She was amazed Angel had slept through her sudden lurch to consciousness. Granted, the smile on his face seemed to indicate he was having pleasant dreams, but this was in the teeth of car alarms and street noises and the new sound of Cordelia killing a termite upstairs in the office. Of course, to him this was probably just familiar background noise. The fink.
It was tempting to wake him, just to reassure herself the commandos were the dream, not Angel. But a desire to simply watch over him while he slept seized her. They had been apart for so long, and now another separation was looming on the horizon. All she wanted to do was spend the rest of her days watching him, and talking to him, and touching him and...
Buffy started, then grinned back at Angel, who smiled sleepily from his pillow. "You're staring," he repeated. "Was I drooling or something?" He reached up and pulled her down against his chest, smoothing a hand over her tangled blonde tresses.
"Actually, that would be me," she admitted with some embarrassment, burrowing her head a little deeper into the hollow of his shoulder. "Not when I sleep," she hastily added, "just now, I mean. Watching you." She tipped her head so she could look deep into his gentle dark eyes. "I could watch you sleep forever."
He chuckled and kissed her softly. "I can think of better ways to pass the time." He kissed her again, this time longer and more thoroughly. "Much, much better ways," he said when, at last, they came up for air.
"Mmm, gotta agree with you on this one," she murmured, lightly tracing his ribs with her fingertips. "But even watching you is wonderful after all this time. Especially since I have to go back today." She anxiously waited for his response to her news.
"I knew it was coming," he sighed. "We've had three perfect days, but I knew sooner or later we'd have to rejoin the world." He tried to tell himself there was nothing to worry about, but something deep inside of him tightened at the thought of watching her walk out of his door again.
"I have class tomorrow," she explained sadly. "It's an early one too, so I wouldn't have much luck hitching back in time if I wait till morning." Of course, as soon as she said it wasn't possible, she started trying to work out a way around it. If she got up at dawn and reached the highway by seven, maybe she could...but probably not. She sighed, resigned to her fate.
"You don't need to hitchhike," he protested, staring at her in surprise. "I can drive you. I have a car, you know." He suddenly felt like a teenage boy trying to sneak his girlfriend back home before curfew. It was utterly ridiculous, but that was how young and almost carefree she could make him feel. It used to scare him, but now he was entranced with the possibilities, and with her.
Buffy couldn't help her giggle. "I know, and it's so you. Big and dark and not quite...comfortable...with modern technology. I saw it in the garage, and I loved it, but it doesn't make any sense for you to drive me back to Sunnydale, then have to drive to LA all in the same night. I can hitch."
"How about we compromise on a bus this time? And now I know what to get you for your birthday next week: driving lessons and a car." Angel smiled in satisfaction, trying to imagine the type of car Buffy would choose. It was a toss-up between a little sports car and an SUV. Somehow he was betting on the SUV; it was better for battering purposes.
"A car? You're going to get me a car for my birthday?" Her voice rang with disbelief. "But Cordelia was complaining about how much money it costs to run this place, and how strapped you are for cash and..."
"And Cordelia's idea of 'strapped for cash' is not the same as yours or mine," Angel interrupted. "Besides, I try to keep the business separate, because eventually I'd like to just live on what I earn." He was almost embarrassed to admit his goal, but the delight on her face reassured him.
"Ooh, that is so...normal, and kind of sexy." She sat up in the bed and stared at him, wondering if she would ever plumb the depths of him. In some ways, she knew him as she knew herself, and yet he continued to surprise her. "So there really is enough to get us a second car?"
"I like the sound of that," he said softly. He propped himself up against the headboard and teasingly stroked her arm. "Getting 'us' a 'second' car. I think 'we' may need a 'second' apartment too. One in Sunnydale."
"You know, we never really discussed logistics, but you're right," she admitted. "If we're doing the commuter-marriage thing we need to...did I just say marriage?" Buffy blushed, wondering if she'd pushed her occasionally skittish suitor too far this time. "I didn't necessarily mean...that is to say..."
Angel laughed, a sound that brought joy to Buffy's heart because she knew she was the one who made him so happy. There had been so many tears and too much sorrow in their relationship thus far. She resolved to make him laugh like that at least three times a day from now on. More maybe, if she decided he wouldn't go poof from the shock to his system.
"I hope that's exactly what you meant," he ran his finger gently down her cheek, "but we don't need to rush anything. According to the customs I grew up with, and in my heart, you're my wife. The legal part can wait until you're ready." He raised her chin with the tip of his finger to steal a kiss.
"I think I'd like a little more...wooing, please." She breathed a quick sigh of relief and slid over to cuddle up next to him. "I want to get everyone used to us being back together again anyway, before we try and make them get dressed up and play nice in church." She glanced briefly at him, realizing an inherent problem. "Or maybe not a church, but you know what I mean."
"So, you don't want to live in the mansion," she continued a moment later, absently twining her fingers with his. It was a statement, not a question, but it still surprised Angel.
"You do?" He pulled back slightly to get a better look in her eyes, just in case she was kidding. Miraculously, joking had already become a part of their relationship, but he was still getting used to it.
"No!" She realized she'd yelled, and softened her tone. "I mean, no thanks. I never really liked that place. Too grim, and too many bad memories. I can never see that Great Hall without remembering..." her voice trailed off as her mind filled in the words 'the night I killed you.'
"I know," he whispered, remembering the night he almost killed her. He shook his head to clear it and continued in a steadier voice. "I stayed there for a night last week and I couldn't stand the..." He stopped talking suddenly and stared at the wall in shock. "It wasn't even a week ago. I can't believe how much has happened."
"It's crazy, isn't it?" Buffy's voice had a light, happy sound to it; she couldn't remember feeling this peaceful in years. Everything in her crazy life was finally perfect. "Willow is never going to believe this."
* * * * * *
"I don't believe it."
Buffy grinned and held out the phone so Angel could hear Willow's voice. A moment later she regretted the action, since the feel of his body so near to hers made it difficult to concentrate on Willow.
"Buffy, are you serious? You're really back together?" Willow tried to hide the apprehension in her voice, knowing her best friend was looking for happiness and congratulations on her news. Sometimes being a best friend meant keeping your mind open and your mouth shut.
"Willow, why do you sound so strange?" Buffy pulled the phone away from Angel and turned her back to him ever so slightly, shielding him from Willow and whatever she might say. He leaned back against the headboard and waited patiently.
"Everything's fine, Buffy," Willow hastened to assure her. No need to get into a fight long distance, even if she was sure of what she should say, which she wasn't. "Will you be back for Psych class tomorrow? You know Riley said there was going to be...umm, Buffy, does Riley know where you are?" Even as she asked, Willow already knew the answer.
"No, but I'm telling him tomorrow." Buffy sighed and leaned back against Angel. "I'm going to tell him a lot of things tomorrow, most of which will not give him a happy. But I can't put it off."
"That would be bad," Willow agreed. She twirled her fingers in the phone cord and steeled herself to ask another question. "So you're really sure about this? You're certain this is the right..."
"This is completely the right, Will," Buffy interrupted her. "You know this is what I've always wanted. I don't understand why you're not happier for me."
She knew she sounded petulant, but she couldn't help it. She had expected her best friend, and staunch supporter of "mixed" relationships, to be supportive. Instead, all she was getting was a feeling of impending lecture.
"I'll borrow Oz's van to pick you up at the bus station and we'll talk," Willow promised before she hung up, confirming Buffy's worst fears.
"She still has some reservations about me," Angel said softly, rubbing her arms as she leaned back against his chest. He held her tightly and kissed the top of her head as she unwillingly nodded. "I'm sorry, Buffy."
Buffy resolutely blinked back tears. "She doesn't understand; that's all. She knows what happened in the past, and she just doesn't understand it's not ever going to happen again. When I tell her everything, she will be happy for us." She twisted her head around to look him in the eye. "I promise."
"I sure hope you're decent down here," called a voice from the stairs, "because I'm coming down anyway." A moment later, Cordelia appeared on the steps connecting the apartment to the office above. "Good, well, you've got clothes on at least. That's a switch."
Buffy and Angel reluctantly disentangled themselves and got off the bed. She still gripped his hand tightly, not willing to lose that last little bit of contact quite yet.
"Is it time?" Buffy asked wistfully. She felt Angel squeeze her hand, communicating the pain he, too, felt at the idea.
"'Fraid so." Cordelia suddenly felt like she'd shot Bambi's mother while boiling Thumper for dinner, but there was nothing she could do this time to make things easier. "The last bus leaves in about 40 minutes, so you need to get a move on. Doyle has to go that way anyway, so he can drop you off. That will spare you both any World War II movie-parting-at-the-train-station type of good-byes." She looked sharply at Angel, waiting for a protest.
"You're probably right," he sighed instead, much to Cordelia's surprise. "It's hard enough to let you go without doing it in front of an audience." He slid one hand up and down Buffy's back, trying to memorize the feel of her in his arms.
"What am I? Chopped liver?" Cordelia tried to inject as much injury into her tone as possible, to lighten the mood. "And she's not going off to war, you know. She's going back to college."
"In Sunnydale," Buffy added dryly. "When you have your own hellmouth, who needs geopolitical conflict?" She forced herself to release her hold on Angel. "Okay, time to motor. Cordy, we'll be right up."
Cordelia sighed and headed back up the stairs. "All right, but you've only got five minutes. Five minutes," she repeated sternly as she disappeared from view.
Buffy stood as close to Angel as she possibly could without touching him. His dark eyes steadfastly held hers, promising everything would be all right, even if it felt like the world was ending.
"This is just for a few days, right?" she said, more to herself than to him. "You will be down on Friday, like you said?" After all they had shared the past few days, she felt almost guilty about expressing doubts, but theirs had never been a predictable, or simple, relationship. The only things she knew for certain were that he loved her and she loved him. Beyond that, it was pretty much all up for grabs.
"I will leave the moment the sun sets, I promise." He gave her the little half-smile she found so irresistible. "I'd say scout's honor, but..."
Buffy grinned against her will. "But you were so never a scout. I guess I'll have to take your word for it." She looked away for a moment, then pinned him with her hazel eyes again. "I love you; don't forget that. Ever."
"Never again," he promised, all signs of a smile gone now. "I love you too, no matter what I may have done to make you doubt that the last few months."
He searched her eyes for signs of uncertainty or fear, but found shining trust instead. The knot in his stomach eased a little bit, even if the ache in his heart refused to go away. He raised one hand to cup her cheek, and then bent down to kiss her as she leaned into his hand.
Buffy reached up to hold onto Angel more firmly as the kiss grew. She lost herself in the feel of his lips on hers, the strength of his arms around her, the solidity of his body pressed against her. All that she required of paradise was within her arms, and the idea of letting go was almost unbearable.
Cordelia's voice from upstairs finally managed to break the spell.
"I said five minutes! Doyle's already in the car. God, you must be the only vampire to tell time by sundial."
Hand in hand, they made their way up the stairs. Buffy kissed Angel once more at the door, barely brushing her lips against his. After a final caress of his cheek, she made herself turn away and walk to the door.
"Buffy, wait" he anxiously called after her.
She swung around in the doorway to see what was wrong.
"Be careful when you talk to Finn. He doesn't know you know anything about his involvement with the commandos on campus."
"Well, we don't know much yet, but I'll watch what I say anyway." There were times it paid to be cautious, she reflected, particularly in light of her recent dream. She glanced over at Cordelia. "Take care of him for me."
"He'll be in bed, alone, before sunrise every night," Cordelia promised, hand solemnly raised in pledge. "He's on his own, though, when it comes to the three square meals a day. Yuck!"
Buffy had to laugh. "Understood." She blew Angel a kiss, and then she was gone.
Angel stood silently in the center of the office, listening to her footsteps die away to nothing. He seemed to be watching the door, but his mind was actually far away, gathering memories of the past few days to keep close in the lonely days that awaited him.
There was no response, so Cordelia tried again.
She finally snapped her fingers in his face, hoping for some sign he was...well, not alive precisely, but still in there. The snapping seemed to jolt him back to at least marginal awareness, if his involuntary head jerk was any indication.
"Okay, you have two choices now," she explained patiently, looking him directly in the eye and speaking very slowly. "You can spend the next few days in your office staring at her picture and brooding, or you can vent some of your frustration on nasty demons with evil intentions. One way will be completely non-productive, and an insult to the faith she has in you. The other way will earn some of my salary. Which is it going to be?"
He seemed to be thinking deeply about the alternatives that she offered him. He gazed at her silently for a few more minutes, until she was ready to scream with frustration. At last, he spoke.
"I'm sorry, Cordelia. What did you say?"
Ten minutes later he was still at a loss to understand why she'd screamed.
* * * * * *
By the next morning, Buffy was the one ready to scream. She and Willow had talked all the way back from the bus station and long into the night, yet her best friend still seemed to have reservations about the one thing Buffy had ever been sure was right. For all Willow's starry-eyed romanticism, she had a strong practical streak. In her opinion, a down-to-earth commando in the hand was worth any number of charming, but occasionally wayward, vampires in the bushes. It didn't matter how good-looking the vamps were.
After spending the night defending her choices, Buffy was not in the best of moods to see her unsuspecting ex-boyfriend who thought he was still her current boyfriend. Since he was practically the instructor of one of her classes though, confrontation was inevitable. Sure enough, the moment she walked into lecture hall for class he was waiting to talk to her.
"Buffy, thank God you're okay," Riley whispered as he bent down to hand back her test booklet. He couldn't miss the way she shrank back into her seat to escape him, but he was helpless to question her until class was over. He spent the hour watching her fidget with her pen and avoid his gaze, while he racked his brain to remember when things had changed between them.
To Riley it seemed as though the class lasted forever, but eventually Professor Walsh closed her book and the students began filing out of the lecture hall. Riley hurried after Buffy, grabbing her arm as she tried to slide out the door after Willow.
"Buffy, what's wrong? Where have you been the past few days, and why do you seem to be avoiding me?" His blue eyes were troubled as he looked down at the small blonde girl who had stolen his heart.
Buffy glanced anxiously around the lecture hall but the last of the students had left. Even Willow had abandoned her. With no further recourse, she turned back to Riley. A familiar feeling of guilt crept over her when she saw the love in his eyes, because she knew she would never look at him the same way.
"Riley, I'm really sorry," she began slowly. "I know I've been blowing you off, and I never explained why, but it's all very, very complicated. Trust me on that score." She paused to take a deep breath. "I didn't want to tell you this way, but the bottom line is I want out. I mean I am out."
Now he was very confused, and a little scared. All of the sudden he was sensing there was more to this girl than he'd realized, and that led him to wonder if she knew there was more to him as well. Too much knowledge can sometimes be a very dangerous thing.
"Out of what? I don't know what you're talking about." When in doubt, play dumb; the past few years with the Initiative had taught him the value of that strategy.
"Out of us. Our relationship, if you can call it that." She sighed; she hadn't meant to sound so harsh. It wasn't Riley's fault she hadn't been able to let him fully into her world. Then she remembered all the little things Riley had been keeping from her, and she realized their lack of relationship was an equal opportunity failure.
"I've been kidding myself, Riley. I thought I could make this work, but I realized there's just no way." She took a few steps back from him, hoping to emphasize her point with physical distance as well as emotional. "I'm in love with someone else. I have been since the day I met him, and I always will be."
"Is it someone on campus?" Riley looked wildly around the empty room, as though he expected to see his rival hiding in a corner or under a desk. "How did you meet him? When did you meet him?"
"A couple of years ago," she reluctantly replied. She didn't want to get into this now, when people could walk in at any time, but Riley didn't look inclined to postpone things until they could find a couple of decaf cappuccinos and a private place to chat.
"Years? So where's he been? Did he suddenly appear out of the mist or...everything was fine just a few days ago, Buffy! When did it all blow up?" Riley stumbled back a few steps and sank down on a desk, as though his legs would no longer support him.
"Nothing was fine, Riley it never has been." Buffy made no move to comfort him, she simply watched from a distance. Any friendly gestures at this point would be subject to misinterpretation. "I've always been in love with Angel. He left town last summer, and I tried to move on, but it never worked. Not for either of us. Last week he came back...and I realized I couldn't let him go again. It was the wrong thing to do last summer, and I wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. So I followed him back to LA, made him admit he'd been an idiot to leave, and now we're back together." She breathed a sigh of relief; there, it was done.
"So that's it?" Disbelief warred with anger in his voice. "He comes back for one night and you're out the door at his heels? Without even a second thought to what we have?"
"Oh come on!" she protested, starting to lose her temper. "What exactly do we have, Riley? We've gone to some parties, a few picnics, and of course some classes, since you're practically my instructor. We've had sex; I'll give you that one. But we don't have any real interests in common. We don't feel the same way about anything that really matters, and we don't want the same things for the future. What exactly do we have that's so hard to lose?"
"And you have this great spiritual connection with him? This other guy?" Riley couldn't help his sarcastic tone as he processed Buffy's scathing analysis of what he thought was a promising romance.
"We want the same things out of life," she replied slowly. "We believe in the same things that make life valuable. Common interests? Well, not too many, but a few." God, this was so hard to explain to Riley, of all people. "Mostly we learn from each other, and we share things. He makes me want to be a better person than I am, and I do the same for him."
"You make me want to be a better person." He hated himself for the whine that somehow worked its way into that phrase, but he was powerless to eliminate it. She was ripping his illusions to shreds and throwing the pieces in his face.
Buffy was sorely tempted at this point to bring up his role with the commandos, but she decided that would provoke too many questions about her own nocturnal activities. Mud slinging would only get her into trouble, even if the mud fit.
"You make me feel like the person I used to be," she said at last. "When Angel left, I thought that was what I wanted, and what he wanted for me. But I can't go back to being her, and I don't actually want to. I want to grow up, Riley."
She dared to take a few steps closer to him, until she was standing directly in front of him. "If I had met you when I was fifteen, I think I probably would have loved you. At least as much as I was capable of loving anybody but myself then." Buffy looked off into the distance for a moment, remembering her former self. If Merrick hadn't found her...if she'd never come to Sunnydale...if Angel hadn't come here to be with her...the image of her future without those integral parts of her past made her shiver.
'If only.' Scarier words were never invented.
She forced herself to snap out of her fruitless reverie, looking down at Riley with a measure of pity for his obvious pain.
"Instead, I met Angel, and he made me want to be something more than a frat boy's party doll. In a weird sort of way we're helping each other grow up, and even if it hurts like hell...I don't think we're doing too badly." She rested one hand gently on Riley's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
* * * * *
"So that's it for old Riley, huh Buff?" Xander leaned back on Willow's bed and rearranged the pillows to a more comfortable position. "Goodbye happiness clause, hello Dead Boy, and last call for Des Moines' pride and joy."
"That's it," she agreed cheerfully, tossing him another Ho-Ho. "I wish he hadn't taken it so badly, but considering what I could have said...I thought I went pretty easy on him." She stuck out her foot to admire the pink nail polish on her toes, and then pulled up her other foot to complete the job.
"You mean not calling him on his after-school activities with the ghost-busting branch of the SEALS? I just want it on the record that I never bought his whole 'I'm just a corn-fed Iowa farm boy' routine." Xander stuffed the Ho-Ho in his mouth, but continued to speak. "Way too Hollywood," he mumbled.
"I never trusted him either." Anya looked up from her spot on the floor between the beds. "I always felt the presence of evil when he was around. Somewhere deep inside I must have sensed...Xander, I thought you said you only bought this CD for me." She waved the offending disc in his face as Xander shrank away from her wrath and tried to come up with an explanation.
"Maybe Willow bought..."
"It still has a little piece of Bugs Bunny wrapping paper on it," she retorted. "Did you think I wouldn't recognize the paper you bought as a cruel joke?"
"Honey, I was only teasing," he whined. "I never thought..."
"Guys," Buffy interrupted, laughing, "enough with the fighting, okay? I get plenty of that at work."
Anya contented herself with one final glare at Xander, who mumbled a hasty apology for both of them. With peace restored, Buffy finished her other foot and began working on her fingernails, until the ringing of the phone disrupted her.
"I'll get it," Xander offered, reaching for the cordless phone on the nightstand. "Wouldn't want you to smear or chip or anything. Fate of the world and all."
Buffy made a face at him as he said hello to the caller. Her good mood rapidly dissipated, however, when Xander handed the phone over to her with a frightened look in his eyes.
"Hello. Who is this?" she said swiftly. "Cordelia? What's wrong?...No, he's not here should he be?...Left when? But why?...Who? Cordy, you're breaking...Cordy?" She pulled the phone away from her ear and set it down on the bed, staring worriedly at it for a few moments. Finally she lifted her troubled eyes to face her friends.
"Cordelia said Angel left LA in a big hurry over four hours ago, and he was headed here. She was trying to tell me why when the line went dead. All I caught was something about Spike." She leaned over on the bed to pull back the drapes and stare out of the window, as if she could will Angel into appearing in the darkness.
Xander and Anya exchanged concerned glances. Neither of them wanted to say the wrong thing, but not saying anything at all didn't seem like a good idea either.
"Spike is almost never a good thing to be talking about," Xander said hesitantly. "Even now that he's harmless to us...we don't know about demons. But hey, Angel's been dealing with him for centuries. And it's not like Spike is exactly a braintrust." He cursed an unwitting Willow for being out on a date with Oz when they needed her compassion and unflagging optimism. This just wasn't his area of expertise.
"And Cordelia said Angel left," Anya offered helpfully. She got to her feet and joined Buffy on the bed, awkwardly thumping Buffy on the back in an attempt to give comfort. "She didn't say Spike took him, right?"
Buffy smiled in spite of herself. The sight of Anya trying to be positive and consoling was almost worth the worry she was feeling. Almost.
"Yeah, she said he left." Buffy quickly came to a decision and began to remove the cotton balls from between her toes. "And I'm going to find him. From the way Cordelia describes his driving, he should have been here almost three hours ago."
"And you'll be looking where?" Xander hated to be a wet blanket, but Buffy tended to lose all sense of reason where Dead Boy was concerned. "He has a car; you do not. You don't know the route he'd be taking once he got into town, so it's not like you can..."
"Xander, shut up." There was a certain amount of affection in Buffy's command, but not enough to make him doubt she'd make him be quiet if she had to. She felt something in the back of her mind and she needed silence to get a fix on it.
"This is Xander shutting up," he said obediently, symbolically zipping his lip. He was about to say more about saying less when a voice was heard from the open doorway.
"Now why couldn't I ever get him to do that?"
Buffy darted to the door and flung her arms around Angel. "You're late" she scolded, before pulling his head down for a welcoming kiss. A sudden catcall from the hallway made her realize they were somewhat on display. "Come in, come in," she insisted, pulling him in the door.
"How am I late?" he asked as she closed the door behind him. "You weren't expecting me until Friday night." He nodded hello to Xander and Anya, who had both risen to their feet.
"Cordelia just called." Anya swiftly looked over Buffy's vampire boyfriend, all tall dark and sexy. It was suddenly clear to her why white-bread Riley never stood a chance of winning the Slayer's heart. Not that an evil demon-hunting commando deserved one, she reflected smugly.
"Then she told you." Angel sighed in relief as he sank onto Buffy's bed. He hadn't been looking forward to explaining this one to his girlfriend.
"She didn't say jack," Xander replied abruptly. He stared at Angel, who suddenly looked nervous and at Buffy, who was beginning to look suspicious. Ah, the glories of true romance.
"What should she have said?" Buffy asked slowly, sitting down next to Angel. "And what does Spike have to do with it?" She held Angel's eyes firmly with her own, willing the answer to be something innocuous. Actually, she'd settle for something easily killed.
"It's Dru," he answered reluctantly. He clasped Buffy's hand, absently stroking the ring that symbolized their unity. "Spike thinks the commandos have kidnapped Dru and he wants us to help get her out."To Be Continued