Disclaimer: The Buffyverse is the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy, I'm just having fun.
Author's Note: This story begins between TGIQ and Power Play and continues post-NFA. It's a Buffy-centric ensemble fic. Spike/Buffy pairing, with some Angel/Cordelia. Please R&R.
Angel stared out the necro-tempered glass of his office window, blood in hand, unburned by the midday glow of the sun. The memories of Rome were still fresh in his mind, seeing Buffy dancing the night away in that club, surrounded, he was sure, by the Immortal's lackeys. Of course, she was being watched by some of his as well, people from Wolfram and Hart spying on her for her own safety, making sure that she was okay. And single, he mused. The thought came to him, unbidden, as uncomfortable memories rose. Truth be told, he had not given Buffy much thought in the last few years leading up to Sunnydale's end, he had been too wrapped in his own life and worries. Cordy, he thought, earning another painful swoop of emotion in his chest. God, just thinking about it was too much, the cuts too deep. With all that was happening, he could only mourn in private, all alone in the huge, quiet loft he had received as a part of his deal with the devil. No one seemed to notice that he avoided the subject of Cordelia religiously, even with their memories restored, as well as anything that had happened that last terrible year.
His visit to Buffy on the eve of Sunnydale's destruction had been his escape. The moment he laid eyes on her reminded Angel of the first time he had ever seen the Slayer. She had been barely more than a child then, young and fearful, unprepared for the calling. More than simple empathy, he had wanted to be someone for that girl, someone who could help her. His simple wish to be her champion had grown into infatuation, and by the time they were in Sunnydale, he was obsessed. Looking back, another knot formed in his stomach. He had been able to go back to the place that he had loved her, he had been able to pretend for a while that she was still the seventeen year old girl who had looked at him like he was every star in the sky. Then the kiss had ended, and her eyes had opened, and Angel had known. Buffy hadn't been that girl for a long time, she would never be that girl again and Angel certainly wasn't the same man. Had he ever really been her champion?
"Ah, Buffy…" he spoke to himself grimly.
Angel sighed and took a long drink from his mug, watching the sunlight gleam and glint on the buildings of Los Angeles, a sight that would never cease to amaze him, no matter how many afternoons he watched it, after two hundred years in the dark.
His thoughts returned inward. Those moments with Buffy in the graveyard had been confusing and were still so. Angel would have to be daft to deny that he was still attracted to her and still cared for her deeply, but she was not his. He was not hers.
Guilt had plagued him on his trip back to L.A. His thoughts had centered on Cordelia, weak and broken, lying in a coma, while he was off kissing a woman that he could no longer say he truly knew. By returning to Sunnydale, having that conversation with Buffy, and having a small part of him hope that his sins could be absolved by going back to being Buffy's high school boyfriend—as if she alone could make him purer and cleaner—he had felt even worse. Looking back, it hurt too much to bear.
"Knock knock, boss."
The chipper voice of Harmony rang out from the doorway behind him.
"What is it, Harmony?" he asked, not turning to see.
"There's a call for you on line three," she said, a nervous timber in her usually chirpy tone.
"Oh yeah? Who from?" Angel asked, sipping from his mug. The last thing he wanted to do was work. He wanted to stare out his window and do the one thing he was best at. Look deep into my soul and brood, he thought, the sarcasm of his own mind almost made him feel a bit better.
"Angel," Harmony said, taking a tentative step into his office. "It's Buffy."
"Well, speak of the devil," he whispered.
Angel almost winced at the sound of his own voice, hopeful yet distanced. He leaned forward over his desk, rubbing his forehead in frustration and cursing himself for the awkward opening.
"Angel?" Buffy replied.
She sounded different than he had thought she would, older than he expected, just like the last time he had seen her. It was almost jarring.
"Yeah, it's me," he said. "It's nice to hear from you."
"Yeah, it's nice…" she said.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, his brow knotting in concern.
"No, not really," Buffy said.
Angel could almost picture her, staring at nothing in particular, trying to find something to do with her hands to alleviate the awkward tension. It almost made him smile.
"I just wanted…" she trailed off and huffed. "Honestly, I'm not really sure what I want."
"I see," he answered. There was a moment of silence, Angel wished he knew what to say. What did they used to talk about? Not much, he realized, mostly kissed, talked about slaying, talked about us.
"I'm going to be near L.A. next week," she said.
"Really?" he asked.
"Yep," she replied. "I'm taking a well deserved vacation from my vacation. We have reports of a girl about thirty miles outside of L.A. Witnesses saw her dust a couple of vamps and we think she might be a slayer. I was hoping we could meet up."
"Of course we can," he said, it was as if his mouth was on autopilot.
"Good, great," she replied. Buffy's voice was clipped, a little rough, and almost devoid of emotion, not matching the words that fell from her lips. Angel frowned as she went on. "Remember that little café, the one we got coffee at when I…came back?"
"I remember," he answered. The meeting had not been the most pleasant experience. Just looking back on the awkward, stilted conversation had him shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
"Can you meet me there on Saturday? After sunset?"
"Of course," Angel said gently. The monotonous, almost harsh, tone of her voice was starting to make him worry. His voice dropped a bit lower, softer. "How are you holding up, Buff? Really, after Sunnydale…I know its been a while but, are you doing okay?"
When she spoke, it was too quick, too hard, and much too final. "I'm fine."
He knew that tone, she wanted him to back off. "Okay, then I guess I'll see you Saturday."
"Guess so," she said.
He wasn't sure how to say goodbye. What was she expecting him to say? He could not bring himself to say those three little words. He mustered up his courage for some sort of affectionate parting, just as Angel drew breath, Buffy spoke.
And he found himself holding an empty line.
Angel hung the phone on the receiver and sank back in his chair with an unneeded exhale of breath, rubbing his temples. Then the reality of the situation set in. Buffy, his light at the end of the tunnel, the woman he was supposed to be fighting for—whom he had fought for in Rome not two nights ago—had called him, and he had no idea why.
"Idiot," he spoke out loud to himself.
He had a girlfriend, what was he going to tell Nina about this little coffee date with his ex? A more pressing issue dawned on him. What would they talk about? Oh, it was all well and good to try and get to Buffy in Rome. It was a romantic city, it bred delusions. More importantly, Buffy was not the sole purpose for his Roman holiday, and if he had been by himself he was certain he would not have carried on after her the way he did. The real challenge hadn't been getting to Buffy, sweeping her off her feet, it had been keeping her away from—
"Spike," Angel groaned, resting his head on his desk and pounding it a couple of good, strong thumps. "What the hell am I going to tell Spike?"
Rome had been just like Sunnydale. It had been a chance to revisit his past, to be his old self. It had also been a competition, a challenge like that phony cup, and in Rome, Angel had wanted to win so badly, to know that his destiny hadn't been usurped by the newest addition to his team, to be reassured that there was still one thing that he would always win at. That if the competition was for her, there was no way he could lose. But Spike… Angel wasn't really sure what he had been fighting for.
Had it been the same thing as him? Was Spike just trying to compete? Or was it something more? Spike, he thought, what am I going to tell Buffy? He had never gotten a definitive answer on where she and Spike had stood during his visit to Sunnydale, although his scent had been all over her. All Buffy would admit to was that she cared for him. But in what way? Were they friends, lovers? Angel had no idea if Buffy even knew of Spike's resurrection and he was sure that he did not want the burden of telling her. This was getting much too complicated. It was one thing to fantasize about a real reunion with Buffy, one in which the memory of Cordelia did not haunt him constantly, and Buffy wasn't attached in some way to Spike, it was another to actually live it.
The sound of his office doors being opened shattered his mental musings. Great, he thought, just the person I wanted to see.
"Hey, big fella," Spike said, striding through the office to lean on the edge of Angel's desk. He took a long drink from Angel's mug of pig's blood and wrinkled his nose. "You really should get more of that otter, I can get pig anywhere. Takes all the fun out of nicking your stuff. Well, not all the fun—"
"Now's not really a good time, Spike," Angel said, leaning back in his chair. He was far too stressed to even mention how annoying, irritating, or any other synonym of such, that the other ensouled vampire was to him.
Spike seemed to notice and frowned. "Something wrong?"
"No, it's just…" Angel trailed off. It was now or never. "I've been thinking. About Buffy."
Spike froze mid-sip before lowering the mug from his lips. He cleared his throat, but didn't quite meet Angel's eyes. "Yeah, what about her?"
"Did you ever…I mean does she…?" Angel stopped, he wasn't sure how to ask this question.
"Does she what?" Spike asked, staring at him intensely.
"Does she know about this? I mean, did you ever tell her that you were back?" Angel asked. There, he'd said it.
Spike huffed. "I didn't, but maybe she knows, I'm not sure…"
"How can you not be sure?" Angel asked, his voice rising slightly.
"Andrew, mate," Spike said simply, casually inspecting the items strewn on Angel's desk, twirling a silver pen between white fingers before replacing it.
"Andrew told her?"
"I told him not to, told him I wanted to be the one to let her know, you know?" Spike said.
"But you didn't…" Angel said.
"I almost did, couple of times," Spike said with a sniff, no longer looking at Angel, but staring at the office floor, lips pursed, eyes thoughtful. He cracked a smile and gave a short, mirthless laugh. "Oh, who am I kidding? I almost call her every day," Spike froze, "I didn't just tell you that."
Angel grinned, leaning back in his chair.
"Don't you laugh, Angel," Spike said, standing up and pacing the room. "I love that girl, love her like…" he paused, "why am I talking to you about this?"
"Honestly, I don't really know," Angel said and almost killed the serious moment, he stopped himself. "But you want to tell her?"
"God yes," Spike said, staring at the mug.
"I know you clearly don't want to talk to anyone about this, least of all me," Angel said, folding his hands as he leaned across the desk. "But, why don't you?"
"Lot's of reasons," Spike replied.
"Tell me one."
Spike cocked an eyebrow. Angel crossed his arms. "Spike, don't be difficult. I'm just curious."
"Well, went out in a big blaze of bloody glory, didn't I?" Spike said, returning the mug to the desk. He was looking anywhere but Angel as he spoke. "Had on my mystic amulet, lights shining all around, destroying all the nasties trying to crawl out of hell…and holding Buffy's hand. I can't top that, mate. Can't top that moment for her, having her see me like that? And I can't top it for myself, it's the way I want to die. Taking it back now would just ruin it."
Angel's jaw was set in a hard line. "But what about Buffy?"
Spike rolled his eyes and walked away.
"Spike," Angel called after him as he reached the door. He stood and followed him, holding the door shut with one hand as Spike tugged the handle. "There's something else, isn't there?"
"Let go of the sodding handle," Spike growled, almost succeeding in pulling it open, but not quite.
"No," Angel insisted, slamming the door back against its hinges. "What is it that you're so afraid of, huh? Are you scared to tell her you lied? Or maybe it's that you slept with my secretary and now you think she'll see it as cosmic cheating?"
"Let go of it, you ponce," Spike said again, wrenching the office door open an inch or so.
Angel tightened his hold on the handle and threw his full weight on the door, slamming it shut. "Not until you tell me," he said, straining with effort to fight the other vampire's strength.
Spike sucked in a breath through his teeth before fixing his gaze on Angel. His pull on the door handle relaxed as he finally spoke. "Fine, since you've got to know so bad. Don't see why you do since you said it yourself. Buffy never really loved me."
Angel felt as though cold water had soaked him to the bone. He'd forgotten about what he said during their fight for the cup. He had let his darker side out in that moment, wanted to hurt Spike with more than just his fists.
"If I go back to her now, alive and well, she might just take back those last words, that last night…" Spike trailed off and Angel was shocked to see the barest glimmers of tears in his eyes. Spike seemed to notice Angel's stunned expression and gave the other vampire an expertly timed shove. He instantly released his grip on the handle and stumbled back. Spike continued. "I couldn't take it if she did that. So there, old man, there's your bloody reason."
Spike left with a slam of the door and Angel retreated to his desk, picked up his mug, and walked back to the window. Everything had just become much more complicated.