Buffy arrived home just after 2am, exhausted and dirty. It had been another busy night on the Hellmouth – a pair of vampires outside an all night diner attempting to make meals of the patrons and a burly grave-robbing demon in Sunnyrest that didn’t go down easy.
Sighing heavily she slipped her cell phone out of her pocket and turned it on as she entered her bedroom. A badly timed call had spoiled more than one attempt at stealth, so out of habit she simply turned the device off. It had become a running joke of sorts with X that her phone was off more than it was on.
At the familiar chime, the screen displayed 5 missed calls, 3 messages. She turned on the speaker and hit the button for voice mail. Pressing the combination of letters and numbers for the password, she set the phone on the table near the bed and began to undress.
She listened with a small smile as the first message played, Xander commenting about what they’d do on his next ‘shore leave’, wishing her happy hunting and closing with “na zdrave,” which was the code word between them that meant he was leaving for a job and would be out of contact until it was over. She glanced at the clock, wondering about the time difference between Sunnydale and wherever he was – he often couldn’t tell her – and guessing that he must have left the message earlier in the afternoon. Damn, she should have had her phone on earlier…
Toeing off her boots she only half-listened at the message from Dawn. Her sister was asking to go to something – what she wasn’t didn’t exactly catch – but no doubt she’d hear more about it over breakfast so she didn’t bother to stop the running commentary.
The next and last message stopped Buffy in her tracks. As if hearing the sound of Augustus Gibbons’ voice wasn’t alarm enough, his next words caused her stomach to lurch anxiously. He apologized for the hour of the call then calmly informed her that X had been in a serious accident. He was in a hospital in a secure location and they would be bringing him back to the states within days, as soon as his condition was stable enough for travel. Her heart now thundering in her chest, Buffy only half heard the NSA operative as he apologized for leaving such a message rather than speaking to her in person, but he had tried to call twice and had not be able to reach her. He didn’t want her to find out from the general news – though she knew that they were usually able to prevent that from happening. He would call when they knew more.
Buffy closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, realizing now that she had been holding her breath throughout the message. It would be all right… He will be all right… she repeated the words as a mantra in her mind when she finally resumed the task of stripping off her grime covered clothing. He would fine. He had to be.
“So where is Angel?” Cordelia asked as she walked into the office, a Starbucks cup in each hand.
“Out on a job I think. He’ll stop by when he returns no doubt,” Wes answered wearily. Standing up from his desk, he extended his arms overhead in a stretch. He’d been at the books almost nonstop for the last few weeks in search of answers.
“So … did you find something?” the brunette asked, placing one cup in front of the former Watcher and dropping into the chair opposite the desk.
“In all fairness, I think Angel should really hear this first-“
Cordelia’s brows lifted, her expression insistent. “Wes…”
“Well, yes, in fact I think I may have found something…” the former Watcher capitulated after a brief pause. He suppressed his enthusiasm but he was actually quite elated by his findings, particularly those in the last week. “Of course, we need some verification on the translation, and I’d prefer to have further confirmation before… er, anything, is, uh, acted upon.”
“And how exactly do you confirm something like that?” Slipping off her high-heels, Cordelia grimaced at the scuffmarks on the suede. She never should have agreed to make the run to Starbucks for caffeine in her new shoes.
“Well, uh, I guess… that is a good question. I’m sure-”
“I guess isn’t going to cut it, Wes. Bad, bad things happen if you’re wrong.”
“I… well, yes, true, but we do know how to get his soul back in that case…” Wesley said with some hesitation. Creasing his brown in consternation, he picked up the open book and examined the underlined passage again. Perhaps there was a way to confirm…
“We don’t want to have to do that,” the former cheerleader countered. “So you should be really sure … before you tell him. I mean, wouldn’t you… you know, go and … if you thought you could… you know, with the love of your life? So we need to be sure sure. Angelus is not someone we want to have around.”
“But how are you so sure that the woman in question will want to… because for all we know she’s still seeing Xander Cage,” Gunn added as he strolled tiredly up to the desk. He had caught the tail end of the conversation as he entered the hotel, and as the subject of Angel’s soul had been the primary topic of discussion lately he guessed what they were talking about. He settled the duffel bag of weapons he had been carrying on the on the floor and dropped into a nearby chair. “Angel hit the showers,” he added to the unasked question about their return. “He got slimed by… whatever that thing was.”
“Oh. Well, because it’s Buffy and because it’s Angel,” Cordelia answered with a sigh. “It’s only because they can’t get groiny that they stay away from each other and see other people. As soon as that obstacle is cleared out of the way and Angel turns on a little of that charm that he has, they’ll be back together and making like bunnies. The unrequited love of all time doesn’t just … go away. It has to be … you know, requited.”
“Um-hum,” Gunn nodded skeptically.
“Don’t take the Expressway,” Xander said as he set the pizza boxes on the table. “There was an accident and traffic is a bitch.”
“Oh. I hope the pizza isn’t cold. Is the pizza cold?” Anya opened one of the boxes and peered inside. “I don’t like cold pizza.”
“Do you think Buffy will want any?” Tara asked softly, putting plates and napkins on the table. She glanced in the direction of the stairs, wondering if the girl in question would come down and join them.
“I guess it depends on if there’s any new news about tattoo boy. I didn’t see anything about a stunt gone wrong on the Internet yet, but then maybe they don’t put those on ‘The Xander Zone’… Failure doesn’t very well fit the daredevil persona he’s trying to uphold,” Xander quipped sarcastically. “Hand me a slice of that pepperoni will ya?”
“She left about an hour ago,” Willow corrected “Something about Xander and going to LA. She said she didn’t know anything more than what she heard a few days ago, so still nothing about what happened.”
“Oh, then that’s why she was in Xander’s car,” the former vengeance demon murmured. At the pointed look from her boyfriend, Anya simply shrugged. She didn’t see why it had been important enough to mention.
“He left Buffy his car? To drive?” Dawn slipped into a chair at the table. Her questions reflected both her surprise and curiosity. “I thought that car was like, his baby or something.”
“Hey, he likes being a daredevil and what’s more daredevily than letting Buffy drive your car, huh?” Xander commented through a mouthful of pizza. “Did she say anything? Like where she was going or when she’d be back?”
“Just LA,” the red haired wicca replied taking her seat at the table. “She said something about “them” bringing Xander back, which I guess is his crew, but that’s all she said she knew.”
“Huh.” Xander snorted. “LA and not to his place here? Wonder what he’s not telling her? Hey, maybe they’re breaking up,” he suggested almost happily. “Think they could be breaking up? And shouldn’t she tell us when she’s coming back? I mean, Dawn should know right? Sister, responsible care and all that?”
“Hey! I can take care of myself,” Dawn countered somewhat heatedly.
“I don’t think so – about them breaking up – but then I don’t know,” Willow returned with a shake of her head. “Like I said, she didn’t say much.”
“Xander… he’s alive… right?” Dawn asked hesitantly. She knew the others objected to the big guy in her sister’s life, but he had always been nice to her and lately she had begun to think that maybe having him around was a good thing.
The gang at the table looked at each other silently for a moment; they hadn’t considered that as a possibility.
“He must be,” Tara finally said. “Buffy would have known otherwise. I mean, they would have told her on the phone, I think. Right?”
Buffy inhaled deeply and slowed her pace as she approached the nurses’ station. The armed forces personnel and weapon carrying guards posted at various stations at the military hospital did very little to soothe her unease.
“I’m looking for X… Xander. Cage. Xander Cage. He’s a … patient here,” her whispered words still sounded overly loud in the quiet lobby. She still knew nothing about what had happened; she had only been told that he had been transferred to the VA hospital in Los Angeles and that she would be able to see him.
“And you are…?” the nurse behind the counter asked impatiently without glancing up from the computer screen.
“Buffy Summers…” Buffy forced a polite response, when what she really wanted to do was reach over the counter, grab the woman by her shoulders and shake her. The Slayer closed her eyes and took a deep breath… it was her own anxiety to find out about Xander, and to understand what had happened, what had gone so terribly wrong, that was making her edgy, not the nurse’s less than welcoming greeting.
After what seemed like a minute of typing, the woman finally looked up at Buffy. Indeed, a ‘Buffy Summers’ was listed as an authorized contact for the patient in the restricted ward. Sighing, she said, “264. It’s right through there. You’ll need to show ID to the guard at the door.”
Buffy nodded her thanks before turning in the direction she pointed.
When she reached Xander’s room, Buffy paused and braced herself before pushing the door open. She walked in slowly, looking fearfully at the large and still form on the bed. X’s skin was so pale it was nearly translucent; she knew from experience that meant he had lost a lot of blood. A large bandage covered his head, his left eye was swollen and black, and his cheek and jaw were purple and mottled with bruises. There were tubes in his mouth helping him breathe, and others monitoring she knew not what.
Buffy continued her examination as she approached the bed, noting that Xander’s left arm was heavily bandaged – probably a cast – while his right appeared largely unscathed except for the IV tube taped near the crease of his elbow. Whatever had hit him had done so hard from the left, she noted, unable to stop her Slayer instincts for situation assessment from kicking in. Something pretty big.
His left leg, also in a cast, was suspended by wires hanging down from the ceiling. She was afraid though, of what other damage might have been done to that was not visible; cuts and bruises heal, but internal damage…
Buffy jumped, startled by the voice. She hadn’t noticed the man standing near the window, his hands clasped behind his back.
“How is he?” Buffy asked worriedly skipping any niceties in greeting the man she knew as Xander’s boss of sorts.
Augustus adjusted his cuffs, a long-standing habit when collecting his thoughts. He glanced at the man on the bed before turning his gaze to Buffy.
“His left leg is broken in three places, and the kneecap is shattered. His right ankle is also broken. They did the surgery in Frankfurt to put in the necessary pins to ensure the bones heal correctly. His left arm is broken. Two ribs are and several vertebra are fractured, but surprisingly there seem to be no serious injuries to his liver, kidneys or spleen.” He spoke so matter-of-factly that he could be giving a business brief in one of his many situation meetings. “His head hit the window causing a serious gash; that’s been stitched up but the head trauma is the real concern. We won’t know the full extent of the damage until he wakes up. If he wakes up. He hasn’t regained consciousness since he was brought in.”
“Dr. Martin, the best neurologist in the continental United States, has been already been in and will continue to be here as necessary.” The NSA operative continued calmly. “Dr. King, a top orthopedic surgeon, is flying in this afternoon to review the x-rays and confirm that his bones have been set properly. He’ll take over Xander’s primary care. His methods are considered unorthodox and aggressive by some, but he gets good results.” Augustus also knew that Dr. King had treated several of X’s injuries before and was someone he considered a friend; he could also be trusted to do everything in his power to make sure the tattooed field agent would survive.
Buffy studied the man in the bed while Augustus had run through the list of injuries. His eyelids had not even moved at the sound of the voices in the room, but the slow and steady beep of the heart monitor reassured her that he was still alive.
“So what happened? Did you get… whatever it was?” Buffy asked, her voice grave but with a hint of menace. The Slayer would finish the job if needed – and take revenge.
Augustus gave a nod of acknowledgement, understanding and appreciating her implied offer. “We did … get it, in a manner of speaking. It was 40 tonnes of out of control semi driven by a late to make his delivery, drunk and probably Serbian driver, with no headlights in what is very dark country. Xander and his crew had just blown up an abandoned farmhouse eliminating a nest of shape-shifters… I doubt they heard the truck over the sounds of the explosion. They definitely didn’t expect it to cut across a field and come straight at them.”
Buffy touched Xander on the shoulder. Incredible. Given all the dangers they regularly faced it seemed somehow ironic to cut down by failures in human nature…
“We lost two. The driver of the semi didn’t make it. It’s a miracle X and the other two of his crew survived.” After a minute Augustus’ tone softened. “He’s a fighter. He’ll pull through this.”
“Yeah….” Buffy agreed after a slight hesitation. It was hard, seeing him like this, but the NSA agent was right… Xander was a fighter. If anyone could survive this, he would.
“You really think this is it?” Angel asked skeptically, his attention fixed on the printed images now covering most of the wall.
“The Earth’s own energy flows in ancient, mysterious and deep courses. At these places where the Earth’s spiritual pulse can be felt most acutely, or so the theory goes, our ancestors have built great temples or carved these vast images.” Wes said as he marked an “x” at a point on the printed photo where a pair of lines intersected. He quickly marked a second “x” then stepped back as if surveying his work against the larger image. “One such place is well, this, the Nizca plain in Peru. The immense drawings can truly only be seen from the sky. Amazing really when you consider the shapes they form – whales, flowers, condors. It’s been suggested that these images were to be viewed by the gods.”
“That’s great Wes, but tell me again what this has to do with my soul?” the vampire looked sidelong at his friend.
“Or, the images can be seen by souls ascending, either in death or during visions.”
“And…” Angel prompted patiently.
“Here, at either of these points on this plain that we can tap into this primordial power. With the proper ritual, which I have found in that book there, and careful attention to balance the chi and the sha-” Seeing the brows raised in question on the taller man, Wes amended, “The existing positive and the negative energies – we can secure your soul.”
“So Peru then?” Angel ran a hand through this hair. He knew from experience that travel by cargo ship was slow; from LA to Peru it could be as long as 40 days given the slow freighters and all the stops.
“I took the liberty of reserving a private jet for this 6pm this evening. It’s little over 8 hours so we should be there before dawn.” Wes confirmed as he began to put the various books and papers into a leather messenger bag. Sensing some hesitation from his friend, the former watcher added, “Unless of course…”
“No, let’s go.” Angel nodded thoughtfully.
The nurses that attended Xander throughout the day moved quickly and efficiently as they checked his vitals, and changed his IV and medications. They would exchange a few pleasantries but nothing more in the way of conversation, which Buffy chalked up to standard military secrecy and security. They had removed his breathing tube last night, which she took as a good sign that X’s body was healing.
As the days slid into a week then two, she spent most of her time sitting in the chair by the bed, or pacing silently around his room. She wasn’t able to concentrate on the book she brought to read, and found that trying to play games on her phone only made her anxious. Today, however, she was determined today to catch X’s doctor and get an update on his condition.
The quick staccato tap of heels on the hospital tile floor could be heard before the door opened, so Buffy was watching the door when the unfamiliar dark haired woman entered.
“Hello,” the woman said after only a slight hesitation, quickly concealing her surprise at finding anyone other than the patient in the room.
Buffy absently noted the slight accent in the woman’s voice as she came to her feet. And somewhat oddly, her senses suddenly came alert as if she were facing something dangerous. “Hi.”
They two women stared at each other for a long moment, quietly assessing. “Who are you?” the Slayer finally asked concluding that the woman did seem to be human, though perhaps no less threatening given Buffy’s suspicions as to who she was.
“Yelena,” the brunette confirmed, her gaze now fixed on the man in the hospital bed. She moved closer, her expression obviously troubled as she stared down at Xander.
Buffy considered the woman calmly and tried to sort out her thoughts at seeing Xander’s ex live and in person in front of her. She was beautiful, but then Buffy had expected no less. She had an easy and elegant sophistication in her dress; a white sheer sweater over a black tank, black leggings, and knee high heeled boots. Her hair was pulled back in a messy bun. She wore diamond stud earrings, but no other visible jewelry.
“What are you doing here?” Buffy inquired almost archly. She couldn’t keep the anger out of her voice. This woman had left X without any explanation and no way to contact her; now, out of the blue, she was here?
“I would ask you the same,” Yelena returned, finally looking back at the woman opposite her. “But then I know Xander so you must be the woman in his life.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.” Buffy crossed her arms across her chest.
“He almost died. I heard the news, so I came.” She was running her fingertips lightly along Xander’s arm.
“I find your concern a little hard to believe.” The blonde slayer countered.
“Believe what you want,” Yelena snapped back with a lift of one shoulder.
“How did you hear-“ Buffy stopped, turning her attention to the man between them as he stirred on the bed, moving for the first time since his arrival. After a few moments he seemed to gasp for air, unable to catch a breath. The steady even beep of the bedside monitor was increasing in pace as Xander began to thrash on the bed.
“Xander?” Buffy asked worriedly, her brow creating with concern. She was both pleased and alarmed to see him moving after so many days of lying so still, but his breathing and the increasing pace of the beeping monitor… Was the faster beeping a good or bad thing? Worriedly, she asked, “Xander… ? Xander, can you hear me?”
Xander’s eyes opened. Gradually he seemed to calm, his movements slowing and his breath, while still labored, grew deep and steady. He blinked, once, twice as if trying to focus. “Buffy?” he murmured, looking in the direction of the touch he could feel on his arm. As the fog cleared from his gaze, he saw Yelena. He blinked again in confusion, his brown creasing in consternation.
“Hello Xander.” The brunette smiled tentatively.
“What the fu-“ With a groan, he closed his eyes. He must be seeing things.
The door swung open and a doctor strode quickly through the door, a nurse fast on his heels. The alarms monitoring the patient’s vitals had gone off at the nurse’s station alerting them of change so they had rushed immediately to the room.
“What happened?” Dr. King said brusquely, glancing between the two women as he approached the bed.
“He started moving, seemed like he couldn’t breathe. Then he woke up… kind of,” Buffy answered, stepping back to let the doctor reach X’s bedside.
“Xander? Xander, it’s Dr. King. Can you hear me?”
“Yeah, yeah, stop shouting.” Xander replied after a long pause. His words were slow and slightly slurred from the heavy doses of pain medication they had been giving him.
“It’s good to hear your voice,” Dr. King smiled as he removed a stethoscope from his pocket. “You’ve been kicking back here for almost 3 weeks now. Time you finally came around.”
Xander’s lips curved up in a slight smile in response but his eyes remained closed. “I thought I’d take some time off. Some R&R.”
“Well, let’s see if you’re well rested then,” the doctor nodded to the nurse as she held open the chart previously clipped to the foot of the bed for his perusal.
Opening his eyes again, Xander looked at Yelena then Dr. King and finally to Buffy, standing slightly behind the doctor. “I think I’m hallucinating. Must be the meds.”
As the plane descended into LA, Wes looked worriedly at Angel. The vampire had moved very little during the flight, his strength seemingly exhausted from the rituals they had performed in the elaborate diagrams on the Peruvian plains.
The spell itself had been simple, the combination of ingredients complex, but none of them had expected the electrical storm that had resulted or the lightning bolts that had struck Angel and lifted him high into the air. He slammed into the ground hard when the elements subsided as quickly as they had hit, leaving the vampire with a strange ethereal glow and a dusting of what Cordelia had disbelievingly called glitter.
They watched their friend worriedly for the better part of an hour, moving him to a cot in a makeshift tent and trying to make him comfortable while frantically digging through the books that Wes had brought along in hopes of finding something, anything that might give them a clue as to the success or failure of their mission. When Angel finally stirred the glow – and glitter effect – had subsided. He seemed to recover enough strength to get back to the jeep and subsequently the airfield where their chartered plane waited. He said very little however, and his friends were still concerned.
“I still can’t believe he was… glittering,” Cordelia whispered in disbelief. She searched the tall vampire’s form critically for any remaining sign of the offending sheen. Fortunately it appeared to have gone. “That’s so… Twilight. And so… just not okay.”
“It’s not like he did it on purpose,” Gunn excused with a sigh. “Or that we knew that’s what would happen.”
“It definitely wasn’t in the book,” Wesley agreed absently, thumbing through the pages for what must be the easily the 100th time.
Angel listened absently as the conversation continued, his eyes closed. The after effects of the electrical shock – for lack of a better description – were beginning to subside. The initial effect of feeling as if every single nerve in his body had been fired had been overwhelming. He hadn’t been able to speak or think and every touch had been excruciatingly painful. His overwhelmed system had simply blacked out against the barrage of sensation. Now however, he was starting to feel like himself again. Only… more so. He felt different though, more … solid, maybe even stronger. He could still feel the demon inside him, so he knew that hadn’t changed. But the feeling that he had changed in some fundamental way was undeniable.
Buffy followed Yelena down the hallway to the small hospital waiting room. She watched as the brunette examined the choices in the coffee vending machine and then made a selection.
They had both stepped out of the room, giving the doctor and X some privacy for whatever follow up exam was necessary now that the patient was awake.
“So why are you here?” Buffy asked, surprised when Yelena handed the cup of coffee from the machine to her then chose another of the same.
“He doesn’t know why I left him,” the Ukrainian woman said by way of answer. She took a seat on the small sofa behind her.
“No, at least not that he has told me,” Buffy admitted as she hesitantly took the seat across from her rival for X’s affections.
“The NSA… they promised me immunity and citizenship,” Yelena said quietly, sipping her drink. “But at a price. They had a few jobs for me, and more so, they didn’t want X distracted from the jobs they had for him.”
“You… they told you that?” the blonde slayer knew all too well the personal sacrifices made in the name of duty, as well as the influence and direction from interfering friends, societies, or others that deemed themselves “in charge”.
“Not directly. That’s not how they work.” Yelena dropped her gaze. “They came for me in the middle of the night. I didn’t even know where I was going. For two years I was in the Republic of Chechnya, undercover… dealing with organized crime, sex trafficking, drugs. After the bust, I thought I could go home, back to Xander… but there was another job, another reason why he shouldn’t know where I was for his safety or mine… and then, when that was finally over… there was no home to go back too. So I took the next job. And I let myself believe that it was the job that mattered, not my personal life, not anyone. And then, after a while… it was easier. This is not the kind of job where you can have personal attachments.”
Buffy gave a nod of understanding.
“But I never stopped wondering where he was, or thinking about him… I missed him, every day. Watching the videos of his stunts… it became like an addiction. I would fall asleep with them playing, even though I knew it was only a reminder of what I didn’t have, maybe couldn’t have… And when I knew he had another woman, it hurt… but I would be lying if I said there had not been other men.” She paused, taking a slip of her cooling coffee. She studied her fingernails for a moment before continuing, “When I heard he had been hurt, I had to come… I’m not supposed to know where he is, what he does, but the NSA is not as secure as they think. Agents talk, at least with the right incentives. If Xander had died….” She closed her eyes as they welled with tears. After a moment she wiped them away angrily. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this… you are with him now. No woman likes the previous women in her man’s life to come around.”
“Maybe… I don’t know,” Buffy began, her thoughts a jumbled, confused mess. She had wanted to dislike Yelena, to angrily tell her to leave and not come back. But now… “Xander… well, you know he’s great. And I do … I do care for him,” she admitted, choosing to leave out the word love though she knew it applied. Certainly having his former lover walk back into his life… their lives… could and probably would change everything between them. Yet, she didn’t know what Xander thought, what was in his head. Neither of them did. And to add even more confusion, in the midst of the jumble of feelings, images of a tall, dark haired vampire rose. Yelena’s feelings, her words… wasn’t it much the same as what she felt for Angel? How she had rationalized things?
“I deliberately compromised my identity,” Yelena said, interrupting Buffy’s train of thought. “Now I have to leave the job, and the NSA. Whatever the ramifications, if they go back on their promises, it doesn’t matter. I had to see him. But I should go… this is not how I wanted things to be…”
“No, you should stay.” Buffy directed plainly. “You need to talk to Xander. He needs to hear from you why you left, where you’ve been… He deserves that much, no matter… what happens from there.”
“If he will understand. Or, if he will even forgive me, you mean.”
“I don’t know.” Her own feelings too unsettled, Buffy didn’t know what she wanted. She had just begun to think about a future with Xander Cage. But as was all too often the case in her life, the fates just seemed to conspire against her.
“I’ll stay,” the brunette found herself saying before she could think about the consequences of the decision.
“I hope that they let you.” Buffy wasn’t sure you could just quit the organization in question that easily. But, she would bet her eyeteeth that they knew Yelena was here… after all she got through the armed guards at the security checkpoint and into the hospital room.
And with that, Buffy thought with a sigh, she may just have torpedoed her own future… Suddenly she needed some air. Or to kill something. Or maybe both. She stood and tried to smile. “Thanks for the coffee.”
The lights were on in the house on Revello Drive as Angel cruised by and then parked the GTX just out of sight down the street. It had been impulse that had led to the drive to Sunnydale, and now that he was here he wasn’t sure what he was going to say or do.
How often had he skulked around these neighborhoods in the years past, at first to get a glimpse of the blonde Slayer and then later, to sneak in her room for more than a glimpse? Those nights indulging in adolescent passion were some of his fondest memories. How easy those days seemed now, and how long ago. Of course in memory things are always less difficult than they were at the time.
Hands in his pockets, he leaned against a tree in the neighbor’s yard and watched as Dawn joined Tara on the couch. They seemed to be planning to watch a movie. He glanced up and noted that the lights were off in Buffy’s room. He wasn’t surprised… he hadn’t felt her presence. Though he wondered idly if that might have changed with the spell securing his soul.
Her friends had been petulant and complaining when he saw them last. Would that have changed? After a few minutes of consideration, he decided he didn’t want to ask them where she might be or try to answer the questions about why he was there when he didn’t know himself. Pushing away from the tree he walked slowly along the tree lined street in the direction of the nearest cemetery.
If he found her, what was he going to say? Was she still seeing the guy that was known as Triple X? What if she was, and she was happy with him? Maybe he should leave well enough alone, maybe she had moved on and was happy now?
Maybe, he thought to himself, but he still wanted, no needed, to see her. If she were happy, he would leave well enough alone. It was, after all, why he had left her, and only a small part of what she deserved.
But didn’t she deserve to know about his soul? A voice inside his head suggested. His demon countered the voice with a sneer that it wouldn’t matter, that the Slayer had moved on from his weak souled self. There would be no getting her back, no more feeling the sweet, hot- Angel mentally jerked the leash on his demon, curtailing the lascivious thoughts sure to follow. He didn’t need those images just now. But he did need confirmation that she was well and happy…
The vibration of his phone in his pocket interrupted his musing. He glanced at the callerID on the screen as he pushed the buttons to answer, hit the wrong one and promptly hung up the caller. He missed his old flip phone and the ease of answering a call… these smart phones really weren’t that smart. He waited and within several seconds the phone vibrated again. This time he answered, “Angel.”
“When are you going to figure out that phone?” Cordelia asked in a hushed whisper. “And where are you?”
“Maybe never,” Angel replied grumpily as he crossed the street and into the cemetery gates.
“Uh,huh. And?” the former cheerleader asked impatiently.
“Where are you?” She repeated her question even though she guessed by the quick and stealthy way that Angel had slipped from the hotel right after the sun slid below the horizon that he most likely had gone to their former home town. “And are you okay?”
“Why? And why are you whispering?”
“You’re in Sunnydale, aren’t you?” Cordelia stepped around the shopper examining oranges and peered around the corner into the deli. “And I’m whispering because it’s rude to talk on your cell phone loudly in public.”
Angel sighed. “What are you-“
“Tell me you’re okay. And do you even have a plan?” She interrupted, not waiting for his reply. “What are you going to say? Did you even get flowers?”
“I’m fine, Delia. I-“
“I knew it. Listen, you can’t just go there and say, hey look, I have a soul. Want to have sex?”
“I wasn’t goin-“ Angel started, both chagrin and irritation obvious in his tone.
“This requires planning. Think of it like a case. First you need background and information. Where is she, and who is she with, what is she doing – but not like, in a stalkery kind of way. In a … interested, caring kind of way. Then you need to determine a plan of attack… but not like, attack … you know what I mean.”
“And?” the tall vampire had to admit that she had a point. He needed to organize his thoughts, he needed a plan.
“Like, for example, Buffy is in LA at the Whole Foods market on Gayley, alone and buying fruit and what looks like some kind of pastry. That will go right to the hips, mark my words.”
“What?” Angel stopped short.
“Buffy is in LA, so if you’re in Sunnydale where I think you are you aren’t going to find her. At least not today.” Cordelia answered bluntly. “Now I’m going to say hi to her and find out what she’s doing here. And maybe if you promise that I can get that pair of Jimmy Choo’s that I’ve been wanting, I’ll tell you what I find out. Drive back safely, Angel.” The phone beeped as the brunette hung up.
Buffy’s brows lifted as she walked into the hospital room. Xander was propped up in bed and talking to someone on a laptop set up in front of him, and from the little bit she heard the conversation was animated and not friendly.
“Look, I gotta go,” Xander concluded abruptly as he looked up. He smiled, the hostile expression slipping from his face, and snapped the laptop closed with his right hand without waiting for a response.
“Business or personal?” Buffy tried to keep her tone light as she advanced toward the bed. She didn’t think that X should be doing anything more than resting considering the extent of his injuries, but she knew that was unlikely.
“Business,” he answered honestly, holding out his hand for her. When he didn’t elaborate further, she knew not to ask.
“How are you feeling?” She squeezed his hand and let him tug her closer. She was comforted by the formidable strength she could feel in arm; it reassured her that he was strong, vital and on the road to recovery. At his continued pull, she leaned forward and dropped a kiss on his lips.
“Better now,” he replied with an affectionate gaze. He shifted, settling back against the pillows.
Buffy could see him hide the grimace of pain as he moved and she wondered if stopping all the pain medications as X insisted was such a good idea. She also wondered how to broach the other subject on her mind… the one waiting out in the hallway.
“So…” she began, searching for words. Best to do this quickly, like taking off a bandaid. Just… tear it right off. She avoided his eyes, choosing instead to study her raspberry colored toenails. “I met Yelena.”
“Yeah, I thought she was here.” The muscle in his jaw flexed and his gaze narrowed as he looked toward the window. “I’m sorry-“
“No, it’s okay. I mean, I understand.” She returned her gaze to his face, watching his expression as if he might give away some clue as to what he was thinking.
“That makes one of us then,” he answered. His lips curved up in a rueful smile as his eyes met hers.
Frowning, X shrugged. “She made her choice. What happened… this… it doesn’t change anything.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but …” Buffy said tentatively, “have you even talked to her since she’s been here? To ask her what happened?”
“I don’t need to,” he countered somewhat curtly.
Sighing, Buffy persisted despite her own conflicted feelings. “I just think that … maybe you should talk her to her. At least give her a chance to… explain.”
“Why?” His brows lifted questioningly.
“Look, I’m not the best person to give relationship advice… but I do know that when things are unresolved, they never go away,” she explained hesitantly. “They just grow… or if they don’t grow, they stick around and mold and smell and become something you don’t want to have around. And now that she’s here…”
He watched her carefully, looking for some hidden nuance; something that would give understanding to what was underlying her words. He had not expected Buffy to champion his ex’s cause. “What are you saying?”
“I think you should at least hear her out.” The words came out in a rush. She could tell she was arousing Xander’s suspicions and this wasn’t coming out as she had planned in her head.
“Buffy, babe… if this is about us…” he again reached for her hand. He knew that he had fallen for the beautiful blonde Slayer months ago, but he never pushed her about a future. Was she uncertain about his feelings? Should he have told her what he had been thinking and feeling? Regardless of his feelings or Yelena, whatever they were he wasn’t sure at just this minute, he never wanted to hurt Buffy.
“It is, but it’s also… not.” Buffy sat on the bed next to him and picked up his hand. She kissed one of his bruised knuckles and smiled. “I like us… I’m happy there is an us… but… before there was an us, there was a you and her.” Her glance settled on the intertwined Y and X on his forearm. “And she still cares… and I think you do too…” She returned her gaze to his face. “Look, Xander, I’m trying to do the right thing here. Just talk to her. If there’s still something between you, then you need to find out. And if it’s what I think it was, then I think you should think about it, and maybe to take a chance on it. And … if it’s not, then… well, you know where I’ll be.” She leaned forward then and kissed him, a slow, sweet, gentle lingering kiss. She stopped the words he was going to say with a small shake of her head. Forcing a smile, she stood and walked away.
Just outside the door, Buffy stopped opposite Yelena. Was she doing the right thing? He had been so wonderful to have in her life… and she was willingly giving him away. She sighed and looked at the brunette waiting. “Go and see him.”
Yelena wanted to smile but found that she was too tense.
Buffy started to leave, but then hesitated. She turned back, her gaze narrowed and her expression closed. She straightened her spine. “He’s a great guy. Don’t fuck it up this time.”
Seeing the formidable Slayer in the small blonde that she had only glimpsed in X’s demon fighting video, Yelena understood now why the diminutive blonde was feared and respected by so many. She nodded.
Having run into Cordelia at the Whole Foods market yesterday evening, Buffy was not completely surprised to see Angel standing outside her hotel room door. He was wearing a long black coat, his hands tucked in the pockets and there was something about his stance that reminded her of days past when he would meet her to go on patrol – though that wasn’t all they often did. There was always something about him that took her breath away, and that was true even today.
She had tried to be evasive in answering the former Sunnydale cheerleader’s questions about the reason for her visit to LA but Cordelia’s persistence had managed to extract some details about Xander, the hospital and her hotel.
“Are you all right?” Angel asked worriedly as she neared the door. His glance swept over her from head to toe as if to confirm for himself that she was unharmed.
“Yes,” Buffy replied tiredly.
“It wasn’t a stunt,” Buffy cut him off coldly before he could finish. Cordelia had pressed for details but had gotten only ‘accident’ from her. And tonight, Buffy wasn’t particularly in the mood for word games or lectures or any other sort of justification that her vampire ex might be seeking. “Not that it’s any of your business, but Xander works for the NSA. He hunts and kills demons professionally. Kind of like us, only he gets paid for it. Or, I guess like you. Not me. I don’t get paid. Lucky me.”
“I know.” Angel shrugged agreeably. He had done his homework on Buffy’s boyfriend of the last several months. Cordelia’s suggestion of research and coming up with a plan hadn’t fallen on deaf ears. It had taken some pretty sophisticated hacking though to uncover the details on the NSA agent and the recent accident but he had managed.
“Oh.” Buffy shrugged dismissively. She should have known that Angel would have investigated his background.
“Is he… all right?” he asked politely, though he already knew the answer from having read through the confidential medical files. The tattooed agent had extensive injuries but would heal in time.
“He will be,” she answered, reaching in her bag to search for her room key. She paused and looked up at the tall man behind her. Better to find out and get this – whatever it was – over with. “Angel, what are you doing here?”
“I… can we talk?”
“Look, I don’t know-” she was tired and the day had been emotionally draining. Her heart, while maybe not completely broken, was definitely battered and bruised. She did love Xander; it hadn’t been easy to let him go. The last thing she wanted tonight was another heartbreaking talk – and usually when Angel wanted to talk that was the result.
A small silence fell. A car door closed nearby and someone laughed.
“Okay,” Buffy finally said in the lengthening silence. “You want to find a sewer for this talk, or should we go inside?” She couldn’t keep the edge out of her tone.
Angel gave her an assessing look as though trying to gauge her mood. “Inside.”
She opened the door, and without looking back went inside. She turned on the light, set her bag down on the small suitcase that was perched precariously on a chair. She scooped up a purple bra that had been draped over the back of the chair and tucked it quickly in the suitcase with a surreptitious look in Angel’s direction. Finally she sat on the bed, her hands tucked under her thighs and waited.
Angel wasn’t sure whether to sit or stand, though he wasn’t certain if sitting next to her on the bed in this intimate setting would be a good idea. He stayed where he was near the door.
“So… are you going to talk or just stand there?”
Angel shrugged out of his coast and after a few seconds of consideration, walked over and draped it over Buffy’s things on the chair. Approaching the bed next, he lowered down into a squat in front of her.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes, Buffy. I tried to do what I thought was the right thing… I have always wanted the best for you. And I… I was never that. You know some of my past… there are things there… I’ve done … some reprehensible things. Unforgivable things.”
“But your life… it isn’t normal, and it isn’t going to be.”
Buffy’s brows lifted and she let out a soft snort.
“And neither is mine. Our lives… they will never be normal. Not with who we are, what we do. I know that. And you were right… I did tell you that we’d make it work, and then I left you. I left you because I didn’t trust myself. After you… after I fed off you, I didn’t trust myself to be around you. It wasn’t anything you did, but I couldn’t… I wanted you more than you will ever know, but I couldn’t take the chance that I would lose control. I was afraid of myself, and of what I might do.”
She said nothing, only watched him intently, wondering why he felt the need for this disclosure right now.
“I never wanted you to think that I would put anyone over you. Not Faith, not Cordelia… but I also didn’t open up and talk to you,” he continued. “That’s just not me. I’ve been alone too long, haven’t trusted anyone… But I think you know that.”
Tilting her head to the side, she silently agreed.
“When you came back… from heaven… I trusted myself even less. I know how much you were hurting, and I hated turning you away, I hated myself for saying no to you… but I knew, I knew I wouldn’t have the strength to help you without things going too far…. and we both know what that means for my soul.”
Reaching out, he took one of her hands in his. “And I still thought me staying away from you was the best thing for you. I wanted you to be happy, to have something… someone… that could at least give you the things I couldn’t… at least make you feel like a ‘regular kid’.” He smiled slightly at the memory of the conversation in her room late one night where she told him she wanted. “You wanted that once.”
Buffy gave a slight smile in return. She remembered their conversation and her comment about her ‘cradle-robbing creature of the night boyfriend’.
“I thought if I got out of the way, if I stayed out of the way, you could have that. Or at least something closer to it. Maybe you found that now, with Xander, I don’t know. It wasn’t my intention to come here and screw up your life, Buffy, but I want you to know that I’ve been wrong.” He was moving his thumb slowly over the back of her hand, gently, soothingly. “Wrong about a lot of things, and especially those that matter between us. It may not change anything… I mean, I can understand after everything that you may not want to have anything to do with me… But I wanted you to know that… I found a way… that Wes found a way,” he corrected, dropping his gaze for a moment, “to secure my soul. It doesn’t fix everything between us I know. It’s only one obstacle-“
“A very big, giant, boulderly size obstacle,” the blonde Slayer amended, with caution in her voice and a clear wariness in her gaze.
“Right. Not that that’s the only issue… there are things that we need to talk about, to resolve. I mean a relationship… it’s not just about… the physical stuff… that’s important of course but there are other things to consider. And I don’t even know… if that’s what you want.” Angel paused. He couldn’t blame her for her hesitation.
“What are you saying Angel?” Buffy asked, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear. Her heart began palpitating a bit at the hopeful turn of possibility this conversation may be taking.
The dark vampire studied her expression. “I’ve loved you Buffy, since the first moment I saw you. That hasn’t changed – I still love you. I’m saying that I want to be part of your life, and to have you in mine.”
“Part of my life? As in, you and me, us, a couple?” Her eyes were shuttered, her posture giving nothing away as she sat stiffly on the bed. “You want to try to make us… a relationship work?”
“If that’s what you want.” Hesitantly he brushed her cheek with his fingertips. After a few seconds, he amended, “If it’s not, I can understand. I want you to be happy.”
“It’s what I’ve always wanted Angel,” Buffy returned softly, her gaze meeting his.
Releasing her hands, he rose to his full height and pulled her to her feet. “Are you sure?”
She looked him directly in the eye, still uncertain, but at the same time hopeful. Things sometime do work out, right? “It’s going to take some work, but yes.”
“What about Xander Cage?” Angel didn’t want to ask, but knew he should.
“Xander and I… well you know I loved him. I do… I did.. But before I knew him, he was in love with someone else and … well, she’s back now. Their story … it could be our story, really. Almost losing someone I guess reminds you that you need to fix things with them when you still can. I think maybe they’re working things out.”
“Are you okay with that?” A flash of anger crossed his features at the thought of the guy using Buffy then putting her aside when his ex returned to town.
“It was my idea actually,” Buffy replied with a shrug. “I know what it’s like… to love someone so much and to lose them. If they can find a way to make it work…”
Putting his hand on her waist he pulled her closer. “I can’t change what I’ve done, and what I’ve done to you. I don’t know how I can make that up to you, to make it right…”
She took a step bringing her body flush against his. “Maybe we should let the past… stay in the past. And we… we just start over.”
“I think, Angel, that’s the only way for us to … be an us.”
“Whatever you want.” He drew her closer, his arms closing around her. He closed his eyes and buried his face in her hair as he counted his good luck and good fortune.
“So, what now? We talk? We date? We call?” she murmured, wondering if they were somehow fated after all; he had come back into her life at just this moment when she needed him, at just the right, exact moment when her future was open to possibility.
“How about all of it?” He drew back so he could see her face.
“It has to be different this time, you know? You have to learn to talk to me… not to make decisions for me. This has to be a partnership, Angel.”
“I know,” he replied, brushing her lips lightly with his. He’d do anything she needed him to do.
Six months later Buffy sat on the porch waiting for Angel and listening absently to the chatter of her friends inside. Bit by bit she and her ‘cradle robbing creature of the night boyfriend’ had put the past behind them and rebuilt a better, stronger relationship. It hadn’t been easy with the distance between them, Buffy staying in Sunnydale to protect the Hellmouth and Angel staying on in LA to take care of whatever assignments the Powers that Be seemed to throw his way – or with her friend’s objections, but it happened easier than either of them expected.
She smiled when she came across postcard in the mail in her lap. Xander and Yelena were in the Maldives it seemed. She and X talked from time to time, their relationship evolving to a friendship that helped them both navigate the waters of establishing new relationships with former past lovers. Xander wasn’t back to work for the NSA and wasn’t sure he would return, but at least he was on the mend after his injuries.
Lights of an approaching car drew her attention and Buffy stood and squinted into the dark. Her smiled widened into a grin as she glimpsed a second vehicle behind the GTX, a U-Haul van driven by Wesley. So Angel really was moving back to Sunnydale, back to the mansion…
She dropped the mail absently on the bench and reached for her bag of stakes. There were rumors of a new vampire nest on the west side of town so she had work to do before she could help with the unpacking… as well as moving a few things of her own.
Angel parked and was leaning against the GTX waiting for her.
Life would never be perfect, but as long as they had each other it would be just fine…