Thanks to Lizbet and Val for the challenge and to Perri for betareading this for me. This story is dedicated to Celli.
Standard disclaimers apply
Buffy Summers sat up in her bed and brushed her hands through her hair. Sunlight trickled into her bedroom through the wooden blinds, making unusual patterns of shadows across her bed and the floor. She stared at the patterns absently at first, and then she noticed that a small patch of light met a shadow right before her closet doors.
"Kind of like me and Angel," she mused. "God, why am I always thinking about him! Because you're seriously gone on the guy...well, vampire.... Ah!" Buffy threw her head forward, burying it in her comforter.
"Buffy? Are you awake?" Her mom called to her.
Buffy lifted her head. "Yes, mom. I'm up," she called back, adding, "Before the alarm this time."
Crawling out of bed, Buffy walked to her closet to make a choice about the day's fashion statement. This part of her morning always took longer than she intended. As she opened the closet door, she looked down and noticed that little patch of light again. She smiled as she thought of Angel.
"Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!" she scolded herself. "You are --"
She broke off as her mother walked in. "Buffy, are you okay?"
"Fine, mom. Just having the usual difficulty deciding what to wear." She smiled again, feeling especially happy about life in general, and turned back to the closet.
"You're in a good mood today," her mom observed with a smile. "This wouldn't have anything to do with a birthday. Would it?"
"Birthday?" Buffy looked at her mom. "Oh, you know, with everything that's happened lately... New school year and all, the fiasco at Parent-Teacher night... I guess it slipped my mind."
"Slipped your mind?" Her mom quizzed back disbelieving. "Then you've been working too hard. Today's your day. How would you like to spend it?"
Her mom walked to the bed, folded a pillow under her arms, and sat down. "I thought maybe we could go to the mall, do some shopping, get some Ben & Jerry's. We could even see that new scary movie you mentioned last week. Or, did you want to invite Xander and Willow over?"
How about Angel? Buffy thought. She didn't have the heart to turn her mom down, but now that she remembered it was her birthday, she wanted to spend some time with Angel, which was always problematic.
As Buffy stood there lost in thought, her mom tried again, "If you'd rather make it a quiet night, we can do that, instead."
"Oh, mom, no. I mean, your idea is great. I can spend time with Willow and Xander tomorrow."
"Great. I'm just glad you don't mind hanging out with your old mom." She rose and tossed the pillow she'd been holding onto the bed. As she walked to the door, she stopped to give Buffy a hug. "Happy Birthday, Buffy. I love you."
"I love you too, mom. And thanks."
As her mom closed the door behind her, Buffy heard her say, "Hurry up. You don't want to be late."
Buffy sighed and gave her full attention to the closet again. After pulling out three or four skirts and tops, she finally decided on a blue ensemble and headed for the shower.
Finally satisfied with her appearance, Buffy picked up her bookbag and headed for the hall. She stopped right before the door and turned around to survey her room, watching the light patterns falling across her bed and the floor. Her gaze was drawn again to that spot on the floor just in front of the closet. In a flash of recognition, that little patch of light became a mission...
She smiled. "Willow, I have a job for you!"
Despite her best efforts to make it to first period on time, not to mention her mom's slightly creative driving, Buffy slipped into class right after the bell. She took her seat and kicked herself mentally for not arriving in time to see Willow before class. She only half paid attention to the lesson and was relieved when the second period bell rang forty-five minutes later.
Bolting from the room, she nearly collided with Cordelia at the door.
"Do you mind?" Cordelia snapped as she flipped her hair back.
"I'm sorry, Cordelia, but I'm in a hurry." Buffy moved past her, before Cordelia had a chance to reply.
Buffy ran to her locker, praying that Willow would already be there. She knew Xander would be there; he never seemed to go to his locker. Buffy and Willow often wondered what lived in there.
She was smiling when she reached her locker, but the smile faded when neither Willow nor Xander was in sight.
"Damn! Okay, Wil, where are you?" Buffy leaned against her locker and waited. No Willow. No Xander. She gave up when the next bell rang. "I'll just see you before lunch."
Buffy couldn't concentrate in any of her other morning classes. She wondered if Willow was out sick; Willow had been acting more reclusive lately. Her behavior reminded Buffy of the first time they'd met, when Willow's confidence had been almost non-existant. Now, though, this behavior was odd. Willow was stronger now; she'd given a couple of wacks to an internet demon and an a vampire. Wonder turned to worry when Buffy didn't see Willow at her locker before lunch.
Buffy decided she'd go to the library. She was starting to feel frustrated, and hitting something was becoming an imperative.
Buffy moped her way to the library and shoved opened the doors rather forcibly.
"Surprise!" A small chorus of well-wishers emerged from behind tables, chairs, and the circulation desk. Willow, Xander, Giles, and Ms. Calendar stood before her smiling.
"Wow, you guys.... And here I was all worried about you, Wil." Buffy smiled and gave her friend a hug. "I thought maybe a possession, or a spell or something."
Willow grinned, "No, just secrecy."
As soon as the two girls parted, Xander quickly seized the opportunity to hug Buffy too. "Happy birthday, Buffy."
"Happy birthday, Buffy," Giles added.
"Yes, happy birthday, Buffy," Ms. Calendar smiled.
Buffy looked at Giles and laughed. "I like the hat."
"I told you this was stupid," Giles snorted at Ms. Calendar. Looking up at Buffy, he added, "They made me wear it."
"Come on, Giles. Where's your birthday spirit?" Xander teased.
"Giles, seeing you in that hat is a nice birthday gift. Thank you." Buffy stood in front of him for a second, then gave into impulse and gave him a bear hug.
"Buffy...um..." Giles patted her shoulder as he stammered, "it's nice...to see you...so happy."
Before she pulled away, she reached up and grabbed the hat and watched as Giles turned a subtle shade of pink. "My turn." Placing the hat on her head, Buffy turned to the whole group. "So, where's the cake?"
The next thirty minutes Buffy spent laughing, talking, and eating cake with her friends. She managed to eat two pieces of cake. Xander beat them all by eating four pieces, and she'd noticed he'd wiped some icing off the corner of Willow's mouth half-way through their party. Willow had flashed him a killer sweet smile, which he'd actually returned. Life was good.
"Oh, Willow!" Buffy shouted abruptly, sitting up straight and hitting her leg on the table. "I forgot, I need your help with something."
"With what?" Willow asked. "Can it wait until after presents?"
Buffy looked around the room. "Presents? I don't need presents."
"Sure you do. Everyone needs presents." Xander slipped out of his chair and went to the circulation desk, grabbing two wrapped gifts from behind it. He walked back to the group and handed them to Buffy.
Buffy took the gifts, smiling, and set them on her lap. She felt giddy not knowing what she'd find inside. She only knew it wouldn't be the underwear her grandmother always sent, and she was eternally greatful.
"Go ahead," Willow prompted. "Open them."
"Okay." Buffy removed her party hat and opened the card on the first gift. It was from Giles and Jenny Calendar.' She quickly tore through the paper and opened the box. Inside was an amazing leather-bound book without a title. Buffy opened it and found all the pages empty. "Ah, Giles, we didn't release another demon, did we?"
"No, it's a diary. I know you keep one, and with all that happens in your life, I thought...um," he glanced at Ms. Calendar, "We thought that you could use another."
Buffy smiled. "It's beautiful."
"It was either that or a mace," Jenny offered with a little poke to Giles.
"Thanks. Thank you both."
"Okay, now ours." Willow looked to Xander and then to Buffy, who'd already set the diary aside and begun opening the other gift.
The card was a funny one, and Buffy imagined that Xander picked it out. She tore off the wrapping paper, and found a framed photograph of their trio. It was the photo her mom had taken a few months ago, of the three of them sitting huddled next to each other, looking very happy. She loved it.
"Thanks, you guys. It's perfect."
Xander and Willow exchanged smiles. "I'm glad," Willow said happily. "Now, what was it you needed?"
"I hate to interrupt," Giles said, "but it's almost time for you all to get to class."
"You're right. I have a quiz to give. Enjoy your day, Buffy." Ms. Calendar eyed Giles playfully before she left.
"Xander, Wil and I will catch up with you. I need to talk to her about a girl thing." Buffy gathered her gifts and started helping Willow clear off the table.
"Okay. Just this once." Xander smiled, "Happy birthday, Buffy." He left, turning briefly just to make sure he wasn't going to miss something.
"Here, I'll take care of this. You two go do your...uh...your girl thing." Giles took plates from Buffy and Willow and basically sent them packing.
Buffy walked to her locker with Willow. "Willow, I need you to do me a really big favor."
"Sure. What kind of favor?"
"I'm supposed to go out with my mom tonight to celebrate. We'll be going to the movies, so I might be home late. And I want to see Angel."
"I figured you would," Willow smiled. "But what does that have to do with me? You can go see him when you get back."
"My mom likes to do this thing where we sit and chat about those embarrassing things moms like to talk about. Since tomorrow's the weekend, we may be at this mother-daughter thing kind of late after the movie. Besides, I want Angel to come to my house right before dawn."
"Dawn? Buffy, I know you know this, but the sunlight and Angel...that's a bad thing."
"That's why he needs to get to my house *before* dawn, and he's going to have to stay there until dark."
"Okay. I don't get it." Willow walked ahead of Buffy, looking confused.
"Wil." Buffy touched Willow's arm as they reached the locker. "I need you to ask Xander to visit Angel. He knows how to find him. I don't want to ask Xander myself because he gets --"
"A little defensive and protective." Willow interrupted.
"Yeah." She paused, trying to figure out what to tell Willow. "I need Xander to tell Angel that it's very important for him to come to my house before dawn. Don't give Xander any reasons, just tell him...Think of something really...."
"Don't worry," Willow grinned. "I can convince Xander."
The late bell rang, and Willow moved to leave.
"Oh, and Wil, I don't want Angel to know it's my birthday."
"I just don't."
"Okay, Buffy. But I want to hear all about this tomorrow night at the Bronze."
"I'll be there." Buffy gave Willow another hug. "You're the best! Thank you."
After school, Buffy's mom was waiting for her at the curb, and they headed to the mall. They spent the evening window shopping and trying on shoes. Buffy wasn't surprised when her mom asked her how she could go through so many pairs of shoes so quickly. Buffy just smiled innocently and moved on to the next store. They stopped for dessert and watched a party of young kids make a mess of their ice-cream cones, before they went to the movie theater.
The movie delivered lots of screams; it wasn't a total wig fest, but enough to do a few closet checks before bed. Buffy was afraid her mom would have nightmares, given how many times she'd thrown her hands in front of her face. On the ride home, they engaged in idle chatter. The heavy stuff came later, and for once, Buffy was happy to have the chance to talk to her mom about normal teenage stuff. They talked for more than an hour about the movie, about school, and about the impromptu birthday party in the library.
Buffy's mom took advantage of a lull in the conversation to move the conversation into a slightly more sensitive area. "Buffy, are you seeing someone?"
"Well, you spend a lot of time at the Bronze," her mom said, playing with a pillow on the couch. "I thought maybe you met someone there." Buffy cringed, then answered, trying to sound unphased. "There is someone I like seeing at the Bronze, but we're not actually seeing each other. I mean...we're not dating."
"So, does this boy go to your school?
"Another high school?"
"Buffy, are we talking about a history tutor? Isn't he a little too old for you?" Her mom eyed her suspiciously, then smiled.
She has no idea, Buffy thought. "I told you it was junior college. That's not too old. Besides, Angel's different."
"I see. Why don't you tell me about him."
"Because you want to see him, but he only wants to help you with your history homework."
"Well, with work, yeah," Buffy admitted. "He's not the kind of guy that feels comfortable talking about relationships."
"Honey, most men aren't," her mom smiled. "I take it he's more a do you want a cup of coffee' kind of guy."
"What did I say?" Her mom looked at her, waiting for an answer.
"Inside joke, mom. Something Willow told me. And, yeah, he's more a coffee kind of guy."
"Buffy, you're young. If this guy doesn't see you for the wonderful person you are, it's his loss. And I know there will be plenty of crushes and broken hearts, and not just yours, along the way. Love isn't an easy thing."
"I know, mom." Buffy fell silent. Love was definitely not easy. It was out-of-control, maddening, and the most wonderful feeling in the world.
Buffy's mom looked at her with a hint of sorrow in her eyes. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Buffy sighed, adding with a coy smile, "I just think about him too much."
"Okay, but if you want to talk about it, I'm always here for you," she said. "Well, why don't we call it a night? I have to be at the gallery tomorrow before eight."
Buffy stood and held out her hands to her mom. Taking Buffy's hands, her mom rose, and the two of them walked to the stairs.
"Mom, I had a really great time tonight. Thank you."
"You're welcome, sweetheart." With a kiss, she said goodnight, and Buffy went to her own bedroom.
Buffy walked into her room and closed the door behind her. "Angel?"
"Good. If he's coming, he's coming before dawn." Buffy walked to her window and opened it. "I wish I'd thought of this sooner."
She looked at what little of the moon was visible before turning back to the closet. Buffy spent a good couple of hours quietly removing shoes and other assorted things from the bottom of her closet and stashing them under her bed, then moved the clothes hanging on the left side to the right, and straightened her room.
Exhausted, Buffy climbed into bed a few hours before dawn. She set her alarm, but figured she probably wouldn't need it. She would know if...when...Angel showed up. She turned off the light and quickly drifted off to sleep.
She woke an hour later, feeling surprisingly rested and on the alert, and sat up in bed. "Angel?"
The nearly whispered reply sent shivers of excitment through her. She saw Angel standing just inside her window, his hands crossed in front of him.
"I'm glad you came. I was afraid that --"
"Xander said it was important," Angel interrupted and, with concern in his voice, asked, "Buffy, are you all right?"
"Yes, and this *is* important, but it's not a blood thing," she said ackwardly. "I mean...it's not about slaying. It's sort of a backwards social call."
"I don't understand."
Angel shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he watch her get out of bed. Buffy was sure he would blend into the wall if he could. He seemed to be trying to keep a comfortable distance between them without actually moving. "I know it's dangerous for you to be here in daylight," she said. "So if want to leave, you can before the sun *does* come up. I did get you here under false pretenses."
"If you need me to be here, I'll stay. Besides, it's a little late to leave now." He was right; the light from the open window had started to change.
"Can we close this now?" Angel turned to close the window, but Buffy stopped him.
"I'll do it. I have something I want to show you." Buffy took Angel by the hand and led him to the closet. "I know this is a really lousy thing to do, but I need you to get in the closet...Well, sit in the closet, actually. Cause...I need to open the blinds."
"Buffy, maybe this isn't such a good idea."
"Please. Trust me."
"I wouldn't have come here so close to dawn if I didn't." Buffy held her breath as Angel looked through her with those very deep, very penetrating eyes.
Angel stepped into the closet and sat down, crossing his legs in front of him. Buffy lingered a moment looking at him, vulnerable and alone in the dark, before she went to the window. She closed it, brought down the blinds, and opened them again slowly.
"I know I'm asking a lot, but you have to trust me on this." She adjusted the blinds and watched as light patterns started taking shape in the room, waiting for that little patch of light in front of the closet to appear. There.
Buffy walked to the closet and looked down at Angel. "Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine if I don't cross this threshold." He looked at the edge of the closet before he gazed up at her. "What are you doing?"
Buffy sat down on the floor across from Angel, making sure the patch of sunlight fell on her. When she could feel it warming her skin, she answered, "Do you remember when you told me you were jealous of Xander because he could see me in the sunlight? I don't want you to be jealous any more."
"Buffy, I --"
"This way, you can see me in the sunlight without being in it yourself." She smiled when she saw the side of his lip turn up, the way it does when he's trying to be smug--but it comes across as a little boy's smile. She loved it.
For a moment, the two of them sat staring at each other, neither moving.
"You lied to me," Angel said at last. "You look beautiful in the sunlight."
Buffy allowed herself a little self-conscious smile, before she reached for Angel's hand, careful not to pull him into the sunlight. "Thank you."
Angel cupped his other hand over hers and smiled. A real smile. "Happy birthday, Buffy."
Buffy looked at Angel, shocked, and withdrew her hand. "How did you know?"
"Xander let it slip. Why didn't you want me to know it was your birthday?"
"Because I didn't want you to come here to do this for my birthday. I did this for --"
"You did this for us," Angel finished.
"There's an us'?" She wanted it to sound more like a statement than a hopeful question, but it didn't matter. Angel seemed to know.
He held out his hand, and waited for her to take it. "Neither of us read that warning label."
"So, what happened?" Willow nearly bounced out of her seat when Buffy approached *their* table--the spot in the Bronze they called their own. "Did Angel show up?"
Buffy couldn't contain her excitement. "Yes, he showed up, and he got to see me in the sunlight!" She could feel her cheeks flushing as she explained what she'd done. She had more fun watching Willow sigh deeply several times in amazement.
"So, he stayed there all day?"
"What did you do?"
"We read to each other for a little while, which was pretty amazing," she smiled, unable to hide all the warm tingly feelings inside her. "When lunch time rolled around, I went to the kitchen for something to eat. When I got back, Angel was sleeping. I watched him sleep for awhile, but I'd been up late with my mom and then I'd clean out my closet, so I sort of dozed off too. When I woke up, it was pretty late; he'd been watching me sleep."
"That's so romantic," Willow sighed. "I'm happy you two are working things out."
"Me too. It's never going to be easy for either of us --"
"But it's worth it?"
"What's worth it?" Xander asked, as he slid onto the seat next to them.
Willow and Buffy exchanged conspiratorial looks and smiled at Xander.
"Nothing," Willow offered quickly.
"Let me guess. This has something to do with Angel," Xander said, trying to sound annoyed rather than curious.
Buffy put on the most serious face she could, under the circumstances, and admitted, "Yeah, but it's not to worry. There was a problem. We solved the problem...at least...this time."
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