It all felt reassuringly normal. She and Willow shared one of the small, high tables at the Bronze, watching Xander do his impression of an epileptic fit on the dance floor. The music was loud and the place was packed. It was Sunday night. Next morning, Hank Summers would be picking Buffy up and taking her to LA, making this night at the Bronze something of a going-away party.
"Did you talk to Cordelia before she left?" Willow asked, taking a sip of her soda.
Buffy shrugged slightly. "No, not really. She was really hyped on going to study fashion in Paris for the summer. And... well, I don't think she wanted to talk to me. I'm willing to admit that she is not the lowest slime of the universe for the sole reason that she saved your life. But I don't know if I want to be buds with her, you know?"
"I don't know. She was pretty cool that night. She bit one of the vampires, you know."
Buffy blinked. "She what? Didn't you get that the wrong way round?"
Willow grinned, although the memory of that night still made her look a bit haunted. "Nope. She bit one of them. It was cool."
The two girls were silent for a moment. "He's watching me again, isn't he?" Buffy asked finally.
Willow let out a long, slow breath. "I wondered if you had noticed. You haven't talked since that night?"
Idly, Buffy stirred her drink. "No. He disappeared into the dawn... well, the pre-dawn. And since I still don't know where he lives...."
"...and Xander won't tell..." both girls chorused.
"...then I'm stuck waiting for him to approach me again," Buffy concluded. Suddenly determined, she slid off the high stool.
Willow smiled. "So much for waiting?"
"Hey, you know me, seize the moment. Live life, 'cause tomorrow you just might bite the big one. Ooo, bad pun. Didn't mean it. I'm babbling, aren't I? Why am I so nervous?"
"'Cause you're in love. It happens." Willow kept smiling, but it turned a little misty.
Buffy took two steps forward and gave Willow a big hug. "If I don't see you before my dad shows up, have a ton of fun with your... um, computers. I'll write. A lot." Then, squaring her shoulders with determination under the black leather jacket that was way too hot for a California June night, she headed for the shadowed corner where she had felt a pair of laser-intense dark eyes on her.
She half-expected him to slide away before she reached him. If he didn't want her to see him, she wouldn't see him. But he remained where he was, leaning up against the back wall, light and shadow chasing across his face with the flickering lights.
"Hey," she greeted him.
"How are you feeling?" The question was low-voiced and uninflected. He didn't move, didn't reach out to her. Just watched her out of those eyes, a gaze that was almost like a physical touch.
"Alive, thanks to you. And Xander."
Angel shrugged slightly, the first indication that he was made of flesh rather than stone. "Xander saved your life. I couldn't do anything for you."
"You found me," Buffy countered. "I'd say you and Xander pretty much split the honors where my life is concerned. You know," she said diffidently, not meeting his eyes, "I've heard somewhere that if you save a person's life, that person belongs to you."
Angel suddenly pushed up from the wall, turning to walk away. "I'll give it back to you, then. Go live it."
"Hey." Buffy caught his arm as he passed her. "What is *up* with you?" she asked furiously. "You just totally booked after that night. Why did you go?"
Without turning to face her, Angel shook his head. "I thought we agreed that this was never meant to be."
"But that was... before." Buffy swallowed, suddenly at a loss for words.
"Before... the Master died. Before the Hellmouth closed. Just... before."
Slowly, Angel turned to face her. "And you think that changes things?"
"Doesn't it?" she asked in a very small, fragile voice.
Angel looked down for a moment. When his eyes met hers again, his were no longer deep and soulful. They were yellow and gleaming with a barely-restrained hunger. He crowded her back against the wall, his arms bars on either side of her head. "Look at me! This is what I am, remember?"
Buffy turned her face away. "Quit it!"
"No. Listen to me. *Nothing has changed.* The Master is dead. The one who made me is dead. But I am still a vampire. You're still the Slayer. We are enemies."
"I trust you."
Angel pulled away as though burned. After a long moment, he faced her again. He looked like a normal, mortal guy, maybe a little older than she was, but not enough for anyone to say anything. "Maybe I don't trust myself," he said, his voice raw.
Buffy really, really wanted to touch him then, but she kept her hands to herself. Okay, he needed time. Good thing that's what she could give him. "I just wanted to tell you... I'm leaving town for a bit. I'm going to LA for three months, to spend the summer with my dad."
The throbbing wail of a guitar was the only sound for a few moments. "I... think that's a good thing," Angel said finally.
"Giles said you had a phone. I want the number. I want to talk to you."
"That's not a good idea." Only someone watching him as closely as Buffy would have seen his eyelids flinch in reaction.
"I don't care that it's not a good idea," Buffy said passionately. "You won't let me see you. Fine, your choice, although I don't get it. But I want to talk to you. Angel... I need you." Her voice broke slightly. "Please."
Angel closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, Buffy couldn't read him. She was sure he was going to turn her down, until he asked, "Got a pencil?" ********
"Hey, you there? Hello? I don't know why I'm surprised. I mean, you've got a phone, you obviously have an answering machine too. Okay, I suppose it was a little too much for me to expect that you'd actually answer the phone. Duh, huh? Anyway, having a wonderful time, wish you were here. I mean that. The 'wish you were here' part. I was going to ask you to come to LA with me that night in the Bronze, but you were so totally freaked on the idea of even giving me your number that I figured you wouldn't be that hyped to come with me. Yikes, answering machine message from hell. I hate these things, I can't stop talking when I get one. I, uh... I miss you. Call me. My dad's number is area code 310, 825-3401."
"Had a lovely time today. Went shopping, and got this killer bikini. It's silvery and my dad is going to wig when he sees it. Saw The Lost World. Talk about people who need to grow some brains. I could have just slain that dino pronto and gotten it over with... I wish you'd pick up. I know you're there. Angel? Talk to me please."
"Okay, obviously, pestering you into giving me your phone number was a bad idea. It's testosterone poisoning, right? Anything you get forced into doing is bad. But I'm not going to apologize. You're just going to have to deal with the fact that I'm calling you. A lot. My dad wants to know who I'm talking to. Of course, he doesn't realize I'm talking to a stupid machine, he just thinks I'm dominating the conversation. So speak up some, will you? Later.
"Angel? Call me, please. I'm in trouble, and I need your help."
Buffy had surprised herself by actually having fun in LA. There weren't any old friends to look up (the ones she hadn't staked avoided her like the plague now) but there were a lot of kids her age in her father's new neighborhood. It was the first chance she'd had in a really long time to just be a kid, to go to movies and go shopping and go to the beach and just hang out. She missed Willow and Giles and Xander and her mom, but she could handle it. Normalcy was nice. She could deal.
Her dad was cool too. Hank Summers was throwing himself into being an awesome father. He took a day off of work and they went to Magic Mountain, just the two of them. But the best times were when they just spent time together, father/daughter stuff. Buffy tried cooking for him, and the resulting call to the fire department meant that they ate out most evenings. But after a year of it being just her and her mom, she was happy to be spending time with her dad.
Then she felt someone watching her.
At first she thought it was just her imagination. Stress, post-traumatic Slaying disorder, bad juju, something, anything other than phantom eyes following her wherever she went. She felt it all the time, daylight and dark, so it wasn't a vampire, but she had learned that there were nasties that walked in the sunlight, too. She'd called Giles' apartment in London and had the phone ring endlessly, she wasn't about to bother Willow with this, Xander would likely find a way to rush out to LA and get himself in trouble, and she sure as hell wasn't going to go begging to Angel for help if he wouldn't even pick up the phone and talk to her.
And then her dad disappeared. Poof. She came back from Batman and Robin in time for them to go to the Barefoot Cafe for dinner, and found... nothing. No note, no struggle, an empty house that echoed with its lack of noise. Trusting instincts that she didn't even think to question, she didn't call the police or her mother.
She called Angel.
The phone was picked up two point three seconds after she told him she needed his help. "I'm here," he said simply.
Buffy closed her eyes, leaning back against the wall in the living room of her dad's condo. "Angel? My dad's missing. And I think someone's been following me."
There was a very, very long silence. Finally, Angel quietly said, "I'll be there."
Buffy hung up the phone, and just stood for a long moment, mind blank with worry and fear. The afternoon sunlight slid golden into the room, making the white-painted walls and chrome furniture glow as though lit from within. Fashion magazines were scattered on the low coffee table, and tapes littered the top of the big-screen TV. She'd only been at her dad's condo a couple weeks, and it looked as though a major disaster had hit it.
Wherever she went, chaos followed.
Angel couldn't be there for a least a few more hours. He had to wait for the sun to go down before he could even think about leaving. And it was high summer, days were long and nights were short. Buffy spent a few moments of distraction wondering how Angel would get to LA. Did he have a car? Would he take a bus? Hitch? Turn into a bat and fly?
"Whoa, Nellie," Buffy muttered to herself, catching her brain from the ever-more ridiculous loop it was whirling in. "Think." She had to figure out who--or what--had her dad. Then she had to figure out how to get him away. Then she had to figure out how to explain to him why he was kidnapped.
She focused on the last thought exclusively, refusing to consider that she might fail with the first two knotty problems. She resisted the urge to pick up the phone and try London again. Giles hadn't been there the five other times she called. Besides, what was she going to do? Demand that he come winging back ten thousand miles to hold her hand?
That's what she wanted to do. She'd never felt so alone in her life. The thought of her father in danger made her want to regress to about the mental age of two. When Darla had attacked her mother, she had exploded into rage. But this time, she didn't have an enemy to fight.
The sun was nearly down before something set off Buffy's senses. Golden light had deepened to burnt orange, and her immediate feeling of panic had been replaced by a wearying dread. She almost didn't notice the whisper on the edge of her mind that someone... something was around. Her head came up suddenly, alert, the hunter and the hunted at once.
Being Buffy, she found a stake, stepped out into the postage-stamp sized backyard and demanded, "Who's there?"
"Someone who needs your help," a quiet voice said.
Buffy immediately whirled to face the direction the words had come from, body poised to attack, even as her mind proceeded the fact that it was a male voice and carried a accent that she didn't have the concentration to place right now.
"Please." A shadowy figure stepped into the dim remaining light of day. The man spread his hands in a gesture that indicated peace, showing that they were empty. "I need to speak with you."
"Who are you?" Buffy demanded, not relaxing her stance a smidgen.
"My name is Peter Waring. And I know what you are."
"What I am?" Buffy asked without much hope.
Australian. That's what his accent was. The totally unconnected thought popped into Buffy's brain. "You know, I thought the point of having a secret identity was that it was secret. You know, classified. Unknown."
He took another two steps closer to her, seemingly unafraid of her despite his claim that he knew what she was -- and what she was capable of. "I have," he said with distinct satisfaction, "been looking for you for eight years."
Buffy blinked. "Huh?"
"I need your help," he said again. "I've been searching for the Slayer. My home is in danger. I need you to save it."
Buffy dropped her hands from her fighting stance, although she still held the stake. "Excuse me?"
Eagerly, the man moved even closer to her. The wan light revealed a man in his mid to late fifties, with thick grey hair and dark eyes. "I live in a small town on the coast of New South Wales. About fifteen years ago, vampires descended on the town and began systematically destroying it. The people were their food supply, their slaves, their minions. When I realized what the monsters were, I studied what I could do to stop them. And discovered the existence of the Slayer."
She really, really needed Giles right now, Buffy decided. "Wait a minute. So you spent eight years trying to track down the Slayer? How?"
"News reports, mostly. Unexplained phenomenon, rashes of killings that ended with a young girl's appearance. I cannot tell you how many times I nearly found the Slayer in the past few years, only to have her be killed. But you... I knew that you would survive. I knew I would be able to find you."
Buffy's dread was growing, a knot in the pit of her stomach. "And why should I help you?" she asked flatly.
"Aside from the fact that it is your fate and your duty... the fact that I have your father." His voice was preternaturally calm, absolute -- and implacable. And moonlight revealed a gleam of madness in his eyes.
Rage almost blinded her for a few moments. With extreme effort, she pushed it down, pushed it away, reaching for the coldness that enveloped her whenever she fought. "Did it occur to you to ask if I would help you?"
"I couldn't take the chance. I had to be sure," he said fiercely. "Do you understand? My home, my family, my friends have died, are dying. You must come with me."
"Oh, must I? Well, gee, I don't feel terribly much like helping someone who attacks *my* family, you know? So how about you let him go, leave town, and I'll pretend that we never had this conversation, okay?"
Waring simply looked at her. "You'd ignore your duty?" he asked, aghast.
"It's not my duty to go running around the world slaying vampires. And it sure as hell is not my *duty* to be blackmailed into helping save whole towns." Buffy was almost shaking with fury -- and with fear. She could deal with vampires whose agenda was pretty much suck 'em and drop 'em. But a madman who held her father's life in his hands...
Waring's face smoothed from its perplexed look. "You're angry. I understand," he said soothingly. "But you will understand, if you think on it, why I felt I had to do as I did. I will speak with you tomorrow. Good night."
Buffy moved fast, but he slipped through her fingers like a ghost, disappearing into the shadowy dusk, as elusive as the monsters he wanted her to kill.
There was a definite fray in the threads of the carpet by the time the clock chimed midnight. Buffy couldn't sit still, couldn't stop herself from pacing back and forth. Nerves nibbled on her stomach, and her head ached from worry and thought.
"Have to think clearly," she said aloud, needing the comfort of her own voice, the semblance of company. Instead, it just made her feel more alone. There was no one in the world but her. No one to turn to. "Damnit, when he comes back tomorrow, I have to somehow make him tell me where Dad is, I...."
For the second time that night her attention was drawn by the sense of someone's approach. She retrieved the stake that had never been far from her hand. If it was Waring, then she didn't need it to hurt him. But she couldn't forget that it had been in LA that she had encountered vampires for the first time. It would be Waring's luck for the Slayer to get herself killed from carelessness just after he found her. And wouldn't *that* just make his kooky self thrilled?
She made herself wait, made herself be silent and listen. Footsteps in the night, soft, furtive... hesitant? They stopped right outside of the front door.
In one quick move, Buffy yanked the door open and brought the stake down in a threatening dive that could easily change into a fatal one.
Angel raised his hands and took one step back. "Hey, you asked me to come down."
"Oh." Blowing a wisp of hair away from her eyes, Buffy lowered her arm. "Sorry. I'm... on edge. A bit." She turned around, stepping back through the door, dropping the stake on a small table. "I've had a freaky night. I -- are you coming in or what?" she finally asked impatiently.
Angel remained on the threshold. He propped one hand on the doorjamb, tilting his head to look at her, a stare that Buffy mentally compared to a CAT scan. "You have to invite me in, remember?" he said finally.
"Oh. Right. Uh, what do I say?"
"'Come in' would work."
"Come in. Please." She shut the door behind him, throwing the deadbolt automatically. ~Okay, now what? I can't exactly offer him a drink. Well, I could, but that would really be a sucky idea...~
"What's the matter?" Angel had been prowling the apartment, but turned at her slight groan.
"Sorry. Really bad mental pun. I -- um. Oh, hell." She sank down on the couch and put her head in her hands.
She sensed him moving, coming nearer. "Buffy." Angel's tone on her name made her look up, made her not even care anymore that tears were streaking down her face. "You asked me here to help you. I want to help. Tell me what's going on."
"Right." She scrubbed her face briefly. "It's... my dad." Her voice hitched slightly before she caught it. "After I called you tonight, I had a visitor. This guy... Peter Waring. He's from Australia. He said that vampires were destroying his town. He wants me to go down there and rescue the town. And he kidnapped my dad to make sure I would."
After a moment, Angel said slowly, "Somehow, I thought it would be vampires who had done this."
"So did I. It's easier that way. That someone -- an ordinary someone, a non-demon someone -- could do this... I don't know. It freaks me out." She took a deep breath. "I don't think this guy's completely there. He's definitely whacked. And he's got my dad." The thought had her squeezing her eyes shut again.
"What do you want me to do?" The words were simple, honest, and to the point.
For the first time, Buffy smiled. Watery and trembling, but a honest smile. "What you're good at. Get me info. This Waring guy is going to be back here tomorrow night. I'll stall him somehow. How are you at skulking?"
His half-hitch of a smile matched hers. "It's one of my greatest talents."
"Good." She nodded and said it again. "Good. Okay." She got to her feet, began pacing again, thinking out loud. "We need to find you a place to sleep. My dad's room has heavy drapes. If we put up something else to block the windows, you should be all right--"
Angel put out his hand, caught her arm on one of her frantic passes. "Buffy..."
Her face fell. "Oh, God. He's got my dad. That madman has my dad," she whispered. The pain was shattering. Bad enough that her mother had nearly died at Darla's hands, that she had nearly become nothing more than a plaything in a power struggle she should never have been touched by. Now her dad... her dad...
Before she broke, though, she found comfort. Angel's arms were around her tightly, and she held on for dear life. ~Not alone. I'm not alone. So good to not be alone in this...~
Dawn had broken before Buffy got to bed. She and Angel had worked together to make her father's bedroom sun-proof, then Angel had gone out on an unnamed errand that Buffy decided she really didn't want to know about. He came back just before the sun came up and went straight to bed.
It was late afternoon, and Buffy was puttering around the apartment. Rosie was singing "Tomorrow" on the TV behind her, turned on more for its noise than anything else. Buffy considered changing the channel. After all, Rosie was a little too... normal for her. Oprah or--heaven help her--Ricki Lake were more her style. "Teenage Girls who Slay the Undead and the Vampires Who Love Them," she muttered. "My Boyfriend is a Vampire -- no, wait, I've actually seen that one."
She poked at the sandwich she had made, not hungry but knowing she needed to eat. Her mom was beginning to bring home pamphlets on depression and eating disorders, and if Buffy lost any more weight she was going to get dragged to a shrink or something.
The sound of a door opening made her look up. From the small kitchen she could look across the living room to see Angel standing in the doorway of the bedroom. "Morning," she said. "There aren't any curtains on the windows out here, but the sun'll be down in a couple hours."
"That's fine." Propping one hand high on the doorjam, he leaned casually and looked at her. "So, what's the plan?"
Buffy shrugged and continued turning the rye bread of her sandwich into bird food. "Waring will come here, I'll act like I haven't made up my mind about going to Australia yet, he'll leave, you follow him and find out where he stashed my dad."
"Simple enough. What if he has your dad in a place other than where he's staying?"
"Then grab him and scare it out of him," Buffy snapped. Her eyes were furious, behind the glitter of tears. "Come on, you're the big bad vampire. You must have some fright tactics. Might as well use what we've got."
Suddenly, Angel grinned, the grin that Buffy had loathed and despised, Cryptic Guy to the max. Except that he wasn't Cryptic Guy any more, she knew him, and the grin didn't hide anything from her. "Pretty ironic. The Slayer using a vampire as one of her weapons."
"Yeah, well, we Slayers take what we can get." Dropping the flippant act, she abandoned her sandwich and came out from behind the kitchen counter. "I really didn't want to be alone," she confessed. "After Merrick died... that was the worst. There really wasn't anyone there for me, just the Slaying and the lying, and losing all my friends and getting kicked out of school. I needed someone right now. Anyone."
The grin winked off as though a switch had been thrown. "Glad I could help."
Ooops. Male ego alert. Damn, she hadn't meant it that way. Another thing she'd lost the knack of, finessing guys. "Look, you're the one who keeps saying that you don't want to be around me."
"I never said that!"
"Yes, you did! And what happened that night at the Bronze, huh? And what about all the phone messages I left for you? Obviously, you were there, and you were ignoring me."
"I wasn't ignoring you, I --"
"Yeah?" Buffy crossed the living room and put her hands on her hips. "You just, oh, accidentally erased all my messages then, right?"
"I thought we agreed --"
"We did. And it didn't work, remember?"
"And another thing. What the heck were you and Giles doing, sneaking behind my back, trying to keep things from me? I'm the Slayer, I've got the right to know what's going to happen to me."
"Can I finish a sentence?" Angel finally demanded.
Buffy blinked. "Oh. Sorry. Go ahead."
"First of all, I want to be with you, but there *are* some facts we have to face," he bit out. "Second of all, I wasn't ignoring you, I just wasn't answering your messages. I didn't know what to say, and you sounded like you were having a good time with your dad. And I only knew about the prophesy for about five minutes before you barged in, so I hardly had any time to tell you. Blame Giles for that one, if you want, but he was only trying to help you. Anything else?" He was looming over her, glaring.
Buffy blew out a breath that fluffed her bangs. "Why are we fighting?"
"Hell if I know."
"I wanted you here," Buffy confessed suddenly. "You. I don't... I don't think I could have cried in front of Giles the way I did with you last night."
Did vampires blush? If not, Angel was doing a damn good imitation. "Oh. I'm... glad."
"Good." Okay, now what? "I, um... I was thinking I should call the police. You know, just so that when we get my dad back, it won't look so weird. He'll wanna know why I didn't if I didn't."
Angel nodded. "Wait until after sundown, so I can clear out. And wait until Waring's already come and gone. If he shows up when you've got the police here, he..."
"His phone call to sanity might get disconnected," Buffy supplied. She sighed. "Okay. If only the sun would set..."
"Believe me, wishing it down won't make it go any faster." Angel's voice was heavy with memories.
"And you'd know, huh?" Buffy asked softly. But Angel had already turned back to go into the bedroom.
Wishing or no, the sun did eventually set.
Buffy had assumed that Waring would show up at dusk, the way he had the night before, when the sun was gone but its light still lingered. But sunset dwindled into twilight, then full dark, and no insane Aussies were to be seen.
Buffy's dad was definitely going to need a new carpet for his apartment.
"Where is he?" demanded the edgy Slayer. "I'd've thought that he'd want us halfway to the outback by now. Is he trying to make me as crazy as he is? I --" Her head snapped around.
"What?" Angel asked.
"Something," she said, drawing out the word, deep in thought -- and concentration. "I think it's him."
Motioning for Angel to keep himself hidden, Buffy slipped out onto the tiny balcony, levering herself over the railing to drop into the backyard where they had met the night before. "Hey. You here? Waring? Come out, come out, wherever you are."
"Betrayer." The word was low, hissed, indistinct. Faint sounds of traffic blended with it, making it nearly impossible to figure out where it was coming from.
A layer of ice formed in Buffy's stomach. "Waring?" she asked again. Abandoning her earlier plan of trying to delay, put him off, she desperately tried to make him show himself. "I thought about what you said, and you're right. I'm the Slayer. I'm supposed to slay vampires. And --"
Instinct had her moving before her conscious mind realized she needed to get out of the way. The slight spatting kicked up dust. Great, all she needed. The crazy, kidnapping, Slayer-knowledgeable Australian stalker had a gun.
"What are you doing? You can't kill me. You need my help." She needed to get him talking, track him. A part of her knew that Angel was somewhere in the shadows, waiting to help her. She needed to get Waring to leave, to lead Angel back to her father.
"You betrayed me. You betrayed what you are. You are not worthy to be the Slayer."
"I don't know what you mean." Buffy fought to keep her voice calm. "I said I'd help you."
Another bullet, this one splintering the branch of a tree where her head had been a moment before. "You consort with demons."
The ice in her stomach became a deep freeze. "I don't know what you mean."
Her own voice answered her, tinny and recorded. "Come on, you're the big bad vampire. You must have some fright tactics. Might as well use what we've got."
Then Angel's. "Pretty ironic. The Slayer using a vampire as one of her weapons.""You bugged the apartment.""I needed to be sure you didn't call the pol ice. You didn't. You called up a demon, instead."
Buffy felt her brain blank. She couldn't come up with a plan. "I'm still the Slayer," she said desperately, trying to sway him. "I still kill vampires. You still need me."
"You aren't worthy to be the Slayer," Waring said again. He stepped out from the shadows of the trees into a puddle of moonlight that gleamed silver on his hair and the gun in his hand. Pointed at Buffy. "'One Slayer dies, and the next one is called.' I must find that next one."
~Oh, great,~ was Buffy's completely inadequate thought. She had no cover, nowhere to hide. She could run for the condo, and Waring would disappear into the night, and she'd never see her father again -- at least not until Waring made good his attempt to call up the next Slayer.
If he didn't shoot her in the back before she made it to cover.
Between one heartbeat and the next, it was over. The gun clattered to the ground, thankfully not going off on impact. Angel had slammed Waring back against a tree, eyes glowing and demon face pressed up against the mortal's. Waring was gibbering incoherently, his hands flapping, helpless against Angel's greater strength.
"Angel." Buffy's voice was quiet. No command, no demand, just his name. He snarled for another moment, then slowly, reluctantly, stepped back, keeping his hold on Waring.
Waring's dark eyes kept flicking back and forth between Slayer and vampire. His short-circuited brain was obviously trying to figure out what just occurred there. He'd been caught by a vampire -- a vampire who looked like he would relish a banquet from down under. He should be dead. But he wasn't.
"You... he... huh... what?" The syllables came out on separate puffs of air.
Buffy stepped closer to him. "Angel's a special case. He won't hurt you."
"But I'd want to," Angel muttered.
"I don't understand," Waring said, his voice the bewildered wail of a child. "I don't understand."
Something in his tone, in his eyes, warned Buffy that Waring had slipped from loco to just plain crazy. He wasn't a danger anymore to anyone but himself. "Can you take us to my dad?" she asked quietly. He didn't respond. There really wasn't anything there to respond.
After a moment of searching through Waring's pockets, Angel came up with a key to a motel. "Let's just hope Waring stashed him there," Buffy said.
It was an icky, smelly, grungy, low-rent version of Motel 6. Buffy pulled her dad's Explorer into a empty space and shut off the engine. "Well," she sighed, "here goes nothing."
Room 15 didn't respond to knocking. A warped cardboard "Do Not Disturb" sign prevented entry. "You are exceedingly disturbed," Buffy muttered to the man whom the police had picked up for vagrancy after... someone called in a complaint. Angel handed her the key, and she turned it in the lock, convinced that she was going to find an empty room.
"Daddy!" She ran to her father's side and dropped to her knees. Hank Summers was drugged and tied to a chair in the scuzzy room.
The piercing shriek of his offspring was enough to wake him from a stupor, and he blinked groggily at her. "Buffy?" he said, his voice slurred.
Buffy worked at the ropes that bound him to the cheap chair. "Hang on, we'll have you out of here in a minute."
"We?" Hank tried again, turning to look at the doorway. Angel was a dark shape blocking most of the light from the streetlamps.
"He's a friend. He's helping me. Can you stand up?"
Dazed, Hank didn't protest when Angel took his other arm and he and Buffy helped Hank out to the car. Depositing him in the back seat, Buffy drove home. They got him up the stairs to the condo without incident, and Buffy disappeared into the kitchen to turn on the coffee machine.
"Now we've *really* got some 'splaining to do," Buffy muttered under her breath when she came out with a cup of black coffee. Beginning to wake up, Hank took it gratefully.
One sip later, he blinked his watering eyes and tried manfully to smile at his daughter. "Honey... this is, um, a bit hot. Could you add some cold water?"
"Sure." Anxious, Buffy hovered over him. "How much?"
"Ah... about half the cup," he said weakly.
Three cups of much-watered coffee later, Hank was ready for answers. Buffy had gotten better at fabrication over the past year. Hank bought her story of a weirdo who knocked on the door and handed her the key. He bought that she hadn't called the police since they couldn't do anything until he was missing for forty-eight hours. And he bought that she had called an old friend (*very* old, Buffy said silently) to keep her company, so she wouldn't be alone.
All in all, Hank swallowed everything she told him.
It was a couple of hours before dawn when Angel got to his feet. "Don't go. You must be exhausted. We can make a bed up on the couch, right, Buffy?"
Buffy took a good look at the couch, right in the path of the huge windows in her dad's living room. "Um..."
"I'm fine. I don't have that far to go."
Hank offered him his hand. "Thanks for your help. And for watching out for Buffy. I really appreciate it."
Buffy stood on her tip-toes to kiss her dad's cheek. "Go to sleep," she said sternly.
He brushed his hand over her hair. "I will. I love you."
"Love you too. Night."
Buffy walked Angel to the door, and just outside of it. "Do you have a place to go?" she asked quietly.
Angel nodded. "Don't worry, I'll be fine."
"Okay." They looked at each other for a long moment. Then Buffy leaned up to kiss his cheek as she had with her dad. "Thank you. Really. You don't know..." Her voice trailed off in a shudder as she thought of what might have happened.
"I'm glad I could help."
Angel smiled at her, slightly, neither the strange half-reluctant smile nor Cryptic Guy grin. He touched her cheek lightly, opened his mouth as though to say something.
Then turned and walked away.
Buffy spent the next day fussing over her father, who finally shooed her off. "I'm fine, I'm fine!" He grinned at her. "I never thought of you as a worrier."
"Well... you disappeared. I *was* worried."
Hank lifted one hand to smooth the line that was getting to be permanently etched between her brows. "You heard what the police said. That vagrant they picked up... for whatever insane reason--"
"And we do mean insane."
"--he decided to take out his anger on me. I suppose having a serial killer in your hometown might make even a normal person crazy."
"Yeah," Buffy echoed faintly. The story that Waring had told her was true, she could tell that much from the watered-down version that the police got from Australia. Fifteen years ago, vampires had descended on a small town. The part that Waring *didn't* seem to get was that they left almost immediately, after doing some significant damage.
He'd been unable to admit that he couldn't help the ones who had died, so he believed that he could help those who were still alive -- never mind that they weren't in danger any longer.
Buffy was curled on her dad's couch, ignoring the TV that was laughing at its own cleverness with canned giggles. Lost in thought, she was startled by someone knocking on the door. Hank was in his room, making an early night of it, so Buffy answered the door.
Angel stood outside it. For the first time Buffy could remember, he wasn't wearing black and white. A dark slate-blue silk shirt covered his chest, and charcoal grey pants covered the rest of him. Buffy just goggled for a few moments.
Gravely, he offered her a white rose. "I know this is kind of last minute but... would you like to go out with me?
Buffy finally regained the power of speech. "Out? Like on a date? Dinner, movie, dancing, that kind of thing?"
His mouth quirked in its accustomed half smile. "We'd have to skip the dinner, but yeah."
"Why?" she asked. The flower was cool in her fingers, the scent sweet. And the thorns sharp.
Angel didn't speak for a moment. "I want to be with you. I keep telling myself it can't happen, it won't work.And then I see you and... it stops mattering. I don't know what will happen when we go back to Sunnydale. Sometimes I think that, now that the Master's dead, I should leave--"
Buffy's hand shot out and grabbed his wrist, as if she needed to chain him to the spot. "No!"
He turned his hand to take hers, holding it tightly. "I couldn't go. I know that."
Buffy took a deep breath, even though her head was spinning giddily. "But you still think that we can't be together," she said steadily.
"No. I don't know," he said, frustrated. "All I know is here, tonight... it's different. We're different. And I want one night." He raised an eyebrow at her, and grinned again. "So...?"
"So? So! Oh!" She glanced down at herself in shorts and a baggy t-shirt. "Ugh. Um, give me ten minutes. Okay, fifteen. Stay there. *Don't* come in. Got it?"
"I got it," Angel said to the door slammed in his face.
Seventeen minutes later, Buffy reopened it, wearing the silver satin sheath she had just found at Nordstrom. "So... where are we going?"
Angel smiled at her, gallantly taking her arm. "There's a place I want to take you. It hasn't changed much since the last time I was in LA; I checked before I came over here."
"Last time?" Buffy asked curiously. She was distracted when they hit street level when she saw the limo. "Wow. Like the prom. But better."
A few minutes later, the limousine pulled up in front of a beautiful old hotel. (Old in Los Angeles being relative, of course.) Chateau Marmont had a beautiful plush lobby and small corners where people could just sit and talk. "This is gorgeous!" Buffy said exuberantly, tilting her head back to look at the crystal chandeliers over her head. "You used to hang out here?"
"Now and then." Finding an unoccupied bench, Angel sat down, pulling her down beside him. "I didn't spend all my time in Sunnydale, you know. I needed to move around some. There was this time...."
For nearly an hour they just talked. No disasters, no painful discussions of their respective positions in life, just a girl and a guy chatting. ~This is way too normal for me,~ Buffy thought a couple of times.
Eventually, Buffy heard music coming from a room off the lobby. Guessing that the hotel had set up a small nightclub area for their patrons, she stood up and held out both hands to Angel. "Come dance with me," she invited.
It was a somewhat older crowd in the room than Buffy usually saw at the Bronze, twenty- and thirty-somethings. The music reflected that, being a mix of current adult contemporary and Eighties hits. Luckily, whoever was spinning the disks had enough taste to pick the best.
Buffy expected it to be awkward dancing with Angel. Touching him, being that close to him. And then there was the whole height factor. But she stepped into his arms as though she belonged there, and closed her mind to the rest of it.
Three songs went by before they even thought about talking. "Angel..." Buffy said hesitantly.
"This... this isn't going to go away, is it? What we feel for each other. It just... isn't."
Angel sighed and rested his cheek on her hair. "No, it isn't. And I don't know what we are going to do about it."
Buffy looked up, and put her hand on his mouth. "Never mind. Tonight, we're just not going to worry about it."
The next song cued up, saving Angel from having to reply. He just pulled her closer as a string section set up a dramatic beat.
"Don't ask me What you know is true. Don't have to tell you I love your precious heart.
I -- I was standing, You were there, Two worlds collided, And they could never tear us apart."
Buffy sighed and tightened her arms around his neck. She didn't want to talk, to shatter this moment. She didn't want the moment to end, to have to face reality again. In the shelter of the music and his arms, she could forget the rest of the world -- for awhile at least.
"We could live For a thousand years, But if I hurt you I'd make wine from your tears.
I told you That we could fly 'Cause we all have wings But some of us don't know why.
I -- I was standing, You were there, Two worlds collided And they could never, ever tear us apart."
He brought her home a few minutes before midnight. "I'm going back to Sunnydale. I'll have to leave soon to get there before morning."
Buffy nodded. "I understand. And when I get back there... what? We're going to ignore each other? Be buds? Date?"
"Buffy, I don't know." The edge of frustration in Angel's tone made Buffy smile a little. He cared. The fact that it should be blindingly obvious from all the things he'd done for her aside, it touched her that he had to struggle against what he thought was wrong so hard.
She'd lost a lot when Destiny had pulled the arm on her slot machine and come up with Buffy Summers. She wasn't about to let anything else go.
Stepping closer to him, she stood up on her toes. Almost automatically, his arms closed around her, supporting her in her precarious position. They'd kissed before, once as a tentative question, and once as a goodbye. This time, she put everything she couldn't find the words to say into it.
When they slowly parted, Buffy was relieved that he looked as dazed as she felt. Every argument they had put forth to separate them, both together and separately, couldn't deny this. No matter how hard it was, no matter how much it hurt... they just couldn't keep away from each other.
They would, however -- at least for the rest of the summer.
Buffy unlocked the door and stepped through. "Night," she said.
And shut it behind her.
"Angel. So you *do* know how to pick up the phone."
"Yeah, once in a while. How are you?"
"Fine. Listen, have you seen George of the Jungle yet? Trust me, go see it, it's hysterical..."
Buffy's Story | Giles' Story | Willow's Story | Xander's Story
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