It seemed too early in the year to have grown fully dark by six-thirty, but Buffy was finding it increasingly easy to lose track of the days.
She had thought slaying, going to school and having a boy friend was difficult; then she tried working, taking care of her sister and slaying; then she tried running an army and slaying, and felt amazed at all the time she used to have. However, it all paled in comparison to running an army, being married, raising kids, and still slaying. Xander and Willow had been telling her for -- ten years? A while anyway -- that she could step back and live a little without the world coming to an end. It wasn't that she didn't believe them, or want to, only every time she tried, it seemed that the world would nearly come to an end, and right back in the thick of things she'd be.
In any case, she hadn't been worried about having vampires over for dinner, and so she was surprised to sense one on her doorstep. She almost put a stake through his heart before she realised who it was. He'd changed.
"Oh, Angel, hi!" she said, then, after a noticeable hesitation, asked, "Why don't you come in?"
Angel stepped over the threshold saying, "Thanks. Nice place. Needs better security."
Buffy led him into the living room without comment. She actually had very good security. That Angel had got to the house without challenge only showed that he wasn't a threat, and of course that he'd changed. "Josh is just finishing dinner," she said, taking the big plushy armchair and leaving Angel with either the love seat or the couch. "I don't suppose you want anything to eat. There's scotch and stuff for Giles and his Watchery people. I don't have any blood though"
Angel shook his head, sitting of the very edge of the nearest end of the couch. Despite having changed, he looked much the same as ever, and Buffy sternly ordered her stomach not to do that little flip it always did when she saw those chocolate-brown eyes and broad shoulders.
After a moment of mutual staring, she decided that he wasn't ever going to start and asked, "So what brings you all the way to Merry Old England to visit little old me?"
Angel shifted, as much as he could without falling off his seat at least, but finally asked, "Do you remember that ring I gave you?"
Buffy blinked, bit her lip, and mentally reviewed over fifteen years of shared history, couldn't think of any other ring he could possibly be talking about, and decided that that was one of the stupidest questions she'd ever heard. "You mean the one you gave for my seventeenth birthday, the night we had sex, and you turned evil, or another one?"
"Uh... no, the first one. The Claddagh."
Buffy sighed. "Yup. Definitely remember that one."
The vampire scooted a little away from her, and looked determinedly at the joins in her hardwood floor. "You don't still have it, do you?" he asked cautiously.
"Look, I left it on the floor in your mansion after I sent you to Hell. As far as I know, it's under about two zillion tons of rubble and dead demons at the bottom of Sunnydale Crater." She didn't add, Any other fun times you want to bring up while you're here?, but thought it at him really hard.
Improbably, that seemed to perk him up. "Oh, you gave it back. Great. So... how're the kids?"
Right. "They're great," she said, struggling to remain polite. "Angel, why do you care? I mean, seriously, why?"
Had he been human, Angel probably would have flushed. As it was, he just bounced nervously on the edge of the couch. "I met this really amazing woman," he said so fast the words almost blurred together. "I and I haven't felt like this since, well, since us, and I want to marry her, which I can do because of losing the happiness clause, but I thought I might sort of already be married, you know, to you, according to the old Irish tradition, so I thought I'd check, but since we're not, it's fine, and I can go home and ask her now."
Without saying a word, Buffy got up, walked out of the living room, down the hall, and into into her dojo, and kicked the heavy bag. The chain snapped, and it sailed into the far wall, sending a rack of pikes into the floor with a crash. "God damn it," she said softly, then turned and walked back.
"So we were married," she stated, sitting again, pleased with how calm she sounded, "And you never told me."
Angel seemed to have been doing some heavy thinking in the minute or so she'd been gone. "So it went like this," he said, somewhat more coherently than before. "I didn't mean it to be... no, that's not true. I definitely meant it. It was just for me though. It was an old tradition from when I was human, and I wanted to have that with you, but I didn't want you to... wig, so I married you. You didn't marry me or anything." Buffy decided it would be better not to say anything, least the vampire go the way of the punching bag. "Anyway, it was only for a day, because Angelus took over after that, you sent us to hell, and then you gave the ring back." He nodded firmly to himself.
Buffy was remembering how much fun a relationship with someone who invented their own reality as they went could be. A lot more so when one hadn't yet hit her twenties, she decided, because, Jeeze, had she ever gotten too old for this nonsense. In the end, she again choose not to argue the point, and just said, "Right, probably better I didn't know that at the time, anyway," totally leaving out all logic to do with not knowing what happened to the ring, and the ethics of abandoning one's child bride and taking off for LA. "So how's Connor?"
"Oh fine," Angel said, finally leaning back into the couch. "Not speaking to me at all this year, but I hear he's doing well. Apparently he killed fourteen vampires and a really big gooey orange demon last week."
"That's great," Buffy said, unsure if she meant it or not. "I'm kinda hoping mine don't get into the whole slaying deal, but it's pretty much a family business by now."
A pause followed as they both tried to think of a good neutral topic. "My girlfriend beat me up the first time we met," Angel said at last.
Buffy smirked. "I'm sure you deserved it."
Angel coughed, unnecessarily as he still didn't breath. "It was a misunderstanding."
"Right. Funny how those always seems to happen to you." Buffy sighed. "Look, dinner's ready, and I hate to kick you out, but I don't get much family time these days, or any days, and you and Josh have always been unmixy things, so..." She stood and gestured vaguely at the door, and Angel rose and led the way out. Suddenly, she didn't want to leave it like that, not after not seeing him for something like three years, and blurted on impulse, "I'm sure you have a cargo container to catch, but if you're still around tomorrow, drop by the office and say 'Hi.' Dawn would love to see you."
Angel nodded and turned to meet her eyes across the threshold. She wasn't sure how to say goodbye, she never had been with him, but he took her hand in both of his and raised it to his lips. "Thank you," he whispered, then let go and disappeared into the shadows along the drive.
Buffy stood on the stoop until she couldn't sense him any more, then went back into her house, closing the heavy oak door against the night.