People wait for days that are only going to take forever to arrive. Children wait for Christmas or their birthdays. Teenagers wait to become adults. Adults wait for the perfect job or their wedding day or even the day they might win the lottery. That day might not even happen, people realize that, but they can't help but hope. Even when the hope is buried so deep, covered over with other dreams, other desires, they still hold out for that one single day when things suddenly turn around and completely change their way of life. They wait, even when they don't realize they're waiting.
Sometimes, maybe they wait even after they've forgotten what the waiting was all about.
But for some people, that day actually happens, and Angel managed to kill that one last demon, averted that final apocalypse and his reward was a great thudding heartbeat, the pain throwing him straight to his knees as that long-dead organ shakily built up a rhythm that he thought, maybe, he could live to-
it boomed like a timpani and his lungs started to work, too, they weren't just dead pockets that held the air he needed to force past his vocal chords so people could hear him talking-wait a minute, now he was people too, he wasn't one of the unloved despicables now and wasn't that enough to make him want to dance a jig like he did when he was human before?
But he was too shaky, it didn't quite work. His legs reminded him of Gunn's spaghetti that he'd throw against the wall to see if it was fit to eat. He had the music, though; his friends, his family, all laughing, all delighted, congratulating him on this thing he'd waited for without even really hoping it would ever come to pass. What was it like to be human, he wondered, sucking fresh drafts of air into his lungs, was this it? The dub-dub of his heart, the whistle of oxygen (and he wondered, would he get enough air? His blood, how could his borrowed, animal blood be brought back to life? Did he really want to know?), the flush of warmth that was spreading across his skin like first dawn after long centuries of darkness. And his stomach gurgled, because it hasn't properly been filled , so very long, the last time was, he almost couldn't remember and then the flash, the taste of ice cream, of chocolate, of peanut butter, rolled across his tongue and he nearly moaned from the agony.
His friends mistook it for the pain of being made human after being a vampire so long and he didn't quite dissuade them. He needed a little time, after all, time to figure out how this human-mortal-body worked. So he let them drag him up, let them haul him back home, let them listen to his heart, take his pulse, revel in the warmth of his skin, he let them do all of this while he basked in their wonder of it all.
They didn't leave Angel alone for the first few days. He understood but eventually the togetherness got to him. He was a solitary creature at heart, even though he now was a human animal; his soul needed some time to itself. When Cordelia suggested old movies, he agreed a little reluctantly; he'd counted on some 'me time' but she insisted and he wound up at Fred and Gunn's place, sitting on the floor in front of the couch, eating popcorn and watching films from the '80's, because they all believed that these were the 'classics.' Angel didn't quite have the heart to dissuade them, thinking of "Citizen Kane" and "Metropolis"; they'd brought out "Dirty Dancing" and "Footloose" (he made the mistake of asking if someone really wanted to go dancing instead and Fred and Cordelia pouted, Gunn rolled his eyes and Wesley hemmed and hawed), some sort of insane time travel thing called "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" that Cordy thought he might like, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and the one they finally decide to watch, of a young man who wanted to be a kick boxer, who wanted a beautiful girlfriend, who's girlfriend's father was jailed for tax evasion.
"That's so romantic," Fred cooed, leaning closer into Gunn as the hero walked away from the girl's father at the end of the movie.
"It could've been my life, except there weren't enough demons," Cordelia said critically. Her sharp, mischievous eyes dared anyone to make a comment about it. Connor, half buried under his own girlfriend, snorted and she threw popcorn at him.
Angel didn't say anything. He couldn't quite pinpoint it, just squinted at the credits, hoping no one asked what he was doing. He wasn't quite sure himself, only that something in that movie spoke to him. Something he couldn't quite place. Something that made him edgy and made him realize that time was wasting, that even though he loved these people, there was something else out there.
It was no real surprise to glance around the room and see that everyone had coupled up; Wesley and Cordelia, Gunn and Fred, Connor and his girlfriend of the moment (he seemed to change them every few weeks and Angel wasn't quite sure where his son found them but at least Connor brought them home) and himself.
He was alone.
The thought sank in and rolled around in his full-of-popcorn stomach and he swallowed hard, thinking there were times when he wasn't alone and if he hadn't walked away, if she hadn't walked away, maybe he wouldn't be sitting alone on the floor of his friends' apartment.
That thought sent him stumbling to his feet. "I have to," Angel said, wondering what he was actually doing as he picked his way to the door, "go." Ideas, a thousand or more collided in his brain, each one more ridiculous than the last. Still. He had to get out of there, had to leave, had to take a chance.
"Man, you okay?" Gunn asked, untangling himself from Fred's arms.
"Never better." He pointed at Connor. "Make sure Michelle gets home at a decent hour, all right?" Not waiting for the nod, he opened the door and all but darted out of it, running down the stairs of the apartment building because sometimes elevators took too damn long and back to his car.
The GTX wasn't a noble steed, hell, it wasn't even white, but it had to do. And now he could drive all night and into the day if he had to, but it wasn't really that far away, was it? He just needed a couple of things, maybe more than a couple, he realized as he stopped off, winding up staggering out of the store with two bags full of purchases. Overkill? Maybe. He'd have to risk it.
So he sped out of L.A., along the highway (and thankfully, he missed any of the typical rush hour traffic jams), with a classic metal station blaring away in accompaniment. Somehow, this music seemed more appropriate for the moment, or the next one hundred twenty moments, then one forty, because sure enough, someone did something stupid and there was a fender bender that clogged up traffic. Angel managed to get around it without gawking, which seemed to be the main problem with everyone else.
It wasn't too long after dark when he arrived. Bless southern California for it's long sunsets, he thought. Hands shaking, Angel opened the packet of batteries, spilling them on the floor. He wasted time picking them up and hoped that no one noticed inside that house on Revello Drive, that they didn't hear the particular growl of the Hemi engine in the GTX and he wondered briefly why he'd never chosen a stealthy car to tool around in. Thrusting the thought from his mind, Angel quickly placed the batteries in the new portable stereo, frowning at it. It was purple.
He checked the box. The photo on the box was of a black stereo. He looked at the stereo again.
Sighing mentally, he pried off the stickers and crammed them into the box, finding the CD he'd bought to go with the stereo. A few minutes later, he wondered how anyone was supposed to open the wrappings on CDs. He was about to chuck it out the window when finally his fingernail sliced through the plastic wrapper and he fumbled the disc out.
Human sight is just about useless, he thought, squinting at the song titles. He shuddered at Cordy's remembered voice, "You might have to get glasses if you keep squinting like that", finally finding the one he wanted in the impossibly small grey print and tucking the CD into the player. He tested the batteries by playing the song softly, just for his ears. They worked, so he'd actually put the batteries in the right way. Angel wished he could do that with his cell phone more often. He still needed someone to help with that.
But he was just prolonging it.
Taking a deep breath, cranking the sound up to 10, Angel climbed out of the GTX and hit 'play'. As the music started, he lifted the stereo (purple, how embarrassing) over his head, hoping that she was inside.
* * *
It was another quiet night in Sunnydale. Not that she was complaining or anything, well, not much at least, but Buffy Summers was starting to get bored. With the Hellmouth permanently closed, she was kinda out of a job. Actually, out of a lifelong mission. She might even live to see thirty and how depressing was that? She didn't actually want to tell her friends, why take it out on them when it wasn't their fault that she was getting cranky without vamps to slay? That after she'd had a full night's sleep, she'd decided that it wasn't really worth it?
There was no way she wanted to reopen the Hellmouth. Closed, demons gone, things at a particularly even keel and so boring she was ready to eat paste.
If Xander hadn't already beaten her to it.
Buffy frowned, glancing around the dinner table at her friends and sister. Come to think of it, why was Xander over at her house again, mooching food? He was big construction foreman guy, shouldn't he be buying them dinner? Buffy opened her mouth to say something about it when Dawn jerked her head up, a questioning look in her eyes. "You guys hear that?"
"Hear what?" Xander asked. Willow turned her head. "Is that music?" "Music?" Buffy slid out of her chair. She could hear it now, too. Funny, for a second, she flashed back to the demon Sweet who made them all sing. But it went away. No more demons in the world. Closing the Hellmouth took care of that. She shoved aside the thought that if Sweet came back, she'd have a fight. Something to do with all that excess energy that a Slayer could build up without anything to, well, slay.
"Sounds like music," Xander said, getting up and following her, tossing his napkin on the table. Willow and Dawn exchanged a glance and were right behind them.
"It's louder outside," Dawn said.
Buffy glared at her. "So help me, Dawn, if this is Kevin's idea of a joke," she said, grasping the doorknob and twisting it.
"You'll what?" Dawn asked, excited now, her whole face lit up.
"I'll, I'll call the police," Buffy said firmly, "'cause someone's disturbing the peace." She pulled open the door and stepped out onto the porch, adult-mom-pissed-off-Slayer-face firmly in place.
The others spilled out after her.
"My God," Xander said.
"You see it, too?" Willow asked in a little helpless voice. "I thought maybe I was dreaming."
The sound of Peter Gabriel's voice rolled through the street as Buffy stared at the huge boat of a car, pulled up in front of her house, the man standing in front of it, wearing a long coat that nearly dragged the ground, holding a purple - purple! - stereo over his head.
"Angel?" Dawn asked, sounding as if she was disappointed it wasn't Kevin after all.
He just stood there, the lyrics speaking for him, his gaze trained on her.
Buffy swallowed and did the only thing she could.
She slowly walked down the stairs and across the green grass that tickled her bare feet until, magnetically, she was in front of him. As she'd moved, he'd set aside the stereo, putting it on the hood of his car. She leaned past him to turn the volume down then straightened, feeling as if her hands ought to go somewhere, his pockets, maybe? No, bad Buffy, bad. She entwined her fingers to give them something to do.
"So," she said. "So," Angel said.
She tried again. "What's with the Lloyd Dobler scenario?"
"You know this one?" Did he sound disappointed?
"Pop culture 101. Like Kevin Bacon teaching Sean Penn to dance in 'Footloose'. Or 'Go home. It's over' from 'Ferris Bueller.' Or 'I carried a watermelon' from 'Dirty Dancing.'"
Angel blinked. "Do you want a watermelon?"
Sometimes, she'd forget how literal he could be. "No. I just," Buffy glanced back over her shoulder, looking at their audience. She knew they wouldn't just go away. "I just want to know why you're here. Now. With Peter Gabriel and - and a purple stereo."
"It was black on the box," he said in his own defense.
She couldn't help it. She laughed. And Angel looked a little hurt. "I'm sorry, it's just that." Buffy waved a hand at his outfit, the car, the stereo, still playing "In Your Eyes" softly to itself, "This isn't exactly what I expected."
"Really?" He shuffled his feet. "Did you expect something else?"
"I didn't really expect anything, Angel," Buffy said gently.
He looked incredibly downcast at that comment. "Wait," she said, before he could completely retreat into uber-brood, "I mean, I thought, you know, a call? I mean, the Hellmouth-"
"Yeah. And you weren't here for that."
"There was stuff in L.A. I had to take care of." Angel shrugged. "I was fighting the battle there."
"Okay." Buffy nodded. "But I didn't know. Not that there's anything wrong with me not knowing," she said quickly, "just that I didn't. Know. I mean."
"I didn't come here to talk about the battle, Buffy. Well, maybe its aftermath."
She couldn't help it. "Huh?"
Angel reached out and took one of her hands, bringing it up to press against his chest. The curious expression turned to confusion, then awe and her eyes shot from their hands to his face to their hands again. "I'm alive."
"Alive?" she repeated, wondering if maybe she'd heard wrong. "Alive- alive?"
He grinned, that little half-smirk of his and Buffy wondered that her knees didn't just give out and spill her to the sidewalk. "Alive."
"No curse? No mistakes? No you're gonna give it back?" She wondered where that last question came from and the pain that flashed through Angel's eyes.
"No. I promise."
"Just like you."
"Except I'm still the Slayer."
Angel paused. "I guess you have to learn to be human, too, since there aren't any demons left."
"Human," Buffy said, dazed, "alive and human." She pressed her cheek against his chest abruptly, wanting to hear, wanting to know. Oh, it sounded so good, better than Peter, who'd gone on to the next song and besides, she had all the music she wanted thumping against her ear. "Angel." She pulled back just enough to look up at him, feeling tears prick up in her eyes. "This, this is," and she couldn't find any other words, just flung herself against him, wrapping her arms around him tightly, squeezing her eyes shut because it could all still be a dream and she wasn't sure if she wanted to wake up again if it was.
He laughed, a cheerful rumble under her cheek and held her closer still. "I'm glad you're pleased," he said softly to her hair.
"You don't know how much." Buffy leaned back, still keeping her hands on his waist, afraid if she let him go he'd vanish or something worse. "So? Tell me."
"There was a prophecy," Angel began.
Buffy snorted. "Isn't there always?" She shook her head. "No. I don't want to know any more about it. I don't want to know about anything more. Except."
Her voice softened. "What you're planning on doing with the rest of your life." "I was hoping you'd ask that," Angel said. He glanced towards the porch and their audience. Willow waggled her fingers. Dawn grinned. Xander yawned and didn't bother to hide it.
"Why?" Buffy asked, marveling over the true color of his (oh my god, so pale!) skin against the setting sun.
"See, that's just it." Angel raised his eyes to the darkening sky and lowered them again to meet hers. "If it isn't too much to ask, I thought you might want to help me plan it."
Letting it sink in, she smiled, reaching out to pull his hands from his jacket pockets. "I think, maybe, I could get used to that idea."
"Maybe we should talk about it?" he asked, twining his fingers with hers.
"You mean, without the chaperones?" Buffy looked over his shoulder, smiling at her sister and their friends. 'Go inside', she mouthed. Dawn cupped a hand to her ear, shaking her head and mouthing back, 'What?'
"Yes, without the chaperones."
"I think that could be arranged." She grinned up at him. "So, now what? Do we ride off into the sunset? Isn't that how this is supposed to work?"
"I think that's the way it works, yes." Releasing her hand long enough to open the car door, he and handed her inside with a flourish. Closing the door, he grabbed the stereo and gave it to her. She set it on the seat next to the door, hitting the 'replay' button. Angel's smile was warmer than the sun as he twisted the key in the ignition. "Where to?"
Buffy pointed. "Right now? Just go west. It'll do for starters."
"You mean, drive off into the...?" There was a twinkle in his eyes.
"That's exactly what I mean." She slid over, curling into Angel's side. "We deserve it."
Peter Gabriel serenading them, Angel guided the car towards the sunset.
* * * *