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**Part One**

June 1997
Los Angeles, California

"Check out the hottie, three o'clock."

Buffy lowered her shades and glanced in the direction Tasha had said. Buffy had to admit he was fine. She took a minute to take in the eye candy as he walked by them on his way to a nearby group at the beach's volleyball pit. She'd seen them before a couple of times. She got the impression they were working people. Suits. Older than the college guys that usually captured Tasha's interest.

"Looks like they're having fun. Maybe we can join them."

"I don't know, Tasha."

"Come on, Buffy. What's the point in coming to the beach if we don't at least hit on the hotties? It doesn't mean we have to take them home or anything. It'd be fun. There's still way too much sun left for us to sit here until the bonfire."

"I just finished putting my lotion on again."

"So? You'll still be in the sun, just over there."

Running out of excuses, Buffy glanced once more at the group. There was a time she wouldn't have hesitated to approach them. Now, she felt different, not entirely removed from things that were normal but still she was. It was just hard to put on a happy face when inside she was still baffled by what had happened.

Baffled was too calm a word for the war going on inside of her most of the time. She'd died. As in meet your maker dead. If it had just been Angel in those tunnels, she'd still be dead. She owed Xander her life. Unfortunately, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do with that life.

She couldn't believe how easy it had been to fall back into the life she'd had in LA before moving to Sunnydale. Before being expelled from Hemry. A few phone calls and she was not just caught up on all the gossip that had been the last semester of school, but she was back in the fold.

People had short memories. That coupled with the fact that her parents were divorced and it was her mom who had moved not her dad made her a curiosity. Not many parents in her group were divorced, but she was the only one who'd been kept with her mother and taken away from the family house.

Tyler had moved on. Not that Buffy had expected any different. And, honestly, Angel was still fresh enough on her mind that guys were the last thing on her mind. She could tell that had bothered Tyler the first time they'd seen one another at a party. Never mind that now that she'd gotten a taste for someone older, she just had no interest in wasting her time on someone her own age.

As if he knew her mind had turned to him, there he was making an ass of himself with his latest, Cherri. People thought Buffy was bad. Cherry with an "i" was ridiculous. Tyler was trying to make her jealous she guessed, because he'd never been big into hugging or cuddling in public with her.

"All right, you twisted my arm."

"Do you want me to actually twist it so you feel better?"

"No," Buffy said wryly. She stood, brushing the sand from the back of her bikini bottoms. One good thing that came with the slayer package, she was buff and looked good in her preferred summer clothing ensemble. As little as possible.

Some of the others were getting the makings ready for the bonfire they'd be having as soon as the sun went down.

"Hey, Buffy."

She responded with "hi" or "how are you?" as her old friends saw her, some for the first time since she'd moved from LA.

"Girl, who needs Tyler when those guys are looking at you like that?"

Buffy had honestly not noticed who was looking at her. She was no longer used to it, unless you counted Cordelia and her gang glaring at her as if she'd grown a second head. But, Tasha seemed immune to the effect she had, too.

She was one of the few black girls who had made it to the inner circle. She was an Amazon next to Buffy. She played basketball, which Buffy thought was kind of stereotypical given the girl's height. Buffy had heard a few others talking about Tasha, though, and words like scholarship were being thrown around. So, she must be good. Both girls obviously worked out, just by different methods.

"Got room for two more?"

"Sure, ladies. We were just about to start."

"Great."

Buffy had avoided slaying at all costs since leaving Sunnydale. She'd stayed as far away from cemeteries as she could get. And, other than a quick postcard to Willow when she'd gotten here she'd done her best to put Sunnydale out of her mind until September when she had to go back. She was determined to make the most of her summer. If that meant a game or two of volleyball with hot guys so be it.

"I'm Tasha. This is Buffy."

Names of the group were thrown out, Buffy doubted she'd remember one of them. Except the hottie Tasha had gone to the trouble of making Buffy notice. His name was Lindsey. The team opposite Buffy took Tasha and Buffy was on Lindsey's team.

"You know how to play?"

"Are you kidding me? A California girl that doesn't know how to play beach volleyball?"

"Right. What was I thinking?"

She laughed then and took her spot on her team's side of the net. She hadn't played volleyball like this, for fun, in a while. And it was fun. No one was grading anyone, no one really cared if the ball got missed. They were just here to have a good time and to soak up the sun's last few rays of the day. They did play hard, though. No one could claim when they finished for the day that they didn't get a workout.

Tasha was busy talking to one of the guys on her team, so Buffy hung back waiting for her friend. She really wasn't in the mood for the whole bonfire thing, but she was determined to stay busy this summer. Busy was good. It kept her mind off things she'd prefer not to think about. Her near death experience gave her a whole new, more personal meaning to the seize the day advice she'd given Willow months ago.

"Good game."

"Thanks." Buffy wished she was closer to her things. It was getting cooler now and she'd worked up enough of a sweat that she was getting slightly chilled standing there in just her bikini. "Lindsey, right."

"Guilty as charged."

"Are you guilty of something?"

"Not so far today, no."

"Well, that's good." She smiled. "You play here often?"

"Yeah, pretty regularly."

"I've seen you a couple times before this summer."

"Oh?"

"Well, your group I mean," she said quickly, realizing what it sounded like. She was so not trying to pick him up. Like he'd be interested in a sixteen year old anyway. She wasn't real good at judging ages, but he seemed like he was mid-twenties or so.

"Ah. I'm an attorney."

"Oh, so the guilty as charged thing was like a real joke."

"Yes, it was an attempt at one anyway. Evidently, it failed and I need to work on my delivery."

"Hopefully, you're better at opening and closing arguments."

He laughed at that, and Buffy thought it was a nice laugh. "Yes, I've been told I am anyway. My bosses and clients seem to think so."

"Well, good."

"Anyway, these games sometimes are the only break I get. They work us pretty hard at the firm. I need to see the sunshine sometimes, though, so these games keep that need being met."

"Cool."

"So, are you off for the summer?"

"Yes."

"Home then?"

"Visiting my dad, actually. My mom and I live down in Sunnydale."

"I've heard of it."

"It's pretty dull compared to LA. We moved there in March and I have been waiting for summer break ever since."

"Do you go to UC Sunnydale then?"

"Uh no," she said, tucking some hair behind her ear. Here it goes. She'd tell him her age and he'd walk away. "I'm a junior."

"Where?"

She smiled at that. He wasn't real quick, or maybe he just didn't want to be. "At Sunnydale High School."

"Get out."

"Nope."

"You just finished your junior year, you mean?"

"Nope, just finished my sophomore year."

"Ah. I don't suppose you're really dumb and have failed a time or two?"

"No such luck. Sorry."

"It's okay. Hey, we're not doing anything wrong or anything."

"No."

"There's nothing against the law about my talking to a pretty girl, no matter her age."

"I guess you'd know."

"I would."

Tasha and the guy were walking toward them. Buffy sighed softly. It was kind of nice while it lasted. Having a guy talk to her just to talk. And he'd said she was pretty. What girl didn't like to hear that?

"Ian's going to join us for a while at the bonfire."

"Cool. The more the merrier."

"Is there room for one more?"

Buffy glanced at him, surprised at his question. She figured for sure he'd run for the hills now that he knew she was too young. What guy, a lawyer in particular, wanted to mess with jail bait?

"Sure."

"Great. I'd love to hear more about Sunnydale."

"You would, huh?"

"Yeah. It's come up in the news a few times."

She rolled her eyes, cursing to herself. Of course he'd have to follow the news. He was probably one of those lawyers always searching for a client. They walked toward her group from Hemry as his scattered. There were some in her group she didn't know. Some were older brothers and sisters of her friends who were home for the summer and some were just new. It was a pretty diverse group. Lindsey would add a different dimension to it, though. None of them were of the working class yet. Not career-like stuff anyway.

"Didn't your principal die?"

"Yes, he did. He was actually pretty nice."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I kind of had a record from my old high school here in LA, but he was willing to let me start fresh. Of course, my teachers knew about the record so it wasn't really a fresh start."

She shrugged. She couldn't explain what her first few months had been like in Sunnydale. Not without giving away too much. Freaky Friday body swapping, possessed hyenas, preying mantis shape shifters, invisible girls, talking ventriloquist dummies, vampires, and anointed ones. She doubted those things made the news. Just Principal Flutie's premature death. Maybe the death of the hyena guy at the zoo. Otherwise, though, nothing much should have hit newsworthy radars.

"Well, that's good. Everyone deserves a second chance."

"You sound like you mean that."

"I do. I'm living proof of it, in fact."

"Really?"

"Really. Moved to LA, put myself through college and law school at Hastings, and finished before I was twenty-four. I took summer classes, a course extra every semester during college so I could finish as fast as I could. I was offered a job at the law firm I'm with now in the mailroom while I was still in law school. I had to pass the bar exam, of course, to practice, but they made it known they wanted me and had faith I'd pass the exam. It was the first time anyone really had ever had faith in me."

"Well, you worked hard. Who wouldn't appreciate that?"

"You'd be surprised, but yeah, I feel appreciated. I've been given a couple of bigger clients. Small stuff, really, to see what I do with them. I like it, though."

"It sounds like you were trying to prove something."

"I was. To me more than anyone, but it was more of a put my past behind me thing than proving anything."

"Good. So, twenty-four. How long ago was that?"

"I've been out of law school for a year."

"Ah." So, he was nine years older, give or take. It was nothing when compared to Angel, but she doubted he'd see it that way.

"What do you want to do?"

"I don't know." She shrugged. She didn't really have much chance of a future. Did she? She'd defeated the Master, averted an apocalypse or two, but if she learned anything during her months as the slayer, another one wasn't out of the question. "I hadn't really thought about it too hard. A teacher, I guess."

"That sounds like a plan. We need good teachers."

"You think I'd be a good teacher?"

"Sure. You have a nice personality. Why not? If you taught high school or older, the students would show up just to get a look at you."

"No skipping Miss Buffy Summers' classes then?"

"No, ma'am, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a guy wanting to miss out."

"Well, that is something to think about."

"Yes, because we all choose our careers based on the hormones of teenaged boys."

"Well, not all."

They both laughed and Buffy almost wished they weren't around a crowd of people. It was still too early to start the fire so people were doing their own thing for a while. Some were swimming, some were tossing a football or Frisbee around, and some were just hanging out talking.

"Are you sure you want to hang out with us?"

"Why not?"

"Um, because we're high school kids."

"It wasn't that long ago I was in high school. Besides, they aren't all high school kids, some are in college or that age. I can tell. And I'm hanging out with you, not them."

"Oh." What else could she say to that? She couldn't deny the little wave of pleasure that shot through her when he put it that way. He wanted to hang out with her. A lawyer. She glanced at him, wondering what her dad would say if she brought him home.

"What are you thinking?"

"Oh, just wondering the different ways my father would think about stringing you up if he knew I was talking to you."

"Well, we'd best not let him find out then. Besides, I'd talk my way out of it. I'm good with words."

"Are you?"

"So I've been told."

"Well, then, I guess you must be."

"It's helpful for an attorney."

"Did you always want to be a lawyer?"

"Well, I went through the usual stages. Professional baseball player, astronaut, male gigolo."

"Male gigolo?"

"That last one was a joke. But, yeah, ever since I can remember really having a career in mind."

"Huh."

"You make that sound odd."

"I guess it is. I mean, I don't know if any of them knows what they want to do either." They both regarded the others around them. Some were even in college and she knew she was right. There were probably a few that knew, but not many. There were some she was sure that were hoping they wouldn't have to do anything but land a husband with a good job and an endless bank account.

She didn't count herself in with them, because her life wasn't normal. She wasn't normal. She could dream about a future but the chances of her having one beyond high school or college were pretty slim. She knew the odds. Giles wasn't so forthcoming with the honesty, but Merrick had said as much.

"It's pretty, isn't it?"

"What?"

"The sunset."

Buffy turned her attentions to the sunset. It was beautiful. It was too bad she associated sunsets with creatures of the night coming out to play instead of peacefulness like most people. Sunsets made her think of the Master, death, stakes, ambush tactics, and defensive strategies.

She tried to remember what sunsets had meant to her before being called. She couldn't, she doubted she'd paid much attention to them. Sunsets before then signified curfews, time to get home, and other mundane things. Now, she knew what the sun setting for the night really meant.

She glanced at the others, wondering how many of them knew. Did any of them? Did they think she had just suffered a violent outburst and gone a little crazy? Giles said people explained away things they didn't understand or want to understand. She knew that to be true. Hell, she didn't want to believe in the things she knew about.

"Not a sunset fan?"

"What? Oh no, I am. I just," she shrugged.

"Yeah, I get like that sometimes, too. It's okay."

"Thanks." She smiled at him. "I'm betting that bonfire will get going pretty quickly now."

"Will there be alcohol?"

"Are you asking as a defender of the law?"

"Not a chance."

"Then, yes, I imagine there will be a keg or two."

"Do you drink?"

"I'll have a cup maybe two, but no I'm not a drinker. Buffy and alcohol," she frowned. "Just don't mix well."

"At least you know that. Some people don't, or they do and keep trying to make it mix."

"Not me. I guess we should go see if they need help with something."

She caught a glimpse of Tasha, walking away from the group along the beach with Ian. Brave girl. Good for her. Buffy wasn't going to push her luck. So far this guy seemed nice, she wasn't going to do something stupid to risk her opinion getting changed.

"Whatever you want to do."

What did she want to do? She wanted things to be the way they had been the past couple of weeks here in LA. There was no doom and gloom. Giles wasn't after her with prophecies and ancient texts forecasting things before her parents were even born. Angel wasn't appearing at her windowsill with warnings.

For the first time since she could remember, things were quiet. It was nice. She was able to just be Buffy Summers for a while. And while being her, she snagged the attention of a very nice looking attorney. Why he was bothering with her she wasn't quite sure, but she wasn't going to complain. She'd probably never see him again anyway.

"I imagine there will be food, smores and stuff."

"You're making my stomach ache just thinking about it."

"I'm sure," she said with a soft laugh. "I'm going to grab my sweats and then I'll be set."

"You look fine the way you are."

"I'm sure I do, but it's a little chilly."

"I noticed."

She wasn't that cold, not to the point of having anything to be embarrassed about. "Come on, legal man, before you say something you might regret."

"You going to slap me with a lawsuit?"

"Not yet. Give me time, though."

"A woman who plays hardball. I like that."

The night was looking up. Tyler could have his Cherri. She'd show him and have a good time doing it. He seemed nice, funny, and was certainly nice to look at. What was more, he wasn't sending out fifty different signals she couldn't uncross the wires of to get the hint. She definitely liked that.

Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com