Buffy shielded her eyes and looked out into the water hearing Dawn calling her. She couldn't get over how much Dawn had grown since they'd last seen one another. It was her own fault, she'd needed some major Buffy time. Dawn had needed to finish school. And now here she was in the middle of her second year at Northwestern. Once upon a time, Buffy was accepted into Northwestern. It seemed like forever ago.
"Come on, Buffy, the water's perfect."
Buffy was really of the mind just to lay on the beach and soak up some rays. Dawn was energetic enough for both of them. Giles had pushed Buffy to do this, not that she didn't want to see Dawn. Returning to the States was something she'd put off since Sunnydale's destruction. She'd traveled abroad, seen things she'd seen in books and magazines but never thought she'd get the chance to see them in real life.
The boat they were living on couldn't even be seen among all the other boats in the marina. Evidently, they were not the only ones to think this was a great way to spend spring break. Giles had even arranged for someone to take them whale watching the week they were here. Buffy was all for that.
"I'm good, Dawn," she called out, waving her sister away. Compared to some of the beaches she'd been to over the past three years, this was pretty dull but it was close to LA. Home. Almost ten years after being forced from LA she was back. It was wonderful even if she didn't really have any place to call home right now. Maybe Giles got that.
She felt eyes on her. She was used to that, though it still kind of unnerved her. She'd always known she was decently attractive. In high school and college she had the hard work outs of being the slayer going for her. But three years off from slaying full-time had softened her some. At least she thought so. She liked the new and improved Buffy. At least she knew she looked good in the two-piece suit she'd picked for today.
Dawn stopped with the swimming and they returned to the boat that was their temporary home on water for lunch.
"This is so cool. Giles like thought of everything."
"That's Giles. He's good with the always thinking."
"But, Buffy, right down to the Jif peanut butter. I mean, come on."
"He's so proud of you, Dawn."
Buffy felt her eyes tearing at the sound of doubt in Dawn's voice. She had wanted to go straight from high school into the slayer work. Buffy had put her foot down. One of the two Summers' girls was going to go to college on the normal schedule.
"Like you don't know that."
"Well, he's Giles."
"Not so forthcoming with the kudos. I understand, believe me, I do. We're all proud of you. Most especially me."
"Now, what's for lunch?"
"I thought you were making it."
She scoffed. "Me with the cooking?"
"I can do sandwiches."
"There are even some of those big pickles."
"That's what I say." Dawn dragged the makings of sandwiches out of the refrigerator.
Buffy wondered how much this was costing Giles. He knew the boat's owner and evidently the guy wasn't going to use it during this time, but Buffy believed money had changed hands to make the idea more appealing.
"I can't believe how late we stayed up. I haven't done that since high school."
"Well, not to talk."
"I don't want to hear about it."
"Buffy. Gross. No, studying."
"How is the love life?"
Dawn shrugged. Buffy didn't miss the streak of crimson that appeared on the back of Dawn's neck. She knew that mark well. It meant she'd scored an embarrassment point. "Two points for Buffy. Spill. Details. All of them. Who is he? What's his major? What's he like? Have you met his parents? And, hey, why haven't I met him?"
"Um, there are no points involved here. His name is Peter. He's a Psychology major." Dawn's eyes darted away from Buffy's at that statement.
"So over Riley. That was years ago. Over, done, married now. Go on."
"He's super nice, smart. I think he's cute, but it's kind of a geeky cute."
"Nothing wrong with that," Buffy said, popping a potato chip into her mouth. "Continue."
"We met at a basketball game if you can believe that. I was at the concession stand and he spilled my drink. It was an accident, but he paid for my refill and we started talking."
"Aww. That's sweet."
"Um, let's see. Haven't met his parents, but I've met his sister. She's younger and came to visit him for a weekend. And you haven't met him because, I haven't seen you in two years."
"Okay, fair enough."
"What's his sister like?"
"Like I was when I was fifteen."
"No one could possibly be that bad."
"Hey, finding out I was a ball of energy was pretty traumatic."
"No doubt. Finding out I was the slayer was a piece of cake compared to that."
"Hey, at least you really had a childhood."
Buffy bobbed her head at that. "You're right. So, is it serious?"
"It has the potential to be."
"Dawn's first serious boyfriend. What the hell am I supposed to do?"
"Just be my sister."
"Yeah, but you have to tell him if he hurts you I'll kick his ass."
"Um, no, no my sister is stronger than most everyone in the world threats."
"Hmm, you're playing hard ball. You must really like him."
"Love him?" Dawn blushed even more, Buffy wasn't sure how that was possible. "You do!" Buffy clapped her hands and rubbed them together. "That's great. It is, isn't it? He's not weird or anything, is he?"
"No, I just," she was busy cutting her sandwich in half. After finishing that she spread some chips on her plate and got a diet pop out of the refrigerator.
"I want you to be happy, you know? I feel bad that I'm all in love and feeling like this and you're, well, not."
"Oh, Dawn, I appreciate that. But I've been in love and I can't wait for it to happen now that I'm ready for it. And I am happy. That's how I know I'm ready this time around. But don't feel bad about what you're feeling. What you're experiencing, it's wonderful. Is he a good kisser?"
"These are details I have to know."
"Yes. Buffy, this is so weird."
"You're my sister. You're like a superhero, and have been more mom than sister since I was fourteen."
"Oh come on, we're like way past that sister thing. We're buds, in a inexplicable, paranormal kind of way. The Slayer and her Key sister. Who would have thought, huh? You kind of grew on me."
"So, he's a good kisser. Anything else I should know he's good at."
"No! That's all I'd tell you anyway."
"Hmm," Buffy said, stealing a chip off Dawn's plate.
"Get your own."
"I will, I will. I think this is cause for a celebration."
"Yeah, the Summers sisters do LA. Come on. You're happy, you've got a good guy, you're on your way to getting that high grade award they assign in college."
"I don't know about that."
"I do. My sister, the genius. Don't tell Willow, but you'd give her a run for her money."
"Now you're exaggerating."
"Am not. So, are you going to let me take you out?"
"I don't know."
"Oh come on. How much sitting on a boat and relaxing can we do? It's not like we have to wake up in the morning for any reason."
"Wouldn't it bother you?"
"Going into town? You know, where you used to live, where Angel ended up. Vampires and stuff can't be gone."
"I'm not here as the slayer, but you know I never go anywhere unprepared. So if we meet up with a vamp, I'll dust him in no time flat and we'll get on with the celebrating."
Angel was a sore subject, no one talked about him much. He was part of the reason Buffy had made with the making herself scarce the past couple of years. Giles had done two things in the nine years she'd known him that were hard to forgive him for. Trying to kill Spike was one. Not telling Buffy that Angel needed help was the second. No one had heard from him since. The world hadn't ended, LA was fine, so Buffy assumed all was well. But the not knowing was killing her.
She had cut her time in Rome and with The Immortal short. Willow had somehow found out about LA, but by the time Buffy could even start to assemble enough slayers it was done. Or at least she couldn't find any information about where she was needed. Apocalypses were funny things, not much with the forewarning so it had probably happened fast.
Since then, she'd been living like the buoys she spotted in the water. Bouncing around from one place to the next. She'd slay here and there if it was necessary, but each town she came to that had a demon or vampire problem she looked for him. She used to think, a long time ago when she thought her life would end without him in it, that she'd know if he was gone. She had believed that they were that connected. If she was right and that was true, she knew with all her heart he was out there somewhere.
"I'm sorry, Buffy, I shouldn't have brought it up."
"No, it's fine, Dawn." Buffy reached and placed her hand over Dawn's squeezing it. "It's hard, I won't deny it. I just wish I knew for sure, but I've resigned myself to the fact he's gone."
"Enough with the Angel talk," Buffy said, jerking her hand away from Dawn's. She stood and walked to the steps that would lead to the deck. "It's time for some sunshine and we can think about which bars we want to hit tonight."
"I still don't know if this is a good idea."
"You think Peter would mind?"
"No, I mean, it's not like I'm going to do anything wrong."
"Then let's go. Call him, tell him we're going out clubbing so you'll talk to him tomorrow."
"Oh come on, you were going to call him tonight. I heard you last night, knew you were talking to someone you didn't want me to eavesdrop on."
"Oh all right."
"Yay," Buffy said and walked up the stairs. She regarded the shoreline, LA. It was so familiar and yet such a stranger to her. Fickle. It could swallow someone up and if they were lucky they'd get spit out when it was done with them. She brushed away a tear at the realization that there would have been nothing left of Angel to spit out if that had happened.