Buffy stood appraising the dress she'd bought for the New Year's Eve bash she would be going to with Chuck in a couple of weeks. It was a beautiful dress, but she just wasn't excited about it. At least not as excited as she should be. The last time she'd worn a formal like this was prom. Sadly, if she closed her eyes and thought about it hard enough, she could still remember what Angel had smelled and felt like that night as if it was hours instead of years ago.
Despite having friends from the squad and Chuck, she still felt somewhat alone most days. Funny, considering she really didn't lack for things to do much of the time. If she wasn't working a game there were promotions to do. And time with Chuck. It was a rare night Buffy was able to be alone anymore. Not that she was complaining exactly. She just wasn't expecting this kind of life when she'd first met him.
She hadn't known who he was when he'd asked her out. Why? Well, she'd been knee-deep in apocalypses. After they'd defeated the First she'd rounded up the slayers she'd activated, leaving her little time for things like television. He seemed to have found her genuine lack of knowledge refreshing.
That had been months ago. She'd never get used to her picture being snapped everywhere she turned. Luckily, her activities without Chuck hadn't attracted attention. She'd be in big trouble because, while no Sunnydale, Cleveland kept her busy. She watched his show now and had caught up with episodes she missed so that she could at least sound supportive if ever asked.
She hated this time of year. Well, hate was perhaps too strong a word, but the time between Thanksgiving and the New Year always left her feeling empty. The holidays could be brutal for some people. Evidently, being the Slayer didn't make her immune.
She missed her mother and the family she'd created in Sunnydale. Willow, Xander, Giles, Anya, Dawn, and, yes, even Spike had become her family when her father had bailed on her and her mother had died. Even Angel, despite being in LA. She always knew she could count on him if he was needed.
Anya and Spike were dead. Xander was with Giles in London doing watcher-type stuff. Willow was wherever a witch who was able to teleport could go, spending a lot of time with Kennedy. Dawn was here with Buffy, but was busy with school; and being mad at Buffy's life choices. She hadn't heard from Angel in forever, which was ironic considering they'd talked about forever once.
Dawn told her more than once Buffy should go find him. The only problem was that Buffy had no idea where to even look. Unlike Angel, she wasn't able to find people easily. Her sister didn't seem to care for Chuck.
It didn't help that the gossip rags this week at the grocery store were dissecting a recent dress she'd worn and whether the puffiness at her abdomen was the fit of the dress or the early signs of pregnancy. She'd assured Dawn she wasn't pregnant, that there wasn't even a chance of that. Dawn didn't believe her; Buffy wasn't sure why.
Other than the fact Dawn wasn't quite old enough to realize that not everything you read is based on fact. Or she just didn't like the idea of her sister actually having a life.
"Buffy," Dawn called.
Buffy rolled her eyes. Dawn was closer to the front door than she was, but was currently upset with Buffy. So for once Dawn was taking her 'do not open the door under any circumstances' to heart. It didn't help that Dawn probably assumed it was Chuck or one of his entourage coming to take Buffy away for the evening as usual. Dawn made no effort to hide her dislike for him from Buffy or from Chuck. She wasn't rude necessarily, but it was obvious.
"Thanks," Buffy said wryly. She wasn't expecting Chuck. He was working late, there'd been some last minute revisions to his script so he expected taping to take longer than usual. This was his last night of taping until after the holidays so she couldn't complain. Since Dawn was here, Buffy wasn't exactly sure who it could be. Chuck's friends didn't come looking for her. They weren't those type of friends to her, stopping by only to pick her up if necessary.
She opened the door, forgetting for the moment she still wore the formal gown she'd been trying on in her room. She wasn't able to forget long, though. Surprise at seeing Angel there in living color on her doorstep was quickly pushed aside by feeling a little underdressed as he openly perused her. His eyes stopped briefly at her abdomen and she swallowed.
"You're not pregnant."
He leaned his head against the doorjamb, clenching it tightly with his hands. She could hear the wood start to give.
"Sorry. I just thought I'd have to make an exception to my not killing humans rule for a while today."
"That paper's been out for days."
"I don't get to the store very often."
"No, I suppose you don't."
"As it was, I only saw it because my admin left it on her desk."
"On purpose?" Buffy frowned.
"No, I mean, she doesn't know I know you. I'm sure it was an accident. She reads those things religiously. It was just happenstance I needed something from her desk and I saw it sitting there."
"And you'd kill him because "
He reached for her, but was stopped by whatever invisible shield it was that kept vampires out unless they'd been invited in.
"You can come in," she said softly.
And just like that, he was able to touch her. It was nothing more than a hand at her cheek and a thumb along the swell of her upper lip. It was enough to make her catch her breath, though. She'd forgotten how him touching her made her feel.
"Because children is the one thing I could never give you."
"I don't understand."
"If you had a kid with him "
"Well, then, my chances with you would be right down there with 'when hell freezes over'."
"You want a chance with me?"
He stepped closer, dropping his hand to her chin. He tilted her face up so their eyes met. "You know I do."
"Where have you been?"
"Trying to get settled. And getting my mind wrapped around the fact you didn't betray me."
"Betray you?" Now she was thoroughly confused. She'd never betray him as long as she had breath in her body. Surely he knew that.
"Oh, hi, Angel," Dawn said from behind them.
"Hey, Dawn," he said without taking his eyes off Buffy.
"I was just wondering who was at the door that was taking Buffy so long to get rid of. I didn't think she was going out in that dress tonight."
"It is a nice dress," Angel said, lowering his gaze to assess it once again.
"Thanks," she whispered.
"I'll go back to my homework, I guess."
"Okay, Dawn," Buffy said simply.
"As if either of them notice I'm even here," she heard Dawn mutter.
"I thought you had," he whispered before she could say anything more to Dawn.
"I had what?"
He shook his head, running his thumb along her jaw. "Betrayed me, left me to get killed."
"What are you talking about and why would I do that?"
"It's not important."
"It's important enough you thought I'd turn my back on you. If you know anything about me, Angel "
"I know you wouldn't and didn't. That's why it's not important."
"Why are you here?"
"Your house or Cleveland?"
"I live here," he said. Was it just her imagination or was he getting closer? And why did her palms start sweating at the idea that he was going to kiss her? God, she felt sixteen again. "And I'm here to see you."
"I guessed that."
"To tell you I don't like that Chuck Stone guy."
She smiled at that. "I've heard that before."
"This time I mean it. And I'm not going to stand by and let him have you."
He didn't answer her with words. He didn't have to, his kissing her gave her all the answer she needed. She tried to remember the last time they'd kissed like this. Hunger and need and desire and want and love and
"Angel," she whispered, drawing away from his lips no more than she had to. He tasted and smelled so good. And as she wrapped her arms around his neck she realized he still felt good, too.
"Tell me to go. Tell me you want him and we'll forget this happened."
He expected her to forget him kissing her like that? It was better than any kiss she'd gotten in years, maybe even the best. She wasn't in high school or afraid of scaring him off anymore, so she could actually kiss him the way she wanted to. Like she meant it.
"Tell me "
"You don't love him?"
She laughed then, drawing away. "No. I wouldn't want that type of life anyway."
"That type of life? For Christ's sake, Buffy, you're a cheerleader."
"Well, it's just a job and it's not the same as being the type of celebrity Chuck is." She paused then, looking at him. "You knew what I've been doing?" She'd auditioned for the Cavaliers' cheerleading team on a whim, not really expecting to get on it. She still wasn't sure why she had, but it paid the bills and it allowed her to be there for Dawn if she needed her for school things. Most of the time anyway.
"Well, yeah, thanks to the paper. I've been to a few of the games even."
"Only to see you. I could care less about basketball."
She stopped him from saying anything further by stepping into his arms, hers going around him tight almost to assure herself he was really there. She rested her head against his chest, wondering how long it would take her to get used to the fact he had no heartbeat again. There was a while getting used to the sound of Riley's beating had been the oddity. Tilting her head up to look at him she smiled.
"I could care less about Chuck Stone."
"What's it for?"
"New Year's Eve."
"You have plans?"
"I can break them if someone made me a better offer."
"Good, because there's this party I'd like to take you to."
"Yeah. It'll be a huge turn-out. You, me, Dawn if she wants to come, and that's it."
"That sounds nice."
"You can still wear the dress."
"Sure, I'll dress up, too."
"I'd like seeing you in a tux again."
"It's been a while. I'm surprised you remember."
"I could never forget anything about you, Angel."
"That was a stressful and painful time, I wouldn't have been upset if you had."
"Everything I've been through, everything I've done to get here today, you helped me get here. Even when you weren't with me, it was the thought of you; knowing you were fighting, too. I wanted to do it together, with you, but just knowing that there was someone else out there that wouldn't quit no matter what."
"I know the feeling."
"So, how'd you get to Cleveland, anyway?"
He took her into his arms and she let out a laugh that sounded more like a shriek. "I'll tell you after I've gotten you out of that dress."
"And you want to do that because?"
He lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her very completely. "I've had the memory etched in my mind for years, I need to compare it to the real thing."
"And I'm the real thing?"
"Without a doubt."
"And the lack of picnics or walks on a sunny beach?"
"Overrated," he said gruffly. "The sun and the moon co-exist, we can, too."
"Finally, he sees reason." He nipped at her lower lip causing her to laugh. "And might I say, I'm so very glad you're prone to jealousy."
"If it weren't for that you wouldn't have come here and I had no way of knowing how to find you."
"I'll send the tabloid writer a thank you note."