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Things That Are Easy, Things That Are Free

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The first days following Buffy’s unfortunate encounter with telepathy are calm. There doesn’t seem to any large scale demonic activity occurring, and even the mayor is keeping things on the down low.

“All quiet on the western front. If this way is west, anyway,” Buffy tells Angel as they meet up following separate patrols of a couple of the smaller cemeteries. They do the last one together, standing over a fresh grave for barely a minute before a vampire rises. She’s quick and actually seems pretty wily, but Buffy distractedly stakes her so quickly that Angel is still looking at the dust on the ground as she walks away.

“Same time tomorrow night?” Buffy asks, already practically turning to go home.

“Sure,” Angel says, “as long as first you tell me what’s wrong.” He has his patient, don’t–lie-to-me face on.

“Wrong?” Everything is so not wrong it’s practically gnorw.” At his non-comprehending look, she clarifies, her tone a bit cheekier. “That’s “wrong” backwards.”

He raises an eyebrow and his lips press together. “You’ve been distracted for the past couple of nights. You aren’t getting sloppy yet, but you should talk about whatever’s bothering you.” His face registers pain for a second before he blinks it away. “It doesn’t have to be me if you’re not…comfortable. But talk to your mother, or Willow. Maybe Giles.”

“No, Angel, it’s not that. I just…” She pauses and finally faces him. “Everyone else is over the whole aspect of the demon thing. Been there, done that, wrote it up in the Slayer diaries.”

“Buffy, it’s okay if you’re still thinking about it. I’d be surprised if you weren’t. To have that many people speaking in your head at once- I don’t think any of us could truly understand.”

They’ve started walking toward Revello Drive without Buffy noticing. She doesn’t mind. She’s always liked quiet night walks with Angel, just the two of them.

“It’s not just all the voices,” she tries to explain. “It’s how angry and sad all those people were.” She looks up at him. They are beneath a tree and his face is in shadow. “And worst of all, I don’t know who was feeling what. I don’t know how to help them. I have to do something but all I know is that a lot of people are in pain and I don’t know what to do for them.”

They walk quietly for a minute. As they reach the sidewalk in front of Buffy’s house, Angel puts a hand on her arm. “I can’t say that I’m sorry you lost the aspect of the demon. I’m pretty in favor of a sane Buffy. And I can’t lie to you. You can keep an eye out, but you probably won’t be able to find out who’s being bullied or abused or getting a divorce.”

“But those people were in my head and it’s my job to help them!”

“Try to think. If you can remember hearing one person, maybe we can go help them.”

“Okay. Even I can find one.” Buffy pops up on her tiptoes and kisses his cheek. “I do like a man with a plan.” She spins around and walks backward toward the house. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

Angel stands with hands in pockets for a few moments before leaving toward home. He is still smiling slightly. Being with Buffy makes him feel ever so faintly alive. It’s unfortunate that he isn’t truly so.

----

He’s waiting for her in the same spot the next night when she comes out for patrol, like they never parted.

She starts in immediately. “At first I was thinking about the people at school, because I was sure there must have been a less gross boy somewhere. And then I thought maybe we could find someone on the street, but they were all too jumbled. But then,” she stops walking to point one end of her pale, gauzy scarf at him. “Then I realized where I had heard just one scared voice. And it was at your house.”

“Buffy…” Angel appreciates her enthusiasm, but is still confused. “You couldn’t read my thoughts and I was definitely the only one there.” They have entered the cemetery now, but luckily have had enough practice conversing while patrolling.

“Not in your house. Outside. You do have neighbors, even though they’re so far across your massive, ancient estate that I think you’d have to pay international postage if you wanted to write them a letter. And one of them is very intimidated by you.”

For once Angel actually feels innocent of this accusation. “But I’ve never done anything to any of my neighbors. I don’t think I’ve even met any of them, not even last year.”

“That’s exactly the point. They’ve never met you, so you’re just the broody guy who keeps suspicious hours and suddenly took over the creepy house that looks like it should always have lightening flashing over it.”

“You think my house is creepy?”

“It’s a great space,” Buffy says diplomatically. “But I wouldn’t say no to a can of paint in a color that is neither black nor gray. Oh, and maybe some little china figurines. A strategically placed pony could really change the whole look.”

By this time Angel looks so pained that Buffy realizes that saying anything more will just make him more reluctant to go over, so she just tells him to meet her right after sundown and refuses to say anything else for the rest of patrol.

----

“What if she’s allergic to lemon? Or sugar? Or whatever else you put in when you baked it.”

Buffy snorts and fixes his collar. “Oh, ye of too much faith. You’ll have to read the box to see what ingredients the store used in there. But even if she’s one of those bubble people who’s allergic to, like, sunlight and water and air, she’ll appreciate the gesture.”

“Just because she couldn’t live as a plant,” Angel hisses, but Buffy has knocked and the rest of what he was going to say is cut off as his unknown neighbor comes to the door.

When Buffy said that she was afraid of him, Angel imagined an older lady or perhaps a fluffy-haired, middle aged Joyce Summers look-alike. But the woman in the doorway is perhaps thirty with short dark hair just brushing her earlobes. She’s wearing a business skirt with a silky-looking tank top.

“Did you just get home?” he blurts. Buffy elbows him, so he tries to remember the niceties that he thought up in the moments between meeting Buffy at her house and her revealing her plan. “I’m Angel. I live next door. In the…creepy house. I brought a cake.”

“I’m Buffy,” Buffy chips in, trying to look as normal as possible. “Angel doesn’t get out much. The cake is lemon, though, so it might be good.”

The woman continues to stare at them. Angel hears crickets around them, and the music playing from the inside. “Is that a Paisiello concerto?” And for the first time, she smiles.

“It is. Not many people would know that.”

“I’m not most people. I actually hung around with some of his biggest fans. That was a while ago, though.”

Her smile turns slightly puzzled at his odd tone, but she sticks out her hand. “I’m Deb Barnes. Thanks for the cake.”

“It was no problem,” Angel says, looking down, but he agrees to come in when she offers. Buffy follows after.

Later that night, after they have made awkward small talk and had a cup of tea, discussed music and said good night, Angel and Buffy do a quick patrol. They don’t say anything, but they both know it’s been a good night. Buffy’s mind is slightly more settled this evening. They haven’t figured out a way to help all those people who still need helping, the ones living right beside her, but she’s put one person’s mind at ease, and although it’s small, it is something. Angel thinks about Deb’s smile, about her wide-ranging record collection, about how she was no longer scared of him when he walked out the door. He looks down at Buffy and her smile slides itself onto his face. Because of her pushing, her warmth and heart and caring, he might have actually made a friend of his own tonight.