Angel stood on the threshold of the Bronze, feeling the same level of uncertainty with which he would approach a human residence he hadn’t been invited into. When Whistler had shown him the basement apartment he’d found for him, he hadn’t been thrilled about its proximity to a nightclub, and hadn’t intended on ever entering said nightclub. And yet here he was.
He didn’t have any new information for the Slayer. That slimy little barman hadn’t told him anything, the fledgling he’d run into the previous night had been clueless, and for all his skulking, he hadn’t seen anything noteworthy either. His role here was to keep an eye out and make sure she had what she needed to defend the Hellmouth and stay alive. Strictly speaking, there was no reason to talk to her if it wouldn’t further that objective. And yet here he was.
He hadn’t really thought things through beyond checking to see if she was in the club, apart from vague ideas about complimenting her on her victory in the Harvest. He’d beaten first-hand accounts of what had happened in her fight against Luke out of two of the vampires who’d fled the scene, and he’d actually found himself smiling a few times since then.
He’d been right; she was at the Bronze. She was sitting at a table with a dark-haired boy, a redheaded girl, and another girl with dirty blonde hair. They were chatting and eating what looked like brownies.
This had been a mistake. He couldn’t just go up to a table of high school kids and talk to her. He’d be better off leaving and waiting until he actually had something useful to contribute and she wasn’t surrounded by regular kids.
He turned, but his feet didn’t move him any closer to the exit. He looked back. She wasn’t sitting at the table anymore. He glanced around, trying to find her, but didn’t see her anywhere. He made a second attempt to leave, but, still glancing over his shoulder, he bumped into someone.
“I didn’t expect to see you here.”
It was her. She looked like she’d just gotten up to get sodas for her and her friends. “I didn’t expect to be here,” he said, trying to sound smooth in an aloof sort of way, but feeling like an idiot.
“Are you here about what’s been happening at the school this week?”
“I heard how things went at the Harvest,” he said. “You did good work.”
She shrugged. “The world didn’t end.”
It was hard to tell in the middle of a noisy crowd, but he was almost positive her heart rate had just gone up in reaction to his praise. He had to consciously stop himself from grinning. Then he realized what she’d said and frowned. “What happened at the school?”
“Oh, a witch who was obsessed with cheerleading to a very crazy degree swapped bodies with her daughter and cursed half the squad so she could get in. One girl’s hands caught fire, another’s mouth vanished, Cordelia went blind and almost got hit by a truck, and I got hit with a curse that made me act very drunk for a while, and I nearly died but then Giles undid all the spells.”
“The witch put a bloodstone vengeance spell on you?” said Angel, now struggling against the impulse to check her for any remaining symptoms. He’d seen curses like that before. They were brutal.
“I think that’s what Giles called it. You know about spells too?”
“I’ve read a few books on the subject. What happened to the witch?”
“Not sure. I used a mirror to knock her last spell back on her. Amy—she’s the daughter—is pretty sure her mom meant for the effects to be permanent, so I don’t think she’ll be a problem anymore.”
“And she did all this because she was obsessed with cheerleading?” said Angel.
“Yeah,” she said. “She won a bunch of awards when she was in high school, and I guess she never moved on from that. Which is really lame, especially because it kind of ruined cheerleading for me.” She grimaced, then looked at him and smirked. “You know, this? What we’re doing right now? This is how conversations are supposed to go. I told you actual details, and I didn’t leave you in suspense when you asked questions. That’s important.”
Angel returned the smirk. “Is that so?”
“Absolutely. And what’s even better about a real conversation is that it makes it easier to have another one and another and then to keep having them on a regular basis.”
“Interesting,” he said. “Tell me more.”
“Well, it’s usually also good for each participant in a conversation to know the other’s name. I’ve known yours for over a week. Don’t you want to know mine?”
He already knew her name, of course. He’d known it for months. But as old-fashioned—well, old—as he was, he didn’t feel at liberty to use it before being legitimately introduced. “Does that mean you’d actually tell me if I asked? Because I seem to recall that when I told you my name, your only response was to mock me for it.”
“That’s not—I didn’t mean—,” she blurted, blushing. “Buffy,” she said quietly. “My name is Buffy.”
He suddenly felt like a heel. “Buffy." She looked hesitantly up at him. With perfect sincerity, he said, “Pretty name.”