Angel could say with all certainty that he had felt every form of awkward when it came to Buffy. He’d been the anxious beau meeting the mother. He’d been the ex. He’d been the ex meeting the current and getting chewed out for one tiny (well-deserved) butt-kicking.
This, though, this took the prize, for most awkward moment in a history of awkward moments.
He cleared his throat. “So. Uh… back from the dead?”
“So they tell me,” Buffy shrugged.
She set down her diet soda. The quiet clink of glass on coaster was the only sound until Willow bustled into the room, smiling too brightly. “Everyone happy? I can make cocoa. Or, well, you don’t drink cocoa. Do you like the, um, you know?” She mimed drinking. “It’s okay?”
Angel smiled and lifted his mug. “Just fine.”
It was microwave-warmed pig’s blood, still tasting of the foam container from the butcher’s. He wasn’t hungry.
A soft ding sounded from the kitchen. “Oh that’s the cookies. Just, you know… am I hovering? I don’t mean to hover. Just take your time. Socialize. I’ll be nearby if you need me.” Willow waved at them as though she could urge them into more conversation with wind and hurried off.
“Is Willow feeling guilty?”
That woke Buffy from her daze. “Huh?”
Angel tilted his head toward the kitchen. “She’s baking.”
“Oh.” Buffy shrugged again.
He wanted to tell her how much he missed her. He wanted to throw his arms around her. There’d been the stiffest of all possible hugs when he first came in, that turned into an impossibly strong, needy cling on his part that embarrassed him. And now… it would be weird.
Buffy was weird. She was distant, distracted. He didn't know what he expected, but whatever their separation had been to her, it wasn't the loss he'd felt. He'd expected... something mutual. Despair or hope, either, both.
“You didn’t tell me,” he said.
“What?” She blinked at him, earnest, paying attention now.
“That you were back. I… I’m glad you’re back.”
“Sorry. Didn’t really enter my mind. I’ve been busy. Things have been… busy.”
Angel nodded. “I understand. The detective agency is keeping me, um, busy.”
Two excruciating hours later he stood on the porch, receiving a hug from Willow and a polite smile from Tara.
His own momentous news was unmentioned. It just hadn’t seemed right to bring up: the baby pictures burned a hole in his back pocket.
He turned to find Spike leaning against the palm tree in the yard and had to scowl quickly to cover up the slight start the bastard gave him.
Uncharacteristically, Spike looked serious. He tapped ash off his cigarette and nudged his chin toward the house. “How is she?”
Not knowing how to answer that question, much less how to answer it to Spike, Angel stuck his hands in his pockets and walked away.
He heard Spike mutter, “Prick,” and grind out his cigarette. When Angel reached his car and glanced back, Spike was standing there, leaning against the tree, watching the lights of the house.
When he thought about it later, Angel would agree that this was probably the moment at which the very terrible idea started forming in his mind.
“She’s… depressed. Muted.”
“The bloom is off the Barbie doll. Tragedy,” Cordelia said without a hint of sympathy. She made a circuit of the room, picking up towels and blankets.
“Come on, Cordy. The girl returned from the dead. It’s… well, it’s creepy. No one knows how to act, and she can tell. I don’t know what to do for her. There’s nothing I can do. It’s like, when I heard she died, I knew how to react. I grieved. Now, it’s almost like grieving in reverse, only… that would be happy. And this isn’t.”
Cordelia pressed a laundry basket into his hands. “If you have to brood, brood doing laundry.”
“Not really a part of your life, or your responsibility. Wake up and smell the baby powder. Or do I have to get Wes down here to re-enact the Love of All Time?”
Angel grimaced. “It’s not that. I’m… okay. Laundry.”
Work made him feel better. It always did. Movement and purpose. Separating lights and darks, measuring out the powder. Filling the extra little cup with baby-safe bleach for the whites. Angel liked his whites white, darn it.
He also liked the myriad baby-smells, the powder and the spittle. You’d think he’d hate it, but he didn’t. The stink was his baby stink, and that made it wonderful.
He emptied the drier of a load of Cordy’s dark pants and skirts. Cordy was wonderful, kicking his butt into gear. As he cleaned the lint filter, he thought, Buffy needs someone like Cordy, someone to talk sense to her and kick her back into life.
And as he dropped the ball of lint in the trash, he had the terrible idea, and he cursed because he couldn’t come up with a way to talk himself out of it.
How, exactly, one went about contacting annoying pains in your ass who lived in cemeteries and didn’t have cell phones was beyond Angel, and so his terrible idea held little hope of reaching fruition, which was all right by him. He, quite frankly, had a life, and Wes assured him that Buffy was just experiencing very common post-resurrection depression, brought on by the meaninglessness of an unending existence, and would snap out of it on her own.
(He didn't want to know how many cases of "post-resurrection depression" were documented by the watcher's council. Couldn't some things be unique experiences?)
Still, when the laundry was done and the hotel tidied up and little Connor snug in his crib, and when Cordy went home and Lorne went out and the phone messages were all caught up, he called.
“Summers residence,” the bored teenaged voice answered.
Dawn sounded irritated. “Oh, it’s you. Buffy’s not here.”
“Woah, hey, what makes you think I wasn’t calling to talk to you?”
“Because you weren’t.”
“Okay, fair enough. How is she?”
“All she talks about anymore is money and what I should be doing – school, keeping the house clean. She thinks she’s my mother! When she was my age, she ran around doing whatever she wanted.”
“You know that’s not true. She was the chosen one.”
“She was dating you!”
It’s an unexpected mule-kick of memory. Buffy, Dawn’s age, innocent and sweet, even with a killer’s power in her hands. Angel was struck silent.
Dawn continued, “By any rights I should be dating Spike.”
He sputters. “Woah. Woah, wait.”
“I’m not, I’m just saying, if she could date you when she was my age, then I should be allowed to go out with a perfectly normal non-vampire boy.”
“Aaaah. So there’s a boy.”
“God, you sound so smug and adult.”
“Sorry, I kind of am.”
“So is everyone around me. You know, they’re not that much older than me. Why is it always ‘but who will watch Dawnie?’”
“They just want you to have a normal life.”
“In a normal life the basement wouldn’t be flooded and I wouldn’t have to worry about vampires if I’m out too late.” There was a sound of something brushing the plastic receiver, a couch-cushion groaning. “We should move away from here.”
Angel shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not sure Buffy can afford to move right now.”
They were both silent a bit, and it was as close to companionable as Angel had felt in a long time. He cleared his throat. “So, about Spike…”
“Jeeeez. I don’t know what you have against him, I mean, you’re a vampire, too.”
“He doesn’t have a soul, Dawn. You can’t trust him.”
“Try that one with a vampire who hasn’t saved my life a couple times. And babysat me.”
“Listen you aren’t… I mean, you aren’t really interested in him, are you? That was just a dig at me?”
There was a silence longer than Angel liked. Dawn hummed a little, and he knew then she was just torturing him. “Dawn!”
She sighed. “No, not really. I mean, maybe at one time, but now? It would kind of be like kissing my brother.”
"A really HOT brother," Dawn muttered.
Angel sank back in relief, supporting his head with one hand. That was one issue moved happily into the ‘not a problem’ stack. He hadn’t realized how anxious Dawn’s tease had made him. “Good, that’s good. Look, I actually wouldn’t mind talking to Spike some time. Could you give him my number? I’m sure he doesn’t have one.”
“Oh… kay. Color me surprised.”
“It’s not a big deal. I just have… uh… vampire business to talk about.”
“Uh huh. And now it’s edging toward creepy.”
“And Dawn? Vampires, even soulled ones, are trouble to date and no one, no one!, should think of dating them.”
“Uh-huh,” she said, and Angel hung up knowing he wasn’t going to be listened to.
Cordelia came into the bedroom, where Angel was feeding Connor. She had a very confused look on her face. “Spike is on the phone for you.”
“Oh,” said Angel.
Cordy put her hands on her hips. “He’s singing.”
Angel looked down at Connor, who was blinking his eyes – such gorgeous eyes with such big soft lashes! He looked back at Cordy, hip cocked, eyebrow raised. “Uh… is that a metaphor or something?”
Cordelia picked up the bedroom handset and held it with thumb and forefinger before her.
From it, he heard a familiar voice in unfamiliar strains, “Aaaaangel. Aaaaangel. I can’t believe I’m soddin’ calling Aaaangel! Must be outta my mind.”
Angel looked from the dangling handset to Cordelia. “That sounds… kinda Broadway.”
“Yeah. He just burst into song after a few ‘put the poof on’s.” She waggled the phone at him. “Make it stop!”
Angel set the bottle down and shifted Connor to his shoulder. The baby started to fuss and Cordy lifted him into her own arms, resuming the feeding while Angel set the phone to his ear. “Uh… Spike?”
“Oh thank fuck. It’s stopped again. Look, don’t know how long I have before another melody hits me and it’s sodding embarrassing, Peaches. So quick – tell me anything you got on demons that turn towns into Mary Fuckin’ Poppins.”
“Uh… let me check with Wesley, see if there are any leads.”
“Great. Yeah, throw watcher boy at it. Gimmie a call at this number – it’s a pay phone. Ring three times, hang up, and then dial again. I can hear it from my crypt.”
“Sure. That works.”
“Look, Angel, I… I never told yooooo…”
The phone clicked off in a hurry, the dial tone replacing whatever serenade Spike was about to treat him with.
Angel and Cordy looked at each other. He shook his head and returned the phone to its cradle.
Cordy was patting Connor’s back, getting him to burp, a towel drapped over her shoulder. “I’m so glad I got out of Sunnydale.”