Buffy wasn't sure how long she stood there. Minutes, hours, she wasn't aware of the passage of time. She hadn't cried; she had shed all her tears weeks ago. Even now, she couldn't completely shake the feeling of unreality. Giles was gone.
She looked up, and that's when she realized she wasn't alone.
"Angel?" She hadn't even realized he had been there, there had been so many people at the service. "I didn't know you'd flown in."
It had been over twenty years since she had last seen him, and the years had been kind. His hair was now sprinkled with silver and his middle had thickened a bit. He was wearing a long black coat, but underneath his tailored suit peeked out, and it was obvious he was still muscular. His dark eyes were as intense as ever, and she couldn't help thinking that for all he had changed, it appeared that some things had changed very little if at all. She couldn't help wondering exactly how many long black coats he owned. Did he buy them five at a time so he'd never be without? She shoved her knuckle in her mouth until the urge to laugh had passed.
He gave a small nod of acknowledgment.
"Giles would have been pleased. Thanks for coming."
"Giles could barely tolerate me," he said flatly. "With good reason."
Buffy frowned, hugging herself against the mist in the air. "That was a long time ago. Plus it wasn't your fault."
She could see him considering her words. "It wasn't something I could help. But that doesn't mean it wasn't my fault. I took a lot from him. Too much from him." He stepped away then and turned to go.
Her frown deepened briefly. "He told me once that you were a good watcher. That your slayer was lucky."
Angel's face lit up, his smile warm. "He said that? That means a lot. He was a good man."
"The best," she agreed but she wasn't thinking about Giles. Back in the day, Angel's smiles had been few and far between, and every one had been solely reserved for her. She had loved him with an intensity and ferocity she had never felt for anyone else, there was no denying that. But with hindsight she saw she had also loved that she was his moon, his stars, his sun. Even if there had been no curse looming between them, he would have had to leave her, either that or risk losing himself entirely. It was a sobering thing to realize almost 40 years later exactly how selfish she had been.
She watched as Angel turned his head, obviously looking for something.
"The car park is over there," she helpfully pointed.
"I'm actually looking for the main gate. I took a cab here."
"Oh, well, I'm about to walk home. I'm just a few miles from here, so you can follow me out."
"I thought everyone was meeting up at Willow's?"
She shrugged, trying to appear more nonchalant than she felt. "They are. I just don't think I can deal with a big crowd right now. Maybe later I'll head over. But I can write out her address for you if you need it. I'm sure the gang would like to see you."
Even as she said the words, she knew they weren't actually true. Willow would be happy to see him, but Willow was welcoming to anyone and everyone. Xander and Dawn wouldn't care. Whatever animosity they might have once felt would have been burned away by the passage of time, but he wasn't a factor in their lives anymore. Any of their lives.
"I've never been one for crowds myself." He gave her a self deprecating smirk. "Big surprise, I'm sure."
"Angel, if you want you can head my way. A lot more cabs over that way, so less of a wait."
They fell into step together and headed out of the cemetery.
"You know no one calls me that anymore."
"Angel," he clarified. "No one has called me that in."
His voice just stopped, as if he were an appliance and the electricity had just gone out. She turned towards him concerned, until she saw the color rising on his cheeks. She realized exactly the last time someone had called him Angel. It had been twenty-two years ago, it had been her and she had been in his bed.
She had gown to New York to see how his slayer was getting on, the Council regularly checked up on the watchers and the slayers they trained. But looking back, she wondered if the fact that she had assigned herself to check out Angel and his charge was due to something else. She had never regretted the day she had spent with him even though both of them had known it would never be more. She was head of the all the slayers and based in London. He was a watcher to a young girl who needed him in New York. And beyond that, she had been happily married. But just because she had never had any misgivings about their time together didn't mean Angel viewed it the same way. It was very likely he felt guilt about causing her to be an adulterer.
"I'm divorced," she said. And immediately realized how awful that sounded, the clear implication being that it was his fault. "Five years ago," she hurriedly added. "It was just one of those things,we just grew apart. No bad blood. We still work together sometimes. He got remarried two years ago. To an accountant." She was a bit embarrassed by her sudden torrent of words, but she found her herself needing to fill up the silence that had abruptly arisen.
"I know," Angel said simply. "Well, not about the accountant part."
"You knew," she repeated, genuinely surprised.
"Arianna told me."
"Your slayer?" Buffy gaped at him.
Angel scrubbed his hand through his hair, clearly embarrassed. "Buffy, you do realize that you're kind of a mythic figure to all the other slayers. Anything you do or say eventually makes the rounds."
"I knew that was true in the beginning. But I figured by now my life wouldn't still hold that much interest. Sure, if I take out a really interesting demon. But my personal life? Unless I'm being held up as a cautionary tale."
"You're a hero among heroes. You're the one who turned all these other girls into slayers. You're always going to be special to them. None of them think you're a screw-up or a failure."
"I don't feel all that special. I spend my days researching potential supernatural threats, training new slayers and watchers and doing paperwork and I spend my nights taking girls out into the field to kill vampires and other assorted beasts. Not too glamorous. A real exciting night means I catch a movie with Willow."
"I think you're one up on me. I don't even remember the last time I went to a movie."
"You must have some sort of social life."
"Not really at the moment. I've been in a couple of fairly long term relationships, but they ended. I came to the conclusion that I'm not the marrying type. After living for three hundred plus years I'm set in my ways."
"You mean you get homicidal if anyone squeezes the toothpaste from the middle."
"I don't know why people find that so difficult," Angel grumped as Buffy giggled. "I assume that the lovely Miss Summers is not hurting for male companionship."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "You would be assuming wrong. Guys aren't interested in an over fifty female. And please don't tell me how I don't look a day over thirty."
"You don't look thirty but you do look fantastic." He held up a hand to forestall her protest. "After I had my soul for awhile, it occurred to me that not being able to see myself in the mirror might have been a blessing. It didn't matter what sorts of tragedies I endured or what type of happiness I experienced, outwardly, I never changed. Living had no effect on me. It's a horrible thing to deal with. When I got my first gray hair I was ecstatic."
"When I got my first gray hair, I called my hairdresser," Buffy wryly noted.
"You're forgetting I've seen the full Buffy. No one has seen your roots in close to forty years."
"And it's going to stay that way."
He chuckled and then got serious. "What I should have said was, I can see the life you've lived in the lines on your face. It looks to me like like it's been a good one."
"I'm not sure it has, I've made so many mistakes, so many people have gotten hurt or killed because of things I did or didn't do. And even all these years latter, I'm still not sure it was right to burden so many young girls with the power of the slayer." The fog was beginning to roll in in earnest. Even though she had been living in London for over half her life, she still missed the California sun. Today though, the fog seemed appropriate. It gave everything a grayish cast, as if the world was also mourning.
"You really like being a watcher?" It suddenly seemed important to know.
Angel's wide toothy grin was in stark contrast to how she felt. "I love it, " he proclaimed. "Arianna is slowing down a bit. You probably know she got married 7 years ago." Buffy nodded in reply. "Her oldest calls me Pop. The bond between us...she's given me a purpose and meaning I've never felt before. I don't think I understood about life or, or much of anything before I met her. I've never been happier."
"That's good. I'm glad for you." The words were spoken hollowly as an irrational sadness took root. She knew that most of it was due to losing Giles, but that didn't seem like it explained how maudlin she felt.
Angel put his hand on her arm, gently slowing her to a stop. "That's not what I meant. You're always going to be important to me."
"It's OK. I don't know why I got emotional. Just the day getting to me. We dated for a couple of years almost forty years ago when I was a dumb-ass kid. Honestly, I don't expect it to be a big deal to either of us at this stage."
"You were young, you were never a dumb-ass." He was no longer touching her, but he had turned and his eyes looked straight into hers. "Did you know I saw you get called?"
"I think I remember you telling me that. Your stalker phase I presume?"
"I wasn't stalking you," he protested. "I was living on the streets of New York City by that point. Each time I tried to do something good, something useful, it backfired and each time I retreated a little more. Finally, I just wound up giving up. I was barely scraping by until a demon named Whistler found me."
"Whistler?" Buffy's eyes opened wide. "Short, more obnoxious than Xander on his worst day, dressed in golf course rejects?"
"I see you've met him. He told me I was at a crossroads. He told me that I could be someone, could help. He showed me you as you got called." His fingers were loosely encircling her wrists, his right thumb softly swiping against her pulse point, but it was the intensity of his gaze that Buffy found unnerving. She wound up averting her eyes after a moment, it was too overwhelming.
"Whistler told me you were going to need help. But honestly, I didn't see it. You were green, but you also had determination. And then,,," He took a breath before continuing, his words low and soft. "I saw your watcher with Lothos."
"You saw Merrick?" She lifted her head back up to look at Angel as tears started to slip down her face. She honestly wasn't sure if they were for Merrick or Giles or both or something else entirely.
Angel let go of her wrists. For a moment she thought he was going to wipe her tears away, but instead his arms fell to his sides as he fisted his hands, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."
She violently swiped at her eyes. "You're telling me how all these girls look up to me? I couldn't even keep my watcher alive."
"You were a fifteen year old, newly minted slayer going up against a master vampire who had been around over 600 years. He out maneuvered you. Merrick told him that you were going to take him down and he was right. I was there when you dusted Lothos."
"Merrick said that? I always assumed that he was disappointed he was saddled with a ditzy slayer who never listened to him."
"He saw right away what it took me a while to figure out. No matter what anyone threw at you, eventually you would come back harder, smarter, stronger and win. I have always let my failures define me but you never did. I'm only standing here now because you showed me that. Any good I've done in the world is because of you."
"I never realized." They started walking again. "So, I'm your raisin data?" she grinned.
"I'm praying you mean 'raison d'etre' and yes, you are. I'm also glad to see that all those nights I spent tutoring you in French were completely in vain."
She shrugged unapologetically. "Dawnie is the language superhero."
"How is she?"
"Still happily married to Xander. Who would have guessed that it would be those two who wound up together. Their oldest, Jesse, is 18 and heading to Oxford in the fall. Joyce is 15 and majoring in boys."
"I'm surprised Harris hasn't tied her to a chair. And chased off her suitors with a sword."
"If he thought he could get away with it, he would. She got called a year ago."
"Should I offer condolences or congratulations?"
"So far, she's doing fine. She's got a good head on her shoulders. We haven't officially assigned her a watcher yet. It's tricky because of who she is."
Angel nodded in understanding. "How's Willow doing?"
"Good. She been dating a tech geek, Katherine, for almost three years. Maybe she's finally found the right someone."
The fog was thicker now as the late afternoon shadows began to give way to the a sky streaked with dark purple clouds. Buffy stopped in front of an ornate metal gate that she deftly unlatched.
"We're walking into a cemetery?'
"Shortcut to my place. Otherwise we'd have to walk all the way down another block and then head back. Plus, this one isn't in use. Last burial here was at least 15 years ago, so it's quiet. I sometimes come here during the day to think."
"Only you would use a cemetery as your personal public park, " he teased.
She stuck out her tongue while privately she mused that she no longer know who any of his friends and colleagues were aside from Arianna. His original band had died long ago during the Los Angeles apocalypse that had turned him human. It saddened her as she realized how completely she had lost contact with him but then brightened when she realized there was one person she could ask about.
"How's..." Just at that moment, Angel brushed his hand against her. side "What's that?" he whispered.
Over at the far end, there was a large something, at least 8 feet tall. For a moment, the dying sun broke through the cloud cover and illuminated it's sharp claws.
Angel raised a single eyebrow and smirked. "This is all your fault." Buffy gave a rueful nod and the two of them began to walk slowly toward the demon. "Where did that stake come from?"
As they slowly approached, Angel turned to Buffy. "Need help?"
"Nah, I got this."
"Good. It;s been too long since I've gotten to see this."
"You're kidding, right? You're a watcher. You see this every night."
"Not vintage slaying."
"Vintage! You calling me old?"
"I'm thinking more like a fine wine," he suavely explained. "The younger versions are fine, some of them are even exceptional, but the original? That can't be replicated."
"It's only flattery if it isn't true."
They slowed to a stop now that they were close enough to get a good look. Not only tall, the demon was solidly built and covered in matted grey-green fur that smelled like wet dog. "Looks like it's packing a set of ginsu knives." Buffy said as she stared at the 5 inch long razor sharp claws that extended from its four fingers. The eyes were a dark red with an extra wide mouth that seemed to contain an endless supply of needle sharp teeth. "Have any idea what kind of demon this is?"
"Not familiar at all. I figured it was some native English species."
"All right, I'll head over and introduce myself." Buffy trotted over until she was directly in the monster's line of sight. "Howdy. Just passing through?"
The demon roared. "I'll tear your arms off and stomp your body into the ground." Its voice was a bass rumble.
"Points for unpleasant imagery, but don't you guys ever think about flossing. I'm not trying to be rude, but you should really think more about your dental hygiene." She deftly somersaulted away a second before the claws would have embedded in her arm. She spent the next few minutes moving in and out of Mr. Rude's range as she assessed his speed. Quicker than she would have guessed, but not as fast as her.
Taking a few steps back, she took a hard running start right at the demon, finally leaping straight up into the air. Buffy twisted at the end, her booted feet landing hard in the middle of its chest, then instantly sprung back away. She hadn't even managed to push him back a centimeter, much less winded him.
Its claws missed her face by a millimeter as she jumped back to the ground. Twisting out of the way as it swiped at her again, her jacket billowed behind her and was immediately shredded. She glared at it. "Now you've managed to piss me off. Do you know hard it is to find a jacket that's appropriate for a mature woman, is stylish and allows you to do a spin kick?"
It's reply was a roar as it grabbed for her.
Buffy took aim and threw her stake hard, giving the monster no time to duck as it embedded deep within his right eye. An oily black liquid oozed out of the eye socket, as the demon bellowed in rage. Unfortunately, although he was obviously in pain, it only served to make him more focused. She was fining it increasingly difficult to stay out of the reach of the deadly claws and impossible to find any real opening to end this.
She easily caught the sword by the handle as it spun end over end toward her. And he wondered where I keep my stakes..
"Tail, " Angel shouted.
Tale?. "Oh, tail," she mumbled, her eyes widening in understanding. The only trouble was, it was proving impossible to get behind the demon. Each time she went for the side, she was effectively herded back to the front.
"Buffy." She could hear the urgency in Angel's voice and she allowed herself a quick glance. She couldn't begin to explain it, but she knew exactly what he was thinking. She headed away from the creature and for the moment, it stopped going after her, obviously puzzled by her change in direction. Before he decided to charge after after her, she stopped short and began to run as fast as she could , not directly at the demon but toward Angel. At the last second she jumped, her feet landing into Angel's waiting hands as he helped propel her over the demon's head. It had already raised in arms in attempt to impale Buffy as she sailed behind it, but she twisted out of the way, her sword already swinging in a huge downward arc. It had already realized what was happening and was turning back out of the way, but it was too late. The sword came down and lopped off the tail at the base of the spine. Instantly, the black liquid that had earlier oozed out of the eye socket began to pour out of the severed joint. She scrambled out of the way as the beast thrashed, but it was death throes rather than a concerted attack. In less than a minute, it crashed to the ground, dead.
The two of them stared at the fallen body, black ochre soaking the ground.
"Why are demons so ugly?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Vampires excepted in certain limited circumstances. You can't tell me the Master was anyone's idea of a dream date." She reached into her coat pocket (and again, mourned the loss of her coat. She really should be allowed to report her wardrobe budget as a business expense) and pulled out her cell. "Hi, Maddie? Clean up on aisle 4." She listened, smiling for a moment, and then continued. "What can I say. I really was minding my own business. It's over on Haversham, that small cemetery? Plus we also need an iron fence fixed and a few headstones straightened up. Thanks, see you tomorrow." She listened a moment longer, adding "Yeah, I'm glad he was at home at the end. Thanks." She ended the call and placed the cell back in her pocket when she realized Angel was gaping at her.
"Back in New York, Arianna and I would have to chop that thing up and then dig thirty holes in order to discretely bury the thing."
"Please do not tell HR about this. I'm not supposed to get special treatment."
"You'd get sent to the naughty chair?" Angel was obviously bemused.
"Worse. I'd get one of her I'm so disappointed in you Willow looks."
"Ouch. I was on the receiving end of a couple of those back in the day. Enough to make a grown vampire cry for mercy."
They headed out of the cemetery and down the block.
"How did you know how to kill that thing anyway? I thought you didn't recognize it?"
"I didn't. But I have this." He pulled out a small blue box.
"Is that the new I-Cube?"
"Yup." He opened it up, did some quick typing and in a moment, a hologram of the demon Buffy had just defeated was projected.
"That is awesome. Willow's been dying to see one in action."
"Ari bought it for my birthday."
“So, how’s Connor,” Buffy asked, finally getting back to the question she was about to ask before slayage intervened.
"He's good, " Angel said with obvious pride. "I just wish I saw him more."
"Well, you could always go to Chicago, where he's definitely not shacking up with Faith."
Angel gave a little snort of amusement. "Even when he was a kid, he had a thing for older women who could beat him up."
"Too bad I didn't meet him first then.:
Angel quirked an eyebrow. "That is disturbing on so many levels."
"It probably wouldn't have worked out anyway. Based on things Faith has said, he's a bit too adventurous for my taste," she said with a leer.
Angel gave her a sour look. "That's my kid we're talking about. I really didn't need to hear that."
"Like you haven't tried everything under the sun and then some."
"Evil vampire at the time. Doesn't count."
Buffy rolled her eyes, but her thoughts flew off in a different direction. She could no longer deny the simple truth. She had been calling him Angel but he wasn't. This was someone called Cian who she really didn't know. And it wasn't the breathing and the tanned skin and the graying hair. And yes he had been alive the last time she had seen him, but he had been Angel then, though she had trued hard to deny it. This man was comfortable with himself. This man made jokes about his murderous past. This man was happy.
And although she wasn't selfish enough to wish that things were different for him, she mourned it.
“There’s my place,” she said, pointing to one of the row houses coming into view.
“Nice. Would you like to go for coffee?”
“Coffee,” she repeated, suddenly too confused to be coherent.
“I understand all the cool kids are drinking it. Light with two sugars, right?”
“You remember that?”
“Some things are worth remembering,” his look suddenly intense and searching.
And just like that, everything fell into place. She almost laughed at her earlier musings. He was still Angel in the most important ways, he had simply grown up. She supposed twenty plus years of living could do that to a person. She only hoped she had matured as well.
‘Spike once said we could never be friends.”
A shadow passed briefly over his face. No matter how much time had passed, the loss of his entire LA family would never heal. He leaned against the railing that lead to her front door, his face tilted skyward. He shifted, once again looking at her. “I think we can be whatever we want to be.”
Buffy nodded, her front door key in her hand. “Let me get you the phone number for the cab and then we can go. I’m also going to leave my coat behind, it got warm all of a sudden.”
“The season’s changing.”
She came back out a minute later and locked the door behind her. Tucking her hand into the crook of his arm, they headed off down the street together.