In the middle of a sunny morning in Kuala Lumpur, an abnormally successful slayer stopped a minor apocalypse, receiving grievous wounds in the process. She smiled dazedly as her knees betrayed her, her body collapsing onto the ground. She managed to turn her head to look toward where her Watcher’s body lay feet away from her, before her life and her power slipped away from her.
Across the world, the power attempted to enter the body of Buffy Summers. At that moment, however, Buffy Summers was lying on the floor of Sam’s Seafood Hut, inconveniently dead. The power shrugged as much as a bodiless form of energy and magic could shrug, and went off to Jamaica.
Four years later, Buffy Summers wakes in the middle of the night, gasps a little, unconsciously dents her bedframe, rolls over and goes back to sleep. The next morning, she breaks the knob to the bathroom, then her coffee mug, and only succeeds in not ripping the paper by holding it with deliberate gentleness.
“Have you been taking steroids?” her roommate, Cordelia, demands, holding up the broken doorknob as she comes into the kitchen.
“No,” Buffy growls, ruining her non-paper-ripping streak as she violently turns the page on the want ads.
“You sure? Because there’s the rage,” Cordelia notes in irritation. She pours a cup of coffee, although Buffy knows it won’t transform her into a sweet-tempered princess herself.
She and Cordelia have been friends since Buffy’s first day of school at Sunnydale High. When her father had saved her from choking on a piece of shrimp during a dinner out, her mother had been grateful enough to stay around for a few extra months, but eventually she remembered how much the marriage had worn on her. In some ways, Buffy was glad. Moving to Sunnydale had meant that she could start over without the social stigma of being known as Shrimp Girl, and coming from LA meant that she had some movie star caliber in the small town. For two years she and Cordelia had ruled the school, although in quiet moments Buffy could tell that Cordelia too was a little weary of their eager, unthinking devotees. Harmony, Aura and the rest were not exactly stimulating company, but Buffy managed to refrain as much as possible from rolling her eyes until graduation. Thinking about changing herself so totally made her uncomfortable.
She and Cordelia had managed to make it into UC Sunnydale, a sure way to escape the herd. As the uncontested rulers of the school, they had assumed that it would continue in college. There had been an image in Buffy’s mind of somehow jumping to the top of the social ladder in college too. But after a first semester of struggling through her classes and discovering that she had been mistaken in thinking that college had any one hierarchy which she and Cordelia could insert themselves atop, she was relieved when her friend had suggested that college was not for them and that the two of them should try acting instead.
“I was just up late packing,” Buffy says, still grumpy. Their boxes are scattered around, ready to be loaded onto the truck and brought to LA.
“Yeah, I can see. Although I’m not sure why you couldn’t just wait for the big strong moving guys to get that done for you. That’s literally their jobs.”
“It’s literally not. They don’t make sure that my cheerleading trophies get packed in bubble wrap, and they’re definitely not going to put all of your shoes safely into the right order. They’re just the muscle.” Buffy stretches. She must have really overdone it the night before because her muscles feel odd. “Although clearly I’m the actual muscle in this arrangement.”
Cordelia snorts and snatches the paper from Buffy’s hands as her friend rises. “Are you going to do some more lifting, Butch Cassidy?”
“Just to run some errands, Miss Mixed Metaphor.” Buffy rolls her eyes. “Can’t close up the boxes without our friend packing tape.” She grabs her bag and walks out into the sunshine.
Three blocks from the apartment, she notices that someone is pacing her slightly behind. She tries to act casual as she pulls a compact mirror from her bag. She peers into it, letting it reflect the image so she can see without turning. The man is middle-aged and looks bookish and slightly near-sighted. If he weren’t following her, Buffy wouldn’t have been frightened of him, or even noticed him at all. She tries to remember the self-defense unit from gym class, but so much of high school is just a blur of painted nails and Cordelia’s denigration of the gym uniform.
“Okay,” she whispers. “Okay. There’s a building. Nice bright building.” She turns into the lobby and waits for a few moments, hiding herself against a wall as she glances through the large front window until he has passed. Then, congratulating herself, she walks back out to do her shopping. A minute later, the man begins walking beside her. Close up, he looks very vaguely familiar, like he is an actor in a TV show she had watched as a child. He touches her arm gently.
“I realize this situation is culturally unorthodox,” he says casually, peering at her kindly. His accent is Englishy, his voice slightly sad. “But I have something I must tell you.”
Buffy looks straight ahead and keeps walking. “If this is a Jesus thing, I have to tell you that I’m pretty firmly Buddhist this week.”
“Very admirable,” he says, and it doesn’t sound condescending. “Unfortunately, what I have to tell you is more serious than that. May we sit down?”
Buffy looks over at him, gauging, and it clicked. “Hey, aren’t you the librarian? The Sunnydale High librarian? I saw you one time…”
“Indeed.” He seems surprised, and Buffy guesses that it’s because she’s not that Willow Rosenbork or the dangerous girl who used to hang around the library. Being a librarian isn’t exactly the road to recognition and popularity.
It’s a busy street, a sunny day, with a man who she’s pretty sure got her books on her first day of school. She shrugs. “Well, if this is more serious than Jesus, I guess we have to sit.”
“Excellent.” He takes a seat on a nearby bench, sounding relieved. “Miss Summers, have you ever noticed anything strange around Sunnydale?”
“There’s that creepy guy at the bus station. He’s beyond even LA levels of weirdness.”
He gives a fluttery laugh and takes off his glasses. “N-No. I suppose I mean something more…endemic than an odd character.”
“People are getting sick?”
He stabs forward with his glasses. “No! Something supernatural. I’m speaking of supernatural happenings.”
“Like that weird occult group last year? I was away at a cheerleading competition, but my mom left me like nine thousand messages about how she threw out all my candles and was chopping down the tree in the backyard because it’s an oak and she said that they can have magical significance.”
“N- Actually, yes. Not those children they nearly burned to death, they were innocent, but there was a force at work on the people of the town.” He turns forcefully toward her. “This is what I have been trying to say. That there are forces at work, supernatural forces, and now you are a part of that.”
Buffy is already forming the way she will tell the story to Cordelia when she gets home, the tale of the insane librarian. “Yeah, okay. You probably fell asleep in the crazy plots section of the library. Or-or-or you were sniffing some of the book glue. Can you get wacky from book glue? Anyway, you probably need a nap or something, so I’m just going to go and you’ll stay here.”
“Miss Summers!” He stands, fumbling. His voice comes out forcefully. “Have you felt different today? A peculiar feeling in your muscles, sudden- sudden bursts of strength without reason…?”
“Okay.” She laughs a little, not a true laugh, looking down. “Now we’re getting into too personal territory.”
He seems like her childhood puppy Teddy that time that her dad had accidentally poured coffee into his bowl. “You can’t deny it. Your physical self has changed and you can’t explain why.” She is silent, arms crossed as she looked away. Voice weighty he says, “Miss Summers, I’m terribly sorry to have to tell you are the vampire slayer, the one girl in all the world chosen to battle the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness.”
Buffy’s bag is over her shoulder and she is walking away before she begins to respond. “I mean, I wasn’t great at math in high school, but one girl versus however many secret vampires who’ve been hanging out without anyone noticing? Seems like a little too divide and not enough conquer. Have fun reading or whatever. Don’t go talking to any more random girls, okay?”
She gets to the store and back home to finish up her packing, and then a little of Cordelia’s. She leaves out a couple of cute outfits, which is lucky because when Cordelia has finished polishing her nails, she suggests a trip to the Bronze as a farewell gesture.
When they get there, the club already seems too high school, but she and Cordelia dance and there’s something very low pressure about it all. But there’s something all grown up about it, too, when her roommate leaves with a guy and tells her not to wait up. She walks back to their apartment alone, wondering if they still have Ben and Jerry’s in the freezer or if they finished it all. But as she passes one of Sunnydale’s many cemeteries, ice cream or the lack of it becomes the least of her concerns. A man comes rushing over and for a minute she thinks that maybe he’s sick and she’s supposed to call 911 or stab him with one of those allergy pens. But then he’s grabbing her tightly, yanking her toward himself, hissing, and she doesn’t think that rabies makes people do this.
“Hey!” she yells, pushing at him, and he falls, moaning. She starts to run, trying to find somewhere with people while also digging through her bag for her cell phone. But there’s too much stuff to rummage through and the creeper has gotten up and he’s coming after her with his horrible face and a large grinning mouth.
“Just my luck,” he says, shaking himself as he stands, and she’s jolted because his voice sounds normal, even coming from a face that’s distinctly not. “A new slayer, shrinking like a little baby bird.”
She looks around for something to hit him with. Tomorrow’s garbage day, so there’s a full trash can on the curb beside her, but it seems too heavy to swing. Still, she spots a broken broom on top, and manages to pick it out as carefully as possible when a crazed man has almost caught up with her. She holds it like a baseball bat, and as he gets close, she swings. But her dad gave up trying to teach her baseball because she always swung too early, and this is no exception. Instead of getting bruised, the guy seems to impale himself on the broom, but she can barely see exactly what happened because the next second he’s gone.
Buffy can tell her eyes are enormous in her face. She drops the piece of wood and looks down, seeing no signs of the man who had been there. The street is quiet. When she looks up there’s a new man standing there, shadowed. He’s hunched over. She can barely see him. She scrabbles for the broom again, but he holds up his hands. He has a piece of wood as well, drops it when, obviously focused, her head swivels toward his hand.
“I was going to get him for you,” he blurts softly. “But you had it under control.” He shuffles away before she can say anything.
As early as possible the next morning, Buffy strides into Sunnydale High. She doesn’t even bother reveling in the admiring, confused stares and whispers of the students. For the first time since she started school, she heads for the library. It has great double doors that swing dramatically shut behind her. She looks around for the librarian, but when she doesn’t see him around, she calls out.
“Okay, fine, I want to believe!”
He emerges from his office looking vaguely surprised. “Ah, Miss Summers. Perhaps we must review appropriate library behavior?” he says mildly.
“Maybe tomorrow we can have a seminar with flow charts and pie charts and whatever different kinds of graphs, but first I’d really love to understand why last night I had to stab a guy with a deformed face who called me a slayer.”
“A deformed face?” He stands more alertly. “And- and you were able to stab him?”
Impatiently, she snaps, “Yes, I stabbed him, and he disappeared. And I’m going to make a really good looking witness if I find out that you sent some kind of stalker to scare me.”
“Of course not!” For the first time, he looks…not angry, but deflated. “I am a representative of the Watchers’ Council. We are tasked with assisting the Slayer through training and education to help her complete her duties, and through attentiveness to supernatural phenomena throughout the world.”
“Do you guys have a business card? Gotta know how I can reach you so we can have the great experience of a shared court date.”
Irritatingly, he doesn’t seem fazed. He looks at her calmly, eyes focused. “Miss Summers, there is no cause for legal action. I understand that there is a certain element of uncertainty here, but if you would simply sit down, I will do my best to explain the situation to you.”
And because a man disappeared in front of her last night, because she tried to fix the bathroom doorknob that morning and only managed to further crack the door, she sits and lets him explain. And then she makes her way back through the chatter of students and spends a day mindlessly packing while she thinks about what he said. That night she arrives at the cemetery intentionally, meeting the librarian. She stands over a fresh grave and kills her second vampire. For a few moments afterward, she just stares about, a little stricken. The other things that have changed her life - her parents’ divorce, the move to Sunnydale, the time she failed ninth grade geometry and was grounded and wasn’t allowed to go to the spring formal - have been foreshadowed. This is an abrupt overturning of everything she’s ever assumed about truth and fiction.
“So,” she says, looking down as the ground where her wedge of wood has dropped onto a pile of ash, “If you’re going to be watching me from now on, I should probably know your name.”
“Oh, indeed. I’m Rupert Giles.” He holds out a hand and she takes it gingerly. “A pleasure.”
When Buffy tells Cordelia that she’s going to try to make it in Sunnydale for a little longer, her best friend flips. It’s like Buffy stole her stylist from Genevieve’s. Walking into their apartment is like stumbling through a wormhole to Alaska. Buffy says “Good morning,” and Cordelia tells her that Sunnydale is pathetic and nothing can be really good there. Buffy tries to explain without really explaining and Cordelia stops talking to her. Buffy does notice that the collection of packed boxes has started growing smaller rather than larger, though, and for now she’s glad that they forgot to give their landlord notice.
Still it’s uncomfortable to be in the apartment, so Buffy starts staying out of the house. She gets a job teaching classes at a local gym. They like her peppy attitude and that she can spin forever without getting tired. She starts experimenting with her own stamina; she hasn’t found a limit to it yet, and even her old cheerleading moves are easier than they were before.
In the evenings, after they have both ended work, she trains with Giles. He has a setup in his apartment, but she finds that she can charm her boss into letting her use one of the back rooms after hours, which is bigger and better equipped.
Every time she is surprised by how quickly she picks up each new weapon or trick, Giles seems to have anticipated it. She quickly begins to be curious if she is his first slayer, and eventually gets up the courage to ask about the dark-haired, aggressive girl who she used to see disappearing behind the swinging doors of the library.
Giles removes his padding so he can take off his glasses and rub at his eyes. “Her name was Faith,” he answers eventually. “I was her Watcher for just over two years.”
“Yes, Buffy! I’ve told you the only way a new slayer can rise.” It’s the first time he has yelled at her in anger. She moves back a bit. He softens his voice. “She died, or rather, was killed, a few weeks ago.”
“Right before you came to find me.” A chill goes through her and they both pause before Giles replaces his pads and tells her firmly, “Let’s try that again.”
She wants to steer clear of what might be sensitive topics for Giles - she’s not Cordelia, after all - but she has questions. When she starts to patrol by herself, she can sense a presence in the cemetery with her. Once, when she’s distracted fighting a vampire, another rises behind her but by the time she turns to stake it, dust is sifting through the air nearby. In the dark, she sees a hunched figure stealing away. It doesn’t make her frightened, but she does remember that first night, that first vampire, the first strange man.
Finally, after a session which leaves Giles sweating and even Buffy leaning against the wall sipping water, she asks. Taking a drink, she stabs forward. “When you worked with Faith, did you also work with anyone else?”
Clearing his throat, Giles replies flatly, “No. It was always- always just the two of us.”
“There’s….I think it’s a guy. Anyway, I’ve seen it, I mean, I’ve seen him in the cemetery a few times.”
“A malevolent presence? A demon, perhaps?” Giles asks around deep breaths.
“No. He helps me, so unless he’s like a double agent demon or really confused, I think he’s on Team Buffy.”
“Would you like me to rejoin you on nightly patrols? Perhaps I can act as a second set of eyes, gain more information on this character?” Giles looks overly worried. Buffy feels both affection and worry of her own. Giles is always very gentle with her, and their interactions have an underlying tender fear that cushions him from a closer relationship.
Hastily she assures him that it will be fine. And the next time she sees the figure in the shadows, she follows him. He heads toward the Bronze. She thinks that she’s lost him in an alley nearby and is about to turn back, but as she spins, he comes from the shadows.
He has hands in his pockets, shoulders up, and face looking toward the ground. Somehow even as he stands in front of her he looks like he’s disappearing.
“Don’t worry.” She puts out a hand but retracts it when he actually moves away from her. She tries to speak gently, but there’s a vaguely bitter undertone. “Hey, I don’t bite!”
He looks pained and swings his head away from her. His hair is long enough to move as he does it.
“I’m Buffy,” she tries.
She stares and waits before sighing. “This is the part where you tell me your name, why you’ve decided to become the second Ghostbuster and why you keep turning up when I’m patrolling.”
Voice splitting, he says, “My name is Angel.” He seems to get even smaller, which is surprising because he’s clearly not a small guy. What really surprises her, though, is that he picks his eyes up to look at her from a face still pointed toward the ground and blurts, “I’m a vampire.” He stands up straighter, almost military in his posture.
Buffy twirls her stake. “Is this a suicide by cop thing?” She tilts her head. “Am I a cop? Like a demon cop?” When he doesn’t answer, doesn’t even look amused, she rolls her eyes and tucks her stake away. “Look, I’m going to assume that you’re either a liar with a motive for following me, or you’re experiencing some kind of psychosis. Either way, you’re going to have a story to tell and it’s been a pretty big couple of weeks in my life for stories.”
“Maybe,” he starts, “Maybe we’d better go see your Watcher.”
“Maybe we’d better,” she agrees wryly, and lets him walk ahead of her toward Giles’s place.
It’s not a pleasant sight when they arrive. There’s an excessive fumbling of glasses as Giles attempts not to seem flustered that there’s a robe involved and little else. Eventually he suggests, “Why don’t you-” but Buffy cuts him off.
“This is Angel,” she says, moving over so Angel is revealed, squinting, in the light from the open door. “He says he’s a vampire.”
The glasses come off again. Buffy wonders if he cleans as much with everyone else, or if it’s just her. “Buffy, you do remember the objective of your calling?” She purses her lips, grumpy at the accusation.
“I’ve been sitting through the War and Peace version of the Slayer manual, Giles. I think I know rule one. Or, you know, rule pre-one. But this is the guy who’s been playing backup on my patrols. Figured we’d let him do the explanation thing- outside, obviously- before we decide to go for the traditional vampire death ceremony.”
His eyes evaluate her, and she looks back confidently. Angel shuffles beside her. Giles steps out beside them, holding his robe tightly around his body. “Yes, well. Let’s hear it then.”
It’s a long story, but Angel tries to keep it short. He can’t really feel it the way that they can, but he can tell that it’s chilly outside. He sketches out the bare details: his rampage around the world, the curse, his wandering after. And then Whistler approaching him a month ago, starting him on a brand new path.
“And- And you’ve managed to sustain yourself without feeding on humans for the past century?” The Watcher sounds impressed. If he were cynical or doubtful in any way, Angel isn’t sure that he would say anything, but in the face of that unearned awe, he can’t lie.
“There were…There were criminals, early on, right after I was cursed. And then three years ago,” he looks past Giles, noting a book that looks like an Arabic demonic encyclopedia from the twelfth century. “Three years ago, there was a man. He was…drunk and I was lying in an alley. He fell on me and I-” His voice breaks. “I gave into it.” He looks toward Buffy, rocking a bit on his feet. His arms are at his sides, palms open. He doesn’t sound sad, he sounds shattered and self-loathsome. Buffy removes her hand from the stake at her side.
“Indeed,” Giles says swiftly. “Well, Angel, you’ve certainly given us much to consider. Buffy, if you would come inside, I would like to speak with you.”
Angel nods and quickly retreats. He seems to Buffy like a man who has lost his last death row appeal. Watching him leave, she is oppressed by great power.
She gets home late that night. Giles has looked through his books. There’s an old picture of Angel surrounded by horrible details. She tries to think rationally about who he is. Giles doesn’t trust him; she does, hesitantly. But she trusts Giles more. This is his domain and she’s barely begun guest-starring in it. They agree not to kill Angel, but to monitor him. “Angelus was reputed to be not only remarkably cruel, but fairly clever as well,” Giles says, still looking down, apparently speed-reading through the entry. “He frequently had wide aspirations for wealth, fame. Gaining the trust of a slayer and then betraying her could be quite a coup.”
Buffy gets up and puts on her jacket. “I guess we’re both going to be watchers now,” she remarks unhappily. “I hope you have an extra t-shirt from the annual Council wiener roast.”
Cordelia is asleep when Buffy gets home, but she stumbles out of her room when she hears Buffy set her keys down. Cordy has given up on the venting and the pointed silence, but now she just looks confused and irritated when she sees her roommate.
She stands in the kitchen doorway and looks directly as Buffy. “This is an intervention,” she says. “A ‘what the hell are you doing?!’ intervention.” She puts a hand on her hip. Buffy is sure that Cordelia could rule Sunnydale High in her nightgown. “I mean, I understood the cold feet about LA…well, I didn’t understand, but I accepted. But now there’s all of this going out in the middle of the night, and just really poor sneaking around. I mean, really, Buffy. After those three days during Spring Break senior year when we managed to round robin your mom into not realizing you weren’t home, you’d think you would have better technique. If this is a cry for help, stop your whining and just tell me what’s going on.”
Buffy looks at her. She wants to go to bed. “I can’t tell you. I don’t really want to spend the best years of my life in Sunnydale’s snazziest psych ward,” she manages, fragmented.
Cordelia stares sharply. “At least there you’d have other people to fly over the cuckoo’s nest with,” she snaps, and she turns and goes to bed.
She takes a night off from training and goes to dinner at her mom’s house. They talk about the gallery and the latest twist in the soap opera they both watch, make uncomfortable conversation around Buffy’s current lack of concrete direction and hug quickly before Buffy goes back to her apartment.
Maybe it’s because there’s no one else, but when she goes to patrol later that night and sees Angel’s shadow skate the edge of the graveyard, she calls out in irritation, “Switch off the stalky vibe, Angel. Let’s activate our wonder twin powers here.”
“Pardon?” He is very suddenly beside her.
“I said stalky vibe off.” She feels irritated and invulnerable, probably not the best way for a newish slayer to act during patrol with a possible enemy.
Some of the irritation fades as he drops from standing directly beside her, seeming only to guard her back. She brings a hand quickly to her forehead. “Sorry. Sorry, Angel. I can’t really seem to get into Jesus mode right now.”
“You know, be nice to everyone, spread your joy to all the plants and animals.”
He laughs a little, the chuckling exhalation that seems to be his version anyway. “In my day, we focused more on the ‘he died for your sins, remove yourself from offenses of the flesh or face eternal damnation’ parts of Jesus. But I like your version better.”
“So,” she finds the grave that Giles had told her would be one to watch and leans against the headstone. “What exactly was your day? Who were you before you were my Chewbacca?”
He doesn’t seem to get the reference- there’s a beat of quiet that’s just a touch too long- but he infers and just tells her. “I was not a good person.”
“Yeah, you gave me and Giles the interview with the evil vampire. But I’ve been studying my slayer info pretty hard. I know that no one was born as a vampire.”
He shakes his head and tucks his shoulders in a little. “No, I mean I wasn’t a good person. I lied, didn’t give respect to people who deserved it, mistreated girls who should have had better.” He looks at her, so directly that she’s startled. “I’ve met thousands of people and thousands of vampires, and I have to think that the way I was as a human affected the way I became after I was turned.”
“But if there are good people and bad people, shouldn’t there be good vampires and bad vampires? From what I’ve seen, vampires have pretty one suck minds. Except you, obviously.”
“I might not show it with you, but I struggle with the…sucking influence.” Buffy almost wants to laugh at the hesitation before he pronounces the words, but she holds it in. Angel obviously has trouble expressing himself so she keeps quiet while he tries. “But that struggle is the difference. Some people struggle as humans. I didn’t do that. Getting my soul gave me back the desire to control my actions, but it didn’t take away the temptation to escape that control.”
The way that he is looking at her is overwhelming, and she’s glad when a zombie-like arm rips through the earth. She grasps the hand and pulls a figure up through the dirt. It still freaks her out a little that supporting a whole former human being is as easy as flossing…well, without the blood and the dentist scolding anyway. But she puts on a smile and says, “Hey there! Welcome back. It’s too bad you won’t be hanging around for too long.” And looking into the vampire’s still-confused eyes, she stakes her.
Angel is hanging back, looking admiring. “You’re a natural,” he tells her as she falls back into step with him.
She snorts. “Nothing about this feels natural, actually.”
“Really?” He looks sidelong at her. “I guess I understand that, but from all I’ve seen, the inheritance of the Slayer power is one of the most natural things in the world. It doesn’t matter where the girl is in the world or in her life, one day she wakes up and the ability is there, distinguishable only in its effects.”
He’s partly right: by this point, her power is as integrated into her as her skin. She doesn’t even think about it until she absently kicks a rock and it disappears down the street, until Cordelia yells at her for crushing all the cereal when she was trying to open the bag, until she goes out at night and kills vampires. Then the ways in which she’s become different make her feel that there are two people coexisting within her. “Maybe it’s natural, but it’s not fair. This one girl in all the world stuff should be in the worst ideas ever hall of fame. I mean, I was supposed to be spending my nights hanging out in mansions with the rich and famous! Instead I get....”
“I meant the graveyards and vampires bent on killing me. You’re probably the best part of all of this.” It comes out without her meaning it to. He’s very quiet and sad, really not her usual crowd, and she’s still not even sure she trusts him. For a second she wonders why an instant rewind power isn’t part of the Slayer package. But the look on his face- awe and happiness which seems so sharp because she’s used to him looking so sad- is one she wants to bottle up and keep for the rest of her life. She’s dated, and even done plenty of running of the bases, but no one has ever looked at her in this way.
Angel starts patrolling with her nearly every night. Giles is not convinced the way that she is and reminds her to pay attention to his behavior, so she watches his face when he stakes vampires. There’s no hesitation, no recognition at all.
“What do you think about when you dust them?”
He pauses, considering. He’s cut his hair. When he tilts his head, it no longer swings. “I wonder who they once might have been. I imagine them being at peace.” Then, lower, “I think about how I might have known that peace.”
She’s grown more forthright with him; he never seems to mind her curiosity. Hearing private things about his life makes it easier, too, to share hers with him. He rarely asks about it, but he’s a good listener and she finds more and more that he’s the only one who she can talk with. Her Watcher tells her that anything that she lets slip to Angel could be arming a potential enemy with a long eye for the future. Her instincts tell her that she’s confiding in someone worthy of her trust. So she tells him about how she feels totally cut off from Cordelia and her mother, people who she has to insulate from her new secret life. She talks about the ways she feels divided even from Giles, with whom she is supposed to trust her life.
“He’s really nice and he knows all about dealing with this slayer stuff, but that’s because he learned it with someone else.” They have finished patrol and are walking toward Giles’s place. Buffy patrols without him, but typically gives him a brief report afterward while Angel stands shadowed behind her. “It’s like getting your dad’s old car and he keeps telling you just to press the gas a certain way and how the glove compartment gets stuck. I’m like ‘Giles, I don’t need you to tell me that my period might start lining up with the full moon.’” Her voice has gotten very high. She looks over at Angel. “Too much?” and she’s surprised that she can tell just by the slight angle of his head that it is. She continues in a calmer tone. “And he still misses her. Not even that he wants to tell me about how great she was all the time, just that sometimes he realizes why I’m there and it makes him sad all over again.”
They reach Giles’s door and Buffy knocks. He opens the door with a large smile. Angel looks at Buffy, one eyebrow raised.
“Buffy!” Giles steps outside, pulling the door closed behind him. The music playing inside is hidden behind it. He clearly tries to temper his smile, although it still fiddles with the corners of his mouth. “And Angel. You’re done with patrol? I hadn’t realized it was so late.”
“Well, time flies when you’re having fun,” Buffy says, a little flatly, peering at the closed door.
“How did you make out?” Giles continues, blinking himself into a semblance of his normal composition.
“We got a couple,” she says casually.
“Anything of note?”
“Nope. Situation normal. Total Mayberry patrol.” She looks over her shoulder and says, overly politely, “Angel, do you concur?”
The corner of his mouth pinches up, but his voice remains even. “I do. Everything was normal.” He pauses for a moment and then says, almost shyly, “I did hear a rumor from some of Sunnydale’s demon citizens.”
They both look at him. Giles’s gaze is sharp. “I didn’t know you were getting chummy with the locals,” Buffy says, her voice almost hurt.
“Someone recognized me, and I figured that it would be easy to gain information that way.” His voice is calm, but there’s something panicked about his eyes.
Even Giles retracts himself. “Yes, well, clever thinking. And you have something to report?”
“There’s a story going around about the rise of a demonic power, something foretold. I can’t confirm anything, but the minor demons are leaving town. They’re definitely scared of something.”
Smile completely gone, Giles shifts, sets his shoulders. “Well, I’ll begin to research this. Thank you, Angel, for the information.” He turns, but before he can open the door, a woman opens it for him.
“Rupert? Are you doing naughty things out here?” She shakes back short, glossy hair and looks at Buffy and Angel curiously. “Well, you’re a lot less repressed than I thought.”
Buffy and Giles freeze in place. She shoots him a look of betrayal and annoyance. He looks back at her, wide-eyed. Angel steps forward. “I’m Angel. This is Buffy. We’re…former students from the high school. We just wanted to say hello.”
“Uh huh,” the woman replies, lifting an eyebrow. “Well, I’m Jenny. I just started as the new computer teacher at the school.” Laughter running beneath her words, she says, “I can’t wait until I have my own fan club that will come for random middle-of-the-night visits.”
Giles turns toward the door, starting to wedge his way back inside. “Er, Jenny, the sauce is still on, I believe.”
“Oh yes. Let’s get saucy.” She glances back at the two still standing in the dark. “Nice to meet you two. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
“As will I,” Giles puts in hastily. “Buffy, perhaps we can meet tomorrow…for coffee?”
They do meet for coffee the next day during Buffy’s lunch break, although it’s in the library, Giles drinks tea and Buffy decides that she doesn’t like coffee that much and just stirs the liquid around her mug. Giles sits back indulgently, and she stirs a little harder, slightly irritated that he knows teenage girls well enough not to be frustrated by her.
Giles drains his mug and spins his chair toward a precarious pile of books on his desk. “I have been investigating any supernatural events that have been prophesized to occur in the area. This woman,” he hefts a large volume. Buffy wrinkles her nose at the smell coming from it. The paper looks thick and textured, like it might have once belonged to something named Bessie. “The twelfth century mystic Arielle of Lyon, has a rather ambiguous message regarding a ‘creature of darkness and destabilization’ which would rise in a ‘distant land of sun,’ but she provides few details.” He removes his glasses and rubs his eyes. “To be quite honest, this is a piece so cryptic that although it is preceded by visions that have already come to pass in sequence, I can’t even say for sure that it applies to this time or place, or even what this creature of darkness might be.”
“So for those of us playing at home, we have something bad that may or may not be happening in Sunnydale soon or possibly later. Let me get you a Scooby Snak, Giles, maybe that will help us solve a mystery without any clues.”
“I recognize how thin it is, Buffy. I’ll continue to research what I can, and I have put in a request with the Council’s librarians in England.” He pauses, weightily. “Perhaps you can see if Angel has come across anything further.”
“Yeah, I’ll ask him on patrol tonight.” Although she knows that he lives near the Bronze, the only time she can guarantee that she’ll see him is as she goes through the cemetery. She clenches her jaw at the thought. She can find Cordelia at nearly any hour of the day, but their conversation would be superficial at best. Impulsively, she tells Giles, “I trust him, you know.”
“Yes, of course,” Giles mumbles, looking down as a text.
“That’s it? After weeks and weeks of ‘be careful, Buffy. Always be on your guard, Buffy. He might be the world’s most patient villain, Buffy,’ you’re going to be the master of the casual turnaround?” She crosses her arms. “Are you sure you’re not secretly a parent? Or a politician?”
Giles looks into her face. “I suspected that your trust in him had grown. A slayer’s instincts are one of her most potent weapons, and I have learned to trust them. If you would like to begin bringing him to meetings such as these, I believe that he could add valuable insight. And beyond that, there is little that we can do to keep him out of the school. It’s a public building, after all, and in their eminent wisdom, the builders saw fit to include an invitation for those who were unsure.” Seeing her confusion, he explains, “The Latin over the gate. ‘Enter all ye who seek knowledge.’”
Buffy rolls her eyes. “Great work, Sunnydale High. Vampires welcome as long as they’re pretentious.” She laughs a little, checks her watch and, stretching, stands. “I have to get back to work, but I’ll chat with my own pretentious vampire tonight.”
The rest of the day is a blur of loud music, pumping pedals, and her echoing, encouraging shouts. That night, still wearing a large t-shirt and leggings (an outfit that Cordelia dryly classifies as her delayed eighties phase) she goes out to the cemetery. She bounces a little, unconsciously, to the music still booming in her head. When Angel slides up to her, he is smiling, and she can’t help but smile back.
“How was your day?” she asks, looking up at him.
“Pretty normal. I slept. Walked around for a while after it got dark. Read a little.” She keeps quiet, gestures a little, asking for more, and he continues. “I like poetry. I read a lot of that. I have favorite books that I like to read again every so often. I’m a big fan of Russian literature, and Victor Hugo. Sometimes I go to the library - it’s open late enough on Wednesday nights - and I see what people are writing these days. People feel that modern books have to try so much harder to be good than those that are considered classics just because they’re old, but I’m always impressed with the creativity that people can exhibit, that after thousands of years of written language they can keep combining it in new ways to make people feel new things, or old things in new ways.” He falls quiet and laughs a little, uncomfortable.
“I think that’s the longest I’ve ever heard you talk,” Buffy tells him. She looks luminous in the dark, exquisitely special.
“Yeah, I…I haven’t really had many people to talk to.” He looks away, almost shy, before gathering himself and asking politely, “How was your day?”
“Yelled at people to keep pedaling. Met with Giles. Yelled some more. Not the life I ever imagined for myself, but it’s working for now.” The graveyard is wide and quiet. They walk through, relaxed, headed toward a couple of fresh graves that Buffy found in the newspaper, but open to any other monsters that they might notice on the way. Trusting Angel to keep looking around, Buffy looks over at him. “Giles wants to know if you’ve heard anything more.”
He shrugs. “The underworld of Sunnydale is becoming the underworld of elsewhere. But I did get a name from one of the demons heading out of town. Whatever it is, whatever is does, it’s called Amunshad.”
“Okay, I’ll go see Giles tonight.” After a second, she amends. “I’ll call Giles tonight.”
“That was a little bit of an…encounter last night. But Jenny seems nice.”
She snorts. “I’m sure she is. But I wouldn’t really know because he’s never mentioned her to me.”
“I’m sure he had a good reason.”
“Yeah, his good reason was that he didn’t think that it was important for me to know.” Buffy crosses her arms. “With him, it’s Watcher and Slayer, not friends. It’s not like us.”
For the first time since she’s known him, his faked breathing stops. It’s usually comforting to hear the pattern beside her, but the pause is its own type of comfort. He’s a puzzle to her, and this is as clear a sign of emotion as he ever gives. “You think that we’re more than Slayer and…?”
“Slayer’s assistant? Sure. I mean, we see each other every night. You let me get venty about whatever’s on my mind. I’m not saying that we have a diary relationship, but I will bet you one million American dollars that if Giles knows my birthday or my mom’s name or what I think about yogurt, it’s only because the Council is better at detective work than we are.” She pretends to see something moving in the distance, moves her gaze away. Her words are powerfully vulnerable but she says them anyway. “At this point, you’re kind of my best friend.”
Angel is so often silent that she was afraid that he would be the same now, but he doesn’t even seem to ponder. “You are mine,” he tells her, and then, laughing softly, “Although it’s not really a contest.”
“It’s nice to hear anyway,” Buffy tells him, and, indicating a vampire behind him, begins to do her night job.
Angel walks Buffy home, which he's started doing more and more in the last few days.
“This is very gentlemanly of you,” she says, smiling a little. Although it would bring questions, she half hopes that Cordelia will look out the window at this moment. “Old habits die hard, I guess. Especially really really old habits.”
“Well, I wasn’t much of a gentleman when I was alive, but I did have a little sister, and I would never have wanted her to walk home alone the way the streets are today.” He pauses for half a beat and then says, “Not that I think of you like a little sister. If anything, you should be my protection detail.”
Something in her stomach sighs, but she looks over at him and says, “I’ll remember that for next time.” They have reached her building. She pauses, hand on the door. “By the way, Giles is starting to get into the welcome business. If you want to come, we’ll probably meet tomorrow to do the whole real life research montage thing. I think the school has sewer access.”
“Yeah, I’d be glad….that’s good.” He takes a piece of paper from his pocket, scribbles something and hands it to her. “Here’s my phone number.”
She wiggles the scrap through the air inanely. “Great. Good move, getting with the modern and everything.” She goes through the door, calling a ‘good night’ to him over her shoulder as it swings shut. When she gets upstairs, Cordelia is still out. She turns on a couple of lights, sits at her desk and adds Angel’s name and number to her address book, trying to make it all businessy. She turns to throw the paper away, but can’t quite seem to make herself. Considering, she carefully tucks it inside as well before turning, falling down on her bed and pressing her face into the pillow. She’s never gotten sentimental over a phone number before. She was the girl who ate guys for breakfast in high school. Within a few months, her life has become something she doesn’t recognize at all.
Around bites of toast the next morning, she calls Giles. They decide to meet at the library late that afternoon. She manages to gather herself to briefly relay the message to Angel. He answers the phone sounding tired, but confirms that he’ll be there. Somehow, though, she’s still surprised to see him, already waiting in a chair and speaking with Giles when she enters.
“I’m like one minute late,” she says, taking a seat herself. “Did you guys decide to pull an American Revolution 2: Revenge of the Brits?”
“We were just deciding who would be George Washington,” Angel mutters.
Giles looks chastisingly toward the two of them. “Angel and I were discussing a fascinating recent acquisition of mine, a ledger from sixteenth century Spain apparently detailing a society which was paid to rid certain properties of vampires.” Buffy realizes with an uncomfortable jolt that Giles and Angel actually probably have a lot to talk about. Giles seems to see something in her face because he says hastily, “Putting that aside. Now that you have arrived, Buffy, we should proceed. Angel, you had some information?”
“Just a name. Amunshad.”
Giles’s glasses come off so quickly, Buffy worries about his face. “Amunshad? Are you…are you sure?”
“That’s the name I got. No confirmation of the veracity, but the guy who told me is pretty reliable. Partner and three kids all piled into their minivan getting as far from Sunnydale as possible.”
Buffy opens her mouth, chooses not to comment, closes it, and then reopens it to ask, “Giles, if you keep rubbing you’re just going to have to explain to your glasses dealer why the glassy parts are all gone. Could you just use your words and explain what’s happening? Who is Amunshad, and why do I get the definite feeling that he’s going to ruin my life?”
“Amunshad is….we speak of it as a joke in the Watcher’s Academy. ‘Whatever comes up, at least it’s not Amunshad.’ That’s what we tell each other. Amunshad is a power from another dimension, but it passes over into ours every so often. It effects trust, undermines the bonds between people. The Inquisition, Hitler’s Germany, those periods in history where large numbers of people would turn in their neighbors or parents or children as a sacrifice for their own safety, where they would give in to their paranoia at the cost of lives, are thought to be particularly under its influence, but we have never been able to be sure. Amunshad has no physical form, and it takes advantage of natural human weakness, making it particularly difficult to pin down. If it is truly preparing to enter our dimension again, this is truly a disadvantageous position.”
“‘A disadvantageous position?’” Buffy tilts her head and tries to contain her panic. Giles has mentioned dealing with demons like this in the past, but so far being a slayer for her has meant dealing with vampires. Beating up Giles, even practicing with Angel around the graveyard when they have downtime, has not trained her for this. “I feel like you’re being Hyperbole Man’s lesser known cousin, Hypobole Man.” Giles looks over at her, and she wrinkles her face back at him. “What? I took Methods of Writing last semester.”
“And got an eighty-five on the final.” Angel stands, serious, and rests his hands on the back of a chair. “How has Amunshad been dealt with in the past?”
“As far back as our records show, each time we suspect its presence, it has left on its own after a random period. It is unknown whether positive human emotion manages to overcome it, if it needs some other energy source only found in its home dimension, or if there’s another reason we cannot imagine, but thus far there have been no successful attempts even to block its entrance, much less to keep it out permanently.”
“That’s because they’ve been attempting it wrong.” They all turn. Jenny stands just inside the library doors. She looks around at them, tries to smile a little. “Self-compliment moment, but that was some excellent dramatic timing.”
Giles peers toward her. “Jenny? Did we have plans?”
“Not that you knew about.” She comes over and pats his cheek. “But I’d been reading the signs myself, and figured you could use some help. I was going to see how long you could keep up this whole charade, but if Amunshad is truly coming then you need me helping, not standing playing dumb on the sidelines.” She holds her hand out to Buffy. “My name is Jana Kalderash. I come from a family of Romani, what you would know as gypsies. My ancestors cursed Angel. Three years ago, we tracked him down, and I was sent to watch him, to make sure that the curse was still in effect. I’ve come to believe that it was not a fair or humane action, but that’s an issue for another day. For now, I have to tell you that there is a way to stop Amunshad from making its way here again.”
Giles and Buffy look to be in total shock. “What can we do?” Angel asks, arms folded.
“Romani know something about distrust. We have been discriminated against and suspected for centuries; most of the time we live on the fringes, which has been both a consequence and a method of perpetuating our treatment. We have had to come up with ways, even magical ones, to try to ward off persecution.” She takes a folder out of her bag, opens it to reveal a set of computer printouts. “I have been corresponding with one of the elder women from home and I think I’ve managed to amplify one of those spells to dispel not only localized distrust of one group, but a creature of focused paranoia.”
Giles takes one of the sheets, stares at it for a moment before he seems to gather himself to be able to read. “A trust ritual to balance the effects. This is quite clever.”
“I try,” Jenny shrugs. “Should we meet here tonight? We should get this done as soon as possible.”
“I’m afraid that the proximity to the Hellmouth will have an adverse effect-”
“We can do it at my place,” Buffy offers before she has really considered it. “Should I get anything, or practice?”
“It’s not a quiz, Buffy,” Jenny tells her gently. “I’ll see you tonight.”
Eventually they all drift out awkwardly, leaving Giles behind to look through some of his books (“The scholarship on Amunshad is disappointingly deficient, but I shall endeavor to turn over anything new that I can.”). Buffy wanders a little when she gets home, picking up and putting down random things in her apartment. She dumps some chips into a bowl and chills a bottle of soda, feeling that it’s something her mother would do. She changes outfits three times and hangs the discarded clothing back up with care. She settles on dark pants and a tight, red top. She feels like it’s something Faith would have worn based on the few times she spotted her in high school, and the few pictures Giles keeps on his desk at home. She takes out makeup and stares at her face in the mirror for a few minutes before putting it all away and starting to go through some katas in the living room. She’s working on deep breathing when the buzzer rings. It’s Jenny, who immediately puts down plastic sheeting and starts setting up a circle on the floor out of what looks like sand and weeds. Giles joins her moments afterward, observing. It’s just before full darkness when the buzzer rings for the third time.
“Hey, Angel,” Buffy says. “Come on up.” She had asked him before if inviting him over the intercom would make a difference. He wasn’t sure because he had never done it before, but apparently the answer is no because he knocks a moment later. When Buffy opens the door, he is standing in the hall looking like the nervous, shrunken version of himself that she first knew. “Come in,” she says again, trying to get him to smile. He thanks her and steps inside, still looking grim. Watching, her smile slips and her eyes get big, remembering what is going to happen tonight.
Angel gathers himself, tries to smile. “Hey, it’s going to be alright.” He lifts his chin, a defiant gesture. “I’ve never seen you lose your cool, no matter how many vampires it was. It’s not going to happen tonight.”
“I’ve never had to-”
“Buffy?” Giles interrupts. They look over to where he is sitting on his heels beside Jenny. “We’re ready to begin.”
Angel and Buffy take seats beside them. Uncomfortably, Buffy asks, “So, do we get naked under the moonlight?”
Jenny laughs. “Only if you want to, but it’s not part of the ceremony. There are four roles. I’ll be the channel. I’ll need an anchor, someone to make sure that my mind doesn’t become fully immersed in the ritual. And the other two will need to be the Trusting. During the ceremony, they will be able to communicate mentally. In that state, they will each have to share a great secret and that trust will be the power that I transmit to block Amunshad.” Giles opens his mouth and Buffy is sure that he is volunteering the two of them to be the Trusting, that she will have to make excuses and let him down gently. She knows that he is wiser than she is, lets him guide her through her Slayer origin story, but she cannot make the leap to trusting him with herself, not when he can’t seem to do that with her. Something might have shown on her face, because Jenny smoothly adds, “Rupert, why don’t you be my anchor?” She looks over at Angel. “I know you can do it and I would trust you- I’ve been keeping tabs on you for three years- but it’s easier when there’s a personal connection, and we’ve only got half of that.” Angel nods and positions himself so he is facing Buffy.
The lights are bright in the room, but they seem to dim as Jenny begins speaking. Her voice is deeper than usual. Buffy just has time to shiver before she is caught in Angel’s eyes and the physical aspects of the room no longer matter.
Although she is conscious in the back of her mind that it is not real, the details of the world around her make it seem so. It seems to be miles of green space in one direction, ocean in the other. Everything smells fresh. “Where are we?”
“Galway,” Angel says, voice surprised, somehow from behind her. She turns to face him. “This is close to where I grew up.” He gestures vaguely. “My family lived in the city, but I came out here as often as I could. It felt like the real Ireland to me, the only place I liked to be, until the pub became that place.”
Buffy shifts, looking around. She wouldn’t say no to a mall, but she can understand why Angel would think being here was peaceful. “What do you think? Your scenery, your turn?”
“I guess.” He paces a bit, clenching his hands. Buffy suddenly feels inconsiderate. All she had thought about was not being ready to do this with Giles; it hadn’t even occurred to her that Angel might want to be out there anchoring Jenny instead of in here baring his soul to her.
“You didn’t really get a say in this. If you want to switch with Giles, I’m sure we can figure out how to find the dream panic button and we’ll just-”
“I trust you, Buffy.” He says it quickly, but not as if to gloss over something painful. It’s more that he wants to get past the obvious and get on to new information. “But I have a lot of secrets and none of them are easy.”
“Well I’m not an easy girl! I mean, no, I’m not easy either, but my life hasn’t exactly been a clambake with the Kennedys. Or maybe it has been lately. I mean, death, mayhem, surprise affairs, checks all around.” She looks at him dead on. “I can deal with what you have to tell me.”
“I’m not sure I can.” He glances around a little, then settles. “My family’s house was large for its time, especially considering that my family was Catholic, and that wasn’t an easy thing to be in eighteenth century Ireland. I don’t know if any of it survives today. I haven’t been back since I was turned. There were whole worlds to see once I was a vampire that were far more interesting than Ireland, and after I got my soul back I…I couldn’t come back.” His face blank, he meets her eyes. “I killed my family there, Buffy. I have the absolutely perfect memories of what they smelled like, how they tasted, exactly how they felt in my arms as I took their lives from them.”
She speaks almost eagerly. After talking with Angel and listening to Giles, it’s like this is the exact test question she’s been waiting for. “That’s what vampires do. They take the things you loved and they turn on them.”
“I have those memories,” he continues, voice low. Something selfish in her feels cheated that he paid no attention to what she said. “Because those were my first. But after that…for a hundred years…” His voice pitches, anguished. “I don’t remember them, Buffy. I’m worse than a serial killer. They take stalk, they take trophies, they have a twisted kind of caring. And I did that too, but for most of them, I just used those people to keep going, and…I can’t picture their faces. Of all the things in the world, I should remember them, and I can’t even remember what they looked like.” He moves his hand, almost instinctively. Buffy’s eyes widen as he touches his forehead, not to cover his face, but to try to cross himself. He holds his fingers to his head for a moment before sniffing and looking to her for judgment.
There’s nothing you could have done to stop it. You were gone, Angel. The words almost come out, but she thinks about him trying to pray, and knows that words won’t help. Clearly, she says, “There’s nothing for me to forgive you for, Angel, and it would be a pretty long distance call to try to ask them. But I think that what you’re doing now- helping me, trying to think about them- I think that they would appreciate it.” She touches his arm, very briefly, so he will look at her as a person rather than a prosecutor. She waits while he focuses. “Thank you for telling me.”
He swipes at his eyes a bit, but then clears his throat and says shufflingly, “I would have told you anyway. Even without all of this, eventually I think I would have told you.” As he says it, they are no longer in their dream version of Ireland. The scene does not dissolve. It simply becomes something else. It is a place they both recognize.
“Your favorite graveyard,” Angel notes, glancing around. She wants some of his dry humor to reassure her that baring yourself makes you feel relieved and comforted rather than exposed and anxious, but his voice is flat. She begins to walk. The habit is hard to break. Angel moves alongside in their traditional patrolling form.
“I guess it’s my turn,” Buffy says, just because something should be and she’s not ready to do her big reveal just yet. Angel is quiet, his usual graveyard quiet, and she breathes deeply and begins. “I wasn’t a nice person in high school. I was the mean girl who most girls go home and cry over in their diaries. I focused on things and people that weren’t important. And I was definitely oblivious girl on the whole secret life of Sunnydale thing. So I should be really grateful that I got slapped with a nice ‘That was then, this is now’ reality check.” She stops, turns, stares at Angel, and her voice is defiantly weak. “But I’m not. I hate that my life changed like this. Staying in Sunnydale to fight vampires, having to keep it a secret, telling someone my secrets to save the world- I hate it! And I would even give the good parts away if everything could go back to the way it was.”
“You really hate everything about being a slayer that much?”
She looks around, almost as if she’s afraid that someone will overhear. “No,” she says softly. “Being the one girl in the world who can do this, that rush I get from killing vampires, how natural it feels…I love it. And I want to hate it so much, but I can’t.” She looks up at him. “Why do I only like the worst parts, the dirty parts? How much of a freak does that make me?”
“‘Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.’”
“A philosopher named Camus said that. What you’re struggling with now is not freakish, it’s the most deeply human part of you.” He reaches to touch her arm, but then retracts his hand. His voice is at once compassionate and fierce. “You’re the Slayer, Buffy. It’s not because of anything you did, but it means that you walk with death, in every sense, on a nightly basis. You can’t help but feel that changing you. I understand that it might be hard, but you need to accept it, to embrace it if you can, because the only other option is your death, and I refuse to accept that.”
Eyes vivid, she leans toward him. “Are you sure that you weren’t a gym teacher in a former life? Because with pep talks like that…” She swallows her quips and sobers for him. “I believe that you will do whatever you can to keep it from happening. I think that until I can do it on my own, you’ll do whatever you can to help me.”
“Count on it,” Angel replies, voice fading in and out, like a badly tuned radio, volume ranging between syllables. Buffy blinks and he is sitting before her on the floor of her apartment. “Count on it,” he repeats solidly, catching her eye.
Jenny looks like she has just given birth: worn and satisfied. Giles reaches for the snacks that Buffy had laid out, passes them around.
“I assume that it worked?” Angel finally broaches, the only one of them not speaking around handfuls of chips.
“It did. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s easier to relax now. There’s less of an urge to be upset with those around you.” Jenny stretches a little, grinning. She shifts herself to rest on Giles. “Or maybe that’s just me and the aftereffects of a really satisfying spell.”
The apartment door opens, and before Buffy can even stand, Cordelia is looking down on them, hands on her hips. “Hi, Buffy,” she says cuttingly. “Did you decide to stay in Scummydale to be close to your orgy club?”
“Hi, Cordelia,” Buffy says, tiredly, biting her lip against a smile. “We’ve just been saving the world. Just regular Tuesday night stuff.”
She’s still smiling as she starts thinking about going to bed, so she puts on a pair of yoga pants and goes to patrol even though it’s late and Giles told her that she didn’t have to (“After a job so well done, you deserve a night off,” he had said, peering kindly at her through his glasses). Angel is waiting at the entrance when she gets to the cemetery.
Her grin turns on full blast, although she tries to mask it. “Hey.” She bumps his shoulder a little. “So, go team tonight, am I right?”
As if her smile has leaked from her face onto his, the corner of his mouth begins to turn up. “We definitely did something right.” He glances toward her. “You know that what you told me…you know I won’t ever use that against you, right?”
“Duh. That was the whole trust thing. Which we aced, by the way. Jenny told me it was really powerful, really energizing for her.”
“Yeah, she told me the same thing. ‘A pleasure to work with,’ she said.” His voice is quiet as usual, but with a deep undercurrent of satisfaction. She makes a note to compliment him more often; he needs it.
A vampire has been following them, apparently thinking itself stealthy, but Buffy has had enough of it. She engages a little, dodging and laughing, until finally deciding to stake it. When she is done, Angel is peering at his watch.
“Do you have somewhere to be?” she asks, bouncing beside him. He makes the slight ducking motion that passes for the blush that he can’t actually manage.
“No, it’s just…it’s midnight. Happy birthday.”
She freezes for a moment, her reaction a blank, before her grin redevelops. “Hey, it is!”
“I got you something.”
Buffy’s night vision has been improved by her slayer powers, but she still needs to move closer to a street lamp while she opens Angel’s gift. A simple silver cross glints at her. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.” she says sincerely, holding it in front of her eyes by the chain. It dazzles her eyes and she imagines Angel going into a jewelry store and picking it out for her. She imagines him avoiding touching the cross, although he wants to. He has given her a mirror of herself: a pretty weapon that can turn against him instinctively, no matter how much he values it. She places it gently back into the box and fixes her eyes on him. “I won’t use this against you, either.”
“I know.” And his smile this time comes all on its own, trying to coax one onto her face. “We aced the trust thing, after all.”
Over his shoulder she sees a group of vampires. It’s more than they usually deal with, but she fastens on her necklace, tucks the box into her pocket and feels invincible. She turns and looks up at Angel. “Let’s ace this too,” and she watches him stand straight, set his shoulders and take her with his eyes.
“I’ll be right here, but you definitely have this under control.”
She grins at him, predatory and joyful, and throws herself into the battle.