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Habits of Being

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“So. You made it.”

Buffy gave him a once-over, bottom-to-top, before dismissing him as she walked past.

“You too,” he called out. He remained standing where she’d left him.

She slowed, almost, but got herself to keep going.

There had never been a boy cute enough to make her forget what she did and didn’t do, especially if he was dead.

 

She should’ve killed him.

Buffy had stayed in Sunnydale through the next night, tried to clean up the town—as far as she was concerned, this Hellmouth was a bigger deal than the one in Cleveland, and the Watchers had really fallen down on the job not getting her here first—and he, apparently, had chosen to do the same.

“You forget what happened the last time you decided to hang around here?” She let her voice slip into a mocking tone, practiced during her time as a schoolgirl and honed by her need to liven up the monotony of a life spent Slaying. “Waiting on me?”

It still felt like an intrusion. An invasion of the life she knew she was meant to live, like he wanted to flip it all over again, and one instance of that happening had been enough for Buffy to accept. First she had known she was meant to wear stolen lipstick while waiting for boys to grovel; next she made peace—if that was the word—with being destined to slay the boys and the girls, and nobody was worth her lipstick anymore. The scar on her lip itched, though it was long-healed. What now: fated to endure the attentions of a vampire groupie?

“You part of some Slayer fetish cult?”

She never could tell with vampires. They weren’t so different from people in that respect.

This one, for example. During their first meeting, he’d smoothed over any possible reaction to her disbelief in him to get straight to the point—release me, and you have more people killing the Master’s gang—but now he seemed incapable of summoning the same ability to stay relevant to her.

So he followed her instead. Hadn’t done anything else yet. It aggravated her all the more. She wasn’t in the mood to play games. She was never in the mood. Why couldn’t demons get on the same page?

Buffy kept him pinned, boot on his chest. She watched him steadily. His face looked, she thought, more tired than when she’d seen him in chains.

Her next thought was a full-body pain as he grabbed her leg and threw her off to the ground next to him. She cursed her surprise, body ready to counter him; she’d expected nothing less, so why hadn’t she anticipated his move? One vampire who took his time with her, and she was back to being the squealing high school sophomore with her first stake. She pushed herself back up.

The pain dulled. The surprise increased when she realized he hadn’t pressed his advantage.

She wouldn’t have let him, of course. She was ready this time.

Was that why he wasn’t trying again? Her turn, then.

But he stood there, and so did she.

“Who are you? Why are you here with me?”

Her voice came out a little more plaintive than she would’ve liked. No point in acknowledging that weakness now. She wasn’t about to highlight it any more than she already had.

Taunts bounced off him—mostly. She remembered that tired expression. As before, he’d only been effective at getting her attention when his life seemed at stake. Or the other way around, she realized. She wasn’t effective at getting him to respond, not in any way that made sense, unless she did something dangerous. It was as if he was still waiting for whatever it is she was supposed to have brought with her.

He’d been direct, if ridiculous. Being direct back was worth a shot. She waited this time, looking him in the eye. Her body remained tense, but she kept her hands loose at her sides.

He looked back at her. “Honestly? I couldn’t tell you.” He turned to leave.

She followed him out of the alley.

“You couldn’t tell me. You could tell me you’ve been here for years, lay it on like I should care, and you could stalk me at night, but I ask you something about it and you’re so stumped you give up and go home?”

At least he stopped walking.

“I deserve to know.” Stupid. No reason he should care. Vampires typically didn’t. It didn’t matter what she did and didn’t deserve, and maybe, given the kind of life she’d lived and expected to keep living, she’d never deserved as much as she thought anyway.

First rule of Slaying: don’t die. She’d managed not to break it so far. No need to push her luck further. She should leave, should’ve already been gone.

She didn’t, and he didn’t.

 

The night after that, he slipped behind her as she went through abandoned houses in search of nests.

The town was smart enough to stop burying people as much, if not entirely—human habits were hard to break, she supposed, which must be why anyone still lived here—so after a quick sweep of the various cemeteries had confirmed that, Buffy had moved on.

He didn’t say anything, but she knew it was him. She didn’t slow down. He kept up without effort.

Not too bad, this Angel, as new experiences went. She’d long given up the need to fill empty space with conversation.

Besides, it wasn’t empty. He seemed to fill it all by himself, tall as he was; her own size notwithstanding, she wondered for the first time whether she wasn’t doing the same for him.

He didn’t seem tired now. More focused. Like she was, if not at this moment.

He caught her watching him. He was watching her back, Buffy realized.

The jury was out on the intelligence of this decision, but it was hers and she wasn’t inclined to go back on it.

Habits. What had she just been thinking about breaking them?

Maybe that wasn’t entirely a weakness.