Rafael has been waiting at the foot of the stairs for exactly twenty seconds when Buffy decides to make her grand entrance. He’s pretty sure she was waiting for him to get into place, but he’s not going to complain because his girlfriend of six months is currently coming down the stairs like a vision in pale green and gold, hair down, dress cut to dance, smile wide.
It’s rare to see her so relaxed, rarer still for them to have time to actually do anything about it.
She has a school to run, he has the rodere to run and they both have the Coalition to deal with. They both feel like they’re governing small countries most days. Small countries filled with children and moody teenagers.
She stops at the bottom step, spreading her arms for his appreciation. He grabs one of her hands and nudges her into a spin, enjoying how, with her wearing heels and standing on a step, they are of equal height.
She twirls and yes, that dress is made for dancing, because is flies around her like her very own orbit. She laughs, head thrown back, open, happy. Then she lets herself fall forward into his chest. Trusting him to catch her. “Tell me, dear sir,” she asks impishly, “Where are you taking me this fine night?”
He raises an eyebrow at her, withholding his answer intentionally. In the living room, one of his bodyguards laughs quietly. The entirety of their joint countries watches the two of them like they’re the neatest thing since soap operas. “Have you been watching Pride and Prejudice again?”
She huffs and smacks at him with her clutch purse. “Once. You watch a sappy movie once and they never let you live it down. I should buy every sappy romance ever filmed, tie you to the bed and make you watch them all.”
He tightens his arm around her waist, lifts her from her stair and spins her halfway around before setting her down smack in the middle of the foyer. “I know something else you could do with me tied to a bed,” he offers.
The quiet laughter in the living room turns to outright guffaws. Buffy leans back in his embrace far enough to see into the room and calls, “Silence from the peanut gallery.”
Snorts, chortles, silence. Admitting it out loud would be bad for his rats’ reputation as being absolutely fearless, but they are all very Buffy-whipped. They take after their king in that, he supposes. She pretty much had him at ‘hello’, no matter how much of a cliché that is.
In his defense, said ‘hello’ was delivered after she blew into one of Jean-Claude’s power-play messes, killed two of the Council’s flunkies like they were dumb newborns and then saved his life by pushing him out of the way of a third, very enraged vampire. She landed on top of him with an oomph, muttering about ruining her new jeans. Then she seemed to notice what exactly she was lying on, blew a strand of hair out of her face and smiled at him. She gave a little wave and said, “Hello there, handsome.”
And he was utterly ruined.
On second thought, maybe they are the neatest thing since soap operas.
“Ready?” he asks.
She pouts and shakes her head. “Nuh-uh. Not until I know where we’re going.”
He rolls his eyes. Surprising that woman is like pulling teeth from a crocodile. Can be done, but will probably end in pain. “Dinner at the Lantern. And then, since we have the entire night to ou-mhmpfh.”
She scowls at him over the edge of the hand she’s currently pressing against his mouth like he was about to say something filthy. She points the forefinger of her free hand accusingly at him. “Do not jinx us!”
She waits until he holds very still under her hand and then starts rattling off, “Tonight is for us. There will be no catastrophes and no drama and no emergencies. There will be no trouble of any kind. No-one will go nuts or die or lose control and shift in the middle of a crowded shopping mall or lose their grandma or their charge or their credit card. Or their limbs. No-one in slayer central is going to try to cook and set off the smoke detectors and no-one will get into a fist fight with the pizza boy. No-one will call you and no-one will call me and no-one will come running because for some reason, Coalition drama always has to involve the both of us. We’re going to have a wonderful, quiet evening. Is that clear?”
She’s being dead serious, he knows, but he can’t help the grin that threatens to split his face in two because he still compares her to his ex-wife, who couldn’t deal. Couldn’t deal with him shifting, with who he is, with his duties. She couldn’t deal with there being monsters in the world, in her house. And she absolutely loathed every single reminder of what he is and does. And now there’s Buffy, who, the last time they went on a date, got a call halfway through that some of her slayers had gotten into shenanigans at a club and were now held by the police under the suspicion of being out of control werewolves. They had been about to cart three teenage girls off into a halfway house when she had burst into the police station and fixed it.
The time before that, someone of his rodere had lost control in public and damage control needed to be done. The time before that, Anita had once again used the Coalition to save her ass and they had needed to do damage control.
She hadn’t bat an eyelash either time, just done what needed doing, let him do what needed doing. Their lives are absolutely crazy and she deals with it with an ease that makes him all the more angry at his ex-wife, which might be unfair, but he can’t help it. Buffy never makes him feel like a side show freak, never makes him feel guilty.
Unless she misses out on dessert, that is.
They ride on their own. Rafael has absolutely no doubt that his bodyguards are in another car, following behind very closely. But after the verdict his girlfriend just put down, he has no desire to check the rearview mirror for them. If he can’t see them, they’re not there. And it’s not like he and the Queen Slayer can’t hold their own for the probably two seconds it’s going to take his rats to react should he be in any danger.
So they ride alone and Buffy takes his free hand between their seats, smiling and clearly enjoying herself and he realizes, all over again, how sappily in love he is, because he smiles just because she does. It’s kind of scary to a man used to running a band of supernatural mercenaries with an iron fist. It’s been a while since he gave in to his emotions.
The restaurant is her favorite, a tiny, out of the way thing with checkered table cloths and candles everywhere. It’s family owned and fulfills just about every cliché there is, but hey, it makes his girl happy and he has to admit, he feels the relaxation seep into his bones, too. It’s like a slow creeping disease and before he knows it, he’s boneless in his chair.
Around them are other couples, all human, dressed to the nines, having similar nights out as he and Buffy are. None of them have their cell phones lying in a pile on the table, but that’s just how life goes.
They have some wine with their dinner, talk easily about just about everything, make plans for outings they’ll never get to go on, once reality reasserts itself and laugh a lot.
He’s still not used to being happy again.
She orders them a slice of chocolate cake for dessert and is quietly cheering that they made it this far. “Almost there,” she says and he laughs, because they both stopped being determined to have fun about two hours ago. Now, they’re just having it.
The waiter comes back with one plate and two forks, looking indulgently amused. He probably gets love-sick couples like them a lot. At least, Rafael thinks, they’re not sharing pasta.
His phone rings on his second mouthful of Death by Chocolate. He swallows, answers it, listens and then sighs. “We’ll be right there,” he says, not even waiting for the details. One of his rats needs him, he comes. Especially since someone mentions the Coalition and that means the mess is bigger than someone shifting at the mall.
Buffy is already flagging down the waiter when he hangs up, asking for the check, and fast, please. They stand, gather their things and he helps Buffy put on her light coat by the time the man comes back and Rafael puts down the money in cash, tips mightily and then gives the dessert one last, regretful look.
On the table next to theirs, an elderly couple has watched them get ready to run quietly and now, when Buffy meets her gaze, the woman asks, understandingly, “The children?”
Rafael freezes, is about to correct her that no, they don’t have children, aren’t even married, only six months together, this is work, when Buffy simply nods and smiles.
“Every single time,” she tells the woman, long-sufferingly and with an amused expression.
They makes their way outside, Buffy completely relaxed, Rafael still wide-eyed, still stuck on how easily she agreed with the woman, how she didn’t seem to mind at all. How…
His rats are abandoning their car, jogging over to them, obviously ready for action. He ignores them for a moment, putting an arm around Buffy’s shoulder, reeling her in until she’s pressed against his side. She looks up at him, bright and golden in the dark.
“I love you,” he says, and by god, he means every single syllable of it.