Same Time, Next Year
Author: Emma Grant
Rating: Adult for explicit m/f sex
Summary: Angel goes to San Francisco after Cordelia has a vision that Buffy is in danger there, but he finds more trouble than he'd bargained for. (Set after the end of BtVS S4 and AtS S1, just after Restless and To Shanshu in LA.)
Notes:Written for the 2006 IWRY Ficathon. I'm writing this without having finished watching either series or having read much fic, so obviously, this is my first venture into this fandom. Feedback is greatly appreciated! If you've read Left My Heart, you'll recognize some of the locations used in the story. Huge thanks go to Dorrie and Vichan for their very helpful comments on an earlier draft.
"And that," Cordelia said, brandishing her champagne flute, "was the last we saw of that demon."
Wesley looked up from where he was carefully marking a line through the words Bilacht demon, La Brea on the large white board they'd hauled into Cordy's apartment. "Figuratively speaking, of course. He was invisible."
Cordy frowned. "Well, yeah. Invisible except for his--"
The pop of a champagne cork and a muffled "Fuck!" from the kitchen interrupted her.
"All right in there, Angel?" Wesley asked.
Angel appeared from around the corner, wearing an expression of innocence. He held out the opened bottle of champagne. "Yeah. No problem."
Cordelia took it, shooting a wary glance toward her kitchen. "Well, I'm ready to celebrate. Especially when the boss is buying." She poured three glasses and handed them out, grinning. "To Angel, may he shanshu very soon so we can all get on with our lives." She cut off Angel's witty retort with a wink. "And to a very successful month."
"So successful we're still working out of your living room," Wesley quipped, but held up his glass when Cordy raised an eyebrow.
"For which we're grateful, of course," Angel said, raising his glass to clink it against Cordelia's. "And we'll get a new office soon. We just have to get back on our feet."
Cordelia smirked. "Trust me, I'm more than ready to have my privacy back. Not that Dennis and I haven't enjoyed the company, but there's only so much…" She paused, her expression going blank.
Angel and Wesley exchanged a glance.
"Cordy?" Angel asked, stepping forward. "Are you--?"
The glass in Cordelia's hand shattered, and blood mingled with champagne began to run down her wrist. She looked up at Angel, eyes wide with fear, and collapsed to the floor.
Angel walked down California Street and tried to keep his anxiety at bay. He had to be getting close now. He could feel it.
He stopped and listened, straining his ears for a sign of the scuffle he knew was not far away. The sound was elusive though, bouncing off of buildings and getting lost in the wind. He closed his eyes, and tried to reach out with his senses.
He'd been all over the business district since he arrived, after having driven all night to get here and then ridden the BART around until the sun set. Cordy's vision had definitely been centered down here, where the California cable car line ended and the tourists didn't come at night, quieter than downtown LA ever was.
Angel gritted his teeth in frustration. There had been a connection between them once, but he couldn't find it now, couldn't latch onto it enough to find her. He could sense her presence, though, in the way that all vampires knew the Slayer was near. She was here. And she was in danger.
An empty cable car rolled past, its driver clanging the bell to warn nonexistent oncoming traffic. Angel waited for it to pass, and then turned onto Front Street and continued down Fremont, listening. He finally heard a rumbling growl not far away, and he sprinted towards it, down a block and into a narrow alley. And froze.
It was her, mid-roundhouse kick, lithe body swirling through the air and landing a booted heel in the sternum of a hooded figure. The demon was knocked backwards, just as another one emerged from the shadows and grasped her around the throat. She grimaced and jabbed her elbow back, loosening her attacker's grip, and then turned to slam a fist into his face hard enough to send him flying back into the brick wall of the alley.
Angel swallowed. God, she was beautiful. He'd almost forgotten.
The first demon was rushing towards her again, and she barely turned around in time to sidestep him. He anticipated the move though, and caught her squarely across the gut, knocking her off her feet. She cried out as she hit the ground, and with a start, Angel remembered why he'd come.
He sprinted down the alley and threw himself at the creature, knocking it to the ground. It threw him off with surprising strength and he found himself flipped onto his back in a split second, looking up into a shadowed face with glowing red eyes. The eyes narrowed, and he couldn't move. A familiar sense of panic filled him, and time seemed to slow down.
And then the eyes were gone -- the demon had been pulled off of him. He heard the sounds of the fight continuing, of grunts and punches thrown, and then silence. He blinked, and there was a face hovering over him.
He managed to push himself to sitting, and a wave of dizziness overtook him. Hands steadied him, clenched his shoulders hard.
"Are you all right?"
He looked up at her and his eyes focused again. It took a moment to find his voice, to remember to inhale first. "Buffy. I'm fine. I'll be fine."
She gave him an odd look, then released him and stood, arms folded across her chest as she watched him climb to his feet. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Angel started to explain, but thought the better of it. "I was in the neighborhood. Thought I'd drop in and say hi."
The look on Buffy's face was one of exasperation. "In the neighborhood? Angel, San Francisco is not in your neighborhood!"
"Since when is it any of your business where I go or what I do?"
"Since never, apparently." She glared at him, and then turned away. "I've been tracking these creeps all day, and now I've lost them, thanks to you."
"Sorry. I thought I was helping."
"Oh, right. You get your ass kicked and I have to rescue you. That's how you define 'help'?"
"I've been doing just fine without you for a year now, you know," he snapped, and then stopped himself. Why did she always have this effect on him? He was madly in love with her, but she made him crazy. "Look, I'm sorry I interfered. And… thank you."
Buffy's expression softened. "I've never seen you freeze like that. What happened?"
"I don't know. I looked into its eyes and then everything sort of… stopped."
She frowned. "I looked into their eyes too. Nothing happened to me."
"Great," he grumbled. They were the very creatures Cordy had seen attacking Buffy in her vision, and of course, he was the one affected by them, so he was fairly useless. "Just great."
"And now I have to start all over," she said, groaning. "Shit."
"Why were you tracking them?"
"They attacked me last night. I wanted to know why."
"So you lured them into a dark alley, where they could attack you two on one?"
She shrugged, and Angel shook his head. He knew that look on her face all too well -- the one that meant there was something she wasn't telling him. The Powers had sent Cordy that vision for a reason, and perhaps this was it. If he couldn't fight them himself, he could at least find a way to help her do it.
He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "Did you get a good look at them?"
"Other than freaky demon robes and glowy red eyes? Not really." The no thanks to you was silent, but still implied.
"Look, if you're determined to find these guys, I can help. I have contacts here. Old contacts, but still, I know my way around."
Her eyes narrowed, but she didn't look like she was about to tell him to fuck off. That was a good sign.
He tried a smile. "There's an old Chinese wizard who has a shop and a teahouse up on Grant. He might be able to tell us where to start looking. And he makes a fantastic ginseng infusion."
She raised an eyebrow. "For someone so old, you are such a California boy."
Angel sipped his tea, and tried not to smirk as Buffy wrinkled her nose.
"I thought tea was, you know, lemony and stuff."
He smiled. "It's good for you."
"No wonder." She set her cup down.
"So you were saying?"
"So my mom is off to a conference this weekend, and everyone else was busy, and I kinda needed to get away for a few days after… well, last week was a little intense."
He resisted the urge to press for details. If it was really important, she'd tell him. Unless… "Where's Riley?"
"Off blackmailing the government." At his look of surprise, she added, "Long story. I'm not sure when he'll be back. Anyway, I haven't been to San Francisco since I was a kid, so I decided to take a little me time. You know, a vacation. Shopping, sightseeing, a long tour of the Ghirardelli factory, with lots of free sampling."
"And part of your vacation plans include hunting down demons?"
She snorted. "They started it. Besides, demons don't attack me for no reason. I thought I should find them before they found me again."
"Good point." He entertained the thought of telling her about Cordy's vision, but dismissed it. No need to worry her. Besides, Cordy's visions could be unpredictable. The Powers might have wanted him here for another reason.
"And Giles said something about a great area full of magic shops. I owe Willow a birthday present, so I thought I'd go shopping. Look for something all cool and magical for her."
Angel nodded. "He probably means Haight Fair."
"Yeah," she said, frowning. "I looked for it today, but I couldn't find it. It wasn't where he said it would be."
"That's because it's hidden. I could show you where it is, if you want."
"Cool," she replied. She looked up at him and smiled, and he felt his insides twist. "So you said the tea man here might know something about those demons?"
Angel slung back the rest of his tea and nodded towards the back of the shop. They stood and walked across the tea room and through a bead curtain into the dimly lit back room. An old man was standing behind a counter on the far side, staring into a small smoking cauldron. He wore a dirty apron and his long gray hair was tied back at the nape of his neck. He didn't look up when they approached, but held up a hand.
Angel clasped the back of Buffy's jacket and tugged it. She looked up at him, but didn't say anything. Several long seconds of silence passed.
"I thought I told you not to come back here," the man said at last, still staring into the cauldron.
Angel felt Buffy's glare on him without needing to look. "Come on, Wei, that was a long time ago. Besides, I paid for the damage."
"Damage?" Buffy whispered.
Wei looked up from the cauldron. He stared at Angel for a moment more, and then shook his head and smiled. "You haven't changed. You never change."
"Actually, I've changed quite a lot," Angel replied, unable to keep the relief from his voice. "How've you been?"
"Good. And Jai is good, in case you're interested."
"Right. Jai. Tell him I said hello." Angel's eyes darted to Buffy and back to Wei, hoping the old man would take the hint.
Wei's eyes followed, and then settled on Angel again. "I will. How can I help you?"
"What do you know about a demon with glowing red eyes, about six feet tall, wears a hooded cloak?"
"Sort of like a giant angry Jawa," Buffy offered. They both turned to stare at her. "What? Xander made me watch Star Wars last weekend."
"And it had a strange effect on me," Angel continued, turning back to Wei. "When I looked into its eyes, I was paralyzed or something. Does that sound familiar?"
Wei folded his arms across his chest and looked thoughtful. "A demon that can incapacitate vampires? That doesn't sound like something you'd find around here."
"I've never encountered anything like it before anywhere. Do you know anyone who might have some information?"
"I'd try Corallis's in Haight Fair. He has the best collection of demonology books on the west coast."
"Corallis," Buffy repeated. "That's where Giles said to go."
"Rupert Giles?" Wei asked.
Buffy turned to him, surprised. "Yes. You know him?"
Wei's smile was wry. "We go way back, actually. How do you know him?"
"He's my… teacher."
"Teacher, is he?" Wei's eyes narrowed, and he looked back at Angel. "You keep interesting company these days. Had a change of heart?"
Angel shot him a warning look and steered Buffy towards the door. "Thanks, Wei. I owe you one." "You owe me four," Wei replied, but there was humor in his tone.
"This is a weird magic shop," Buffy said, staring at unidentifiable objects under the glass cases as they walked towards the front entrance.
"It's more of an herbalist shop, actually. Ingredients for traditional medicines, that sort of thing."
Buffy wrinkled her nose. "What sort of traditional medicine requires dried dragon's penis?"
Angel smirked at her. "Do you really want to know?"
They stepped out onto the brightly lit street, bustling with people even at this late hour, a stark contrast to the business district. They walked towards Union Square, dodging groups of tourists and locals alike, and pausing every now and then so that Buffy could window shop.
"Who would buy that, seriously?" she asked, pointing at a two-foot-tall carved wooden phallus displayed in a shop window.
Angel bit back the sarcastic comment that came to his mind and shrugged.
"I mean seriously, what is it with the penis obsession? I don't get it."
"I think it's meant as a fertility symbol," Angel said. "And penis obsession isn't such a bad thing."
"Like you would know," Buffy replied, shaking her head. They continued down the street in silence, finally making their way towards quieter Union Square. "So who's Jay?"
Angel turned to look at her. "Jai? He's Wei's son."
"Are you two friends or something?"
"Were." He considered his words carefully. "I lived here once, and we spent a lot of time together. That's how I met Wei, actually."
Buffy's expression was incredulous. "Don't tell me you were a hippie in the sixties!"
Angel rolled his eyes. "Fine. I won't."
Buffy stopped and grabbed his arm. "No. No way. Seriously?"
"Not a hippie. Not really. It was sort of an… experimental phase."
Angel shrugged and looked away, growing more uncomfortable with this line of conversation by the second. "It was a weird time. Lots of people were pushing their boundaries." He started walking again, and she fell into step beside him.
"You aren't going to tell me, are you?"
"There's nothing to tell. I mean, nothing more than the usual San Francisco-in-the-sixties stuff, like doing drugs, having orgies--"
"You did not!" Buffy punched his arm hard enough to hurt.
"Okay, I didn't," he replied. "So there's nothing to tell."
She shot him an amused look, but didn't push the issue.
"Where to now?" he asked, hoping the abrupt change of subject didn't seem too obvious.
She yawned. "Can we go to the magic street thingy tomorrow? I'm crashing."
"Sure." That meant he would get to see her again tomorrow night. He smiled.
"You're welcome to the floor, you know," Buffy called from the bathroom.
Angel had barely moved three feet from the door since they'd come back to Buffy's small low-end hotel room. He felt weird about being here at all, but he'd offered to walk her back, since it was after midnight and there were demons about. And then she'd invited him up, and then she'd grabbed her pajamas and gone into the bathroom to change into them. He swallowed.
"I don't want to impose. I was planning to sleep in the car."
The bathroom door opened, revealing Buffy in head-to-toe flannel. "You aren't imposing. We're friends. Aren't we?"
"Yes." That was the problem. He leaned back against the door. "As long as you aren't uncomfortable."
"Do I look uncomfortable?"
"You look… fuzzy." Actually, quite adorable, so much so that he imagined running his hands all over that flannel and feeling the heat of her skin underneath.
"People always say it's cold here, even in the summer. So I brought my winter jammies." She sat on the bed and twisted her hair into a knot at the top of her head, and fastened it. "I came here with my parents once when I was little, and I remember it was cold and windy. My dad promised to take me on a boat ride out to Alcatraz, but it rained that day and we couldn't go."
"There's not much to see. It's just an old prison on a rock."
"I know, but… I'm going to go while I'm here. It's on my list."
"You have a list?"
"Yeah, you know. A list of things I want to do before I die." She raised an eyebrow. "Not that I think I'll get through very much of it. But still, riding the boat to Alcatraz is on it."
He tried to smile, but it felt awkward. "Then you should do it, absolutely."
They were both silent for a moment. Staying here with her was probably a bad idea -- just being in her presence was unsettling in a way he hadn't expected. But it was just for one night. And he'd feel better knowing she was safe from those demons, even if he couldn't do much to help her if they showed up. Angsting over her here was probably better than angsting over her a mile away.
She smiled at him, and then tossed him a pillow. "There's an extra blanket in the closet. I'm going to sleep now."
He smiled back and clutched the pillow to his chest as she switched off the light.
He opened his eyes at the sound of her voice and stared up into the darkness. "Yeah?"
"I miss you."
He sat up and turned to look at her. She was lying on her side, watching him, and the expression on her face was remarkably sad. He stood and crossed to the bed, already anticipating the warmth of her skin against him. "I've missed you too."
She shifted over to make room for him, and he slipped under the covers without even thinking. The bed was warm from the heat of her body, so warm he got hard just from the sheer pleasure of it. Well, that and the fact that she was naked.
She smiled at him, lips parted ever so slightly, and he couldn't resist -- he leaned in to kiss her, She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him against her. He moaned against her lips and pressed her small body into the mattress. The heat of her was glorious, and he felt surrounded by it, submerged in it.
"I remember," she said, so softly he almost missed it.
He pushed himself away, just enough to be able to look into her eyes. "What?"
"I remember," she repeated, and reached up to touch his face. "That day that you were human again, in LA."
He found he could only stare at her in disbelief. There had been so many times he'd wanted to tell her, but he'd promised himself he would carry the burden alone. He hadn't expected this. "How--?"
She pulled him back down into a kiss, and the thought melted from his mind. He'd forgotten the way she kissed, tentatively at first and growing more bold by the minute. He remembered the first time he'd kissed her, when she'd trembled against him and hadn't known what to do with her tongue, and had endeared herself to him completely. She shifted beneath him now, wrapping her thighs around his hips and grinding up against him. The heat of her skin pressing against his cock was amazing.
"God, Buffy…" He trailed his lips down her neck, inhaling the scent of her skin, of the blood rushing just beneath the surface. "I've missed you so much."
"I want you," she panted, arching up against him. "But we can't."
"No," he said, sliding down her body, trailing kisses on her breasts, her belly, her hips. "I can't. But you can."
She gasped when he settled between her thighs, and he found himself nearly overwhelmed. The memory of that day they'd spent in bed flooded him: the sounds she'd made when she came, the way she'd clenched his hair in her fingers to direct him to the right spot, and the scent of her -- that was something he'd missed most of all. And she would be warm and wet under his tongue -- god so wet, so wet he could slide into her afterwards with no trouble despite his size, and he could pound into her hard, so hard she'd come again, screaming out his name, like she'd done that day. Twice.
"Angel," she moaned.
He was lying on the floor. He opened his eyes, startled at how cold he felt. He'd been so warm just a moment ago, when--
He pressed his face into his pillow to stifle his groan. That had been a fantastic dream. Why did he have to wake up, just before the good part? He was uncomfortably hard too, and not really in a position to do anything about it.
He shifted onto his back and unfastened his jeans, only intending to adjust -- and then he heard Buffy moan. At least, his cock thought it sounded like a moan, because it got even harder at the sound and he found himself stroking before he could stop.
She was definitely asleep -- he could tell by the sound of her breathing. She was dreaming then, and from the sound of it, it was probably not so different than the dream he'd just had. Of course, it probably featured her boyfriend. No, he wasn't going to think about Buffy with someone else, not while he was jerking off, anyway.
He lifted his hips into a more comfortable position and spit into his hand, then stroked faster. It was nearly pathetic, but it was better than lying there and feeling horny and miserable. He listened to her, hoping for some sign that she was still dreaming, but her breathing had evened out again. She probably hadn't been dreaming about him at all.
He gritted his teeth as he came, and it was as brief and underwhelming an orgasm as he'd ever had. He couldn't remember a time he'd ever felt so empty after coming. He fastened his jeans again and curled onto his side, trying to remember what it had felt like to be warm. Maybe he'd dream about her again, if he went to sleep thinking about it.
He pretended to be asleep when she slipped out of the room the next morning, and waited until he was sure she wasn't coming back right away before he got up to take a shower. The warmth of the water felt good against his skin -- heat almost always made him hard, and it had for as long as he could remember. Wanking in the shower was practically a daily habit, but today he just wasn't in the mood. It was too much of a reminder of the night before, of how pathetic he was. Not that he didn't fantasize about Buffy rather frequently -- along with Marilyn Monroe, Farrah Fawcett, an occasional appearance by Sean Connery (back in the early Bond days), and once, to his horror, Cordelia -- but to do it with her in the same room brought the reality of his situation into sharp focus. So he ignored his reflexive erection, and just stood under the spray instead.
The room was still quiet when he turned off the shower and dried himself off. He started to put his jeans back on, but there was an obvious stain from the night before, so he ended up scrubbing at the spot in the sink. He hung them over the shower bar to dry, then peeked out the door.
The remote control for the television was across the room, so he dashed across to grab it, towel slung loosely around his waist. He didn't know why he was so anxious to avoid being caught by Buffy -- she'd seen him naked, after all. She'd spent a lot of time exploring every inch of him, in fact. Of course, she didn't remember that.
He stood in the doorway of the bathroom and turned the TV on, flipping until he found CNN. Fifteen minutes later, he was sprawled on the bed, fully engrossed in a story about the rumored wedding plans of Brad and Jen. And that, of course, was when the door opened. Buffy stared at him for a full second before rolling her eyes and turning away. He leapt off the bed and dashed into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
If it were possible for him to blush, he'd have been beet red when he emerged again two minutes later, wearing yesterday's shirt and his jeans with the huge wet spot on them. If Buffy noticed, she mercifully said nothing.
"Sorry," he mumbled, walking past her to sit in the worn chair by the TV.
"No problem. I mean, hey, it's Brad and Jen. You can lose hours of your life obsessing over those two." He expected to see a smirk on her face when he looked up, but her expression was genuine. "I got us some breakfast. Well, a bagel for me, and… this is yours." She held out a small foam container.
"Thanks." He hadn't eaten since he arrived, and he'd started to get hungry.
"There was a butcher's shop just down from the bagel place. I thought they'd look at me funny when I asked, but they didn't."
"I doubt much can surprise people in this city." The blood was cold, but he didn't mind.
They ate in silence, letting the CNN anchor fill the void with sound bites from the upcoming presidential election. Angel thought about asking Buffy which candidates she thought would win their party's nominations, but thought better of it.
They'd been driving around the city in his car for a couple of hours before the sun set, and it was dark by the time they parked the car in the Castro and walked down Haight Street.
"Giles said to look for something called The Magic Mushroom," Buffy said, "but I think he had the address wrong."
Angel stopped and looked up at the brightly colored sign above the heads, decorated with a large psychedelic mushroom. He looked back at Buffy.
"What?" she asked.
"You can't see it, can you?"
She looked up, squinting. "See what?"
He smiled. "I'd wondered if you'd be able to. I thought the Slayer thing might--"
"See what?" she repeated, looking concerned now.
He held out his hand. "Close your eyes and trust me. All right?"
She frowned, but she complied. He opened the door and tugged her through it into what he'd always thought of as the most colorful co-op on the planet. It looked like a tiny shop from the outside, but the space inside seemed to have been magically enlarged. There were rows of organic produce both common and exotic, an extraordinary assortment of herbs (some of which he doubted were legal), and supplies to brew any number of potions and spells. The place was bustling with people in all manner of dress, and no one bothered to look up at the new arrivals.
"You can open your eyes now. We're here."
Buffy gaped at the scene around them, then whirled around to look at the door they'd come through. "What the hell?"
"It's hidden if you aren't familiar with magic."
She looked affronted. "Being the Slayer isn't good enough?"
"It's not that simple. Come on." She hadn't yet let go of his hand, which was pleasing him more than he'd thought possible. He tugged her in the direction of the checkout counter, where a woman who looked to be in her sixties was reading a tattered romance novel.
She didn't look up as they approached, instead holding up a hand and saying, "Hang on, hang on -- I'm just getting to the good part."
"Hello, Sam," Angel said, biting back a smile.
Her head jerked up at that, and she nearly dropped the book in surprise. "Angel! My god, you… Come here!" She leaned across the counter and pulled him into an awkward hug, forcing him to drop Buffy's hand at last. "You haven't changed at all! I think I hate you." She said the last with a grin.
"How long has it been?" he asked.
"I don't want to think about it," she replied, shaking her head. "At least 30 years."
"Old," Sam replied. "Out with her girlfriend tonight. She was in grade school last time you saw her, wasn't she?"
Buffy jabbed Angel in the side with an elbow before he could answer. "Sorry. Buffy, this is Samantha, an old friend. Sam, this is Buffy."
"A young friend," Sam quipped. She gave Angel an appraising look. "Color me surprised. Whatever happened to Jai?"
"No idea," Angel replied, a bit too hastily. He ignored Buffy's narrowed eyes and shot a meaningful look at Sam, hoping she'd take the hint. "Buffy's visiting from Sunnydale, and I'm up from LA for the weekend."
"I see," she said, winking at Buffy. "Nice to meet you. I take it you two are here for the Fair?"
"If you don't mind," Angel said.
Sam nodded towards the back of the store, and they followed her, winding around stands of produce and carts that floated after their respective shoppers. Sam stopped before a large mural painted on a cinderblock wall, and Angel turned back to Buffy to see her eyes were wide as saucers.
"What the fuck is this place?" she whispered.
Angel couldn't resist grinning at her. "We aren't even there yet." He heard a sound behind them and turned to see that a door had appeared in the middle of the wall.
"Just remember we close at midnight," Sam said. "As far as I recall, vampires can't teleport, so this is your only way out."
"Thanks, Sam," he said, and gestured Buffy through the doorway.
"You come back and see me before you leave town!" Sam called, and then the doorway closed again.
"Well, I'm sure I'll be able to find something for Willow here," Buffy said, staring out across Haight Fair.
The stars shone in the night sky above them, even though they weren't visible from the street outside through the haze, and flickering lamps cast more light than seemed physically possible over the large square that opened up before them. The square itself was filled with people milling about in groups of various sizes, enjoying a Saturday night out. Surrounding the square was a huge multi-level structure of shops and restaurants, all of it buzzing with activity.
"This way, I think," Angel said, pointing to their left.
"Who are all these people?" Buffy asked. She slipped her hand into his in what almost seemed to be a nervous gesture.
"A lot of them are tourists, actually. Mostly witches and wizards, and a handful of your friendlier demons. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few vampires lurking about." He squeezed her hand and she let go, and he felt ridiculously grateful for the opportunity to touch her even that much. They walked across the square, winding their way through food vendors and groups of teenagers, and headed down one of the many streets leading away from the center.
"This place is huge," Buffy said, staring down the winding street as Angel stopped to look at a map.
"Corallis's should be down on the right," he said. "There's a place in LA called the City Galleria. I've never been there, but Wesley says it's even bigger."
Corallis's Rare Books was a narrow shopfront with dusty books piled high in the windows. A brass bell rang when Angel pushed the door open, and they stepped into a space that seemed to be a maze of bookshelves stretching up to a ceiling at least 20 feet high. All they could see were shelves of books before them, and they stood still for a moment, uncertain which way to go. There were no directional signs, only a hand-lettered placard that read What are you looking for?
"Hello?" Angel called. His voice echoed in the room.
"All right," Buffy said, stepping forward. "I say we go this way." She turned to the left and walked down an aisle.
Angel scrambled to catch up to her, fearing he would lose her if he didn't. But after ten minutes of wandering about, they still hadn't found anything other than more bookshelves.
"I think we're going in circles," Buffy said, frowning. "Either that, or all the books are starting to look alike to me."
Angel turned and looked behind them. "Is it my imagination, or do the shelves move?"
Buffy's expression changed from one of annoyance to bewilderment. "Okay, books? Are creepy. I'm getting a serious wiggins here."
"It's not just you." Angel turned in a slow circle, studying the shelves around them. "What are we missing?"
"A book store guy. Human assistance. Signs like they have at Barnes and Noble, telling you where the romances and the self-help books are."
"You read romances?"
"Shut up. The point is we're lost, and this store ought to have signs to tell you which way to go."
"There was a sign," Angel said, turning to look at her. "At the front. It said, 'What are you looking for?'"
Buffy's eyes narrowed. "Oh. Oh. So we have to know what we want?"
"The demon," he said, nodding. "Think about what it looked like and how much you want to find it."
"To kill it, more like," Buffy said. She looked up at Angel and nodded.
They walked down the aisle and turned a corner, and found a sort of clearing in the maze, at the center of which was a man sitting behind an antique desk. He had a mop of gray hair and huge bushy sideburns, and was wearing clothes that seemed to be right out of a Victorian novel. He looked up as they approached, his dark eyes sparkling.
"I'm afraid the book you're looking for isn't for sale."
Buffy folded her arms across her chest. "What about the information we want? Is that for sale?"
"I'm not interested in taking money from the Slayer," the man replied. "I’ll give it to you for free."
Buffy's posture stiffened. "How do you know who I am?"
The man smiled, and lines crinkled around his eyes. "It's obvious, my dear. And you--" He turned to Angel and gave him an appraising look. "We have met before, though you may not remember. I'm an old friend of Jai's."
It was all Angel could do not to roll his eyes. He'd known Jai was well-connected in the magical community, but this was getting ridiculous. "We're actually in a hurry, so if you could tell us anything about the demons who've been following her--"
"They aren't interested in her," the man said. "It's you they want."
Buffy and Angel exchanged a look.
"But they attacked me," Buffy said, "hours before he even got here."
The man nodded. "The T'Loth are mercenaries -- bounty hunters. It's Angelus they want, and they intended to use you as bait." He turned to Angel. "That was why the Powers sent your friend the vision that brought you here."
Buffy turned to glare at Angel. "Cordy had a vision about me? When were you going to tell me this?"
He stepped backwards, out of punching range. "I thought it was about the alley. I didn't think it was important after that." It was a lie, though, and he wondered why he even bothered. Why had the Powers sent him here, if he were the one in danger? It didn't make sense.
But Buffy had turned her attention back to the shopkeeper. "The demons have a paralyzing effect on vampires. Is there a way to counter it?"
"Don't look into their eyes. That is where their strength lies."
"Oh, that's all," Angel muttered.
"And how do I kill them?" Buffy asked. "The usual ways? Sword through the gut, decapitation, that sort of thing?"
The shopkeeper nodded. "It won't be easy, though. They wear those hooded robes to hide their appearance. Their skin is thick and scaly, and difficult to penetrate."
"Perfect," Buffy said with a sigh. "I don't suppose you have a sword for sale?"
The shopkeeper chuckled. "Not my specialty, I'm afraid. There's a weapons boutique across the street, though. Tell them what you're hunting, and they'll give you what you need."
Buffy turned to look at Angel. "I guess we're going weapons shopping, then."
"And it's not even your birthday."
"We'd be in deep shit if it was." She turned back to the shopkeeper. "Thanks for your help."
"I also have that other thing you're looking for," he replied, keeping his eyes fixed on hers as he held a hand high in the air. A moment later a book sailed into it, and he held it out to her without so much as glancing at it.
She took it from him and frowned at the gilded words printed on the cover: The Moste Noble and Ancient Historie of The Vampyre Slayer. She looked up at him again, but didn't say anything.
"Consider it a loan," he said.
Buffy nodded and clutched the book to her chest.
"I'm surprised they let us in here with a bag of swords," Buffy said, surveying the dimly-lit bar. They had settled into a cozy booth on the side of the room, drinks and purchases in hand, and scanned the crowd for signs of hooded figures. It had looked like the sort of place where they might find some information about the T'Loth who were tracking Angel, with its mixed clientele of witches and wizards, hags and demons, and a handful of vampires who'd headed for the exits after catching sight of Buffy.
"Swords wouldn't do much good against most of these people," Angel replied, sipping his drink. "I still can't believe they serve human blood now. There was an ordinance against it last time I was here."
"The sixties were a long time ago, you know. How long did you live here, anyway?"
"A few years. Why?"
Buffy shrugged. "Everyone seems to know you. What were you like then?"
"You wouldn't have liked me."
"Who says I like you now?"
He smiled. "Whatever. It was a weird time, and I… I wanted to escape, to try new things. It was a good time for that, I guess."
Buffy's expression was unusually serious. "What sort of new things?"
Angel sipped his blood and shrugged in a way he hoped looked casual. He really didn't want to have this conversation with her. It wasn't any of her business anyway. "Nothing that interesting. So why do you think that guy gave you a book about the history of Slayers?"
It was Buffy's turn to feign interest in the bottom of her glass. "I don't know. Maybe he thought it would make a good present for Willow. She likes books."
"Since when is Willow so interested in the history of you?"
Buffy paused, and seemed to consider her words before speaking again. "She's gay now, you know. She has a girlfriend and everything." She looked up at him again, and her eyes locked on his. "I'm really happy for her."
He looked away. "Good for Willow."
They were both quiet for several minutes after that, watching the crowd. The music slowed from a frantic house beat to a more mellow ballad, and Angel considered asking Buffy to dance.
"Want to get out of here?" he asked. "It's half past eleven. After midnight you have to be able to use magic to get out of the Fair."
"Sure," Buffy replied. "I think we'll have a better chance of finding them out there anyway."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the vision before."
They were sitting on a hilltop in Lincoln Park looking out over the San Francisco Bay. The lights of the Golden Gate Bridge twinkled in the distance, oddly cold for all their familiarity.
"I don't know why you always think you can protect me," Buffy replied.
"It isn't that. Okay, maybe it is." He turned to look at her. Her knees were drawn up to her chest and she was staring out across the water. "I can't help it. Ever since the first time I saw you, I wanted to protect you."
She snorted at that. "You 18th century men, so chivalrous."
"We did have sarcasm back then, you know."
"I know you mean well, Angel, but I can take care of myself."
"I know you can. But they're after you because they want me. They know you're the best way to get to me, and that means I have to take some responsibility for this."
She turned to face him. "So it's your fault I'm getting attacked by random demons while I'm on vacation? If you say so."
He shook his head in feigned annoyance, and she rolled her eyes. She was even more beautiful than he'd remembered, somehow. And sitting here under the stars, with the twinkling lights of the city around them, she simply glowed.
"At least I had the courtesy to bring you to a lovely romantic spot after exposing you to mortal danger."
She looked up at the sky, which had cleared in the last hour, revealing spring constellations and a quarter moon. "It's beautiful. So have you ever brought someone here before?"
Angel pursed his lips. "Maybe."
"Was it Jai?"
He turned to look at her, surprised. She was watching him with an unusually earnest expression.
"I'm not stupid, you know. After the third time someone brought it up and you changed the subject, it was pretty obvious."
"I don't…" Angel began, but he wasn't sure what to say.
"It doesn't bother me that you've been with men," she said. "I know it happens that way sometimes. I mean, Willow was all in love with Xander, and then Oz, and now she's gay."
"I'm not gay," Angel said, fixing his eyes on the bridge in the distance. "I wasn't then, either. I was just… lonely. And Jai was there, and he hit on me at the right moment." He shook his head. "But in the end I broke his heart. Just like I did yours."
"You lost your soul, went evil, and tried to destroy the world?"
He turned to look at her, horrified. "No."
She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Not the same then, is it?"
"I paid for what I did," he replied. "For a hundred years."
Her expression softened, but she didn't look away. "I guess we're even, then."
"You know I still love you. I always will."
They stared at each other for a long moment, and then he couldn't help himself -- he kissed her. The feeling of her lips moving under his was glorious and soft, and when she slid a hand around the back of his head and deepened the kiss, the boldness of it surprised him. She kissed differently than he remembered, with more control and less frantic tongue-tangling. She kissed him like she knew exactly what she wanted.
He melted into it, and let her push him back onto the grass, felt her chest press against his. The heat of her body was amazing, and he moaned, sliding an arm around her back.
She sat up then, and pressed her fingers to her lips. "Oh, god. I shouldn't have done that. Why did I do that?"
"I didn't mind," he said, but it was too late. She turned back to face to water, pulling her knees into her chest again. He swallowed down his disappointment and sat up. "It was my fault. I'm sorry."
"What kind of person am I?" she asked. "Away from my boyfriend for three days and…" She pressed her hands over her face.
There was nothing he could say to that. Nothing she wanted to hear, at least.
After a minute of uncomfortable silence, he began to regret the kiss too. It was worse to have the memory of it still lingering on his lips than not to have felt it at all. Why did he keep doing this to himself? It was never going to work between them, and they both knew it. It was torture, and it did neither of them any good.
"I shouldn't have come," he said at last. "I'm sorry."
"No. I'm glad you came. We should do this more this often. Well, without the kissing part, anyway."
"Like Same Time, Next Year?" He shook his head at her blank expression. "It's a movie, where this couple meets up every year on the same weekend to… catch up."
"So we'll meet in San Francisco again in a year?" She smiled.
He smiled back. "I'll put it on my calendar."
"I miss you, you know." Her eyes were wide and dark, and he knew she meant it.
He'd wanted to hear those words from her for a long time. He'd heard them in his dreams a hundred times, but the reality was so much better than he'd expected.
He smiled. "I miss you too."
There was a sound and a distinct scent, and Angel was on his feet before he'd even processed the information. The two T'Loth demons were just feet away, hissing and moving toward them.
"Just what we get for letting out guard down." Buffy was on her feet too, and rummaging through the shopping bag.
Both T'Loth growled and lunged at Angel. He managed to avoid looking in their eyes, but that made it surprisingly difficult to fight them. He landed a hard kick to the gut of one and then ducked out of the grasp of the other, only to find himself knocked off his feet by a hard kick to the back.
"Buffy! Where's that sword?"
There was a crunching sound to his left, followed by a groan. "Got it right here," she said, stepping back as one of the T'Loth crumpled to the ground. She brandished the sword before her and turned to smirk at the other one.
It made a screeching sound and fled into the shadows.
"Hey, get back here! I'm not finished with you yet." She shook her head. "Note to self: T'Loth demons are pussies."
He raised an eyebrow at her choice of word, and she looked chagrined. "Sorry. Riley hates that one too."
"I didn't say I hated it," he replied, pushing himself to his feet.
"I'm guessing he won't be back. I'm sure they didn't pay him enough for this." She paused and looked thoughtful. "Who do you think hired them to capture you?"
"I have a good idea. But I'll deal with it when I get home. I'm sure he'll let them know what happened here."
She wiped the sword off on the grass and then poked the corpse of the demon with her toe. "Should we do anything about this?"
"His partner will come back for him when we're gone, I imagine. And if he doesn't, it is San Francisco. It won't be the weirdest thing people will find in the morning."
"Weird is right, and that's saying a lot coming from me." She picked up her shopping bag and stuffed the sword back inside. "I think the demon-hunting part of my vacation is done. Want to get some coffee or something?"
He smiled. "Yeah. Sure."
"I need to hit the road," he said, glancing at the clock on the dashboard. The sun would rise in a couple of hours, and he would prefer to be well out of the city before it did, where the blacked-out windows of his car would attract less attention. "I'd be happy to give you a ride. Sunnydale is on the way."
"You could stay and leave tonight," she said. "I don't like the thought of you driving in the daytime. What if a cop pulls you over or something?"
"I'll eat him," Angel replied. She rolled her eyes. "I need to get back. I left Wes and Cordy with everything to handle on their own."
"I'm sure they could survive without you for another day."
"Are you sure I can't give you a ride? I don't mind."
She smiled and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. "I have a ticket back tonight on the bus. And besides, I still want to take that boat ride out to Alcatraz. Cross it off my list. I'd invite you along, but I know how much you'd hate the bursting into flames part."
She grinned, and he knew she'd meant it as a joke, but the remark stung. He looked away.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"
"No, it's nothing," he replied. But it wasn't nothing. It was yet another reminder of the life he couldn't give her, of the things she wanted to do and places she wanted to go -- places he couldn't follow. He forced a smile. "Go mark it off your list."
"That and the chocolate thing." She gave him a wry smile.
"You know you're welcome to visit me in LA anytime, right? I mean, we don't have an office since the other one blew up, but when we do, you should come visit."
She nodded. "All right. And you should come visit too. Try not to wait until a disaster strikes."
They stared at each other for a moment.
At last, she took a deep breath and opened the door. "Same time, next year, right? And next time we'll go dancing, now that I know you know where the good gay clubs are."
"I do not!" he retorted. "Not anymore, at least."
She grinned, and then slid across the seat to hug him. He buried his nose in her hair and inhaled the scent of her, and tried to memorize the way her body felt against his. The heat lingered on his skin for a while, long after he'd watched her disappear into the hotel.
He turned the key in the ignition. He would see her here next year, and maybe things would be different by then. Maybe he'd be different. Maybe he'd finally be able to give her what she deserved.
It was something to hope for, anyway, and it was enough -- for now.
| Fiction Index | Home Page | Back |