WELL...

AUTHOR: Ducks

E-MAIL: slayinsage@buffymail.com

DISCLAIMER: THEY DON'T BELONG TO ME AND I DON'T MAKE ANY BLOODY MONEY FROM THIS, OKAY???? ;)

TIMELINE: Current time, but forget the timeline. Nothing matters but B/A. This is FLUFF, kids!

SPOILERS: None. No plot, either... *grin*

SYNOPSIS: Buffy is SICK. Riley tries to take care of her, but... only Angel knows what she really needs.

DISTRIBUTION: Take it, please! Just let me know where it's going, and obviously, give me credit.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is my first challenge fic. For Cass -- cheer up, honey. Here's the challenge:

1.) Buffy is sick and Angel takes care of her

2.) Fluff, and nothing but.

3.) Smut is optional -- sorry Cass, this is a quickie... a sexless one. And isn't Buffy sick? Although, I could have MALARIA, and still want Angel... hee hee...

4.) Riley gets dissed, and Buffy and Angel are reunited

Three of these:

1.) M&M Slippers

2.) Children's vitamins

3.) Someone saying, "I'm gonna die and rot in a bed of worms"

4.) A spell

5.) A Furby

6.) The song "Goodbye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks (no offense, but I HATE that song... ;)

Now, please, keep in mind that this is plotless fluff. Pure therapy, not only for Cass, but for all the rest of us, sent into a tailspin of depression from watching The Prom again last night. It's entirely possible the characters will do things they would never really do, and the situation is completely unrealistic. But that's why they call it FLUFF.

FEEDBACK: Please...

RATING: PG-13. I think there's a couple of "bad words"

*********************

"Mmmmm... Coco."

Buffy stirred. What the hell was that racket? Between her splitting headache and general body pain, the little metallic voice screeching, "Coco. Coco." over and over again was akin to being bludgeoned with a sledgehammer, and was quickly driving her insane.

She groaned softly and opened her itchy, red, bleary eyes. Here it was, a beautiful spring evening, and she was stuck in bed with heavy duty bronchitis and a sinus infection, her only company... A Furby? The Slayer scrunched her brow in confusion and stared at the fuzzy monstrosity on Willow's nightstand.

Her best friend had finally lost it.

"Like joke," it said to her, blinking its creepy little eyes, "Coco play."

"Shut up," Buffy snapped at it, and covered her head with a pillow.

The stupid piece of junk started to sing. Buffy was contemplating what she would tell Willow if she threw the mechanical hellbeast out the window, when there was a soft knock at the door.

"WHAT?!" Buffy shouted.

The door opened, and Riley came in, smiling sweetly.

"Hi," he said, coming over and sitting on the bed without invitation, "How are you feeling?"

Buffy glowered at his insensitivity. She really wanted to be comforted by his presence, and by the thermos he set down on her nightstand, which undoubtedly contained some homemade concoction that had "been in his family for generations", but the simple fact was, she just wanted to be left alone. Alone and miserable, as usual.

"Like crap," she snuffled.

"Oh... I'm sorry," Riley said, "I brought you some chicken soup. The recipe's been in my family for generations. My grandma swears by it."

She rolled her eyes, then sneezed, and grabbed a Kleenex, loudly blowing her nose before laying back down.

"I'm not hungry," she grumbled.

"Oh, come on... you need your strength. You'll like it."

Buffy summoned the last of her strength, and used it to turn over and glare at him. "I'm really not in the mood for company," she said shortly.

Riley blinked, "Oh. I'm sorry... I just thought..."

Buffy cut off the rest of his sentence with a wave of her hand. Truth be told, it was more than her illness and bad mood that made him so annoying to her. She'd been annoyed with him for weeks, now. And, frankly, bored.

At first, Buffy had found his simple, genuine country ways sweet and kind of comforting. It was a whole new world, for her, going on picnics and long drives, and listening to stories about his giant extended family, their farm, their assorted animals, country fairs and "corn as far as the eye could see". Riley was different. Sweet, charming, cute, and almost normal.

But the novelty of his efforts at "wooing" (that was the only word she could think of to describe it) her soon wore off. And the fact that every other word she used to describe him was "cute", "nice", "sweet" and/or "charming", was quickly proving to her that this relationship didn't have what it took to go the distance.

She had done her best. She'd reached for the brass ring of "normalcy" that she, and everyone else, had convinced themselves was what she really needed. Now, she kind-of had it. And she couldn't help feeling more and more everyday that she really didn't need -- or want -- anything "outside of demons and darkness".

All she wanted... still, over a year after he'd abandoned her, was Angel.

Buffy struggled to sit up, and swung her legs over the edge of the bed, her feet sliding automatically into her M&M slippers: one red, and one blue.

//Like Angel and Riley...//

Buffy turned and looked at him. She wanted to love him -- she was fairly certain he loved her -- but no matter how cute he was, or how hard he tried, she just didn't. And she was certain that wasn't going to change, if it hadn't by now.

"Riley... we need to talk," she said, fighting for enough breath to get all the words out. Maybe now wasn't the best time... maybe she wasn't 100%. But she was miserable, and she wanted what she wanted, and there never would be a "good" time.

She looked down at her slippers again... red... and blue. Faces, smiling up at her, but not real. Not really there. Only pretend. Like her life with, and without, Angel. Red and blue.

//Maybe I am delirious. But SCREW a normal life. Someday -- maybe tomorrow -- I'm just gonna die and rot in a bed of worms, anyway.//

What was it Willow had told her, so many years ago? "Seize the day?" Or maybe it was something about fish... she wasn't clear on that.

"I don't think we should see each other anymore," she said.

Riley blinked at her, "What?" His smile quickly faded.

Buffy sighed. She hated this part. She felt bad for hurting him when he'd never been anything but kind to her... mostly...

"I'm sorry, Riley. I just don't think it's fair to you," she shook her head, then kept her eyes locked with his, "I like you. We have a lot of... nice... times together. But I just don't love you."

His ample brow furrowed. "Buffy, what are you talking about? You're sick. You've got a fever. You're delirious. Why don't I just go, and we can talk when you feel better."

He was desperately grasping at straws -- Buffy could hear it in his voice.

She shook her head again, "No. That's not it. I've been thinking about this for a while, and... When you just came in? I wasn't glad to see you. I'm sorry. I hope you understand..."

"No, I don't understand!" he cried, jumping to his feet, "What... what is this about? Did I do something wrong? What can I do to fix it?"

Buffy bowed her head, "Nothing," she said simply, "It's just over. Please. I'm sorry. I just want you to leave."

//And take your "been in my family for generations" soup with you. I HATE chicken noodle!//

She didn't say that, of course. Riley didn't really deserve to be any more hurt than he already was.

He stood, glaring down at her, "I'm not leaving until you tell me what's going on! Is there someone else?"

Buffy flinched at his anger. And the pain his shouting sent shooting through her head.

"Yes, you are. And yes, there is," came a deep voice from the doorway.

Riley spun around, and Buffy's head shot up. She'd felt the tingling, but figured it was her illness. Her breath, already short, caught in her throat. Her heart skipped a beat -- maybe two, maybe more.

"Who the Hell are YOU?" Riley shouted at Angel.

He stood, dark and tall, trapped in the doorway, alternately looking from Riley to Buffy and back again.

"I'm Angel," he said simply.

Riley's eyes flew open wide, and an involuntary pang of fear clutched his gut as he realized this was Buffy's famed vampire lover.

"This is a private conversation," Riley said coldly, hiding his fear, "You're not welcome here."

Angel's nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed as he contemplated punching this down-home yokel in his all-American face.

//He touched her. He's been with her. And now he's disrespecting her. I think this boy might need a good, down home beating.//

But, of course, he fought the urge. Besides, he was still unable to enter the room. Angel shifted the grocery bag he carried, ready to ditch it, just in case, and looked at Buffy again.

The Slayer stared at him, her mouth hanging open.

Riley turned his glare back to her again, "Maybe you could talk to your ex... whatever... AFTER we're finished. Do you think?"

Buffy turned her gaping stare to Riley.

"I..."

Riley took a step toward Buffy, and leaned down to her. She pulled back from him, unsure of his intentions.

"Tell him, Buffy," he hissed.

Buffy said nothing.

Riley's face was a mask of shock and anger. "After everything he's done to you? You can't tell me he's welcome! You can't tell me he's the reason you're breaking up with me!" his tone was shrill, edged with sorrow and growing anger.

Angel set the bag down on the floor beside him, ready to advance with a single word from Buffy. Buffy continued to stare at Riley for a moment.

"He is welcome," she said firmly, "And he is why," she looked at Angel, standing trapped in the doorway, his face inscrutable, as usual, "Come in, Angel," she said finally.

Riley looked back as he stepped into the door, and immediately menaced Riley. Vampire and farm boy stood eye to eye.

"You should leave," Angel told him calmly, but with no mistake as to his meaning.

Riley grit his teeth and glowered at the vampire. Could he take him, if it came down to it? He turned back to Buffy once more, feeling his heart break as she nodded in agreement.

"Is that what you really want?" he asked softly, his anger gone, and replaced with hurt. He already knew what her answer would be.

Buffy and Angel's gazes locked, and never broke, as she said, "Yes. This is what I really want."

Without another word, Riley grabbed his thermos and left, shoving Angel a little as his passed, and slammed the door behind him.

Angel watched, unfazed, as the boy left, then turned back to Buffy again. She sighed, completely exhausted by this whole scene, and leaned herself back onto the bed. She didn't even have enough oomph left to ask Angel why he was there.

He reclaimed his shopping bag, came over, and sat beside Buffy on the bed, automatically taking her hand.

"I heard you were sick," he told her.

She snuffled loudly and nodded. "Uh-huh."

Angel's heart sang and shattered simultaneously at how adorable she was in her misery. He didn't know what had drawn him here, tonight -- there had been no visions from Cordelia, no frantic phone calls from Giles or Willow, and no other particularly ominous thing to make him come. He'd just wakened that afternoon with the distinct feeling that he was needed, in Sunnydale, NOW. He made a quick phone call to Giles, just to make sure there wasn't an emergency (one, for example, that might require weapons). The ex-Watcher told him that Buffy was simply sick in bed -- no need to worry.

He'd thought long and hard... okay, not that long, but very hard... He'd debated the pros and cons of just showing up back in Sunnydale, unannounced, after all this time.

It was just a cold, after all...

But the fact was, he missed her. Missed her so deeply and completely that his usual good sense was utterly helpless to overcome the driving need to be with her... to comfort her, the way she had always comforted him.

Buffy lay on her side, unable to look up at him.

//I'm hallucinating. Everything that just happened... everything that was happening now, is just the fever messing with my head. Angel is NOT sitting on my bed next to me. He is NOT softly brushing the hair out of my face. He is NOT apologizing for the way he just showed up without calling...//

"I can't believe you're here," she whispered to her vivid fever dream.

Angel brushed her hair softly with his hand, loving the silky feeling of the golden strands pouring through his fingers as he stroked her.

"Well, I am," he said, "Someone has to take proper care of you. And it should be me," he said.

Leaving had been a mistake. He knew that for certain, now. He'd always thought... maybe... but now, looking at her once again, he was sure.

Buffy rolled over on to her back and looked up at him. Was he really here? Was he really sitting there, smiling happily at her?

"You... didn't bring chicken soup, did you?" She asked, looking worriedly at the paper bag on the floor beside them, "I really hate chicken soup."

"I know," Angel said, and reached for the bag, knocking the peacefully sleeping Furby to the floor with a bang.

"AaaaAaaa. Coco..." it said.

Angel stared at it as if it were the most hideous thing he'd ever seen.

"What is that?" he asked.

Buffy rolled off the bed, ignoring her dizziness, picked the dread Furby up, threw it in Willow's closet, and shut the door, muffling its begging cries for play time.

"Willow's new friend," she told Angel, and stood before him, looking down, "What are you doing here? Really?"

Angel didn't look away from her eyes, only took both of her hands in his and gazed up at her with unveiled love.

"I want to come back," he said, "I mean... not to Sunnydale... I have a place, in LA... a home, responsibilities. What I mean, is... I want to come back... to you."

His shyness touched her, making the moment seem even less real than it had before. "Okay, this is a fever dream, right? I'm definitely hallucinating. Maybe I should call an ambulance," Buffy said, feeling her own forehead with the back of her hand.

Angel took the hand away and replaced it with his own cool one.

"You've definitely got a fever," he said seriously, "But not enough to make you hallucinate."

"Oh," Buffy said, and sat down beside him. She looked at her hands in her lap for a moment, watching her fingers slide in and out of focus. Then, she looked back up at Angel, "Did you really say you want to get back together?"

He nodded, and smiled his trademark, crooked smile. "I did," he said, "I can't do this anymore, Buffy. I can't pretend that being without you hasn't left a giant hole in my life that nothing else can fill. I need you, plain and simple."

Buffy stared at him, wishing she could focus enough to see the expression on his face.

"Oh," she said again, and swooned a little. Angel quickly reached out and grabbed her, easing her gently back onto her pillows.

"And you obviously need me," he said, tucking her in.

"Oh, sure, now it's obvious..." she grumbled.

Angel couldn't help but smile. She wasn't putting up nearly the fight he'd been expecting. He thought he was in for a good shouting-down, at least. Of course, she was sick, so he might not be so free and clear, yet.

"I did bring some things," he said once she was settled.

Buffy's face almost lit up, beneath her fevered flush. "Presents?" she asked weakly.

"Yes and no..." Angel said, and reached in to the bag, pulling out assorted bottles and bags filled with sweet smelling concoctions she didn't recognize, "I brought some things to make you feel better. Old Irish Magick."

"Has it been in your family for generations?" Buffy asked.

He looked at her strangely, "Some of it... why?"

"Never mind..." she looked at the bottles as he set them on the nightstand, one by one.

Finally, the bag was empty, and her bedside looked like some strange apothecary shop. But with Double Stuff Oreos, ginger ale, and...

"Is that cookie dough fudge mint chip?" She asked. How did he know? She didn't think she'd ever eaten ice cream around Angel, in all the years she'd known him. It just wasn't fair, since he couldn't really enjoy it with her. Besides, once she started, she usually couldn't stop.

Just like with him.

"It is," he said, praying she didn't think it was suspicious that he'd brought her favorite, when he wasn't really supposed to know about it. He really hoped she didn't ask.

"Mmmmm..." Buffy said, "Can I have some now?"

Angel cocked an eyebrow at her, "After the spell," he scolded.

She pouted, then frowned, "There's a spell? I don't know, Angel..."

He looked at her seriously, "Do you trust me, Buffy?"

She thought about it as carefully as her muddled brain would allow. It was almost surprising, to find that she still did.

"Yes, of course," she answered.

His smile reappeared, "I'm glad to heart that. You don't know how glad," he said, "So just trust me... it's a spell so simple, even Willow couldn't make it go awry. But, before we start that, there is one more thing."

Buffy strained to focus on what he had in his hand, but couldn't quite manage it.

"What?" she asked worriedly.

"You haven't told me what you think yet," he said, "I need to know that, first."

She tried to think. What was it he'd been talking about? She wished she weren't so confused. She knew this was a moment she was going to want to remember, but she didn't know why.

"About... I'm sorry, Angel. I can't... I don't know... I feel so crappy... am I dying?"

Angel tried not to chuckle, "I hope not," he said quietly, "It's not important, now. It can wait. Why don't I just give you the sleeping draught I made, and we can talk tomorrow."

"No!" she objected weakly, "Don't go! Stay!"

He smiled and leaned down to kiss her cheek.

"I can't..." he said, "You need to rest. But don't worry. I won't be far away."

He put the last item on the nightstand, and poured some of the green medicine into a little cup he'd purchased for the occasion. Buffy choked it down, and was asleep bare moments later. Angel watched over her until close to dawn. She slept deeply, as he'd intended, with barely a cough or a sniffle. If there was one thing his mother knew, it was how to kick a cold. Buffy would be well again before she knew it.

Touching her lips a final soft, sweet time with his own, he quietly slipped out of Buffy's room, fully confident that he would see her again, soon.

It was the best he'd felt in a very long time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy woke long after noon. She could feel the sunshine streaming in on her through the windows, and the birds chirped happily, as if they sang just for her. She stretched her body languidly, amazed to find that she was barely even achy anymore. Yesterday, she was pretty sure she was going to die.

Yesterday! Buffy sat bolt upright in bed. Had she dreamed it? Had she really told Riley to stick his grandma's ancient chicken soup?

More importantly, had Angel really been there? Did he really ask if he could come back?

She looked all around her, until her eyes finally came to rest on the nightstand. She almost let out a joyful whoop when she saw it was covered with bags of herbs and colorful bottles marked in some language she didn't recognize.

He was back! He was really back!

Buffy tilted her head a little, noticing one odd item among all the others -- a tiny, delicately carved ivory box. She picked it up carefully and turned it around in her hand, admiring the simply beauty of the filigreed angels on each side. It rattled a little when she turned it, so she carefully opened the delicate lid.

Inside, she found her claddaugh ring. The one she had left at the mansion, so long ago, when she thought he was gone forever... murdered by her own hand. Buffy instantly burst into happy tears, and replaced the ring to its traditional place: on her left ring finger, with the heart pointing in. She very, very definitely, belonged to somebody.

It was then that she saw his note, laying flat on the spot where the box had been. Grinning uncontrollably, and shaking so hard she could barely read, she picked it up.

"Buffy:

I wanted to give this to you myself, in person -- to see the look on your beautiful face when I returned it to you at last, and begged for your forgiveness for being so stupid and short-sighted... for breaking your heart, and my own.

This, I'm convinced, was the token that brought me back to you from Hell. The symbol of all we have meant to one another. Someday, I hope you'll let me replace it with a more modern wedding ring.

Of course, for any of this to happen, I need for you to be well again. Or, at least, conscious.

I love you, Buffy. I never want to be far from you for very long, ever again.

So will you? Forgive me? Take me back? Allow me to show you how much I missed you?

If you will, my cell number is below. With all of my heart, I hope you use it

Always...

Angel"

Buffy blinked at it, tears streaming down her face, for a moment before picking up the phone.

"Angel..." he answered.

"I love you," she bawled into the phone, "I love you so much!"

Angel felt his own tears, long repressed, finally spill from his eyes.

"I love you, too, Buffy."

THE END

 


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