THE COMMON GOOD OF LIFE

 By D. M. Evans
Disclaimer - don’t own a single one of them. Mr. Whedon does.
Spoilers - Post Not Fade Away
Rating - PG-13
Feedback - yes please, connorswhip@Yahoo.com
Summary - Buffy picks up the pieces after the show down in Los Angeles
Author’s Note - It was written for the Summer challenge at Blood Roses Forums and had to include the theme of summer and a sunny day. Thanks to SJ for the beta and helping to pick the title


She lived in storm and strife,
Her soul had such desire
For what proud death may bring
That it could not endure
The common good of life,
But lived as ’twere a king
William Butler Yeats - That the Night Come


“There’s more eggs if you want some,” Buffy said, seeing Connor trudging into ‘command central’s kitchen. The boy looked dead on his feet, his eyes dark and puffy.

“No food.”

“My cooking that bad?” She grinned.

“Too tired to eat.” He slumped at the table across the table from her.

Buffy got up and pulled down a box of Weetabix. “Try these. You need to eat something.” Sheesh, when did she turn into Mom?

He pulled out one nugget, eyeing it dubiously. “What the hell is it?”

“Something Giles and Spike can’t get enough of.” Buffy sat back down as Connor nibbled at it. Angel would be furious if she let his son starve to death...provided he ever regained consciousness. “It’s a bright sunny summer day, Connor. You don’t see many of them in Cleveland if Jess is to be believed.” Buffy felt a little sorry for the Cleveland born Slayer. Her little territory of the Hellmouth had been overrun by three new Slayers, a witch, a Watcher and three Watchers-in- training, not to mention Connor and an agogic demon. It made Jess a little jumpy. “Why aren’t you out there enjoying the sun?”

“Why aren’t you? Man, this is crap.” Connor wiped at his mouth then offered the weetabix to Scraps, Jess’ fat Labrador Retriever. “I’ve eaten stuff in hell that tasted better.”

Buffy laughed, allowing herself that bit of joviality. Dawn had been reminding her that laughter was healing. “I might get in a little sun bathing once I’m sure all the potential oglers are elsewhere.”

“Ah, nude sunbathing.”Connor flashed his scary smile.

“No, little pervert.” She kicked him under the table. “That’s Faith’s thing.”

“Yeah, I know.” His blue eyes glowed. “I need to get to bed. Faith wants me to patrol Lake View cemetery with her. She thinks vampires have moved into President Garfield’s crypt. And I promised Dawn I’d go to the art museum with her this afternoon. I think I can get a few hours nap in.” Connor got up. “How is he, Buffy? Has he woken up?”

“I would have told you, Connor.” She tried to keep the creeping annoyance out of her voice. It was natural he’d ask. “I’m going to check on him now. Want to help?”

Connor shook his head, running a hand through his thin hair. Buffy saw a sucker bite just at the base of his neck and she wondered if it was Faith or her sister who had put it there. She wasn’t sure which girl Connor was spending his nights with but she was hoping it wasn’t with Dawn. “I can’t...it’s just so hard. I don’t know how you do it.”

“Because someone has to.” Buffy put a hand on his shoulder and the haunted look in his eyes felt like a dagger. “Go on, get some sleep. You can do the feeding before you head out with Faith tonight.”

“Xander, Andrew and some of their new friends are role playing in our house. I’ll never get to sleep over the geek-noise.” Connor sighed, looking out across the way to the male-dominated home.

“Crash in my bed for a little while,” she offered, thinking he honestly didn’t look up to slogging next door. Jess and the handful of Watchers studying the Hellmouth had rented most of the homes on the block making it a mini-Complex.

“Okay.”

Buffy watched him head up the stairs before she went into the basement. The smell from the basement made her wish for a perfume-daubed doctor’s mask. Buffy knew it had to be worse for Connor with his senses. She lingered on the stair, thinking life wasn’t supposed to be like this. Okay, Italy hadn’t turned out like she expected. Italian was harder to learn than she expected and her new boyfriend ended up having been lover to a lot of really gross women over the centuries. She had been looking for a new assignment out of Italy, when she got a call from someone claiming to be Angel’s son.

He had to call three times before she had listened to him, furious at the cruel joke she thought someone was playing. Finally, she listened and conferenced the call to Giles. The story sounded too familiar. An apocalyptic battle, leaving everyone dead except Angel and Spike, both so injured the boy wanted to know if he should dust them to be merciful. Giles told the boy to take them to the Cleveland complex. He would find help there and the Watchers would gain valuable knowledge by watching vampires heal. Giles didn’t say that but Buffy knew he was thinking it.

Buffy would rather have just gone to L.A., sparing them the difficulty of transporting the two injured men but large sections of the city had been blown up. She had believed the party line about it being terrorists. Foolish. She should have at least suspected.

She gathered up her three Watchers-in-training, Xander from Africa, which had been another less than well thought out assignment, Dawn and Andrew. They met Giles in Cleveland. Kennedy and Willow had come up from Rio, Kennedy moaning all the way and Faith came in from the east coast. It was almost like old times, if she could ignore the RV in the drive that had come across country, driven by a scrawny kid and a green-skinned demon, transporting two half destroyed vampires.

Spike was housed in the house next door. Willow, Xander, and Andrew were caring for him. Spike’s legs, hips and back had been crushed. Connor had found him under rubble while digging out Angel. Buffy could see why the boy had wanted to stake them both. At least, Spike was in better shape that his grandsire. He was busy giving everyone a hard time because he was bored with his immobility. She and he had had their big talk and found there had been little left to say beyond thank you for giving his life in Sunnydale to save them.

She sensed Spike was in mourning, not for her, but for someone else. Lorne mentioned the name Illyria. She didn’t feel this was the time to ask about who that was, sensing the rawness there. Still, Buffy stopped over at least once a day just to listen to Spike piss and moan, because it felt a little like old times, and, as odd as it was, she missed them. She hated having her friends scattered around the world. Buffy felt adrift and this accident was anchoring her. Moreover, she needed to feel that old time connection, especially when she’d surface from the basement of her new home.

Screwing up her courage, Buffy went to the basement. Angel rested on a futon under the florescent lighting next to a couch and TV across from the washer and dryer. There was a mini-bar with a tiny fridge and a microwave along the wall next to the pool table. Jess had used the area as a game room. Now it was a sick room. Angel’s injuries were comparable to Spike’s, only they were over his head, chest, and arms. Half of his face had been gone, his head looking like a crushed melon when Connor first drove up to the house. Angel had yet to regain consciousness. They tried to feed him but couldn’t do it well. Connor said vampires didn’t need to eat. He knew that because he had pitched Angel into the ocean in a metal coffin. Buffy refused to listen to that because she wanted to like Connor for Angel’s sake and she couldn’t if she knew stuff like that. Giles said the Watchers knew not feeding would destroy a vampire’s brain. She didn’t want to know how the Watchers knew that but took Giles at his word and they tried to dribble blood into Angel daily.

Buffy poured an iv bag of blood into a cup. The Watchers had a deal with the Cleveland Clinic to purchase blood too old for transfusion under the pretense of research. She microwaved it then sat on the futon, keeping the sheet up over Angel as much as she could. It hurt to much to see the wounds on his arms, even bandaged as they were. Giles called it a degloving, a fancy way of saying stripped to the bone. Much of the muscle had regrown but not all of it, not yet and not the skin. Spike said Angel had more blood he’d heal faster. They kept moist bandages over the wound. She helped to change them even if it made her queasy. The worst was what lay under the bandages over the left side of his face and head. The damaging was healing but it was gruesome to look at.

In treating Angel, caring for him, she received a deep insight into herself. Her love for Angel hadn’t been a simple high school crush. She wanted to convinced herself of that at one time, even up until the kiss they had shared when he brought her the amulet. She had been babbling fast then, trying not to lose herself in Angel, even to the point of reaching to Spike only to have him stun her by telling her he knew she didn’t love him.

What had Spike once said to her? She could never lie to him. He had also said that she and Angel would never be just friends. He was right on both accounts, damn him. Angel was still a part of her. Even broken as he was, comatose, silent, he still completed her. She hadn’t even realized that she was a jigsaw missing a piece until he came into her care, or was that a lie, too? Maybe she always knew there was a stray piece and that’s what all the men in her life were, Parker, Riley, Spike, attempts at completion. Even in his silence, Angel made her feel whole for the first time since she blew up the high school.

The best part of this whole tragedy was it forced her to explore her inner self. Now she could honestly say that her feelings were based on something beyond the sexual, something other than pure hormones and lust. No one could look at Angel right now and have a single lust-spawned thought. He looked like something someone would find in a medical school anatomy dissection lab. It was hard to look directly at his face with the terrible wound. No, there was no lust in her heart, just something that felt a lot like love.

Buffy siphoned up some blood in a turkey baster. She went to press the tip into Angel’s mouth. When the plastic touched his lips, his eyes shot open. Buffy dropped the baster, blood arcing out of it over the bandages on his face. She swallowed back her startled cry.

“Oh my god! You’re awake!”

Buffy resisted the urge to hug him, knowing it would only cause him pain. Angel’s eyes fluttered closed. His lips parted, a deep guttural moan pouring out of him. His body shuddered and he cried out in worse pain.

“Angel, easy, try to rest easy. I know you’re hurting but try not to move much.” She wiped a little of the blood off his forehead. His eyes opened and tracked her bloody finger. On impulse, Buffy pressed her finger to his lips. His tongue rasped her skin. A growl rumbled in his throat. “You have to be hungry.” Buffy picked up the baster and tried to fill it with blood.

Angel’s bandaged hand snagged the cup and he gulped at it, choking as blood rained all over. She could see the pain the effort was causing but he didn’t stop. Buffy got up and tossed two more bags into the microwave and let him sip straight from them. It was neater and easier on him. Buffy didn’t speak as he drank greedily. This was his primal demon, mindlessly feeding and somehow it didn’t bother her like she thought it might, as if something inside her had finally accepted him wholly. Finally, all the available blood in the mini-fridge was gone. Angel’s eyes started to shut. Buffy stroked the bit of hair that escaped the swath of bandages.

“Angel, you can hear me, right? Understand me?” she asked hesitantly, knowing how badly Angel’s skull had been damaged. She had been preparing herself in case they had been nursing a brain dead shell.

Angel licked his lips, looking in horrible pain. “I can.” He paused, his jaw clenching. “Where?”

“Cleveland. Connor brought you here.”

A sigh escaped Angel’s lips. His eyes opened again as every part of him relaxed.

“Connor’s okay.” Buffy’s hand moved to his uninjured cheek. “He’s upstairs napping. Do you need more blood? We have more upstairs, I think. Want me to wake Connor?”

He tried to shake his head then winced. “I’m okay and let him sleep.”

Buffy got up and got a bottled water out of the mini-fridge. She cracked open the bottle. “Try some water.” She tipped it slowly to his lips as he drank sloppily. She pulled it back. “More?”

“No.” He shut his eyes for a moment. “I didn’t expect to see you again...Buffy.” He tried to raise his hands and groaned.

“Angel, try not to move too much. You were very badly hurt in the battle with...the Black Thorne?” Buffy’s brow creased as she tried to recall Connor’s story. “Your head was all tore up. We weren’t sure if you’d keep your arms. We were trying to track down a healer like the one that healed Spike after the thing with Dana but the ones working for us were busy with the human victims of the battle.” Buffy tried to hide the fact that even she understood it was more important to help the innocent than to help a vampire, no matter how she felt about him. She hoped she tucked it away, keeping it from her voice.

“Understood.” The word was flat, so were his eyes. Pain? Disappointment? Acceptance?

“Your arms are healing slowly.” Buffy tried to shoot him an encouraging smile. “Now that you can eat, you should heal better. Spikes’s toes are starting to twitch. Maybe he’ll walk soon and his legs looked as bad as your arms.”

“Spike made it?”

Buffy couldn’t tell if he sounded relieved or disappointed. His expression was inscrutable. “Spike’s alive but barely in better shape. He got crushed from the waist down.”

“Gunn...the others?” The eagerness in Angel’s eyes hurt her.

Buffy knew he wasn’t ready to hear the truth. She wanted to shield him. “We don’t need to talk about this right now.”

“They’re all gone,” he said with heart wenching pain.

Buffy pursed her lips then answered. “Connor seems to think so. Lorne’s here, too. Connor’s been helping me, Faith and Jess. She’s the Cleveland Slayer. Connor’s an amazing fighter.”

Buffy was surprised to see the consternation in Angel’s eyes. She thought he’d be proud of his child, not fearful. He tried to get up but didn’t manage more than a lifting of his head. “I don’t want...he’s not supposed to be fighting.”

“He said you’d say that.” She took a deep breath before venturing, “I don’t think you get a say in it, Angel. He’s a grown up.”

“He’s a boy,” Angel snapped back, his brown eyes going even darker. “He’s supposed to be with his family. Send him back.”

“To the Stepfords?” Buffy tried for humor and the look on Angel’s face said he was so not receptive to that. She didn’t want to burden him too much with the awful truth but she could see he wouldn’t let her be his armor. “Angel, I can’t do that. The Reilly’s...damn, how do I say this. After Connor went to find you that day, Mrs. Reilly won tickets to a show. Connor didn’t know. He had left his cell phone in the car or something. He can tell you better. The family you put him with were in the blast range. Everyone in that theatre died.”

Angel’s face where it wasn’t covered in white gauze, crinkled up. “I don’t....”

“Oh, right, I haven’t told you that part yet.” Buffy sighed, stroking his uninjured cheek. “Are you sure you don’t want to wait until you’re stronger for this?” The building fury in his eyes answered her. “Whatever you guys did at the end, to defeat the evil, it went off like a bomb. Large chunks of L.A. around Wolfram and Hart’s building were left a smoking hole. Hundreds were killed. The government is blaming terrorists, of course. Connor’s an orphan as far as him being a Reilly is concerned. The lawyers are still working out the wills and life insurance policies. Connor’s going to have a lot of money soon, which I know doesn’t make up for the loss of life. I think, though, he had already stopped viewing them as his family. He’s said and all but he didn’t feel it like losing a parent.”

“So much death...” Buffy could see Angel giving up.

“It wasn’t your fault, Angel,” she said and she believed that. “Any more than Sunnydale becoming a smoking crater was mine. It was a military strike, sacrificing some to save the world.”

“That doesn’t sound like you.” His lips thinned.

“General Patton Buffy,” she said, looking to the ceiling, hearing Scraps barking. “I had to adopt that to convince the Potentials and myself about what we were doing. I did a lot of speech making. Turns out I was a real arrogant bitch about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that no matter how much we hate it, if those people hadn’t died, this would be the newest hell dimension.”

Angel’s eyes closed. “Connor’s supposed to be in school.”

“It’s the middle of the summer, Angel. He might go back but I think he’s bonded to Giles so he might be going to college with the tag ‘Watcher in Training’.” Buffy snorted. “The son of a vampire as a Watcher. Anyone for a little Alanis Morrisette?” Off Angel’s confused look, Buffy warbled a few lyrics. “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”

“Oh.”

She shrugged. “Besides I think he’s dating Faith or my sister or both.” She tried not to let it show she didn’t like any of those options. It felt creepy, almost incestuous to think Dawn might be with Angel’s son. Maybe that kind of thing flew in the deep south but they were so far from there it wasn’t funny. She also didn’t like the idea of Connor and Faith since, in spite of it all, she still looked at Faith and saw someone who should be doing twenty to life. She tried not to think like that but she knew Faith had willingly committed murder and no matter what kind of crap she put up with as a kid, there was no excuse for it. She wanted better for Angel’s son but wondered if Angel would see it that way. He had a soft spot for Faith that drove her nuts.

“Faith...Connor likes his women older.” Angel sighed, his body trembling then went very still. Buffy thought for a moment he had passed out.

Before she could do anything, there was ruckus from upstairs. Scraps’ barks were louder and someone was thundering down the stairs. She could hear the obese dog dancing on the floorboards, her barks more excited. Angel was awake again, looking at the ceiling curiously.

“Out! Out!” Connor bellowed. “Dawn! Jess! Someone shut this dog up before I put it in a roaster pan.”

“Like to see you make her fit!” Dawn called back.

“So much for Connor napping.” Buffy sighed then looked at Angel. As much as she wanted to keep him all to herself for a while, his son deserved to know Angel was awake. “Connor! Come here.”

The door opened, spilling sunlight down the steps but nowhere near Angel’s resting place. Connor came down two steps then squatted, looking under the railing. “What? Did he dust?”

“Are you in your underpants?” Buffy stared, not expecting that.

Connor flipped his hair out of his eyes. “Yeah, I was sleeping.”

“In my bed,” Buffy said and heard Angel shifting around at that announcement.

“It’s summer. It’s too damn hot. Besides, I usually sleep naked so be thankful I’m wearing my boxers.”

“Could you stand up or something? Those things are gaping open.” Buffy averted her eyes.

Connor got up and came down the stairs in navy blue boxers. When he hit the shadows at the base of the stairs suns, moons and the whole zodiac of constellations glowed on his boxers. “Faith’s right. You’re such a prude.”

“I am not!” Buffy bit back the impulse to pop him one. “I just don’t want any surprises falling out of those things.”

“I’m pretty sure you’ve seen it before.” Connor strolled over to the bed, gesturing at his father. “Besides, he’s naked and I don’t see you tossing a spazz over it.”

Angel shifted again. “I’m naked?”

Connor jumped back and Buffy got up, wrapping one of the blue plastic, cotton-lined chucks they put under Angel for sanitary purposes around the boy’s waist while he stammered. “He’s awake.”

“I was trying to tell you that before you blinded me with your boxers,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes.

Connor moved past her, pulling off the chuck. He looked down at his father. “I didn’t think you’d wake up. I thought I had done the wrong thing not staking you, putting you out of your misery.”

“Patience was never your strong suit,” Angel said and Buffy saw Connor bristle even though Angel’s tone was gentle. “How long...”

“Weeks.” Connor kept up his relentless stare. “I’m glad I was wrong.”

Angel smiled weakly. “So am I.”

“I’ll go tell Dawn and Faith. We can rearrange our afternoon plans,” Connor said.

“No, go with Dawn,” Buffy said quickly. Connor stared, confused, then his face morphed into a mash or mild irritation and amusement as understanding dawned.

“Oh, you’re giving me a twenty to go to the movies and leave you two alone for a while.” Connor gave her one of his scary smiles.

Buffy blushed. “You don’t mind, do you? I mean, I know you want to talk to your father.”

His smile threatened to split his head in two. “We talked. Any more than that, he’d be biting me and I’d be punching him. I won’t tell the others yet.”

“Thank you. Now get before a wind comes along and yanks those boxers off of you. You don’t have hips to hold them up.” Buffy swatted at him.

“The way you keep talking about it, I think you want them to.” His grin became absolutely ferocious.

“No.” This time she swatted him hard. “And on second thought, stay away from my sister or else.”

“Not worried. Faith and Jess will protect me.” Connor swooped in and kissed her cheek before heading for the stairs. “I’ll come back later, Dad.”

“They will no...wait? Jess, too? You little pervert.” Buffy eyed him evilly.

“While you’re out slaying we’re all down here having orgies. Giles’ idea, reliving his younger days. Angel never seemed to mind, so why not?” Connor’s eyes sparkled at her.

“Why am I so worried that you aren’t joking?” Buffy shot Angel a nervous look and thought the vampire might actually be amused by the exchange. “And didn’t I see Faith in those boxers last week?”

“You aren’t wrong,” Connor assured her, bouncing up the steps. “I still need a nap.”

“Dog’s out,” Buffy heard Faith saying. “What took you so long?”

“Buffy was being a prude about me wearing boxers.”

“Is he always so annoying?” Buffy tapped Angel’s chin.

He made a noise that might have been a laugh or a wheeze of pain. “Always.”

Faith appeared in the doorway and waved the boxers overhead. “Problem solved. No more annoying boxers.”

“Oh dear God. Faith! Give him those back before he crawls into my bed.” Buffy screamed.

Faith laughed and slammed the door shut behind her. Buffy hung her head. “It’s like I’m running a preschool around here, I swear. Your son is now running naked through our house.”

“I’m so proud.” Angel seemed utterly relieved for the break in the painful revelations she had been handing out.

Buffy touched his lips. “Seeing this smile, I think you actually are proud of him.” Suddenly her eyes were swamped with tears and she couldn’t stop them.

“Buffy?”

She wiped the tears that splashed onto his face. “Sorry. It’s just been so hard, Angel, seeing you like this, thinking like Connor just said, not sure if we had done the right thing in trying to nurse you back. We were all terrified, if you lived, you’d be a vegetable. Every day it got harder and harder not to just end it and now you’re here and I’m so happy.” She leaned down and brushed her lips to his. “Do you need to get some sleep now, Angel? I know this is wearing you out, I can see it.”

“I can stay awake for a while.” The expression on his face was heart warming.

“This is about the time we change your dressings. I probably should do it now. If I wait until your asleep, it’ll probably wake you. I’m pretty sure this is going to hurt...a lot.” She wished that she had a way of sparing him that but she didn’t. Spike whined for morphine but the best he ever did was Canadian whiskey.

“I’ve been through terrible pain before, Buffy. I can handle it.”

“Okay.” She folded the sheet down to his waist, tucking it in. She picked up the chuck that Connor had cast aside and draped it over Angel’s belly. She got another one, putting it under his arm.

“I guess being naked made this easier,” he said and she heard his attempt at levity. She appreciated it.

“It does. And we did get a little blood into you so it...uh, eventually had to come out.” Buffy felt the blush on her cheek. Did he feel embarrassed at about having to be cleaned like a baby. “This made clean up easier.”

“I’m sorry I was so much trouble.” He did look embarrassed.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You didn’t ask to get crushed by a building any more than Spike did and trust me, he’s been a far worse patient.” Buffy got the bandage scissors and started cutting.

“Well, to be fair to Spike, I’ve been in a coma.” He managed another quick grin.

“Spike could probably bitch while comatose,” Buffy muttered and Angel laughed then gasped as the pain seized him. “It’s true.”

“I know.” His eyes danced then the light died. “Have you been doing this for weeks?”

“Ever since Connor dug you and Spike out of the rubble. I think he got in on part of the fight but he’s being close lipped about it.” Buffy bit her lip, feeling pain for the boy. “I think he saw too much.”

“That’s his whole life, Buffy, being raised in hell.”

“Yeah, he mentioned that. Me, Faith and Connor have been taking care of you. Willow, Xander and Andrew have been caring for Spike. Giles supervises. I decided Dawn didn’t need to see this mess. Kennedy decided that for herself and Lorne is well, too prissy.” Buffy started to remove the slit dressings. “It’s been very hard on Connor. He was joking with you but after he helps, he gets so quiet it’s spooky. I don’t even want to know what’s going on in his head. Faith and I tend to take his shifts.”

“Are you sure he just didn’t want burdened?” Angel seemed dubious.

Buffy knew father and son had problems. She was seeing now how deep it ran. “I’m sure. He sits down here every day with you, talking.”

Angel’s eyes snapped up at her. “Really?”

“Yes. He might not want to admit it but he loves you.” Buffy took the dressing edges. “Angel, this is going to hurt.”

She stripped the dressing away, bits of flesh clinging to it. Giles said this was good, it was actually cleaning the dead tissues away. Angel gritted his teeth, grunting. She tossed it into the garbage and when she turned back she saw Angel’s eyes the size of ostrich eggs. He was holding up his injured arm, looking at the raw, glistening muscle. She moistened some gauze with saline. “Angel, put your arm down so I can fix it. Try not to look at it.”

He gave her a look of a slasher flick victim who was realizing he was dead and had yet to fall. She put the wet gauze over the wounds and started wrapping it with dry fluffy gauze then moved to his other arm.

“Is this one as bad?” He sounded like a scared little boy.

“Not quite. Still, I wouldn’t look if I were you.”

“Buffy, why are you doing this?” He watched her start to remove the other dressing.

Her head snapped up, shocked by both question and tone of voice. He was surprised she was caring for him. How could that be? “Angel, do you even need to ask?”

“I do. Last I heard you didn’t want anything to do with me or Spike. You had moved on and we were told to move on, too.”

Buffy stopped working, hearing the pain in his voice. She brandished the scissors in his face. “Did Andrew actually say that?”

“Yes.” Angel tried again to sit up but the pain kept him down. “You didn’t tell him to?”

“Angel, since when have I ever needed anyone to be my mouthpiece?” Buffy tore away the dressings a little more forcefully than she needed to. “I didn’t even know you were in Italy, no matter what Andrew might have said. I don’t know if I would have been ready to see either of you but I never told Andrew to say word one to you. He took it on himself to do it. Xander might have put him up to it, I’m not sure. I’ve already shown Andrew just what I thought about him putting words into my mouth.” Buffy didn’t need a mirror to know the smile on her face was more the grin of a predator.

“Then you weren’t seeing the Immortal...I didn’t think you would. He was an ass when he was doing Dru and Darla. I’m sure he hasn’t improved with the centuries,” Angel said as she started redressing the wound.

Buffy paused, meeting his eye. “He what?”

Angel’s eyes widened, realizing yes she had been with the Immortal and no, she hadn’t know his history. “Slept with Darla and Dru.”

“Now I’m more glad than ever I kicked him to the curb. His money only went so far...personality was a real problem.” Buffy sighed. “Darla and Dru, gross, and no words out of you about any virtues those ladies might once have had.”

“You have scissors. I can’t move. I’ll be quiet.” He managed a grin.

Buffy laughed softly then she sobered. Words started pouring out of her. “I missed you so much, Angel. I tried to not miss you. The moment I saw you back in Sunnydale before the fall, it was like you never left. And even though we both pitched major jealous fits, I think what we were trying to say was we had missed each other more than our pride would allow us to admit. I knew when you gave me that amulet that whoever wore it would die, you know?”

“Yes, I do.” Angel licked his lips. “I knew it from the moment Lilah gave it to me.”

“I chose. Spike knows it, even if he won’t say it. He knew it when he volunteered to die. He knew I had made my choice.” Buffy started with the fluffy dry gauze. “But being in Europe helped, Angel. I started to know who I am. I grew to understand that I can be me and I can still find myself with someone standing at my side. What’s the point of growing up when you’re missing a piece?

“It’s hollow.”

“And stand together yet not too near together. For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow,” Buffy recited. “Khalil Gibran On Marriage. Connor’s studied poetry at Stanford for reasons I think were entirely for whispering to girls to get them out of their pants.” Buffy caught Angel’s expression. “I saw that, Angel, that proud, ‘that’s my boy look,’ in your eyes.”

“Imagination,” he assured her as she started to unbandage his chest wound. “Awful, awful boy, using poetry to lure women into his clutches.”

“You know, that would be more convincing if you didn’t have a wide grin on your face. Men.” Buffy humphed. “You’re all incorrigible. Now that I think about it, you used to have poetry books on your shelf.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Why do you think Spike ever started writing poetry?”

Buffy made a mock-disgusted noise, shaking her head. “Giles probably did it, too, and Xander’s kicking himself for not thinking of it.”

“But I understand what you’re saying, Buffy,” Angel said then hissed as she lifted off the dressing. “You were afraid of dying in my shadow. Now, you have roots of your own.”

“And I realized the oak needs her cypress. I’ve dreamt about this day for the past few weeks, Angel. I dreamt about seeing you again even before I knew you were injured. I had all the perfect things to say and I’m not sure I’ve said any of them. She shot him a sheepish look. The thing is I’m glad you’re here, awake and you’re going to be all right. I’m glad that I get to tell you again that I still love you. Anya died without Xander ever getting to tell her that again. All of your friends are dead now, too. I thought you’d go to dust before you got to hear me say it. I love you.” As Angel started to open his mouth to say something she pressed her fingers to his lips. “I didn’t dare to say it before but I never stopped loving you and no matter what I felt for other men along the way, part of me always loved you. I even sewed your ring into the waistband of my pants for that final battle because if I only took one material thing from Sunnydale, I wanted it to be that.”

Buffy kissed his forehead, seeing him crying. Her tears hit his flesh. She felt his bandaged hands moving so they rested on her hips. She wiped her face. “I swore I wouldn’t do this.”

“I won’t tell if you don’t.” He managed a smile.

“A promise.”

“Buffy, I told you then I would be waiting for you. I meant that. I love you, too, through it all, through the little detours, I knew it would be you there at the end of the trip.”

She caressed the uninjured parts of his face. “We have a lot of trip left, Angel. Granted it’s going to be in a Suvie with all the crazies we’re related to by blood and love, but it’ll be fun.”

His expression was one of pure joy. “We can always put Spike and Connor in the trunk with Andrew and Xander...or on the roof rack.”

Buffy laughed and couldn’t stop. Her face had to be red when she finally got control. Her sides hurt. “Oh, that felt so good. I can’t remember the last time I did that.” It was a lie. It was with Giles after she came back from the dead but she didn’t want to interject that into the conversation. “I need to take care of your face, Angel. It might be easier if we didn’t talk while I did it.”

Angel fell silent and Buffy tended to his face. It was hard to do when she was trying not to look at the damage. How long before she could look at him and see him as something other than that anatomy mannequin from high school biology?

“So, are you cookies yet?” he asked as she finished up. A hint of a smirk played on his lips.

Buffy winced. “I was hoping you’d forget that or the brain damage might carry it away.”

“Brain damage?”

“Your head looked like on over-rotted jack-o’-lantern. We weren’t sure how much brains you’d have left. Connor and Spike were betting none since you started with so little.” She grinned.

Angel’s lips skinned back. “Any chance you can wheel me over there so I can kick Spike before he’s able to walk?”

“Be good.” She kissed his cheek. “I should let you sleep now.”

“Sit for awhile, until I fall asleep.” He smiled at her.

“All right.” She rested a hand on his knee; that part of him was at least uninjured. And for the record, I’m cookies but you’re in no shape for eating.”

“Lucky me.” He sighed. “You really have the claddagh?”

“Upstairs,” Buffy replied as the door to the basement opened.

Connor came down wearing Buffy’s blue lacy robe. “Sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt, but I needed something.” He went over and peered in the dryer. “Damn, I thought I left pants in here.”

“I took them over to the other house.” Buffy drummed her fingers on Angel’s leg. “Connor, why are you wearing my robe?”

Connor came over to the futon. “Well, after Faith got my boxers, she and Dawn decided to take the rest of my clothes, too, because it was funny. Then Dawn and Jess left with them. Dawn called on her cell to cancel today since I looked too tired to go to the art museum. Last seen, my pants were billowing from the car window as she and Jess headed for Tower City on a shopping trip.”

Buffy tried not to picture that. She might laugh and she wanted to look irritated with him. “That doesn’t explain why you had to put on my robe.”

“Did you want me to come down here naked and check the dryer?” Connor asked.

Buffy shuddered. “No.”

“Speaking of that, you might want to close your robe,” Angel said. Connor tugged the robe tighter with a sour look.

“Oh god, I’m blind.” Buffy covered her face.

“Yeah, yeah.” Connor glanced at his father. “You need more blood or something?”

“Actually, yes,” Angel said. “And I’m deeply disturbed that you fit in a ladies’ robe with room to spare.”

Giving him the finger, while grinning broadly, Connor went back upstairs.

“What took so long this time?” Faith’s voice bellowed down the stairs.

“Now Buffy’s bitching about me wearing her robe.”

Faith reappeared a moment later, sending the robe over the railing. “Problem solved.”

Buffy patted Angel’s leg. “Well, he’s naked again.”

“And alone with Faith,” Angel said. “I’m never going to see that blood.”

“I’ll go get some.” Buffy started for the steps but Connor, naked as the day he was born, opened the basement door and tossed her some blood bags. “God, could you be skinnier?”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Look who’s talking.”

Buffy crossed her arms. “Put on some clothes,”

“You quit looking at me,” he shot back.

“How did you get to be such a perv?” Buffy took the blood to the microwave.

“Genetics,” Connor said, shutting the door.

“It is not genetic,” Angel muttered.

“I’ve been reading the Watchers’ manuals on you and Darla. Well, Connor was and he was in share mode. His mom was a prostitute and you were no prince yourself back then, Angel.” She looked coyly over her shoulder. “I’m betting genetics.”

He made another of those pain-filled laughs. Buffy brought over one of the blood bags and sat with him. She held it while he drank.

“But I’m willing to look past that,” she said.

“Good...but it did provide for a lot of good training.” His lips closed over the iv bag’s tubing.

“Pervert. See, genes.” She grinned. “I expect you to show me when you’re all better because from what I’ve been hearing you’ve learned ways around the curse.”

“It’s tricky but possible. As to the other, that’s a promise.”

She didn’t tell him she loved him again. He knew. She fed him and sat with him long after he fell back to sleep. They had a lot of work cut out for them but for the first time in a very long time, Buffy felt hope.


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