Buffy waited for Angel in the library at the New Council headquarters. Giles and Angel were catching up on "white hat" business and demon demographics. Buffy never had enjoyed being research girl or the dusty books part of being one of the good guys. Just give her a stake or an axe or two and point her at the enemy. Spike had been that way too, she remembered with a wistful smile.
They really had been perfectly matched for the dance. God, she missed that, missed him. ‘No!’ she reminded herself firmly, ‘I have got to move on. It is what Spike would have wanted, part of what he died to give me. He wanted me to have a happy life. He pushed me to leave him there so I could have it all,’ she told herself for the thousandth time. She didn't want to cheapen the cost of his gift by wallowing in memories. No, it was time to move forward, serve up those cookies.
She had meant something important when she had used that silly analogy to try to explain her heart to Angel that night. She did have a lot of growing up to do, decisions to make, hard truths to face. She had spent lots of time working on her issues since Spike died for her and saved the world.
It had begun there in the Hellmouth when she came to realize that she really DID love Spike. Their hands were flaming while joined and she knew it was the end. She would never be able to look deep into those expressive blue eyes filled with love for her ever again. She felt the sharp knife of grief even though he wasn't gone yet. She felt the depths of loss that drove away all the stupid barriers she had placed around her heart. She loved. She finally admitted to him and to herself that she had loved for a very long time. Soul or no soul, she had loved this man. She had months afterward to mourn the time lost by her denial. Months to kick herself for the endless mixed signals that had served to leave doubt in his mind when she finally spoke her heart’s truth to him. She faced a lifetime of bitter regret where Spike was concerned, but she owed it to him to at least move ahead with the gift of life he had given to her at such a dear cost.
Buffy had come to a few definite decisions while "baking". She did not want to go through her life alone, unloved. She would NEVER have a "normal" life. "Normal" men just did not work for her; she would either scare them off or break them. She had to get past the trauma of what had happened to her with Angel and stop comparing every other man to that time of her life....her first love. Sure, Angel had lost his soul because of her, but Spike had gotten HIS because of her too. She had to kill Angel, send him to hell, and Spike had chosen to die for her, but that didn't mean it always had to end that way. Time to drop that fear once and for all.
Angel was Angel now, not Angelus, and both of them were wiser now. Of course, with Angel, a new meaning was placed on the phrase 'safe sex', but ‘hey, that's part of being a grown-up,’ thought Buffy. She smiled at the memory of the shocked look on Willow’s face when she had approached her a few days ago with her grand plan.
Willow had worried that Buffy was reacting, rather than acting from the heart, and tried to caution her old friend. She tried to convince Buffy that she had nothing to prove to anyone and had plenty of choices in life without going backward. Buffy had finally just laid out her plan and what she needed from Willow, then dropped the discussion. Willow would worry but could always be counted on to do the right thing.
This time it WOULD be the faerie tale with the happily ever after that Buffy craved still.
"So," Giles asked with a deep sigh, "have you told Buffy? I know we decided it wasn't the right thing to tell her when Spike returned, but he has been back over a year now. He doesn't appear to be going away any time soon....more’s the pity. I should expect she will be livid with both of us when it does come out. Frankly I'm still shocked that he didn't make straight for her when he recoporealized last year. What was that drivel he gave about it being anti-climatic after his 'gloriously heroic death' in the Hellmouth? Good God, this is SPIKE here...there has to be another motive than that rather lame one," Giles sputtered.
Giles nearly spat out the name 'Spike', Angel noticed. ‘Wow, I wonder how he says MY name to others?’ he wondered to himself. Angel was well aware of Giles' dislike for both the vampires in his Slayer’s life.
Angel and Giles had been in full agreement about keeping the knowledge of Spike’s resurrection from Buffy. After much discussion, they congratulated themselves on having made the only "correct" decision regarding the issue. No, as long as there remained ANY question about just how and why Spike had been returned and then recoporealized, it would be foolhardy and dangerous for Buffy to be allowed down that road again! Not knowing with certainty what "power" was behind this doubtfully miraculous regathering of ash was reason enough for silence.
Just how much harm could befall both Buffy AND the New Council if Spike proved to be a tool, willing or otherwise, against them was unthinkable. After all, the FE had planted a successful trigger in Spike after his re-ensoulment. One couldn't be too careful, could one?
Angel had explained it over and over to Spike in those months after he had regained the use of his body. The lovesick vampire surely didn't wish to endanger the very woman he had died for, after all. Angel wasn't about to trust that Spike would continue to let his insecurities keep him away from Buffy forever. No, better give Spike lots of reasons to stay dead to Buffy. What she didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
’Besides, she said herself that she didn't LOVE Spike...yeah, he was "in her heart," whatever that meant, but so were Giles, and Xander, for that matter.’ Angel rationalized to himself once more. Everything Giles had told him about how Spike clouded Buffy's decision making just reinforced Angel’s decision to keep the information to himself.
He still loved her too much to leave her vulnerable to danger because she had a soft spot for his grandchilde. Someone had to make the hard decisions, after all. It was Angel's sad lot in life to have to carry that burden so often.
Spike couldn't have been that much 'in love' if he talked himself out of going to her anyway, and hadn't he grabbed a nooner with Harm right after getting his body back? Angel counted off the rationalizations and decided he was in the clear.. No, no harm done, no foul on his part. ‘Spike is a big boy who always goes after what he really wants. If he didn't go after Buffy, he didn't really want her. Spike was merely obsessed, as Giles contended,’ Angel decided, ‘and got over it, that was all.’
Giles was likewise reassuring himself that their shared secret was the proper course of action. Spike had always been divisive in the ranks, a regular thorn in HIS side. Spike had played them all like a tune when they had faced Adam and that had only been the start. Buffy had turned to the vampire time and again over those last few years before the Hellmouth was closed for good.
Giles remembered well how ashamed Buffy had been when her relationship with that demon had come out. He thought of the wedge driven between himself and his Slayer by this.....creature. Yet she had trusted that soulless killer with her mother, her sister, even her own life! ‘True, Spike HAD come through for her more often than not, but it was only to earn a place in her bed,’ Giles thought with disgust. Spike was an opportunist who must be kept from getting that close to Buffy ever again. Let Angel deal with the blighter in Los Angeles. They would destroy each other, if everyone got lucky.
Giles supposed, in retrospect, that it was a good thing the plot with Robin Wood to kill Spike had failed. But with Spike burning up at that final battle...well, Giles was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Buffy had grieved but was now on the mend. No need to open old wounds or set up for another possible disaster. Why, she and the other children had finally gotten back to the trust and friendship that had served them all so well before Spike came along and bollocksed it up. ‘No, she is not going to hear a word from me about that rotter!’ Giles declared to himself firmly.
"Yes, well, thank you again....and, uh, thanks also to Wesley for the valuable information. Thanks to that, the Council has even more resources than before the First Evil destroyed and laid to waste to the vast libraries. True, the data is now on computer discs rather than in lovely old volumes, but I do not look gift horses in the mouth…" Giles trailed off, remembering the reason for his use of that phrase in his mind just moments ago.
"I still wonder what decided you to bring it here physically rather than posting it or merely doing some electronic transfer," Giles continued, leaving the subject on the table with an implied question.
"Well, I've got another thing or two on the menu for this trip, Giles," Angel hinted. "For one, I'd like to run an idea by you about Wesley," he began. The next hour was spent discussing the pros and cons of Angel's idea for the Council to seek out Wesley with an offer. The discussion went well and Giles and Angel parted company with a better understanding of how their individual institutions could serve each other and the greater purpose in the war against evil.
Angel found Buffy asleep in the large, overstuffed library chair, snoring softly. He chuckled as he reached out a finger to wipe away the small amount of drool on her oh-so-sweet lips. She was still as adorable as ever, such a sweet, precious little girl.
Buffy woke with a start at the feel of a cool finger on her lips and felt an unacknowledged sense of loss as she identified Angel as the owner of the finger. Her dream was forgotten in the dim light of the library and the company of her first love.
A nagging feeling of regret and loss lingered that Buffy couldn't quite explain to herself, however. Buffy took Angel to his hotel, said goodnight and left him to get over the jet lag.
February 8, 2005, London
’Time for Operation Return to Life,’ thought Buffy as she placed a call to a waiting, nervous Willow on her cell....oops…mobile phone. She never mastered speaking American English, much less English English, she thought with a sigh. ‘Lifts and elevators, trucks and lorries, cellphones and mobiles...geesh, can't we even agree in the same language what to call stuff?’ she huffed internally.
Willow assured her she would be waiting for the prearranged code to act and wished Buffy all the happies she could want. "Phase one, check!" Buffy smiled.
Buffy had told Angel she would pick him up at seven for dinner at a little East Indian place near her apar…um...flat. Angel, remembering the drive from Heathrow, suggested meeting her there. "Phase 2, check!", Buffy smiled again, "Everything according to plan."
Willow was the only Scooby in on Buffy's "plan". Dawn might be suspicious due to Buffy's quick agreement to HER plans for the evening. Dawn never liked Angel much though, so she said nothing to Buffy about his visit at all.
All Dawn remembered about "the great love affair of the century" was lots of tears and pain for her sister--that and Willow's dead fish. Dawn knew the memories were planted by those monks, but they felt real. She even remembered naming some of those very fish Angelus had murdered!
It was probably a good thing that Xander was off on Council business because that way Buffy couldn't be accused of keeping secrets from him again. If Dawn didn't like Angel, Xander positively despised him, even after all these years. While Xan had finally come to terms with Buffy loving Spike, he would never be open to a return of the "Bangel years".
Spike being dead had gone a long way towards softening Xander's attitude toward him. That and a bit of shared loss after the final battle had led to tears and beers between the two friends in the months after the defeat of the FE. Now Buffy never brought up Spike and Xander rarely mentioned Anya. They both knew the wounds were still there and easily opened, so they avoided the conversation.
One thing Buffy knew for certain, Xander would be furious at her plan and she would rather not deal right now. Restarting your love life was never something needing a democratic vote.
That was another lesson Buffy learned too late, but least she had finally learned. ‘I'm so sorry, Spike,’ she thought, not for the first time.
Angel looked yummy in a deep gray suit with a peach shirt. ‘Peaches!’ Buffy nearly laughed aloud, thinking of the snarky comment Spike would surely have made if he could see Angel now. "Nice look on you. Kinda Hollywood," she complimented him with a smile.
"Thanks, Buffy. You look beautiful as ever," he replied. Damn, she was thinner, yeah, but he could still see the same girl he first saw sitting outside that high school in L.A. sucking on a lollipop, not prepared for her awesome fate. The still beautiful girl he'd fallen in love with all those years ago. The bubbly cheerleader exterior hiding the cool Slayer underneath.
She still made up those words that just screamed "adolescent" to the listener’s ears. When Angel was with her the years rolled away. She was still his fifteen-year-old Amazon princess, a fierce warrior on the field of battle yet his sweet kitten by the hearth. His princess to protect and cherish. He'd happily play her knight in armor anytime she needed.
He remembered how he had loved gently guiding her, mentoring her, molding her, helping her become all she could be. Angel had never felt so fulfilled as that golden time in his long life. His golden princess Buffy and here she was across the candlelit table!
Buffy saw the gleam of approval and maybe lust in Angel's eyes when he saw her arrival. She had been as careful in her wardrobe as she had been with all other aspects of her plan. She had chosen a frilly pastel dress that spoke of youth, beauty and innocence. All ice - cream - and - rainbows Buffy, just the way Angel liked her. Her hair fell in soft curls around her shoulders and her makeup was kept to a minimal look...artfully applied. She was a walking California dream.
She had first tried on a silky, black slip dress that oozed of sensuality and sophistication. She realized, after surveying the end result, that it would appeal more to Spike than Angel and quickly changed. Seeing the look in Angel’s eye now, she was glad she did.
Dinner was good and spicy, the conversation easy and light. The two old lovers began to reconnect and catch up. Angel spoke of the changes he had gone through: his brief time spent as a father and his hard decision to do what was best for his only child.
He talked of the friends he had made and the incredible changes in Cordy he had watched. He beamed proudly about her growth from the shallow girl Buffy remembered to the tireless fighter of evil, looking out for the helpless and needy.
He explained the fine line he walked daily since he'd taken over W&H. Buffy could see the tension on his face as he related the compromises they had been forced into making. Like Buffy, Angel had finally had to face the dangerous idea of "grey areas" in his work.
Buffy didn't tell Angel about her trouble staking vampires. Oh, she still did her duty but couldn't stop the memory of how one certain vampire had died for the love of her after seeking out and winning back his soul...also for her.
She remembered the pre-soul sacrifices Spike had made and the depth of his love for her and for Dawn. She sometimes wondered if other vampires were capable of the things Spike had accomplished and felt a twinge of regret when dusting them.
Angel skirted over his Darla years. He was pretty sure that Buffy wouldn't understand why he had allowed Darla and Dru to dine on fresh lawyer blood with him acting as Maitre d’. He was also careful to gloss over some other choices and actions he'd embraced in their years apart.
Most of all, he very carefully avoided any stories that might drag the name Spike into the conversation. Angel was outwardly enjoying the evening but internally felt like a point man going through a mine field.
He knew that Buffy needed him to live up to the image she had of him and he wasn't going to let her down. Life on a pedestal was hard work and stressful.
Buffy told story after story of her exploits on the European continent meeting and mentoring new slayers. Buffy's unique brand of English had confounded more than one interpreter and caused more than one funny incident.
For a girl who had never before been out of California, Buffy had logged a lot of mileage over the last year and 8 months. She had only settled back in London just before Christmas and was happily nesting with Dawn. It was good to be back in a country that almost spoke the same language she did.
Angel politely asked about Dawn and her plans for University. He inquired about all the Scoobies, names and faces from so long ago to him. Buffy filled him in with each inquiry.
He promised to drop by and see Willow before going back to L.A. in a few days. Buffy thought he didn't look too upset to find that Xander was with Andrew in Spain and not expected back in time to meet up with Angel on this trip.
Over dessert, Buffy suggested that Angel walk her home and come in to see her new flat. The only awkward moment Bufy had noticed all evening was when she had ordered a glass of wine with her meal.
Angel had tried to suggest that she would probably prefer one of the yogurt shakes they had on the menu instead. After Buffy reminded him she wasn't an underage child anymore, he had looked a bit sheepish and muttered an apology.
Somehow she couldn't finish the wine and she refused to admit it was because of the concerned look he shot her way each time she would raise her glass to drink.
Buffy's mind flashed to a cozy crypt and an amused vampire as they had shared his bottle and their current troubles while sitting on a stone tomb. Spike had smiled so beautifully at the faces she had made when the alcohol hit her taste buds. She couldn't remember any other time he had laughed so freely and easily....he'd looked so young. No disapproval there, nope!
Spike knew her inside and out, good and bad. She could relax fully and just be herself in his company. It was nice not to be on Sunday behavior all the time. Just be a girl, just be herself, just be Buffy--loved for who she was.
Buffy sighed deeply and asked Angel to repeat what he had just said as she had not heard him, having been lost in her own thoughts.
"I just was asking if Dawn would be upset seeing me, since she was kinda mad at me for leaving for L.A. when we were last in a room together," he repeated. He hadn’t really seen the girl at all, but the monks’ memories were clearly there of her telling him off when Angel had decided to leave after Buffy’s high school graduation.
"Naw, Dawnie is cool, all grown up almost. She's staying with a friend tonight doing a bit of study with a schoolmate. A GIRL friend I should say, 'cause I don't want you thinkin' I’m a bad influence," Buffy was quick to reassure him. "Dawn got the brains in the Summers genes but still likes to study with friends."
Buffy was glad her babbling had disguised the momentary blink-out she had just experienced. She really had to leave Spike at home and not bring him on her dates, she thought. Well, maybe not at home either, at least not tonight, she amended to herself.
Buffy excused herself to go to the ladies room. As soon as she was sure she had the small room to herself, she pulled out her trusty phone and rang up a waiting Willow. "Hey, Will," she began brightly, "Operation Happy Ending is full steam ahead. We just had dessert and are headed to my place. Just checkin' to make sure you're awake and by the phone waitin' for 'code red'," she said in serious tones.
"Sure thing, Buff. Heh…heh…are you sure this is what you want?", Willow asked nervously.
Will, I've given it lots of thought these last couple of months, you know that," Buffy reminded her. "I've only loved two men in my life and one is dead and gone forever. I am tired of being alone, Will," Buffy spoke softly into the phone. "Angel and I had something real and special once. I aim to reclaim what I lost years ago. A slayer has an early expiration date and I don't want to go out like some sappy soap heroine."
"K, Buff, I understand, I DO..I mean...Kennedy and I couldn't make it 'cause I was still so grievy over Tara, but I might have found comfort with Oz if he'd dropped back into my life. I really DO understand and I'll be awake. Have fun and be careful, Buffy," Willow added with a serious tone.
"This time," thought Buffy, "I know what to expect and am totally prepared. I've got the world’s most powerful witch on call and a fancy new wording for a resouling all revved up and ready when Angel hits the happy…yup, all set", Buffy reassured herself. All ready!
She and Angel would finally get their morning after. Angelus would have enough time for one insult, maybe two, and Willow would have that soul shoved back in. This time there'd be no damn fine print. They'd finally have a future possible. Nothing like a bit of planning ahead.