Rating: I guess I kinda stopped doing the rating thing because I'm too predictably general to need it.
Summary: The AtS5 episode "You're Welcome" was originally planned to include Buffy instead of Cordelia. This is a take on a scene that might have been if it had gone that way.
Dedication: Written for kean_herself in payment for this icon she made me after I started getting ferocious about the Laws of B/A. (RAWR!) It was supposed to be a drabble, but then Kean was so cool in that thread that I thought her idea merited a bigger effort.
And now I think I really am done with the one-shots for a while. Next time I write, it's going to be for one of my longer projects.
The inadequate little word hung in the air between them, Buffy responding with no more than a momentary quirk to her lips, and Angel searched for a way to make it somehow larger. He was humbled before her, but so had he always been: the challenge was in expressing it without debasing himself. “I couldn’t have done it without you,” he added.
Buffy took a few aimless steps around the office, taking in its intimidating décor without betraying any feelings she might have about it. “I know,” she said, and turned back around to level her gaze at him, apparently losing all interest in the room. “That’s what worries me. Since when is there anything you can’t do without me? When was the last time I bailed you out of one of your own battles?”
He knew it was rhetorical, but he couldn’t stop himself from calculating the answer, and he clenched his jaw to keep from speaking it. “I don’t mean it that way,” he said instead. “Fighting him wasn’t the problem. I just didn’t see it until you came.”
“Yeah, well, I have to say this new intelligence doesn’t convince me to revise my answer.” Buffy shook her head wryly, then returned to wandering around the office. When she got to the desk she ran a hand across it, picked up and set down a silver pen, and hopped up to perch on the edge, her feet dangling in front of her. “I figured that if you’d been flying solo long enough to attract a nemesis, you’d have a healthier view of your own competence.”
Angel raised an eyebrow. “That was a joke, right?”
She hesitated for the briefest moment, and then laughed along with him. “It must have been. What was I thinking.”
The tension was breaking down, bit by bit, and Angel allowed himself to pace across the room and sit down on the arm of the couch, a little closer to Buffy. “Lindsey isn’t really a nemesis,” he said, feeling it was somehow important to explain it to her. “He’s just a guy with a chip on his shoulder.”
Angel looked down at his hands, mentally tracing his history with Lindsey back to the first time he had entered the Wolfram & Hart headquarters. It all would have been so easy if the place wasn’t full of humans. Vampires made simple, clean targets. Lindsey was frightening in comparison, at least in Angel’s eyes. He sighed. “Definitely started that way.”
“Well I’d say he’s a prime human example, under all those punk-voodoo tattoos,” she remarked. “You think he’s seeing anyone?”
The floor seemed to tilt beneath Angel as he snapped his head up, gaping. Buffy was smiling coyly at him and swinging her feet like a child sitting in a tree. He glared. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”
“If I had that kind of power, it would make slaying a lot easier.” Her mischievous smile wouldn’t leave her face, and finally he relented and returned it, which appeared to give her some satisfaction. She slid off the desk and leaned against it instead. “Actually, I was trying to ease us into the part of the reunion where you ask leading questions about my love life while pretending to be all nonchalant.”
He sighed, considered, and then shrugged and said, “How’s your love life?”
“None of your business,” she replied promptly.
“I figured as mu—-“
Rather than ask outright, Angel went silent and waited for her to give some shape to her interruption. Whether or not it was any of his business, she was the one who had brought it up. There must have been something she wanted him to know.
Buffy fidgeted under his gaze, and when she spoke, there was a slight stammer coloring her voice. “There’s nothing. To find out about, I mean. About my love life. I don’t have the time, and there’s nobody who...I have a whole lot of X-chromosome company lately. Not so much the other kind.”
He wanted to tell her he was immeasurably pleased to hear that. He wanted to tell her he was sorry she was lonely. He wanted to find out if she knew how tired she looked, and maybe throw in an offhand comment about how tricky it was to know for sure when your batch of cookies was done. “I could give Lindsey your number,” he said.
“Thanks, but I think I started off on the wrong foot with him.” She smiled wanly. “I should go.”
“You should,” he agreed—-too quickly, if her offended expression was any indication. He softened his tone and tried to explain. “By now everyone in this building knows who you are. They call me the boss, but whatever influence I have doesn’t mean a thing if they see a threat to their power base. You’re not safe here.”
For a few seconds she closed her eyes, her head bowed as if in prayer, and then opened them and said, “Neither are you.”
“I’m not safe anywhere. And again with the neither are you.”
“I know. Hey,” he pointed out, trying once more for levity, “it’s just like old times.”
She was having none of it. “Angel, I can’t stand the thought of you working here at Evil & Evil. Heebie jeebies doesn’t even begin to describe it. If it were up to me you would—-“
He cut in there, just loudly enough to be heard. “But it’s not up to you.”
“No.” Her fingers drummed against the desk with annoyance. “That’s actually kind of where I was going with this if you had the attention span to let me finish. Y’know, my girls let me make uninterrupted speeches, like, every day.”
Suppressing a grin, he mimed zipping his lips.
“...And you’re not one of my girls. I know. I’m not your leader and I don’t fit into this new insanity of yours. If you decide that it’s the best thing right now, my choices are pretty much accept it or don’t. But I don’t know how I’m supposed to accept it if you’re not sure yourself.”
Angel nodded slowly, picturing Connor’s easy smile and caring family. “I accept it.”
“Then I guess I should go.” Buffy took a few steps forward, and Angel matched her movements until they were standing inches from each other. There was a beat in which he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to kiss her or just keep looking down into her misty green eyes, although either option was fine with him.
Finally she broke the eye contact, not to go in for the kiss, but to lay her head against his chest and wrap her arms around him. She sighed heavily when his own hands found their places, but all it took was the touch of her hair against his cheek and he was back in the past with her. She used to come to him for comfort. He used to believe he could give it to her.
Buffy asked him where to find the elevator and insisted on leaving the building without an escort. Angel took the stairs and watched her back until she was gone.