SUMMARY: First part of the Some Years Later series: four short pieces about Buffy's exes. Written in May, 2002 while I was watching the end of Season Five, knowing a single spoiler from "Smashed".
Angel stands in the shade of the garage, a step from the open door. In one hand he holds a bucket of soapy water and in the other a squeegee. Out on the drive is his car, his convertible, baking in the California sun. He wants to move forward, but his motor memory is screaming Sun!Flee!Sun! and complaining that the bucket feels too heavy and that his nose is blocked with cotton wool. His hearing has dulled, his sight has dimmed, and all he can smell are tins of old paint and lemonfresh windowcleaner. And for a moment he feels slightly dizzy, because none of his memories of humanity have anything to do with greenlawn suburbia and lemonfresh scent.
Then Dawn pops her head around the door---"Watcha doing?''---and he gestures sheepishly with his full hands. "Nice day for it,'' she says. "Want some help?''
But she's not really there to help, he realises, once he's managed to actually walk out into the sunlight and start washing. She's there to talk, bouncing up and down, her mouth a verbal waterfall. He finds it hard to concentrate on what she's saying, she talks so fast, even faster than Buffy, her speech peppered with idioms and references he doesn't get. He's scraped the bugs from the windshield, and started on the caked demon blood, before Dawn finally says something he can follow.
"So-so-so-so-soooo, if I have to stay in Sunnydale for college I should at least be able to go away for summer, dontcha think? I mean, if I get good grades, which I'm gonna, cause I'm really concentrating this year, even though I'm like doing double-duty helping you out with demons and washing dishes and stuff.'' He doesn't disagree so she leans in further. "So can you talk to Buffy? She still doesn't think I'm a real grown-up and she thinks I'll get in trouble. I mean, Mom would have let me! I know how to drive and I can look after myself. So can't I, Angel? Will you ask her?''
He gazes at her a little blankly.
She looks downcast. "You never listen.''
He straightens up. "I'm listening, Dawn. I just think that it's up to Buffy.''
He turns to get a better angle for the driver's side window and his foot catches the edge of the pail. Water slops out onto Dawn's shoe.
"Bloody hell,'' she mutters, in that way that Angel finds so jarring, as she gives him a Look. "They're just my best sneakers.'' And she flounces back inside.
Angel finishes cleaning the car. His face feels hot in the sun and his neck is prickling with sweat. A hat, he has to remember to get a hat. He's not sure what kind. Not a baseball cap, anyway. Or maybe he could just take up washing the car in the dim safety of the garage.
Buffy showers after she comes home from patrol and says she wants a quiet night in. Tomorrow, Saturday, they'll go to the Bronze to hang out with the gang. But tonight she'll sit curled up in his lap, flicking from channel to channel, as he tries to read.
It's not that he doesn't understand the point of television and it's not that he doesn't sometimes like it. He'll watch documentaries now and then and the travel shows, often startled by how much somewhere has changed. But most of the shows seemed made for idiots, too easy to follow, too unchallenging. Buffy can often watch four shows at once, switching between them, without missing anything. And even the current affairs shows seem to exist in some world very different from the one he knows, some hallucinated consensus that has nothing to do with what he has seen, of Los Angeles, of New York, of anywhere. He doesn't understand how one is supposed to process this mass of perfectly superficial information or even why one would want to make sense of it all.
Buffy slides an arm around his neck and leans up to kiss him. "Enterprise reruns or Brotherhood of the Wolf?'' she asks and he can only shrug helplessly. She dangles an arm down to the floor to retrieve a TV Guide. "Werewolves, martial arts, sex and black magic---sounds a bit too much like work. But, hey, set in period France! That's a plus.'' She rolls her shoulders as if they are stiff, so he puts down his book, and presses his mortal fingers into her tired muscle. "Mmmm,'' she says, wriggling a bit, "I could get used to this.''
He still doesn't believe he deserves her, that he deserves this, now, so soon. He had centuries of bloodshed to wash from his hands, a hundred thousand memories of the taking of life, of the scent of burning flesh and the feel of eye-whites under his fingers. But perhaps all those years in hell had counted for something, and the time in LA was just to reintroduce him, to remind him of what being mortal felt like. More likely, he doesn't deserve this at all, despite all the prophecies and Big Shining Omens that pointed him this way, that finally persuaded him to leave his new family and come back to her town ("You've done your part,'' Wesley had told him. Cordelia: "Go on, shoo!''). It was more likely that Buffy deserved him, that she had finally been rewarded for all those years of sacrifice and dedication. Buffy deserved a happy ending, so Angel would get one too.
And he loves her, completely and absolutely. He had once thought that the years apart would change that, but no---as soon as he saw her (standing outside her house, waiting for him, elated and astonished at the sight of him in daylight)---he felt as he had always felt about her. And everything that had happened, that might have separated them (Darla, death) was unspoken but understood.
Except that there is something that he doesn't want to admit to himself, much less Buffy, some deeply unpleasant part of him that he can't quite get rid of. Because she has changed, mostly in ways he admires. She's less sprightly but more assured, and she's comfortable and capable in command now. And sometimes a weariness creeps over her, when all she wants to do is rest her head on his shoulder, as she had at her mother's grave. None of this he minds, it just means that she's getting wiser without losing her sense of self. He loves her for it.
And she's still just as affectionate and spontaneous, reaching out for him in bed with hesitant hands as he covers her with kisses. He still feels so large next to her, he's almost apologetic about it (and he's so used to apologising for his existence). But she's as warm and sweet as he remembers from that disastrous first time.
Except that sometimes, when they're making love, if he, well, keeps her up there too high and too long, something will steal over her. Her movements become more fluid, her hands lose their hesitancy and her eyes glow mischievous. And then she takes him as hard as she can, until it hurts (he's only mortal now) and she doesn't seem to notice. She's beautiful, moving in the joy of her own body, with the grace of someone who is utterly confident of perfect coordination and strength. But Angel loathes it.
He loathes it because old-fashioned Liam still thinks that true love is chaste, because Angelus has already had his blonde whore. And because it reminds Angel of Spike, the same careless precision of movement and utter lack of inhibition. Which Angel desperately, desperately does not want to think of when he's in bed with Buffy.
It's as if Spike is still somewhere in the house, slouching from room to room and dropping cigarette ash into the house-plants. He's in Dawn's speech and Buffy's body and there are still two bags of mini-marshmallows in the pantry, well past their use-by date, because Joyce once bought them and no-one else will eat them. Spike would have known how to pick between Enterprise and the movie, he probably even knew what they were, the characters' names, which actor had been married to whoever in some other show. He'd always been like that, had instinctively grasped what few humans and even fewer vampires do---how to change with the times, how to keep up with them, how to avoid becoming the old fossil that Angel sometimes feels himself to be. (Angel has a century-old memory of the four of them going to the theatre for someone's private box, and while three took their time and pleasure with their kills, Spike had drained his quickly and then settled down to actually watch the play.)
And Angel wonders if this isn't actually Spike's revenge, his comeback for Angelus stealing Dru, if Spike hasn't finally won the set of mind-games he's fought with Angelus from the beginning. Somehow Spike has tainted even this Powers-ordained happy-ever-after that Angel lives in now.
Even Dawn's argument with her sister is about Spike---he hasn't written for months and Dawn wants to look for him. She worries that he's dead.
"Dawn,'' Angel had once told her evenly, "Spike is surprisingly hard to kill.''
And Buffy had laughed. "Tell me about it,'' she'd said.