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01 November 2011 @ 11:21 pm
Fic: Out of the Dark (13/13)  
Summary, Notes, and Warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Chapter 13
 
Buffy spent the next two days trying to avoid Angel. With the imminent threat removed, she now had too much time to ponder the revelations of the past few days: the curse (or lack thereof), Nina, those looks she thought she sometimes caught Angel giving her. She had tried so hard to convince herself that she was over him, especially after the news of Nina had reached them in London. But being near him, she couldn't deny that she was still in love with him.
 
But he had a good thing here and it would be the mature thing just to leave him be. The idea of returning to London did not appeal to her, but Wesley had told her the Slayer Cooperative would be willing to issue her a monthly stipend so that she could go pretty much wherever she wanted. She secretly suspected that this stipend was funded, in whole or in part, by Wolfram & Hart, but was willing to take what she could get. Both London and Los Angeles were too full of heartbreaking memories, maybe it was time to start entirely new.
 
Sleep still eluded her. Nightmares plagued her, waking her gasping or crying. Nightmares about Riley and the attack in Cleveland, about the events that had driven her from London. Worst of all were the dreams in which she managed to save Giles or Willow or the others and woke only to have the cold reality come crashing down as the comforting haze of sleep left her.
 
~)O(~
 
Angel spent the those same two days torn between giving Buffy her space and wanting to force a conversation. In the end, he had to allow her to go her own way, the trauma of what she had been through trumped any confusion or desire he might feel. He spent his days trying to catch up with the backlog of work that he had ignored in favor of Buffy's case. His evenings were spent in an icy stalemate with Nina. He had given up the office couch in favor of the guest bed in his suite. They had not discussed their situation.
 
Finally, on the third day, Buffy appeared in his office in the afternoon. He looked up and smiled. She looked so much healthier than when she had first shown up, but still tired and careworn.
 
She asked, "You got a minute?"
 
Angel closed the file on his desk and leaned back in his chair. "I've got as long as you need."
 
She smiled, wishing this was true. She sat in one of the chairs facing his desk. "I just saw the doctors. They cleared me for normal activity." She chuckled, the word normal never really having applied to her.
 
Angel stiffened. He knew what was coming next.
 
"So, I think I'll probably pack my stuff up tonight and get out of here in the morning," she continued without looking at him.
 
Angel nodded slowly. "Where are you going?"
 
She shrugged. "Just," she hesitated. "Not here. Angel, we agreed a long time ago that it wasn't a good idea for us both to be in the same town. Don't want to get in your way." She rushed through hoping to get it out without revealing how much it broke her heart to say.
 
Angel caught the wistfulness in her voice however. "Buffy, I don't think that really pertains anymore. We're both different people now than we were then. I," now it was his turn to hesitate. "I actually was going to suggest that maybe you'd like to stay here for a while. Just until you start to feel more like yourself."
 
Buffy bristled. "What do you mean?"
 
"You obviously aren't sleeping." At her outraged look, he shook his head. "I'm not spying on you, there aren't any hidden cameras, I just know you. You don't look well-rested. And after what you've been through, I'm not surprised."
 
"I'm the Slayer. It comes with the job." Buffy had lost count of how many times she had said that throughout her life.
 
Angel leaned forward, "Buffy, you've been through more than anyone ever should have to go through, and that was before London. Then you didn't even have time to process the deaths of Dawn, Xander, Giles, and Willow before you were on the run." He could see each name he spoke hitting her like a dagger through her heart, but forced himself on. "Then you spent three years being hunted." He shook his head. "You need a safe place to deal with this. To come to peace. And I can offer you that."
 
Buffy was torn. A large part of her wanted to reject his offer out of hand and get the hell out of there. Just sitting this close to him, hearing the kindness and concern in his voice, but knowing he wasn't hers, was painful on an entirely different scale than she had been dealing with for the last three years. However, he was actually making some sense. The nightmares were terrible, she found herself breaking down into tears throughout the day for no discernible reason, and it would be a relief to just concentrate on herself for a while and hand over the other responsibilities to someone else.
 
Angel took Buffy's hesitation as a positive sign, so he continued. "We have some excellent therapists here, people who are aware of the unique circumstances we face. You could talk to them completely openly without any worry about them thinking you were crazy or making it up." Buffy made a face. Therapy was not her first choice.
 
"Or you could just talk to us. You know my background, and everyone else here has a story too. We've all been through things and had to learn to deal with them. We can help you, listen to you, whatever you need." Angel trailed off, thinking that this sounded a lot less compelling when spoken aloud than he had hoped.
 
Buffy nodded. "I'll think about it, Angel."
 
~)O(~
 
Buffy thought about it most of the night. She packed and unpacked her bag, then packed it again. Deep down, she could admit that she really wanted to stay, except that to stay would mean seeing Angel with Nina daily. Packing usually followed that thought. He had left Sunnydale because they weren't able to stay away from each other. Granted, the world was not in danger of ending anymore should something happen between them, but it would still be wrong.
 
The early morning light found her sitting and reading Dawn's diary, smiling through tears as she remembered the people and events recounted. She missed them all so much. If she stayed here, she could maybe begin to develop friendships again and work with a team. Unpack. A team with Nina. Pack. Laughter and acceptance. Unpack. Catty jibes and PDAs. Pack.
 
As the clock approached business hours, Buffy shoved the diary into her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. She took the elevator to Angel's floor and got out to see everyone 'casually' hanging around in the lobby. She smiled as she walked over to them.
 
Angel's face fell when he saw her backpack. He had really hoped that he had gotten through to her. Nina kept her smile plastered across her face even as she noticed Angel's reaction. No point in picking a fight now, the girl was leaving.
 
Wesley too was disappointed, and concerned, that Buffy was choosing to leave. Her attitude seemed to have improved markedly in the past few days, but he worried what would happen if she returned to a life of isolation.
 
Buffy hugged each of them in turn, murmuring goodbyes. Shaking hands with Nina, she wished her the best with her art and then moved to face Angel.
 
She looked into his eyes, those warm brown eyes that she had once thought she would spend a lifetime gazing into, and smiled softly. "Thanks for the offer. I just," she took a deep breath as she was overwhelmed by a wave of sadness at the thought of being away from him again. "I just think it's best if I go."
 
Angel shook his head slightly, but replied, "If you've made up your mind…"
 
Buffy stretched up and wrapped her arms around his neck. He held her close for as long as he thought he could reasonably explain as a goodbye to an old friend. Softly inhaling her scent, he stored the memory away, unsure that he would ever get the chance again.
 
Pulling apart, Buffy mentally shook herself, smiled and waved at everyone and started walking to the elevators, only to hear Harmony's exasperated voice echo across the lobby, "Buffy, I need your security pass!"
 
Sighing, just wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible, Buffy detoured over to Harmony's desk, pulling her pass out of her pocket. Standing in front of the desk, holding the pass, she looked back at everyone standing there. Angel, always warm and welcoming; Gunn looking suave and supportive; Fred, with her earnest nervousness; Connor, young and eager to prove himself; and Wesley (Willow was right) looking quite Marlboro Man-ish. Her eyes lingered on each of them.
 
"Buffy," Harmony interrupted her contemplation, reaching out to grab the pass.
 
"No, Harm," Buffy replied, pulling the pass back.
 
"What, 'no?'" Harmony stamped her foot. "I told you Security is so rigid about things like that! You can't leave with it!"
 
Buffy glanced at Harmony and then looked back to Angel, who was smiling back at her.
 
"I'm staying."
 
~FIN~