"So did Marina get released okay?"
"Yes, Willow, all Slayers up and ready to rumble." Buffy sounded tired, but then she had been that way for over a month. "Dawn and I are going to stick around, take in the parade at Huntington Beach. It's the centennial this year and they're pulling out all the stops, or so Dawn keeps saying."
Willow could hear Dawn in the background easily, "Is it SO wrong to want a day, just one day, without angst and Slayer business? Come on Buffy, we haven't been home since ... well .. since home was above ground."
"She's not wrong, Buffy. You've earned it after the annual Apocalypse and the ..." Her voice trailed off. Once upon a time she and Buffy had been the closest of friends, telling each other everything. Things were better but that time of near sisterhood was gone, buried under years of pain and power struggles and loss. Even with the distance between them Willow knew that Buffy was struggling to accept that her second chance had come and gone all in a dark alley in LA.
"So ... Angel?"
"What about him?" Buffy's voice could freeze the espresso she was sipping.
"How's all the 'real boy' stuff working for him?" Willow was starting to regret bringing up the former Vampire judging by Buffy's response. Still Angel had once been Buffy's one true love, surely she was delighted now that TPTB had rewarded him with humanity. Maybe he could console Buffy, regain what they had been cheated out of all those years ago.
"Haven't a clue." Buffy in fact had been refusing to take calls from him ever since the shocking discovery that he had done something mystical about shoes. He's been all smiles as he had tried to explain how there was a prophecy that said a souled vampire would be rewarded with being washed clean of his crimes and given another chance as a human. He had seemed to think that reward included her too, all tied up in a pretty bow.
"Will, I need to go now. I have a ticking time bomb of teenage energy here to contain. Just tell Giles all the girls are now healed and we only lost five after all. Marina may need a couple of more weeks but it doesn't look like her first Apocalypse has made her want to run away." She felt a bit bad that she hadn't fully reconnected with Willow but there were just so many memories and so many hurts still raw and bleeding.
It didn't help that some of her friends had expected her to jump for joy at Angel surviving, not to mention being all pulse having. They still didn't really get how much Spike had meant to her. Her fault for denying and hiding she supposed. Still it should have been obvious. Then again it hadn't been obvious to him and he was always searching for crumbs. Angel didn't get it either but then he hadn't been there to watch it grow, watch HER grow.
"But, Buffy! Now we can be together. There are all these other Slayers so you can ease off a bit. I can finally be with you like we both wanted. That white picket fence and fat grandbabies can finally happen!"
"So this shoe thing, it's because you picked the right side in an Apocalypse?"
"Of course I did!" He puffed with pride, "Was there any doubt? I'm the PTB's champion .. or was, I guess ... what other side would I pick?"
"Did that prophecy say anything about you STARTING the Apocalypse in the first place?" He had frowned and his eyes had shifted looking for a way to put a pretty face on his grand plan that nearly destroyed the world and had destroyed all his closest friends and allies. "Did it say anything about you pulling everyone else into it?"
"Buffy, don't be that way. Everyone was there because they chose to be." He nearly pouted and tried giving her those sad eyes that had always melted her in the past.
"I'm sure they did. Of course you didn't give them much choice did you? What? They turn you down and walk off even though you had already started the ball rolling and it was going to happen with or without them? Sounds to me like they couldn't very well say no at that point, could they?"
"I didn't make anyone do anything they didn't want to, Buffy." His voice had an edge to it. He knew she was talking about Spike. "He didn't want you to know. I didn't force him to stay here, Buff, that was all Spike's idea. He finally did the right thing and stopped stalking you, gave you a chance to really live not be sucked into the dark with him out of ... I don't know, sense of ... I really don't get what you thought you owed that idiot."
"That idiot never left me before and I gave him plenty of reason. Forgive me if I have to think there was some influence in his decision to stay away," she turned cold eyes on him. "He was always there even when I didn't want him to be."
"I wouldn't have stopped him from coming to you if he'd really wanted to," Angel sounded petulant.
Buffy thought back to the Hellmouth, how Spike had burned, and all for her. How he had looked at her with the saddest eyes and replied, "No, you don't but thank you for saying it." It was her fault. She had never been wordy girl and Spike had finally been conditioned to listen to her words and not read into her actions. Her actions that last year had been screaming her love for him, at least ever since the FE had taken him. Well, okay that kiss he had witnessed between her and Angel hadn't exactly said 'Buffy loves Spike' but the rest had! Still Spike believing what he saw not what she said had led to the badness that had been the trigger for his soul getting. No, he only heard words after the soul and when they were said it was too late.
Angel had been talking while she was mentally kicking herself for the past but she hadn't heard a word. "....then I figure we could maybe find a place up the coast. Santa Barbara is pretty. Connor doesn't live far. You'll like him."
"Angel, there is no future for us." She held up a hand to his protestations. "My cookies were cooked. I just didn't realize it until they burned."
She had walked away then and had been avoiding his calls ever since. She wondered idly if she'd eventually have to take out a restraining order before he got the message.
"So, parade first then grab a bite and head to the beach to get a good spot for the fireworks?" Dawn had already decked herself out in red, white and blue enough to warrant a salute. "This is the first time they'll be at the beach in a long time and they are expecting a massive crowd."
Buffy sighed, no point in fighting the Fourth of July fever that had overtaken Dawn. "Okay. Let me take a quick shower and change. And don't expect me to dress like I should be run up a flagpole either."
Dawn let out a squeal and threw herself into the club chair by the window. Council money provided only the best for their head Slayer when traveling. Far cry from the days when she and Buffy weren't sure about dinner unless Buffy caged some leftovers from the Doublemeat.
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