Buffy set the bag from the butcher in the fridge. She emptied a shopping bag full of votive candles on the counter and put them in holders; she positioned them around the house. He loved that soft light. She double-checked the new wooden blinds. All securely shut, no rude surprises in the morning.
She stood in front of the mirror, turning. New suede pants, beautiful cut; they hugged her haunches like an affectionate glove but she could still move in them. The boots were the same color suede, with a tall, elegant heel; the blouse had a plunging neckline. It was constructed of two layers of lace cut to leave a tiny strip of bare belly that only showed when she moved. The leather jacket stayed open. The entire thing was very expensive and very sexy. Buffy flushed a little, pleased, as she looked back at the mirror.
"Welcome home, honey," she murmured.
The fog was cottony-thick. The foghorns sounded distantly. Buffy crept carefully down the pier; everything looked clean after the first pass, but it was hard to tell. Something was keeping her on edge as the freighter pulled slowly in to dock, and it was more than the fact that she'd have to wait. There had to be a little vengeance party sent from Sheela, that was how these things worked. She just couldn't find them.
Layers of mist separated in front of her eyes as she crouched. They were unloading. She watched the crates being moved off the ship, the crew milling around. Finally activity died down, there was silence for a few minutes. Buffy walked up and down the dock restlessly. The thick white crept liquidly around her feet, billowed across the bow of the ship. Then she saw him emerging from the fog, striding elegantly onto the pier, shifting a duffel bag on his shoulder. He had something in his coat; it must be the sword. He'd be expecting a fight, of course. He looked up.
Buffy gasped. She'd forgotten. She'd forgotten how tall he was, how beautifully he moved, his almost feline grace....she loved his long legs and his broad shoulders, the way his coat swung around him when he walked, his incredible poise...he always looked ready to spring into anything with a fluid strength. She'd forgotten how dark his eyes were. She'd forgotten about the enticing combination of strength and boyishness in his face, that angelic face. He literally took her breath away.
He saw her. His eyes lit up with such adoring warmth that Buffy felt disoriented; her chest was heaving. She bit her trembling lower lip. He walked slowly toward her, his smile growing.
"I...I need to say something, right now," said Buffy.
He stood still. He gave an almost imperceptible nod, swallowing hard and meeting her gaze bravely, ready to take whatever was coming. God, I'm sick of that look, she thought, the way he always has to TAKE whatever's coming, the way he hauls that ancient shame around, I am so over it, I want him to sleep with a smile and maybe even laugh sometimes and get annoyed at me when I want to talk and he wants to watch the game (soccer? she didn't know, but some guy thing) and maybe we could fight about money sometimes and then make up. That's all she wanted. They could never have the whole cookie, but they deserved a chip or two. They deserved that much.
He was waiting, worried, and she had to put a stop to that. Her eyes misted over, she blinked at him through the blur.
"I want to say-"
An arrow zipped between them and clanged against the hull of the ship.
"GodDAMN it!" Buffy thrust her crossbow in the direction of the assault and began shooting rapidly, reloading and marching down the dock as she did. The occasional echoing howl sounded from the fog when she hit heart. Arrows sailed silently out of the thick mist but she walked through the fire unflinchingly, standing tall, her lip curled in fury, deliberately making heavy footfall. Arrows flew past her from behind; Angel was covering her, naturally.
"Come out!" she shouted, "Come on out! I'll take you all at once! COME ON OUT YOU MOTHER-"
"Buffy-" She whirled and shot a glance at him.
"Remember how Ireland was your fight? Well, this is mine. This is my night. THIS-" she stood still and hissed the words through her teeth, "is MY night! You want to ruin this, you come face to face with me!"
"We'll eat that face off," snarled an enormous vampire, suddenly standing over her. He lifted her by her blouse. "Sheela says hello," Buffy twisted, wincing as her blouse ripped at a seam; she drove a stake home quickly, then she was surrounded by at least ten that she could see. They were all on her at once, but she was completely unfazed by the number of them. She hadn't felt so strong in a very long time. She whirled without looking, vaguely hearing the moans and explosions of dust. Her body seemed possessed by something, by a kind of music, she was in an effortless flow. She turned, staked, fired, kicked, punched, staked once, twice, three times. Too many were going down for her to be doing it alone, but Angel had kept his distance, as she had asked him to. He was just using his crossbow. Then she realized they had fallen away from her. There were a handful left; hungry, vicious, stupid little minions who circled her doubtfully.
Buffy looked at them and grinned.
"Tonight," she said breathlessly, "Tonight I start my life over. MY life, not anybody else's idea of my life. MINE," she thrust the crossbow behind her back, shooting two vampires in rapid succession; they sifted onto the pier, "What I want. The only man I have ever loved is home from war, and I've got a stack of love letters under my bed," she stalked after a vampire who was trying to scramble away and caught him by the back of the neck, "And I haven't TOUCHED him in almost five years, and I want it all, and I'm going to HAVE it all, and you can't have this one," she threw him down and shot him quickly through the heart. She spied another vamp hiding behind a crate and seized him by the arm, holding him almost aloft, "Evil has had everything so far, you've had a piece of everything I wanted," she dropped the crossbow and continued down the pier, dragging him with her, "You took a piece of my prom night, and my graduation and my seventeenth birthday and my eighteenth birthday and my first TIME, and lots of other things, but you can't have this," the vampire snarled at her as she shook him like a doll. She pressed her face right into his, "You can't have tonight. You-" She stopped suddenly and turned back to Angel, jerking her chin at the broadsword he was holding, "Hey, can I borrow that?" He tossed it to her resignedly. She spun the hilt in her palm and then swept the blade gracefully with her wrist, "YOU," She tossed the vampire down and looked at him, "Are going to die quick, only because I have BETTER things to DO," She pivoted in an elegant arc and sliced his head off. Another vampire leaped out of the fog and she immediately struck him down. He writhed on the pier, spraying blood, and she cut off his head with a lightening sweep. She froze, holding the sword and looking around her. She felt an emptiness, a silence. That was all of them.
Buffy looked down at her outfit, which was swathed in blood and dust, and sobbed. Angel approached her slowly. He fell on his knees and shrugged off his coat, wrapping it around her. She let the sword fall; it clattered beside them.
"You were saying?" he said. Buffy looked down into his eyes and he went blurry again; she wiped her eyes quickly, because he was so beautiful, so beautiful that she couldn't possibly have remembered it, and his features were soft with hope because he knew what she was going to say. His arms went around her and she lost her breath; she gasped, she trembled all over, she felt high. The fog was settling away from them, the air was beginning to clear. Buffy sobbed again. His touch made her speechless.
"Do you still want to say it?"
"Yes," blurted Buffy, "I want to say yes. I want to say yes," she dissolved in tears.
His eyes were welling, too. He bit his lip and looked down, then quickly up at her again, and he gave her his sly smile. "I need to hear the whole thing," he admitted, hoarsely.
"Yes, I'm going to marry you,"
The dock swung away. Her feet dangled in the air. He held her waist in one arm, one hand cupping her face; his lips touched hers delicately and Buffy's body undulated joyfully against his. Then his mouth was all over her cheeks and her nose and her eyelids and her ears, her throat, her mouth, mauling her lovingly. She was weeping and kissing him back. The taste of him was as familiar and delicious as water after a run, as essential as a deep breath, she didn't know how she'd gone without it for so long. She couldn't seem to get enough of him. She thought she would loose consciousness. He slowly lowered her to her feet; their mouths were still glued together, devouring each other. He sank back onto his knees and paused; she made an hysterical little sound. He kissed her cheeks, she could tell he was trying to stop. He stroked her face with his fingers as he leaned back on his heels.
"We were on a pier once," he said, "And I was leaving. Now I'm staying," he pulled a velvet box from his pocket and opened it, "So, I hope you won't lose this one,"
"This hand, this hand," Buffy thrust her left hand at him and he slipped the ring over her finger. Buffy took a moment to look at the heart-cut diamond set in the delicate white gold claddagh. He had put it on her with the heart pointing in. It was exquisite.
"OK...I have things," she said.
His eyebrows went up.
"If you ever skip town again without telling me, I'm not kissing you for a year,"
"If you ever want to punish me, that's the way to go," he said quietly, "I promise I won't,"
"If you aren't home before sunrise I'm going to come looking for you. Don't give me anxiety. Not if you an help it,"
"If you break up with me again-"
"Wait," he said, "What makes you think-"
"I'm just saying," said Buffy, "From now on don't make any decisions for me. I'm a grownup now. Advice is one thing, 'for my own good' is another. No more of that,"
"And don't lie to me. If it's a blast from the past, or some 'understanding' you have with someone, give me the whole story and let me work through it. Give me a little credit. Trust me to be able to handle the truth,"
He was gazing at her somberly, "Of course,"
"And I want to meet your family, but I want the wedding here. Too many friends here,"
"Your turn," she sighed a quick, anxious sigh.
He was silent for a time and she realized he was absorbed in smelling her; his mouth was at the level of her nipples and he closed his eyes, moving his head back and forth as though he were thinking of nibbling on them, in fact she knew he was thinking it, and he lowered his head and she felt him press his nose into the lace above the little strip of bare belly, she could feel the cool of his lips almost kissing her there. He moaned out loud. His arms tightened around her.
"I can't give you everything," his voice was muffled.
"You mean Thanksgiving? You can have wine. You mean melanoma? I do virtual tanning. Better for the skin,"
"There'll always be-"
"A demon inside you," she said thoughtfully, her hands wandering through his hair, around the back of his neck, over his cheeks, "Well, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have ever met, so I call it even. Angel?"
He looked up at her, his eyes overflowing.
"Let's go home," she said.