Angel lounged on the sofa as Willow showed Buffy around the roomy, loft apartment. It was located in a refurbished factory building. With the money as she made working for Angel, Willow could have afforded a posh little apartment in a more upscale neighborhood, but she preferred the urban blight. Rather than a nice, but tiny, apartment, here she could afford a sprawling open loft with plenty of room for magickal experiments. The walls were a bare, red brick and the floors were scarred hardwood. The apartment was divided into two sections, the first was the open kitchen/living room/workspace area with its twenty foot ceilings and windows that ran almost the entire expanse. There was a wall behind the kitchen area that separated the two bedrooms and the bathroom from the communal areas. It was a pretty nice place, considering its location.
The space was large and despite being well acquainted with sprawling homes, Buffy was impressed. Angel knew Buffy was initially skeptical of Willow due to the mere fact that she was his acquaintance. However, despite their mutual wariness, the two young women seemed to be making fast friends.
Angel knew that he and Willow were not likely associates. It would be difficult to find two people more different. They weren't friends. They weren't even friendly most of the time. But both of them were good at what they did, and they respected the same in the other.
As the two women wandered back into the living room area, he stood and faced them expectantly. They looked at each other and then back to him. "I think it will work," Willow said with a smile.
Angel let the barest hint of a grin play on his lips. "I'll get your bags," he said to Buffy.
She nodded and watched him leave, her attention transfixed on the door. There had to be six different locks on it. This was not going to be like living in her father's pool house. Turning, she looked at Willow and found her new roommate staring at her oddly.
"What was that?" Willow asked cautiously.
Buffy looked around nervously. "What?"
"What Roarke said to you," Willow replied. "That wasn't English. In fact it didn't even sound like a real language."
Buffy grinned sheepishly as she realized what had happened. "He said he was going to get my bags," she told Willow.
"He said that?" Willow parroted skeptically.
"He said that in what?" Willow pressed.
Buffy shrugged. Great way to start off her relationship with her new roommate, by convincing her that she was a freak. "It's called ShadowTongue," Buffy replied awkwardly. "It's ... it's not really a language. It has no form." Buffy knew first hand how odd the language sounded to others. Once, her father had recorded her talking to Angel and later played it back. It was unintelligible. Her "words" were soft vowel sounds and little mewls. Angel's were something between a low growl and a purr. Together, they were a sound-byte from Wild Kingdom. It wasn't exactly the first impression Buffy wanted to make.
"ShadowTongue?" Willow said thoughtfully. "I thought that was just a myth."
Shrugging again, Buffy said, "Yeah, well, it's not. It took my father almost two years to figure out what it was. I mean, I can't speak it. Neither can Angel."
Buffy sighed. She was tired, she really just wanted to go to bed for a week. She also didn't like the little reminders of how intertwined her life was with Angel's. Or of how not impersonal their relationship was. Her light conversation with Willow led her to believe that the Wicca's relationship with Angel was very much about business. Sadly, the same could not be said for hers. She didn't want Willow to get the wrong idea about things. "Roarke," she explained. "Angel is his ... family name."
Willow seemed to take it all in stride. She said, "So, you and ... Angel. Both of you speak ShadowTongue?"
Buffy nodded. "We can talk to each other with it, but only each other. It isn't a real language. If I'm looking at him, talking to him, I just speak. Unless I'm really concentrating on speaking English, it comes out ShadowTongue. According to my father, it's 'one of the most basic forms of language that has ever existed'. He says it's primal; communication without structure." She omitted the fact that all of Giles' research into the matter had been geared towards negating the phenomenon.
Willow looked at her with barely veiled curiosity. "I've read a few vague references to it," she said, "but I'll admit I never dreamed that it really existed."
Buffy shifted her weight on the balls of her feet. It made her feel strange when she had to explain things like this, despite the fact that Willow seemed to have a scholarly interest in the matter. Buffy had spent the last three years ignoring Angel and everything he entailed. If tonight were a true indication, that would no longer be an option.
Angel opened the door and Willow let the subject drop, tactfully retreating to her workspace in the corner of the large common area. After depositing the bags on the floor, Angel mutely reached into his wallet and carefully counted bills. After double-checking and obviously making a mental note, he folded the bills and handed them to Buffy. Cautiously, she took the money and started to put it in her pocket. "Count it," he said. She gave him a quizzical look and he explained, "Just to make sure we both agree on how much you will be repaying."
She frowned, but conceded that he had a point. Unfolding the bills, she counted them aloud. When she was done she cocked an eyebrow at him and he nodded. At least his bluntness about paying interest removed some of the awkwardness of being forced to borrow money. And it was a lot of money. Part of her was tempted to give some back, but since she had no reserves, she couldn't afford to do that. "Okay," she said, "now all I need to do is find a job."
"You've already got one," he replied blandly.
Her eyes narrowed as she met his gaze. "Where?" she asked.
"Caritas," he said, handing her a business card. "It's a club downtown. I own it. Go see Lorne, the manager, tomorrow and tell him I sent you. That's his card."
"A club?" Buffy asked warily.
"Yes," he said dryly. "Don't worry, it's not a strip club and unless you have some other skills I don't know about, it should work out fine."
Buffy didn't miss the double entendre as she glared at him. "Sounds great," she said dryly.
Angel smiled wickedly and left.
Willow handed the set of sheets to her new roommate. Buffy smiled sheepishly and set them on the bed in Willow's spare room. "Thanks again," she said. "I really mean that. I feel so lame barging in on you like this."
"It's no big," Willow assured her. She sighed and leaned back against the doorjamb, biting down on her bottom lip. "Did Roarke tell you anything about my situation?" she asked cautiously.
"Not much," Buffy admitted. "He just said that you needed a roommate."
Willow nodded. "I had a roommate, Tara," she explained cautiously. "I mean, we both lived here, but this really wasn't her room. We shared."
"Shared?" Buffy asked dumbly. Why would you share when there were two perfectly good beds? Her eyes widened slightly as she realized what Willow was saying. "Oh."
Willow laughed self-deprecatingly. "Yeah," she said, "we didn't want our parents to know. They would have freaked. Of course, things that seemed important then seem trivial now."
"Did you two have a falling out?" Buffy asked tentatively. She was truly concerned, but more than that, she didn't want to be stepping into the middle of a volatile situation.
"No," she said. "Tara and I were very much in love. She was ... " Willow trailed off and then coughed to clear her throat. "Tara was killed six months ago."
"Oh my god, Willow, I'm so sorry," Buffy said.
Willow shrugged, tears glistening in her eyes. "It took me a long time, but I'm finally starting to get over it. I mean, it still feels like I'm dying every day, but now I can actually get out of bed and go to class most days."
"Look," Buffy said, "if you need more time alone -"
"No," Willow said firmly. "I didn't mean to scare you off. I don't want to be the freaky basket case roommate. I just thought you should be aware of the whole situation. I'm actually really glad that you're here. It gets pretty lonely some days."
Buffy looked at Willow seriously. "I can't tell you how grateful I am," she said.
Willow smiled. "Me too."
Buffy stopped on the corner and looked around. Lorne told her the club was hard to find and he hadn't lied. She didn't see a sign of it. She was quickly tiring of this venture. It took Buffy almost an hour to walk to the appointed intersection from her apartment. She looked warily at the dirty alley and reconsidered her options. As far as job training went, she didn't have any. She couldn't type. She couldn't use a computer. Again, she had let her father take care of her rather than earning her own keep.
Her conversation with Lorne had been short, but he gave her an important heads-up. Caritas catered to all species. Buffy wasn't in the least bit shocked to learn that Angel had his fingers in the demon world as much as he did in the human - and he was an equally high roller in both.
Trudging down the alley, Buffy finally saw the entrance and carefully descended the grimy stairs. The interior of the club was dark and smelled like cigarettes. Apparently demon bars weren't forced to comply with the non-smoking regulations. Go figure. There was a skinny Hispanic guy working behind the bar, and he pointed her towards an office at the back of the club.
Buffy stopped in the doorway and stared at the brightly dressed demon. She had the notion that his yellow suit should clash with his lime green skin tone, but for some odd reason it didn't. Maybe the red horns tied it all together.
"Well, hello, Sugar Muffin," he crooned. "What can Lorne do for you, or to you, this fine afternoon?"
"Uh ... " Buffy stared at him blankly for several seconds. "Ang - er, uh, Liam Roarke sent me. I'm Buffy. I talked to you on the phone earlier." You know, when you completely failed to mention that you aren't human! she thought.
"Oh," he said, putting down the pen he was using to make notes in a ledger. "So you're the Slayer. No offense, Honey Bear, but I was expecting you to be ... well ... scarier. More with the lip hair and Eastern Block accent. But you're cute as a bug."
Buffy arched an eyebrow. "Can't say I'm sorry to disappoint," she said wryly.
Lorne smiled broadly, his expression oddly wistful. "Funny," he mused, "I figured that Tall Dark and Broody's perceptions were skewed. I mean, they almost always are. But your impression was right on. I should have recognized you sooner."
"Tall Dark and Broody?" Buffy asked warily.
Lorne shook his head and laughed somewhat nervously. A slip like that could cost him a lot more than his job. Just because he could live through a beheading didn't mean he liked them. "Never you mind about that, Sugar Plum," he said. "You've got loads of other stuff to worry your pretty little head about." He looked around the room and snatched a piece of paper off a bookcase. "Like this," he said, handing it to her.
Buffy looked at the piece of paper. "What is this?"
"A schedule," he said. "You need to look it over and fill in your section."
Buffy read down the roster. "What am I supposed to do?" she asked.
Lorne frowned at her. "Put your name down and fill in your hours."
"I thought I was going to be doing something ... easy," she said, confused.
Lorne blinked at her mutely. "The Big Guy told me I was supposed to have you fill out hours. He was quite adamant about you being one of the bouncers," Lorne replied.
"Bouncer?" Buffy squeaked. She quickly cleared her throat. "I ... uh, don't know about this," she said.
Lorne looked at her blankly for a moment, his lips pursed together. "He was very clear," he said. "He told me that you are the new bouncer and that I am supposed to help you any way I can."
"Bouncer," Buffy said again, trying the word on for size.
Buffy sat in her car - no scratch that, the company car - outside of her new apartment building. The wheels weren't flashy like her graduation present from her father. The 1993 Chevy Cavalier had definitely seen better days, but it was functional and it meant no more riding the bus. After she got the situation squared with Lorne, he gave her keys to the club and the car, a new cell phone - which was good because the current one was under her father's name - and a pager.
She was apparently going to be a bouncer not only for Caritas but also for Temple Flesh, Angel's very posh human-only club, which would be opening next week. Most of the bouncers would soon work at both venues depending on what was needed.
What the hell had she gotten herself into? Bouncer. She kept saying the word over and over and it still made her think of gigantic, sweaty men. How the hell was she supposed to be a bouncer? If she wasn't so grateful for the apartment, job and added amenities, Buffy would be tempted to go bounce Angel upside his head. The nerve of that man! No doubt he found it infinitely amusing to make her a heavy.
Buffy snorted as she got out of the car and headed for her apartment. Yes, when it came down to it, she could handle the job. As Angel loved to point out, she was a Slayer. As much as she always downplayed her strength, she was physically able to do what would be required. But it didn't mean she had to like it. Gods, that man! Why couldn't he have given her an office job? Or bartending? She saw Coyote Ugly. With her looks and attitude, she could clean up as a bartender. Hell, she would have even settled for waitressing. But no, leave it to Angel to make her a frickin' bouncer.
"Is there a reason she's not doing that?"
Gunn turned around, his expression sheepish as he eyed his employer. He was patting down a beefy looking Tholeyna demon. The demon was at least seven feet tall and weighed about four hundred pounds. It had a mouth full of inch long teeth. Several feet away, Buffy sat on a barstool, studying her bubble gum pink fingernails. "This is a joke, right?" Gunn asked.
"Tonight is Buffy's night on the door," Angel said in complete seriousness.
Gunn looked over the petite blonde, his face plastered with incredulity. Buffy's expression was completely innocent as she sat there in her knee length floral print skirt and light pink tanktop. Her flimsy heeled sandals and wealth of matching pink bracelets completed the outfit perfectly. Gunn glared at his employer. He didn't know what Roarke was playing at, but it wasn't funny. There was no way that little girl could do his job. "Man, you can't honestly expect her to - "
"I expect her to do her job," Angel snapped. "Just like I expect you to do yours. Or I'll expect you both to find new employment. You're supposed to be on patrol tonight, not here sniffing after your new co-workers." Gunn swallowed back his comment as Angel's attention turned to Buffy. "Come with me," he said ominously. He didn't wait to see if she followed as he headed for his office.
Angel's office was above Caritas and there were only two ways to access it. The easiest was the elevator in Lorne's office. The Anagogic demon was doing a real good job of looking busy as Angel strode through the office. "Wimp," Buffy muttered as she followed at a much less hurried clip.
"Crumbcake," Lorne whispered, never taking his eyes off the ledger, "sometimes people don't have to sing for me to get the picture. Might I just say, 'busted'."
"Back atcha, Sweetheart," Lorne said, looking up long enough to give her an evil wink.
Buffy glared, but reluctantly followed Angel. They rode up to the second floor in complete silence and Angel exited the elevator first. She closed the iron gate and leaned back against it, staring around his spacious office which looked more like an apartment. She crossed her arms over her chest as she studied the pieces of art hanging on his walls. Anything to avoid looking at him.
"Let's just get one thing straight right now," he said. Buffy looked up and met his gaze. "I am not your father," Angel bit out.
Buffy snorted impudently. "Wow, there's a shocker," she said.
Angel snarled at her before snatching a sword off the wall and tossing it to her hilt first. Buffy caught it awkwardly, staring at it stupidly as she watched Angel grab its mate. As he advanced, she realized that he meant to attack her. Her blood felt like ice water. Her grasp on the sword faltered and she nearly dropped it.
Angel, still looking very angry, swung at her. He wasn't playing. Buffy froze for a split second before gracelessly throwing herself out of the way. Angel embedded the sword in the wall where she had been standing. He pulled on it fiercely, trying to work it free. Buffy scrambled to her feet frantically and retreated around the couch and into the middle of the room, her heart pounding in her ears.
Angel freed his sword and advanced on Buffy. She held her sword in front of her, trying to keep the couch between them. She was trembling, afraid. But it was also a hell of a rush. He faked to his left and then jumped over the couch, lunging for her. She raised her sword, blocking his blow and deflecting his momentum to the side. His momentum sent him tumbling over the desk and onto the floor, rolling into a bookcase.
"What the hell?"
Buffy and Angel both turned to see Lorne's head peeking through the elevator gate. Angel growled and heaved a massive bookend at the club manager. Lorne slammed the gate shut just before it impacted with his head, quickly retreating down to the first floor.
Angel got to his feet and advanced on Buffy. Their swords met in a loud metallic clang that vibrated painfully through Buffy's entire hand. He swung hard. His blows were strong enough to cause her to teeter on her high heels, but she managed to parry. As the fight went on, Buffy became more and more sure of herself. Rather than simply defending, she took the occasional offensive move. For innumerable minutes, they fought around his office, destroying everything.
As Angel swung back to get momentum for yet another crushing blow, Buffy made her move. Rather than attacking him with the blade, she swung with the sword's hilt, clipping him brutally on the temple.
The hit dazed him and he stared at her blankly for several seconds before dropping to his knees in front of her. He blinked slowly. Buffy stood there, watching him as she panted harshly in the now quiet room. Angel shook his head and lifted his hand to his temple. He drew his fingers back and looked at the blood stained digits.
"Match to the lady," he said with a wry grin.
Buffy continued to eye him warily as he rose to his feet. He hung his own sword on the wall and held out a hand for hers. With a reluctant huff, she gave it to him - as much as she would have enjoyed it, she refrained from doing so point first. "What the hell was that?" she demanded, her voice tight with anger.
"A lesson," Angel said blandly.
"A lesson?" Buffy parroted incredulously. "A lesson in what? That you're a dick?"
Frowning, Angel studied her seriously. "A lesson in your power," he said.
"My power? You tried to kill me to teach me about my power?" she gaped.
Angel smiled slowly. "I wouldn't have killed you," he said matter-of-factly. "But I would have given you a very serious scar to remember me by."
Buffy had no trouble believing him. "You're a psycho," she spat.
Angel shrugged, completely unconcerned by her assertions. "I needed to illustrate that despite your and your father's protestations, that you are not some helpless little girl. You are the Slayer."
Buffy's lips pursed together tightly. "I'm not the Slayer," she said.
"You are," he replied calmly. "If you were anything less, right now you would be the one bleeding, not me. You escaped unharmed because being a Slayer is not something that you can control. It is who you are. You can pretend to be incompetent, but your body knows the truth. You are a warrior."
Buffy watched him mutely, having no idea how to respond.
"Go home," Angel said dismissively as the cut at his temple began to throb painfully. "You're on the door tomorrow and you will do your job without assistance or you can go crawling back to your father."
[End Chapter 4]
Feedback to indie
Back to Chapter Three
On to Chapter Five