"Are you okay? You've been staring at that door for like thirty minutes."
Faith nodded, still fixated. "I'm fine, Harmony."
The girl made an indecipherable noise, then returned to the sweeping she had been in the middle of.
At the counter, Faith had much better things to think about than her job. Like vampires. He would have to come soon, if he was going to at all. She clutched the cross tight.
"Are you going to help me?" Harmony asked.
"I'm working the counter."
"You sure?" Faith asked.
A black-clad figure had just appeared on the street, moving across the glass window towards the door.
"Whatever," Harmony muttered.
Tall, dark, handsome, and always after sundown. Always. The door opened.
"Good evening," Angel said as he headed towards the counter.
"Yeah," Faith replied, clenching her fist beneath the counter.
A concerned expression crossed his face before he composed himself.
"Blood?" she asked.
"No, not actually," he said. "I just came to say sorry for yesterday."
Behind her, she noticed the sweeping had stopped. Faith had stopped too, loosening the grip around the cross slightly. "Sorry?"
"Well, I left pretty suddenly. Rather rude."
She darted her eyes uncertainly, rubbing her thumb against the metal in her hands. "Well... don't worry about it. I'm a big girl," she muttered.
He chuckled at that. "I'm certain," he said. "I just didn't want you to think-"
"Oh, I don't."
"Think?" he asked.
Well, barely. "Don't worry," she said, getting increasingly worried.
Angel gave her an odd look, and she suspected that another was boring into the back of her head.
"Well, you two seem busy," he said. "I'll get you at a better time and-"
"Catch!" Faith exclaimed and threw the cross in an arc to him.
His wide eyes tried to follow it as he reached into the air. The cross landed right in his palm, but then he seemed to fumble. Was that smoke she saw? The cross clanged noisily against the hard floor and bounced out of sight.
Angel found her eyes, an expression of confusion and mild anger painted on his face.
"Sorry," she yelped.
"I-" he began, but seemed to give up. "It... fell under something, I think."
Faith nodded slowly.
He let a bit of air out of his nose and shook his head. A slight puzzled smile had appeared on his face as he turned towards the door. "I'll see you around," he said, as he headed outside.
"What was that about?" Harmony asked.
"I have to leave," Faith curtly replied.
"Uh, we're closing up together?"
Faith folded her hands in a pleading motion. "I'll owe you one?" she suggested.
Faith made her best attempt at puppy dog eyes. Harmony stared at her.
"Whatever," she finally said.
Faith almost beamed, before she remembered why she was leaving. There had been smoke. She was sure. The jig was oh so very much up, couldn't be more up, really. What was a jig, anyway? Was it like a gig but the old timey version or w- Focus!
She sprinted out of the room and down the hallway towards the back exit. With a shaky hand, she retrieved her phone from her pocket and dialed Buffy.
"Hey, B," she whispered, looking frantically in all directions to find Angel. She spotted him heading around the corner further down and road and began running as quietly as she could manage.
"Aren't you at work right now?" Buffy asked.
"Well, I'm supposed to be," Faith replied. "You know that guy?"
"You were right," Faith said. "Dude's a straight up vamp."
"He's a woman?"
"No, a vampire, dude."
Faith swore she could hear Buffy rubbing her temples in response, even through the phone.
"You know I was joking about that, right?"'
"Well, I'm not," Faith said. She rounded the corner and saw Angel heading away. She crossed the street diagonally and began power walking to catch up.
"Faith, you're being ridiculous. Vampires don't exist."
"Funny that I know one then, isn't it?"
"Oh, by the by, I lost your necklace, seeya around."
Faith hung up.
On the street, just a few meters ahead, she noticed a mess of bottles standing next to an entrance stairway. A thought bubbled in her mind and she grabbed two of them, one in each hand. When she looked back at Angel, she noticed that he had stopped, and looked like he was searching for his keys.
Now was her shot. She rushed across the street until she was standing right behind him. He turned to follow the sound of her footsteps on the asphalt and widened his eyes as he saw her.
"Faith?" he asked, taking a step towards her.
"Don't!" she exclaimed, holding out the two bottles in front of her in the shape of a cross.
He furrowed his brow. "Have you been following me?"
"I know what you are," she said.
He waved his hand in a circle motion. "And what am I, then?"
"You're-" she tried.
"You're a vampire!" she spat, holding the bottles further out now.
He stared at her in silence for a moment. Then he burst into laughter. "I'm a what?"
Faith felt knocked off balance. Regaining her composure, she said, "You heard me."
"I did, yeah," he said. "But I wanna hear it again."
"You're a vampire," she said, noticeably less certain in her tone this time.
"I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you there," he said, barely stifling his smile. "Is this because of the blood?"
"Well… partly," she admitted.
"Right." He nodded. "I'm afraid I'm not. A vampire, that is."
She frowned, slowly lowering the bottles, before with a jolt putting them back. "That's what a vampire would say!"
Angel chuckled. "Come on up, I'll show you something." He unlocked the door to the apartment building and headed inside.
Faith reluctantly followed him up the stairs, getting increasingly sure she was about to be eaten with each step. She clutched the bottle in her right hand tight, envisioning herself smashing it into the side of Angel's head. Would that work against a vampire? It had to, right?
She was slightly startled to see him standing with an open door when she reached the second floor. He had on an amused, inviting smile. Unnerving.
"Thanks," she muttered as she went inside, tightening her grip.
The apartment was disappointingly normal. The furniture looked to be a mixture of thrift shop finds and the cheapest that IKEA had available, and the floor was mostly clean, without even any bloodstained carpets. All in all, the feel was more bachelor pad than evil lair.
"Nice place," she said.
"Why, thank you," he replied.
She sprung around, startled at how close his voice seemed.
Angel held his hands up in surrender. "I'm not trying anything," he said. "You're welcome to have a seat."
She held up a bottle meaningfully as she backed towards the nearest chair. He snorted.
With a few nods, he headed to what looked like the kitchen. It was bigger than hers, though nothing impressive, and had a big red fridge as its centerpiece. He opened it and reached inside, obscured from Faith's view.
When he returned, he was carrying a plate. The height difference between them made it hard for Faith to see the contents. He walked over and put the plate down in front of her. It turned out to contain a small fork and three round slices of an unfamiliar, black-ish, brown-ish, purple-ish substance.
"What am I looking at?" she asked.
"Black pudding," he replied.
She furrowed her brow. "Doesn't look like pudding."
"It's a sausage," he explained with a chuckle. "Made with fat, oats, and-"
"Blood," she said, realization dawning.
"Right. It's a good breakfast food. Or any time, really."
Faith turned her face up to his, quite a feat considering he was both tall and standing. With a skeptical grimace, she studied him.
"Okay, but what about the garlic?"
Angel shrugged. "I'm just not a fan."
"But you always come at night! Almost like you can't walk in sunlight," she said, sounding immensely sure of herself.
Another shrug. "I work late. Get invested in my cases."
She stood up, pointing a finger at him. "But when you visited me-"
"You needed to be invited in! That's a vampire thing... I think."
"Or politeness," he suggested.
Faith was deflated. There really wasn't anything she could stick to him. Unless…
"The cross! You couldn't hold the cross."
"Are you a Christian?" he asked.
"Well, no. But they hurt vampires, I know that."
"Personally, I don't think butterfingers warrant a stake through the heart. But if you insist…" Angel spread out his arms, leaving his chest exposed.
Faith cast a look at the bottles in her hands. "I don't have one of those."
He smiled amusedly. "Good luck going against a vampire, then."
"I'm not though, am I?" she muttered in a disappointed tone.
"Sadly," he said. "Did you want to?"
She shrugged. "Well I dunno. You think you just uncovered a supernatural underworld in the city. It's exciting, right?"
"And I'm not?" he teased.
Faith rolled her eyes. With a shake of the head, she set the bottles aside on the table. No vampire, no secret, no epic showdown. Overall, a bit of a bust.
Angel picked up the plate from the table and offered it to her. "Consolation prize?"
She accepted it. With her right hand, she grabbed the fork and dug into one of the slices of very non-pudding pudding. She put it in her mouth and grimaced as soon as it hit her tongue. Very reluctantly, she swallowed it down.
"You eat this? Willingly?"
"What, you don't like it?" he asked.
He gently took the plate and put it back on the table. "It's a delicacy in Ireland."
"Always knew you couldn't trust those guys;" she said.
"I'm from Ireland," Angel replied.
"Well you're maybe a vampire so don't even start."
"You're still on that, huh?"
Faith learned against the table. "A bit," she admitted. "Faith the Vampire Slayer has a nice ring to it, right? Potential there."
"If I'm not the one being slayed, I'm all for it," he said.
Without communicating a shared intention to, the two headed to what seemed like the living room and sat down on the leather couch that Angel has put in the middle of the room. It was clearly used, and gave way as they sat down on it. There was quiet for a bit between them, save for the odd sounds the couch made as they moved awkwardly around.
Faith felt something in her pocket and retrieved her phone. There was a short message.
"Harmony says she found the necklace."
"Well, that's nice."
"I'm glad it's not lost. It belongs to my friend."
"I figured," Angel said.
Another bit of silence.
"I feel like an idiot," Faith said after a while.
"You're not an idiot."
"I am, though. Vampires? Really?"
"Can't blame you for believing in something fun," he said. "I wouldn't mind being a vampire, to be honest with you."
Faith nodded to herself. "I mean, they are the sexiest monster."
"You think so?" he asked with an audible smile.
She turned towards him and the two locked eyes.
"Pretty uncontroversial opinion. I mean, doesn't everyone agree on that?" she said, quieter now.
"I don't know," he admitted. "Glad you do, though."
Since when were they sitting this close?
"I'm glad you're not too mad at me," she said.
"It's hard to be," he replied softly.
"Could you tell that to my coworkers?"
"I'll make sure to do that." He chuckled, moving his face closer to hers.
"You sure you should be doing that?" she whispered against his lips. "Someone could get hurt."
They closed their eyes, almost in unison.
"Don't worry, I don't bite."