Summary: Angel's still figuring out how to be a normal boyfriend.
“Buffy, wake up.”
Buffy didn’t want to wake up. She had been dreaming of battle - not a Slayer dream, but one that needed a conclusion. It was the bitter result of going to bed frustrated and angry and alone, because Angel, for no reason he could adequately explain to her, still wouldn’t move in and occupy the pillow next to her. They’d been through it too many times for Buffy to want to rehash it again last night, so she had instead given him the usual kiss goodnight and allowed the parting to be on good terms, but her subconscious had taken it up after she fell asleep. Imaginary enemies faced her Scythe over and over again as she vented all that she had kept in during the day. Now she had a particularly clear vision of hacking into a huge demon, and she wasn’t about to leave the moment without slaying it first.
“Buffy.” A large hand covered her shoulder. “Come on, wake up.”
“Go ‘way,” she mumbled. “I gotta kill this demon.” She squeezed her eyes shut tighter, but the enemy and the Scythe and the battle were gone. “You broke my dream,” she accused the hand, and then shifted beneath it as she realized who it and the accompanying voice belonged to. “Angel? Why are you here? It’s early. I think it’s early.”
He sounded so genuinely excited that Buffy had to laugh. She had known the old soul for years; now she was finding the little boy still inside the former vampire. Keeping in mind that she still had an axe to grind with him, she answered without making any move to get up. “So you’re here to remind me to dig out my car? Or did you decide that the new dream date is going out in the freezing cold first thing in the morning and making a snowman?”
“Want to?” He didn’t even hesitate. He sounded completely serious. Back in the Sunnydale days, nobody would have even believed that he would turn into this, Buffy least of all.
“It’s like--” she reached for the alarm clock and pulled it up close to her face. “It’s seven thirty! Is that early? I can’t even remember what times are supposed to be. I’m still sleeping. Goodnight.”
She rolled over again and pulled the covers over her head. After a short pause, she heard Angel stand up and walk away from the bed, and she twisted herself upright, suddenly repentant, until she heard him in the kitchen. She settled back down on the pillow. It would take more than that to make him take off in a huff, she knew, but she sometimes worried that she would go too far and hurt his feelings. Like he doesn’t hurt mine. He could have woken up next to me instead of walking through the snow to get here, but no. She tried to remember what she had been fighting in her dreams. Maybe she could drift off again and finish it.
When she woke for the second time, it was to the scent of bacon. He had made eggs and toast, too, and he put a steaming mug of hot chocolate in her hand and promised that the rest of it was waiting for her. “Now will you wake up?”
They ate in the living room, where they could watch the snow coming down outside the window. Buffy was still bundled in her blankets, Angel in a woolly grey sweater. It was beautiful, Buffy had to admit. The weather in the northeast had been difficult to get used to, but the first snow was undeniably magical - the good, wholesome kind of magical. Angel didn’t say much, apparently content to just sit with her and eat, so she didn’t either. By the time she had finished her hot chocolate, she felt better. Maybe she had finished her dream-slaying after all; she couldn’t remember. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s go out.”
The roads hadn’t yet been plowed nor most sidewalks shoveled, but Angel knew where to find the places where the coniferous trees were thickest, keeping most of the snow on their branches and off the ground. There were a few signs of life: rabbit tracks, a cherry-red cardinal, distant voices of playing children. For the most part, though, the world seemed muffled and still, as if she and Angel had stepped into a snowy landscape painting.
“But you’ve probably seen this a hundred times,” she remembered out loud after pointing out yet another particularly lovely part of the scenery. “Haven’t you?”
“But you haven’t.” He smiled and brought her mittened hand up to his lips to kiss it. “And...I haven’t either. Not like this.” He stopped walking. “Here, look.”
The snow was still falling in lazy swirls, and he held out his hand to catch a few flakes on the fingertips of his dark gloves, then carefully positioned them before Buffy’s eyes. “Do you see?”
She didn’t, at first, but then another snowflake fell, and she understood what he was showing her. It wasn’t a speck or a glob or a chip of snow, like the snow appeared to be as it fell. It was a tiny but perfectly intricate hexagonal shape, loops and points shimmering with symmetrical beauty in two dimensions, as if handcrafted by microscopic skilled hands. Then it was gone, melted away by Angel’s body heat, but others were arriving on his clothes and hers, each with its own delicate pattern. “They really look like that,” she said wonderingly. “They look like they do in window decals. I never knew.”
“And they’re all different,” Angel added. “Even if you watch them all day.”
“So that thing they say about snowflakes is actually true?”
He nodded, happy with his success but now looking at her face instead of their hands. “It’s true. So, is this a good date?”
The snowflakes on his sleeve crushed against her cheek as she leaned against him. “It’s always a good date.”
“But there’s still something bothering you about it.”
She sighed, but it was better that they were talking about it, she supposed. “I don’t get why we’re still dating at all. Dating is for people who are trying to figure out who they want to be with. I thought we figured that out a long time ago. Don’t you want to be with me? Don’t you believe I want to be with you?”
“I believe it,” he said in a low voice, no longer the kid at heart but the old soul, who had borne too much to trust in happiness.
“Then why won’t you move in with me? Why am I still stuck trying to ignore my raging hormones whenever you’re around? Why aren’t we engaged or anything?”
Before he replied, he leaned down and kissed her lips, which made her wonder if he was making up in advance for saying something she wasn’t going to like. “I’m old-fashioned,” he began, and she frowned, undecided on whether she liked that. “And I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and most of them didn’t come from being too careful. You always wanted a normal boyfriend. Now you can have one.”
“That’s what I wanted when I was eighteen. Since then I’ve kind of done the normal boyfriend thing to death.”
“But I haven’t.”
She looked up at him, blinked some snow out of her eyelashes, and looked again. He seemed worried, and not about his nose turning red. It was still so odd to see Angel’s nose turning red. “Let’s walk,” she said.
She couldn’t tell if she was following him or if they were both walking in a random direction, but the trees were becoming more of a forest, with a greater hush within them and long shadows crisscrossed along the path. Through them Buffy could see the ground slope upward into a small mountain, snow-capped pines poking up all over it. “I thought we could come back here and cut our Christmas tree when it’s time,” said Angel. “If you want. I checked, it’s legal.”
The thought of it brought a smile to her face. She had already told Dawn that Christmas would be at her place, and she wanted to do it right. “Do you ever think about anything except what I want?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Do you want me to?” They both laughed, and he took her hand. “I’m sorry if I was impatient with you this morning. This is why I wanted to bring you out here. For the Christmas tree.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “I can be a little impatient myself.” She took a deep breath of the cold, pine-scented air. “I never really thought about how you might need some time to get used to being a human boyfriend before we took it to the next level. You should be the one to set the pace, you’ve earned it. Tell me when you’re ready.”
“Buffy, I...I don’t think I’ve been totally honest with you about this.”
Oh, this is fun, thought Buffy. Out loud she kept it at “Oh?”, with a raised eyebrow for good measure.
He half-smiled - his mischievous face, not the guilty one, but it was gone in a flash. “I’m not really that old-fashioned,” he said. “I’m a coward. If I have something good I’m afraid to take any risks with it. Letting me set the pace might not be the best idea.”
“So that’s your big fib? Okay, I can handle the driver’s seat. Better than I can handle a literal driver’s seat, anyway. Incidentally, you’re still old-fashioned. Can’t just drop that one on the discard pile.”
“There was one more fib, actually. I didn’t just bring you out here for the tree.”
“Geez, you’re just full of deception, aren’t you?” She brushed off a melting snowflake that was tickling her nose. “So what was your real plan?”
He waited until she was done clearing her face of precipitation and locked eyes with her. “To propose.”
The silence of the forest suddenly became noticeable again. “Are...you proposing?”
“Isn’t that sort of like taking a risk?” she challenged him.
To her surprise, he shook his head emphatically. “No. Accepting it is. But you’re the brave one, so I think you can handle it.”
She stood on her tiptoes, kissed his lips, and said, “Then I accept. Let’s go home and make out like teenagers.”
As they followed their footprints back the way they had come, Buffy remembered the dream she’d had. She must have killed the demon before she woke up, she decided. It wasn’t going to be bothering her anymore.