Summary: Buffy and Angel doing their best in a world gone to ruin.
Word count: 8020 approx.
Written for IWRY 2011 Marathon.
Disclaimer: Still not mine.
A huge thank you to my beta Jo. The woman is a marvel.
“I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
Buffy was nestled in the arms of her lover. Her tousled head lay upon his chest and her fingers drew intricate designs across the muscles of his torso. His body was warm, heat stolen from her as she lay close. The heat of their night’s passion still stirred through her blood. And yet, despite it, she was feeling sad. There weren’t many days she wasn’t feeling blue, and she wondered if people could die from sadness when it threatened to overwhelm. Most days, exhaustion battled her depression and won. Not today. Today, her grief had beaten away the weary and now it was kicking her butt.
Angel kissed her head. He’d heard this complaint before, and as much as he wanted to give her back her happy he knew it was impossible.
She continued, her voice a worn and sad reflection of itself, “We’re not getting anywhere. What we do? It isn’t stemming the tide. The world isn’t getting any better. Resistance is futile.” Buffy knew the Star Trek quote would go over his head but she said it anyway. Her lame attempt at dragging humour kicking and screaming into the conversation was her way of trying to dig herself out of the pit of despair she had fallen into.
“Cynthia wouldn’t think so,” Angel murmured, totally missing the pop culture reference. He was thinking of the girl they had rescued from vampires a couple of nights previous.
He felt the warmth of Buffy’s sigh against his chest.
“I want my sister back. And Giles, Willow, and the others.”
He kissed her head again. “I know you do.”
Buffy was silent, then. Angel felt her tears, hot and wet, sliding down his front. He let her cry. There was nothing he could do but be there, quietly holding her.
After a long while, she said, “And you, Angel. Connor is gone. It’s not fair.”
Angel preferred not to think about his son, now lost to him. “No, it’s not.”
They lay like that, thinking about family. Eventually, Buffy’s hand wiped away her tears. She sniffled.
“I’m sorry. Look at me, I’m a mess. No,” she said quickly when Angel began to obey, “don’t look at me. It’s just a figure of speech. God, Angel, could you be more literal?”
Angel settled back, his lips twitching up into a small smile. He had Buffy forgetting her sadness, even if only for a brief moment.
Buffy disentangled herself from the sheets. She swung her legs off the bed and onto the floor.
“I need a shower.”
“Don’t hog all the hot water,” he said as she padded off into the small bathroom.
“I’ll try not to,” she promised behind the closing door.
Buffy sighed under the hot stream. Hot water was a scarce commodity these days. The motel they had taken refuge in had its own generator and Angel had got it going. They had electric light, and more importantly, hot water. The cities no longer had power and hot water, and nobody wanted to go there. No one left alive, that is. The cities were graveyards. Bones littered every corner, every sidewalk and high rise. The buildings standing sentinel to man’s folly. Germ warfare. Buffy shuddered at the thought and put it at the back of her mind. She leaned into the waterfall of hot water and began to soap her hair.
Angel had the bed stripped, the sheets bundled up and thrown into a corner. Throwing clean white linen onto the bed gave him something to do. Besides, he knew that Buffy loved fresh bedding. They had slept on too many floors in the last year. The bed made, he twitched at the curtains at the window. The sun was setting behind the building and it was safe for him to look at the world outside. The highway was a ribbon of emptiness, passing the motel on its way to nowhere and everywhere. Their vehicle stood black and brooding in the parking lot, dwarfing the abandoned car that stood next to it. Buffy had named it the Angelmobile. He didn’t understand why Buffy had chosen the name, but the Toyota Sequoia had been an excellent choice in car. As Buffy had told him, it was big enough that he could use it for shelter if they ever got caught out in the daylight, and it could carry enough supplies, and sometimes people, if they came across any. Angel let the curtain fall back into place.
The motel was a frequent stop for them. It had running water and diesel-generated power. When they had first run across the motel, Angel had had to carry out the gruesome task of emptying the rooms and cars of corpses. He had burned the bodies out the back, gasoline fuelling the fire. Buffy had cleaned the room they had chosen – it had been the manager’s dwelling and more an apartment than a motel room - within an inch of its life. She had plundered the laundry and found soap, clean sheets and towels. And now the motel was a way-station, a haven on the way to, or on the way back from wherever they journeyed.
Angel rummaged about in the refrigerator and pulled out the milk he had prepared earlier. The milk had been powdered, it was the best they could do. He placed the box of cereal on the table and fetched about for a bowl and spoon. By the time the kettle had boiled, coffee was an essential part of Buffy’s routine, Buffy herself had emerged from her shower, scrubbed clean and in better spirits.
Angel poured them both a cup of coffee and sat at the table. Buffy filled her bowl with cereal, added milk and began to eat. Angel enjoyed watching Buffy eat. It felt like a normal thing to do. They never had had normal and now, in all the desolation, he had found a sort of normality. Guilt stabbed at him. He could never admit to Buffy that he wasn’t grieving for the loss of the world as she was. He mourned his son and wished it were otherwise, he despaired that the good people on earth had been wiped out, all those children and families, but all said and done, in the here and now, he and Buffy had each other. They were a couple. They shared everything. In that way his dreams had come true.
Buffy broke into his thoughts. A spoonful of cereal was at her lips. “Do you think we should ask the others to join us?”
“Do you want them to?” He hoped not.
She chewed and stared at him. “Not really. Is that bad of me?”
Relief at her answer. “No. I like you all to myself. They can eat when we’re done.”
Angel put down his cup. “You’re thinking that with so few people left in the world, we should be making nice with the ones we have.”
“Then why don’t I feel like rubbing shoulders and singing kumbayah around the fire?”
Reaching across the table, Angel’s hand found hers. He gave it a gentle squeeze.
She pulled a face. “I don’t know if I want it to.”
“You’re still grieving. It’ll…”
She interrupted, “How are you coping, Angel? How is it that you can carry on? Don’t you feel it? The sadness, the despair, the desperation that I’m experiencing? I feel like I’m drowning.”
Seeing the tears glimmering in her eyes, Angel again felt a stab of guilt. It ate at him when she was this way. If he could he would change the world back, just to see her happy again, but he couldn’t, and that twinge of guilt he had was to do with the fact he couldn’t and he was okay with it. He did know how Buffy was feeling. He had felt such sadness and despair when baby Connor had been taken from him he hadn’t thought he could make it through. And when Buffy herself had sacrificed herself for Dawn and the world, he had thought his world had died.
“In all the years I’ve existed, I’ve had to watch people grow old and die. People I have cared for. Friends have died and I’ve been responsible. It comes with the territory when you live as long as I have. You learn to cope.”
Buffy wanted to scream at him. Angel was being so reasonable it made her want to throw something. Instead, she said, “This is different, Angel. This is the whole wide world we’re talking about. Everything has changed.”
“We will adapt.” He reached across the table and caressed her cheek. “We have no choice.”
Buffy’s shoulders slumped. He was right. There was no choice. It was do or die. Looking at his worried frown, she plastered a smile on her lips.
“I guess you’re right. Never mind me. I’m just tired.” Playing with her spoon, she pushed cereal about on her plate, her appetite gone.
“Eat up,” he cajoled. “You’ve got to keep your strength up.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, and forced another spoonful into her mouth.
Angel cleaned up their dishes while Buffy went to see to their guests.
They had three. Cynthia was the latest addition to their group. She was a pretty young thing, something they hadn’t noticed until a hot shower had scrubbed her clean. Her ginger hair framed an elfin face and bright green eyes stared out from beneath perfect brows. They had picked her up a couple of nights ago.
Robert was middle-aged, a wiry fellow. Dark-featured, he had a ready smile that showed off his perfect teeth, and an easy disposition. Quite knowledgeable in mechanical matters, he would be a handy man to have about. He had been with them a week.
Tall and lanky Allan had been studying medicine when the world had fallen apart. He mourned the loss of his family still, and was moody and a little difficult. They had found him four nights previous. Angel knew that he would come round, especially with a pretty girl on board.
Buffy knocked on doors, calling out to their charges, asking them to breakfast. Robert was the first to appear, his clothes rumpled and his head sporting bed hair, Buffy thought. He nodded and smiled at Buffy as he made his way across the courtyard.
Buffy rapped gently on the last door once more. Leaning up against it, she said, “Cynthia, it’s Buffy. You have to eat. Come on, I’ll wait for you.”
While she waited for Cynthia to open the door, Allan stumbled by, his head bowed, his shoulders in their habitual slump. As she watched him, her own shoulders caved, starting their own trek south.
“Morning,” she called, forcing her posture to straighten and her voice to sound cheerful. His mumbled reply was lost to her when the door opened and Cynthia peered out at her.
“Ready?” Buffy smiled. The girl nodded and, stepping out of her room, she closed the door behind her. Buffy turned and started to lead the way.
“It’s not morning,” Cynthia said, “it’s afternoon. Why do you say good morning?”
“Because that’s the way we live now. Angel…”
Cynthia halted in her tracks. “He’s one of them. A demon.”
“A demon who saved your life. Has saved many lives. I thought we’d been over this already.”
“It’s safer for us to travel in the daylight. The vamps can’t go out in the day. They wouldn’t be able to attack us.”
Buffy’s voice lost its false cheer. “There’s not only vampires to worry about. There are other demons quite happy to grab a human snack in the middle of the day. But you’re right, Cynthia. It would be safer for us in the day as far as vampires are concerned. But you know what? We don’t do safe. Our job is to find people, and sometimes that means we have to rescue them from vampires. And to do that Angel has to be able to move about freely. He and I have dusted quite a few in our travels. And, for your information, we do travel during the day when the need arises. And today is your lucky day. We’re leaving as soon as you’ve eaten.” Buffy stomped away, leaving the girl to make her own way to her meal. Her sympathy for the girl, or anyone who couldn’t face up to the situation, had worn thin.
Angel heard the door slam, announcing Buffy’s arrival. He had finished cleaning up after Buffy and he was now towelling his hair. His shower had been a quick one. The water had run cold after the first minute.
“Everyone okay?” he asked her from beneath terry cloth.
“They’re eating.” Buffy stomped over to where their bags were and started sorting through their things.
Angel refrained from saying anything more. He let Buffy rummage about, throwing clean clothes into the bags while he finished getting dressed.
It was another hour before everyone was ready. Angel had the generator turned off and the motel was locked down. He was safe inside the car, sitting in the passenger seat. The windows were well tinted and he was safe. It was Buffy’s turn to drive. It was daylight. Angel drove at night, his eyes better suited. Angel closed his eyes. He would attempt sleep while he could. He drifted off to the hum of the engine, the beat of four human hearts and the stink of fear.
Buffy drove like a demon. They had miles to go and a forest to navigate. This was a familiar route, one they had taken a time or three. A look in the rear view mirror showed her a quiet landscape, the city left behind two nights before. Glancing over at Angel, she saw that he was asleep. Another peek at the mirror had her assessing her other passengers. The girl sat behind her, nervously twisting her fingers, Allan behind Angel, casting furtive glances at the girl. Robert was sprawled out in the back, quite relaxed. He was reading one of the books Angel carried around. Of the three, Robert was the one Buffy could rely on. He had been quite capable of looking after himself. He had fought off demons and had survived. Allan and Cynthia each had made it through in their own way. They had hidden from the monsters that roamed the streets. They had watched from secret hidey holes as the vampires raged war against one another, vying for the last human blood. Buffy snorted quietly on that thought. The vampires were doing their job for them by killing each other. If only they could do it more quickly and on a grander scale.
“How many people did you say there were?” Cynthia asked, breaking the silence.
Buffy kept her eyes on the road. “Forty, fifty, I think. I don’t know, I haven’t kept count.”
“We’ll be okay there?”
“What can you do, Cynthia? What did you do before…?”
“Before the world went to hell? I was a secretary. For a firm of accountants.” Cynthia paused, and then in a small voice she added, “Not much call for that now.”
“There will be other things you can learn to do. You’ll be fine.”
Cynthia nodded and stared out the window. Farm houses went by, empty shells that once held folk, the animals now feral, fending for themselves, those that hadn’t starved to death, penned up and helpless. Cynthia’s throat closed up. Helpless. She knew the feeling.
Allan surprised her when he said, “I’m sure they’ll need nurses. You can learn to be a nurse.”
Hope crept back into Cynthia’s voice. “You think so? Who would teach me?”
Allan smiled. “I would. I was training to be a doctor. I guess we could learn together.”
Behind them, Robert chuckled as if there was something funny in his book, but Buffy doubted it. She glanced once more at Angel and saw the minute lift of his lips. Smiling in spite of herself, Buffy shook her head and concentrated on the road once more.
Buffy stopped at a gas station she and Angel on occasion frequented. It was, of course, deserted. Still, Buffy kept an eye out for trouble as she and Robert got out of the SUV, the hand-pump in his hands. Like a well-oiled machine, Robert and Buffy pulled apart one of the panels on a gas pump to access the fuel below. The mechanic placed the tube into the storage tank and proceeded to pump the gas up and into a jerry can. When it was full, he adjusted the hose so that the fuel would fill their vehicle’s tank.
Allan and Cynthia decided to stretch their legs. Nervously, they looked around just to be sure there wasn’t an unpleasant surprise waiting for them. It looked safe enough. There didn’t appear to be any demons lurking about waiting to jump them. They relaxed a little.
“Let’s see what’s inside?” Cynthia suggested, wondering if there were edible snacks still on the shelves.
The window of the SUV wound down a crack. Angel’s voice drifted out to them.
“Let Buffy know what you intend to do. She’ll make sure it’s safe before you go in.”
They did so, and waited outside while the slayer checked out the station’s store.
“It’s a relief, you know, not to have to think of everything all the time,” Allan said to Cynthia.
“I know what you mean.”
Buffy came out of the small building, saying “All clear,” as she went on by.
“How did you manage to stay alive?” Allan asked Cynthia as they wandered onto the premises. “I moved around a lot. Bunked down in high rises. When my food ran out, I moved elsewhere, grabbed things on the way.”
“I lived in a Wal-Mart. They have everything. Food, clothing, blankets…and then the monsters came. I kept myself small and they didn’t see me. I got away. I was so scared. I’ve kept moving ever since. Oh. There doesn’t look like much is left,” she said, as they eyed up the almost bare shelves.
Allan smiled at her. “Never mind. Let’s see what we can find.”
Cynthia smiled back. Perhaps life is worth living after all, she thought as they began to look about.
When they made it back outside, Allan and Cynthia had their hands full of chewing gum and packets of potato chips. They pulled up short when they noticed Angel standing beside the car, the sun having set in the time they had been inside. The vampire terrified them. It was what he was. Never mind that he had helped rescue them. They had seen too many monsters and the things they did not to be afraid. Angel sitting in the car, asleep, had made them uneasy, but standing, he was a hulking figure and a frightening one. Allan and Cynthia went around the other side of the car and got in.
Angel pretended not to notice. The stink of the humans’ fear was hard to ignore. At least the older man, Robert, seemed more at ease with him. Buffy made a face at him as she came out of the station’s bathroom.
“At least you don’t have to face the horribleness of public bathrooms,” she complained, shaking her hands in an attempt to dry them.
“I consider myself lucky,” he smirked at her as she went by. He heard her telling the two in the car to use the facilities. They weren’t stopping again.
The road had begun to climb. They were heading to higher ground. Trees loomed tall and close, prodded on by the army of pine and spruce behind them. Angel navigated the bends with ease, the vehicle’s headlights causing shadows to shift and menace. Buffy shivered. Angel noticed and, with a touch of a button, the interior began to fill with heat.
“It’s not even winter yet and I’m cold,” she complained, staring out at the road. “I miss California.”
“Minnesota’s not such a bad place. There’s plenty of wood for heat and for building. And wildlife to hunt.”
“And water. The state has an abundance of rivers and lakes,” Robert chipped in from down the back. “Where there’s water there’ll be fish.”
Buffy glanced over at Angel. Making sure he was watching her, she mouthed, “We don’t have to stay, do we? We can go elsewhere, go help more helpless?”
He nodded. They could move on. They should move on. Buffy was unhappy enough as it was, it wouldn’t hurt to venture south. Angel’s first priority was Buffy. It always would be Buffy. Beside him, Buffy’s posture stiffened. She had noticed the car’s lights reflected in eyes watching them from beneath the trees.
Cynthia had noticed too. Anxious, she asked, “Are there demons out there?”
“Just wolves, I think,” Buffy reassured them.
“Just wolves? They’re as dangerous as demons,” Allan muttered.
Buffy heaved a long-suffering sigh. Anywhere but here, she thought. “Not all demons are evil. Some are quite nice, actually.” She cut a glance at her demon lover.
“Yeah? I haven’t met a demon yet that I haven’t wanted to kill.”
“Because those are the ones who do want to eat you. If you haven’t been paying attention,” Buffy swung about to face her fellow passengers, “you’d have noticed that there are demons feeding on other demons. There are demons out there just trying to get along, just like there are people doing the same. The weak get preyed on. It’s a fact of life. Deal with it.”
“How do we do that?” Cynthia asked meekly in the face of Buffy’s ire.
“Be strong. Be smart. Don’t put yourself in bad places. I guess you know that last part already. You’ve made it this far. Up till now you’ve been hiding and surviving. Now it’s time to start living. It’s time to build a community. And that means sharing responsibility and staying alive. Even if it means you have to share with people you don’t like. As long as those people don’t want to hurt you, then you get along. There are too few people left in the world to start making enemies. Help each other. Share. And have I said get along?”
Buffy turned back in her seat and crossed her arms. She was suddenly tired of talking. No wonder Angel did so little of it.
Angel whispered to her. “Well done.”
“Your turn next time,” she reminded him.
He arched a brow at her and smiled.
She punched him gently on the arm. “You know what I mean,” she said.
Buffy’s outburst was the last thing said in the car for a long while. The car moved through a sea of trees, the moon’s light unable to penetrate, making their journey an eerie one. The quiet purr of the engine was the only thing anchoring them to reality. If Buffy didn’t know that civilization had ended she would think civilization had ended.
Once upon a time, she knew, demons preferred to inhabit the underbelly of human cities. Now they roamed the countryside looking for a meal, be it animal or the rare human. This far out, any travellers had to be on their guard.
Buffy chuckled. It had been a long time since Angel had heard her laugh.
“Vampires farming cattle and pigs.”
“What?” he said again, confused.
“When vampires come to their senses and realise that there are limited food sources, they’ll have to take up farming. Can you imagine it? Farming would have to be done at night. Vampires in denim overalls!”
Angel flashed his teeth at her. He had to admit it was pretty funny.
“Out of all the freaky things that have happened to the world, that would have to top the list,” she said.
Angel’s smile died. A terrible thought blossomed in his mind. Not willing to have Buffy’s mood plummet he decided not to share.
“Domesticated vamps,” he said instead.
“Ma and Pa Vamp,” she laughed. And then, as if she had plucked the thought bouncing about in his head, Buffy’s laugh died.
“People farms,” she said in a grim voice.
“More reason to get these people to safety,” he said to reassure her. Angel glanced in the rear view mirror. Their passengers hadn’t heard their conversation. The people in the back had succumbed to the motion of the car and had fallen asleep.
“What on earth were they thinking? Germ warfare, Angel?”
Taking the next bend easily, Angel nodded. This wasn’t the first time he had heard Buffy’s thoughts on why the Earth was the way it was.
“From what Frank told us,” Buffy said, “the plague must have spread around the world in two days. Nobody knows how or why it happened. Nobody even knows if governments had time to flee to secure locations underground. For all we know, there are government morons living below us. Safe from the mayhem.”
“They’d have surfaced by now, surely,” Angel said, and not for the first time.
“Maybe. Maybe not. They might be terrified that there are lingering spores out here just waiting to strike down anyone that hasn’t got immunity.”
Buffy continued on. “Vampires being dead are automatically immune, most demons too, apparently. Only a very few humans were lucky enough to be safe from the virus, whatever it was.” She went quiet for a moment. “Either I have a natural immunity or my slayerness is what protects me.”
“Or, the plague has run its course and was harmless by the time we got back,” Angel reminded her.
Buffy and Angel had been in another dimension, putting paid to a petty overlord who had turned covetous eyes on humanity’s reality and had been sending his demon warriors through to pillage and plunder. When Buffy and Angel had stepped back into their own dimension they found their world had gone to ruin. The world that had greeted them was eerily quiet. There were no cars polluting the air with exhaust and sounds, no noise at all from dead and deserted cities. At night, when the vampires were out hunting, it was another story. Vampires were silent, deadly predators. When they attacked, as they did one another, fighting over food scraps - that the scraps happened to be human was the whole point - then the city rang with their roar. And the smell. Buffy would never forget the smell. Millions of dead people left an undeniable odour. Not freshly dead, even, but putrid in decay. The desiccated ones were a godsend. And then Buffy remembered the birds. Flocks of black birds, feasting on the corpses left out in the open.
Buffy stared out through the windscreen and into the night, trying to shake away images of feeding birds from her mind.
Angel drove on in the silence, waiting for her next thought.
Buffy decided talking was better than brooding. Angel did enough for both of them. “Will we make it? I mean the human species? Do we deserve to survive? Wouldn’t the world be better off without us? No, scratch that. The world is better off without us. Trees will grow back, farms will become wilderness. Cities will crumble.”
She heaved a big sigh. “Demons will inherit the earth.”
Angel dared not say that demons had been here first.
“There might be a chance,” he said instead, “if enough people get together and build a viable community.”
“If they can keep the monsters at bay,” she said. “Most would be demon fodder by now.”
Buffy blinked back tears that threatened. She didn’t want to think about babies and children having made it through the sickness, starving to death or becoming food for the monsters.
Angel counted off the seconds, twenty-two, before Buffy said in a small voice, “I don’t think we’re going to make it either.”
He was at a loss on what to say. Taking his hand off the steering wheel Angel reached across and clasped her hand. Buffy squeezed his fingers. With her other hand she surreptitiously wiped at her eyes. Their hands entwined, sitting quietly, they drove on through the night. When her emotions had settled, Buffy thought it was rather like that movie, ‘The Body Snatchers’ where the car was driving along, the heroes the only ones left and fleeing the scary.
A break in the trees indicated the turning Angel was looking for. The road had wound its way upwards and over the hills and had made its way down again. Angel left the road. The surface, a more bumpy ride, woke the Angelmobile’s other passengers.
“Where are we?” Robert yawned hard. Angel heard his jaw pop.
“We’ve left the main highway,” Cynthia said, looking out at the night.
“I think we’re almost there,” Allan said. He wasn’t quite right. It was another twenty-odd minutes before they slowed and came to a stop. Buffy got out of the car and went to open the gate that was closed ahead of them. Angel drove through and waited till Buffy had secured the gate and had hopped back into the car.
And the lights of the car went out. Cynthia let out a little squeal.
“Are we in trouble?” she asked, sliding lower in her seat.
Angel continued to drive without the lights, his eyes adjusting to the night quite quickly and he had no trouble navigating.
“No, and we like to keep it that way. It’s just a precaution,” Buffy said to reassure.
The car lurched along, its pace slowed because the road was now just a track of sorts, winding its way through the wood. Everyone sat quietly, watching the darkness slide by, waiting for the vampire to hit a tree. When Angel finally brought the car to a stop, they breathed a sigh of relief. It was short-lived, however, when the vampire said, “End of the road. Everyone out.”
Buffy shivered again, and pulled on the jacket she had had wrapped over her knees. Her companions huddled into their jackets too, the air cold outside. Angel started unloading the car. Bags and boxes went into a pile. Buffy clicked on the flashlights she had rescued out of the Angelmobile and handed them out.
“Clip them to your belt, let the light shine onto the earth, and follow me.” She shoved as many things as they could carry into their arms before picking up her share. Angel had the last of the boxes, she saw, and took up the rear. She led the way, her light picking out obstacles. The two men and other woman were able to watch their feet as their light danced around with every step.
An imposing shape loomed up ahead, throwing the newcomers into a panic.
“It’s a truck. No biggie,” Buffy said as she manoeuvred them around it.
Beside the truck, on the other side, a car and a van were parked. It was totally unexpected and Robert let out a shaky laugh.
Several figures emerged out of the gloom. Cynthia squealed again in fright.
“Easy,” Angel said. “They’re friends.” A vampire telling them to be easy didn’t make it so, but they did relax when the figures proved to be human.
“Hellos” and “can we help with that?” greeted the travellers, and soon the group were stepping into a house, their hands and arms relieved of their burdens.
Through the door there was light. Allan, Cynthia, and Robert blinked with surprise. The room was larger than they thought possible and in it were more people.
“But how?” Cynthia began.
One of the men with them said, “We don’t like to announce to the world where we are even if we are out in the back of beyond.” He waved a hand towards the windows. They were well covered with thick material. “Black-out curtains.”
“I’m Frank, by the way, and this is Chris,” he gestured towards a slender woman of indeterminate age. Chris smiled back warmly. “The others will make your acquaintance once you’re settled in.”
Buffy introduced her charges to the assembled crowd, and beat a hasty retreat, Angel behind her. She suddenly felt hemmed in, claustrophobic, and there were way too many people impinging on her personal space. Not for the first time she appreciated how Angel felt in a crowd. The slap of cold air outside was welcome after the heat of the room.
“I’m bushed, Angel. Let’s go to bed.” Angel wrapped his arm about her waist. Buffy snuggled into him as he led them towards their room.
The slayer and her vampire had their living quarters away from the rest of the community. Space was tight but room had been made. No one wanted a vampire in their midst and a solution had presented itself. Buffy and Angel were gone more often than not so they had the use of the room that had been carved into the hillside. It had started out as a bear den, they presumed, and the previous owner had made a cool room, a storage area out of it. It was now Buffy and Angel’s retreat when they were about.
Slayer and vampire turned about. It was Chris, she had followed them outside. She had a flashlight in her hand.
“It’s late,” Chris said. “I know you’re tired. I just wanted to thank you. If it wasn’t for you…”
Angel nodded in the other woman’s direction. “Good night.”
“Good night, Angel,” she said, smiling up at him. “Good night, Buffy. And thank you again.”
A shot rang out. Then two. Angel sped away, disappearing as he was able to do. Buffy chased after him, griping under her breath, “Wait for me.”
Behind them chaos erupted. Voices called out, light blossomed as doors opened and it went dark again.
When Buffy caught up with Angel, he was talking to a young man with a rifle in his hands. Buffy’s nose caught the tang of gunpowder.
“Damned wolf!” the man was saying. “It was after the chickens.”
“There’s plenty of game about. The wolf may be lame. Did you hit it, Eddie?”
The young man shook his head. “I don’t know if I did. It sped away quite fast.”
“I’ll go after it,” Angel said, “to be sure.”
Buffy put out a hand and laid it on his arm. “Can’t it wait till tomorrow night?”
“If it’s injured it will be a kindness. You go to bed and keep warm.”
“You’re tired. Get some sleep. I’ll be back before sunrise.”
Buffy was tired. And it was cold. Still, a part of her didn’t want to let Angel go off on his own.
Angel saw her hesitation. “Go. It’s only a wolf.”
She conceded. “Okay.” She gave him a kiss. “Be careful.”
Angel liberated his sword from the car and he set off, tracking the wolf. His tread was silent as he swiftly covered ground. He had hunted in these woods before, having had to provide for his own nourishment. At times, he drained his prey dry and carried the carcass back for the humans to eat. Fresh meat was always welcome.
The spoor of the wolf was not difficult to follow. The animal was lame. And yet the wolf kept ahead of him, despite its injury. Angel pursued it none-the-less, he couldn’t have it returning to the farm and killing any of their livestock. As Angel hurried over rough terrain, the forest closed in around him. The going was trickier now. Angel was beginning to think the animal wasn’t so lame to have made it this far. If he didn’t know better he would think the creature was luring him to a trap. A soft growl alerted him to danger. The wolf was ahead of him, standing proud on a large rock that jutted out of the ground. It was white, not at all the grey of the timber wolf. An answering growl had him turning his head. Several wolves had come up from behind him, circling him, blocking off his retreat. There was only one way, and that was forward, if he wanted to avoid the snap of jaws.
Angel stepped towards the wolf on the stone, sword raised. “Come get me,” he snarled, changing face.
Blinding light seared his eyes and he closed them, covering his eyelids with a hand. It was a mistake. He knew it the minute he closed his eyes. Blinking hard, Angel spun about, and was sure the wolves would have been leaping for his throat. He was surprised to see them sitting there, watching him. He twisted back around and, in place of the white wolf, a glowing light radiated. Narrowing his eyes, Angel made out a faint outline. A wing here, a beak there.
“There will be no harm,” a voice in his head said.
Raising his hand to his eyes again, Angel said, “Who are you? What are you?”
“We are miigi. In your terms, a Power of the People.”
“The Anishinaabe. Ojibwe. Chippewa in your language.”
Angel knew then he was dealing with one of the Native American deities.
“Power? The Powers That Be?”
There was a sound rather like the soft, rolling thunder heard a mile away. The supernatural being was laughing. “Not really.”
“Why have you brought me here?”
“To set you on your path.”
It was Angel’s turn to laugh. It was a bitter sound. “As I said, a Power.”
“It’s a gift. I’ll bite. What path?”
“There is little left of this world. You have done us a service these past days.”
“The People live on in two you have saved. Their blood will continue. Ah-kï is wounded but she will recover. And with her so will her People.”
“She is all around you. Mother Earth.”
Right. “Who have I saved?”
“The man who fixes things and the young buck who thought to kill me with his weapon.”
Robert and Eddie. The men had Chippewa blood in them.
The miigi continued. “The People will be new, different. The men don’t remember the old ways, but perhaps that is a good thing. The tribe’s history will be reborn.”
Wondering if he sounded impatient, Angel asked, “What path are you setting me on?”
“The female, your lover, will have a dream. It will show you the way.”
The light began to dim. Angel could see more of the outline. Talons and feathers. A dark eye. Fur. Horns.
“Wait. The way to where?”
“Back to your world. Your presence here has done what it was meant to do.”
Speechless, Angel stared as the light faded and was replaced by the form of the wolf. Lifting its muzzle in the air, it howled. The wolves surrounding Angel answered the call. Suddenly, Angel was alone in the forest. The wolves had bounded away, leaving him to return to Buffy.
Buffy took her time shutting the door. She lit the kerosene lamp and placed it on a hook on the wall. Buffy heaved a sigh and sat on the bed. There wasn’t much room, the bed taking up most of the space. Hangers hung laden with clothes, both male and female. Buffy leaned down and clicked open the small chest standing there. She pulled out the stake in her pocket and placed it inside. Something silver glittered. It was the crucifix that Angel had given her, it seemed, eons ago, and she had forgotten to put it back on after her shower all those weeks ago. Rubbing her fingers across the metal, she left it in the box. Sleeping with Angel meant crosses weren’t something they took to bed. Slipping her clothes off, and pulling on a tee shirt to sleep in, she climbed into bed. Fighting lethargy and losing, she was instantly asleep.
Buffy dreamed. A voice was calling to her. The voice wasn’t familiar and yet there was something about it that resonated within her. A wall of light surrounded her. Putting out a hand, it disappeared into the light. Frightened now, she yanked it back and was surprised her hand was whole. Buffy couldn’t find Angel. He was somewhere close and she couldn’t see him. His voice was chanting something in a strange language. Buffy had a feeling she had heard the words before. The words had a quality about them. The chanting made her shiver. She wasn’t afraid. It was Angel. He wouldn’t hurt her. A bull stepped into her path. A moose, then a bird, a crane high-stepped past her, and a duck waddled after. A bear, raised up on its hind legs, roared at her. Startled, she fell back a couple of paces. Thunder rolled, drowning out Angel’s voice. A large figure, beaked, its eyes brimming with lightning, its feathered wings spanning into infinity beat once, and Buffy was deafened again by the sound of thunder. When Buffy looked again, she saw the creatures who had stepped into her path vanish into the light, as if they were walking into the Ark, two by two. Soon, she was left with the thunderbird, for that was how Buffy thought of it. It stared at her intently before turning away and followed the others into the light. Behind it a totem pole stood.
Buffy woke. Angel was standing at the end of the bed, staring at her.
She patted the bed. He sat.
“I had the strangest dream.”
“Tell me about it.”
When she was done, she asked him, “What does it mean?”
He told her what had transpired in the forest.
Buffy was dumbstruck. She managed to work her mouth. She found her voice at last.
“What? How…how… I don’t understand, Angel. We’re in the wrong place? This isn’t our world?” Buffy got out of bed and paced. There was room for five steps. She took them, and turned. Paced back five steps. “Did something go wrong with the spell we used to open the portal?”
She threw her arms up in the air. Spinning about, she laughed.
“Our world is still there! Intact! No germ warfare, billions not dead! We can go home!” She all but squealed the last word. Buffy flung herself at him and planted
a kiss on his lips. She pushed him back on the bed, laughing and crying at the same time.
Angel laughed with her, happy for her, happy for them both. Happiness was not something he usually allowed himself to feel. And certainly not perfect happiness. His dance with Buffy would soon be over. He was thrilled for her. She was going to get her world back. He was glad that his boy was alive and that humanity hadn’t perished. And yet, he knew he was going to have to adjust to a life without Buffy. She would go back to her family and friends, back to her duty and responsibility as a slayer, as head of an army of slayers, and he wasn’t a part of that. And he never would be. He wasn’t trusted or wanted by the others and, rather than make life for Buffy difficult, he would make his own way.
Angel made love to Buffy. It was slow and it was tender and it was almost perfect. Inside his mind, Angel was already grieving the loss of her body, the feel of her skin sliding across his, and the delicious scent of her. He wanted the moment to last forever and he knew it could never be.
Lying side by side when they were finished, Buffy looked into his eyes and asked him, “If only we could take everyone back with us. This world is dead. These people needn’t be. We could help them. They could come back to a world they once knew.”
Angel kissed her. “I love you. Your heart is a big as the world. You know why we can’t. This world needs them. Perhaps humans will do better next time.”
“If they survive.”
“I think they will. There’s an interested party watching over them.”
Buffy ran her fingers over the planes of his face. “Talking of, where do we begin?”
“I think we could start with the incantation. I may recognize it. What do you remember?”
Buffy pulled a face. “It was all double Dutch to me. There was a loud noise. I couldn’t hear you when it began to thunder.”
“Never mind. Close your eyes. Visualize, or in your case, try and remember what you can.”
Not sure that she could remember anything of the words Angel had been chanting in her dream, she closed her eyes and did as he asked.
“It’s not working,” she said, frustrated, after a minute.
“Sshh…” Angel kissed her on her lips. “Keep your eyes closed, listen to my voice…”
He whispered words in a soothing voice, calm tones, relaxing her until Buffy felt herself drift away, her dream unfolding in her mind.
“Can you hear me?” he asked as if from a great distance.
“I can hear you,” she murmured. And she could.
Buffy repeated the words of the chant she was hearing again in her dream. Angel had her go over it until he was satisfied he had what he wanted.
She felt his lips on hers, and she woke up, dazed. Gathering her thoughts, she said, “Well?”
His smile was dazzling. “You did good.” And he proceeded to whisper the chant back to her, careful he didn’t put his will and power into his voice. Spells needed strength of will and determination to succeed.
“Wheee! I think that’s it.” Buffy’s eyes glittered with excitement.
“It’s the same spell we used to get here.”
She hugged him. “I knew it sounded familiar! Can we go now?”
“Do you not want to say goodbye to the others?”
“Oh. I guess.” Buffy wasn’t that bothered but she knew Angel was right. “What do we tell them? We’re skipping this world, and no, you can’t come with us? I don’t think that’s going to work.”
“If we disappear tonight, they’ll be worried and start looking for us. I don’t want them to do that. It’s dangerous out there.”
“Can’t we just say we’re going south? To a place that’s a lot warmer? They know I don’t like the cold.”
“It means we’ll have to wait another night. It’s too close to sunrise for me to leave now.”
“I suppose I can live with that.”
Angel kissed away her pout. “If this doesn’t work, we go find the nearest Indian reservation. Perhaps that’s what your dream was trying to tell you, that we need to go to a place of the People. Places have hot spots, a weakening in dimension walls that allows a person to travel between. ”
“The totem.” Buffy laughed. “And by the way, it’s Native American now.”
“It’s the old name for the People.”
“Oh. Why didn’t you say so?”
“Tomorrow,” she said and snuggled into his arms again. “I think I’m too happy to fall asleep.” Buffy sighed. “It will work. It has to, Angel. We have magical beings, Gods even, pointing the way.”
The next evening, they set off in the Angelmobile, having said their goodbyes. Not everyone had been unhappy to see them go, although all agreed that things were about to get a lot tougher without Buffy and Angel. The slayer and her vampire sped through the night, eager to be gone from the world.
Buffy turned to Angel. “I wish we could have told them where we’re going.”
“It’s better they don’t know.” And it was. Angel buried the regret he felt at leaving everyone behind. It had to be. The miigi wouldn’t be happy if they absconded with two of its tribe. Besides, he couldn’t be responsible for everyone in the world. It felt that way, sometimes. He hoped that the world they were leaving would recover, that humans managed to gain a foothold and flourish.
“I know, still…” Buffy grinned. “What’s happened to the speed demon I know and love? I know you can drive faster than this. Put your foot down, mister.”
Angel was happy to oblige.
I apologise to anyone if I have erred in my use of the folklore of the Ojibwe People. I gleaned what little I know from Google, and Wikipedia was very helpful.
Minnesota is almost unknown to me, so I kept it simple. And remember, alternate realities do differ. J