YearsContactFictionIWRY 2013



Stages

Stages

Author: Wren

Summary: There are five stages of grief.  Post NFA.

Pairing: Buffy/Angel

Rating: NC-17

Word Count: 6432

Disclaimer: Not mine - they all belong to Joss.  

A/N: I love the IWRY  marathon, and I’ve wanted to submit a story for years.  Thanks to Dark Star for keeping this afloat & all the wonderful authors for their fantastic stories.  U­­nbeta-ed.  All errors are my own. 

 

*



Stages



i. denial


It takes Buffy six days to find Angel.  Most of the inhabitants in LA are either dead or have been evacuated and those left are wary of divulging information to a Slayer.  But eventually someone talks and she finds herself in the basement of a now abandoned department store.  The blue demon (woman? creature?) scoffs at her fighting stance and informs her that she has grown weary of fighting mortals.  A witty retort dies on her lips, the cemeteries of Sunnydale and evening patrols-cum-dates and a certainty that things would be in order at sunrise so distant that she sometimes wonders if the monks made that up, too.  


“Do you know where Angel is?”  Buffy has been doing this dance for a week now and she’s tired.  Tired of pummeling demons and shelling out cash and chasing down false leads.  


The blue woman cocks her head and points to a dark corner of the room.  “Angel is there.  He is weak, but he will recover.”  She bends and takes her sword.  “I have fulfilled my obligations here.”  And she’s gone.

 

--

It takes Angel two weeks to regain consciousness.  Buffy dresses his wounds and makes him a bed from a Martha Stewart comforter found upstairs, his blood blossoming alongside the purple and blue flowers.  The blood she scavenges from the hospital lasts three days, and she’s surprised at how easy it is to slice her own wrist.  His teeth scrape her skin and she can feel the wetness between her legs.  


Slowly, he heals.

­­­­­­

During the day she sleeps and scavenges.  Food is scarce and so is her appetite, but she still forces herself to eat the cold canned beans and tuna fish she finds.  The department store has largely been ransacked but Buffy finds books that have been left behind and figures Angel would appreciate the irony of True Blood.  



At night she does recon.  Los Angeles is nothing like she remembers and that makes her sad in way she hadn’t anticipated.  She finds herself wandering through her old neighborhood and wonders if anyone had a chance to leave before the houses were leveled.  When a tear escapes from her eye, she convinces herself it’s the smog that makes her eyes water.  


After that, she sticks closer to the department store.  She doesn’t patrol, or at least not in the way she patrolled in Sunnydale. There she had been the only Slayer, and she executed her role with an arrogance that here will get her killed.  She’s not looking to protect or dominate or fix anything.  Buffy is one Slayer of many and she’s trying to stay alive.


Angel wakes up as Buffy returns from patrol, just as the sun is cresting the horizon.  He opens his eyes, lets her name escape a dry throat and cracked lips.  


The rush of anger that surges through her catches her off guard.  

 

---


A week later he’s patrolling with her.  Buffy urges him to rest, he insists on going.  It’s the same song and dance they’ve done before and she wonders if he notices that she’s going through the motions.  He needs to heal more, but she finds satisfaction that he will experience the destruction that’s outside, the destruction that she can’t help but hold him partly responsible for.


Their patrols exhaust her.  Angel fights to fix his city and Buffy expends most of her energy watching his back.  He’s not fully healed but refuses to feed off her any more and it makes him more of a liability than she’s used to.  They’re running out of bandages and she’s running out of patience.


In the morning, they argue.  She tries to convince him that there’s nothing left here to save and that his efforts would be better served somewhere else, and he argues that this city is still his responsibility and still worth saving.  They patrol together and they share a sleeping space and yet Buffy has never felt so distant from Angel.  


The night that her leg is almost shredded by a Kravlok demon, she cannot pretend that his arguments make sense.


“There is nothing left, Angel.  Nothing.”  Her words hinge on desperation and she can feel tears in her eyes.  


When he asks her why she doesn’t just leave, she can’t answer.

But she stays.



--

The military deploys troops to Los Angeles a month after the battle, or as the media calls it, the “natural disaster”.  



(That’s how she hears about it, in Italy.  But she’s seen enough apocalypses to know that while it was most certainly a disaster, there was nothing natural about it.  Buffy is on the next plane to the United States.)


Rolling thunder wakes them in the middle of the day, and when they get to the front of the building they discover that it’s US military tanks.  They are heavily armored and so are the men riding in the humvees.  It doesn’t surprise her that they’re there, and it surprises her less that they’ve come prepared for war.  Whatever hope Angel has been clinging to has evaporated, and there’s a part of her that’s relieved that they can finally move on.


But he doesn’t follow her when she moves away from the entrance.  She turns, exasperated, but is stopped at the look of despair that’s frozen on his face.  


“Angel?” Her voice is a whisper.  She wants to keep their presence hidden, doesn’t want to startle him.  


“They’re not here to save us, are they?”  His voice is strangled, bordering on hysteria.  


“No.”  She slowly reaches for his arm and can feel him tremble beneath his touch.  


When they finally make it back downstairs, he doesn’t get up for a week.



ii. guilt


The military moves with a deadly efficiency born of elite training.  While Angel borders on catatonia Buffy spends the days tracking their progress.  The time for finding survivors has passed and instead they level buildings and kill anyone they come across. There is no hope of Los Angeles returning to what it was. Their department store is downtown and at the pace they’re going she calculates that they have two weeks at most before they’re leveled, too.  


She returns when the sun sets, unwilling to get caught after dark by a floodlight or a demon.  The night she finds Angel sitting up is the same night she watched a soldier gun down a family of Tr’acti demons, a peaceful group that looked human unless threatened.  It takes all her willpower not to intervene but she knows it would do no good; she’d be a body on the ground next to the little boy.  

“This was all my fault.”  Angel’s eyes plead her to save him and maybe any other night she could have.

 

“Yes.”  His shoulders slump and his eyes fall under the force of one word and the anger leaves her body.  They’re good guys but they make mistakes.  Buffy knows she’s not one to throw stones and the anger that’s been holding her hostage since before her plane landed finally releases her.



She lowers herself beside him on their nest of blankets and takes his cool hand in her own.  “I didn’t kill Willow when I had the chance.  I let her live because all I could see was Willow.   I couldn’t see the power or the danger until it was too late and then I had to kill her anyway.”  

 

Angel looks to her, tilts his head and she gets lost in the depth of the pain in his eyes.  “She killed 30 people, Buffy.”  The number sears her and she remembers finding the children’s bodies, tucked below their parents, eyes wide with fear.  Willow had been unable to stop using magic and the blowback from a spell had been more than she could handle.  By the time Buffy had reached her it was too late - the community center had been leveled and she had been forced to kill her best friend.

 

“31.”  Her voice is hoarse.  


“31 doesn’t compare to 30,000, or 300,000.”  He takes his hand from hers and stands up, running a hand through his hair.  


“This isn’t the pain Olympics, Angel.”  She stands too, angry now that he is so dismissive of Willow’s destruction and her role in it.  “We fight the best way we know how and sometimes we make mistakes.  You did what you thought was best and yeah, it didn’t go as planned.  But neither has half the stuff I’ve attempted in the last seven years.”  


“You’ve been outside.  You’ve seen the same things I have.  How can you even compare this to anything you’ve done?”  The guilt in his voice hangs heavy in their small space and she thinks that if she isn’t careful, she could suffocate.


“You made a choice that you thought was best.  You didn’t call in reinforcements, you didn’t think beyond an outcome where you would win.  I’ve been there, and I’ve done that.”  Buffy pushes the memory of jumping off the scaffolding out of her head, shudders at the feeling of wood and dirt under her nails.


“The easy part is winning, Angel.”  She closes the distance between them, takes his chin in her palm and forces him to meet her eyes.  “But if you give up now, if you let this consume you, then that’s when they will declare victory.  Because you’re still standing, and you’re still fighting, and that means that they’ve lost.”

 

His lips crush hers and she responds before she can think, pulling his neck until the coolness of his lips is the only way she can tell for sure where she stops and he begins.  His hands move under her shirt and she shivers, the wetness between her legs blossoming as his thumbs caress her nipples.  She hears a groan and it takes a moment before she realizes its coming from her.  


"Angel," she whispers but can't commit to why.


"Please, Buffy. Please." The rawness in his voice is more than she can stand and she silences his pleas with her lips.

 

His hands are cold and she shivers as they roam her body under her shirt, everywhere and not enough. They've only been here once and she had been young and inexperienced, but she's older and wiser and not interested in going slow. Without breaking the kiss she takes off his pants, letting a groan escape as she takes his hardness into her hand. Blunt teeth scrape her neck and she firms up her grip, emboldened by his response.

 

"Buffy." Her name is a whispered prayer.

 

She sinks to her knees and swallows him whole and without warning, gripping his thighs as his knees give out.  Fingers grip her shoulders and she turns her attention to the sensitive flesh of his inner thighs, his growl igniting a fire between her legs.  Her lips glide up and down his shaft and she sucks the salty fluid at the tip.  

"Buffy." His growl is possessive and strong hands guide her to the bed, sliding her pants over her hips.

She gasps when his tongue finds her clit, her hips moving in rhythm with his mouth and when his fingers slip inside her, she comes instantly.

She has only a moment to breathe before she's tasting herself on his lips, his need urgent. She gasps and arches when he moves inside her. His eyes are dark with need and she thrusts against him, feeling her own climax building again. Blunt teeth scrape her neck and she pulls him into her until they're moving as one person.

They finish and she basks in his borrowed warmth. The first time she had slept soundly, a teenager in love, and utterly unaware of the chaos and destruction about to be unleashed in her world.  There was never a next time, only platonic sleepovers wrought with sexual tension.  There was a time when she had naively thought that there was only making love and basking in the afterglow and perfect happiness, but it’s hard to remember that all, now.  She’s gotten older, and wiser, and spent time in bed with a man she tried to convince herself was the one, learning that even basking could be faked.  Spike taught her how to fuck, how to use her body as a weapon against herself.  There was never any basking, only efficiency and self-loathing.

Buffy’s experienced enough to know that is different still; there’s no threat of Angelus when she can taste despair.  When he finally moves it’s away from her, and she has never felt so alone.

 

She finds she’s still surprised that she can still experience something new.  

 

iii. bargaining

 

Angel goes out on his own at night, and Buffy doesn’t ask where.  She figures they’re both entitled to their secrets and uses the time to write letters to Giles and Dawn and Xander.  They don’t get sent, of course, but it gives her comfort to know there’s a record of what they’re doing.  

 

What she does know is that he’s looking for something.  On the nights he’s found good news, he’s tender, and takes his time.  There’s no risk of perfect happiness, not anymore, so she enjoys everything he gives her.  Other nights he takes out his frustration at what she assumes is a dead end and she responds with her own, until she’s sweaty and out of breath.  On the really bad nights things get broken and they get bloody but it’s a release for her, too.  She’s waiting until he finds what he’s looking for and they can move on.  

 

They sleep in the same bed but she never wakes in his arms.

 

He comes back every morning just as the sun is rising, until one day he doesn’t.  The military moves in the day so she stays inside, pacing as she thinks of every possible scenario.  All of them leave her nauseous and as soon as the sun sets she’s on the move.  

Her patrol is fruitless, and the few inhabitants left don’t know anything.  She goes back to their hideout at daybreak, exhausted and defeated.

Angel is sitting on the edge of their mattress, his head in his hands.  

“Where the hell have you been?” Her relief is hidden behind anger, but she can’t help it.  Logically she knew he was likely dust and it’s only now as she sees him again that she realizes how unprepared for that she truly is.

“They wouldn’t fix it.  I tried, I tried everything, but they wouldn’t fix it.”  

 

“What are you talking about, Angel?”  Unease replaces anger, his hollow eyes creating a pit in her stomach. She’s seen too much destruction brought about by changing what’s already been done.  

“I went to the Oracles, asked them to turn it all back.  To give me another chance to make this right.  And they wouldn’t.”  His head drops back into his hands and his shoulders slump.  

 

“I don’t understand.”  Or, she’s starting to, and hopes desperately she’s wrong.

“They did it once before, when I was human.  They fixed it and you lived.  Said that was my one chance.”  

 

Her brow furrows.  “You were human?”

“A mohra demon, around Thanksgiving years ago.  Its blood turned me human and they took it back.”  The air leaves her lungs and she’s dizzy.  

“Did I know?”  

 

His eyes reflect the pain in her own.  “We spent a day together.  But I couldn’t tell you until the decision had been made. Otherwise I would never have been strong enough.”  


Her hand flies to her mouth and she feels tears spring to her eyes.  “How could you do that, Angel?  We could be on a beach somewhere instead of in this hellhole.  We could be happy!  We could be - “

 

“Dead.  We’d be dead.”  The beach is replaced by a funeral, and she sinks down next to him.  

 

“You never told me.”  

 

“It wasn’t your burden.  And I didn’t think you’d forgive me.”  He’s staring at his hands and she takes one in her own.  

 

“I wouldn’t have then.”  A pause.  “You thought the Oracles would erase all this.”

He pulls his hand back, laughs dryly.  “They laughed at me.  Told me that  his was beyond their reach.”  He stands up and tilts his chin up, his back to her.  “They’re the messengers for the Powers and even they can’t fix what I’ve done.”  

Denial had deluded her into thinking that Angel was looking for something tangible that would help him leave Los Angeles, and she realizes how how shortsighted she had been.  

 

His shoulders heave and the weight of his guilt buckles his knees, driving him to the floor.  She sinks beside him and cradles him, wondering if he cried when he gave back his humanity.

 

iv. depression

 

The trip out of Los Angeles is complicated.  The military has set up blockades around the city limits and the few exits have heavily guarded checkpoints, which she starts referring to as Checkpoint Charlie in her mind.  She thinks Willow would have been proud that she retained anything from their tutoring sessions and then sobers.  

Angel agrees to leave with her two days before she calculates their building will be demolished.  She packs a backpack with the few remaining canned goods she’s found, a gallon of water and the letters she’s written.  They leave when the sun sets.

Their progress is slow. Angel has not been feeding well, and her own caloric intake has been lacking.  They head in the direction of Pasadena because Buffy remembers a highway there.  

There are only a few humans, or demons, along the way.  By unspoken agreement they ignore each other save for the occasional nod or menacing stare.  Her senses are heightened and she bristles at each noise, overcompensating for the Angel’s inability to do anything except follow her, and the directions she gives.

There is a barrier of barbed wire and floodlights at the perimeter of the city, and a two guard towers spaced a mile apart.  A month (or had it been two?) ago entering the city had been a matter of will and physical ability.  Now, she’s not sure if the guards are there to keep people out or monsters in.  Either way the barrier was made in haste; the towers are too far apart to see the entire stretch of fence clearly, and the lights are fixed.  There is a stretch of fence cloaked in darkness.  

 

They army crawl to the fence and use the wire cutters she’d taken from a hardware store to cut a hole large enough for the two of them to slip through.  Buffy works slowly, looking at the guard tower more frequently than is most likely necessary, but she’s unwilling to take any chances.  When all else is stripped away they’re still a Slayer and a souled vampire and she’s had enough run ins with the military to know that nothing good could come of that encounter.

She finally creates a hole and they slip through, unnoticed.  They army crawl to the Arroyo Seco and then they run through darkened residential neighborhoods until the lights of 210 nearly blind them.  The noise of civilization is deafening after their eerily quiet post-apocalyptic existence and for a moment they stand, dazed, watching the cars whiz by.  It’s only when Angel gently brushes her elbow, and points to the sky, that she realizes the sun will rise at any moment and they need to get inside.

Later, when she’s well rested and her stomach is full, she’ll taste hope in the simple truth Angel wasn’t willing to meet the sun.

 

They find a cheap motel and Buffy has to stifle a giggle at the normalcy of handing over her credit card and signing her receipt.  The clerk looks annoyed as he hands them their room key and after catching a glimpse of them in the mirror in the lobby she can understand where he’s coming from.  

Their room has a queen bed and heavy curtains, which she promptly pulls tight.  Angel sits on the bed, folded into himself, and the temptation to dive below the covers is so consuming that she physically has to jolt herself to focus.  

“Shower?”  Angel makes eye contact, nods.  They’re filthy, and it’s a problem with an simple solution.

She runs the shower and they undress, the fog slowly hiding her gaunt appearance and stringy hair in the mirror.  Her cheekbones are hollow and she notices for the first time that she can slide her pants down without unbuttoning them.  

They step into the shower, the hot spray washing weeks of dirt and grime down the drain in a black mess.  There’s a washcloth that looks clean enough, and a standard issue bar of soap which she rubs into the cloth until it’s been replaced by suds.  Buffy cleans herself  quickly, motivated by the threat of a limited supply of hot water and the promise of sleeping in a real bed.  Angel has his back to her and without making a conscious choice starts scrubbing, watching as the dirt falls away to reveal his tattoo, a constant that makes her feel homesick.  Like her, his skin is stretched tight over his bones and she wonders at how she missed that he’d gotten so skeletal.  Soft flesh is replaced by sharp edges and she makes a note to find the nearest butcher as soon as morning comes.

 

The towels are scratchy but she barely feels them, the adrenaline finally giving way to the exhaustion that’s been lurking at the periphery and they stumble into the bed.  

 

---

The sunlight peeking in from the edges of the cheap curtains wake Buffy ten hours after her head hit the pillow, and she stretches, feeling more refreshed than she has in weeks.  Angel is still sleeping, or pretending to be, so she’s quiet as she pulls on her filthy clothing and leaves the room.

It takes her two hours to find a butcher that won’t ask too many questions and some clothes for them that won’t break the bank and it’s almost noon when she gets back to their room.  The bed is neatly made and their belongings are organized on the bed, and Angel is sitting at the small table in the corner.

 

“Here, you need to eat,” she offers, setting the bag on the table.  Small talk has never been their strong suit and she’s afraid to start now.  (How are you?  Oh, you’re coming to terms with the fact you destroyed an entire city?  Hey, at least the weather’s nice!)

 

“So do you.”  

 

“I did.”  A protein bar and an iced tea but she’s not technically lying.  

The silence is heavy as he drinks the blood in front of him, not bothering to turn away from her.  She’s not sure if it’s because he’s gotten comfortable with her, or he’s that hungry, or it’s because he’s trying to repulse her but she finds she could not care less.  They’ve been through hell and back, literally, for each other and with each other and she thinks that now is the time she loves him more than she ever has.  

 

“I thought we’d head out today.  There’s a rental car agency up the road and if we drive all night we’ll make it to Phoenix before the sun rises.”  He doesn’t respond so she continues.  “I looked at flights and we should be able to get one without much planning.  I’m not sure about getting you on the plane, though, so you’re going to have to give me some guidance there…”  Her voice trails off as he begins to shake his head.

 

“I’m not going.”  Angel won’t make eye contact with her, and she notices that their belongings are not on the bed together, they’re divided into two neat piles.  His and hers, staying and leaving, past and present.

“Why not?” It’s barely a whisper, all she can manage over the lump in her throat.  

“I’m not going to run away from this.”

 

“Running away? You think that’s what I’m doing?”  The tears are hot in her eyes and she blinks them away.  She’d just assumed this was a stop over before continuing on together, that he felt as much as she did that this was a new, undiscovered road that they were going to explore together.

 
Angel looks up from his hands, clenched on the table, and his eyes are pools of guilt. “What? No.  This wasn’t your doing.  Wasn’t your fault.  I have to stay.”  He looks back down at his hands, furrows his brows slightly.  “Make it right.”

It’s too much and she can’t prevent the tear that trickles down her cheek.  She takes the chair across from him, gently takes his hands in her own.  “You can’t fix this, Angel.  This is done, and we have to move on.  If you stay here, you’re going to get killed.  Going to get us killed.”  

He shakes his head.  “I’m not asking you to stay here, Buffy.”  

“I know.  But I’m not leaving you, not again.”  He looks up, and she continues, tries to answer the questions his eyes ask.  “I was so angry when I got on the plane, Angel.  I was angry that you took on Wolfram and Hart without me, that you never told me what was going on, that you never called for help."

 

"I did. I was told you wouldn't help." His arms cross over his chest, defensively.

 

"What?" Her voice is a whisper, devastated.

 

"I don't blame you, not anymore. You were smart to stay away."

 

"I didn't know." Who knew? Who had talked to Angel? She wants to ask but the words get lodged in her throat.

"If you'd come you would have died. Like Wes, and Gunn, and Cordelia." His eyes close and memories slash pain across his features.

Unchanged, she thinks. Always unchanged.

"They died fighting with you."

 

"Died because of me. And if you had been there you would have died too."

The silence is interrupted only by the hum of the mini fridge.

 

"Willow cast a spell, and it made all of the potentials into Slayers." Angel looks at her, confused and maybe a little irritated at the change in conversation. "They fight, and they die. They're fighting my fight and they're dying. I used to learn their names, say a prayer. Now there's too many. They're just numbers." She looks at Angel, forces eye contact. "That's how this works, Angel. We have to make decisions and live with their consequences."

 

"It should have been me, Buffy. Not them."

"But it wasn't. You survived. And you need to fight."

 

"I can't, not anymore. Everything I touch falls apart and I can't do it anymore."

 

She takes his cold hands in her own and squeezes, the surprised that she can still be delighted that he absorbs her warmth.

 

"You're alive for a reason, Angel. I saw the destruction in LA and there's no way your survival was an accident. Something up there knows that you're not done."

They sit in silence for long moment, until finally he looks at her, intense and desperate and lost.

"Show me how?"



----

They rent a sedan and make it to Phoenix in what she imagines is record time. A few phone calls and they have a death certificate and a coffin, which Buffy has an extraordinarily difficult time closing Angel into.

He tries to smile but can't quite manage, and she is trying to convince him as much as herself when she brushes a kids over his lips and tells him she'll see him in 12 hours.

The flight is long but uneventful. No one questions that she's a grieving widow; she knows she looks the part.

The plane begins its descent into Heathrow and Buffy begins to second guess her decision not to alert anyone they're coming. She was afraid he'd say no, and she can't take that chance, not now. Italy no longer feels like home and even if she can't find the words to explain why, England somehow does.

 

It's overcast when they land, and the car she's hired in advance is waiting for them at the curb.

Onlookers give her sympathetic stares as she walks out next to the coffin and she has to force herself to wait until they're out of city limits to ask the driver to pull over.

He doesn't comment as Buffy throws the lid to the coffin open. He's been paid handsomely not to ask questions, which she knows will be reflected in her next credit card bill.

"Angel," her voice is breathless but she can't help the visceral reaction to seeing him so lifeless.

"Buffy." A croak, he clears his throat. "Buffy." Clearer that time.

He holds her hand the rest of the car ride, and she knows he can hear her heart racing when the car finally stops.

 

The walk to the door is long, but the wait between her ringing the bell and the door opening is even longer. He answers the door himself, in a sweater and corduroys and holding a cup of tea.

"Hi, Giles. Can we come in?"



v. Acceptance


One year later.

 

Buffy's learned to appreciate tea, especially in these early hours of the morning where the damp will seep into her bones if she's not careful. This morning it's a ginger lemon, and she inhales deeply as she pours the water into the teapot and carries it out to the porch. There are two cups and she fills them both, savoring the first sip that's almost hot enough to scald her throat.

 

"Mmmm, I like this one the best."

 

In the chair next to her, Angel smiles. "You said that about the chai last week, remember?" He sips his own tea, which he drinks for the temporary warmth it brings him. It makes her sad if she thinks about it too much, so she forces herself to switch gears.

 

"It was a good patrol." There's a normalcy to their lives, now. They train new slayers with Giles during the afternoon and patrol at night, a routine that is always capped off with a cup of tea before the sun rises.

"It was," Angel agrees as he stares into the lightening sky. "We should take Morgan tomorrow."


She's 17, from Scotland, and Buffy knows she's ready but can't stop her stomach from clenching.

"So soon? Are you sure?"  

 

"You can't protect them all, Buffy. You've done all you can to train them."

 

"We've done all we can," she corrects absently but he doesn't answer. Angel is just as active in training the Slayers as she is but won't take credit. It's par for the course, but she'll correct him every time.

"Thank you," Angel says after a few minutes have passed and she furrows her brow and he continues, staring down into his tea.  “You didn’t give up on me.  You’ve never given up on me.”

She squeezes his hand because platitudes would ring hollow.  From within the house they can hear Giles putting on a pot of tea, as he does every morning.  There’s comfort in their routine, one that she didn’t expect to find when they showed up at his doorstep a year earlier.  


“The sun will rise soon,” he says, breaking the silence.  There’s sadness in his voice; he’s told her about signing away the Shanshu prophecy.  Giles has been researching on the side but has found no hope.  Not yet.  

 

“I’ll meet you upstairs?” He kisses her nose and cuts across the driveway to the small apartment they share above the garage.  Most morning she’ll go up with him and burrow beneath the blankets, waiting for him to absorb her warmth, but today she wants to watch the sun rise.

Giles emerges a few minutes later, bringing a blanket to wrap around her shoulders.

“I do wish you’d put on a few more pounds, Buffy.”  He smiles as he says it but his eyes convey his concern.  She hasn’t quite recovered from the two months in Los Angeles and it shows in the sharp tents of her skin.  

“Angel says we should bring Morgan tonight.”  

“I’ll let her know over breakfast.”  

 

The sun crests the hill in the front of the property and she closes her eyes and basks in the weak first light.  “I never used to stop and appreciate the sunrise.”

“Few ever do.”  

“It feels like a fresh start, every day.  Like the sins of yesterday are being forgiven.”  

 

Giles chuckles.  “I never knew you were so poetic, Buffy.”

She feels her cheeks redden and turns her attention to her tea.  “I’ll blame it on all the poetry Angel reads.”  

“Have you spoken to Angel about our conversation last week?” The Watcher’s Council, under Giles's direction, has purchased a new facility outside of Boston and wants Buffy and Angel to run it together.  Since their conversation she hasn’t stopped thinking about it, but some part of her wants to wait until she’s made a decision to bring it up to Angel.

“I will tonight.”

 

“Buffy, I don’t mean to lecture you or to sound like I’m pushing you, but I think this would be a fantastic opportunity for the two of you.”

“I know.”  


“Then what, Buffy?”  There’s a note of frustration in his voice, although she thinks that if she didn’t know him as well as she does it would be undetectable.


“I’m scared of change.” Her tone is matter of fact but she feels anything but.  She is the senior Slayer, the one who has died twice and come back to life as many times.  Buffy has saved the world countless time, some with help and some on her own.  She died to save her sister and killed her best friend to save the world.  She sent her lover to hell and then resurrected him when his personal apocalypse went to hell.  The words sound foolish coming from her lips and she stares into the sun, lets her irises burn.

 

“I think you should go, Buffy.”  His tone is gentle, his words firm.  And at her core, she’s knows he’s right.  “You and Angel have done all you can here.  I’ve not asked anyone else about Boston because frankly, you’re the only one I trust to do it right.”  

“I know.”  

“You’d be closer to Dawn, to Connor…” Giles trails off because they’ve been through this.  Dawn is in her sophomore year at BU, Connor finishing his senior at Columbia.  There’s a lot she hasn’t wrapped her head around, like the fact that Connor and Dawn are close friends, or that Connor is Angel’s son, but she’s met him once and liked him enough.  Angel would move heaven and hell to protect Connor, which she would have guessed when she had learned about him but then confirmed when Angel told her what he’d done to protect him.  

Buffy can’t condemn.  She once died to protect Dawn.  

 

“I know, Giles.”  Another long sip of her tea.  “I’ll miss the tea, though.”  This time a smile escapes her lips, the comfort in having made a decision warming her.

 

“And how do you think Angel will feel about this?”  

“Angel will go where I go.”  It’s the truth.

 

Giles arches an eyebrow.  That wasn’t my question.

“I don’t think he’ll be excited about another trip in a coffin.” She tries to keep her tone light, fails.  “I think he’ll logically see is as the right choice, but…”

“I know.”  And he does, which she wouldn’t have predicted a year ago.  But he knows about Angel’s nightmares, his guilt, his pain.  And more than that, he understands and accepts it.  Giles and Angel have forged a partnership, at times even a friendship, and he’s almost more aware of how close Angel has come to breaking than even she is.  

 

Angel thought that he would be saving the world when he took on the Black Thorn, Giles had once explained to her.  Instead, he is responsible for the death of tens of thousands of innocent people.  Have you ever considered this as compared to the number he killed as Angelus?  Without his soul? After that, she stops offering words when he wakes up screaming and just holds him.  She's become the strong one, the anchor to Angel's ship in a perpetual storm.

"When would we leave?"

 

"Preferably sooner than later. I've stalled the Council up to this point but they're anxious to get the Boston operation running." Gears are turning, plans are being made.

"I'll talk to Angel. We don't have much, so we should be able to move fairly quickly." Buffy steals a look at Giles, aged but far from old.  England has softened him and this year has strengthened their relationship, subtly transitioning to an adult friendship.

"I'm going to miss you, Giles." He meets her gaze and smiles.

 

"I hear they have things that can help with that. Have you heard of Skype?"

She doesn't stop smiling for the rest of the day.

----

Angel agrees to the move more readily than she anticipates.  It occurs to her that this year has been the most difficult in recent memory, and he's looking forward to a fresh start. The proximity to Connor doesn't hurt, either, and she laughs when she hears him on the phone an hour later, desperately trying to hide his enthusiasm under a veneer of quiet cool.

Travel arrangements are made and within a week they’re in their new house in Plymouth, MA.  It’s a grand old Victorian within walking distance to the beach, and for the first time Buffy appreciates her ties to the Council.  They choose their room, not the largest but with the best views and heaviest curtains, and are unpacked in less than an hour.  

After the sun sets Angel suggests a walk to the beach.  It’s chilly, and nearly deserted, and they watch the waves break on the shore in comfortable silence.  Angel’s arms are wrapped around her waist and she pulls him closer, relishing in the way her body folds into his.

“I don’t think I ever thanked you for coming to Los Angeles.”  

 

“You would have done the same.”  

When Angel was in hell she dreamt that they stood like this on a beach.  Since then they’ve lived more than most do in two lifetimes, and yet she still has a hard time believing that they’re standing here now, and she won’t wake up in a panic.  

 

“You’re still my girl.”  His voice is tinged with wonder, and she thinks it must be something about the ocean air that brings epiphanies.  

 

“Forever.  That’s the whole point.”



End.








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