From here, Buffy could see the ocean. It seemed weird, for it to be so close, yet she hadn’t been to the water’s edge in months. She sighed wearily. There was a knot in the middle of her back that no amount of stretching seemed to undo and every bone in her body ached from fighting. Endless fighting.
She’d lost track of the others a few days ago. She worried most about Xander and, strangely, least about Dawn. As it turned out, her sister was a pretty capable fighter. And, of course, she had the supernatural on her side. Xander, on the other hand, was at a disadvantage – one eye shuttered and the years of fighting clearly taking their toll.
Los Angeles had been in the throes of battle for months now. If it hadn’t been for the fact that there were more Slayers, the battle would have been lost long ago. Still, all they were really doing was holding back the hordes.
Buffy reached up and pulled her hair out of its tight ponytail. She sank her fingers into her hair, digging nails into her scalp. She’d give just about anything for a long, hot shower, some citrus-scented shampoo, a comfortable bed and a year of uninterrupted sleep. She smiled ruefully.
In a few minutes the sun would sink into the ocean and then Buffy would not be able to put off leaving her perch on top of this building and going down into the streets. She could hardly remember her life before she’d been called; hunting demons was now a biological imperative. She simply had no choice.
But there were more demons and less people to fight them and eventually the humans would lose.
Later, and always, she would remember the exact moment she saw him. First, the flap of his leather coat as he rounded the corner. And then, after, his face when she said his name.
He paused before he turned around. His big shoulders, squared with readiness, seemed to loosen.
"Buffy?" he said.
"Angel," she repeated.
It had been a long time since she’d said his name.
"This is it," she said.
They were standing in the room she called home. It wasn’t much. A bed, a table pushed up against the wall, a viewless window. A door led to the bathroom. A counter with a toaster oven and a bar-sized fridge. There wasn’t always electricity for either.
"I’d offer to get you something, but I…"
Angel moved to the table and sat down on the chair beside it.
Other than the one word, her name, he hadn’t spoken. On the street, he’d reached out a hand to touch her, but in the end they hadn’t connected. For a long moment they had stood, eyeing each other across a great divide. Years and years, it seemed. Then Buffy said: “We should go somewhere else.”
Angel had nodded and then, silently, he’d followed.
Buffy was trying to remember the last time she’d seen Angel. At first there were only third person reports; there had been the dragon attack of 2004. And then the vampire uprising in Cleveland in 2006. She’d heard about the dragon from Spike and the Cleveland thing from Faith. Then, for a long time, radio silence.
"Seven years,” Angel said. "And a few months."
"What?" Buffy said. Angel’s voice startled her.
"The last time we saw each other."
Buffy came to sit across from Angel at the table. "Wow."
"A long time,” Angel whispered.
"No," Buffy said. "Wow. You spoke."
Angel’s mouth curled upwards and then straightened out. "I’m generally alone. If I talk to myself I feel like I’m going crazy."
"My mother always told me that talking to yourself is what prevented you from going crazy. You only had to worry if you started to answer."
"How have you been, Buffy?"
Buffy looked down at her hands, her ragged nails, the scabs across her knuckles. It suddenly occurred to her that she must look like shit. She was bleeding, too; her shirt was wet and sticky, but she couldn’t figure out where the blood was coming from. If she had ever indulged herself with the hope that she and Angel would one day meet again, this was not at all how she’d imagined the reunion. She felt Angel’s steady gaze and looked up.
He looked the same.
"You look," she paused. "The same. Always so…young."
He nodded, but remained silent.
"It’s not an accident that you’re here, is it?"
"No," Angel said. "I’m sorry."
Nothing happened for a long time. The sun rose and shifted the gray light in Buffy’s room. Down in the alley, demons or humans – it hardly mattered which - rummaged through garbage cans, looking for scraps of food. Buffy was suddenly exhausted. Angel had stopped talking and he wasn’t looking at her either.
Buffy finally asked: "Why did they send you?"
"That was the deal."
"There was a deal?"
"Should I, I dunno, pack?"
Angel stood and stepped closer to Buffy. "I’m not allowed to…"
"Touch me. I get it."
"It’s the rule," Angel said. "I hate it."
"Me too," Buffy whispered. "So what do we do?"
"We wait," said Angel.
Buffy could smell the blood now; the blood seeping from the wound she could neither see nor feel.
"So, I have to ask," Buffy said, finally. "That whole Wolfram and Hart gig…"
Angel sighed. "I thought if we were on the inside we could get more done. Make a difference. The thing about evil, though, is that it’s always more…"
"Evil than you think."
Angel smiled a little. "Something like that. Anyway, I thought I could, we could--" He stopped. "I thought we could beat it."
"They had a dragon," Buffy said. "I hear they’re hard to kill."
"But not impossible."
"No," she smiled. "Not impossible."
"Is it okay if I rest a little," she asked, moving to the bed.
"Will you stay with me?"
"Of course," he said.
It was dark again when Buffy woke up. She felt as though she’d been asleep for a week. For a minute. Forever. Time was out of whack. She tried to remember something concrete: the beach and the sun’s pink glow as it fell into the water.
A fight and Angel’s coat floating behind him as he rounded the corner.
"Oh," Buffy said, remembering. She turned her head and saw that Angel was sitting in a chair directly beside the bed.
"Hey," he said.
She pushed herself up onto her elbows. She wished she had some lip gloss. She wished she could get up and brush her teeth. She’d run out of toothpaste weeks ago. She didn’t suppose it mattered anymore.
"So, how does this work?"
"When you’re ready, we’ll go," Angel said.
"Okay," Buffy said.
"Okay," said Angel.
Buffy settled back on the bed, pulling the covers up over legs. She was cold. She wished she could get comfortable. She wished she had clean clothes. She wished the hidden gash would ache so she’d know where it was.
"Buffy," Angel said.
She turned to look at him.
"I love you."
"All mortals die," the Oracle said. "You saved her from that fate once, many years ago. When you made the original bargain you asked to be allowed, no matter what the circumstances, to be with her at the end of her life. We kept that promise and now you must keep yours to us."
"She would have died alone," the Oracle said. "You spared her that."
"I spared her nothing."
"Nevertheless, the price must be paid."
"I understand," Angel said.
"And now our business with you is concluded," the Oracle said.
Buffy waited. She felt clean and light and whole. And when she felt Angel’s hand slip into hers, palm against palm, she smiled and held tight.
"I knew you’d come," she said.
"Always," he replied.
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Summary: An old debt is repaid.
Disclaimer: Joss owns all. I own nothing.