The city beneath her is sleeping.
She walks on the roof of it, padding softly through the snow, her boots up to her knees and a woolly scarf wrapped tightly around her nose and ears and mouth. There is a slow moon in the sky, almost hidden by heavy snow clouds and the black hand of the night. Mountains yawn around her, opening and closing and breathing and migrating, cracking at their edges, tectonic plates shifting, bringing oceans closer minute by minute, mermaids and sea kings and dream kings.
Her fever is coming back, Buffy thinks, sensibly. Time to hurry. There is no need to check her map or compass. That is Brasov below her, white and salty, with golden ribbon roads and smoking chimneys. She can smell a bakery already yeasty with bread, and her stomach growls, imagining biting into warm and soft, imagining a well of clean water, tasting of minerals and earth.
Shaking her head, she begins to trek down. She can see herself the way they are going to see her. Skinniness and hollowness, bruised eyes from the last case in Trondheim, where the monsters had formed what amounted to a child trafficking ring, passing kids along from vampire to vampire. Gone were the days when a simple blood draining sufficed, or a nice end of days. They were becoming infected by the perversions of humanity.
Buffy had enjoyed killing them. Her contact, Kjersti, gave her a nice winter coat as a bonus, and she snuggles deeper inside it now, as she reaches the outskirts of the city.
Closed windows, lit only by candles, a snowy street, door after door shut to her, and for a terrible moment, she feels the tears at the back of her throat, insistent and trembling to life, stinging her eyes and her teeth and her fingertips.
I want to cry, she almost says out loud. I’m lonely. Oh.
But she breathes instead, in and out, oh oh oh, until it all means nothing and the stars exploding millennia away are just fireworks, and the Carpathians behind her are just sleeping dogs, and there is no ghost of a girl by her side, nor boy, there is just white space, endless white breathing endless space.
Buffy imagines an onion, sitting on a shelf.
Her fever is back, so she pats herself on the back for the metaphor. It is, after all, so accurate, that onion. It is as pale as a wrist turned inwards, the color of Spike’s skin and the snow when Angel was forgiven. She imagines walking over to it, peeling back a layer, so translucent and gleaming, moon-ridden and perfect with the smell of tears.
One layer, and the story is that she is running.
Two layers, and the story is that she is sick, so sick that she can feel heat rolling off her body like sand storms or ocean storms or rapids through a canyon.
Three layers, the onion is bleeding now, and the story is that she is being hunted.
But really, Buffy laughs through the sweat in her eyes, she’s not easy prey.
The talons of pain lift her off the greening sheets in the small hotel room, the red drapes that hide her from the curious streets; they lift her away from the tea kettles and the bowl of grapes, from her fever and her hurricane of memory. Buffy feels pierced through and through, but she bears it, not screaming or gasping or shrieking or clawing at her face, what is she, Dawn? No, not a coward, never, and so she retreats, deep inside, where she never wanted to go, and she sees Giles’ face, and oh no no but—
He helped her pack her things.
“A sweater, yes,” he said, and his eyes were sunken, misshapen. The cut above his forehead was slick with blood. “Teabags.”
Anya was rocking in the corner, elbows against knees, chin against chest.
“Giles,” Buffy said quietly. “Please.”
“You need to hurry,” he said. “There is no time.”
“Giles,” she said again. “Everyone is gone.”
“Not everyone,” he answered. “You are not, Anya is not. I have a duty—I have a duty to protect you. I will, I must.” He was faltering. “You must understand—they have sent someone—to take care of the situation.”
The sword by her side was wet with Willow’s blood. “What do you mean?”
“When a Slayer cannot fulfill her duties. When a Slayer has become—difficult.” His voice was dull. “It is standard practice. I never thought to inform you of it because—I never thought there would be a need. It hasn’t happened in hundreds of years.” He paused, opened one of the drawers by her bed. “Socks. Warm socks. Do you have proper wellies?”
“Tell me,” she said, soft, catching his arm. The tweed felt rough under her palm. “What are they going to do?”
“They will send someone to assassinate you,” he said plainly. “I don’t know who. If that person fails, they will send another. And another, until the job is done and a new Slayer can be called.”
“But—“ the sound of her own voice was painful. “It wasn’t—“
“It doesn’t matter whose fault it was,” he replied. “She was your friend. Under your care. That is the way they will see this, Buffy. You failed to control her, and she—“
“Murdered Xander and Dawn, and I killed her for it,” she said, as if the words could begin to make sense in the air. Her, like an insect or a crawly thing. She thought that if she looked down, half of her body would be missing, should be. “And for that they’re going to put me down like a dog?”
“First they will make you sick.”
“It is an old spell, and a useful one. A fever every few days, pain unimaginable. It weakens the body, warps the mind, makes a prey easier to catch. They know it is not easy killing a Slayer.” Suddenly, tears filled Giles’ eyes and spilled down his cheeks, unchecked and unnoticed. “It could never be easy.”
Buffy reached up and held Giles in her arms, even though she wasn’t sure if she could stay in her own flesh one minute longer, one second longer. Her family were gone, her little ones, her Scoobies, slayerettes, scattered across the hill, waiting for help that had not come. Xander’s eyes were open. Dawn’s teeth had been knocked out and fell in her hair like pink-stained piano keys.
“I’ll go,” she said against Giles’ chest. “Tell me where to go.”
She wakes up in Brasov at ten o’clock the following evening, by the red light of the clock. The memories bang up against her mind like flotsam, washed up garbage and other lost things. But. Details trip on her tongue and with the instincts that have seen her through the past four years, she suddenly knows. A blanket covers her legs and there is something cool against her forehead. A cup steams on the bedside table. Oh.
“Relax,” he says.
“It wasn’t easy,” Angel answers, pulling the desk chair over so that he can sit beside the bed. “Believe me.”
“What did you—I mean…”
“I cleaned this place top to bottom, then I went out and got you a blanket and a better pillow and some food.” His voice is dispassionate. “This is a shithole, Buffy.”
“Its where they put me up,” she replies. “And that’s not what I meant.”
He ignores the latter part of her speech. “Who?”
“Right.” Angel nods.
“Mono-syllabic grunts,” Buffy says. “That’s not exactly how I’ve pictured this going.”
“How did you picture it?”
“Differently.” She’s embarrassed. “Is that soup for me?”
He picks it up without comment and begins to feed it to her. It tastes vaguely of mashed potatoes, as if he might remember her favorite comfort food. Their eyes do not meet over the spoon. But she lets herself stare at him. His looks haven’t changed of course, still maddeningly gorgeous, but he’s so tired and faintly angry and she can’t help. She doesn’t even know how to talk to people she used to know.
She barges in anyway. “So I guess it would be stupid to ask what you’re doing here?”
“It would be.” He stands, one fluid movement, and walks over to the kitchenette. Twisting on the tap, he begins to wash the empty mug, his back to her. “What are you doing in Brasov?”
“A haunting. Bran Castle. Someone named Vlad Teepee is trying to move in permanently.”
“Vlad Tepes,” he corrects her, and she can tell from his voice that the half-smile has appeared, unbidden on his face.
“Right. Well, whoever he is, he’s not welcome. Hellish for tourism.”
“He wasn’t even a vampire,” Angel says. “And he didn’t live in Bran Castle.”
“You want to give them the history lesson, or should I?”
“So you’re a Slayer for hire?”
“Something like that.”
He turns around, hands dripping with water and suds. “Why didn’t you just call me? I would have protected you.”
“Didn’t cross my mind,” Buffy says, looking away. Removing the damp washcloth from her forehead, she stretches for a moment and then gets up, pulling on a sweater and shaking out her hair. “It was so long ago. Maybe we should go for a walk.”
“Yes, a walk, doofus,” she says and immediately regrets the teasing. Too familiar by half, for someone she doesn’t know anymore. “My mind needs mega clearing.”
“Fine. You can have my coat.”
“Like I want to drown,” Buffy replies, and grabs her own, heading for the door.
The sky is a starlit dome, and they walk beneath it, not talking at first, not even really breathing. She can hear her own heart throbbing under her breasts, hot and sure and steady. Of course it is. It has always been a fixed point.
It is just her body that staggers, across the world, searching.
“How are you?” she whispers, finally, into the frozen air. For a moment she thinks she feels his hand against her hair, but the touch, if it was there at all, is gone.
“Terrible,” Angel says.
“I found her.”
She stops, sickening sway, and she stops. “Is that who it was? I—“ she had suspected, after the first and only note arrived from her would-be assassin. I am going to fuck you to death. But there hadn’t been any certainty. “What did you—“
“I killed her,” he says.
“They pumped her full of drugs. She wasn’t—it was like trying to reason with an animal. It might’ve been easier with an animal. There wasn’t anything—she almost killed me. I had—“
“I know you had to,” Buffy whispers, stopping and finally looking straight at him. Oh God, his face. She forgot, or she remembered, she’s not sure. “I’m sorry—“
“Don’t apologize to me,” Angel holds up his hand, as if he is going to hit her, but he doesn’t. He cups her cheek with his palm, his thumb scorching her bottom lip, his index finger against her ear, in her hair. “I love you, but don’t.”
“Ok,” she says, trembling a bit. It is so long since she has been touched. “Can I ask you something?”
“Did you go to the funerals?”
“They were peaceful. Something funerals usually aren’t.”
“Ok,” she answers. “Is Dawn buried next to my Mom?”
“Ok.” She bends over a bit, trying not to throw up. “I’ve never talked about—“
He does not say a word, simply lifts her into his arms and carries her against his heart, his dead heart, back to the hotel. The snow swallows their footsteps.
Sometime in the night, she rolls over and he puts his arms around her as if he was waiting. But he is tense, taut as a bow string, and she thinks dark thoughts, of the sword hole she made in his belly, of how Willow looked, gasping at the end of steel, of the first year and how she grieved. How the loss of Dawn was like someone had drawn a line down the front of her body and unzipped.
“Why did you come here?” Buffy asks against his neck.
He laughs, but it sounds like a sob. “To find you.”
“They won’t stop looking for me. I’m sick all the time.”
“Shhh,” he murmurs, and kisses her once, to shut her up.
But she kisses him back. He tastes so good; she can’t help it. Everything is contained in this one kiss, she thinks. Her sixteen year-old self, her thin dreams like mothwings but as unshakeable as glaciers, a miniature Sunnydale with its churches and wizards and warlocks, all the dark earth and the dark waters, all the animals, the stars, the fires and floods. His kiss is the world and he is cracking her open.
“Angel,” she says against his lips.
He doesn’t reply. She thinks he might be crying. They take off their clothes underneath the hot sheets and she reaches down, anxious to feel his cock against her hand. It stretches up, strong and slick and she can smell the salt of it. Her mouth rushes with saliva and she wets her hand with it, cupping his penis and feeling it pulse with the touch.
He presses his face against her breasts while the fingers of his right hand play with her pussy, and she is already so wet that she thinks she might come just from the gentle brushes against her clit, the teasing shallow thrusts.
Oh she tries to gasp out, but her whole body is stretched tight as a drum stretched tight and she has to have him inside of her, cannot bear this, cannot wait, and when he finally is-- there, as there as he can be, balls-deep and bearing down, his back arched, she cries out, just once. He fucks her against the bed she thought she’d be sleeping in alone, and he fucks her so that she cannot get him deep enough, hard enough, one hand against her heart and the other around the back of her neck. He fucks her from behind, palming her breasts with one hand, the other at her clit, his whole body shaping to hers, and she is burning from the inside out.
He gathers her back so that are half-sitting, and he kisses her, his tongue in her mouth and she tastes herself, them, what they might have been, what they are, all the coulds shoulds woulds that she cannot forget, Acathla’s mouth and the day that was swallowed up forever and she kisses him, orgasming until she thinks she will never stop, never stop.
“I came to find you,” he says again and she finally understands what he means. Nothing else can be allowed to matter. Nothing else. She thinks I am not dead, kissing him, taking him in her arms and against her heart, thinking the mountains are moving again, yes, she can hear them.
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Summary: Thou shalt not suffer a slayer to live.
Timeline: Alt after ‘Two to Go’, season 6.
Written for the IWRY ficathon.