She stands atop a hill, the brilliant emerald green of it pocked, scored and charred from battles fought with magic and steel. In her hand, a tiny bit of glittering silver, slender chain trailing down her wrist, wrapping around it tight as the promise in her palm.
It arrived in the mail this morning. Plain package wrapped in brown paper bearing stamps from halfway around the world, return address written in tiny script, naming a place that no longer exists.
LA is gone. Swallowed by Hell.
Hard enough to know that; that the place she was born and raised is as completely erased as Sunnydale. Hard enough to know her past holds no touchstones. But this…
She opens her hand, feels her lungs seize a deep, involuntary breath. Silver and gold twisted band, diamond set in its center. It glimmers, flaring brilliantly in the chilly dawn light, red, orange and blue.
In her pocket is the note that came with it, crumpled by her tiny fist and streaked with tears.
I bought this for you on a day that never happened…
LA is gone. Angel is gone.
She walks through days and weeks without meaning. She fights, she bleeds, the bad guys die, and some of the good guys, too. It’s the way of things, it’s the never-ending dance of her life, and she knows all the steps so well she could do them in her sleep.
In the back of her mind, she keeps a list of her sins. A litany of names and faces, every young girl who has fallen by her side, all the lives she couldn’t save. Back and back and back to where it all began.
Close your eyes.
The diamond bites deep into the flesh of her palm, angry teeth that demand penance. When she lifts it from her hand, it drips violent red, brilliance lost beneath thick smears of blood. Years and years of her life, lost to blood.
The cut will heal by tomorrow.
When she dreams that night, she dreams she is alone, single figure cut against the blasted landscape. Above her a huge letter “A” looms, bright yellow and luminescent in the darkness, bright as a beacon. “A”, for Apocalypse, she knows, intrinsically. It rises like a single monument to touch the clouds in the roiling sky. There are tiny words printed beneath, white letters printed across a long red rectangle.
“Billions and Billions Dead” and beneath that, “Please Drive Thru”.
A body twists in the wind, suspended from the apex of the letter, strung upside down by one foot.
“Come on! You’re going to miss it,” Angel says, excited as he pulls at her hand.
There’s a yellow billboard, names of the dead, the list she keeps inside her head. Letters slashed in deep red that drips like blood, each one a glaring accusation. Angel, Cordelia, Gunn, Wesley, Lorne, Connor, Fred. Their names gleam wettest, fresh and new beneath hundreds of others.
A demonic voice croaks from the speaker, like a bellow straight out of hell. “Take your order please?”
“Yes,” Angel says, smiling wide. “I’d like to order death with a side of betrayal.”
“You want that with cheese?” the demon asks, sounding incredibly bored.
“Yes, please.” Angel cuts his eyes at her, gives her a sly grin. “This is the best part.” He squeezes her hand--
He’s burning. Flames licking up the length of his jacket, curling as it dances over his cheekbones, eyes bright in the firelight. He stands, arms open, sword shoved through his chest and grins, teeth sharp.
“Now that’s service,” Angel laughs. “Couldn’t have done it without you, baby.”
She’s wearing a red and yellow uniform, fingers wrapped around the handle in his chest. She can do this, she can take it back, save him. She pulls—
He turns to ash, crumbling and drifting on the wind.
She wakes, shaking, head in her hands, vision blurring with tears.
“So you’re saying… you dreamed you’re the “McDonald’s” of apocalypse and death?” Xander blinks. “Geez, Buff. No more Big Macs for you. You’re cut off. Next time I’ll have Willow teleport out for pizza.”
“Trust me. My brain is officially on notice.” Her smile is wry, and it almost feels real, genuine for a second before it trembles and fades.
“Buffy…” Xander looks at her earnestly with his one good eye—and it’s just another reminder of how she’s failed. She knows what he’d say, what he wants to say, how he’d comfort her, and she doesn’t want it. Doesn’t deserve it.
“Don’t tell me not blame myself,” she says, looking away.
“Okay, how about this? You’re a Slayer and you live in a castle in Scotland that’s wired with more technology than all the Matrix and James Bond movies put together, with an army of other Slayers. Said castle gets attacked on a weekly basis, you save the world on a schedule approximating annually--”
“And what? I should have ignored him because I didn’t have time to pencil him in?”
“No. You should have ignored him because he decided to work for a notoriously evil law firm that takes daily meetings on how to enslave the world.”
“He turned on them in the end. I should have gone to him. I should have helped.”
“Buffy, you couldn’t have known—”
“Maybe if I’d listened, I could have.”
“What? So you could end up in hell, too?”
“Hell.” She shakes her head, still not believing it. “He’s gone. I feel like I should have known it. I should have felt it… felt something…”
“Maybe you didn’t,” Xander says, “because he isn’t dead.”
“Do you think…?”
“He went to hell before and it didn’t stop him.” Xander shrugs. “Anything’s possible. Besides, there are only two people who stay dead forever; Bucky and Uncle Ben.”
She wrinkles her nose and twists her head. “The rice guy is dead?”
“Someday,” Xander says sagely, laying a hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to make you read comic books, just so you can get all my clever jokes.”
He leaves his hand there a moment, and she lets the warmth soak into her skin.
“So,” she says looking down over the tower wall. “Dawn said there’s a haunted house somewhere?”
Xander only hesitates a second before he falls in alongside her, leaning his arms across the stone. “Yeah, it’s haunted. Serious house on serious earth.”
“Old school,” she says with a wan smile. The wind blows, strands of hair dancing, ends catching against her lips. She brushes them away, cants her head and looks sideways at Xander. “You ever miss the good old days?”
“You mean back when all we had to worry about was getting turned into a vampire or a werewolf or a zombie, getting eaten by snake-mayors, destroyed by crazy goddesses?”
“Sometimes I miss the simple things,” she nods.
“I’m not even going to point out the crazy in your logic there.”
She smirks, bitter twist of her mouth. “Don’t you wish sometimes…?”
That you’d never met me?
That I hadn’t ruined your life?
“…that this wasn’t your life?”
Xander toes his shoe against the stone. “Buff… it’s way too late for the coulda, shoulda, woulda game. I’m here. This is my life. This is what I do. And it’s important.” He pauses, turns his head to look at her, and he’s so earnest, just as open and heartfelt and honest as he’s always been. “I don’t regret it.”
He doesn’t. He really doesn’t. And maybe that’s the worst of it all.
“Besides… miss out on the Slayer army and the ninja vampires and undead Nazi’s?” Xander asks, smiling--and God, he’s grown up so much, and somehow he hasn’t changed a bit. “No way.”
She smiles back, heart aching in her chest.
She needs to move, needs to do something.
She knows she’s not the smartest Slayer that ever lived, but she knows what she’s good at.
Willow is Spiritus, the spirit; Xander is Animus, the heart; Giles is Sophus, the mind.
She is Manus; the hand. These hands that have taken life and saved the world.
She flexes her fingers, turns her palm over.
There’s no trace of the cut from yesterday.
The house is old, made from ancient wood that still stands strong and proud against the hillside. She looks at it, tries to imagine it skulking against the landscape, staring at her with baleful eyes. But it’s just a house, like any other house.
“Old school,” Buffy says with a toss of her head. “Should be simple.”
She pushes the door open, and from the very first moment… she recognizes this place.
Living room; couches that bear nothing but dead mothers. She doesn’t look, knows what she’d see. Besides, there’s something else here, something she wants to see more.
Straight ahead, a little to the right of them, an open stairway, just like it always was.
“Buffy…” Willow sounds woozy, distant behind her. “God. Buffy, do you feel that?”
“I feel it.”
She hears them. She does. But there’s something... something at the top of the stairs. Down the hall, creak of the opening door, and she knows this place. Knows where she is.
“Buffy?” Angel turns, rising from the foot of her bed.
Yes. Like this.
She falls into his arms, so strong, muscles flexing, pulling her in tight and close. Smell of leather and musk and she’s home.
“Need you,” she gasps.
Mouths closing, tongues meeting, swirling sweet, and this is love. All the love that she’s ever known, these hands at the base of her spine, pulling her in, fingertips dancing, tracing up, tracing out every notch and groove like it’s important.
It’s everything she’s ever wanted, ever needed. How? How can you explain that to someone? That they’re... everything?
Heart and soul, blood and bone, and he bears her to the bed.
Wet and shaking and she is seventeen. Red sheets twisting around her, Angel’s bed, Angel’s room.
“I don’t deserve this,” Angel gasps, hand clutching at her breast, cock sliding between her legs, wet and slick and perfect.
“You do,” she says, tracing out the lines of his face with her fingertips. “You do.”
Jenny’s neck, snapped, her body arranged carefully among candles and rose petals like some kind of demented joke. He thinks it’s funny, mocking laughter fluttering around her like bat’s wings.
It’s not him
She can do this. She wraps her fingers around the sword and hefts it, steel in her heart.
It’s not him-- His eyes glow, shift and change. She can see him.
Angel. The portal opens, swirls and calls.
And here, at the end of the world, it comes down to this.
“I love you,” she breathes. It’s the essence of everything she is; everything she ever will be. Same truth she’s always known.
“I love you.”
Stealing kisses from his mouth, once more and never again.
“Close your eyes.”
Sword, shoved hard through flesh and blood.
He feels fragile, like too much humanity. Like breaking glass as she shatters him, sends him to hell.
God help her.
She wishes no one in her place.
Her mind spins, refuses to catch, line of pain from head to heart.
The room warps, flexes, and…
It’s just a room again. Plain old wood, cobwebs spun deep into the corners.
“Buffy?” Willow’s face is twisted with worry.
She presses a hand to her face, wipes away the wetness of her tears. “My brain feels itchy.”
It’s not a response so much as an unavoidable observation, but the laugh Willow gives her is as much a sob as it is relief.
There’s a monster lying on the floor. Bulbous head and huge eyes, five long, thin tentacles curling from the place where its mouth should be.
“An Ilthod,” Willow spits, throwing a disgusted glance at the creature. “A monster that feeds on the strongest emotions of humans. It makes you relive them.” Willow’s eyes are dark, sharp enough to cut. “It had those tentacles in your brain. It was eating you. I fried it.”
Monster. House. Haunted house. Monster house? Her skull burns, and she can’t process it all.
“Buffy?” Willow’s brows draw down tight. “What did it make you see?”
Buffy puts a hand to her mouth, shakes her head.
Willow’s face dawns with sudden, horrified understanding. “Oh, God, Buffy. Strongest emotions. Oh, God. Was it… did you see Angel?”
The sob breaks from her chest before she knows it’s going to happen, dam bursting free.
He wasn’t supposed to die first. He wasn’t ever supposed to die. She falls against Willow with weakness as much as grief, and Willow catches her. “He’s gone, Willow,” she sobs. “He’s gone. And it feels like there’s something I’m supposed to do.”
Willow’s arms come up tight around her shoulders, hug her hard.
“There is,” she whispers. “There is.”
The sky is gray, threatening rain on the day they gather beneath the rolling clouds. They wind down the path from the castle, passing beneath the low trees at the river’s edge before they stop upon a small hill, bodies forming a half-circle around a light gray headstone, army of Slayers at their back.
Willow is dressed in black from head to toe, tall and regal against the early morning fog.
“We gather here today to say goodbye…”
Willow’s words fade. It’s silent here, where she is.
Her eyes sweep over the landscape in the distance, lingering where the ground is lost to the white mists of fog. Large dark shapes loom mysteriously in the whiteness, barely visible to her eye, indecipherable in purpose.
It’s silent. Everyone is looking at her expectantly, and she feels sixteen again. Sixteen and ridiculous and lost.
There’s a headstone here, carved with a single name. She doesn’t know where it came from, but she remembers what she’s supposed to do.
Say goodbye. Put him to rest. Move on.
She walks forward, laying a single white rose atop the slick gloss of the headstone. She smoothes the leaves down, and pauses, staring at her hands.
These hands that have taken life and saved the world. Manus. She knows what to do with her hands, always.
She brushes her fingertips against the polished stone, lingering there for a long moment.
A Slayer’s voice rings high and clear above the cool morning air, bringing goose bumps to her skin. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…”
Tears rise in her eyes, hands unsteady against the tombstone. She can feel the weight of the ring resting against her chest, tiny bit of smooth metal, warm against her heartbeat. She should leave it here; leave it to rest on the edge of stone that marks his death.
“T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear The hour I first believed.
Her fingers slide between her breasts, deep into the cut of her black dress, smoothing over silver and gold.
“Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;”
Grain of fingerprints catching against the edges of worked metal. Manus. These fingers, these hands that touched and loved him. Like the hands intertwined on the ring he gave her when she was still sixteen and love was new.
“‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home”
She’s always known what to do with her hands.
† Weeks pass, slow minutes and hours that carry her farther away from him. She eats, she sleeps, she kills, always feeling just a beat out of step. “Why couldn’t the monster have eaten my memories forever?”
“I take it saying goodbye didn’t help?”
“I couldn’t say goodbye. I… don’t know how to.”
“I don’t suspect you ever will.”
“There are some things in life you never get over. You learn to live with them.”
“I don’t want to live with this, Giles.”
“You don’t have to want to, Buffy. You just have to do it. That, or get on with dying.” Summer slowly gives way, leaves fading pale yellow and vibrant red. She brushes them from the base of the headstone, kneels down.
She comes here sometimes, never really sure what she’s looking for.
Slayers come and go, villains rise and fall, and she… goes on.
Fourteen months later…
Winter to spring to summer again, and the leaves are tinting gold at the edges, first traces of fall.
She’s in the control room on a Sunday when it happens, one hand pausing over her notes, fingers of the other stroking the delicate chain around her neck as she thinks.
The comm crackles to life with the sound of Xander’s voice.
“Buffy… Turn on the TV.”
“Any of them.”
All ten monitors in the room flicker to life with a single push.
When Angel escapes Hell for the second time, he does it on live TV, and he brings LA back with him.
There are hundreds of people in the streets, bruised and bloodied, carrying weapons and gathered tightly around him. He’s standing in the middle of the street, sword slung across his shoulder, and Fred and Connor and Gunn stand by his side.
They’re all staring at the sunrise like they’ve never seen it before.
And Angel… isn’t burning.
Willow teleports her to the place she knows he’ll be. The only place left for him to go now that the LA branch of Wolfram and Hart has been razed to the ground.
Still-smoking ruins and debris dot the city blocks at random, but the Hyperion only bears a few scars, fallen bricks and scorch marks. There are already people beginning to clear the wreckage from the streets. The city will be rebuilt, she knows. One day it will look like the place she’s always remembered and loved.
But it’ll never be the same again. That’s clear on the faces of everyone she sees. They’ve been to hell, and these people, these faces… they remember. They may forget eventually--Sunnydale selective memory to save their minds--but they’ll always know the truth, deep down, where secrets go to hide.
There are some things in life you learn to live with.
There's daylight on his face, catching on the sharp angles of his cheek and jaw.
“You look exactly the same,” she breathes, shaking her head.
“Getting older every minute.” He's grinning like a kid, and she can't resist--runs to him, throws her arms around him. He catches her up, laughing, spins her halfway around before he sets her down, still hugging her tight.
“They thought sending me to hell and granting me the Shanshu would get rid of me for good.”
The corner of his mouth twitches, dark eyes gleaming. “Hell decided I was more trouble than I was worth.”
“God, Angel. I thought I lost you. Forever. Again.”
His face falls, going somber, and no, that isn’t what she wants to see. Not today. She reaches into her shirt, draws up the tiny weight that rests between her breasts, chain sliding free. The ring dangles at the end, catching the sunlight, and she cups it in the palm of her hand, opens her fingers.
She can hear him stop breathing.
“I didn’t…” He looks down, away, eyes full of guilt. “I didn’t think I was coming back.”
She pulls the chain up over her head, puts the ring into his hands and closes his fingers over it. He’s trembling.
“Has it ever been enough?” he asks. His eyes questioning, loving, and he’s never been anything but everything.
“It’s all there is.” She leans in, lets her forehead rest against his, and it feels like comfort, like home. She puts her hands on his chest. These hands… these hands that have taken life and saved the world… all she can feel is love, lean muscle and the soft, steady thump behind his ribs.
“Angel. That day... the one that never happened… you’ve got a second chance, now. We both do.”
He breathes deep and she can feel his heartbeat speed up, blood pounding through his body. “You mean… you…you want me to…” He’s so confused, blinking hard at her. “Now?”
“I mean, whatever happened to make you buy me that ring… I want to know.”
“It’s not a story with a happy ending,” he says, and she presses a finger to his lips.
“Angel,” she whispers, smiling. “I don’t want you to tell me. I want to find out.”
It takes a moment to sink in, and when it does, the smile on his face is so bright it’s almost blinding.
“I love you,” he breathes.
He leans to kiss her, and it’s warm, soft and sweet.
There are some things in life you never get over.
And here in her arms, standing in a shaft of sunlight in the Hyperion lobby; this is one of them.
She can learn to live with it.
Feed thenyxie Visit thenyxie
Summary: There are some things in life you never get over. This is one of them.
Notes: Based on the events happening currently in the Buffy and Angel official post-series comic books.