I. For Nobody Else Gave Me a Thrill
It's the middle of winter when they first see each other again, after the events of Sunnydale and LA. Buffy is doing some last minute Christmas shopping down the crowded streets of New York, having moved there recently to be close to Dawn, who's a freshman at NYU. Her life is busy and colorful now, just like Times Square, which is currently saturated with traffic (both pedestrian and vehicular), as usual. A car whizzes by and someone says something rude, but Buffy just smiles to herself--at least she can still inspire the dirtiest of comments.
She impatiently brushes a tiny drift of snow off her shoulders as she continues to rush through the masses. After living in California, then Rome for a year, she'll never get used to snow. Rome could get cold, and California had its chilly seasons, but this...this seeing-your-breath-in-the-air, wear-gloves-all-season, watch-out-for-slick-pavementness is insane. Her foot slips against a sheet of ice, almost as if to prove her point, and it's only a pair of strong arms clutching her elbows that saves her from, well, abject humiliation.
Buffy turns, and her throat catches, the wisp of smoke-like breath in the air curling into nothingness. His eyes are as familiar as ever, hooded and dark, steady. But his hair is longer, lighter at the tips. Indicating sun, as does the faint sheen of brown against his skin. He's put on weight, too, no longer lean and sculpted. But he's still strongly built, like an oak, and his fingers are warm against her skin as he takes ahold of her hands and hoists her upright. His smile, no longer lopsided and secretive, spreads bright white and unrestrained across his face. He has a goatee.
And he doesn't tell her he's human again, but it's a fact she can hear firsthand from the way his heart is bumping erratically against his chest.
She's not really so surprised to learn he's alive. And not just the sort of alive that means okay, not buried underneath trillions of pounds of LA streets and brimstone and hellfire, lost forever to this plane of existence. The sort of alive that means hey, blood pumping through veins, breathing, wrinkles, mortality. She's not so surprised because when someone fights long and hard enough for something, it's always the type of irony she expects to watch them get it just when they stop fighting anymore.
Angel wanted humanity for so long, the second he gave it up, he never saw it coming. But there it was, in the form of dragon wings, claws raked through his chest, and a burning pain that turned out to be him dying. Then a bright light, a feeling of the world tilting on its axis, and--thum-thump, thum-thump, thum-thump.
Seeing the dawning knowledge on Buffy's face as he haltingly tells his story is so exciting for Angel that he takes her hand and presses it against his chest, lets her fingers curve against the subtle drumming against his skin. He smiles broadly, and she does, too. Because the happiness is infectious, and not as new as she thinks it should be.
Buffy's dreamt of this.
In the face of his obvious happiness, so off-balancing and startling to see, Buffy's long-practiced tirade about aborted phone calls, long-kept secrets, and stupid suicide missions, fades. Instead, what she says is, "Well, hello, again, stranger."
"Hi, yourself," he answers after a moment. "Hi, yourself." Then he is slipping his arms around her waist and picking her up, admittedly with more effort exerted than ever before. Buffy can't help herself, and she giggles, actually giggles, as he spins her around. Then Angel's foot slips and they are both tumbling to the ground, the dirty New York City ground. People stream by, ignoring them, because they still have their clothes on, and strange people fornicating in the city are a dime a dozen, anyway. The lights play across Angel's face as he stares up at her, golds and greens and reds sinking into the shadows and caverns of his features. So many words swim between them after the initial, unguarded hello, and to stop them all, Buffy leans down and kisses him.
Warmth, heat, molten lava sears her insides and melts her down as his fingers clutch her wrists and snow keeps on drifting around them. It's deja vu, almost, except they are not celebrating a delayed sunrise and the taste of peanut-butter is not heavy on Buffy's tongue. So this is not the past, nor a dream, and to prove it, Buffy blows a snowflake-covered lash off Angel's cheek, feeling the brush of his gloved hand against her back.
"Make a wish," she says, almost giddy.
Angel smiles again, slow and wide. "Already did," he says impishly, and one by one, the lights of Times Square grow brighter and brighter until all Buffy can see is Angel and the falling snow and the way his pulse throbs in his neck.
"How is this real?" she asks, when they've gotten up, and are walking down the street, hand-in-hand. "How can this happen?"
Angel shrugs, though something dark and wild passes over his face for a moment. "Sacrifice," he says. "I gave and they took, and they gave back, for some stupid, amazing reason. I'm not going to ask why."
And because Buffy is terrified of the answer, even though she is curious about they and what and how, she doesn't ask why either. It's enough that it is, and so Buffy leans down, scoops some dirty snow in her palm, and lobs it at Angel.
The look of surprise on his face sets Buffy off giggling again, and for the next twenty minutes of running down city blocks, ducking through hordes of traffic while getting snow down her back, and bursting into her apartment, soggy, wet, tired, and happy, it's like she's sixteen again. But what's even better is the way Angel navigates this happiness, this youth, gives her a little of his own happiness, too. She hasn't seen him just smile in so long, so freely and unburdened by guilt or memories, that it is a rare gift. She traces his smile and drops a kiss lightly on his lips before shoving some snow down the front of his shirt and dashing away, laughing. When he catches her and mutters, "Gotcha!" there is no sexual tension, only the giddiness of rediscovered youth and the cold awakening of snow crunching through their clothes.
"I like your apartment," Angel offers, when she brings a towel in to dry her hair. Buffy smiles as he looks from wall to wall, takes in the Classic literature on her shelves, the elegant art pieces, the lack of bubblegum pinks and blues.
"I grew up," Buffy says softly. "I even keep my diary under lock and key now, instead of all out in the open for any standard hunk to come in and read."
Angel acknowledges her teasing reply, nods to himself. "You did grow up," he says, almost to himself. His eyes are a little sad, but then he brightens. "I'm still a hunk?" he asks.
Buffy laughs, unable to stop herself. "Angel, you can look in the mirror now. You know you are."
Angel looks like he's going to reply, but then he bangs his knee against the living room table, and winces. He pulls up his pant leg and shows Buffy the red mark. "That's not going to fade, you know. I mean, any faster than it would for a--a human."
Buffy smiles. "I know," she says, crouching and tracing the mark. It's amazing how young this makes her feel, how young it makes Angel look. Like the world is just starting for the both of them, like this is where they belong. And it's been so long since Buffy has felt like she belonged anywhere that she leans and places a soft kiss against his knee. When she looks up, Angel is looking at her with this light shining in his eyes, like she's enough for him, finally--
Then she offers her shower to him, (to clean up, of course) and his eyes aren't exactly childlike and carefree anymore. Now they are simmering and thoughtful, taking her in from the roots of her soaking hair to the tips of her frozen feet. His hands are as slow as his gaze, fingers working every button of his shirt as he casually agrees that a shower would be great.
When he whips his shirt off, his chest may not be as defined as it once was, nor his stomach, but the firm roundness of his flesh screams life in such a loud, arousing way, that Buffy can't help but feel weak anyways.
They are kissing before either can get a word out, and maybe that's good, because heartbeat or not, Angel probably still sucks with the whole 'saying exactly what she wants to hear' thing. And Buffy? Not so good with the 'hearing exactly what she doesn't want to hear' thing, either. So all that's left is the way Buffy's tongue curls against Angel's, the way her fingers fist against his hair, the way her legs fold over his hips and her heels dig into his ass.
Kissing him is like breathing, the steady, easy way of her lips clinging against his, the press of his mouth against hers, the wet, slow slide of his tongue. It's something she didn't learn; she just knows how, exactly how, to kiss this man so that the whole world falls away. They kiss like they're talking, her mouth moving around syllables of endearments as he clutches her hips, rubs his fingers against the heavy weight of her fuller breasts. She's put on some pounds, but in all the right places, and it makes sense that they would be healthy like this together. Full, not empty, so full that the only thing sinking into the creases between their bodies is love, love, love.
They undress each other, and the anticipation unlike anything Buffy has ever felt. Her first time, and only time with Angel, was slow and tender and tremulous, and she was too caught up in the wonder and urgency of the moment to really enjoy sensations like the slide of Angel's lips against her collarbone. Everytime since then has been with someone else, and so really, how can anything prepare her for this moment? She thinks, once, there was this dream she had with peanut butter and a coffee table breaking, and it was particularly visceral and vivid. But it wasn't this.
This is real.
Her fingers trace his chest and nipples, her lips dip to press kisses like a rosy signature all over his skin. When her fingernail scrapes a scar lining his side, he jerks, and she giggles into his neck. The clash of their hips brings his hardness against her center, and she squirms, bucks against him. She's not some little girl, a timid little pony who will let him take the reigns. So she angles her hips and lets his fingers bite into her waist as she takes him in, slow.
Little foreplay is needed when the past eight years of dreams and tortured sighs have been foreplay enough.
Still, though, Angel's mouth swirls around her nipples, laps against her skin, sips her in delicate increments until her whole body is sliding, rolling, moving like Buffy-goo in his hands. Her voice is high and reedy as she pants, no words eeking through. The feeling is too incredible, so full and tight, being braced against the wall as his heavy thighs struggle and shake to keep her up. It's so human, and warm, and wow, there's sweat for the first time ever with him, and--
Angel stumbles a little and they lose their beat. But after a moment, they just look into each other's eyes and start moving again, smiles wide and full of wonder.
"Buffy," he gasps, "God, Buffy," over and over until one name blends into another, and she can almost pretend that he's praying, begging, for something other than absolution. For release. She tightens her muscles and rides him like they've got eight years to make up for, and he clutches her body like he needs an anchor to keep himself in this body, in this humanity.
"Angel," she whimpers, as starbursts spark and explode behind her eyes, as Angel is bathed in this glowing light from around the edges of her vision. The way he looks, the lines of his neck and shoulder as he throws his head back and moans with her, will stay in her mind forever. She's never seen him give this part of himself before, and it's so new and sudden that all she can do is hold onto him for dear life. His tattoo is still there, in all it's dark, etched glory, and as she lays her head against his shoulder, as his body cocoons hers and he thrusts, she lets her fingers dance across the planes of his back to memorize the feel of this one last part of their old life left imprinted on his skin.
"Angel," she whispers later, when she's rolled off him and they have tumbled through the sheets of her bed, too, warm and sticky. "What's this mean?"
He only smiles without answering, holds her close and kisses her once more, fiercely, until she has no more breath to ask another question.
He is still smiling when he drifts off to sleep, and she cannot help but smile, either. There is a calm sense of restrained joy, not fear, for once. She snuggles her head against his neck and trains her chest to rise and fall in tandem with his. Before long she falls asleep, because she's not afraid he'll leave. The night outside is too frozen, and her arms are too warm. How could anyone leave this moment, this day, this life?
When she wakes up, she is alone and the beautiful winter snow has frosted over the glass of her window. Her hand sweeps over the chilled windowpane, leaving a watery imprint upon the glass. Down below, she can see the snow burying the sidewalk covered with Angel's footprints. The drifts glitter like white diamonds in the glow of a winter's night, but now, all the brilliance is lost in the blank slate sky meeting the ground.
In the light of day, all winter's glory is lost, and all that's left is just the bitter, startling cold.
II. With All Your Faults, I Love You Still
The spring brings with it flowers and rain, but the aching chill in Buffy's bones has not thawed since she saw Angel last. When she sees him again, the onslaught of emotion that sweeps through her makes her heart stutter and then stop before beating again, at a much faster rate than she'd like.
His humanity is just as awe-inspiring as it was last time around, but if there's one thing Buffy has learned, and she keeps on having to relearn, it's that there can be no illusions when it comes to Angel. As much as she'd like to believe that things could be different, especially in the dazzling dewy backdrop of this tiny farmhouse in Jersey, she knows things will always stay the same. Tan or no tan, warm cologne smell or no warm cologne smell.
Angel's shoulder is propped against the entrance of the shed as Buffy holds her bag of chickenfeed. He folds his arms and his body seems to naturally angle away. One foot already out the door, Buffy thinks, and the bemused thought sends her out of orbit. She bends and resumes her daily feeding, clucking here and there to the chickens congregating around her.
"Jersey?" Angel asks. Buffy sighs and turns to look at him. The anger she could hold, has held, and the pain, it's so draining. Always has been. She just wants to let it go. So she traces the planes of his face with her eyes, notes that he has shaved his goatee and lost some weight. Now his jeans (blue, for the first time, not black) ride low on his hips, and his shirt (flannel, and wow, Buffy never thought flannel could ever be sexy) is untucked. The pleasure that inevitable seeps through her body makes her grin despite herself, even though the edges of her smile are sharper than they usually are.
"It was quiet," she says. "Close to Dawn, but not so close that I was draining valuable cool points."
Angel grins, and even though Buffy wants to be petulant, wants to give him the hurt, uncomfortable look that she's pretty much patented, all she can do is grin tentatively back. She can sort of understand, in the inner reachers of her brain, why Angel left last December. When joy that intense comes after a life so full and used to pain, it can be frightening.
"Chickens?" he asks, pointing to the birds pecking at Buffy's ankle. Buffy looks down almost affectionately, then shrugs.
"The slayage isn't quite so heavy here." Her eyes brighten. "And I like taking care of things when it's not a life or death matter."
"It is if you don't feed them," Angel says, giving her that funny half-smile that has always done weird things to Buffy's gut.
"Ergo." Buffy motions to the chickens. "Tiny house in Jersey, feeding my chickens and teaching the local kids self-defense for when they all go off to the big city. It's a good life."
"Better than your last?" Angel asks, and Buffy stiffens. She wants to tell him that he doesn't get to ask that, doesn't get to judge. Not when he's made it so clear that she doesn't know anything about his old life, his hurts, his hangups.
"I just get tired," Buffy says instead. "Of fighting."
"Even now?" Angel asks, and the beginning rays of sunlight behind him catches the raindrops in his hair. Buffy wonders if there will be a rainbow soon, and nudges past him to check.
"Especially now," she says over her shoulder. "There's a million girls in the world just the same as me, Angel. I just wanna rest."
"No one's like you, Buffy. No one at all." Angel comes up next to her, and he is such a mystery to her. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see the way the breeze moves his hair, long against his nape and ears. "And we don't get to rest."
Buffy cocks her head. "Even now?" she asks, echoing his words from earlier. "You're human, Angel. What have you honestly being doing lately?" The bitterness in her voice is petty, maybe, but she can't help it. Angel gets to be normal now. All she's ever wanted in the world, and he gets it, but he doesn't seem to get it.
Doesn't seem to get her.
"Not a lot," Angel admits. " I don't understand this thing, Buff. I've been thinking there must be a catch."
Buffy gives a snort. "There probably is," she warns. The sky is a soft, grey-blue now, and the grass a vibrant green. The smell of damp earth and flowers is rich in the air, and Buffy closes her eyes against the warm sun in the sky. The rainbows could come and go, but there's nothing quite like the air after a spring shower.
Angel breaks into her thoughts. "I think I figured out the catch," he says. "I live and die now as a human. Sins and all--nothing is forgiven or erased. No second chances. When I was a vampire, I relied a lot on the supernatural and the Powers to get me through the toughest parts. I relied a lot on prophecies and rituals...and curses."
Buffy chances a glance at Angel when he says this, and his fingers hover against hers before reaching up to rub his chin self-consciously.
He continues. "I relied on friends and family, my old team. That's all gone. All of it. Now, all I can rely on is my own head." He gives a sorrowful shrug. "Not such a good tradeoff, huh?"
Buffy snorts again. She's starting to get angry, no matter how draining anger at someone so pigheaded as Angel can be.
"No, it really is, if you aren't too oaf-y to see it." She's angry because doesn't he know he'll always have her? Or maybe he does and she's still not enough. "You've been given another try at life Angel! So what if you can't be all demony and larger than everything and twist Fate and make all my--everyone's--decisions for them? You can still make a difference the way our friends have. The human friends, remember? The ones who chose this fight?"
She shakes her head, frustrated with him and herself, for hiding from the world in this tiny piece of quiet paradise.
"With our powers, Angel, we were puppets. The one girl in all the world, the vampire with a soul. But now we're not the only ones...I've got a thousand newbies swarming the world, and you're one in a billion. We don't have to be in the darkness anymore. So the hard part comes now. With the living in the light because that's what we were given."
Her speech has inspired the beginnings of a blush on Angel's face. Buffy's never seen him with red on his cheeks before, all flushed with emotion. He's angry, she can tell, and it feels good to make him angry. To inspire feeling. If he's fighting, he's not leaving, right?
"No," Angel begins, his voice tight, "the hard part is how everyone I loved died because I coudn't keep them safe! I killed them, Buffy, more systematically than if I were Angelus. I planned their deaths by just being there. I had a life, okay? And I didn't need a goddamn heartbeat for that! What I gave up to get that heartbeat, it was too much. I don't want it." He closes his eyes. "I don't want it."
Buffy shakes her head. "I don't want it, either, okay? But I'm living with it, I'm staying away from the night because that's what I've been given after all these years. The right to do that. So don't stand there and pressure me with those mopey eyes and tell me this life isn't somehow good in its own way, because it is." She straightens her shoulders.
"Besides," she starts stiffly, defensively, "You seemed pretty happy with your humanity when I saw you last." Because he did. He looked estatic, like nothing could ever touch him. She should know better--Angel always was very good at settling.
"Look," Angel starts, obviously pissed off, "I was happy. At first. But Buffy...I had done so much to too many people. So much, to too many, and I just couldn't understand why I had this-- this gift that was given to me. Because I thought I signed it away. I thought contracts were forever. I thought curses were forever." He runs his fingers through his hair and shrugs.
"And when I figured out nothing is forever, I thought there was a way around--but there isn't. There's no way around death, except for me. Always except for me. It's not a gift--it's a reminder, this humanity. Every heartbeat just tells me what I gave up for the feeling of blood pumping through my veins and the chance to have relations with the woman I love."
The birds chirp in the silence that follows. The quiet is heavy like his words, and Buffy feels a horrible weight settle in her gut. The joy and unrestraint she saw in Angel's eyes was a show. Nothing has changed. He can say he loves her all he wants, but if he can look down upon what they did last December, if he can call it just 'having relations,' then she isn't the woman he loves, after all. Or love is not enough. Love is never enough, not when it comes to love in the shade of all their losses.
"Why are we always the ones getting left behind?" she echoes his sentiment softly. She crouches on the ground, her knees too shaky to hold her. "Why can't we ever be at peace?"
Angel slumps beside her, kneels. "There is no peace," he says. "We get these miracles and then we realize that it's just one more thing meant to test us. Trials. I'm so tired of trials, Buffy."
Buffy stares off across the field, at the puddles gathering among the clumps of grass. "Why did you come here?" she asks. "Meeting in New York, how did that happen? If you're so tired of everything, and I'm so tired of everything...why can't you leave me alone?" Her voice is harsh and whispery, and she holds her knees tight to her chest. Rain begins to fall again, light and warm, and she thinks it's probably appropriate that the rainbow hasn't come out yet.
"Don't you realize it yet?" Angel asks. He grabs her arm, not angry, or to be forceful with her. But enough to make her pay attention. "Because it's all about you, Buffy. It's got to be. I'm stuck with you. Forever. I came looking for you after LA because I didn't know where else to go! I've tried....I tried so hard to stay away from you. It worked until everyone and everything I had separating us fell into the ocean."
Buffy snatches her hand away at the bitterness in his voice. "You're stuck with me?! Welcome to my life, Angel! I've been stuck with you forever and it's never mattered before. You're like this ghost, and I thought, you finally might--my town and my family fell into a crater, too, okay? I reap death just as well as you. You don't get to be the martyr of me." She scrambles to her feet, thrusting her finger against his chest.
"God! What planet do you live on? Where were you when I died, huh? How stuck with me were you when I needed you every moment of my life and death and life again? Showing up for a sunrise and sunset does not mean anything, Angel, not till you're ready to stick it out. And you never were, because you had your own life, and I had mine. So face it, the real reason you're so pissed at me is because this time, you can't run away from me, because you finally realized that I am all you have left!"
It is a low blow, and she's never been so hateful to him before, but it's all true. It's everything she could say in the face of Angel's blatant accusation that she is the reason he can't stay away, when in reality, all he's ever done is stay away. The rain falls in earnest now, big drops plunking on her shoulders, her nose, sliding down her back and dripping into her scalp. Instead of cleansing her, it makes Buffy feel even hotter with anger.
"Maybe you should go now," she finally says into the tension-filled air.
Angel cocks his head. "You're right."
Buffy feels her stomach fall. Despite her anger, she had thought...some small part of her had hoped, selfishly, that in his desperation..."Fine. Leave. Like you did last time, every time."
"No." Angel catches her wrist, tugs her closer. The rain falls from his lips as he speaks. "I meant, you were right about you being all I have left. And I'm all you have left right now, too, Buffy. Because we're both hiding, aren't we? Until we're ready to face the world as we are instead of what we want to be, or what we were?"
"I'll never be ready," Buffy says harshly. "I'm always going to be me, and it's not enough, so I'm not ready to face this stupid world right now--"
His lips are smashed against hers in an instant, and as they fall to the field of daisies and grass, rain soaking their bodies and washing away any comfort they may give one another, Buffy thinks she can wait for rainbows a little while longer, because the storm is a start.
III. Why Don't I Try to Forget
The summer months are hot and still, with barely a breeze to move the hairs gathered at Buffy's nape as she walks the field. The weather does not help the uneasy truce that lays between her and Angel. He has moved into her small, two-room house on the edges of a tiny town in Podunkville, USA. Jersey seems to agree with him, though, and the flannel makes a repeat performace, for which Buffy is strangely grateful. The red and blue fabric does wonders to put things into perspective when she starts thinking dark and gloomy thoughts of her and Angel's doomed epic romance.
Really, they're just two farmers in the farmiest farm town on the East Coast, and soon, Buffy starts wearing flannel, too.
That they're fooling themselves is something neither of them wish to talk about. After the initial joy of their meeting, then the all-out storminess of their angry reunion, they exist in an odd equilibrium. Angel's humanity is never discussed, and Buffy doesn't look at him when the news reports say something about a new girl in town and her connection to several odd disappearances of bodies in the local graveyard.
Still, they are reminded every day by the little things.
Sometimes Buffy will glance a second more than she meant to at her weapons chest, untouched for too long. Other times, she will be walking along the quaint, quiet main street of her little town, and she will see a flurry of activity by the local teenage hangout. A small girl with brown hair beating up what looks like a big, burly football player. Buffy will clench up and poise to run, and then, after she sees a poof of dust and with a suspension of instinct, she will resume her walk. Because she's normal now.
The night Buffy makes tacos, Angel stares at the platter for a good fifteen seconds before pushing away from the table and going wordlessly to the window. Sometimes he will pick up her copy of Cosmopolitan and stare at it unseeing, retreating within himself with that horrible, loving, faraway look that is for a world she will never know. Other times, he will play an old song from a ballet he says he once knew, and his head will grow heavy in his folded hands as the haunting melody adds a soundtrack to wherever his memories are right now. Then he will rise from his stupor and go out to the backyard to cut some wood. Because he's normal now.
Another night, the SoapNet plays a rerun of Passions, and Buffy's hand collides with Angel's in their haste to turn it off. They both have their ghosts, but they ignore them.
Because they're normal now.
Just another normal couple, writhing away desperately in the heat of a summer's night. Unspoken words spill out as gasps and cries in the utter stillness of the night. There is no cool summer night wind, only sweat that gathers at the edges of Buffy's vision like tears. The smell of flowers hangs heavy in the air, and saturates the sheets with the floral scent of death. Buffy always thinks of death when she smells flowers now--after eight years of taking in the combined perfume of graveyard dirt and memorial bouquets, she feels as if she's in Sunnydale right at this moment.
She buries her nose in Angel's neck, breathes his salty, sweaty smell until Sunnydale is nothing but a distant star in a frozen sky.
"Hey," Angel says, one silent summer day. "You smell good."
Angel still has this fascination with her pulse-points. It's a habit she encourages, dabbing her wrists and behind her ears and that spot on her neck with delicate traces of White Linen.
"New perfume," she says distractedly. When she was in high school, she wore the quintessential body spray--vanilla. All warm and sugary. Now, she wears her mother's favorite scent, and on the rare occasions she does want to relive some of her older memories, Buffy brings her wrist to her nose and takes a deep, nostalgic breath. Remembers hugs, and unconditional love, and a couch with an eternal ghost sprawled upon it.
"It smells familiar," Angel says, frowning. "I think Corde--" But then he stops, of course. Because aside from the impassioned speech he made that first morning at the farmhouse, he has never mentioned LA or Cordelia once. It's all there in the melting bittersweet of his eyes, but his mouth won't speak the words. It's okay, though. Buffy can't bring herself to ever say the word Heaven again. She knows how it is.
She just pats his wrist and goes out to feed the chickens. It's some moments before he follows her outside, but soon he comes up behind her. As the sun blazes high in the sky, as she scatters chickenfeed to her tiny, ornery pets, he places a hand on Buffy's hip. The chickens remind her of little Spikes, all petulant and cute and strutty, and the ache in her throat causes her to duck her head. Angel's arms wrap around her waist and he nuzzles her neck, lips warm and searching. He lets his tongue trace the shell of her ear before he brushes his fingers over her pulse, and she shivers, all thoughts of Spike and the past forgotten.
After all, that's sort of the idea of this whole thing.
Funny, that the strongest element of the her past is the one she is so desperately using to forget in the present. They've changed and fallen apart so many times, she doesn't know the Angel of today. Not as intimately as she knows the Angel of yesteryear, and as she kisses heated lips instead of cold, tastes chocolate on his tongue instead of the vaguelly metallic hint of blood, she is glad. Because any hints of the past would be her undoing right now, in the scorching summer days. The heat settles in her skin and she itches with the need to move, to fight. Instead, she turns on the television and forces herself to watch it.
From somewhere in the house, Angel comes in and sits next to her. His heavy weight is comforting and damning, and at night, she turns out the light only after looking wistfully across the field and remembering days of punches thrown in tandem and a man who used to always have her back.
"I think we should move," Buffy announces one day. "Or at least, I think I should."
Angel hardly glances up from the apple he is painstakingly peeling. Human coordination has been a long time coming to him, and he still finds ways to accidentally cut himself just to watch the blood gather and heal into a scar that isn't magically gone the next morning. Buffy has taken to licking a trail, a sort of timeline, across his body at night, telling a story by his scars.
"Why?" he finally asks, holding the apple aloft triumphantly. For a moment Buffy feels the urge to replace the apple with a sword, the cute kitchenette with a burning altar, but the urge passes as soon as it arrived.
"It's boring here," she says, pouting.
Angel smiles indulgently. "Isn't that the point?" he asks mildly.
There is silent in the kitchen except for the ticking of the clock and the whirr of the eggbeater as Angel prepares to make pie-crust.
"Yeah," Buffy finally says heavily. "Yeah, I guess it is."
They exist, but they don't live, and somehow in all of Buffy's dreams, life after Sunnydale was very different than this. She dimly remembers hopes of living a normal life that didn't mean isolated, surrounded by her family and friends and not in the company of her mortal boyfriend--or lover, or whatever--existing in some sort of stasis. But her sister, her friends, her watcher--no one has been willing to take responsibility of a Buffy who's not the only anymore. Caught up in the furor of being retired or given a break or put away, she has done the only thing she knows:
Away from a life that demands too much of her. Buffy has no answers, she's never had the answers. Only questions that no one will listen to, only memories that echoe deep within a heart she still can't seem to share. She doesn't know how to be happy and bright and pretend everything is okay when down in the depths of her soul, she knows it'll never be okay. Those who have died are still dead, and those who have left are still gone.
Except for Angel, and the irony is enough to make her want to scream.
She does one night, as the crickets sing in the fields and the heat blankets her nude body. She is near the pond on her property, the insects and nightsounds buzzing all around her. No one is near enough to really care about the crazy blonde nudist, and so she sinks into the cool, refreshing water and screams her heart out.
Angel comes out later and tells her bemusedly to keep it down because he's going to bed and she's welcome to join him, only she should dry off because he catches cold easily now.
It takes all of Buffy's strength not to throw a rock at his big, dumb head.
Angel himself has trouble in his weakest moments. Sometimes he will break out the tai chi in the morning, moving so slowly and gracefully that Buffy will hover to feel the heat emanating off of him, making sure he's still human. Other times, he will watch the news and physically squirm in his seat in efforts to not get up and go where the action is. The new slayer in town is young, inexperienced, and there's a nest somewhere doing a lot of damage. Buffy may have run, but she'll never run far enough, because there are more and more demons roaming town, and some of the deaths could have been avoided.
Angel never says anything, never accuses, but sometimes Buffy will catch him punching the bag she has set up in the basement, and when his knuckles come back bruised, he will look at his hand in disgust. The unspoken statement is that he is unable to fight anymore, but he would, given the chance. And Buffy? Able-bodied and still strong? She's too afraid to jump back in, to live a life she knows, because she knows the ending, too.
"It'll all go bad," Buffy warns when Angel looks at her. "It'll all go bad like it always does."
He stares for a second, weighing something in his mind. Finally, he rubs his elbow, freshly bruised after an accident on the roof. "Yeah," he agrees, "it probably will." He turns back to the stove, and the square set of his shoulders tells Buffy that incredibly, something has changed inside him. That suddenly, he's the one who's ready to leap back in, to live. That she's being the broody angstbomb, and that soon, Angel won't need her anymore and he will leave.
It's only in the middle of another lazy July afternoon that she finally gets the kick in the ass she needs, too.
Buffy is washing the shampoo from her hair when she suddenly thinks, Uh oh. The soap and bubbles sting as, her original goal of general cleanliness forgotten, Buffy widens her eyes and shuts the shower off. Stepping out, she hurriedly wraps a towel around herself, scrubbing at her eyes fiercely. Wrenching the bathroom door open, she pads gingerly across the mottled hotel carpet, water dripping off her body and puddling on the floor behind her. The window of the room is open, and the humid summer air makes Buffy feel sticky almost immediately, despite having literally just stepped out of the shower. The sweat, coupled with the steam from her aborted shower, make her already uncertain fingers slippery. Her hair hangs wet and limp against her neck as she clutches her towel and picks up the phone.
Angel has his coat on already by the time Buffy has dried her eyes and her hair. It's the first time she's cried since leaving New York, and it's something big. The Slayer in town has been killed, she says, her voice heavy. And Giles says its time for Buffy to come back.
Angel nods. "Me, too," he says carefully. And she knows that he isn't saying that he's going to come with her. She knows he's saying that he's healed in the quiet, uneasy environment of running away. He's found what he's looking for--a sense of purpose.
"I may be human," he says, when they drive to the airport later that day. "But I can't just feed chickens all day, you know?"
She has to accept that she is not Angel's number one concern anymore, and that he is not hers. She can live without him, just as he can live without her, and if that feels like a crime, it's only because on the inside, Buffy's ready to let go. But that's okay. Just because she's ready to let go, doesn't mean she has to, completely. They kiss in the car as Buffy prepares to board a flight back to London for briefing. His mouth is as warm as ever, but she can taste the phantoms of their past on his tongue now, and for once, it heartens her to think he'll remember, at least.
She wants to tell Angel, in some roundabout way, that their past has to be buried. But the past buried itself when Buffy wasn't looking, and though they need to say goodbye, they do not.
One girl in thousands, and a human among billions, but they are finally starting to learn that it's always going to be them.
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Summary: Just because they're both human now, doesn't mean they're
automatically gonna get a happy ending. Three seasons, three sides of the
Shanshu-ever-after. [B/A angst]
A/N: Headings are lyrics from Sinatra's It Had to Be You. This is for the
IWRYII ficathon. Much thanks to Chrislee and Leni_ba for their hands in this ficathon--both in organizing and
coming up with the idea, respectively. This is a little different than my
usual B/A. In fact, it feels more like meta than fic, and I hate that.
Heavy on the dialogue. That being said, tell me if I'm just being crazy
and leave some love. Enjoy!