It begins in Rome and though Buffy should say it’s a terrible thing to happen, to be visited constantly by not-ghosts, she can now say that when she realized what it truly meant, it’s one of the very best things to happen to her. And if it is mingled with regrets and memories she hadn’t wanted to revisit, then that is a cost she doesn’t mind at all.
There are worse things.
Indeed, there are even things more beautiful than what happens to her. The heavens were not perfectly aligned when the first apparition wandered through the door to her apartment. The universe wasn’t giving her a gift and though Buffy shall continue to sacrifice so much for the world, this is not a matter of tipping the scales back in order, of repaying a debt that can never be absolved.
It is what it is.
This story isn’t about how it came to be and why the apparitions began visiting Buffy nearly two years after they had been transported from this dimension (better known as Earth).
There is no mention of a shattered mirror (that when broken reverses bad luck), nor will the Orb of the Knendykiis make an appearance. A pity, for it is a story that became legend seconds after it had happened: how it was broken in the great battle that left nearly two thousand dead. The living river that sings of eternal summers shall not be mentioned. There sadly will not be a revealing look at the actions of the heroes (or champions, as they have been mistakenly titled) when they managed to cripple the forces of Wolfram and Hart in the demonic dimension (that one of the heroes aptly named Whatsit as the name was impossible to pronounce unless you possessed quadruple side-jaws).
This is what aftermath looks like. Simple and unrefined. Curiously normal to a person who has seen too much of the supernatural side of life.
This is how the story starts.
It’s not a ghost that walks through the door, so please give Buffy a moment to recover. She has no idea what it is until she focuses her eyes just right and stops staring at it directly.
It’s mostly blue and not corporeal at all. However what it lacks in a body, it makes up for in a shimmering, almost violent energy that surrounds the non-body. Buffy has never given much credit to the idea of being able to see auras, but wow, that is one powerful aura.
Even though it’s the dead of summer and Buffy’s air conditioning unit conked out sometime last night, she’s freezing. Better than taking a dip in ice water, Buffy thinks to herself as she tries not to stare. Not because staring is rude (and Buffy can still come across something so weird that she has to take pause), but because if she forces her eyes not to look at it she can make out a faint shape inside the hazy edges. It’s almost the faint image of a woman – a blue woman. The face is impossible to map out but that near invisible sense of what this ghost is – angry and powerful and ancient and proud – Buffy gets that.
Okay, she has to stay on guard, because this ghost creature is full of deadly promises. Buffy can almost smell the blood that has been spilled by this thing and she isn’t about to start fighting a ghost before she can get a handle on why it just appeared in her apartment.
“Buffy,” the ghost says to her. It’s nearly a friendly warning and would sound pleasant if the voice hasn’t been embracing the shadowy side of speaking. “They made you out to be much more delicate. I am pleased that you have a solid spine.”
Creepy ghosts commenting on your spine? Really not a great icebreaker. Although, speaking of ice, the temperature does seem to be stabilizing as Buffy again notices how very much the fans she’d bought to keep her apartment at “only sort of stifling” really do suck.
“I was the first one to make it through the Void,” the ghost says, her grave voice capitalizing the V as she (or it, Buffy doesn’t know what ghost prefer to be called) moves towards a weird little jar Buffy had picked up in London over a year ago.
The jar is a really horrible and tacky little thing but Buffy had been so impressed by its awfulness that she had to buy it. It’s worth a story and Buffy’s found that making a real home for herself requires all kind of stories and not just work-related stories of how she came across something while slaying. Some people do window shopping. Buffy does window slaying.
“This glass is unique.”
“Ugly,” Buffy agrees. Then she presses fingers to the bridge of her nose, a move she knows she’s picked up from Giles. “Great, now I’m talking to a ghost.”
There’s a laugh and it isn’t full of shadows and echoes at all. That’s not really encouraging. “I am not a ghost. An apparition perhaps, that is what I will be until we find-" the not-ghost stops herself. “I will leave that for Angel to explain.”
Buffy says nothing. She doesn’t even move.
A pin could drop and shatter this silence. Metaphorically speaking, as Buffy’s windows are open and there is noise from the street below her apartment. Down there, lives are being lived full of chaos and wonderful strangeness.
There’s a smile in the not-ghost’s voice when she says, almost impressed, “So Spike guessed correctly. Gunn will owe him several hundred in Hygust currency.”
“I’m sorry, I think I’ve lost my mind,” Buffy stammers. But her heart is pounding and she can’t believe that even now, it’s still the same thing, that little skip of hope that she’s never let herself ignore. “I’ve lost it before, so it’s kind of like remembering a lyric to a song you don’t really remember-”
“Ah, human expressions,” the not-ghost cuts in, dismissively. “Always perplexing. Always useless. You are not experiencing a psychotic break. Your mental facilities are the same as ever. I am Illyria. I fought alongside Angel, Spike, and Gunn, when the horde of Wolf, Ram and Hart attempted to excise us from the living plane of existence. However we were merely banished to eternal wandering amongst the demonic dimensions that press against your own reality. It has been a long time; what time is it now for your kind?”
Slightly wigged out by the strange expression, Buffy says, “It’s 2005. The end of July.”
“Excellent. Begin packing then.”
“We have traveled long,” Illyria proclaims. “It is hard to keep a hold on timeframes.”
“And I’m going where?”
For just a second, Buffy can see Illyria’s face. Her eyes are blue and infinite. First impressions in this case are true because Illyria is dangerous. “I am merely here to inform you that we will need your assistance. I do not beg. I will leave that to the others.”
And the hot stuffy heat of her apartment slams into her just as the icy cold had struck her before. Buffy’s almost jolted backwards and the shape – the apparition – of Illyria fades away.
Buffy gives herself a little bit of time, twenty minutes to go to a favorite little place and buy a gelato while pretending to understand a joke told to her in rapid fire Italian.
As she licks the melting dessert from her spoon, sitting on top of the counter in her kitchen, she listens to the double beep tone, the phone tucked into the crook of her neck.
“Hi Giles. Yes, I’m almost done reviewing that report. Um, can you get some of your Watchers-in-Training to do a little research on the side for me?”
Angel didn’t die in battle. Spike didn’t. And the two people still fighting alongside him, Gunn and the one who calls herself Illyria, they survived as well. In a different dimension.
Some day, Buffy really has to stop being surprised by these things.
There’s little information that she can figure out on her own. So nothing really happens until the next day, when an eager young Watcherette (and hey, they might hate that nickname, but if they’re going to insist on Slayerette, then they’re so going to be called Watcherettes) flies to Rome from London and does some magical recordings and surveys of Buffy’s apartment.
Buffy just smiles at him (he’s barely older than Dawn and that’s just weird) when he knocks over the stack of fashion magazines she’s promised herself she’ll read one day. One day real soon. A day when she doesn’t have to write up her comments to the reports on the progress of the newly established Watcher’s Council and the success of the new young Slayers.
The day when she’s ready to slack off, that’s the day she’s going to tear into her magazines and learn what’s the hottest in everything, what’s in and what’s out, and why she should really get something red as an accent in her little living room space.
Right now, she’s got a case of a not-ghost-but-definitely-demonic-apparition dropping by for a visit, claiming that there are four people (okay, two vampires, a demon, and a human) trying to break on through to Earth.
No time to check out Vogue, although she does sigh at an advertisement for boots that would be completely inconvenient for her nightly patrols.
Even though officially she’s not on active patrols and there’s a very nice Italian girl named Andria who is the official Slayer for Rome, Buffy’s knack for stumbling onto an Apocalypse (she’s starting to call them “Tuesdays” now) is still strong. She tried for something like normal the year after Sunnydale was destroyed. She’s now doing the Buffy thing.
Normal’s never been in the cards for her.
Unfortunately the Buffy thing also includes the responsible thing and after confirming with the Watcherette (“It’s Gregory, Ma’am,” Gregory tells her as he nearly knocks over a country pitcher filled with flowers), she now has to make an irritating decision.
Though she longs to start sorting through her closet and fill her suitcase with anything she can think of, she says to Gregory, “Please, don’t call me Ma’am, it sounds like Mum and I don’t need that mental image of me with a Mom hairstyle. Get all the tests confirmed at the lab in London, but tell Giles everything you suspect beforehand. And,” here Buffy draws an intake of breath, wondering when she stopped embracing recklessness, “get the big players on the phone, wherever they are, we’re doing a conference call to decide what’s the next move.”
Conference calls. The ultimate killer of throwing caution to the wind.
“Yes M...iss Summers,” Gregory says after faltering at Buffy’s best death glare.
“Buffy. Please call me Buffy. And I’d like that call to be prepared in two hours time. My home phone line, okay? I’m going out for lunch. Doing the lunching thing. Out. The lunching out thing.”
If this was Willow or Xander or Dawn, they’d notice. That her lie’s transparent, that she’s suddenly not focused on the fact that Gregory’s determined to break something in her apartment, and that she’s listening off in the distance. As if there’s a song being played miles away and she’s caught a few lingering notes on the wind.
She ducks out, not even bothering to close the door behind her.
At the entrance of her apartment building, there’s Spike.
Or the not-ghost of Spike at least.
“You know,” he muses, his voice clearer than Illyria’s, only spookier because it sounds like it’s inside Buffy head, “There’s a poncy song about being happy just to be on the streets of some girl’s home.”
In her peripheral vision, she can almost see the curling white ghost smoke of a cigarette swirling upwards over their heads. Well, her head. He’s a not-ghost although his angles are better defined. There are darkish shadows enveloping him like his old duster. He flicks the not-cigarette away. If it were real, the cigarette would still be burning down to the filter.
“You going to sing to me again?” She winces after saying it, it’s too flippant and dismissive and for a split second, she can see a flash of something interesting, a spark of Spike’s eyes. Like he’s almost pleased by the undercurrent of bitchy streaking her voice.
“Heartbreaker you are. You want Angel to sweep you off your feet? Declarations of love and all that rot,” Spike sniffs dismissively, but it’s a bad pretense, Buffy can catch emotions breaking in – relief and genuine happiness at seeing her. “He’s a rubbish singer. I ought to tell him you requested a Manilow song. That’ll be –“
“Evil,” Buffy breaks in, fighting a smile as a random person stares at her, shocked by the loud declaration. “Good, someone else in the world thinks I’m a crazy person.”
“Not crazy. Just annoying and sexy and a bit of a bitch.”
“Angel told me if I insulted you, I wouldn’t get another shot at the –” Spike stops himself from saying something and Buffy can feel a flash of annoyance coming from Spike. Like he’s being restrained from saying something, which yeah, that would annoy Spike a whole lot. “Right, so I haven’t got much time.”
“And you have to drop a little more vague for me and you have so little time to do the mysterious act.” Buffy sets off on a quick pace, heading out towards her favorite trattoria. “Now if I was a bit of a bitch, I’d ask why Angel isn’t here to take the broody mysterious to a new level of intense, but I’m not going to do that. So what’s the what with you?”
“Killed a Trevor demon. And a hoarde of the K’Dasris. They promised to wear my hide on their high holy days and I whipped ‘em all. Showed them what a real vampire from Earth can do.”
“Don’t know why people insist on naming their children after a demon. Trevors are deadly water demons that enjoy a spot of dismemberment before breakfast.”
“And what are the other five impossible things before breakfast that they enjoy?”
She can feel Spike’s smile and that’s just odd.
He sticks around longer than Illyria, but he’s surprisingly good with the vague. He asks her if she’s got her bags packed yet and seems surprised that it’s only been a day’s time for her. Buffy’s on her best behavior and doesn’t inquire about Angel and learns that Gunn is still alive.
She’s lucky that her regular waiter is fond of her; otherwise Buffy wouldn’t have gotten this corner of the dining room all to herself. The better to appear that she’s just talking to no one instead of a not-ghost.
Just before he goes, with a comment that he should do a spooky fade away to freak her out, he mentions, “Look up the Azores. Lovely place any time of year.”
The Azores are lovely and Buffy realizes that her flights back and forth from London and Rome have been nice for the past two years, but maybe she should have considered a few side trips to Portugal.
Or just these islands. They are gorgeous.
The conference call she’d taken three weeks ago had been full of warnings and worries. That if a rift was opened between dimensions, it could be impossible to close again. Willow promised that she’d find out how Illyria and Spike had managed to do their spooky “I’m a ghost, no I’m not!” routine. Buffy had told her that she already figured out that they’d locked onto her somehow (“I hope that they’re not getting like psychic feedback from me,” she’d added, remembering how clear the emotions of the not-ghosts had been).
Buffy had listened to all the sensible reasons why she shouldn’t follow the not-ghost request to check out the Azores. She’d waited around for several days in her apartment to hear that excellent reason against listening to the not-ghosts. Wasted time by scribbling on some reports and faxing them back over to London. Responded to some emails. The usual.
The usual also included having to deal with Faith. Buffy tried (and failed) not to be annoyed at Faith’s continual failure to send in her reports on time. Did get annoyed when she did manage to speak to Faith and Faith declared she’d just screwed this incredibly hot guy and no, Buffy didn’t get snippy because she’d had a couple of months of being date-free.
As she told Faith, interrupting Faith’s very descriptive story about what she did to this guy (really, why can’t Faith use this detail in her reports?), she’d dated hardcore after she moved to Rome. What she didn’t say to Faith was that the interest in dating had fizzled out as time went on.
Plus, after the disastrous relationship with the Immortal, she’d gotten tired of all the “Buffy has a thing for the undead” jokes.
It may be that Buffy’s still slightly jealous of the way Faith can still find a little bit of joie de vive in her life even after all that Faith’s done and been through. But Buffy will never really say that out loud, so it won’t count.
Buffy’s still waiting for something.
So. The Azores. Fantastic really. She goes boating on a clear day with a friendly son-of-a-fisherman she meets in a small village. He’s flirting shamelessly with her despite the language barrier and it’s nice.
Yet she knows that this isn’t what she’s supposed to be doing here.
The next day, she’s getting dressed for a day at the beach, actually considering cracking open one of the magazines she’d brought along with her. She’s absentmindedly slipping on her sandals when it happens.
Spike shows up, this time he looks so real, barely transparent at all. Buffy almost touches him before he moves back.
“Sorry love, still a bit stuck elsewhere.” He grins and she remembers how much she had hated and loved that smirk of his. “Care to ditch the magazine and go fight a bull?”
“I’ve never had a chance to think about it, but I’m pretty sure I’m not a running-with-the-bulls kind of girl.”
“Now I know you’re lying.”
“Yes,” she agrees, finding herself smiling in a way that she hasn’t for a long time. “If they’re demonic bulls, I’m interested.”
“It’s a demonic bull. On the beach. So you’re dressed properly. Do you have any chocolate on you? He’s got a sweet tooth.”
She points to the pile of chocolate mints she’s deposited on the bedside table. “Those work?”
“Good. I’ll distract him. Black enrages old Barrington.”
“Barrington? That also an old demon name?”
“No, it’s an affectation.”
“Goody. I hope he speaks like Darth Vader. A speaking bull named Barrington is a little same old, same old.” She wraps the chocolates up in a tissue and hopes that they don’t melt before she gets her audience with the demonic bull.
Well. Cross that off a list of things she’d never believed she’d have to consider.
It takes an hour to get an audience with Barrington. This is strange: watching guys nimbly dance around the bull on the beach, trying to show off. If Buffy couldn’t notice how very bored the bull is by these men, she’d feign surprise at how they weren’t getting mauled for being fools.
Spike is good company though. Sure, she’s taking the “Crazy Tourist Talking to Herself” show on the road, but Spike’s tales of strange battles in places he refuses to properly explain are interesting and he lets her on occasion speak about what she’s been doing in the meantime. She’s proud of her deflection abilities when he tries to ask her questions about her romantic life.
It shouldn’t be amazing how they can say so much and there’s still a hollow echo where Angel is. The place he has to stay because if she starts to wonder why – why he hasn’t appeared yet, why he has been absent from her dreams for so long, and why she can still feel that familiar tingling in her nerves as though he’s not dimensions away – then she’ll lose focus.
Then she’ll do something stupid.
Instead of going to visit a talking bull demon named Barrington like any other normal person would do.
The last person barely gets within ten feet of the bull. Buffy just sighs and tears off towards Barrington. She can hear Spike’s voice chuckle as she kicks off her sandals, standing squarely in front of the bull.
And time stops. Everything stops. It’s a bit spooky, but only a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Then there’s no one, but the bull. And Spike.
Spike there’s too, this time he does really look like he’s really there, there’s no weird slightly translucent thing going on.
Approach, a Voice says. It must be Barrington, although Buffy’s disappointed by the voice. It’s so empty and not at all what she expected. It sounds slightly irritated and weary, more like a bank teller at the end of a long day. You have a Request.
“Oh, maybe we should have briefed you on that,” Spike mumbles and Buffy glares at him.
Silence. I only answer those from This Realm. You have sought answers from my kind elsewhere. Of course they had no answers for you. They never offer useful answers. Now what is the Request?
“I have no idea,” Buffy says honestly while Spike hastily responds with something like “Erwin’s Shield.”
“A shield?” She’d go over to start yelling at Spike, only she can’t move from her spot.
There’s a horrible wheezing noise and the hair stands up on Buffy’s neck.
Only it’s just a laugh. A bull-demon laugh.
Later on, her memories of what exactly happens after the bizarre laughter aren’t clear. Hyper-reality is not as fun as you think it might be (and it’s not as fast-paced as it should be with the prefix of “hyper”).
But here is what did happen, minus perhaps the more interesting details and titillating questions. That is a lie. There were no titillating questions. Like dreams, the hyper-reality forms its own sense of logic, separate from that of normal human understanding.
Nevertheless, Barrington says (has said, will say, there is no time here, a transdimensional being only offers a notion of time to those it whisks along to its hyper-reality in order to maintain some semblance of sanity) that if he hadn’t just transported her to his magical mindscape (Buffy’s nickname for the place, not his words), he’d tell her to get a drink, because this is going to take a bit of time to sort out.
Mind, he says “time” when really, it takes no time at all. Time paradoxes are such a bother.
Buffy looks at the frozen beach (not even the ocean waves move) and dryly states that she doesn’t mind it. So long as he isn’t going to do a Brigadoon thing and transport her to the future.
After being assured that she’s safe from getting stuck somewhere she doesn’t belong, Barrington explains that the problem with the other four “beings” is that they are stuck somewhere they don’t belong. Yes, even the blue one, he says before Spike can get out a word.
As for why the not-ghosts decided to contact Buffy, Barrington surmises she must have touched a powerful artifact that had ties to Wolfram and Hart. Only the bull calls it Wolf, Ram, and Hart, like there are three different, specific creatures. Like Illyia had called the organization.
The lengthy conversation between Barrington the transdimensional bull-demon, Spike the not-ghost, and Buffy (if she has a title, let it be the Very Perplexed Slayer) becomes a bit muddled after that. Buffy will later recall that there is something to do with her needing to unearth a shield that had been thought lost. In reality (her reality), it is in the Azores: deep in a cavern carved out of the volatile earth.
Taking this in, Buffy asks one final question. She doesn’t remember it, only that it gives her a sense of enormous relief and she is momentarily released from her fixed state.
Spike stands very still as Buffy walks towards him. Sand sticks to her bare feet, but she leaves no footprints in this frozen mindscape.
She pulls her punch just a bit. Informs him that next time, he really should tell her the whole story before she makes herself look stupid in front of a demon-bull. Spike grins and says that’s the bitch he fell for just as she wraps her arms around him. Buffy should say something else, but she doesn’t.
It’s okay: she’ll only remember the punch as a faint echo. The hug as flash of muscle-memory she’ll never quite be able to explain.
The bull laughs again and Buffy finds herself falling backwards into real time. Damp sand sticks to her long white skirt when she stands back up.
Barrington the bull returns to his pretense of being just an animal. It shakes its head and tries to walk off until its handler binds it again, the festivities over.
And all Buffy can think of is a deep dark cave.
It’s another wonderful week in the Azores and Buffy’s no closer to finding this oh-so-important shield. Now she remembers that it’s a shield, but that’s really not helping.
Illyria, Spike, and even Gunn have joined her on the search. Not just because they have nothing else to do in the other dimension (Spike’s so failed Mysterious 101, he totally revealed that they sort of killed everything worth killing a while back), they have to accompany her. Only eyes from another dimension will catch a glimpse of the ancient artifact. Buffy might have to do the dirty job of unearthing it, but they get to watch her get sweaty and dirty. What a hard life for you, Buffy snipes at Spike after she spends three hours digging out a shield-shaped rock.
Sometimes she has to wonder why she’s bothering with these not-ghosts. Like when Illyria tells her of grisly battles and Buffy has to feign being anything other than grossed out by the descriptive and clinical information of bloody dismemberment as these grisly tales are told in a deep, older-than-old voice.
Or like when Spike makes catty comments about Buffy’s love life (and who exactly told him about the Immortal? It if was Andrew, she’s so going to demote him again) and when he shoots off dismissive quips about Angel, who Buffy has tactfully not asked about.
He tends to remind her why she does want to bring them back to this world though – with a funny comment or a moment of rare introspection – like when he admits he might have been a bastard about some things.
Buffy has found that Gunn is the most helpful and she promises herself that once Gunn is corporeal, she’s so taking him out for a thank you beer, even though Buffy still doesn’t really care for beer.
They all hedge around her oblique comments about why there’s only the three of them visiting her as not-ghosts. That’s fine. Buffy gets secrets.
She also gets to recover the lost shield, carved out of a stone that no longer exists in this world, save as the grains of sand.
Smiling triumphantly, she asks if that’s it. If her smile vanishes as quickly as it appears, it’s understandable. It turns out to just be the first task. She’s got miles to go.
She’s always had miles to go.
The many journeys she takes after recovering that first artifact, oh how can they compare? Yes, they’re exciting and exhilarating and utterly strange. Yet she thinks of it as just one foot in front of the other. One breath after the next.
Her passport has been stamped more times than she’d ever thought possible and she’d actually needed to get extra pages.
The places she’s seen.
Her top five most memorable spots, that’s the best way to get an understanding of how long she has traveled. She’s been to Mongolia and learned to drive a cart yoked with a Mongolian camel, which looked more like a harassed ox than a camel camel. Gunn had agreed with her that they shouldn’t be called camels at all.
She climbed up a cliff made of ice in Iceland (appropriate really), to barter with a hermit over his hat, which she had been told was just as important as all the other bits and pieces she’s picked up over the world. Illyria had been with her, a little more opaque this time; as if they’re going to one day just get their bodies back like it’s no big deal.
Brazil had been eventful, Spike had sworn, although Buffy still couldn’t recall exactly what she did and why she had woken up in a bed that had feathers strewn all over. She did some sightseeing for the next couple of days and still keeps those sober memories close to her heart.
She’d skipped Wisconsin after she couldn’t get a decent flight and had returned to Rome, hosting a housewarming party and had fussed over how grown up Dawn was now. After she’d gotten confirmation from Faith that the weird little treasure box had been recovered, not-ghost Gunn had said he’s heard great things about Greece. Buffy nearly got caught snatching something from the Parthenon, but had escaped in the nick of time.
Her number one spot though? Puerto Rico, easily.
It’s where this all ends and where the story outside of the here and now is just beginning.
She is here, not waiting – that’s not what she’s doing.
She’s at the right place and the wrong time and she smiles at the waitress when she brings over two cups of café con leche. Buffy had said she was too anxious to eat (in Italian at first, but she switched to English and the woman had understood, smiling crookedly at Buffy as the order was written down), but that she’d definitely want the coffees to be brought to her little table by half past 10 P.M.
There must be something to say. Something that’s just right: funny but not silly, true but not melodramatic, or clever but not over-practiced.
Instead, she goes with the flow and does what she knows best. Improvise. If she had better comedic timing and less jokes about how demons loved sliming her brand new outfits, Buffy’s sure she’d have an excellent stand up career. She laughs just a bit to herself, stirring the coffee in front of her. Soon it’ll be just right and she’ll be able to take that first perfect sip. Not waiting at all, just willing herself to be patient.
If she spends this time reminiscing, then it is her affair and not anyone else’s business. There’s so much History with a capital H and she’s not going to burn her tongue out of fear of being idle.
At first it’s like that first blush spreading across her skin when she’s had just a bit too much wine. It works its way down until her whole body is thrumming with more life than any ordinary person can bear to feel.
She knows he’s standing behind her, perhaps more terrified of saying the wrong thing. That’s okay. She’s had months to work this out.
“So are snickerdoodles the ones that have molasses in them or I am thinking of something else?” Oh crap. She’s brought up that horrible baking metaphor. She so should have written down a few things on index cards.
“Snickerdoodles would be?”
“Anxiety talking. Let’s strike that question from the record, ‘kay?” She knows he’s mere inches now, yet she doesn’t want to turn around yet. She’s intoxicated by just his presence and the euphoric giddiness bubbling throughout her body is canceling out the first sting of tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
“Buffy,” he says and the years that have passed, all the hurts that they have stored up against one another, they melt away in that one word. Time shouldn’t stand still when her name is uttered, yet that’s exactly what happens.
Not just in a figurative sense. Nothing is moving and that must just be one of the benefits to this place having the weakest barrier between dimensions. A charming little hole-in-the-wall in San Juan is the actual hole in the fabric of this world’s invisible barrier, despite other places claiming to have that distinction.
But she doesn’t care about that for the moment. The moment his hand touches her shoulder, she’s no longer thinking about rips in time and space. Screw physics.
He spins her up and out of her chair, embracing her in a way that he hasn’t for such a long time.
“Why-“ she begins to ask, but he interrupts her.
“I couldn’t bear just seeing you. To know that I wouldn’t be there, that I was just an echo, dimensions away.”
“Oh,” she stammers. “You’re kind of trampling over my righteous anger.”
Angel’s never been one for smiling brilliantly, so the awkward twitch of his lips into a smile that would, on someone else, be described as shy, is enough for her. “I’m sorry we couldn’t tell you more. If we said too much, then the gap we found between the dimensions could have been detected and would be shut down before we were able to find the real way back.”
“Ah, so technobabble is your excuse?” She considers this as she taps a beat on Angel’s chest, not willing to be the first one to part from this embrace. “I guess I’ll just have to accept it. Technobabbling mystical demonesque excuses mean it’s all right if I do this.” And she kisses him.
He deepens the kiss but she breaks away.
Buffy draws a deep breath, blinking at the sight of his eyes – the depth of longing so plainly clear in his eyes. “We have coffee.”
She’s forgotten how adorable confused looks on him. “Coffee,” she says, pointing to the little table. “It’s a drink. I’m told that they serve the best in this dimension at least.”
“There wasn’t any coffee in the elsewheres,” Angel replies, a little too seriously, like he’s devoted to killing the mood. “There wasn’t anything but the belief that if we could find a way, then all the fighting would be worth it. That our place was back here to continue the fight here. To protect this world. Buffy, I didn’t just come back for –”
She places a hand over his mouth and oh, that’s not so great an idea. Because now she wants to do some exploring and traveling of another kind, to map out all the things that haven’t changed about him, only this time without all the fears clouding why this isn’t an absolutely wonderful thing to do.
“Angel,” she says, her voice going all throaty, like this is a word she hasn’t said so many times before. “Give it a few hours before the speech about being a hero and laying down on your sword for the universe. Also, you have to make some calls and drop in on a few people before you start kicking ass again in my world.”
Reluctantly taking her hand away, she pulls out the sheet of contact information she’d promised to give to Angel the moment he crossed over. “I’d flip a coin before you called Faith or Connor. I’d promised them both that you’d call them first.”
His hand shakes a bit as he stares down at the neatly handwritten list of names with several phone numbers written next to each name. Like he’s remembering ghosts of his own past. “Connor, is he...?”
“Faith says he well. I don’t really know him–”
Angel furrows his brow and Buffy laughs at that, while he says, “How does Faith know about Connor?”
“Hey, weird stuff happens here, too,” Buffy chides him gently, sitting down at the table and taking that first perfect sip of her coffee.
He sits down next to her, nearly draining the coffee in one long swig. It would look manly if the cup wasn’t made to look so delicate.
She looks out at the beautiful night, sipping slowly at her coffee, not just savoring the taste of it, but of the perfect weirdness of the moment. Having coffee with Angel in San Juan, years after she’d been informed of his apparent death. “I promised Gunn that I’d go clubbing with him tomorrow. And Illyria wants to go hiking up El Yunque to visit, uh, a friend, she said. I’m really hoping it’s not a chupacabra.”
“It’s not,” Angel assures her.
“Great. It’s probably something worse. And Spike said something about gambling.”
She rolls her eyes at him. “And I have this big, soft bed in my hotel room. Which is two buildings down from this place.”
He stares at her. She shivers at that expression, not sure if they’re seconds away from doing something on this very table and why is she suddenly feeling a weird sense of déjà vu?
Buffy shakes it off. “Okay, I know at least Spike said something.”
“Oh,” she says blithely, “don’t warn me. Perfect happiness happens to people who are not like us. And did I mention that this bed is really comfy?”
Angel makes another move to protest and she silences it with a kiss. “I’ve already paid the bill. Follow me.”
And after all this time spent following after strange requests to get to this point, Buffy isn’t willing to let another discussion on what’s going to happen next ruin the pleasure of actually experiencing it.
Angel listens to her, perhaps because he recognizes that tone in her voice, and away they go.
Confidence leaks out of her with every step, but Angel guides something else into her when he walks too close for comfort. He almost takes her hand in his as they walk side by side and she aches for him to do it, but he fails to catch her hand at the very last moment. A fleeting touch of skin to skin, that’s all it is.
She can’t call it reassurance. It’s frustration and longing and everything she has placed on the backburner. The things she has refused to let herself think about, instead she chose a simpler way to do this, to just keep on moving, to live in the moment. Buffy loves this philosophy. It means that she can surprise Angel with a familiar move, getting him pressed against the door to her hotel room, happy that his kiss is now greedy and desperate.
Just because she’s waited this long, doesn’t mean she’s willing to wait any more for him to find a reason why this can’t be. Reasons are useless. Actions are the only things that matter in the end.
The key’s hastily put into the lock (it’s an old fashioned hotel, that uses actual keys; Buffy’s almost forgotten that key cards aren’t the only way to open hotel doors) and she stumbles back into the room, pulling her shirt over her head, kicking off shoes that cost way too much but looked great with her skirt. She lets her hair loose and kisses Angel again, her hands at his belt.
He yanks off his shirt and she fails at hiding her shock at the scars. So she runs a hand down the worst of them, and tells him something gentle and comforting. It is not that he’s beautiful. He won’t believe that, even though it’s true.
After that pause, there’s no more waiting.
It’s amazing how it all falls into place, how he nips at her jaw like he’s done it forever, even though that’s not really how it happened. Or when he notices how something’s different about her, how her boldness returns and she manages a few Italian phrases she’s memorized for moments like this, when they’re most useful. After she utters one of these phrases, he just smiles and the past between them melts away and it’s turns into something surprisingly fresh.
“Really,” he murmurs against her stomach. “You insist?”
“Um,” she says a bit distracted, because he’s figured out how to set every nerve on fire, “yes?”
“And if I say no?”
That does get her attention. She’s almost the oldest living Slayer on record. And she knows a few tricks. Buffy gets him flat on his back in half a second. Angel fails dismally at pretending he’s not incredibly turned on by her direct approach. Which is great as she sinks down, forcing her eyes to stay open to watch all those emotions flit across his face. She calls him beautiful then, softly, just for her own sake.
“Where are you?” Buffy says after a long while of slow perfection. Like dancing, only so much better.
Angel sits up with her, kissing her throats. Murmurs, “here,” against her neck. She feels her orgasm break through but she cries out nothing, just takes in a wonderful breath of something changing for the better.
Buffy flops down next to Angel much later, panting for breath. “And to think,” she manages to say, “you were going to talk me out of doing that.”
She lies there with him, not yet talking of what comes next. They’ll save that for the morning.
That is where the story ends, but that is merely an expression. The story doesn’t end there, indeed a new story begins, created out of the choices made.
Though there will be more dangers to come, more deadly days that claim to be days of reckoning, this story shall not describe what must come next. This story ends in San Juan.
The complications that follow, these perilous adventures are faced with surprising ease (although the revelation that a tacky little jar Buffy picked up was in reality a deadly weapon capable of swallowing entire towns would be a rather trying day).
Just believe that this all transpired exactly how it was described, even though Buffy still cannot explain why she woke up in that bed full of feathers.
That’s perfectly all right.
She’ll have to make new memories: to buy that thank you beer for Gunn, to playfully mess with Spike’s hair when he first says after greeting Buffy the next night at a casino of his choosing, “You and Angel again? I don’t get to throw my hat in the ring?” and to find a middle ground with Illyria that doesn’t include discussion of how many ways a person can be eviscerated. When Buffy does find that place, talking to Illyria can be oddly pleasant.
And she dances down a lovely old street with Angel during an impromptu celebration that starts up for a reason she never bothers to discover. That’s how she gets by. Buffy lives in the here and now and makes her plans on the fly whenever she can.
That’s the best way for things to begin and end and begin all over again.
Feed Regala Electra
Summary: Wherein not-ghosts pay many visits, Buffy meets a transdimensional being, a treasure hunt of a sort is begun, a horrible metaphor is invoked, and they meet again.
Spoilers: Set after BtVS & AtS Finales
Major thanks to Sofia for the beta work. You always bring a most wonderful perspective and thanks for pointing out a neat little way to tie up this story. I’d also like to thank Tarina for pointing out a beautiful place I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting (the Azores). Seriously, someday, I truly need to see it for myself. Thanks to dlgood on livejournal for offering a prompt a while back which I oddly enough did manage to work in here (five places Buffy never traveled to).