She is back at the beginning. Her beginning.
In the years that have passed this deserted land, she becomes now its only visitor, the only witness to its stubbornness to cling to a world that has forgotten it. Its gaping hole of magnificent destruction does not erase its struggle. Not in her eyes.
It has gone undisturbed. Perhaps it is fear, perhaps something else has kept people away. And it has remained preserved.
She stands at its edge, small toes peering over, dipping into the mystery. It had been her destiny to fight here once, long ago. But there are few who know this, and as time passed, even her own memory is slipping at a begrudging pace from her core.
She does not want to forget.
So she is back now, staring into the abyss of a time that feels like another life.
Why now? After so long? The only answer she can give herself is because it is now and because it has been just long enough.
Nobody knows she is here. She believes it best that way.
The solitude of midnight engulfs her body and she allows her eyes to fall shut as she lifts her head to the moon.
The night is her companion, her acceptance, more than the day can ever be. Even now, when her required presence in its eerie light is becoming more and more rare.
She'd walked its shadows not but an inch difference from the walkings of those she was sworn to fight. To slaughter. Hello irony, she muses, the story of her life.
And it is standing like this, looking out over ruination, lost in memories of a different sort of world, that he finds her.
He allows himself a moment to pause, to focus on the outline of her body teasing the black space of night, to take in the sight of her hair, longer than he remembers, dancing in the nip of cool air. She is so still, so still, that he is almost regretful in coming here to disturb her. Almost.
The gravel beneath his boot crunches as he walks towards her, but she has yet to move.
He wants to reach out to her, just a single hand down her arms to erase the goose flesh that has appeared on her skin. But his hands remain in his pockets and her eyes do not trail from the crater as he steps next to her.
It is a moment they will both remember in following years. A silence that spoke a multitude.
But for now, they stand.
His eyes join hers over the inspection of not only a beginning she can claim, but in a way, one of his own that was germinated here.
But he can claim many beginnings in his long life, so he simply waits for her. This is her time.
The slippery roll in her belly announces his presence long before a sound is ever made and the feelings that sprout from this recognition are tangled and unreadable to her heart. But when he pauses behind her, his feet no longer carrying his lean form to her side, she will admit only to herself that she did not even allow a single breath to enter her lungs in fear that he would realize his mistake and disappear back into the darkness.
She knows he's here and he knows that she does. And they've met each other at the end of the world.
"It's quiet," he says into the night, referring to the feeling of this deserted and bleeding place. He doesn't mean to speak, is surprised to hear his voice slide from his lips and land awkwardly in the grieving hole.
His voice, though quiet in the stillness, slices her. It is a voice she will recognize until the end of her life and it comforts her here. Even after all this time. She does not know what to make of this.
"Haunting," she says of her own feelings. "And maybe peaceful."
They are the first words they've said to each other on this cold night and their references are towards more than the obvious.
"I had a feeling you would be here tonight."
He speaks softly and it is almost too much for her.
He wants to tell her that it was this dramatic realization and at the single idea he jumps in his car and speeds madly to this very spot, barely controlling the need to shout her name and toss her into his arms. But he knows it was more calming than this, if even that can be a proper explanation, and he will not lie to her.
"Why?" he asks, escaping an explanation to how it was he knew she would be here tonight. How do you verbalize an emotion that is difficult to understand yourself?
He thinks he knows the answer before he even asks the question, but he wants to hear her. He turns to look at her now before he can reject his own idea and feels that tiny almost imperceptible jolt of his dead heart.
From his profile view he sees that her cheeks and the very tip of her nose are rosy in color, blushed from the sharp wind, and she has tucked the edge of her lower lip between her back teeth in defiance of the cold. Or perhaps her memories.
Her response is to look at him, into those deep eyes that once held all of the answers she ever needed. They are as beautiful as she remembers and she knows she will disclose it all to him. Right now. Right here. Because he's looking at her just.like.that.
"I'm starting to forget, Angel." Her voice is shaky even to her own ears and his name rushes from her lips and breaks free into the night air. "All of this. My life." She gestures with a tossed hand toward the hollowed earth, which owns seven years of her existence. "It's slipping. And so is the part of me that belongs here."
It is her eyes that cause the biggest ache inside of him. They search his as she lets go onto him and their depth of desperation he will always remember. He wants to hold her now, more than he can stand. So much that he can feel her soft body pressed to his, molding to him in a way that no other human being can, and with a feeling that he's gone to long without experiencing.
And it is selfish, but he's too scared.
This and more pass through his head in that single miraculous instant that the brain can shove so much thought into.
And she is still watching him. And he is still watching her.
"Buffy." He says her name, and his body trembles. It's almost as fulfilling as touching her. "You could never forget your time here. Things dim, memories dim, but the light still burns and can easily be rekindled. Because the material possessions, the physicality, of the memories are gone does nothing to the fact that they will always exist." He's not sure if he's using the best choice of words at the moment, but he just knows he must erase that look in her eyes. It is killing him.
"Your heart is too big to allow this loss." This is treacherous ground and he knows he must tread lightly. "The emotions connected with this time don't seem as poignant as they once were because, in their way, their chapters have ended. The edges have softened on some, smoothed out, and you believe them to be completely different entities. But they are the same, just with the touch of time - something that all things eventually come to. You couldn't forget this place, Buffy, this time, even if you wanted. It is a part of you and that cannot be taken away."
She wants to go to him now and feel his silent chest against hers, his tight arms wrapped around her in a way that makes her feel more safe than any place on this earth.
And it is selfish, but she is too scared.
She breathes in his words, and greedily takes all she can from them. He would know about memories and their burdens, she judges, he is a walking monument to them.
Though if this solace is taken from the words precisely or from the man who delivers them she cannot be sure and she won't ponder it.
Maybe she can live with these smoother edges knowing that their degradation will not continue until they've disappeared. That, though the light is more dim than before, its oil is an infinite source.
It is something, and this is more than she had to claim.
"Thank you," she says softly. She hates the words the moment they're out of her mouth. They are pathetic and meager, maybe the worst in the entire English languge, just because they are often abused and are meant to convey something that, many times, cannot be put into words. They're a substitute, and easy way out, and she hates it.
But she has said them and she cannot take them back.
He is not offended, however, from her perspective as he nods in return. And with that nod, she watches him slip the dark jacket he is wearing from his towering body and step carefully to her, draping it over shoulders she wasn't aware were shaking.
"You'll be sick," he says and he is so close to her that she can't think. His fingers brush the sensitive skin along her neck and she watches in fascination as his jaw clinches and it is with great effort that he pulls away. Though he remains closer than they previously were.
Oh. God. It smells like him and it is all around her, swallowing her, and she doesn't know whether to throw it off quickly or to pull it more tightly around herself.
And again, 'thank you' comes to mind, but she won't use it this time.
Cedar and pine and warmth envelop her and she knows now that she doesn't want to ever take it off.
"It helps. Very much. Thanks." It's not 'thank you' so she deems it acceptable. Barely.
The wind sends a sharp whip and it runs over the waste land, wheezing, groaning, crying. And in a way she can't explain, the sound makes her incredibly sad.
"Do you ever miss it?"
"Yes." And he does. He missed it long before it was ever destroyed.
"You could have come back. Before." She doesn't know why she says these words. They're bad words. And she lets herself believe it is the reminiscing night that has taken control.
It's like she read his thoughts. "Knowing what I know now, maybe I would have."
Maybe, she thinks.
"But I wouldn't have wanted to know, so I guess I lose either way."
She understands. Knowing would have helped her preserve, collect, knowing would have given her precious time. But the knowing would have choked her also.
The silence they slip into now is not tense or uncomfortable, but agreeable. They stand together, alone in memories.
When he hears her breath catch quietly, he turns to her and watches her walk the opposite way. His first instinct is to follow her, however she stops shortly and bends to the rocky soil. He sees a glimmer of silver reflect in the moonlight but that is it.
He watches her run a hand over a hard surface, freeing the treasure from the confines of the earth. And when she picks it up as she stands, revealing the full height, he knows what it is. And he can't help the soft smile.
She's walking back to him, the object gigantic next to her, and sets it down beside them in the dirt.
"Keep sake?" he asks, and his eyes twinkle.
"Just a little one."
She looks down at the dirt and the letters shine boldly: 'Welcome to Sunnydale'.
"Is this all you will have?" His voice is again serious and he tries to be subtle as he watches her closely.
She looks out over her town and sighs. "Practically. I had nothing on me but a big scythe on the...that day." And she's snatched back again, seeing and reliving. "We were so focussed on the battle, all of us and I worried about Willow's spell, the Potentials, my friends, Dawn..."
She blinks against the cold wind and is grateful for the heat of the jacket. "No. Not myself. And besides, I knew I could count on you should something happen to me." And her hand slips to her stomach and rubs the long healed scar of the sharp blade that speared her then. "I knew there would be no way they would get through you after..." She does not finish.
"I worried about you." It is barely audible and she's not sure if he actually said it or if she just wishes he had.
He clears his throat roughly. "But you did it. You're standing here today."
"Yes." She pauses. "But there were dear costs."
She thinks of the girls, potentials, so brave and determined. And she sees blood, hears screams, and stares into young, empty eyes.
She thinks of Anya. And then she weeps for Xander.
And she thinks of Spike. And in the past it is here that she does either one of two things: refuse to think any further or end up in desperate anger and/or silent tears.
She still misses him whenever she sees peroxide, cigarette lighters, long leather jackets. And even on the rare times when she flips on the television and stumbles upon an episode of Passions. He once made her sit down with him and watch five episodes straight, and though she acted like she hated it, she loved its simple normalcy.
"I'm sorry, Buffy. About Spike."
Her shoulders jerk and she is ashamed of it. She sucks in a breath and will not look at him. "He proved himself in the end, I guess. And that's what he wanted."
"He proved himself to you, you mean."
"Proved that he could participate in an act of selflessness, yes. But that still wouldn't have been enough."
Please. Pleasepleaseplease. "Angel."
"What? You don't think I have a right to know?" Tension. Anger. Fear.
She notices the stars for the first time tonight, brilliant lights in the inky black background. And she tilts her head towards them. Up up up.
"I suppose you do," she says to the stars. "I told him I loved him that day. The only time I ever told him."
She does not have to look at him to know that he heaves in a breath that he does not need.
He struggles for calm, for understanding, before he speaks. It is not there for him to find. "Did you mean it?"
She smiles sadly. "No. Not in the way that I knew he wanted me to."
"Do you love me?"
She doesn't breathe for a second. It becomes a foreign motion. Then she blinks, curls her toes. "Yes." It is breathy and quiet, but steady. "Do you mean it?"
Her head drops from the heavens and she meets his stare even on. "That's uncalled for."
She huddles in on herself with a sigh, despite the warmth of the jacket, and wraps her arms around her body. "Yes. I mean it."
And then he waits for her. He is patient and he can wait.
"Do you love me?"
There she goes. She did it.
"Yes. I love you, Buffy." And he does, so ridiculously that it still overwhelms him.
"Do you mean it? Wait." And she holds up her hand and their eyes meet. It is an intimate act between them and they both shiver. "Really mean it. After all I've done?" And he hears fear in her voice, self-hate, hope, and maybe a little resignation.
She has changed the game so he figures he can do the same. A new look is in her eyes now and he fears it is even worse then the one before, the one that was killing him. He can bear to see her like this no longer, can't go another wasted second without touching her.
He takes his first step cautiously and watches her. It is in her hands now and she has the power to deny him. With his second step, his third, he can smell her. Sweet, soft, and feminine. Beautiful. And she has not yet stopped him.
He sees the sporadic rise and fall of her chest and he is rightthere in front of her. And he reaches forward, agonizingly slow, and she falls into his arms.
His hands are in her hair, brushing her neck, her back, his lips grazing her temple and forehead.
And she is crying.
They are quiet sobs, but vicious. Ones that shake them both.
She clings to him without mercy and her head is buried in the spot made just for her. Her tears wet his neck.
"I mean it," he whispers into her hair. "I've always meant it."
And she cannot stand any longer. Her legs buckle and they go down.
He is ready for it and he lands first, pulling her towards him. She is cradled between his legs, on his chest and they've disturbed the small rocks on the ground which roll off into the pit of obscurity.
They hold each other there, calming and reassuring.
Their whispers are too quiet for the night to hear and the cold wind rustles around them in hopes of carrying their words off to another land, far far away from here.
It is a long time before they finally stand and he shifts his weight and bends to lift her into his arms, cradling her tired body to his.
Her hand clutches the dented sign, carrying it with them on their journey, and the letters shine brightly for the second time tonight as they walk away from the end of the world.
DISCLAIMER: As much as I'd like to believe so, they're not mine. No profit here.
TIMELINE: Nothing past the BtVS season finale "Chosen". It is years after this event that this story picks up.
SPOILERS: You're safe with "Chosen".
DEDICATION: To all of those amazing writers that inspired me to pick up a pen long ago.