Buffy stared at the sheet of paper on her desk for a long time. She slid her eyes to the left. There was Willow, her eyes fixed on her hand and the words that flew across the page. Buffy returned her gaze to her own test page and the words written across the top: Picture your life in ten years. Who will you be?
As if it would help her to visualize, she closed her eyes and imagined herself at twenty-six. Buffy Summers. Twenty-six. Since she’d become the Slayer, she could barely let herself think about next week, never mind ten years down the road. The odds that she would make it to twenty-six weren’t exactly in her favor.
She knew that the question wasn’t asking for an accurate description of her life in a decade; it was more likely that the teacher would be amusing herself with the answers her students gave over a glass of cabernet. Still, a part of Buffy wished that she could fast forward, past all the ghosts and goblins and drop herself into the middle of the great American dream. Whatever that was.
She nibbled the end of her Bic for a moment and then began.
“So, what did you put?” Xander asked, slamming the door of his locker closed and twisting the dial on his padlock.
“Oh, you know, the usual,” Buffy smiled, hoisting her bag from one shoulder to the other. “They only want you to tell them what they want to hear.”
“Really?” Willow asked.
Buffy smiled. “I’m sure your answer was very…”
“Comprehensive,” Xander finished.
The three friends headed toward the library.
“I just have a really hard time imagining what my life will be like ten years from now,” Buffy said.
“Well, one thing you can count on,” Xander said, “is the fact that deadboy won’t be lookin’ any older.”
“Xander,” Willow hissed, smashing her friend on the arm.
“It’s okay, Will,” Buffy said. She shrugged. “It’s true.” She paused as realization dawned on her. “Oh, God, ten years from now I’ll be older than he was when…”
Willow’s mouth formed an ‘O’ of surprise.
“And ten years after that,” Buffy mused half to herself.
“Stop that,” Willow said firmly.
Buffy groaned. “This sucks.”
“I’m sure Angel doesn’t even think about this stuff,” Willow said confidently.
“Sure,” Xander said, “guys love older women.”
The two girls shot Xander an icy glare and moved past him through the library doors.
“Ah, there you are,” Giles said. “The bell went fifteen minutes ago; what kept you?”
“Stuff,” Buffy said, dropping her bag beside the table and settling into the nearest chair.
“Yes, well, there is stuff, as you so vaguely put it, going on here, too,” Giles said.
Buffy folded her arms across her chest and made a face. “Let me guess; there’s evil afoot.”
Giles narrowed his eyes at his young charge and said, “Xander, Willow, would you give us a few moments?”
“Sure,” Willow said, taking Xander by the arm and leading him to the library door.
When they were alone Giles said: “Do you mind telling me what this is all about?”
“Yes, I do mind. You wouldn’t understand.”
Giles smiled and sat down across from Buffy. “Perhaps not, but what have you to lose?”
There was a long moment of silence before Buffy said, “The future. It’s about the future and whether I’m going to get one and what it means. It’s about Angel and the fact that if I actually do get to have a future, I’ll be older than him one day and not just older, I’ll look older. It was just a stupid essay question, but suddenly I started to think about being the Slayer and what it means.”
“Do you?” Buffy said. “Because I don’t really see how you can.”
“Well I suppose I don’t understand it exactly from your perspective; I’ve never been a sixteen year old girl. I do, however, understand what it means to look into the future and not really see one. I think that’s quite a common occurrence for most teenagers,” Giles said.
“Don’t patronize me, Giles,” Buffy said.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Giles said. “Look, Buffy, I’d be a liar if I said that the feelings you are having will pass and that it will all work out in the end. I don’t know that anymore than you. I do know this, though: you are quite unlike any other Slayer I have ever known and I believe, truly, that you will be all right.”
Buffy met Giles’s eyes. “Some days it just seems impossible that this is my life,” she said quietly.
“I know.” Giles stood up and moved away from Buffy. “Why don’t you take the night off. Go see Angel.”
“Maybe,” she said.
“Or, go to that loud, obnoxious place you children seem to like to hang out,” he suggested.
“Yes, well, whatever it’s called.”
Buffy stood and reached down for her bag. “I’ll see you on Monday,” she said.
Buffy cradled the phone between her shoulder and cheek and held the blue dress, still on its hanger, in front of her.
“…he doesn’t mean anything, not really,” Willow was saying.
“It’s okay, Willow,” Buffy said, discarding the blue dress on top of a pile of clothing rejects. “I know he’s just trying to be…protective.”
“Boys can be such knobs,” Willow said.
“The blue one wasn’t right,” Buffy said. “Now what?”
Willow hummed on the other end of the line. “How about the pale pink one? That’s pretty.”
Buffy reached into the closet and removed a barely pink sheath dress, with a Chanel-like bow just beneath the bodice. “Maybe,” she said into the phone. She tried to remember if Angel had ever seen her in the dress before. Although they hadn’t made plans to meet, she knew that he’d turn up at The Bronze eventually.
“Oh,” Willow said, “my mom’s calling me. I’ll see you there at about eight.”
“’ K,” Buffy said reaching for the phone and clicking it off.
She regarded the mountain of clothes on her bed and sighed. She didn’t have a thing to wear.
Her mother was standing at the door.
“Are you going out tonight?”
Buffy smiled. “Can you not see the spoils of me trying to choose clothing for tonight’s outage?”
Her mother smiled. “Not a late night, though, right?”
“Promise,” Buffy said, reaching for a handful of hangers and beginning the task of putting the clothes back in her nearly empty closet.
“That’s an awful lot of rejects,” Joyce observed. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say there was a boy involved.
“Nope. No boy,” Buffy said, her head buried in the closet.
“Home by eleven.” It was not a request.
Buffy peeked around the edge of the door.
Joyce smiled and backed out of the room, closing the door softly behind her.
Buffy finished hanging the clothes back in the closet and reached for the pink dress. She slipped off her robe and slid on the dress, closing her closet door so she could check out her appearance in the full length mirror. She arched an eyebrow. Not bad. Not great, but not terrible either. She twisted her hair into a knot and at the last minute, reached for the heavy silver cross Angel had given her the first time they’d met.
The Bronze was packed. Buffy stood at the entrance for a moment, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dim light and waiting, too, to see if Angel had managed to arrive before her, was perhaps lurking in a smoky corner.
“Buffy, hi.” Willow was suddenly by her side. “You look amazing.”
“I took your advice and went with the pink.”
“I give excellent advice.”
Buffy smiled. “Should we get a table?”
“Oh, Xander has a table, close to the dance floor, you know, so he can see all the skanky girls gyrating.”
“Men are pigs,” Willow added dismally.
“Come on,” Buffy said, taking Willow’s hand and threading her through the throngs of people towards the dance floor and Xander.
Xander was indeed at a table, looking miserably outgunned. Angel stood beside him, his face, upon seeing Buffy, a curious mix of gratitude and horror.
Buffy could feel the warmth of his unsaid words in the pit of her stomach.
“Thanks. You too.”
“Hi, Angel,” Willow said, her words cutting like a circuit breaker through the electric current running between Buffy and Angel.
Angel shifted his gaze from Buffy to Willow and smiled cautiously. “Hi, Willow.” Then he returned his attention to Buffy.
“I’ll get drinks,” Willow said. She paused. “I don’t think they’ll have blood, though,” she whispered theatrically.
“I’ll have coffee,” Angel said.
“Great. Great.” She nudged Xander in the ribs. “I’ll need help.”
“Geesh, Will,” Xander said, rubbing his side.
When they had left the table, nattering like a couple old women, Buffy stepped closer, close enough that she could have touched Angel if she hadn’t been afraid that he’d melt under her fingertips.
“Hi,” she said again.
“I’m glad you came.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it.”
“Yes,” she smiled. “The Bronze is seriously happening on a Friday night.”
“Not the Bronze,” he said, reaching out a finger to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, “you.”
“Come with me,” she said. She held out her hand and shivered when Angel’s smooth, cool palm slid across her own warm skin. She headed for the exit and pulled him down the narrow street and into an alley. Just last week she’d dusted two vampires here.
“What?” Angel said when she stopped.
“Kiss me,” she said.
Angel smiled. “I can do that,” he said. He lifted his hands, resting them on either side of her face and tilting her head just slightly before lowering his mouth and mating his lips with hers.
When he broke the kiss, Buffy’s eyes were still closed.
“What does time mean to you,” she asked before opening her eyes.
Angel dropped his hands to her shoulders. “I don’t understand.”
“What does it mean? You have so much of it; how important is it to you?”
Angel stepped back and buried his hands in his pockets as if that would prevent him from touching her.
“For a while, a century or so, it didn’t mean very much,” he said. “That’s the truth.”
“It didn’t used to mean very much to me, either,” Buffy admitted. “Before I was called, I never thought about the future and now I can’t stop thinking about it.
“Nothing will ever happen to you, Buffy.”
She smiled. “I appreciate the sentiment, I do, Angel.” She leaned back against the brick wall, heedless of the consequences to her dress.
“What’s all this about?”
She shook her head. “A stupid essay question.”
“The question was to picture your life ten years from now and I couldn’t.”
“Couldn’t or wouldn’t?”
“What difference does it make?” She asked. “I’m going to be seventeen in a few days, Angel. I’m going to graduate from high school and then what?”
Buffy held up her hand to silence him. “If you continue on with that train of thought I may have to hurt you.” Angel smiled. “For a minute there you sounded suspiciously like Giles and that would just be wrong on every possible level.”
“I was just going to say…”
“What? That you felt this way? God! Can you even remember that far back?”
Angel flinched and Buffy immediately regretted her words. “I’m sorry. It’s just that ten years from now I’ll be twenty-six. Older than you.”
“It’s not funny.”
“I wasn’t trying to be funny.”
Buffy reached out and touched Angel’s shirt. “I just want to know that ten years from now you’ll still be here and we’ll still be…”
“Buffy,” Angel said, wrapping his fingers around her wrist and pulling her against his chest. She felt his lips against her hair. “Even if the world wasn’t this screwed up, we could never know for sure…”
“But I need to know that when I walk off the cliff, you’ll be waiting for me. I need to know that so I can keep walking.”
Angel reached for her hand and led her out of the dark alley. The sky was blue-black and the streets were humming with human energy. They passed the entrance to The Bronze and kept on going. Past the movie theatre and the coffee shop; past the cemetery and police station. They walked until they were at Buffy’s front door.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“I wanted to be sure you got home safely,” Angel said. “You’re my conscience and my heart, Buffy. Time didn’t mean a damn thing to me until I met you.”
He kissed her and then walked out to the street and into the darkness.
If she had another chance to write her English composition over again, she knew what she’d say. Ten years from now she’d be alive. And it would be enough.
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