She pushed her feet out, stretching her toes and tipping back, pulling on the ropes and using the momentum to go higher and higher. The trees and sky and horizon shifted with each forward swing, the ground rushing towards her and then swooping away. She closed her eyes against the dizzying rush and then opened them again, just when she felt she’d reached the highest point. There: right there, she could see the ocean; but only for a second, then the backwards descent.
Legs crossed at the ankle, Angel leaned against a picnic table, his face still. He watched Buffy’s hair- a glorious tail of silver in the darkness- and tried to imagine what it felt like to fly.
Suddenly, she jumped, her arms outflung, her knees bent to absorb the impact. He steadied himself and waited for her landing, waited for the crunch of a broken ankle, but she landed as lightly as a gymnast and twirled to look at him, her face flushed with pleasure.
“Did you see that?” She asked, grinning.
She came towards him, her face alive with hope. “I am so in the wrong business,” Buffy said. “I’m like the next Kerri Strug.” She watched Angel’s face for a sign that he recognized the name. “She’s an amazing gymnast.”
“A world famous gymnast,” Buffy added.
“I thought you wanted to be a skater,” Angel said.
Buffy shrugged. Angel envied that; Buffy’s ability to change her mind about her aspirations for the future. He would only ever be what he was.
“I did want to be a skater but then, you know, slaying comes first,” she said, some of the previous sparkle absent from her voice.
Angel reached over and took her hand; it was warm from where she’d held so tightly to the swing’s ropes. He grazed his thumb over her knuckles before sliding his palm next to hers. His hand swallowed hers.
“It might not always,” he said.
“Slaying,” he said. “It might not always come first.”
“No, you’re right. Death might take care of that.”
That hadn’t been what he meant.
“No, that’s not what I--” Angel led Buffy over to a bench and pulled her down beside him. “I meant that there’s a chance that maybe you’ll be able to do something else.”
“Like be a gymnast?”
“Like have a life,” Angel said. “Do something else, be somewhere else.”
Buffy took her hand from Angel’s and turned on the bench to face him.
“You do get that whole, ‘one girl in all the world’ thing, right,” she said. “Because I’m pretty sure it’s there in the small print that you don’t get out of slaying unless you croak.”
She granted him a tiny smile. “It’s all right. I mean, look at it this way: I’m super strong; I do something good for the world and in the whole checks and balances thing I figure I come out way ahead of, say, a sloth demon,” she said. “Plus, I would have never met you if it weren’t for the fact that I’m the Slayer.”
“I’m hardly anyone’s idea of a reward, Buffy,” Angel said, looking down at his boots.
“Well, I disagree,” Buffy said, cupping his chin in her fingers and tilting his head up so she could look at him. “You are so important to me, Angel. I doubt if you know how much.”
Angel reached up and slid Buffy’s fingers up to his mouth, kissing them gently, his eyes steady. “I know,” he whispered. “Come on, I should get you home.”
She turned back once she was inside her bedroom. Angel was on the window sill, watching her with careful eyes.
“What?” she said, stepping closer.
She put her hands on her hips and waited. She couldn’t keep pretending not to see the ‘something’ that was always on Angel’s face these days.
“On the swing, back at the park,” he said. “It’s the first time in a long time…since I came back, that you’ve looked--” He didn’t know how to describe the look on her face, the uncomplicated joy, the wild abandonment. It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t seen that look on Buffy’s face since the day he’d first laid eyes on her, in the school yard at Hemery before she’d been called. “You looked happy.”
“Have you ever been on a swing, Angel?”
He shook his head.
“I don’t get very many opportunities to just—I don’t know—let go,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “I mean, I’m too old for them anyway, but every once and a while,” she paused and looked out the window, past Angel’s shoulder, “every once and a while I just want to forget the evil for a bit. That’s silly, I know.”
“Come here,” he said.
She stepped up to the window ledge and let him kiss her.
It was easy to believe this lie, too. Almost as easy as it was for him to tell it.
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