disclaimer in part 1
By Rebecca Carefoot
Part Five: Here
At long weary last this game is over
The sins of the past
have fled from my shoulder
The sleep that I need is all that ask
in thought and in deed
I have burned the mask
Here I am
Here I am
The Charlatan's Lament
Buffy woke slowly. She lay still, waiting. She was cold. She hurt. She drew in a small breath of air and almost choked on the water that pounded into her mouth. Sputtering, she opened her eyes, and squinted against the fat raindrops that fell in solid sheets. She brushed back her hair with a muddy hand, then realized her hair was coated in mud as well. She sat up gingerly, her head pounding, her body slick with mud that the rain was gradually washing away. She was holding someone's hand. She looked down at the joined hands, then at Angel lying in the mud beside her.
She could remember some of it now, but it was hard to think, to see. It felt like a dream, a dream quickly fading. Angel groaned. She moved closer, sending a small wake of water over him. He touched his chest where blood seeped sluggishly from the healing sword cut. He looked over at her, and she smiled. He sat up, touched her muddy cheek, grabbed a strand of matted hair, and laughed. He pulled on her hand, and she slid against him, her hand on his shoulder, his hand on her back. Their lips met, their bodies pressed tight together, hungry, dirty, tired, wet. He kissed her hard, his lips tugging at hers, his tongue seeking the heat of her mouth. They tumbled to the side, his hands tight around her waist as they fell against the ground, the kiss unbroken. Buffy's hands tangled in his hair, slid under his shirt to the cold, wet skin beneath. He half knelt above her, pulled her up where her arms locked around his neck. They slid again, and her head knocked against stone.
Buffy turned, and her glance fell on her own name, the slab of granite with her epitaph in large letters. Her hand clenched against his shoulder, and she started to shake. Her teeth chattered, but the sound was drowned out by the pounding of the rain. She stared, transfixed, wide-eyed at her own gravestone. Angel looked up to see what had startled her, then met her eyes.
"It's over," he said.
"What-" she stopped, her mouth twisted with horror. Her teeth rattled, her body shaking. "What's in the coffin?" she asked.
"Nothing," he said, though he wasn't sure.
"We're sitting on my grave," she said, each word mouthed on the edge of panic. She felt like she was going to throw up. She pulled out of his arms, and sat bent over double, her head almost resting on her sprawled legs.
"It's just earth," Angel said, reaching out a tentative hand. "It's not a grave anymore. You're alive."
"But I shouldn't be," she spat, jerking away. "I should be dead."
"No," Angel said. "If you were meant to be dead, they never would have let me bring you back."
"Let you?" she said. She touched her forehead, the healing cut along her hairline. "The Powers. What is going on? I can't even remember-"
"It doesn't matter now," Angel said. "You're here. You're alive."
"No," Buffy protested, gritting her teeth. "Everything matters. I was supposed to die. Death was my gift."
"Maybe it was. You saved your sister," Angel said. "You saved the world. Maybe your life was *their* gift."
"Their gift?" Buffy said, blank with disbelief. "This isn't a reward. Death isn't... I mean you can't just return it like the sweater your grandma gave you for Christmas."
"I thought you would want-"
"They tricked us. You, me."
"They didn't have a choice," Angel said. "I forced their hand."
He was quiet, his eyes turned away, not wanting to admit it, to say it out loud. Not to her, not now.
"You tried to kill yourself," she shook her head against it even as she said it. She grabbed his shirt, pulled, held his arm in a painful grip. "I'm going to die," Buffy said. He started to speak, and she cut him off. "It's not up for debate. Now, later. It's going to happen. And you...you can't just give up. Angel, you promise me you're not going to-"
"It wasn't that," Angel said. He touched her face with a curled index finger. "It was, they said if I gave up my humanity, you'd live longer. I could save you. I gave up...so much. And it wasn't true. I just wanted-"
"Revenge." He nodded. "What humanity?" Buffy said. "When?"
His jaw clenched. "I. It's too late. It..."
She nodded finally. "It doesn't matter." She nodded again, the motion brisk. "They used you, and they used me," Buffy said. "And they're still doing it."
"But you chose," Angel said. "I-I remember. I think. You chose to come back."
"To save you," Buffy said, her brow wrinkling as she tried to remember. "From the skull guys. Not because I wanted to."
"I don't understand-"
"I don't know how to live," Buffy said, her voice tired. "Not anymore." Angel looked at her without comprehension, his eyes searching her face. "Don't you get it? I wanted to die. I wanted peace. And I had it."
"I didn't mean-"
"I'm not blaming you," Buffy said. She released his arm, and smoothed the wet fabric of his sleeve. "I'm only saying I didn't ask for this."
"You can't just give up," Angel said.
"Why not?" Buffy laughed, the sound bitter. "You did."
"If I jumped off a cliff, would you-" Angel started.
Buffy grinned. "I think I sort of remember that yes."
Angel shook his head, but he couldn't stop the smile. "I'm serious." He grabbed her by the chin as she started to look away. She blinked past the rain and met his eyes. "You have so much to live for."
She saw the concern in his eyes, the fear, the love. She tried to put all of her pain, her exhaustion into her own stare. "It doesn't feel like that."
"Then tell me what it feels like."
"Like everyday being me gets a little bit harder to do." She cast about helplessly for the words. "Like every second more of me dies. Like I can't remember what I'm fighting for. And every morning I care a little less. Because it hurts too much to feel things the way I used to." She started to cry, her eyes narrowed, her shoulders shaking. He put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. She buried her face in his shirt. "And everyday I pull away a little farther from the people I care about, because I know I'm going to lose them."
"You don't know," Angel said. "We can't know. We just fight the good fight. And...hope."
"How can you hope?" Buffy said behind a sniffle, and a swipe at her nose. "It never ends."
"It never will," Angel said. "It's not a war we will win. We fight because it's the only thing we can do, not because we think one day we'll get rid of the last demon. Evil is everywhere. It's not going to surrender, or be defeated. But someone has to fight it."
"You're not really too good at this pep talk thing," Buffy muttered.
"I'm not trying-" Angel started, then smiled, tightening his grip on her waist. "I guess you're right."
"What do we do now?" Buffy asked, her voice small.
"Go home," Angel said. "Take a shower. See your friends. Hug your sister."
"And tomorrow?" Buffy asked.
"Tomorrow, we start to fight."
"Each other?" Buffy said, cracking a small smile.
Angel chuckled. "We're going to do this together."
"What about LA?" Buffy said. "Cordy, Wesley, your whole life there."
"I wouldn't have that life if it weren't for you," Angel said.
"I'll stay as long as you need me."
"Angel," Buffy said. "I can't. There are people there who need you."
"You need me," he said. "Or-"
"No, I do need you," Buffy said. "But I can't ask you-"
"You don't have to ask," Angel said. "I'm staying. So Angel Investigations moves to Sunnydale. Or it doesn't. It's up to the others if they want to stay here with me."
"How about forever?" he said, pressing a kiss to her muddy, tangled hair. "Is forever good for you?" She pressed her cheek to his chest, her fingers playing over his ribs. She smiled sadly.
"But nothing's changed," she said. "It's all there. The curse. The you, me, slayer, vampire deal, all of it."
"Everything's changed," Angel said. He pulled her into his lap, and she leaned back against him with a tiny sigh. "I've changed. You've changed. We're different people now. I don't know whether we can make it work, but I'm not leaving you to do it alone. Not again."
"What if it doesn't matter?" Buffy said. "What if I just can't hack it? What if...you're not enough?"
"We can't do anything but try," Angel said. "There's no point in trying to predict the future, whether or not we're going to fail. We do what we have to do. Make it through the day."
"And if I decide I won't do it," Buffy said. "Won't be the Slayer?"
"Can you turn your back on it?" Angel asked.
"I don't know," Buffy said. "Can you keep fighting for them, the Powers or whoever, when they're using us?"
"I'm not fighting for them," Angel said. "I'm fighting for you. I'm fighting for what's right, for people who need my help, for myself. It has nothing to do with them."
"What about Cordy's visions?"
Angel shrugged. "They lead me to people who need my help. I'm not going to hold it against those people that the Powers were the ones who sent the head's up. But I'm here now. No vision they send will change that."
"Don't make promises," Buffy said. "That you're going to have to break."
"I-" She put her fingers over his lips, and shook her head.
"You were right before. Don't think about the future. Don't try to guess where things will go." She smiled. "You're here now." She tilted her head up, her lips slightly open. He accepted the invitation and leaned closer to cover her mouth with a quiet kiss. Buffy pulled away before the kiss had a chance to grow heated. "First," she said. "We get out of the rain before the clouds clear and you burst into flames."
Angel nodded, and helped her to her feet. She wiped at the water streaming down her face, and looked down at the mud caking her clothes. She wrinkled her nose. "Second, a shower." She took a careful step. Angel enveloped her hand in his own, and took the next step with her. "And after that..." she trailed off. "I guess we'll see."
Buffy&Angel // Rebecca Fic