TITLE: After All
DISCLAIMER: Joss is. I am not.
SUMMARY: After all, it's never too late to start learning French.
Written for tragicamente, at the Drabble Fest (Feb. '09).
She is in Europe. He is anywhere else.
After all, he always excelled at hiding.
They watch the news solemnly in the common room, too aware that Los Angeles is no longer their responsibility.
"I still remember the last time it snowed in California," Buffy breaks the silence.
There are others thinking the same words, having the same memories - or their versions of them. Willow cradles her cup of chamomile tea a little tighter. Xander pretends to be asleep.
But the young ones never know better. "Was it also the end of the world?" one of the bright-eyed Slayers asks curiously.
Buffy wonders where her own brightness went. "It was. For me." Right, that snowfall took a little of it.
She is still in Europe. He is somewhere else, enjoying the feeling of the sunlight on his skin.
After all, some prophecies were just meant to happen.
She hears the news from Wilma, who heard it from her Watcher, who spent a night with Faith last month, and wasn't Faith always an amazing story-teller?
"Good for him," she tells Willow that night. "How long have you known already?" Because Buffy Summers is years tired of forgiving her friends' good intentions, and wasn't Willow always the first to feel guilty?
Sometimes, Buffy thinks as she carves another stake, it feels as if nothing had really changed.
He is in Europe. She is not.
After all, some things weren't meant to happen.
"You are not missing my graduation, Buffy Anne Summers." Even over a long-distance call, Dawn sounds characteristically adamant. Like sister, like sister, or so it used to be.
"It's still months away," Buffy answers reasonably. With the years, she's gotten a lot better with that reasoning thing.
"That's why I'm telling you now, so you won't find a good pretext." Dawn pauses then, and her next words are uncharacteristically rushed. "He's never been to London, Buffy. Not even close. Just come b---?"
Dawn's words are said with good intentions, Buffy is sure of that. But that's only half the problem.
He is in room 2213. She is in room 1723.
After all, Africa is beautiful in the summer.
"Xander said this was the best hotel in the city," she tells him over a cup of ice tea. She watches him take a sip of his coffee and then smiles at the face he makes. Almost 300 years, and he still doesn't know better than to ask for a shot of Kenyan coffee, straight.
"So did the travel agent," he says once he recovers.
She pretends not to see the two heaped spoonfuls of sugar that he drowns in his cup. "They were right. So you're enjoying the fruits of your labor, huh?"
"Some of them," and he sounds proud of it.
Giles let it slip about Angel's new venture. She doesn't know whether to be amused or incensed, so she figures she'll just buy the book and see what happens. After all, she always excelled at postponing.
"I'm leaving the city tomorrow," he says when there's nothing else to say. Even the weather's been covered, and both know it never snows in Kenya.
She wonders if it's an invitation. "I'll stay until September." Because it can't be.
He is on his way back to Paris. She is coming to supervise the Brazilian Council.
After all, Sao Paulo has the busiest airport of South America.
"Hey, stranger," Buffy walks up to him, relieves him of the heavier bag and smiles when he doesn't protest.
Angel returns the greeting, but stares at her for a while longer. She smiles, eyes bright with happiness, and waits as patiently as she knows how. She already knows what he's looking for, and wonders whether he'll find it by himself. "You read the book," and it's definitely not a question.
Her smile widens. "The world doesn't end as often as it used to." She is not saying what he expects her to say. But he never did; this makes them even. "Yay for apocalypse-free nights!"
He doesn't buy her act. "You liked the book."
"A couple words I'm sure haven't been said in half a century," she teases, "but otherwise it was…" She waits until she's sure he's completely focused on her. "Interesting."
His eyes narrow. (Did he ever stop knowing her?) "You understood the book."
(For a while there, she stopped knowing him. But she can re-learn.) "You've gotten book-obsessed in your old age, Angel," and she adds a mock-pitying look.
Three years ago, her name would have come out in a warning growl. Now it's merely a frustrated sigh. She still loves it. "A more conceited ex might read it as a message, yes."
He stops in the middle of the hallway, upsetting the flow of people in both directions. Angry voices shout at them in Portuguese, but neither Angel nor Buffy care. They've saved the world enough times to deserve this.
"But you never called," and somehow it isn't an accusation.
"Neither did you," she reminds him gently.
If he starts beating himself up over lost time, she'll walk away and never look back again. There's only so much guilt a girl's life can accommodate.
He is too focused on the future to regret what could have been. "Do you speak French?"
She is in the shower. He is writing a second novel.
Outside, snow starts covering the ground.
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