At Home Where the World Ends
Notes: This was written for the B/A CYA Ficathon run by the amazing leni_ba. Many many thanks to chrisleeoctaves and redscorner for the helpful beta.
It ends in a sudden rush of silence.
Buffy lets her aching arm drop to her side, barely hearing the metallic clunk of the scythe hitting the pavement through the dull ringing in her ears.
She closes her eyes against the sight of death and destruction around her and tries to decide how she feels. Not happy; there’s not enough energy left for that. Maybe she would feel relief if not for the exhaustion, only it’s not really exhaustion she feels either. That came hours ago and she’s not sure what to call what comes beyond it. Nothing, probably.
The sky opens and it begins to rain.
One foot in front of the other, over and around the bodies and the rubble, through the steady rivulets of drain water beginning to flood the streets. It’s only a few blocks back to the epicenter but the journey seems to be taking hours.
The night is fading black to grey. Maybe it is taking hours.
The emergency workers have arrived; cops and firefighters, paramedics and coroners picking through the remains of the fight like vultures. They look disgusted, frightened, confused. There was no time for clean-up, no one to do it if there had been. Willow might have been able but. . .
Not everyone made it to the fight.
Probably not a bad decision, because not everyone has made it out of the fight either. Buffy knows they will find at least four of her girls among the mangled demons; girls whose eyes have been closed with a gentle brush of her fingers.
The last one she found was named Naomi, she thinks. Buffy isn’t sure though and the guilt of not knowing whose blood stains her hands, literally, worms its way through the nothing.
She thinks Faith would know.
Hopes Faith isn’t among the dead.
He looks like another casualty of destruction, covered in the black soot that covers everything here close to where it started, at the hotel. Dragon-singed, she guesses absently, and since his eyes are already closed she moves to step around him.
A groan, followed by a cough, stops her.
Thick lashes flicker open to reveal clear blue eyes, bright against his black smudged face. Buffy drops into a crouch and lets her eyes sweep clinically over his body, checking for visible wounds. It’s difficult to tell what might be his blood and what might be the detritus of the fight.
Poor bastard, getting caught in the middle of all of this. The thought that there might be dozens of others like him out there, innocent people with the bad luck to pick the wrong time to be out taking a walk, coming home from the late shift, jacking a car. . .
Not yet. Later it will be all she can think about as she lays awake in the dark, but for the moment it’s too much.
She returns her full attention to the boy in front of her. “Can you tell me where you’re hurt?” She’s surprised by the hoarse roughness of her voice, then remembers the battle cries that strained her cords over hours of fighting.
The boy swallows and shifts, wincing. “My shoulder,” he says in a voice even more hoarse than hers, then coughs up a glob of black phlegm that explains it. As he continues to cough he grabs his side with what she assumes must be his good arm. “Rib too, I think.”
“There’s an ambulance about a block from here.” She considers the walk back against the relative rest that awaits her in just a few more steps, and sighs. “If you can move, I’ll help you get there.”
He takes a bracing breath and sits up, doubles over coughing and Buffy grabs his good arm to help support him. When he’s finished hacking and is breathing normally again, the boy looks up.
“Dad,” he murmurs, and Buffy frowns and tries to remember what to do for a concussion. She settles for setting him straight.
“Nope, and before you ask, I’m not your mother either. Let’s get you to that ambulance.”
“He’s talking to me, Buffy.” Her head whips around to the familiar voice coming from right behind her, but he’s already moving to crouch on the other side of the boy.
She lets her hand drop away from the boy’s arm as Angel gently guides him back down to the pavement. She guesses maybe she should stop thinking of him as “the boy”. He has a name now—Connor, if she remembers right. It’s strange, like there’s a fog surrounding him in her memory. Hysterical laughter bubbles in her throat at the idea she might have forgotten Angel’s son, but she manages to swallow it just in time. She focuses her attention on brushing off some of the dried blood from her palms, watching the flakes of mottled brown tear from her skin and sprinkle to the ground. It occurs to her she’s twisted, to prefer the sight and feel of death over the view of Angel carefully checking his son for more serious injuries, and more laughter burns in her chest. This time she can’t stop it and she chokes on it as it tumbles out. It’s just. . .
This isn’t the introduction she had imagined, if she had ever imagined such a thing.
Angel loosens his grip on Connor and nods at him, then looks up at Buffy with wary eyes. Connor sits up again, more carefully this time, and Buffy rocks back on her heels, swallows and tries to catch her breath between the bursts of sound.
Connor shoots her a look, like he thinks she’s crazy and she guesses he might be on to something. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, I. . .” she shakes her head and swallows again, forcing back the mirthless laughter. “You have your mother’s eyes.”
The eyes in question cloud at her comment, but Connor just nods and grips Angel’s shoulder for leverage as he pulls himself up. Angel makes a noise of protest and tries to help, but Connor shoots his father a dirty look as he straightens up slowly. He groans as his arm falls helplessly to his side, drawn down by gravity and the dislocated shoulder that refuses to support it.
He bobs his head at his injured shoulder and Buffy watches Angel’s brow furrow with reluctance mixed with grim determination. He grabs Connor’s limp arm and a second later she hears the crunching pop of his shoulder finding its socket again.
Buffy forces her aching muscles to move and she pushes to her feet. She needs to get back and check on her girls, take a shower, sleep.
“You should pay more attention to your surroundings Buffy. I could have taken your head off back there,” Angel growls with a glare in her direction as they move slowly, as a group, to the doors of the still towering hotel Angel called home.
“You could have tried,” she taunts, automatically, but her usual cocky assurance is missing. They both know that she’d be dead now, if he wanted her to be.
The way he’s looking at her, maybe he does.
Five slayers lost.
Buffy pulls off her grime-stiff clothes and tries not to think about the one she missed. She throws jeans, shirt, and jacket into the soapy water in the tub and tries not to wonder if she walked right past her, without seeing, or whether there wasn’t enough left of her to see at all. She pauses, considers, then pulls off her underwear and bra, throws them in the tub too and tries not to see an open pair of eyes, staring blankly into the sky.
Hands dip, scrub; soap, water and friction. Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think.
The water turns red, then black.
Buffy rests her forehead against the cold lip of the bathtub and thinks about dead eyes and shared destiny.
She dreams of them, glaring at her with hatred and accusation, burning blue and green and gold, and when they begin to weep she wakes with a start.
It’s brown eyes that stare at her from the shadows, unfathomable. For a split-second she feels a chill of terror race down her spine, like she’s prey to the predator, but the weight of the gaze is familiar and she relaxes into it.
“Angel?” Her voice cracks and she sits up, grabs the glass of water she set on the nightstand before falling asleep, and takes a sip. He’s sitting on the floor, arms crossed tightly over his knees, head tipped back against the wall, and he’s just . . . staring.
He doesn’t answer right away and she almost asks him what’s wrong, stops herself just in time. Instead she slips from between the sheets and stands, tugging the hem of the button-down shirt that engulfs her to make sure she’s covered. He twitches, hands clenching on his knees as he scans her from neck to toe.
Buffy’s breath hitches in her throat and she stops.
“I borrowed this from your room. I hope it’s okay. My stuff’s drying in the bathroom.” His face is cut with shadows and she can’t read his expression. It makes her nervous, and when she’s nervous she talks. “I was hoping for black, but it looks like you took all the broody gear with you.”
The words are all in the right place, but her delivery is missing something vital, and the quip falls flat between them.
The shirt is a deep purple cotton. When she saw it in his old closet she almost couldn’t believe it was his. It is soft and colorful and not how she remembers him at all. She could see why he left it behind when he moved into suit-world.
It occurred to her Cordy must have bought it for him.
Now she scrunches the overhanging sleeves in her hands and wraps her arms around her waist, uses the thin material as armor against his unrelenting gaze.
“It’s fine,” he grunts, finally, letting his hands relax. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
Buffy nods, then hesitates, unsure for a moment what to do. A memory of Angel sneaking through her bedroom on Revello Drive flashes through her mind, and suddenly she can move again.
She closes the distance and puts her back against the wall, holds the hem of the shirt down as she slides to sit on the floor, cross-legged, beside him. “It’s been a long time since you snuck into my room in the middle of the night,” she says with a small smile, turning her head to look at his profile. This close, the shadows aren’t as thick but he’s as unreadable as ever.
He shakes his head. “A lot has changed,” he says in a flat voice.
Buffy feels a band constrict in her chest, tight and suffocating. A lot has changed.
But not everything, at least not for her.
She makes a soft, noncommittal noise and leans back against the wall. The shift puts Angel’s arm up against her shoulder and she can feel the tension radiating through him. It pulls at her with magnetic force until her own body is quivering with it too. Being this close to him when she feels this way, so tired, so defenseless. .. it all pulls at her in ways she hasn’t felt in a long time.
The silence stretches.
It pounds at her ears and she squirms, shifts, unfurls her legs in front of her. A slight turn of head gives away the direction of Angel’s gaze and Buffy rearranges the shirt over her upper thighs.
Laughter bubbles in her throat again and she wonders when she officially became insane. The continuing silence strikes her as completely ridiculous, given all that remains unspoken between them, but the guilt is a wall between her thoughts and her mouth.
Eventually the silence becomes unbearable.
“I should have been here.” There’s so much force behind getting herself to say it that Buffy’s surprised when it comes out little more than a whisper.
“You are here,” he points out with that same flat tone that sends shards of unease down her spine. He sounds dead. She realizes how ridiculous that is.
She sighs at his deliberate obtuseness in the face of her attempted apology. “No. . . I mean yes, I am now, but I meant before. I should have come before.”
Angel looks at her again and for the first time since she woke up, she can read his expression. Sadness, betrayal, loud and clear. Something darker, too.
“Yes, you should have.”
Buffy swallows against the lump that has formed in her throat, gaze falling from his face to the fingers that are picking at the bottom button of her shirt. She knows that any excuse she might throw up would be a deflection from the truth and she doesn’t want to tell him that she just hadn’t been ready to deal with whatever was still between them. She’d been a coward and, although she hadn’t ever believed that Angel couldn’t be trusted, she let Giles talk her into believing that Angel would handle whatever was happening.
“I’m sorry.” It isn’t enough, but it’s as much of the truth as she can give at the moment.
His jaw clenches, but he nods again.
“I’ve lost almost everyone that means anything to me. The only thing I have left in this world is Connor and I nearly lost him too. They followed me into this, all of them. They knew what they were getting into but they chose to fight anyway, because I asked them to.” His voice is cold, matter-of-fact, and the only way she knows that it is costing him something to say the words is the flex of his shoulder against her arm and the grip of his hand on his knee.
She opens her mouth to say something, anything to take away some of his pain and it’s stupid because she knows as well as anyone that it isn’t possible. He stops her with a look, eyes dark and challenging. “Would you fight by my side, Buffy? Would you fight for me?”
Buffy’s brow furrows. She doesn’t understand him anymore, maybe she never understood him.
“I just did.”
“Would you die for me?”
And the tingle is back in her spine, warning her, even if she couldn’t see the dangerous gleam in his eyes.
Her head is pounding and her heart is aching, and she’s had enough so she moves to stand up, escape.
Angel snarls and reaches out, catching her arm. As he pulls her down to the floor and covers her body with his, it occurs to Buffy that, once again, she didn’t watch her back.
Crushing mouth, bruising grip, and she can’t breathe through the sudden rush of want.
He’s weighing her down, knee forced between her thighs. Buffy thinks she should resist, push him off and away and out of her life but . . .
His teeth pull at her lips, demanding entrance and she opens, spreads, surrenders everything. The first touch of his tongue against hers brings her arms around his shoulders and as he deepens the kiss her hands scrabble as far down his back as possible. She tugs at his sweater, gathering folds of fabric in her hands until the hem and then bare skin hit her fingertips.
He’s holding her down like he thinks she’ll disappear, fade away into nothing, and when he moves his hands from her waist to push under her shirt, it’s a hard slide of hand against skin. When he doesn’t meet any resistance he hisses against her lips, maybe her name but she isn’t sure because all of her attention is centered on his hand as it moves.
Buffy gasps and flinches at the sudden intrusion of one thick finger, too soon. She presses against his shoulders, tries to push him away. Angel resists, doesn’t stop, but he twists the angle of his hand to cup her mound and god he manages finesse even in the rough rub of palm against clit.
The flood is instantaneous, easing his passage, fueling her need.
She stops struggling, slides her hands back under his shirt and scrapes his skin in retribution, moans as he adds another finger to the one moving inside her. Buffy can feel his need radiating through him, feel the desperation, the rage, the sadness barely contained beneath his skin and she borrows it, lets it fill the emptiness, lets it burn her.
When he lifts up she pulls at his sweater, feels his fingers leave her for an instant as the sleeves pull over his hands. As soon as they’re free he’s ripping her shirt from neck to hem. She takes a harsh gasping breath as his lips leave hers to find her aching nipples, hears the clink of his belt and the slice of his zipper, feels his hand grasp her thigh just above her knee and pull it over his hip.
Angel raises his head and she can see possession and anger and love in his eyes as he pushes into her with an almost brutal force.
Buffy cries out and his mouth descends on hers, tongue thrusting inside and pushing back the sound as he thrusts between her thighs. She grips his shoulders, sinks her fingernails into the muscles and kisses him back, bites at his lower lip and revels in his moan of pain and pleasure.
His hands wrap around her wrists and he forces them off her shoulders, up over her head, maneuvering so that he is holding them both down to the carpet with one large hand. He thrusts again, hard, and she feels the friction burn the skin of her wrist, the small of her back.
It’s nothing compared to the burn inside, the need.
Buffy tightens her legs around Angel’s waist and meets his next thrust with a tilt of her hips that makes him groan, and this time she’s sure it’s her name on his lips. She drinks up the sound, meets every thrust, and soon she’s at the breaking point.
His teeth are blunt against her throat when she comes, sharp needles when he follows her over the edge.
A thin trickle of blood tickles the back of her neck.
She rolls to her side and pulls the remains of the shirt over her bruised and naked body. Part of her brain whispers that she should be ashamed but mostly she’s just sore and satisfied and so sad for the man she loves and everything he has lost.
One thing is certain: there’s no perfect happiness to be had in these walls, in this city, in this life. Buffy’s fine with that. She decided a long time ago that regular happiness was more than enough, and even that is elusive.
Angel paces to the bed and throws back the covers, stalks back and lifts her into his arm with the first gentle touch he’s shown her since Sunnydale. She turns her face into his chest, breathes in the scent of his skin and tries to commit it to memory. When he lays her down the sheets are cool and refreshing against her chafed skin and she sighs.
“I love you,” she murmurs to his back and his shoulders ripple in response, so much tension in the expanse of his back but she doesn’t care, doesn’t want to take it back.
He moves to the door, sweater clenched in his fist, reaches for the knob, hesitates. When he speaks he keeps his back to her, vulnerable.
“I wanted to kill you Buffy. I sat here and watched you sleep and all I could think about was if I made you, I would never lose you.”
She thinks that immortality didn’t help Spike. . . she and Angel both managed to get him killed. Her mind shies away from that train of thought; she’s not ready to think of him.
He shakes his head and risks a glance back in her direction as he twists open the knob.
“Go home, Buffy. They need you there.”
The door closes behind him and she’s all alone.
The hotel lobby is empty when she comes down the winding stairs.
Buffy walks to the front desk, whisks her index finger through dust on the counter and picks up the folded note that’s printed with her name. Faith, telling her she had to get the rest of the girls back to Cleveland, telling her to be fucking careful, and it brings a smile to her lips.
She walks outside, surveys the damage. It looks like every building to the west of the hotel for blocks is a burned-out shell, but the sun is shining and there are people out, looting through the rubble. A few of them shoot her strange looks and it takes her a minute to realize she’s still wearing wrinkled, blood-stained clothes.
There is a sound of crunching rock behind her and she whirls around, on the defensive.
It’s Connor, shading his eyes from the pounding sun and walking with only the barest of limps. Buffy relaxes and turns back around, glances at him as he stops beside her. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his pants and surveys the damaged neighborhood.
“Wow. My dad really knows how to destroy a place.” Connor’s delivery is dry, matter-of-fact, and it reminds her of Xander. She suppresses a smile and makes a soft, scoffing noise.
“Ever heard of a place called Sunnydale?” And her heart still isn’t in it but she learned a long time ago that laughing is easier than crying, so she tries.
He grunts and bends down to pick something from the rocks at their feet. Buffy feels a prickle down her spine, the weight of a gaze heavy on her neck, and she turns her head to scan the shadowed facade of the hotel. She can’t be sure, but she thinks she sees movement in one of the windows out of the corner of her eye, a passing shadow or the shift of a heavy curtain.
Buffy thinks that maybe it’s time to go home.
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