Auld Lang Syne
My site: www.octavesoftheheart.com
Apologies for the sugar.
She sat in the Jeep, surveying the unmarred stretch of snow leading up to the cabin. The quiet was thick and she gathered it around her, thankful for it in the same way she was thankful for the those she had just left. Christmas was spent with family and friends, those who were close or alive. New Year’s was spent here. Her time.
She caught her eyes in the rearview mirror. She hadn’t changed much. Perhaps a little too thin, faint lines around her eyes, her cheekbones sharper than they had been in her youth. Inside though, she wasn’t the same girl she’d been. The human heart was nothing if not treacherous and traitorous and obstinate.
The caretaker had opened up the cabin. Snow drifted against the steps and along the ledges of the windows and she thought, as she had every year, that it looked as pretty as a Christmas card. Buffy headed up the steps onto the wide front porch and caught, through the front window, the flicker of the fire Tilly had set. The cabin would be warm and smell of woodsmoke.
She pushed the door open and shoved it closed with her backside, dropping her small carryall onto the floor beside her. She pulled off her snow caked boots. She dropped her gloves and hat on the small table beside the door, reaching for the box of matches she knew she’d find on the ledge above the table. Striking the first match, Buffy lit the candle nearest her and then worked her way around the room, lighting every other candle. There was electricity; Buffy just liked the candlelight and the serenity it evoked.
Holding a candle in front of her, Buffy stuck her head into the bedroom. The white wrought-iron bed was piled with quilts and pillows. Backing out of the room, Buffy passed in front of the fireplace before she headed to the galley kitchen. The light over the stove was on, illuminating the note Tilly had left taped to the console at the back.
Buffy, Happy holidays and welcome back. I hope I haven’t forgotten anything. Leave a note in the mailbox if you find I have. Tilly
Buffy smiled. Tilly never forgot a thing. T’bith demons were actually quite renowned for their memories.
She shrugged off her coat and hung it on the back of a kitchen chair and then pulled open the refrigerator door. The hulking machine immediately clicked on, filling the small cabin with its modern-day hum. She wasn’t particularly hungry, but the sight of the stockpile of fresh fruit, cheese and coldcuts made her mouth water. Tilly always left her far too much food.
Buffy closed the fridge door without taking a thing and padded back to the front door. The snow had started again outside, falling as furiously as if the world were a snowglobe and some child had just given it a good shake. Buffy smiled to herself. She was worn out. The armchair by the fire beckoned, as it always did on her first night back, and she went to it as she would to a lover.
In the morning it was still snowing. Buffy woke up feeling rested, despite having slept curled up in the chair all night. The fire had died down to a few snapping embers and Buffy paused to poke at it and add a few sticks of kindling before she headed to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. While the coffee began its slow drip, she showered and changed her clothes and then began the task she’d come here every year for the past ten to do.
It had been Giles’s suggestion.
You, more than any other Slayer in recent memory, Buffy, have a story to tell.
You’re joking right?
His expression had not changed. I’m not, actually. Think of how much future generations could learn from you, Buffy.
As you may remember, Giles, they weren’t interested in hearing a thing I had to say when we fought the First. I was ousted, if memory serves.
Yes, well, the circumstances were extenuating.
Were they? One apocalypse seems pretty much like the next to me.
He’d sighed then. But at Christmas that year, he’d given her a Notebook just in case.
Buffy flipped open the computer and turned it on. Its sole purpose was to document her life as a Slayer and over the years she had accumulated several CDs of material. At first it had been brutally slow work, but eventually Buffy had found the process cathartic. There was no judgement, no censor, no intended audience. Just Buffy and her thoughts. The deal was that the journals would become the property of the newly formed Watcher’s Council, of which Giles was Executive Director, when she was finished. Buffy figured this year would just about do it.
The hardest part had been what to tell and what to leave out. When she’d been much younger, Buffy had always subscribed to the “less is more” theory. She’d protected her mother from the truth of who she was and what she was by telling her only what would satisfy her. Did she regret that now? Her relationship with Angel? How much of that should she include? Even now the memory of their first night together made her skin prickle. And Parker. Riley. What of them? Spike? In the end, Buffy included every detail because, in the end, every decision she’d made from the moment she’d first been approached by the Watcher’s Council, had led to the next moment. And the next. She discovered, while writing, that she couldn’t separate Buffy from the Slayer or the Slayer from Buffy.
She’d fought that lack of distinction for years, but now it didn’t matter. All that mattered was accuracy, for the sake of posterity. And an ending. The story needed a suitable ending.
Buffy clicked opened the appropriate file and paused to get a cup of coffee. She scanned the lines she had concluded with last year and then, with barely any hesitation, she began to write.
By mid-afternoon, Buffy was ravenous and her hands were stiff from her awkward three-fingered typing. She stretched, pulling her arms back and feeling the tightness in her chest stretch out. The tickle at the back of her neck happened almost simultaneously with the unexpected knock at the door. Buffy froze. It would be Tilly. But Tilly never came here once she arrived, only ever stopped at the end of the drive to check the mailbox.
Buffy turned her head, but the grey afternoon light made it impossible to see who her visitor was. A hiker lost? A broken down car? Buffy pushed back from the table and headed to the door. Her hand stopped midair as the person outside bent down to peer through the window in the door. She took a step back, away from the door.
Then the door swung open and he was standing there, an apparition.
“Angel?” She couldn’t keep the customary lilt from her voice. Whenever she said his name it always sounded like a question, even to her own ears.
He stepped further into the room, swallowing up space as he went, and closed the door behind him. His black coat was dusted with flecks of snow. Buffy watched, fascinated, as the flakes caught in his hair melted in the warm room.
Buffy stepped back again, felt her tailbone bump into the edge of the table.
“I’m sorry,” Angel said. “This is a shock.”
“Understatement,” Buffy whispered. “Am I sleeping?”
Angel’s mouth quirked up. “I can pinch you if you’d like.”
“How did you find me? Why did you find me?”
Angel smiled a genuine smile that split his face. “Good to see you’re still cutting straight to the chase.”
“Time is of the essence.”
Angel shrugged out of his coat and put it on the chair beside the door. He looked down at his boots and sat down on top of his coat to unlace them.
“You couldn’t have picked someplace warm to do all this self-analysis?”
Buffy wrapped her arms around herself and smiled. “Once a year, I like the snow.”
Angel pulled off his boots and slid them under the chair and stood again. “Well, it came in handy today. I didn’t have to wait for the sun.”
“So. Is this a social call? Do you want coffee?” Buffy said. “You probably don’t want coffee.”
Angel shook his head. “Can we sit?”
Buffy nodded. She stopped to put a couple more logs on the fire and settled into the armchair, waited for Angel to sit on the loveseat.
The dry wood crackled, spitting sparks out onto the stone hearth, but otherwise there was silence.
“So, you didn’t say how you found me,” Buffy asked finally.
“Tilly. I still have a few underworld connections,” Angel said. “But just so you don’t think he gave you up after all these years, I actually knew you were here ten years ago.”
Buffy turned to face Angel in dismay. “What?”
“And yet you waited ten years to come.”
Angel nodded. “And before you get all disgruntled, think about it, Buffy. Think about what you’ve accomplished here and think about what you told me the last time we were together.”
Buffy grimaced. “Oh, please, you’re not going to throw that cookie thing in my face.”
“No. But you were right, however you wanted to explain it.”
“Was I?” Buffy asked.
“I think so.”
Buffy dropped her gaze, focused again on the dancing flames in the fireplace. “Maybe you’re right, Angel. I don’t know. Sometimes I look back at my life and it all seems so improbable. Writing it down helped to sort it out, but I still have questions and doubts and--regrets.”
“How could you? Know, I mean. You haven’t spoken to me in a decade.”
Angel slid off the loveseat and knelt in front of Buffy, taking her hands into his own.
“A girl in her teens doesn't know what love means,” Buffy murmured. “And yet, here I am a million years later and I don’t feel any different than I did then.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“What magic is this?” she whispered.
“No magic, Buffy. A reward.”
“A reward? From the Powers? I don’t want it. I don’t want anything from them. What did they ever do for me except take things away,” she said bitterly. “What did they ever do for you?”
The certainty in Angel’s eyes faltered for an instance. “Let me touch you,” he said.
“If you touch me, will I feel it?”
Angel reached out and lay his finger against Buffy’s cheek, tracing a delicate line down to the corner of her mouth. His finger was cool and its touch sent a shiver of sense memory through Buffy’s body. She felt her eyes fill with tears.
He pulled back. “I’m sorry.”
“No, please, touch me. I need you to. I want you to even if it’s not real.”
“But it is real, Buffy,” Angel said, sliding his hands up her arms. She didn’t resist as he pulled her sweater over her head and then reached up to smooth the tousled hair from her face. Her skin flushed pink, part desire, part warmth from the fire. Buffy felt her will, her opposition, melt away.
Angel’s knowing hands skimmed over Buffy’s skin and Buffy felt her body surge forward from his almost-touch. She willed her eyes to stay open, to focus on those well-remembered hands, the long elegant fingers tracing the pattern of bluish veins just beneath the surface of her skin as though her body was a map and if he traveled just the right way, he’d end up someplace he’d never been before.
His fingers cruised to a stop in the hollow between her breasts. She knew he was memorizing the steady thump of her heart and, suddenly...
Buffy reached out and put her hand against Angel’s chest, pressed her fingers against the cool fabric of his shirt. It wasn’t enough. She slipped her fingers into the gap between the buttons and pulled, scattering buttons. His skin was flawless and cool and she laid the palm of her hand flat against his heart. It was silent.
“But you were alive, once, weren’t you?” she said meeting his eyes.
“Yes,” he answered, his gaze unflinching.
“And we were together?”
Angel placed his much larger hand over Buffy’s and said, “Something always happens, Buffy.”
“I remember,” she said. “Why now? Why am I remembering now when it doesn’t even matter anymore?”
Buffy pulled her hand from Angel’s and squirmed out of the chair. “Goddamn it, Angel,” she said, pulling her sweater over her head. “I am not 17. I’m not even 27. What, you think you and the Powers can just waltz through the snow at Christmas and gift me with some memory. One day in a life I barely even remember.”
“I don’t even know you anymore. And the Angel I do know would never do this. Ever,” she said, her mouth trembling from the effort it took to deal with so much information.
“I didn’t do it, sweetheart,” he said, heading for the door. “You did.”
And then coatless, bootless; out into the night, he was gone.
Buffy woke with a start. She surveyed the room cautiously, her eyes gritty and her neck aching from the uncomfortable position in which she’d been sleeping. She stood awkwardly, rubbing her neck and then, the small of her back.
From across the room the bathroom door opened and Angel emerged, a towel slung low on his hips.
Buffy smiled. “When did you get here?” she asked, padding over to him and hooking her arms around his neck.
“Late. You looked so comfortable, I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“You should have woken me up. I was having bizarro dreams,” she said. “And besides we don’t have enough time as it is.”
“Better not waste anymore of it, then,” Angel said, dropping his damp towel to the floor and swinging Buffy into his arms.
Buffy snuggled closer, burying her nose into Angel’s neck. He smelled of soap and warm, wet skin. She licked up the column of his neck to his ear lobe. “I love you,” she whispered.
Angel settled Buffy in the center of the high feather bed and then bent over to remove her clothes. She sighed contentedly.
“What were you dreaming?” Angel said, pressing kisses against his favourite places: collarbone, knuckles, eyelid and the scars that shone silver against Buffy’s golden skin.
“That you were human,” she sighed against the corner of his mouth. He smelled of toothpaste.
He kissed her hard and she felt the remnants of her dream swirl away from her. From the corner of her eye she caught the flash of morning sun. He’d pulled the curtains open and in moments the sun would spill across the bed, bathing them in light. It was Angel’s favourite time to make love.
“That’s a funny dream,” Angel said, pulling Buffy’s sweater over her head, bending his head to capture a naked, preening nipple in his mouth.
Buffy slid her fingers into Angel’s hair and tilted his head so that he was looking at her. His eyes were heavy-lidded and sleepy with desire.
“But this isn’t a dream, is it?” she whispered.
He shook his head. “No, Buffy, it’s not.”
And then Angel set about proving that he was not a figment of her imagination.
She hadn’t been a Slayer for a very long time. Angel hadn’t been human quite long enough for Buffy to really believe that he was. Their lives weren’t as she might have imagined them to be; but here, basking in the weak winter light, Buffy felt certain that she’d always known how the story would end.
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