RATING: PG-13 (Shocking, I know.)

DISCLAIMER: 20th Century Fox Television owns them. They let Joss and the writers play with them, and they let the WB and UPN take them out and put them on display. But, the nice people at Fox hold the copyrights, and this fic is not an attempt to infringe on their legal rights in any way whatsoever. I’m just writing the fanfic Joss said his shows were intended to inspire.

WARNING: Appearances can be deceiving. Don’t let the way this fic starts out fool you.

Clarity

by Margot Le Faye

She wiped the blood from her eyes, grimaced down at her now-useless sword, and tossed it away, collapsing in relief onto the hilltop as the orange glow of the permanently sealed dimensional portal began to fade. A few yards behind her, she could hear an exhausted Willow gasping out the final lines of the incantation. The others--Amy, Tara, Giles, and a few sorcerers the Watchers Council had grudgingly sent along-- had fallen unconscious before they made it that far, their bodies slumped in an awkward semi-circle around the only one of them able to complete the ritual. Fortunately, one was all it took. Buffy heard Willow collapse in her turn. She had just enough strength left, herself, to turn her head and look at them. Assured that everyone was still breathing, she turned back to watch the fading glow. Someone ought to bear witness.

There was no one left to fight. Not just in this battle, but anywhere in their dimension. Well, not any demons or monsters or hellgods, anyway. They had finally done it, and the monsters had been shoved out of this dimension, forced elsewhere, the metaphysical doors bolted firmly behind them by spells the others had nearly died to enact. Spells that Faith, Riley, Oz, Wesley, Gunn, Xander and Anya had died to protect, fighting demon after monster after wizard who were trying to prevent that particular magic from being cast.

A moment later, one of the surviving warriors made her way to Buffy’s side.

"Dawn?" Buffy managed.

"With Spike," Cordy gasped in return before sinking down onto the grass beside Buffy.

They leaned against each other for support. Both women were too exhausted to say anything further, for the moment. And they would not, in any case, mention Angel. Cordy knew and passionately loathed the fact that despite all that had happened in the intervening decade since they had graduated from high school, Buffy could still feel him, as strongly as if the blood-bond forged between them when he had fed from her had been put in place only yesterday. Buffy loathed the fact that it mattered to Cordy, just as passionately. More, she loathed why it was important to Cordy, and she loathed why she herself no longer had the right to judge that reason. She wasn’t exactly in a position to throw stones.

And, oddly, much as both women loathed their circumstances, they had come, at long last, to a mutual respect, admiration and fondness for each other.

Eventually, the glow faded away, the unconscious witches stirred, and the remaining warriors returned. There were the dead to mourn, the living to heal, and a victory to be celebrated with solemn tears for the sacrifices made, and joyous thanksgiving for what those sacrifices had purchased. Once the victorious army was rested, the triumphal festivities would commence.

Buffy slept for two days.

The End of Days was over, the dimension vouchsafed for humanity. The Slayer could put down her burden, the vampires with their souls --another flaw in poor Wesley’s translation--could resume their human lives. The Prophecy of Aberjian turned out to affect not only Angel, but all the surviving members of his bloodline: Darla, Spike, and Angel’s son by Darla, as well. None of them had been too sure they’d survive the final battle, but now that they had, it was time to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Just as the Slayer herself now had to do.

For some reason, everyone thought the first step in doing that, once the dead were properly buried, was to throw the biggest party the world had ever seen. Buffy went along with it, knowing how badly most people needed to forget the pain of their losses in some mindless revelry. She was able to get pretty mindless herself, after a half a bottle of champagne. But, perhaps not mindless enough. She slipped away from the high table where she was amongst the chief honorees, hoping everyone else was too drunk to notice.

No such luck.

"You two have to talk," Cordy said. She had followed Buffy’s early exit from the victory celebration, and confronted her in her tent, which had been pitched by the battle field.

"For your sakes, or for ours?" Buffy snapped.

"Yours and ours," Cordy returned calmly. "Spike is telling Angel the same thing." She smiled ruefully. "He’s as stubborn as you are, you know. But, Im hoping Spike can be annoying enough to get him to listen."

"Trust me, he can," Buffy sighed. "I know you’re right. None of us is going to be able to build the future we want if Angel and I don’t lay our past to rest. But, I just wish . . ."

"That it could have been different," Cordy finished, when the slayer let her sentence trail off. "I know. And, whether you believe me or not, so do I."

"Actually, I do," Buffy said. "I get that you love him enough to wish he and I could have gotten around all those obstacles that came between us. I know Spike feels the same."

"Weird, huh?"

Buffy shrugged. "Maybe not. Someone once told me that love doesn’t divide, it multiplies. I love Angel. So, I love you, for loving him, for making him as happy as he could be, when I couldn’t. And for being ready to make him. . .as happy as he can be, human."

"Yeah," Cordy said smiling. "And, if someone had told me I would end up loving you for all the things you’ve given Angel. . ." They shared a quiet, rueful laugh. "Still," Cordy added, "this sucks."

"Beyond the telling of it," Buffy agreed. "But it’ll only get worse if I don’t do this."

Cordy nodded, understanding. "He’s on the hill," she said. "Waiting for sunrise."

"While Spike reads him the riot act."

"Pretty much." They shared another laugh, before Buffy walked out of the tent and back into the night.

Spike met her halfway up the hill.

"Seems like Cordy had an easier time with you," he observed, opening his arms. Buffy walked into them, resting her head against his heart, enjoying the strong steady rhythm that had begun there, shortly after the battle had been won. It was a comforting sound, and she knew she would never tire of hearing it.

"Because I’m such a reasonable person," she said. That got a rise from him, and he burst into hearty laughter at the idea.

"You’re the most stubborn, heard-headed, inflexible wench I’ve every met," he told her. "Thank God," he added as an afterthought, and kissed her soundly. It wasnt a passionate kiss, not a kiss meant to enflame. It was simple reassurance of something he had proved to her long ago: that he loved her deeply and profoundly and forever.

She returned the kiss with pleasure. But, like all good things, it came to an end.

"Go on, then," Spike said, giving her a little push up the hill. "I’ll be waiting."

"I know," she said with a soft smile. She watched as he walked away, returning to their tent, then set her face forward and finished the climb to the hilltop.

He was facing away from her, looking down at the city of Sunnydale, just as he had so many years before, one Christmas morning. Only now he was waiting not for the sun to bring him the peace of death, but to bring him the warmth of his longed-for life.

A life which did nothing to lessen the blood-bond forged when he was yet a vampire. He felt her approach, and he knew the moment she reached the top of the hill.

He turned to face her, and offered a bittersweet smile. "Hey," he said, simply.

"Hey," she returned. She walked forward, joining him, so that both stood companionably side by side, looking down at the site of the now obliterated Hellmouth.

"I can’t smell it anymore," he observed. "The sunrise."

"I guess that must be weird for you."

"Not as weird as yogurt," he said dryly. "I can’t believe Cordy actually loves the stuff."

"It has its charms," she said with a smile. "Although, not as much as ice cream. Or chocolate."

"With peanut butter. Preferably crunchy."

"I remember," she said softly. But then, she had told him as much, once she returned from the dead, the second time. She wondered, as she often had over the years, if that had been it, the point of no return for them. Her angry accusation that he should never have given back his humanity just so she could live a few months longer, his angry retort that he would have gladly given it up if it had only bought her 18 more seconds, let alone 18 more months. Their bitter recognition that nothing could be the same between them, now that Buffy remembered what they had, what they could have had, and what he wouldn’t let them keep. No matter how much they still loved each other, would always love each other, something between them had broken, and could never quite be fixed.

Water under a bridge long since crossed and left behind.

"May I?" she asked, turning to him, feeling a bit shy. He smiled, and reached for her hand, placing it over his own newly beating heart.

She could feel the heat of his body beneath her hand, through the soft cotton of his shirt. And, beneath that, the firmly muscled wall of his chest, the slow, steady beat of his strong heart. She remembered that day so long ago, and couldn’t help the slow tears the leaked from her eyes. But, they were happy tears this time, and she managed a watery smile to go with them when she looked up at him.

With a sigh, Angel pulled her into his arms, resting his chin on the top of her head.

"I love you," he said quietly. "Death didn’t change that."

"No, it didn’t," she agreed. "Not yours, or mine. It took living to change us." She pulled away from him and looked up, into his eyes.

"I love you, too. I’ll always be your girl."

"But not enough to leave Spike for me," he said quietly.

"Not any more than you could leave Cordy," she returned without bitterness. "And don’t try to tell me you don’t love her, too."

She was still in his arms, and it felt right to be there. But it also felt right to be saying what they were saying.

"I would never try to tell you that," Angel acknowledged. "It wouldn’t be true. For ten years, I’ve watched her suffer and fight and grow, watched her change from a spoiled, self-centered child to a compassionate, and strong woman. She’s been there for me during my darkest days. When you died . . .I think I might have just walked out into the sun if Cordy hadn’t stopped me."

"I know. And, I’m grateful to her for that." Buffy told him. "I’m grateful you have her in your life."

"If someone had told me I’d ever be grateful to Spike for anything," Angel began with a chuckle. Buffy giggled, appreciating the irony. Angel let her go, but took her hand. They both sat on the hillside, and talked, waiting for the sun to rise.

There was a lot to be said, between them, after all. Buffy knew that Angel understood why she could love Spike, who had ultimately repented of his own evil nature even before his own soul, as a member of Angel’s bloodline, was restored, as part of an interconnected series of events that led to the End of Days. Just as Cordy had helped Angel through the dark days of Buffy’s death, Spike had helped her through the dark days following her resurrection.

What it came down to, was that no one had ever, could ever, touch the places in each of their hearts which belonged to the other. But, over the years, they had found to their surprise, that their hearts could hold more than one. They never stopped loving each other, but each had learned to love someone else, as well.

"No regrets, then?" Angel asked finally.

Buffy thought about that for a long while before she answered. "It isn’t that easy," she told him at last. "Because, I regret a thousand things. I wish Faith hadn’t had such a hard time, hadn’t joined up with the mayor. I wish I had never hurt Riley. I wish I had figured out how to stop Glory before things got so far out of hand that dying seemed like my only option. I wish Willow hadn’t gotten so caught up in Dark magic, that she lost Tara. I wish Spike had been able to save Dru, when she got her soul back. I wish Darla hadn’t been turned into a vampire again, because she suffers so much for the evil she did afterward. I wish . . .I wish Cordy and Doyle could have been together, and that Ian was my son, not Darlas or that you hadn’t given back that day, so that I could have died in your arms--"

"Buffy--"

She ignored the interruption. "And I wish my mom had been able to live a long and happy life with Brian, that Olivia had never left Giles, and that Wesley and Fred and Anya and Xander and all the others were still alive. But other than that. No. No regrets." She waited a moment before she asked quietly, "You?"

"Pretty much everything you said," he told her. "Except that I wish I had figured out how to stay human, fulfill my purpose, and not give you up."

"Me, too," she said softly. "But I guess that would have been asking too much, huh?"

"I guess," he said quietly. They fell silent for a while, as the edge of the sky began to take on a wash of opalescence with the approach of dawn.

"Angel?" Buffy asked again, as the sky continued to lighten. "Is it really worth it? A world where, in order to fight the good fight, and save humanity, you don’t get to live happily ever after, you just get to make the best of what you have?"

"That’s all anyone can ever do, Buffy," Angel said gently. "Make the best of things. And, is what we have really so bad?"

She remembered what it had been like to claw her way out of her grave, how lost and frightened she had been. She remembered how Spike had been there for her, hurting for her, taking care of her. No, what she had wasn’t so bad. But she remembered some other things, as well, and she knew that no matter how happy she was in the life she had before her, there were some things she would always wish could have been different. If she were really honest with herself, there was one action in her life that she regretted, one thing that she wished she had done differently, and would have done, if she knew, at the time, what she knew now. There was one choice she’d made, a hard one, where her heart had screamed at her to do one thing, her head another, and she had listened to her head. For a long time, she thought she’d made the right choice, but after she returned from the dead, after she remembered their lost day, she had always wondered if maybe . . .

But, there was no going back. The paths they had taken had led them here, to this place and time. Maybe it was inevitable. At least, it all had inevitably followed, afterward. She pushed the melancholy thought aside.

"It’s nearly sunrise," she said.

"Share it with me?" Cordy, after all, would share the rest of his sunrises. She would no more begrudge Buffy sharing Angel’s first, than Spike would begrudge her missing his own.

"I’d like that," she said, smiling. He draped his arm around her, holding her close as the glory of a new day burst upon them.

A while later, he stirred, letting her go and getting to his own feet.

"They’re going to want to start that final ceremony in about an hour," he reminded her, reaching down a hand to raise her to her feet.

"Oh, yeah. That talisman thingy Giles was talking about," Buffy said, stifling a yawn. "What was the purpose of it, again?"

"We don’t know, exactly. The prophecies simply say that the last Slayer has to be given the Amulet of Themis, goddess of Divine Justice."

"Divine, as opposed to the ordinary kind?" Buffy asked, with a raised brow.

"That would be Dike and Astraea," Angel replied seriously. "But they were daughters of Zeus and Themis, anyway."

"Okay, so, I get the amulet. Then what?"

"Then, as far as we can tell, the spell that Willow and everyone else worked becomes unbreakable, and we all live happily ever after.

"Well, that’s a nice change," she said, and took his hand, letting him pull her to her feet.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that they would kiss. And just as inevitable that, while they intended simply to kiss good-bye, to truly lay their past to rest, that the past once more rose up around them, the old passion between them, buried so long, leaping to hot, insistent life, as soon as their lips touched. As it had when they sat beside her mother’s grave, the kiss, intended as comfort and farewell, became that of desperate longing.

But, it wasn’t inevitable that they should part. It was simply their own honor that caused each to draw away.

"Well," Buffy said a bit shakily. "I guess it’s a good thing that you and Cordy are moving to Ireland, huh?"

"I’m sorry," he said helplessly, running his hand distractedly through his hair. She shook her head.

"Don’t be. We are what we are, Angel. It just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. Thats all." He sighed and nodded. A moment later, composure restored, he offered his hand once more, and she let him lead her back to their encamped armies and the final ceremony of triumph.

Everyone’s joy was infectious, and Buffy found herself smiling again. When she and Angel approached the altar where Giles was waiting, and dropped each other’s hands to take the hands of the partners each had chosen, it did not feel that they were turning from something, so much as going toward something else. She was able to laugh up at Spike, to exchange hugs with Cordelia, to embrace all her friends and no few of her former enemies with happiness.

And then Giles was standing in front of her, lifting the lid on an ancient box of carved marble, and showing her what lay within.

"The Amulet of Themis," Giles intoned, "Destined for the last Slayer, to seal her victory." Cheers greeted his statement. Spike kissed her, and let her go. Buffy took a step forward, and reached into the box, where the amulet lay nestled.

It was a simple gold disk, etched with a set of scales. The scales seemed out of balance, but that was probably on purpose. Buffy lifted the amulet high above her head, to show the cheering throngs around her, then she turned to face them, lay the amulet against her breast and fastened the clasp about her throat.

The moment the hasp clicked shut, a bolt of thunder burst from the heavens and struck the ground in front of Buffy.

Exit, everything in the world.

Enter, something completely different.

The floor beneath her feet was black marble, veined in gold. The air around her was dark as night, or, as in some subterranean temple--which was pretty much what this appeared to be. A dozen imposing Corinthian columns surrounded her. Buffy turned warily about, alert to danger, and found herself facing a woman seated on a throne of the same black and gold marble as the pillars and the floor. The woman was draped in a classic Greek chiton, with long sleeves in the Doric style, and a pair of simple leather sandals on her small, graceful feet. The cloth bound about her eyes was the giveaway, of course.

"Themis?" Buffy asked, some of her fear calming. Given everything else that had happened to her, how bad could it be to face the Goddess of Divine Justice?

"The scales aren’t balanced," Themis said, sounding annoyed. Buffy began to rethink her lack of fear.

"Ummm. I had noticed that," she said placatingly, raising her hand to the amulet that still hung about her neck.

"Well? Why aren’t you doing anything about it?" Themis demanded.

"Pardon?" Buffy said faintly.

"How do you expect the doors between the dimensions to hold against the might of demon magic, if you dont right your great wrong?"

"My great wrong?" Buffy said uncertainly. "I did something wrong?"

"Come, come child. You know exactly what you did wrong. You know exactly where things began to go off course. You were just thinking about it."

"I . . .I was," Buffy admitted. "But, you mean if I had. . .then all the other things . . .?" the thought was too horrible to contemplate.

"Yes, yes," Themis said impatiently. "Willow wouldn’t have spent the summer resenting you and overcompensating by trying to learn more witchcraft, Xander wouldn’t have spent the summer resenting you and taking it out on Cordy. When Faith got here, she would have been a strong and noble Slayer, your mother would have adopted her and married Brian, and her tumor would have been found earlier because he’d have insisted she get a full check-up instead of letting her put it off as long as she did. Doyle would have moved to Sunnydale, not LA, Olivia would never have gone back to London, Riley would have married Sandy, Darla would never have been turned into a vampire, she’d have gotten a heart transplant instead, and married that nice young man who wasn’t supposed to remain evil, and Ian would have been their son. . ."

"Oh, God," Buffy whispered despairingly. But Themis wasn’t done.

". . .so that the Host could have saved Fred, and she’d have married the Groosaluag and they’d have brought a new era of peace and prosperity to Pylea, and Lorne’s people would have lost their aversion to music and art, while Gunn and Anne expanded her shelter and got more kids off the street. Oh, and Dawn was supposed to be Faith’s sister. And grow up to marry Spike, after Dru died. Wesley wasn’t supposed to get shot. He was supposed to marry Virginia. And Kate would still be on the force, finally winning her father’s approval when she cracked a major case and actually sent a number of Wolfram and Hart lawyers to jail. Which would have brought her to the attention of a particular unmarried district attorney . . ."

By now Buffy was crying outright.

"And it’s all because I didn’t . . .?"

"Of course," Themis said impatiently. "Haven’t you been listening?"

"And what would have happened to us?" Buffy choked out. "I know what happened to Angel. But . . . if I had been there . . .would it have been worse?"

"Child," Themis sighed. "Think."

Buffy wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be thinking about. But, she tried. Hard. When the memory surfaced, everything clicked and Buffy Summers had one moment of clarity.

"Oh," she said simply. "I see."

Themis beamed at her. "I knew you would."

"Well, I see what went wrong. But . . .that was years ago. How do I change it? How do I balance the scales? It’s not like I can undo the past."

"Well, not if you aren’t in it," Themis said. Another thunderbolt hit the floor at Buffy’s feet.

Exit, Divine Justice

Enter, Hell.

Acathla’s mouth was opening. Seventeen-year-old Buffy Summers could see it yawning behind Angels head as she reluctantly broke from his kiss.

"What’s happening?" Angel asked. Buffy froze, realizing with horror that it was indeed too late. Whistler had told her that once the portal started to open, only Angel’s blood could close it. In despair, she recognized what she had to do.

"Shhh," she said. "Don’t worry about it." She kissed him, pouring every bit of love she had ever felt for him into the kiss, unable to stop the tears that poured down her cheeks as he returned her kiss with equal passion. It had been so long since she had been free to kiss him . . .and once she stopped, she was going to have to do something that would mean that she never got to kiss him, again.

Buffy wondered how she could still stand, still breathe, still think, when her heart was shattering inside her. She was about to betray the man she loved, because if she didn’t the whole world would end. The only comfort she could offer him, the only grace note, was to tell him that she loved him, and let him carry that memory into the hell she was forced to send him to.

She kissed him, and she told him to close his eyes, and as he stood there, trustingly, she thrust the sword into him, spilling the only blood that would appease Acathla.

"Buffy!" Angel said in shock, not understanding, lifting his hand, reaching for her.

Buffy looked at him and wept. Her head told her that she had to stay away, that she was the Slayer and it was her duty to stay and fight, be ready to protect the world. She knew, with absolute certainty, that she had to stay exactly where she was.

Her heart was telling her that the man she loved was about to be taken away from her forever, and that her only hope of ever being happy again was to go to him, and share whatever his fate would be in the demon dimension of hell.

Only it was hell, the dimension where all living things were eternally tormented, and how could she possibly survive that?

Buffy looked at Angel, still reaching for her, looking lost and confused, and yet, even believing she had betrayed her, still calling her name. And she realized, she was already in torment, and that if she had to spend the rest of her life imagining Angel suffering in Hell, not understanding why she had betrayed him and sent him there, her torment would be every bit as eternal as his.

Buffy Summers had one moment of clarity.

"Itll be all right," she whispered, and walked forward, toward her One True Love, taking his outstretched hand, and folding herself into his embrace.

When Giles and Xander came by the next day, they found the statue of Acathla, and they found the amulet. Giles stared at it in shock, not wanting to believe it was what he knew, as a Watcher, that it had to be: an object of power that could only be handled by a Slayer. Buffy must have had it on. And, if it was broken, lying on the floor . . .Giles looked at the stone demon, and began to weep.

Giles held on to the amulet for months. Whatever power it once contained had been drained out of it by whatever magic Buffy had performed, so he could handle it without fear. Sometimes, he couldn’t bear to look at the thing. Sometimes, he couldn’t bear not to. But, time heals all wounds. Faith needed him, every bit as badly as she needed Joyce’s mothering. And, Joyce desperately needed to mother someone, now that her only child was gone. Willow and Xander needed Giles’guidance, as well. Buffy’s death had saddened all of them, but it had matured the younger people. Life was moving on, as life tended to do. Giles knew it was time for him to do the same.

He came by the mansion, and placed the amulet reverently on the floor before Acathla, on a blackened spot that he knew instinctively must mark the place where she had been swallowed into hell, in a sacrifice that had kept the world from being swallowed with her.

"Good-bye," he whispered to his lost Slayer, and left. If he had looked at the amulet, he would have noticed that the scales were no longer out of balance.

A few hours later, a rift was made between the dimensions. Something fell out. A pair of somethings, still locked in an embrace.

"MMmm," Buffy said, snuggling her naked form closer to that of her equally naked mate. "Looks like were back."

"Right on time, too." Angel agreed. Since Buffy had been with him, he hadn’t endured subjective centuries of torment and wasn’t insane. Instead, he had enjoyed subjective centuries of guilt-free--and, thanks to a certain Goddess of Divine Justice, curse-free--boinking with his destined mate. Well, after she read him the riot act for a decade or so, it had been guilt-free. They were both much better off for it. "Trick should be getting ready to hook up with the mayor." Angel remembered. Their memories of the original timeline were also courtesy of the Goddess of Divine Justice, who had a thing for tying up loose plot lines.

"What say we help Faith stop him, before he becomes invincible, this time?"

"Sounds like a plan," Angel said and kissed her. "Not that we have to do it right this minute . . ."

They did lots of other fun things instead. Eventually they got around to telling everyone they were back, and eventually they got around to doing all the other things they were supposed to do, including chasing the last demons out of the dimension.

So, eventually, Buffy once more found herself holding the Amulet of Themis aloft for the world to see. But, there were a lot more people around to see it this time. She beamed at Doyle, standing next to Cordy, and at Xander who was standing between Anya and Virginia. Wes wasn’t with her, because he was standing on the dais, next to Giles, presenting Buffy with her Amulet. Her mom was crying, and Brian was holding her and Buffy was devoutly grateful she had listened to her heart. She fastened the Amulet around her throat, and waited for the bolt of thunder.

Exit, Big Party

Enter, a moment to reflect.

The goddess of Divine Justice smiled. "I see you’ve balanced the scales."

"You see through the blindfold?" Buffy was impressed.

"Of course, through the blindfold. Thats the point of it."

"I guess it is," Buffy said thoughtfully, taking off the Amulet and returning it to its rightful owner. "I guess someone else might need this, someday, huh?"

"It comes in handy," Themis admitted. "In certain cases." She smiled at the former Slayer. "Have a nice life, child." Another clap of thunder, and Buffy was back, before anyone realized she had ever left. Although Giles was a bit disconcerted by the disappearing amulet. Buffy patted his hand reassuringly, then turned to Angel, and let him sweep her into his arms for a passionate, storybook ending, final scene at the end of the big movie, technicolor, surround-sound KISS.

And the victorious army cheered more loudly than ever. Somewhere, the Goddess of Divine Justice smiled complacently. And, maybe in some other dimensions some other onlookers added their cheers in, as well.

When the need for oxygen forced them to break the kiss, Buffy took Angel’s arm, waved goodbye to the cheering crowds, and headed back to the mansion they still called home.

With Angel at her side, Buffy was able to do exactly what the Goddess of Divine Justice wanted her to do. She had a very nice life, indeed.

And they all finally did live happily ever after.

The End

 


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