Everything Fades

New fic! Post-NFA. One parter. Empty lives. Not too happy. Here it is:



Title: Everything Fades
Author: Semby
Summary: Happily ever after is just something that was made up to help children sleep at night. (sections dated 2019/2020 are Buffy’s POV, earlier dates are Angel’s.)
Pairing: Buffy/Angel, but angsty.
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Although considering how mean I’m being and denying the characters’ happiness makes me more Joss-like than I might want to be, I’m not him.
Thanks to: My beta-readers, Leni and Ann.
Feedback: Yes, please: semby1 at gmail dot com
Distribution: Just let me know.
A/N: My inner B/A shipper and muse were at odds in writing this fic. The b/a-er is still pouting in the corner, “but they can live happily ever after; they can!” and my muse is baking cookies to hopefully earn forgiveness. In other words: if you’re looking for a happy b/a story, I’d skip the parts dated 2019/2020.


June, 2004

We thought it was over for us. I wouldn’t have minded if it had been. It seemed everything I’d been through in the five years since I moved to LA had been working towards this ending. I liked to remain mostly anonymous to the world, but it was nice to think that in some way I was having my grand finale.

But it wasn’t the end. It was a new beginning. Yes, we lost people. Wesley and Gunn were gone before things really got started. We never found Illyria after the dust cleared. But Spike and I both got the Shanshu. We figured that the language the prophecy had been written in didn’t have the most effective use of plurals.

We were both in the hospital for a few weeks after that. For me, it was to heal deep flesh wounds. I’ve got some scars, but it could have been worse. I was lucky.

Spike will never walk again. I told him we could talk out the Buffy issue, or both go to her and let her decide. I conceded that it was unfair for me to run off to Europe when Spike couldn’t even get out of the hospital. He outright told me to fuck off, go to Italy and try to win back a place in her life and heart. He hadn’t wanted her to know he was alive before because he didn’t want her to think less of his sacrifice, and he sure as hell didn’t want her to see him as a cripple. He told me to go and not mention him. He made it very clear that he didn’t plan on seeing me ever again. I was more disappointed by that than I ever thought I would be. Years from now, I know I’ll still wonder what ever happened to him.

So I came to Italy on the first available plane. In my time as CEO of W&H, I’d had an identity and social security number made up, and accumulated a substantial enough bank account to keep me going for awhile. Traveling is far easier than it ever was as a vampire.

I reach her door and knock. She opens it, looks surprised to see me. I press a finger to her lips to shush her in case she’s going to invite me in, and then step over the boundary. The look on her face when she opened the door was the hard, protective exterior that I’m used to, but it instantly crumbles away. I see the realization flash in her eyes before it’s hidden by the tears misting up in them. She’s unable to control herself; I can tell she wants to remain detached, but soon enough she’s sobbing. I have to hold her up to keep her from collapsing.

Once she calms down, she invites me in further and we talk on the couch for a long time. I tell her how I became human, and that there’s nothing left for me in LA… except for Connor. I tell her the whole story about Connor and she’s more understanding than I would have expected. I tell her that I had no idea what I wanted to do next, except see her. I mention that I know about the Immortal, and she looks embarrassed but says that that ended a couple weeks ago; it hadn’t been much more than a fling. I see her wanting to ask how I knew, but seems to decide against it. Maybe she thinks there have been enough emotional revelations for one day and would rather let this one go.

I tell her I still love her and it’s easier than I thought. She says the same back, and adds that she doesn’t think she’s fully baked yet, but that she’s not sure she ever will be. She’s been thinking that she could just as easily find herself with someone she loves.

We fall into each other’s arms then, kissing and caressing but with mostly innocent touches. After several minutes it becomes more heated and I pull back to tell her that there’s no rush. I think if we’re going to try to build a relationship with a real hope for a future, maybe we’re better off waiting. My arguments don’t seem to mean much however, because before I’m aware, she’s led me into her bedroom and we’re ripping each other’s clothes off. Then we’re falling on the bed and before long we’re moving together in the way that I’ve longed for and missed for so many years. Then I feel like we’re crashing and I don’t think anything else could ever feel so right.

December, 2019

I sit at the kitchen table in my lonely, quiet, dark house. It’s late and my son is sleeping upstairs, but my husband is still out at the bar and I’ve decided to wait up until he comes back.

I tap my cigarette into the ashtray on the table. I don’t even remember exactly when I started smoking or why, but I’m pretty sure it’s been at least a few years. I think I started out of boredom, maybe frustration. It’s a disgusting habit but I have no desire to stop now.

I hear the front door open. I can tell he’s trying to be quiet, but he’s making sounds of occasional clumsiness, obviously drunk. He enters the kitchen and expresses surprise that I’m still up. Seemingly as an afterthought, he presses a quick kiss to my forehead. He gives it out of obligation, because he thinks it’s what he’s supposed to do, and I accept it indifferently.

I tell him that he said he’d be home by midnight. He shrugs and gives a vague explanation about losing track of time, and he didn’t think I’d mind. I suddenly realize I don’t, and briefly wonder why I’ve been waiting up the past few hours if I don’t care. I think I wanted a reason to yell at him, but I don’t have the energy anymore.

He’s going through the fridge for a beer, even though he just came from the bar and judging from his mannerisms he should be looking for water instead. I don’t say anything this time. He always drinks too much these days and whenever I mention it he laughingly tells me it’s his Irish blood. That’s when I confront him while he’s drunk. If I complain while he’s sober, he just gets angry.

I don’t have anything left to say to him, so I head upstairs to bed. I really shouldn’t have wasted my night waiting up for him, hoping for a fight. I get ready for bed, and lie down on my side. Only a moment after I’ve settled, he enters the room and gets ready for bed, too. Only for him, getting ready for bed tonight just means stripping down to boxers and his undershirt. He forgets to brush his teeth. He doesn’t acknowledge me as he crawls into his side of the bed. When he comes home drunk, he either ignores me or tries to get me to screw him. Years ago, on the few occasions he got drunk, he’d have apologized profusely and said he wasn’t good enough for me to make love to that night. I’d have argued with him, but he’d have insisted on not letting things get farther than cuddling, and he always made it up to me the next day.

He falls asleep almost instantly and begins to snore. He never snored as a vampire.

I think the reason I waited up for him is because I haven’t slept a night without him beside me in over fifteen years. No matter how little connection I feel between us now, I think I’m afraid to try. I’m afraid to think what it would mean if I slept well.

September, 2004

I’d always thought I could never feel as swept away by love as I did those first few years with Buffy. But the last three months have been better than I could have ever imagined. They went by in a blur; we’ve been deliriously happy. There’s nothing for me but Buffy, and looking in her eyes I know she feels the same.

We moved back to LA a few weeks ago. I wanted to be close by in case Connor ever needs me. I took them both out to dinner one of our first nights back and they got along so well I was still grinning like an idiot over it the next day. He’s still living with the family that believes he’s their son, but he’s acknowledging me more as a dad, finally. Buffy also wanted to be closer to Dawn, who decided she wants to finish up her high school education back in the US, and us moving to LA provided the best opportunity. She thought about living with us, but then decided we were too sickly-sweet in love for her to be able to spend any extreme amount of time with us, and that it’s maybe finally time for her to get to know her dad again. So she moved in with him and Buffy and I have our own apartment.

Most people would think that being together three months is too soon to move in together, but Buffy and I would disagree. We feel we’ve been waiting long enough to come this far, and we couldn’t be happier. She got a job teaching self defense at a local gym and I’m looking for my own employment, but still have plenty of my W&H salary left over to get by. We’ve been spending the rest of our time blissfully together, making love, eating, exploring and rediscovering the city and each other in every way we can. There are places in LA that I’ve seen a thousand times, but I had no idea what they really looked like until I saw them in the sunlight. I can’t get enough of seeing locations I thought were familiar drenched in sunlight and Buffy’s presence.

Sometimes I’ll stay awake all night just to watch her sleep. Occasionally, I accidentally wake her up because of my inability to stop myself from touching her. She never seems to mind. She’s woken me up accidentally a few times herself.

After just these three short weeks, the only thing I want to do next is make her my wife, officially and permanently. Most people would think that living together three weeks is too soon to get engaged, but I would disagree.

So we’re out for a nice dinner, and I’ve got the ring in my pocket. It’s a stunner, more than I’d think was necessary but something I know she’ll love. I’m hoping this will be just surprise enough; she may be expecting the question, but not necessarily tonight. We go out for nice dinners frequently enough that this evening’s outing wouldn’t be an obvious giveaway of my intentions.

The night goes perfectly, the food is wonderful and our conversation flows naturally as ever. I keep admiring how beautiful she looks, letting the compliment spill out before I realize that I’ve probably said the same thing enough times tonight.

I choose to ask her before dessert comes out. The waiter takes the dishes from our main course away, and I take a few deep breaths. After looking in her eyes and finding my courage, I get down on one knee. She gasps, her eyes filling with tears. People at neighboring tables look over in interest, wondering, as I am, if she’ll say yes. She does. Well, she doesn’t say it in words, because she’s too choked up, but she nods and we both stand and hold each other close, kissing fervently in the middle of the restaurant. The other customers applaud. It’s quite surreal.

It’s rare to see Buffy passing up on sweets, but she makes the executive decision that we should skip dessert to faster get home and celebrate for real. I’m more than happy to oblige.

January, 2020

It was New Year’s Eve last night. He went to a party with some of his friends from work, told me none of them were bringing their wives.

I spent the night at Willow’s. Her most recent and long-lasting life partner, Meredith, was hosting a small get-together for friends. I had fun. I drank more than I should have.

I didn’t really notice he wasn’t there.

I gave a quick kiss to Meredith’s friend Pete, gay, at midnight. I did think of him then; I wondered if he was kissing someone too.

I slept restlessly on their couch.

I came home this morning and he wasn’t here. I tried to go back to sleep for awhile.

I wake up; it’s a few hours later and he’s sleeping next to me, fully clothed again. Reeking of alcohol.

I go downstairs and have some coffee and toast. An aspirin for the hangover. My son comes home; he stayed at a friend’s house last night. He’s not old enough yet to be coming home with his own hangover, and I don’t look forward to the day he will be, but he was still up late so he shortly kisses me hello and heads upstairs to nap for a few more hours.

I go upstairs planning to take a shower. I get to the bedroom and Angel’s just woken up.

I don’t ask him how his party was. I’d really rather not know. He doesn’t ask me how my gathering was either. We do, however, wish each other a happy new year.

Last year’s New Year’s Eve, after having long before started thinking our flame was dying, he made me think that I was maybe wrong, at least for a little while. We’d been at a party at our neighbors’ house, and their idiot friend started hitting on me.

Angel was across the room from me; he hardly ever stuck by my side at social functions anymore.

I couldn’t get away from this guy; he was ridiculously and obnoxiously persistent. It was when he took it a step too far, grabbing my ass, that I found Angel all of a sudden by my side again. He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and practically snarled at the guy to think twice before touching his wife again. He had so much fury and jealousy in his eyes; it was almost like he was my old Angel again. I almost felt loved like I used to. When we got home that night we made love more passionately than we had in years. I couldn’t get enough of him; seeing that old spark in him, that protective anger, had inflamed me with desire.

But the next day we woke up indifferent again, and I realized that the previous night’s protection and jealousy had really just been selfish possessiveness, him protecting his territory no matter how little remaining emotional attachment he had to it. He might as well have pissed on my leg.

He takes off his shirt and I glance at him impassively. He’s stayed pretty much in shape over the years, but he’s not quite as firm as he was. I guess that’s to be expected, but I just don’t get instantly turned on by the sight of his bare chest like I used to. It doesn’t make me sweat. Nor, I suspect, does the sight of my bare chest make him sweat anymore either.

I remember holding him and almost wanting to crawl inside his skin just to be that much closer to him. He used to be my addiction.

He goes to take a shower first. Years ago, I would have eagerly joined him, but today I choose to wait until he’s done.

He’ll probably have used up all the hot water too.

August, 2005

It’s three months into our marriage, and we’re having a quiet night in.

The wedding was beautiful, everything I’d ever imagined it would be. They say the woman is the one fanatical about planning the wedding, and the man could rarely care less, but that wasn’t true for us. Well, she was fanatical enough, but so was I. I’d convinced myself long ago that I’d never get to have that day, but once it was within reach I wanted it to be perfect - worthy of her.

I’d wanted to go to Morocco for the honeymoon, but she insisted I take her to Ireland. The thought of it made me nervous, but she was very persuasive. We went and it was more satisfying than I ever thought it could be. I feel I’ve finally made some sort of peace with my past.

Tonight, on our quiet night in, we’ve somehow found ourselves playing Blackjack. I’m starting to wonder if maybe we’ve already become a boring old married couple when she expresses boredom too, and says that the game doesn’t mean anything unless something’s at stake.

I tell her I’m not going to bet her; my money is her money anyway.

She’s not talking about money. She tells me to name her punishment. I grin, reach for a shopping bag she brought home earlier today, and pull out a thong. I tell her that if I win, she has to wear only this for the rest of the night. She thinks about it a moment, agrees, and declares that I get the same punishment if she wins. I think she must be joking, but the grin on her face is too wicked and mischievous for her to not be serious.

Best two out of three. No changing to three out of five later; two out of three is final. I have nineteen, she has twenty. I have eighteen, she’s gone bust. I have twenty. She has twenty-one.

I’m sputtering, trying to think of an out, and she’s on the floor laughing hysterically. I’m complaining that she could be a little less of a gloating winner, but she’s not stopping and soon enough I’m laughing with her.

I tackle her where she’s cackling on the floor, begin tickling her and soon enough we’re kissing. I think maybe I can make her forget about the bet for at least a couple of hours.

February, 2020

We’re having a quiet night in, watching television. We’re not talking much but we’re sitting in the same room for an extended period of time for once.

Our son comes down the stairs, heading to the kitchen. I stop him to ask how the night’s homework is coming along. He gives a whiny non-answer about what a pain I am. He’s reaching that grumpy teenager stage.

Angel, not even looking at me or him, tells him not to worry about my hassling. I argue that it’s not so unreasonable for me to make sure our son is getting the most out of his education. My husband thinks we ought to trust him to get it done on his own. The last report card would suggest otherwise. Angel repeats his advice to just ignore me. Our boy nods and continues into the kitchen, sure he knows who’s the voice of authority in this household, who gets the final word.

I glare at my husband, and decide I can’t sit here or anywhere near him at the moment. I get up and go upstairs. I light a cigarette.

January, 2006

We’re in the bathroom, standing facing the mirror. She’s in front of me, my arms wrapped around her middle from behind. Our eyes meet in the mirror. We’re equally nervous.

Time is ticking by far too slowly.

Finally, the wait is over and she reaches out a shaky hand to grasp the plastic stick. She holds it up so we can both see it clearly. Our eyes meet again in the mirror. Blue. It’s blue.

Once our momentary shock fades, we start whooping and jumping up and down and dancing and hugging and kissing.

Our own little miracle. A little brother or sister for Connor. A product of us both.

I’m going to love this kid so damn much.

March, 2020

The other day I woke up in the morning with his arms wrapped tightly around me. I knew it was something he’d done in his sleep because nowadays he’d never be so affectionate consciously. When I shifted my weight, he woke and looked incredibly uncomfortable to have been found holding me that way. Uncomfortable to be found holding his wife. Unbelievable. He even muttered an apology before getting up to go take a shower.

I kind of wondered if that meant I was the one who was distant and unloving. If he reached out for me while sleeping and then upon waking was afraid of how I would accept him.

I don’t think it matters now. I can’t deal with this anymore.

I’ve sent our son out with twenty dollars, and I’ve told Angel we need to talk.

I don’t skirt around the issue. I’m not gentle with it either. I want him gone.

He’s not leaving. If I want to be away from him so bad, I’ve got to be the one to go.

I wonder when he stopped loving me. I wonder if I tried to recall the years in enough detail I could find a moment, pinpoint it. There, that was the moment. I saw the light fade from his eyes. But I didn’t. Or else, I don’t remember it or I didn’t pay it enough attention at the time.

I wonder when I stopped loving him. Everything fades.

Was it really just the excitement of the vampire-slayer conflict that made our love what it was? Was him being strong and immortal the main driving force of attraction? Could our love not survive normal?

I’m not leaving my son, and my son lives here. He has to be the one to go.

He wonders if there’s no other reason I’d want to stay, and I can’t answer his question.

He gets angry now. He’s screaming. I’m the one who’s been pushing him away for years. I wouldn’t let myself just be happy and loved. I always had to make things a challenge, and our life together had been too easy and perfect for me to handle. He tried to hold on but eventually he just couldn’t anymore. And the boy’s our son, not just mine.

I calmly take out a cigarette and he’s on a roll now, shouting about how the old Buffy would never touch one of these cancer sticks.

He wants me to let him in. He thinks we can fix this. He thinks we can make this work. If we’ve finally acknowledged out loud that there’s a problem, we can repair the damage. Our love was too good to end like this. He’s sorry. He’ll stop drinking. He’ll stop keeping his distance; he’d thought that was what I wanted.

I ask him if he’s quite finished. He nods, waits for my response. I walk up the stairs to pack a bag for him.

I reach the top step and hear him produce a loud sob. I’m a bit surprised to find my cheeks wet as well. Perhaps we’re not as indifferent as I thought. Our love was too good to end like this. But it’s not anymore.

Happily ever after is just something that was made up to help children sleep at night.

March, 2010

I’m in real estate now. I’m good at it, too. I even found the perfect house for my own family. Connor’s studying business at Berkeley, and once casually mentioned that he might be interested in real estate too. He’s actually been following in my footsteps, first at fighting and now at trying a hand at a normal life.

Ten years ago I never would have pictured myself in this life. Paying bills, working nine to five and coming home to a family I love more than anything are things I wouldn’t have dared to hope for. Buffy still occasionally gets an itch to go out and slay, but she sticks to one or two vampires each time. Nothing too dangerous; there are other slayers responsible for that now. It’s not worth risking her safety now that we have this life.

I pick my son up from nursery school on the way home from work. I put him down for a nap. I watch him sleep for close to half an hour before retreating to my room and settling down on the bed with a book I started yesterday.

She’s out for a shopping trip with Willow and Dawn. Willow moved to LA about a year ago. She’d decided she’d seen enough of the world. Her new girlfriend, Meredith, is an LA native who met her while she was touring through South America for a few months.

After a little while, Buffy comes home and walks into the room. I’m in the middle of a sentence, so I intend to just finish it before greeting her, but she first jumps on the bed and clings to me from behind, immediately starting to kiss my neck and nibble my ear. I give up on the sentence and throw my book aside, laughing that we’ll have to switch positions for anything really good to happen here.

When our son first left the peaceful age of infancy and entered his terrible twos, she had trouble dealing with his fits. She broke down on several occasions, crying that he was too much work and he didn’t love her and he was making it too difficult for her to love him back. She took it out on me sometimes. She got angry, distant. I was as understanding as I could be. I offered comfort when she’d let me.

But some time has passed since then, and things seem back to normal. She’s happier. She loves our son. She loves me.

I roll over and look her in the eyes, brushing hair back behind her ear to better see her face. She’s smiling brightly. She looks young and beautiful and content. I love seeing her like this. I find myself tempted to reach out my hand and trace the lines of her face, but it seems she got the idea first and I stop as she runs her finger down my nose.

I laugh lightly, move away her hand and lean in to kiss her.

I will love this woman until the day I die.

After all, happily ever after isn’t just for fairy tales.

 


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