The Sin Eater
SUMMARY: What’s that mean, “star-crossed?”
PROMPT/NOTES: To begin with: a million thanks to myhappyface,
my fabulous beta. Secondly: this was written for midnight_birth
for the cya_ficathon.
The request was for Buffy and Angel getting back together post-“NFA” in an
Faith’s voice filtered across
the line, separated slightly by the static of a transatlantic connection.
She was angry, angrier than Buffy had ever heard her, which was saying
something of a person who had, on more than one occasion, tried to kill
“You’re so full of shit,” she
growled, and Buffy wondered briefly, at the intensity of emotion in her
voice, if she’d been drinking. “All this crap about how the fate of the
world is the most important thing, and take care of your family, and it’s
all just good guy rhetoric. It’s lies.”
“I don’t know what you’re
There was a long pause. Buffy
swore she could hear the warning cadence of a rattlesnake’s tail purring
across the line, so angry and taut was the silence.
“I’m talking about Los Angeles,
aka Helltown, USA. And I’m talking about you being a chicken shit liar,
slutting it up in Italy when the supposed love of your life is dead in LA.
I’m talking about Angel.”
Buffy’s insides froze. “You’re
“The fuck I am,” Faith said, and
Buffy had heard about some
trouble in California, but in her roman holidaze, she’d let it pass under
the radar. Now she turned on the television and flipped through news
channels until she found it. Riots in LA. Citywide power outages. Twelve
city blocks destroyed; at the center, a law firm. Wolfram and Hart.
Faith met her at the airport.
Buffy had called, before boarding the plane, and had not been surprised
when Faith hadn’t answered. Buffy had left a message telling her when the
plane came in, not entirely optimistic about what the results would be.
Shortly after Faith’s call,
while packing, Buffy had called Willow to see what she knew about the whole
LA ordeal. Willow had been less than positive on the subject of Angel’s
recent peccadilloes, and Buffy got the sense that this was hardly a unique
opinion among her friends, so she didn’t call any more of them. She
magneted a note to the fridge with the barebones information on her flight,
and figured they’d have to deal with it.
She did tell Dawn, because she
didn’t want Dawn to worry about her sudden disappearance, but Dawn packed
faster than she did, and she was on Buffy’s heels as she ran downstairs for
the taxi, reciting a constant stream of reasons Buffy needed her to go to
Los Angeles, too.
Faith met them at the airport.
She looked grim, drawn and unkempt; her clothes were dirty, excavation
dirty, and there were untended wounds on her hands, her temple.
“You look great,” Buffy said,
stepping of the tarmac.
“It’s all about accessorizing,”
Faith said dryly. “Speaking of: I see you brought Mini-Me.”
Dawn frowned. “I am not mini.”
“So,” Buffy breached
uncomfortably on route to baggage claim. “Angel.”
“He’s dead? You’re sure? You’ve
“I don’t know,” Faith said. “I’ve
been looking. And not finding anything.”
The nauseous ball of dread that
had curled up to sleep in Buffy’s stomach during the too long plane ride
awoke, stretched. Moved about a bit. “Oh.”
“But that doesn’t mean he’s for
sure dead,” Dawn said. “That means he could still be alive.”
“Those are the options,” Faith
Dawn frowned, and started to
retort. Before she could speak, Buffy said, “How is it out there?”
“Bad. Utilities are still out,
lotta damaged buildings and streets; ground zero is teeming with demons.
Not just your run of the mill vamps; we’ve got some exotics in, too.”
Buffy pulled her suitcase from
the carousel. “And no sign of Angel?”
“That doesn’t mean—” Dawn
started, but Buffy cut her off.
“No. If he was okay, he’d be out
“Damn right,” Faith said.
They drove to Faith’s motel
room, which reminded Buffy forcefully of Faith’s living quarters in
Sunnydale, before she’d gone all evil and moved into government-funded
accommodations. The girl didn’t need much; Buffy didn’t know how she did
it, living on nothing. She herself always seemed to need something.
They dumped their bags in
Faith’s room, and she and Buffy did a weapons check.
“You should stay here,” Buffy
said, strapping various sharp, pointy things onto her body.
“The hell you say,” Dawn said,
and started jamming stakes between her belt and her body.
And so the three of them,
heavily armed, headed out into the war zone.
Faith had been right; the demon
population was definitely up around these parts. And ballsy, which was
okay, because that equaled stupid. Between the three of them, they’d dusted
four vamps in the first block.
“I can see why the tourist
industry has failed to thrive,” Buffy said.
“Don’t be silly, B,” Faith said.
“It’s a hotspot for the discerning, undead sightseer.”
They moved on foot, starting at
the outskirts of the damage and walking through the crumbled streets, the
smoky ruins of great buildings, into the heart of the destruction. The
further in they walked, the more the landscape resembled the site of a
natural disaster; the further in they walked, the darker it was, the more
demons they encountered.
“We should have come during the
day,” Buffy said.
“And miss all the fun?” Faith
asked. “Anyway, you got here at night; I figured you’d want to start
“You figured right,” Buffy said.
Half an hour and several dozen
undead casualties in, and Buffy started getting antsy. She’d seen no sign
of Angel, and most of the demons weren’t even local; they had no
information on Angel at all.
“This is pointless,” Buffy said.
“We should go; I want to get Dawn out of here.”
“Dawn is fine,” Dawn said.
Faith scoffed, her cherry red
mouth curling unpleasantly. “You’ve been out here less than an hour, and
you want to give up? Fine. When I find Angel, I’ll make sure to give him
She stomped off. Buffy sighed
and stomped after her. They entered what was once an alleyway; now, due to
one of the buildings having been completely reduced to its original
components, it was rather less dark and ominous.
Or it would have been, had it
not been for its sole occupant. Poking around the rubble with a wicked
blade was a stone white, butane flame blue creature. Buffy raised her own
sword; the creature came forward, its head cocked at a severe angle, a
vulture examining its prey.
“Back down, Smurfette,” Buffy
The creature did not answer, or
flinch, or do any of the running away and making her life easier things
Buffy was hoping for. Instead, it cocked its head the other way, and said,
“You are Faith.”
Faith shouldered past Buffy.
“Yeah,” she said. “What’s it to you?”
“You know this thing?” Dawn
Faith frowned. “No. And I think
I’d remember befriending a living statue.”
The creature walked forward.
Buffy and Faith both readied their weapons; it ignored them.
“The best of the violence is
done,” it said. “Pity.”
It was now that Buffy noticed a
smear of red traveling from the creature’s ribcage to its hip.
“Hey,” she started, but then the
creature shook, and she stopped.
The creature shook, the sword
falling from its hand. It shook, and it dropped to the ground, convulsing
so violently that even the fabric of space and time around it seemed to
tremble; around it, the very air seemed to take on turbulent shape, moving
like the breakers, quick choppy waves.
“Whoa,” Faith said. “Do you
think she’s like—that thing where you can’t be around flashing lights and
“Epileptic?” Dawn said.
“I don’t think demons get
epilepsy,” Buffy said.
And then the air calmed, and it
wasn’t a demon anymore. It was a girl, naked, slender and brunette and
looking a bit startled, but not, Buffy thought, as startled as she probably
would have looked if the same thing had just happened to her.
“Oh,” said the girl.
Faith blinked. “Fred?”
The girl looked up, smiling
nervously. “Yes? Oh, hey, Faith.”
“You know her?” Buffy asked.
“She’s Fred. A friend of
Angel’s,” Faith said, sotto voce, and then turned her attention back to
Fred. “So, what’s with the—” Faith motioned with her sword. “You know.”
“Oh,” said Fred, coming to her
feet. Her long brown hair covered most of her nude front, and she attempted
to cover the rest with her thin arms. “That’s been happening lately.”
“You turn into a creepy blue
demon?” Dawn asked.
“And back,” Fred said. “That’s
the important part; that I turn back.” She looked around at the wrecked
city. “Ever since things kind of went to hell.”
“When was that?” Faith asked.
“Ever heard of the Black Thorn?”
Buffy and Faith checked each
other’s faces for recognition. Finding none, they both shook their heads.
“I’ll fill you in,” Fred said.
“But, um, maybe first we could get me some clothes?”
They scavenged some clothes from
the ruins of a storefront and then sat, amongst the broken mannequins and
fire-damaged wares, while Fred filled them in about the Black Thorn, and
about Wolfram and Hart, and about Illyria.
“Whoa,” Dawn said.
“Angel’s had a busy year,” Buffy
“He—we—were trying to do what
was right, you know, change things from the inside.” Fred frowned. “It’s
possible we bit off more than we could chew.”
“Your hearts were in the right
place!” Dawn said cheerfully. “I mean . . . well, okay, maybe things didn’t
really turn out super, but it sounds like you had good intentions . . .”
“There’s a road paved with
those,” Faith said. “Anyone remember where it leads?”
Buffy was not in the mood for
Faith’s funny. “When was the last time you saw Angel?”
“I—well, Illyria—saw him in the
alley, during the big battle. That was almost a week ago.”
“But he was alive when you last
saw him,” Buffy pressed.
“Well, that’s something,” Buffy
said, allowing herself to feel just the tiniest bit of relief.
“Not necessarily a good thing,”
“Huh?” Buffy asked. “It’s not
good that he’s alive?”
Fred, so much smaller, more
fragile, than Illyria, fretted, her hands moving nervously against one
another, over her small body.
“They’re going to find him,” she
said. Her face was as solemn, her eyes as fixed, as Illyria’s, and Buffy
felt an uncomfortable, crawling sensation prick her skin.
“The Black Thorn. This isn’t
over; they’re going to come looking for him.”
“And when they find him?” Dawn
“I don’t imagine they’ll be very
pleased to see him,” Fred said.
Buffy steeled her jaw. “We’ve
got to find him first.”
They headed back out into the
ruined streets. Buffy was about to ask Fred whether she could handle
herself, when Faith wordlessly handed the girl one of her smaller,
auxiliary weapons; Illyria’s sword had been left in the alley, and there
was no talk of going back for it.
“How’s your side?” Buffy asked.
“What?” Fred said.
“You had—Illyria had—blood on
Buffy motioned to the reciprocal
spot on her own body. Fred felt the spot beneath her ribs, then lifted her
shirt to see it.
The area was unmarred.
“Huh,” Dawn said.
Fred shrugged. “I’m not really
sure how connected we are.”
“You looked pretty close to me,”
“I don’t really understand it,”
Fred said. “I need to do some tests . . .”
“I can’t imagine you’ve had a
lot of free time for the scientific method,” Dawn said.
Fred shook her head. “No.”
They walked past the smoking
wreckage of a photo studio. Glass was scattered in the streets and warped
exemplar photographs – generic faces smiling from falsely extravagant
backdrops – drooped, scorch-marked, from their frames.
“What about Angel’s other
friends?” Buffy asked. “Cordelia, and—”
“Dead,” Fred said.
A cold spike of dread tore
through Buffy’s body.
“They’re all dead.”
“Everyone?” Faith said. “Wes,
“Dead, dead,” Fred said.
Buffy blinked. “Spike?”
“Wasn’t he already dead?” Dawn
“Death’s not really a constant
around here, I guess,” Fred said. “I mean, I was dead, but . . . it didn’t
“Me too,” Buffy said.
“Anyway, I—Illyria—saw him die,”
Fred continued. “Spike, I mean. And Lorne . . . he left. I think he’s
“What about Connor?” Faith
“Angel didn’t want him
involved,” Fred said. “So he’s probably okay. I hope he’s okay.”
Buffy mentally tallied Angel’s
body count. She hated they were dead, but also that she’d never even met
most of them. Never even known their names. They were good guys—Angel’s guys—and
they’d died anonymously. It wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair.
And if Spike had come back from
the dead and not told her, well, it was a good thing he’d died in battle,
because she would have killed him. Jerk.
There was some activity, a
movement of shadows, inside a wrecked and pillaged Radio Shack.
“B,” Faith said.
Buffy raised her sword. “I think
it’s worth a look. Shall we?”
They entered the storefront. It
was dark inside, no utilities and all, but Buffy’s eyes had already
adjusted to the dark outside, and it didn’t take too long for her eyes to
adjust to this dark, too.
“Uh oh,” Buffy said.
It was a nest, at least eight
strong. Buffy realized that she was more bothered that there were nests
here already—after less than a week—than the fact that the odds were now
two-to-one at best. And then she was struck, with the depressing
inevitability of realizing one’s adulthood, by how jaded and
battle-hardened a thought that was.
Faith and Buffy took the front
line, trying to keep Dawn and Fred out of the fray directly. That worked
for about a minute and a half, and then Buffy was thrown into a bank of
stereos, and Faith was beset by three at once.
And then, as Buffy was pulling
herself from the stereos, there was a sound like cloth ripping, and she saw
four vampires go flying through the back wall of the Radio Shack, throwing
up a shower of white plaster dust. Buffy came to her feet. When the dust
settled, she found herself face-to-face with Illyria.
“Uh, wow,” she said. “Good
Illyria didn’t answer, just
returned seamlessly to violence, grabbing a fleeing vampire by the upper
arm and, through simple restraint, dislocating his shoulder with a sickly
“Okay, then,” Buffy said, and
stepped back into the fray herself.
Soon it was just Buffy, Dawn,
Faith, Illyria, and several inches of plaster-vampire dust.
Faith sighed, slapping her dark
clothes free of the powder.
“Just great,” she said.
“You used to like getting down
and dirty,” Buffy commented mildly.
Faith grinned. “Oh, I still—”
“Ooohkay,” Dawn interjected.
“You two can flirt later. Right now, let’s focus on getting out of here.
Remember, that whole thing about finding Angel before the Black Thorn
They made their way out of the
dust and broken electronics and back to the street. Paused at the entrance,
axe raised, was a thin boy with dark eyes and a mop of dark hair, regarding
“Guess I’m a little late,” he
Faith grinned and clapped a hand
on the boy’s shoulder. “That’s all right, Junior. There’ll be more where
they came from.”
“I am not displeased to find you
a live,” Illyria said.
The boy smiled awkwardly. “Uh .
. . thanks. You too.”
“Another friend of yours?” Buffy
“This is Connor,” Faith said.
“Hi,” said Connor.
“Angel’s what?” Buffy echoed.
Her entire body went numb, and she understood the poetical use of
‘disembodied’ for the first time.
“Seen your old man around?”
Faith asked the boy, completely ignoring Buffy’s panic.
Connor frowned. “Actually,
“Well, great!” Dawn said. And
then she noticed Connor’s expression. “Isn’t it?”
“I don’t know,” Connor said. “I
mean, I think he’s alive—”
Faith did not appear pleased by
this assessment. “You think?”
“Take us to him,” Buffy said.
“Uh, okay,” Connor said.
And off they went.
Connor led them to an apartment
building not far from ground zero. It, too, was suffering from lack of
utilities, and an entire half of the building was nothing but a gaping hole
in the skyline, but the other half was remarkably well-preserved, given the
Connor led them along the inner
corridor of the ground floor, stepping carefully to avoid things crawling
in the dark.
“I found him here. Just like
this,” he said.
Connor led them inside an
apartment with a broken door handle. It smelled stale inside, the ghosts of
spoiling food and stagnant water. As they walked by the kitchen, they lost
Illyria; she went in to examine the food left scattered on the counters,
the empty cereal bowls.
“Have you been staying here with
him?” Buffy asked.
“Yeah,” Connor said. “I told my
parents I was doing some relief work down here.”
“Not too far from the truth,”
“Not really. I’ve been
patrolling pretty regularly.”
“And taking care of Angel?”
Connor frowned. “I don’t really
know what to do for him.”
They stopped at the back
bedroom. Connor opened the door, and they filed in, uniformly and
A figure curled on the bed like
a crustacean, as from design rather than desire. The limbs were balled
close to the body, the face tucked inward. Buffy thought of schoolyard
She could not see his face, and
recognized him solely on the width of his shoulders, his hips. And then
thought how weird that was. Such muscle memory.
Angel wasn’t moving. Not moving,
but not dust. It was a start.
“How long has he been here?”
Buffy asked, walking towards the figure on the bed.
Connor shrugged. “I don’t know.
It took me a few days to track him down; I don’t know if he’s been here the
whole time, or . . .”
Faith clapped a hand on the
boy’s shoulder. His knees bent a bit, adjusting for the pressure. “You did
good, kid.” She grinned. “And I like the collegiate look. Much better than
the recently escaped from juvie look.”
Connor smiled awkwardly. “Thanks.
Buffy placed her hand on Angel’s
shoulder. He didn’t move. She leaned over his body a bit to get a look at
his face; it was bruised and slack.
She shook him. “Angel.” Nothing.
“Angel.” More nothing.
“Yeah, he’s kind of been like
that,” Connor said.
Buffy whipped around to face
him. “What do you mean?”
“I mean this is kind of standard
for him, these days.”
“Have you tried—”
“All kinds of stuff to wake him
up. Nothing’s worked.”
“So what does that mean?” Dawn
asked. “I mean, how can you tell . . . ?”
If he’s still alive was the end of the thought, the
same words that had been on constant replay in Buffy’s head since Faith’s
phone call. If he’s still alive I’ll find him. If he’s still
alive I’ll kick his ass. If he’s still alive I’ll kiss him so
hard it’ll be a damn good thing he doesn’t have to breathe. If he’s
still alive everything will be okay.
“He’d be dust,” Faith said,
after a very long moment of Buffy saying nothing. “Vampires die, they turn
Buffy turned back to Angel’s
still countenance. “What if . . . ?”
Faith snorted. “What if he
didn’t? What if, just this one time in history, a vampire died and didn’t
dust? Come on.”
Buffy relaxed. A little. “You’re
right. He’d be dust. I’m just being neurotic and insane.”
Faith smiled. “Well, you have
“You guys are so weird,” Connor
said, grinning. “It’s kind of awesome.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Yeah, you
can enjoy it now; it’s all new and interesting. At this end of it, it’s
Buffy frowned. “Do you think we
No one had time to focus;
Illyria rejoined them before anything productive could happen.
“There is great magic here,” she
said, craning her neck violently as she searched the room, as though she
expected to find some tangible evidence of the great magic.
“What do you mean?” Dawn asked.
“It looks pretty standard to me.”
“There’s magic at work.
Dawn frowned. “There’s a
sanctioning spell here? On Angel?”
“What’s sanctioning?” Buffy
asked. “Is that like ‘sanctuary?’ Cuz that could be a good thing.”
Dawn shook her head. “Kind of.
It keeps him safe, but it also keeps him . . . bound.”
Faith grimaced. “I get it. The
Black Thorn’s keeping him safe so they can make sure that whatever horrible
things happen to him, they’re responsible.”
“Could it be keeping him . . .
not awake?” Buffy asked. She was uncomfortable using the word ‘coma’ in
front of Faith.
“Definitely,” Dawn said.
“So what do we do?” Buffy asked.
“There has to be—” She was about to say, ‘a cure,’ when she realized how
ridiculous that was. There was no cure for Angel. Ever. “—something we can
“I’ll research,” Dawn said.
“With what books?” Faith asked.
“I’ve seen some books,” Connor
said. “I’ve been around the neighborhood; there’s an old occult bookstore
that’s only caved in at one end. There’s a Grappler beast living there—”
“I’ll take care of it,” Faith
said. “It’s a non-issue.”
“Hey,” Connor said. “I could
take care of it—”
Buffy sighed. “Guys, share. I’m
sure there’s enough killing for everyone.” Illyria perked at the mention of
killing, enough that she stopped searching the room for physical evidence
of sorcery. “Just . . . just go, and hurry back.”
“You’re not going?” Dawn asked,
lagging behind as the others filed out.
“No,” Buffy said, sinking to the
mattress beside Angel’s sleeping form. “No, I think I’d better—”
But Dawn didn’t require any
explanation. She just nodded, forced a reassuring smile, and went off in
search of books.
Buffy watched her go, and then
turned back to Angel. If he’s alive, she thought, but then she
didn’t know what came next.
They returned with several
books, and Fred again.
“She popped back halfway here,”
Connor said, looking slightly embarrassed.
“I wish I could do it without
getting all naked,” Fred said. Connor only looked more embarrassed, but
Faith and Dawn giggled.
“How’s he doing?” Dawn asked,
coming to sit beside Buffy, thick book in hand.
Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know.
About the same, I guess.”
“Well, good. We found some
spells I think will help; just give us a little while to figure out a game
Buffy nodded. Took a deep
breath. “Good. Yeah. I’m just going to . . . I’m going to go. Out. Maybe
“Sun’s coming up, B,” Faith
Buffy’s face fell. “Oh. Right.
“Why don’t you get some sleep,”
Dawn said. “You should get some rest.”
“There’s another bedroom,”
Connor said, pointing.
Buffy would have much rather
have been out taking her frustrations out on the local demon populace, but
you couldn’t have everything you wished for. She nodded numbly and left
them to their research.
The other bedroom was smaller,
and littered with toys: Lego’s, trucks; maybe a little boy’s room. The bed,
decked with Spiderman sheets, was small but soft. As Buffy laid down, her
first thought of how she’d never be able to sleep, not here, not now. She
didn’t get to her second thought; she was already dreaming.
Buffy woke to harsh noises from
the next room, Angel’s room. Faith grunting, bedsprings groaning. A little
afraid of what she’d find, but still curious, Buffy got up and wandered
over to the next room. Faith was maneuvering Angel onto his back; he didn’t
stir, but he was a big man, and the worn mattress protested at bearing his
weight. Buffy’s hands tightened around the doorframe, thinking of how she
She forced herself to enter the
room. Faith, panting slightly, and Dawn, on the bed with a book, looked up.
“Hey,” Dawn said. “Good nap?”
Buffy looked down at Angel’s
still form. “Is he okay?”
Dawn’s mouth twisted in
indecision. “He’s not worse.”
“So what are you—”
“Wiz kid here found a spell,”
“It’s a purgation spell,” Dawn
said. “I think it should get the Black Thorn off his back.”
“Well, basically it takes their
attentions—all their mystical markers and stuff—off him, and gives them to
Buffy frowned. “Won’t that mark
someone else for death?”
Dawn grinned. “No! That’s the
best part; the other person just swallows them all. I mean, literally
swallows. Magic’s about moving energy around; you can’t just get rid of
something, you have to put it somewhere.”
Buffy still wasn’t seeing the
happy. “So you want to put it in someone’s belly?”
“Yes,” Dawn said. “The symbolic
act of swallowing the bad energy should negate it completely.”
Buffy nodded. “Okay. Cool. Let’s
“What if there’s side effects?”
“There shouldn’t be,” Dawn said.
“And even if there are,” Buffy
said, “it’s worth it. To keep Angel safe.”
Faith nodded. “Okay. Let’s do
Dawn looked down at her book.
“It says we’re supposed to undress him.”
Faith grinned. “I volunteer.”
“I’ll do it,” Buffy said, before
Dawn and Faith could start a fight. She approached the bed, then hesitated.
“We’re going,” Dawn said, and
grabbed Faith’s elbow on her way out, dragging the reluctant Slayer in her
Buffy hesitated even after
they’d gone, studying Angel’s bruised countenance for a long moment. What
had happened to him that he’d rain down so much hell without asking her for
help? Without even telling her? She knew that they’d grown apart, that it
was probably good for them, but she never thought he’d be a stranger to
her. That he’d frighten her.
Well, not anymore than he
It was a strange task, somewhere
between foreplay and preparing a corpse for funeral. She tried to work at a
steady, efficient pace, without lingering over the pale, bruised skin, the
memories, she was uncovering. Halfway through removing his shirt, however,
she lost her cool; she saw the black, barbed circle scarring his chest and
“Oh my God,” she said.
“That’s their symbol,” came a
small voice from the doorway. Buffy turned; Fred was standing in the
entryway. She shuffled nervously when she found Buffy’s eyes on her. “I was
just going to see if you needed anything; I didn’t realize you were . . .”
“It’s for the spell,” Buffy
said. “It’s not like we’re getting cuddly.”
Fred didn’t answer.
“Their symbol,” Buffy said. “The
“Yeah,” Fred said. “They put it
Buffy found she couldn’t stop
staring at it. “Well, I didn’t really feature him sitting in the tattooist’s
chair for hours getting it inked on.”
Fred shook her head. “No.”
“What happened to him, Fred?
What made him so . . .”
“Reckless? Impulsive? Insane?”
“Yes,” Buffy said. “And . . .
yes, and yes.”
“I don’t know,” Fred said. “I
mean . . . he made a deal with the devil to save Connor, and then . . .
well, the devil came to collect. And we started dying—”
“His family,” Buffy said.
“I just think he was frustrated.
That he thought maybe he could take something back.”
“You followed him,” Buffy said. “You
didn’t think he was crazy?”
“I trusted him. We all did.” She
frowned. “And anyway, I was dead at the time.”
“Right. That’ll really cloud
Fred sighed, looked down at
Angel’s unmoving body. “Yeah. Well. I’ll, um, I’ll just leave you guys to
your . . . yeah.”
She left. Buffy steeled herself.
She had a job to finish.
Dawn, Faith, and Buffy circled
around the bed. Connor kept watch at the door, and Fred lit some candles
around the room and then hovered in the periphery.
“Crust,” Dawn said.
Fred frowned. “All I could find
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Buffy
“Yeah,” Dawn said. “I mean, we
need a wonder.”
They placed the crust on Angel’s
chest, the hollow of his breastbone. Fred had torn the soft crust from the
bleached bread in one continuous strip; it had not lost its shape, and lay
now in a perfect square on Angel’s chest, a frame for his heart.
Most of the china was broken,
the cabinets filled with an ice dust of broken glass, but Faith had found a
mug that was more or less intact, and filled it with the beer the spell
required. Dawn shifted nervously closer to her sister.
“Are you sure you want to do
this? You don’t have to—you could still decide not to, now—”
“Faith could do it—”
“I’ll do it,” Buffy said, and
she was sure.
They stood around the bed, Faith
with the beer, Dawn with the book. Buffy numb but strangely calm in her
resoluteness. She looked at the soft crust frame, and the violently dark,
barbed symbol, both of them lying on Angel’s chest like they belonged
Dawn was reading quietly from
the book, a low even chant.
“Hurry up,” Buffy said.
“I am hurrying.”
“Chill, B,” Faith said, but then
she took her hand, and Buffy forgot her anger at being told to ‘chill.’
An eternity of Dawn’s chanting,
the foreign sounds unrecognizable as words to Buffy’s ears. Angel’s still,
still still, face slack but not serene.
Finally: “Okay, Buffy. It’s your
Dawn handed her the book. She
had translated Buffy’s part into English in blue pen, but Buffy had already
memorized it. She stared at Angel’s face, not the transcribed words, as she
“I take your indiscretions. I
take your stain and sin.” The book slid from her hands, clunking to the
floor, as she reached for the crust. It was so soft, and as she brought it
into her hand, she balled it into a knot. “And with this, I swallow them.”
She placed the bread, thick and
salted with perspiration, into her mouth.
Faith passed the beer over the
length of Angel’s still body. Buffy took the mug with both hands, anxiety
stealing some of the soundness from her flesh.
“I swallow them,” she said, and
drank, the beer warm and sticky in her mouth, down her throat, in spilt
drops running over her tilted face.
Buffy swallowed, and wiped the
slick tracks from her face. She handed Faith back the mug. Before her, laid
out long over the bed—Angel. The tattoo was gone from his chest.
They danced until the prom
committee started pulling down the streamers, putting up the tables, and
then they walked out into the warm, sweet-smelling night. The sky above was
at the height of darkness, glittered with innumerable diamond-bright stars.
It’s just tonight. It doesn’t
mean that I . .
. It was hard to remember, now. In the moments deep in, with him, touching
him, it was always hard to remember the consequences. Those always came
later. But they always came.
He walked her home, and they
didn’t talk, and it was comfortable and not hard, and she didn’t understand
– she knew the reasons, but she didn’t really understand, not like what
that word really meant – why it couldn’t always be like this. Why she
couldn’t have it to keep.
She shivered, and Angel gave her
his jacket. The cuffs fell over her small hands, and it smelled like him,
and she thought about the first coat he gave her, and everything else.
Everything else he’d given her. And about how she had never given him
anything—well, that one thing. But that had gone wrong, so wrong.
They arrived at her house but
didn’t go in. The house was dark, sleeping; the whole world was sleeping,
and she was here in the dark, awake. As usual. It was nice to have someone
with her – someone like her – even if it couldn’t be forever.
They sat on the porch, side by
side, in the quiet night. Buffy looked up at the sparkling night sky,
connected the dots to make constellations logical to her. She’d never
bothered to learn the real ones; they didn’t look like anything, anyway.
“What’s that mean,
Angel, in his shirt sleeves,
eyes on the dark jungle of Buffy’s lawn. He’d picked a stray blade of
grass, green and ripe, and was rolling it back and forth between his
fingers. He didn’t look up.
“Do you really want to know, or
are you just talking?”
Buffy looked down from the stars
to Angel’s sad face. She cuddled the jacket around her.
“I’m just talking.”
Angel nodded, twirled his grass.
His eyes on the ground. Buffy threaded her fingers through his hair, her
palm cupping the base of his skull. Angel stiffened, but didn’t protest.
She wanted to tell him it was okay, it was going to be okay. She was the
Slayer; when she said things like that, they had weight. People believed
Only he never had.
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