The Way Things Are



I know, I know. Rated G, set after Buffy series finale. I tried to see what I could make of their relationship following the end of Buffy tVS, and this is what I wrote. Written for Yseult.

The Way Things Are

"Hey." Angel sat down on the couch, at the far end from Buffy. The couch was badly stuffed, and upholstered with what felt like sheet rock -- meant to last forever, or just longer than the rest of the motel's cheap lobby.

Buffy didn't care. She was too tired to do more than notice, and be grateful she was sitting down. "Hey."

"So are you...stopping here?" Angel asked, and he was nervous. Buffy couldn't tell why, unless it was just the fact that he had a dozen Slayers in his town.

Maybe it was just her.

She shrugged. "We haven't decided yet. Still talking. Giles says there are more Hellmouths around. Might set up shop on one of them." The idea of being tied down again depressed her. Maybe she was just tired, and she'd feel differently after she'd got some rest. In a year or two.

Angel nodded, and looked like he knew he should be saying something. He didn't, and Buffy wondered if she wanted to ask him why not. He also looked uncomfortable, and Buffy was beginning to feel the same way.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to feel awkward, but good. A huge relief, or just...promising. But when had anything in her life gone the way she wanted it to? Thinking about the things she wished she could do over, things she could change, and there were too many of them to count.

She looked at him, and asked, "Do you ever wish you could take it all back?"

Angel didn't manage to hide his confusion, but he said, "You mean, not let Darla bite me? Yeah--"

"No," Buffy shook her head. "Well, yeah. I can see.... But what I meant was... that night. Graduation -- when you left. Do you ever wish you hadn't?"

Angel didn't answer for several moments, and Buffy had a sudden feeling that it was because she wasn't going to like his answer. Finally, he said, "I regret a lot of things. I wish I could have stayed. But...the way things were, I couldn't have. It's best I left."

"How can you say that?" It didn't surprise her that he said it -- bits and pieces of her world had been ripped away from her ever since she'd found out what she was. Should she wonder that Angel would do it, too?

"Buffy, I love you--"

"But you're glad you left?" She didn't try to keep her voice down -- who was here, at two in the morning, to overhear?

Angel shook his head. "No. I'm not glad -- none of this makes me glad. But I couldn't stay."

In a whisper, she asked, "Why not?"

But he just shook his head. Before she could demand he answer, he asked, "Do you still love me like that? Or are you just wishing you could go back to when things were simple?"

She hated the fact that he was right. That she knew he was right. It made her think of-- She looked down at her hands. "When things were simple? God, yes. I wish I could go back and just be a girl in school, with you as that mysterious hunk I had a crush on. I'd be worrying about classes and cleaning up my room, and Giles would just be a cute librarian and no one would be telling me to save the world."

She was tired of saving the world. Tired of giving it everything she had -- everyone she loved. She wanted to lean over and let Angel be right next to her instead of two feet away, and have him wrap his arms around her and be the strong, capable man in her life who would make everything OK.

"You think Giles is cute?"

She looked up, and found Angel frowning slightly. She tried to stop it, but she laughed. It made Angel frown more, and try to look like he wasn't.

"You are twelve," she accused him, and the pain at what that reminded her of took the laughter away.

Angel shrugged. "I never claimed not to be, you know." His tone was light, and she found that she appreciated it. They could end this lightly, then, and not have to talk about things that were hard.

Trouble was, she couldn't think of anything. Angel's smile faded, and he nodded like he understood.

"I still love you, too," she said, and she reached out her hand. Didn't know if he would take it, but she had to feel like there was still something. Something between them that hadn't died because of who she was and what the world expected her to do.

Angel leaned forward and took her hand. "I don't think I will ever stop loving you, Buffy. You gave me one else could. And if I keep talking I'm going to start spouting cliches that were cliches when I really *was* twelve."

She sniffled, wished she was stronger than this. "Let me guess. Love isn't enough?"

"Actually, I was going to go with 'you gave me a purpose' or 'a part of myself' or something." He smiled again, briefly, but it wasn't real.

She didn't try to return it. "Do you wanna run away with me?"

She knew the answer. But she wanted to hear it. Wanted to close her eyes for a moment and pretend.

"Of course." Angel sounded sincere. She loved that.

Or maybe she was just grateful.

"I should go back to my room and get some sleep," she said. If she stayed, she'd let Angel plan out their lives -- a house in the suburbs and a white picket fence, and they'd adopt children from China who would grow up thinking everyone's daddy was strong, wonderful, and couldn't go out in the sun.


She knew she should go. She didn't. "Angel?"

His fingers tightened on hers. He opened his mouth, started to say something. Stopped. Opened his mouth again.

"You don't have to," she told him. She felt something inside of her go. Giving him permission to let *her* go. She wanted to scream, or cry. Destroy entire cities.

"I wish I could have stayed," he said. He looked at her, and his eyes hadn't changed. They looked exactly like they did when she had first known him -- the dark, brooding stranger with cryptic warnings and eyes that reached into her soul and pulled her out.

His hand was warm in hers, soaking up the warmth from her body. She could feel, as she moved her fingers back and forth, the ridges of his fingerprints. A hand she'd thought she had memorised, once.

Turned out that she had.

the end

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