She keeps herself awake thinking of ways to kill Angel.
Vampirism left precious little space for variety, but humanity...humanity
is nothing but exits. Buffy imagines, in slow and intricate procession,
all the ways he can die now. The wall clock by the stairway whirs softly
and she hears an explosion or the whistle of a falling blade; the dark
slips around their bodies like a disease, slow, patient, and insidious.
He sleeps easily, breathing with his mouth open. A muted scream, or else...
she thinks suddenly of old wives' tales. The average person swallows eight
spiders in a lifetime. Well, multiply that by four, by five. And isn't it
her responsibility to believe other people's fictions?
No. It's not her responsibility at all these days. Still, there's the
irrational urge to wake him up and nag: Check the stove. Bolt the door.
Buckle up. She doesn't, of course -- it's just hormones and summer heat
scratching under her skin. And that was the ultimate lie: the promise that
it would be easier, that she wouldn't worry just as much up close as she
did when he was distant and dead.
She peels the sheet back and slides out of bed, then creeps to the hallway
with the ease of an accomplished burglar. That's still how it feels, like
she's an intruder in this house and any day the real owners are going to
walk in and point fingers, accuse her of stealing the keys out from under
the welcome mat.
But she would have the papers to prove her worthiness, a fifteen-year mortgage
with fourteen years and six months left to go.
Buffy feels for the knob of the bathroom door, then for the light switch. Has
to squint at the tile grout for a minute, let her eyes adjust. Something --
the sudden brightness, the whiff of cleaners, all the time spent on her knees
in front of the toilet -- hits her and she swallows thickly, forces back the
nausea. She leans over the sink, runs some cold water and splashes it against
her face. It feels good.
A soak then. The idea seems strange -- it's the middle of the night and, horror
movie lore aside, she's not really a bath girl, hasn't been since she was
sixteen -- but she's well past the point of questioning her little urges and
The water ends up a bit too cold; she catches pinpricks between her fingers
when she leans in to test the temperature and then runs it as hot as it will
go as she takes off her pajamas. When she lowers herself into the tub, it's
perfect, lukewarm. She rests her head against the surround and looks at her
stomach, freakishly big under the water, and the length of her legs, her feet
barely reaching the drain. It feels like the water could clean away all the
pent-up energy, like she could shut her eyes and fall asleep here.
Instead, her mind wanders to all the miscellany. Doctors' appointments, curtains
to be hung, July fourth plans with the gang, the fragments of a grocery list --
olives, one gallon of two-percent milk, and grape jelly.
Angel wants a new lawnmower. Lawn. Mower. Angel.
And how wild is that? He keeps talking about it -- not like he doesn't retain
the old obsessive streak -- but her brain refuses to process the words "John Deere"
coming from his mouth.
Therein, she thinks, lies the problem. Her brain's refusal. Her habit of closing
the curtains in the middle of the day. Forgetting to set the table for two.
Forgetting that he can't single-handedly lift the armoire in the family room to
retrieve the remote. Hell, forgetting birth control -- and trading crossed stars
for happy accidents.
Forgetting that he does in fact exist until she almost does drift off and he comes
to find her. She could have been that girl again, up to her neck in sweet-smelling
bubbles, mulling over battle plans and nail-polish colors and him all at once. But
he's actually there, groggy and beautiful, with his glasses -- the legacy of two
hundred years spent in dim lighting -- slightly crooked, and she likes that better.
He holds up a towel and helps her climb out of the tub. Water drips to the floor
and leaves cool, dark splotches against his blue shirt. "Hey," he says. "It's 3 AM."
"I'm aware." This has become a nightly ritual -- his shepherding her away from
whatever corner she's wandered into at whatever strange hour she's decided to do so.
"You're sleeping for two now."
"Actually, I'm not sleeping for two now." It comes out a tad harsher than she
intended, but he laughs anyway.
"What's wrong? Nervous about tomorrow?"
"No," she answers truthfully.
He moves behind her, gently wrings the ends of her hair. "Because I'm sure it'll
"I just..." She looks up and realizes he's watching the mirror. Watching himself
in the mirror -- only man alive who can do that and not seem the least bit vain.
"I still don't think we should rely on her. Not entirely." She says it casually,
because it doesn't really matter. She's only trying to soften the inevitable blow.
"We can rely on the fact that she wants this."
"She's not eighteen anymore, Angel. How do we even know -- "
"Faith has had nine years to do nothing but train." He wraps his arms around her
shoulders. "Relax. It's going to be fine. You're going to have a life."
"I know." She smiles, wide and genuine. It's true; they were going to be fine.
Balancing slaying and motherhood won't necessarily be easy, but she's handled worse.
And there is no way Faith is going to be released. Buffy made sure of that.
Later, curled like a human question mark against his back, Buffy watches sunrise
play against the bedroom wall. A block of light from the window sweeps slowly over
two crooked pictures.
Tremors. She never even noticed.
When Angel gets up two hours later, he straightens the frames before going downstairs.
She listens to the dim clanking of clean dishes for a few minutes before joining him.
In the middle of an argument that begins with nursery fabrics and plummets into
a wallpaper-versus-paint shouting match, the phone rings. Angel breaks into a
smile and runs for the cordless.
No matter that it's irrelevant and that she's way over it, his anticipation pinches
her heart just a little. It's still Faith -- albeit older, wiser, and versed in
the finer points of license plate manufacturing, among other things. But she stays
more sad than irritated and barely listens to his half of the conversation beyond
the tone of surprise and the sputtered I-don't-understands. After Angel hangs up,
he turns the handset over and over in his hands and she knows he's trying not to
He's quiet for a long while, then, "That was Wesley," and the phone cracks loudly
against the wood floor.
"Maybe this is how it's supposed to be," Buffy says. "Maybe she's not ready yet."
Maybe she'll never be ready.
He looks at her with a mixed expression of surprise and anger. "She's been ready.
You know it. You know...she was there because she *chose* -- "
"I know." Buffy sighs, tries to think of anyway to make this less miserable because
she doesn't know and neither does he. All he understands is that they couldn't
muster the old fury at the sight of Faith. But there was nothing to react to, not
in a voice flattened out by a few feet of telephone wire. Not with everything
trapped behind glass -- her violence and the smell of her hands, cigarettes and
loose change. "It doesn't mean you didn't help her."
"No," he agrees. "It just means I didn't help her enough."
You helped enough. You did the fighting, the hand-holding, the letter-writing.
You helped enough.
For a few months they visited together every Sunday, and it seemed to Buffy like
some bizarre sort of church. But that was before she started showing.
Angel retreats down into the basement. She knows better than to follow him; he'll
need to chew the bitter pill for a time before he swallows it down and moves on.
When she refused to sell her old training equipment at their yard sale, he
relegated everything to a corner by the water heater. Glad one of us is still
allowed to use it.
Buffy gets bored listening to him hit whatever it is he's chosen to vent upon and
sets her sights on the basket of laundry she's been ignoring for three days. She
uses her feet to shove it into the family room and starts folding with a vengeance.
The motions, hands together, arms held high, remind her that she no longer has
She wonders sometimes. What he told Faith, what she told him. And how, for god's
sake, he had planned to explain the present situation if Faith had made parole.
Buffy's put on a lot of weight, so...tag, you're It.
And did they say the same thing? You're driving me crazy -- that's what Faith said
to her in the middle of it. And she believed it then and for a long spell afterwards,
some part of her wishing that she had. But it was all such shit. No one can make
anyone do anything.
Buffy wonders, but she doesn't really care.
En route to the linen closet, she picks up the pieces of the phone casing and
sticks them on top of a pile of towels. It doesn't look salvageable, but she's
not inclined to root around for the old rotary her mother gave them. She's not
ready yet. Giles is probably trying to call; one of them will have to let him
know that he still has a guest bedroom free.
She considered telling Giles before. Telling him how she switched Angel's
entreaty to the parole board for an entirely different sort of plea, and how
the state of California was glad to believe the worst when she told them.
Maybe he would have understood and maybe she can still confide in him. She's
the slayer -- there was never an in-name-only option. Someone had to protect
Angel's changed. If there's any proof of that, it's that he comes back upstairs
and stokes up the barbecue. They can eat outdoors on the patio -- and they do,
quite frequently, perhaps as a point of pride. It's safe now, to be outside in
Sunnydale at night. Sure, they still bring stakes out along with the ketchup and
paper plates, but it's mostly out of habit, almost a running joke. I always
forget -- is it forks on the left, weaponry on the right? Ha ha.
Dinner is more or less silent, but that's fine by Buffy. It's almost unbearably
hot; the skin on the sides of her legs sticks to the metal chair.
"We can get a sitter," she says.
"I promised you a life." Angel trails his fingers through the citronella candle
sitting in the center of the table. "A normal life, Buffy."
"I can't just...abandon ship. Weight of the world, right? I hope our child will
grow up understanding that."
"We'll figure something out." He wraps up leftover hamburgers. "I can keep
patrolling. It's not like before. I don't have to be out every night."
She pushes her plate aside and he takes it. "It's not a chore."
"I know that."
He carries the plates inside, letting the screen door bang shut behind him.
Buffy takes up a skewer and a handful of marshmallows and pierces three of them
in a neat line. The air above the grill shimmers with heat and she holds them
out at arm's length. "It's not a chore," she repeats to no one in particular.
She's distracted, watching the sun set, when the marshmallows catch. She holds
them over the cement and blows gently. The last glimmer of sugar-fire flutters
towards the ground and blinks into darkness. Into a shadow.
I believe in ghosts. It's my responsibility.
She turns around, but it's gone -- or else it was never there -- and she feels
slightly ridiculous. So much for reflexes.
Angel emerges from the house in time to see her licking mallow from the skewer.
"Don't burn your mouth."
"Here." He takes the next one between his fingers and feeds it to her, leaving
his thumb against her lips. His other hand rests on her belly.
"Well." He smiles. "Then let's go to bed."
In the hollow between consciousness and sleep, Buffy knows what she has been
avoiding. And it's so simple: she had gotten used to her mind being her own. She
doesn't want to dream.
It's going to be fine.
But she cannot travel back; her eyes are clamped shut.
She was there because she chose.
Her sleep is unbroken by the sound of his breathing.
When she wakes, his body has nearly lost its warmth. The sheet is a tangled
landscape between them, stiff black peaks and still-wet rivers. Buffy wraps her
fist around the stake and pulls it from his chest, leaving only the deep,
precise wound. She holds it in front of her. A drop of blood hits her thigh
and soaks into the pink cotton of her nightgown, red spreading outward like a
She rises and follows the scent of smoke and steel out of her home.