Better Buffy Fiction Archive Entry



by Ins

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 indulgences.

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 be fine."

"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 break it.

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 discernible elbows.

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 that.


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."

"I won't."

"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.

"Angel, I..."


"I'm tired."

"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.

a life

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 bloom.

She rises and follows the scent of smoke and steel out of her home.