By Minim Calibre
Notes: Victory. Loss. Aftermath. Buffy/Wesley, PG.
He found her waiting tables in a nondescript town somewhere up the coast. He hadn’t been looking for her, or for anything, really. Aimless wanderings had taken him around the globe and back again in the years since the world had failed to end for the last time, and this was just another stop with which to mark time.
The moment of recognition did not come instantly; the slight and faded figure refilling his coffee bore little resemblance to the girl he’d once known. Lifted of her burden, she was tiny, almost fragile, her bent head and shuffled step giving the appearance of one lost in forever in thoughts of the past. Not until a clatter of shattered dishes and broken glass startled her into brief awareness did he realize who she had been, once upon a time.
Her name slipped unbidden from his lips, and he was rewarded with a vacant stare that gradually filled first with confusion, then wary recognition. He wished he could take back those syllables, leave her to the shabby peace she seemed to have found in her anonymity, but wishing never made it so, as he’d learned time and time again.
He watched her fold herself away behind shuttered eyes, leaving just polite indifference as she lifted the coffee pot and moved on to the next table.
Curiosity, loneliness, or boredom (perhaps a combination of the three) drew him back to the cafe. He learned her shift, and which section she worked, and manipulated things so that he always sat at one of her tables. She served him the same thing, day after day, always with a polite smile and nothing more.
If he’d been able to think of a way to broach the subject, any subject, he’d have spoken to her. There were endless topics he wanted to discuss, things he knew that she would understand, things he couldn’t speak of to just anyone. But he couldn’t think of a way to strike up a conversation that didn’t seem rude or intrusive, and he knew the value of privacy even as he threatened its edges with his presence.
Eventually, she took pity on him and slipped him her phone number along with his change, cocking an eyebrow in a way that took a decade off her face. It took him three days to work up the nerve to call her. When he did, the conversation was perfunctory, just an acknowledgement of a mutual past and an invitation to her rooms.
Her cramped studio held little of value, sentimental or otherwise. No pictures on the off-white semi-gloss of the walls, nor photos on the small bookshelf. The furnishings were utilitarian at best, cheap at worst. She answered the unvoiced question, explaining quietly that things had a tendency to break when she was around, and that there wasn’t any use in dwelling on the things she couldn’t change.
She knew, she confirmed, that Angel had shanshued, become human. And that, in a twist that shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone who knew him, he had decided to live a monastic life. As she fixed them tea, she told him that growing up anticipating her own death hadn’t prepared her for a reality where she lived beyond both her expiration date and her usefulness, hence the career in the restaurant industry.
Freelance translation had left him somewhat better off in this adjusted reality, but he sympathized with her feelings of uselessness. Relics of unspoken wars, they had each sacrificed several lifetimes’ chances at happiness and normalcy. That the world was better for it was cold comfort on sleepless nights.
Initial awkwardness aside, the conversation flowed with a great deal more ease than any in his recent memory. It was pleasant, not having to censor one’s self or pretend that none of it had ever happened. More pleasant still to simply relax in the company of someone who knew both what he had been and what he had done, and didn’t judge him on either count.
When she lifted her hand and cautiously stroked his cheek before leaning in to kiss him, it moved beyond pleasant. The shock of her mouth against his sparked something he’d thought dead, some long-buried urge for connection and comfort of warmer sort, so he buried his hands in her hair and pulled her closer, kissing her until kissing was no longer enough for either of them, and kisses turned to shaky caresses; trembling hands turned to silent understanding and tangled limbs in sweat-damp sheets.
He woke as the first faint hints of morning flitted through the blinds, the warmth of her body nestled safely against him, her hair spilling over his arms and tickling his nose. Be it benediction or beginning, it felt like belonging. He brushed the strands away, content to watch her breathe, to watch the soft movement of her chest in the watery light.