The town square was crowded. People were eating at the open restaurant, children were playing by the fountain and traveling artists were performing some old ballads. It was hot. The humidity was almost unbearable and breathing was a difficult task.
The beer in Angel’s hands was warm.
He was sitting, completely indifferent to everything around him and slightly tense.
“I was waiting,” he said, sure that she was behind him.
“Me too,” Buffy replied.
The last time they met she was no more than a girl. Impulsive, cheerful and with a burden of responsibilities and cruel deadly fate.
“Me too,” she repeated. “For a long time. Can I sit?”
With a joyless smile, Buffy took the seat in front of him.
The musicians were playing a tango.
“Did you find me easily?” Angel asked after a moment of silence.
“Not really. You’re well hidden.”
Angel stared at Buffy and realized that she was thin.
Unnaturally, painfully thin. Her face and her expression seemed hardened by centuries of fight; her feminine softness was gone. She was wearing a flowery pink dress, a black jacket to cover her chest and arms.
“I noticed you last week,” he began, anxious to end the conversation as soon as possible. “I thought it would be better to deal with the issue once and for all.”
Buffy laughed – bitter, unpleasant.
“I’m just tired. You came here to kill me, I know it. I won’t fight, but please, just do it.”
A flash of violence crossed the Slayer’s green eyes.
“You’re in no position to make suggestions to me. Pity wasn’t your greatest virtue and it won’t be mine.”
Angel swallowed hard.
“I know what you did,” he said, trembling. “I know how they died. They must have suffered … a lot.”
“Not a lot, enough. You knew right away that it was me, did you?”
“By the way you killed them. Did you dust them all?”
“Yes. All of them. Your minion, your childer.. Drusilla.”
Angel closed his eyes as she continued softly.
“You would have suffered more if you were still a vampire. But no your heart is beating! Did you get a prize?”
“It wasn’t a prize …”
“But your heart is beating! You can walk around during the day, you can be happy!”
“It wasn’t a prize. I was still … it was demon blood. I was still Angelus when it happened.”
Buffy blinked in surprise.
“It happened thirteen years ago, a few months after your escape …”
Life had the strangest sense of humor, thought Angel, staring at a ghost from the past sitting next to him.
“I was still Angelus,” he explained. “And suddenly I was nothing …”
“Interesting development …”
“I felt the weight of my sins more strongly than before. I hated myself more than ever and …”
Buffy interrupted him with a gesture. Her eyes were cold.
“I want to tell you a story.”
“I want to tell you a story,” she began. “The story of a seventeen year old girl who loved skating and hanging out with friends and dancing at the Bronze. I want to tell you the story of a girl who spent three weeks in a basement, being the victim of the most repugnant and depraved creature ever: Angelus,”
Angel trembled. He had to grab the edge of the table.
“For three weeks I lived in a horrid nightmare,” she continued with rage. “I suffered the worst humiliations and the burden of betrayal. For days I was raped, beaten and tortured. I was chained so tightly I still have marks on my wrists! And I was given to your childer and some of them were … Drusilla ripped out all my hair. I suffered from internal bleeding. I managed to escape one morning. I walked half-naked through the streets of Sunnydale, stopping at every step. I went to my house. I saw Xander there, in a …”
Buffy took a deep breath. Her face was paler.
“I saw Xander,” she said. “And I headed to the hospital, because I almost couldn’t see anything and I felt like collapsing. I couldn’t stand the sunlight …”
“Stop it, please.”
“Stop it. I’m begging you.”
“You know when I really understood what horror was?” she asked coldly. “I understood the meaning of horror when I saw the look of the nurse’s face. She jumped, terrified and suddenly I realized: the horror was me!”
Angel pressed his lips together, trying to forget his haunting memories. It took all the energy in his human body.
“I spent four years in a psychiatric hospital trying to reconnect with life,” she confessed. “I was numb from the pills. I felt nothing. Nothing about myself, nothing about my existence … every now and then I had nightmares but they began to fade away and so all my emotions … It took me months to get used to the sun. Months to go from the clinic to the bakery down the road. I had to use every ounce of my strength to survive.”
A french fry fell from her fingers. Buffy looked down, sorry for the waste.
“… But I managed to go out and buy an apartment and be a slayer again, even if the Council had already replaced me.”
“So …” he said sweating. “Now it’s the time for revenge, right?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “I’m strong, I’m ready again. And it’s not revenge. It’s justice.”
“You’re here to kill me,” he whispered.
He felt as if he couldn’t see anymore. The square was floating around him and all the voices became distorted. A shiver shook his muscles and he felt his stomach ache painfully.
“You’re gonna faint,” Buffy said, taking his hand. “Let’s get out of here.”
They arrived at the motel in the suburbs where Angel was staying.
They reached his room and entered without turning on the light. The place was small and clean. It smelled like lavender. A flashing sign was glowing outside and everything was bright green and pink and orange.
Buffy went to the window and opened the curtains to look at the dark sky. Angel put his keys on the counter next to the door and stood there, uncertain of what to do.
“Do you wanna do it here?” he asked after a while. “The police … there’s a maid in this place. She cleans every morning and she’s always nice to me. Please, don’t let her see …”
Buffy tilted her face up to look at the stars in the deepest blue.
“Be merciful to those who have helped me over the years,” he murmured. “I know I don’t deserve it, but I’m asking anyway.”
The Slayer broke her silence.
“You know what this reminds me of?” she asked, almost peaceful.
“The first time you went up my room, in Sunnydale. You were in the dark and you seemed like a hero. So beautiful and mysterious …”
Angel swallowed a sigh.
“And the future was uncertain – especially for me, because I shouldn’t have one – but for a moment I felt hopeful. For a second, everything was full of hope,”
Buffy turned to look at him, hands gripping the bag she was carrying.
“I wish I could feel that hope now,” she said, letting go the bag and the black jacket.
She took off her flowery dress and offered her body to her former torturer who was shaking with sobs.
“One more thing …” she whispered.
It took her a long moment to get used to the proximity of Angel and the physical contact. When he found the courage to kiss her - gently, on her lips, as if for the first time - she clenched her fists until it hurt.
Angel caressed gently her naked body, letting her breathe against his chest, kissing her neck.
Buffy closed her eyes.
The green light flooded the room, the clothes left on the floor and the sheets untrimmed.
Buffy gasped, her body tense with pleasure, her restless hands across Angel’s chest. He was watching her moving above him.
She was beautiful - he would have wanted to say that she was beautiful - despite the scars on her abdomen and her bare chest. Her face was flushed and veiled by blond hair, her softened expression reminded him of a night of pure happiness and forever lost innocence.
Angel groaned loudly when she began to move more frantically. He held her breasts and touched her face damp with sweat. Buffy bit his fingers lightly, then she tilted her head and wept.
Lying on the bed underneath her, Angel shook with excitement and terror.
Buffy could feel him. The smell of his skin, the lavender and the clean sheets. She could feel him inside her.
She had left an immortal vampire, a ruthless murder just to find a man. Warm, terrified and crying.
She could hear the beating of his heart, the touch of his fingers.
She could feel it, at last.
The Slayer burst into tears and bent over Angel to spit in his mouth and slap him.
She cried and shivered. She scratched his chest and found the strength to get up, to collapse in a corner and cry.
Angel was panting.
“Buffy ...” he called hesitantly. “Buffy ...”
She was holding her stomach and sobbing like a wounded beast. Her bony body shone in the darkness.
Angel reached out and leaned to her side.
He heard a growl and an indistinct sound.
“You broke me,” she whispered breathlessly “You broke me!”
“Yes. Yes, I did. I did it.”
The Scourge of Europe fell to his knees and pressed his head against the floor, waiting for a final blow that would put an end to his existence. He wished with burning passion for a conclusion, the fair punishment by the hands of the woman who had given him a moment of perfect happiness.
“Please, Buffy, do it. Do it now!”
Buffy cried and sobbed and pressed her forehead against the wall.
She laughed. Finally.
In dreams it was far more easy, to fall in a pit of despair and remerge stronger than before.
Invincible, eternally free.
No more a victim or a monster.
Just a human being.
Angel opened his eyes as the sunlight warmed the room.
The sheets beneath him were wet. A fly was tickling his lips.
“Buffy?” he muttered, standing up abruptly. He could hear her fumbling in the bathroom. “Buffy?” he repeated louder, clinging to the sweaty pillows.
The Slayer came out of the bathroom, fully dressed. She smelled like apricot.
“You can kill me now. Even if I’m human … you can do it,” he said.
Buffy looked at him; at his reddened chest and his swollen cheek. Then she reached for the bag and pulled out a stake. She placed it on the bed, among the sheets.
She saw the tears of the vampire who had become a man and wept for the slayer who had felt again compassion and sorrow and joy.
Then she opened the door.