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The Never-Conquered Conquerors

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She comes in the thick of it and comes in the thick of it, tasting the orgasm against her teeth even as vampires puddle around her, little bombs of flesh, and it is wonderful. The rain is making her uncomfortable; it’s rape-like insistence pounding memories into her skin, but she’ll cast away those pinpricks of Angelus in order to fight. It’s what she does. “Come rain or come shine,” she sing-songs to the demon she’s beating against a brick wall, “complete with puns.” And sometimes, anyway, rain makes her come too, because that night – however wrong bad wrong - was perfect in all of it’s coppery glowing confusion.

The thing is snarling and grasping at her, and Buffy squeaks a little. Reaching into the bag slung across her back, she draws out her knife and slices its vocal cords. A sick crunch and splatter. She smiles. The snarls were annoying her. Leaving the bloody heap at her feet, she finally sees him to her left, and realizes that she is more annoyed with him than any demonic noises. The ringing of a telephone would’ve been preferable to Willow’s vision, which interrupted a night of spaghetti and normalcy with her boyfriend. Normal has been the watchword, and she thinks she has the right to be cranky – especially since this hot dark rainy alley feels so normal, and that is just wrong, wrong, wrong. As wrong as the way her body has been pulled electric by the fight.

“You didn’t call me,” she shouts at him as she nears. “I save the world, remember? Natural order of things and you’re screwing with it.”

Angel doesn’t look too surprised, but he does blink a bit. There is blood and guts smeared over his hairline. “Don’t have time.”

“Didn’t?”

“Don’t. We can fight about this later.”

“Deal.”

+

Los Angeles is reeling. It stinks of smoke and they both stink of grief and sometimes it is such a mad, mad world. She knows that tomorrow, life will go on, with it’s sirens and drowned sorrows and people will turn their blind eyes. But for now, at least, the dragon is in two pieces – not dead, not really, not ever – but it is just a mess to be cleaned off asphalt.

“You did good,” Angel says haltingly, painfully. He is stumbling slightly from his wounds. One of his arms is sliced to the bone. “I still did better, but—“

“I’ll still hurt you,” she says.

His mouth quirks. “Noted. Hotel?”

“I require dinner first. Then some sort of visual entertainment, preferably with popcorn involved.”

“You've gotten kinky.”

Buffy laughs, and it hurts. “I think there’s one over there. It looks—well, a little caved in. But the best I’ve seen so far.”

They hole up in a room on the fifteenth floor. She nails the curtains to the walls using her fists and her hairpins. Damp gold tumbles over her shoulders and she pretends not to notice Angel watching her. She sways a bit, feeling dizzy from the smell of this space, like pennies and so many futures spinning up and away from her. She knows that if she hurried she could probably make it back in time for leftover spaghetti. Glancing at him on the bed, his arm gleaming sickly, she thinks that this is so not her problem anymore. It just isn’t.

“Stitches,” Buffy says.

He grimaces. “A word that never fails to fill me with dread.”

“Baby. Don’t you want to heal without any gross scars?”

“Not really caring much, no.”

Unwrapping her bag from her body, she touches the fabric gingerly. Wet with blood, it reeks of battle and home. Opening the flap, she takes out the kit she brought. Dawn helped her pack it to the brim – bandages, iodine, needles, thread – and kissed her goodbye, saying “So long” and looking as if she was expecting the worst.

“It’s out of joint,” Buffy observes, sitting down beside him.

“Astute.”

“You’re awfully crabby,” she says conversationally and grips his arm firmly, aligning it with his shoulder. “On the count of three, ok? One, t—“

He flinches at the pop as the joint slips back into its socket. “You still do that.”

She ignores him. “Hope there’s no poison in here.”

“We’ll know soon enough.”

“When you die?”

“That happened already.”

“See this?” Buffy points to her face. “It’s me not cracking a smile at the so not funny.”

“I thought it was pretty funny,” he mumbles.

She works in silence for a few moments. He watches her.

“So, the Immortal huh?”

“How long have you been waiting to bring that up?”

“Just occurred to me.”

“Right,” she smiles briefly, threading the needle. “I’ll believe that in, oh, never.”

Angel looks away. “It just seems—off.”

“What? Me dating someone morally ambiguous? Speaking of, how is he?”

“I don’t know. I lost sight of him.”

She feels itchy at the very idea. Looking down at her hand with its map of burn scars, she remembers that stupid final declaration - I love you - and wonders what was ever really true. She knows there was some truth in the words, but she has never quite figured out where it was and would rather not look too hard. The only thing that she knows is that she thought it was over – that she was laying it to rest – and that bite marks and smirks and the taste of cigarette burns were going the way of Acathla and Joyce. Swallowed up.

“Lost sight of him?” she echoes.

Angel does not flinch as the needle enters his flesh. But he does look at her with dark eyes. “He’s probably gone, Buffy.”

“Oh.” A whisper. “I’m—“

“So am I.” He pauses. “Everyone is gone. Everything is—“

“Different.”

“Yeah.” He is losing himself in realizations. “Different.”

“So why didn’t you call me?”

“This wasn’t your fight.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. It was mine. I had to do this – I gave up – it was…”

“There’s an end to one of those sentences, right?”

“I wanted to do this with my—my people. They gave me their loyalty—I wanted to make everything worth it.”

“You don’t think it was?” she asks softly, leaning over and stitching carefully.

“Wesley’s dead,” he says, and suddenly his eyes are bright and she is not seventeen anymore and seeing Angel cry is just-- not. His tears are cold and vinegary and she wonders what she should do and doesn’t know, but suspects that leaving the room would be desirable option one. Their days of intimacy are long past and it has been years since she could hold out her arms for him and have it be natural or right or just, them.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly, even though she knows the words are meaningless. “That doesn’t help, but I am.”

“It doesn’t, you’re right.”

A smile ghosts her lips. “All done.”

He’s surprised and glances down at the angry brightness of his arm. “Neat. Very neat. Where’d you learn to do that?”

“I have hidden talents,” she says lightly and crawls across the bed, flopping down next to him. The room is so anonymous and blank and she hates how appropriate it is. A banal room for such a day. She can tell that the sky outside is still dark, wonders if they stopped something, or if they are just fooling themselves. “He taught me.”

“The Immortal?”

“Yes. But I usually don’t call him that.”

“I see.”

She is exhausted suddenly. “Do you really care who I’m dating? Really? Aren’t you tired of caring?”

“Habit.”

Buffy winces. “Ahhh. Romantic.”

“Thanks for coming, by the way.”

She flushes. “Forget about it. Comes with the Slayer territory.”

“How is everybody?”

“Good,” she whispers, thinking of his everybody. “They’re good.”

“I’m glad.”

“Me too. They’re all settling down. I think Giles is even gonna get married soon.” She leans back drowsily, sodden and smelly and strangely replete. “Willow went through quite a few relationships—but she managed to re-connect with Oz—they’re roomies in the mountains. The Hima—somethings, anyway, and she’s been communicating with Tara in the spiritual sense, so she’s really happy. She has white hair now.”

“And Xander?”

“Do you care?”

He smiles faintly. “I can pretend I do.”

“He’s an alcoholic.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. He – he felt so guilty about Anya. Couldn’t stand to be around Andrew anymore—he went off on his own. I hear from him sometimes. He met up with Riley and—“

“Riley?”

“And Riley’s wife and they do their thing. Whatever secret military people do.”

“And Dawn?”

Buffy smiles. “She’s Dawn. Working her mystical energy on the Italian boys. Studying when I force her to. She’s beautiful. Perfect. Except when she’s not.”

He reaches over and touches her hand. “And you?”

“Me?”

“How are you?”

“Fine.”

“That was overwhelming.”

“We shouldn’t be talking about me—with all that’s happened—“

“What else is there to do?” Angel asks quietly. “Time is about all I’ve got.”

She shifts against the sheets and looks at him. “You don’t know that yet.”

He doesn’t answer, and the weight of the silence presses her into sleep, her dreams distorted, gibberish, and she hears his unnecessary breaths, like bell-notes rising in the air. She thinks that she should get up, take a shower, clean him up, go outside, go home, get out of here before—before – and he does it, he rolls over and with his good arm, tugs her close. As if it is natural. As if she is seventeen and he is stupid and they have all the time in the world yawning before them.

“Angel—“ she whispers.

“Buffy, don’t,” he says, against her ear. And she almost weeps. “Just imagine.”

~Finis