Buffy strolled down Market street, drawing the fresh sea air into her lungs and smiling in the sun. San Franciso was clear and bright this morning, teeming as always with hoards of humanity. Tourists on trolley cars filmed tourists on foot, and tourists on foot took snapshots of the trolley cars. There was going to be a parade this weekend; the Full Moon Festival or something like that, some Chinese holiday. There were banners. Buffy had a sudden craving for dim sum, but it would have to wait. She took a left on Fell Street and began to run, dodging people on the sidewalk playfully, bolting the last few blocks to the school. She rounded the corner and opened the large glass door, scooting through the crowds of children and up the stairs. This was her favorite time.
She had almost reached the gym and kids from her class stopped in the hall to hail her, "Good morning, Miss Summers!" they chirped, and Buffy greeted them and motioned them to the mats. She took out her clip board to check attendance, and stood for a minute to gaze at the mass of seven-year olds leaping and chattering. They'd been sitting in a classroom all morning, they were explosive. Buffy climbed into the soundbooth and slipped a CD of her favorite Industrial remixes into the player, turning up the volume. The sound boomed throught the gym, and the kids started bouncing; they new the warm-up drill. She began leading the class in stretches, with large, exaggerated motions, and they fell remarkably into order. She could tell they enjoyed her classes, and teachers and parents loved the idea. Giles had griped at first about her not accepting pay for it, but this was fun, taking pay would make it a job. After the warm up, Buffy moved right into punches and kicks, and they followed along, giggling. They made her smile. She always felt rejuvinated after her classes. The kids were so unpredictable, she never knew what they were going to do or say, and they were so full of dauntless pleasure. They inspired her.
After class Buffy regailed them with a short quiz before letting them escape.
"When is the only time you fight?" she called out.
The ragged chorus came back, "When there's no other choice!"
"Like when? Brandon!" Buffy pointed at a handsome little boy, who piped,
"Like when the guy is bigger or uglier than you!"
Buffy was seized by laughter and fought it.
"Ugly has nothing to do with it, right?"
"Some people can't help it when they're ugly!" said a little girl in the front, Maisey.
"OK...this isn't about how somebody looks, it's about if you get threatened, right?"
The bell rang. They scattered like birds. Buffy sighed and dug in her bag for her organizer. Angel's letter was tucked into a page four weeks from her day marker. She rubbed the edge of the envelope with her thumb. She loved having a letter from him, but she wished it had been a little more...what? Personal, maybe. It almost seemed to portray her as mythical, which made her laugh. She wondered if Slaying really did look like that to other people, if it looked Rambo-like. Angel should be the one person who didn't see her that way. But, to be fair, it was a dream. She thought about the letters he'd written to Whistler, nestled securely under her bed at home. She liked those better.
I can't believe I'm thinking like this, she thought. Anything from him is better than that emptiness, that big hollow nothing. She slipped into a comfortable place in her mind, thinking of him. She felt warm. She sighed.
"I'm sorry," the tall, red-headed man chuckled, "I didn't mean to startle you,"
"Yeah, yeah, of course,"
"I-uh-I have a proposal for you. Would you come to my office?"
Buffy's nerves jumped. The Principal's office had never been her favorite hangout. She winced.
"I'm sort of in a hurry. How about you just give me the run-down?"
"Well," he chuckled again, "The truth is, we're thinking of making you an offer,"
"Yes...we'd like you to head a new curriculum,"
"Oh, no...no, really, I-"
"Self-defense is so important for kids," he interrupted, "And so few teachers are able to excite them, to really get through to them as you have. We were hoping-"
"I-I just don't have the time, really,"
"If you would just consider-"
"Really-no," said Buffy firmly.
He looked crestfallen. "Well, sure, of course. It never hurts to ask," he smiled sadly.
Buffy felt something pull under her breastbone. Guilt. But it was impossible. Next week she had appointments with two clients. That would take up the bulk of the week as it was. It was almost like Slaying, it was never all done. She'd gained a reputation, which kept the bids coming in, so she had to keep up that reputation. Consulting came as easily to her as breathing, but it was time consuming.
Buffy stood on the pier and blinked at the sunlight that sparkled blindingly off the waves. A cold little thought went through her ...what if something happened and he didn't make it back? After all this time. Sick irony...there had been plenty of that for her and Angel. They had such a history, it was hard for Buffy to be complacent for any amount of time. She was always searching for chinks in the armor of any situation. She was a born pessimist. Behold, she thought, the mind of a security consultant. At least the money was good, and she made her own hours. But again, the tug of guilt. Which was more important, safe software plants or safe children? Maybe she could find a way to do both. She would have to try. Just a few more good jobs, and she could cut back, take a little more time with the kids. It was what she really loved, anyway.
Buffy walked past her mailbox on the way to her apartment and paused; a little shiver went through her. She opened her mailbox and pulled out a handful of junk mail and a letter. A letter from Ireland.
She tossed the junk mail onto the counter in her apartment. She unplugged the phone, took off her sneakers and curled up on the windowseat to read.
Tomorrow I'm leaving for the States. I'm saying goodbye again to the only family I have, to the lands of my family's estate and to this country. It occurred to me that it might be better if I stayed, but after I spoke to you on the phone, I know better.
I've made a difficult decision: I'm looking at a stack of paper, letters I've been writing to you, letters I never sent. I thought of them as comfort, for me. But you've already read the ones I wrote to Whistler, and you already know how I feel. You always have, but after last night I see it differently. As always, the less I keep from you the better off I am. I'm going to ask John to send these letters to you, one at a time. It's funny, because I already sent you one, a letter that's really just a dream...but now, I want you to have all of them.
For so long I believed that the best thing for you was less of me. Time has a way of teaching. I thought you would find someone else, I thought that the dreams I had, the inescapable thoughts, the constant feelings, were only mine. You were so young, and had so many directions to grow in. I thought I was suffocating you. I wanted you to have room to bloom as you should. And you have, you've done wonderfully. I'm so proud of you.
You still feel it. You feel it the way I do.
That changes everything. I can't stay here. I have to try again, I have to try to be with you. Close calls will do that, they remind you how fragile life is (un-life included), how temporary, how rare. Distance has the same effect; in LA I felt you on the warm breeze, I would hear a song from a passing car that you liked, I would visit spots you talked about, and it was like having some part of you there. Here you are a world away, and the thought of never seeing you again is more than I can take. The lush green of my homeland, a place I've made peace with now, the one thing I loved in my human life, is empty. Knowing how you feel changes everything.
We talked once about fighting, about why we keep fighting even against enemies that are never defeated. We fight because some things are worth fighting for. I've fought beside you, and I've fought for you, but this is a battle of a different kind. I love you. That, more than anything, is worth fighting for. Nothing means more to me.
Because you've read the letters to I wrote to Whistler, I'm going to have mine sent to you complete, with no pages left out. I want you to know my feelings, everything that happened here, why I came, and how badly I miss you when I'm away from you. I don't want you to worry; they're sealed in envelopes, although I trust John like family, which he is. You've spoken with him; he called you at the hotel in LA. He's done more for me than anyone else, except you. It's strange, but he really is a relative. I'll tell you more about it. It's in my letters.
I have to tell you how I start every night, because it's in the beginning of almost every letter. I guess, also, that I'm warning you....
Every twilight when I wake up, you're beside me. It's a half-dream I allow myself. I have ever since my time in Hell. It's a habit of comfort.
I roll over, half-awake, and you're there. It's different every night. Sometimes you've been there before I start to wake up, sometimes you're just crawling in beside me. Sometimes you're already undressed, you're all warm, golden skin, sometimes you undress for me under the covers, sometimes you're wearing a complicated thing with dozens of buttons and you giggle at me while I fumble with them, sometimes you're exuding dew like a hothouse flower, fresh from the shower and wrapped in a towel. You slide in next to me and I wrap myself around you and you whisper to me, telling me what you want, telling me your most delicious secrets. Sometimes you kiss me, sometimes you back up to me and push your soft curves against me and you're already wet. Always I bury myself inside you, and we lie together, motionless. I start every night inside you, it's the way I stay sane. Most of the time we talk. I slide deep into you, sometimes slowly, sometimes with a single thrust, and then we settle down for a conversation, me doing my best to tolerate the excruciating pleasure of your pulse throbbing around me and your heat blooming over me; I ask how your day was, what adventures you had, you ask me about my dreams, and I tell you about them, and we stay still for as long as possible until one of us loses composure, and then we both give over to each other. It's my little mental-health ritual. Every twilight, just in anticipation of the fantasy of you, I roll over and I'm so hard I nearly bruise myself. I know what you've read already and I don't want you to think that I have crude thoughts of you. It's the opposite; it's sacred. You sustain me like religion.
When you're reading this I will already be on the boat. Every twilight I'll wake up with the same obsessive little fantasy, I'll soothe myself with it, and then I'll think of you knowing my habit, and wondering if somehow, some way, it could happen...I haven't become stupid. It's just that I need you. I need to have you beside me. Anything is better than not having you close by, any way of having you is worth it.
You already know that Whistler sent me to you. You know that you were my destiny, and my redemption, that you saved me from slow starvation and a lingering death of despair. I wanted to help you, but not to save myself. I wanted to help you because I fell in love with you. Just like a silly romance novel, first sight, love. I know you've had doubts sometimes. Don't.
I love you.