The phone rang. Buffy jolted up, glancing around. L.A. How long had she been here? It seemed like a week. It had been two days. She looked at the clock. 12:40. That was about right. Being out of school was the best thing in the world for her, in a lot of ways. For instance, now she could sleep like most people who worked night shifts.
"Huh-" she cranked into he phone, and cleared her throat, "Sorry-hello,"
"Someday I guess I'll call you at the right time," laughed Willow.
"I'm sorry. It's L.A. Always works on me like this," Buffy took a drink from the stale glass of water on the nightstand and saw the number the clerk had given her earlier that morning. "Hey, Will,"
"I think, actually, I do have a favor to ask you today, if you have time,"
"I need to find out what kind of number this is,"
"What kind......of number?"
"Yeah, it was a message I got here,"
"Have you called it?"
Buffy stared at the crumpled paper and suddenly laughed out loud, the first real laugh she'd had in months.
"I can't-I'm scared of it!" she said.
Buffy laughed some more, but something in the back of her mind was tugging, pulling her towards a small chill.
"I know it's retarded, but would you anyway, Will?"
"Are you O.K.?"
Buffy had to pause and think about it. "I'm O.K. in every external sense," she finally said.
"Buffy, why don't you go out?"
"Oh, I did last night. Got eleven,"
"No," Willow's voice held a rare exasperation, "Out. You know, put on a dress, go get stared at, turn down somebody cute. Good for the mood,"
It was the very last thing Buffy felt like doing. "Maybe I will," she said.
"No, you're not gonna,"
"Will, I'm sorry, but I just can't-"
"-Loose your focus right now. Remember high school? You were the one who taught me how to party, how to flirt, everything. You've forgotten it all. You're lucky I'm here to remember it for you,"
"I am lucky," Buffy smiled.
"O.K....gimme the number,"
Buffy started her third cup of hotel coffee. It tasted vaguely like cleanser, or cardboard, but it was coffee. She sat on the floor, trying to organize the letters in Angel's box. The handful she had picked up so far had been pretty much in order...but now things were looking much more fragmented. She picked up one piece of paper and shuddered; the writing was different, not scripted gracefully. It was the same handwriting that had been on Angelus' horrible notes to her, to Willow, to Giles, a plainer script. Buffy put it on the floor face down, but it burned there, waiting for her. She grabbed it up and shook it flat with a gesture that many vampires would have recognized; she had her killing face on.
What was that crap you gave me about "not all demons being bad"? What delusions are you under? You're just gutless. Or maybe you will be. It's been a while since we had a visit.......
What do all human cows want? That final penetration, that last launch into oblivion. They live to die. They crave it. If you extinguish them slowly enough they beg you for it. The thing they love most is torture...look at the similarity to sex. You can give it quickly or slowly, it can be a straight shot or a meandering path. But they all crave it. Just look at the way they die, begging, cowering, playing weak, hoping for pity, it's like foreplay. They say no,no, but they mean yes, yes! The most fun you can have is to play with their hope. Imply that you might let them go, if.....change your mind a few times about it. Agonize over it. Let them have hope...take it. Give hope back...and take it again. After a time they turn into babbling idiots, or they just collapse. The blood is soaked with the spice of adrenaline. Very tasty.
Just wait till you find out what I'm going to do to her! She'll love it.
Buffy crunched the paper in her hand. Maybe this wasn't a good idea. Maybe she should be letting Giles do it. He'd want to save these, to enter them in the Watcher's Diaries....very helpful, being inside the mind of a vampire-slash-vampire with soul. Important info for the future Slayers and Watchers. But some of these papers belonged to her and only her. They were moments of her life, hers. She shuffled through more of them, putting Angelus' handful of writing next to Angel's mountain of it. Why hadn't Angelus thrown out Angel's letters? Strange, how intimate they were with each other. They must have been. They shared a body, for one thing. She was assaulted by the visual of him in the graveyard, gliding Angelus, elegant in his leather pants and long coat, railing her with sarcasm, "You are the one thing in this dimension I will miss,". He'd said it to see if he could bait her. She had brushed it off, but in some corner of her heart she knew that it meant something, something entirely apart from anything she and Angel had. Angelus was almost as exquisite as Angel...a little paler, and his eyes were sharper, but the same face, and he knew it, he knew how to use it on her. He had called her "lover". It was always an invitation of sorts, a challenge, and it was always a struggle to turn him down for a fight. Buffy liked being challenged by vampires, because it made killing them even more satisfying. But Angelus had been more than a vampire, and more than Angel's body taken by a demon...he had been an entity connected to her as intimately as any great enemy is connected to another. She was drawn to him as the game hunter is drawn to a ten-point elk; she had a kind of hunger for him. He was the strongest enemy she had ever faced, stronger even than the Master. His viciousness had a stark, almost beautiful purity. He embodied everything she hated about vampires. Deep in her gut Buffy felt a sick excitement when she thought about him; it wasn't lust, it was blood lust. It would have been the ultimate act of Slaying, and of revenge, to take him out, but she was denied that and he knew it. He rubbed it in her face at every given opportunity. It would have been sublime to send him off, it would have given her a deep happiness, a delicious satisfaction to focus her hatred on that absolute evil and wipe it out.
Angelus would always be the one that got away.
In a sense, she missed both of them.
She tried to shake it off. This was not good for her.
Then she saw one last paper in the bottom of the box.
Just one more note, and this will be the last one.
It's been a long night. I failed to stop the Judge, we will have to do it later. At least Buffy is safe. And she's wearing my ring, the claddagh ring I gave her. I think she likes it.
I almost left tonight.
I've had one of those moments you talk about. Small, simple, clear. I've made love to Buffy, and I will never be the same, because when you are privileged to see that look in a woman's eyes, that look meant for only you, that complete receiving of everything you are, you must be transformed. Women are the transforming force; they make the choices that rule life. That's the sacred order of things.
Nature is miraculous. It affords humans an opportunity for natural spectacle, like the aurora borealis, like electrical storms, like a lunar eclipse. Humans are designed for the most profound natural spectacle of all: watching love move through a woman's eyes when you are having your deepest contact with her. Face to face, you can read her emotions, her desires, even as you are giving yourself to her. It's a degree of intimacy that humans take for granted. They know their lust for it, but they rarely know what magic it truly is.
Being skin on skin with her was a miracle in itself; I could have just laid with her like that for eons, our bodies pressed together, her heart beating against me, but we both knew it was time. She slipped her arms around my neck. I looked down at her; her eyes were full of trust. She lifted her legs, opening them. A heavenly rush engulfed us both. We froze in perfect synch like dancers pausing, waiting it out, squeezing our eyes shut. She pushed gently on my back, drawing me into her. We both felt the little membrane begin to give way. I was trembling; I didn't want to hurt her. She held my face in her hands and moved her hips toward me. Her eyes glimmered into mine. She said, "I love you, Angel,".
The world changed in that moment. It became suddenly, startlingly clear: the past is the past. This is now. Buffy loves me. Everything has shifted. Life, such as mine is, is no longer a matter of perpetuating suffering; it's a matter of breaking new ground. Now we will move foreword, instead of wandering sideways, always hesitating, always questioning. The future has become a wide open door to me, rather than a dark maze. I will make Buffy happy. Nothing else matters or will ever matter again.
She's sleeping, snoring softly. That snoring is my lullaby. I will go and lie next to her now, and life will begin again. I love her, and I will tell her that I love her as much as I can get away with, I will remind her every day, ten times a day. There are countless challenges ahead, and I'm eager to meet every one of them. I have a clear focus now. I will make her happy, Whistler.
Buffy sobbed uncontrollably. The grief was powerful, it took her under. How many unfairnesses can one person claim in a lifetime? She cried her guts out. By the time she went to wash her face in the bathroom her eyes had little red spots in them, not just a regular redness, but tiny blood bruises. Four years had gone by....how could it affect her like this now? They had been through so many other changes together. But it was, like the letter said, one of those defining moments. It's mark would be on her heart forever like a scar.
She paused; something she hadn't noticed before....the box had a false bottom in it.
She pried it open with her fingers, breaking off a nail. She looked at her finger briefly. Small wounds like that were becoming less and less noticeable to her. She healed faster with every passing year. Well, physically, anyway.
There was a scroll, wrapped in red silk. It was so old that it was crumbling. It looked like a family tree, with tiny lines branching off and names scrawled next to them. She began to recognize names. She took in her breath sharply....deep into the scroll, the names Darla, Angelus, Drucilla, William the Bloody.......linked by the family tree of blood. This was all of them, this was The Record. The Record wasn't kept by a vampire, Buffy remembered. It was usually kept by a demon in flesh of a different kind. Of course, Buffy raged at herself, why would he keep his own letters? She grimaced at her own stupidity....she had been so absorbed by them she hadn't been thinking clearly.... she remembered meeting one demon; his name was mentioned a couple of times in these things, and at the end of the last letter...Whistler, the demon on the cheap suit. He was the one who told her about Acathla. She hadn't seen Whistler in a while.....was this his box? He didn't strike her as the record-keeping type. Why had it been left conveniently on the floor in Angel's old apartment, waiting for her? What if Angel hadn't been hunted out of town, but had taken off on a hunt of his own? She shook her head, as if to rattle her brains into place. Somebody wanted her to find Angel, because if it was still his obsession to extinguish all of them, then he would need this; it would be a huge advantage in hunting down entire clutches, or vampire families. Last night's dream of an emerald-green land jumped into her mind. She made an audible sound, a harsh sigh; she scrambled to pick up the phone and the strange number on the nightstand.....