Author:  Meltha

Rating:  PG-13 for a little language

Feedback:  Yes, thank you. Melpomenethalia@aol.com

Spoilers:  Through season seven's "End of Days"

Distribution: Fanfiction.net and the Bunny Warren.  If you're interested, please let me know.

Summary:  A few different reactions occur to the final scene. 

Author's Note:  I am happily pretty much unspoiled for the finale, so the reactions may be a bit off.

Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy.  Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you.  Thank you.

Dedication:  To Joss and Co.  Seven wonderful years.  Thank you.

Triptych

            Well, on my list of things I didn't expect, this ranks somewhere around number one.  I'm standing in the middle of a pagan tomb, Caleb is nicely dead, and I'm kissing Angel.  Okay, so it would be a little weirder if Angel was dead and I was kissing Caleb, but still, pretty high on the didn't-see-this-one-coming-o-meter.

            For the first time in so long that it was literally another lifetime ago, I'm not thinking.  I'm just feeling.  It's been so long since I just felt, just did the whole heart thing.  If I did start thinking now, I'd know this probably wasn't the world's greatest idea, but I'm not letting those thoughts in yet, not until my mind is so dizzy from kissing him that my feet feel like they're six inches off the floor and my knees have been replaced by Jell-O and my spine is a big stick of melting butter. 

            He smells the same as he did the last time I saw him.  It's hard to believe it was a year and half ago.  It seems longer and shorter than that at the same time.  That meeting after I was brought back was not a happy scene.  We shuffled around the old, deserted farmhouse where we'd decided to meet and hemmed and hawed and looked uncomfortable with one another, probably because the temptation to do a lot more than stare at a century's worth of accumulated dust on the hearth was really, really high.  He gave me a kiss on the forehead, very chastely, almost like he was afraid I'd break, and he held me for a while, but eventually he let go, and so did I, and the giant awkward silence of doom surrounded us.

            I didn't tell him about heaven.  It would have seemed like rubbing it in his face, I guess.  "Nyah-nyah, I went to heaven and you got sent to hell!"  He went through a lot worse than I did on the other side of things, and he wouldn't have understood.  At least, I don't think he would have.  Geez, just how long have I been avoiding people?

            Shut up, internal Buffy.  Just kiss him.  Feel safe for a few minutes instead of feeling like the top of your head is going to blow off from all the pressure of being the highly unpopular den mother by proxy to a group of teenage girls from every corner of the globe while trying to stop yet another apocalypse.  Some people go for chocolate when they want a guilty indulgence, and I've done the alcohol thing.  Both are highly over-rated.  But Angel's lips?  Now there's a nice little escapist fantasy come true.

            I know I'm going to have to stop kissing him soon.  I may have Slayer powers and my lungs might be stronger than most, but I will eventually need to breathe, even if he doesn't.  I don't want to think about what's going to happen then, about the inevitable conversation that could involve a very unpleasant question and answer session and will heavily involve use of the words "curse" and  "leaving."  He won't stay with me.  I know that's not the way this is going to end.

            So I just let my lungs burn for a while longer and kiss him more deeply.  I'm not ready to give this up yet, this break, this non-thought, this moment when the whole world is on pause, not even if I pass out from the attempt.  What could it possibly hurt?

            I really hadn't planned this.  I wasn't even originally going to come here.  Wolfram and Hart is about as trustworthy as… well, as Angelus, and I know there's some kind of huge plot in all of this that's going to come back and explode in my face.  But after the deal was made, I figured, why not?  Why not drive down here and give her the file and the amulet?  What could possibly happen?

            I think my lips are getting chapped, not that I'm complaining.

            Right up until I walked through this door, everything hurt.  I've lost a lot over the years.  It's quite a long list, really: my life, my soul, my family, my peace of mind, my soul again, Buffy, Doyle, Darla, Cordy.  But none of it hurt as badly as losing my own son.  Just how many times do I need to have the people I love forget me before the Powers are going to give me a break?  This soul I've got feels like it's been dragged naked over fifty miles of broken concrete today.  I'm tired of bleeding all over the place inside.

            And then, I saw her again.  Maybe it's everything I've been through the last few weeks, but the cold, paralyzing fear that usually falls over my heart when I think of Buffy didn't come.  It's not her I'm afraid of, of course; it's losing control.  With her, I am deeply tempted to tell the soul to take a hike if it means one more moment of pure happiness at her side.  That's what's so dangerous. 

            At this point, though, I think the happiness clause isn't even really an issue.  I'm not sure it ever will be after all this, though I'm not stupid enough to chance it.  This kiss is like a balm, soothing things that I don't want to ever tell her about.  It's like sunshine that doesn't burn.  I'm just burying all the pain and the betrayal and the confusion for a few minutes, focusing on indulging in her.  I have no idea how this kiss even started.  It just happened.  And I have every intention of letting it continue to happen for as long as possible.

            Yes, the guilt is still there.  Guilt about not being able to stop Holtz from taking my son in the first place, guilt about everything Angelus ever did, guilt about not seeing through Jasmine, guilt about Cordelia being in a coma while I'm kissing Buffy, and guilt about the conversation that is going to take place once my lips are off hers and I have to disappear into the night again.  This can't be permanent.

            But for just a few minutes, the vice around my heart has eased.  I need this respite.  I need to remember when things were somehow almost simpler or at least different, and the guilt and worry and despair were there but more manageable.  I need to feel for one moment how it was to think it was possible to love and be loved forever and live happily ever after.

            We don't have forever.  All we have is a few minutes.  Everything else has been taken from me, though, and I'll be damned for the third time if I'm going to let these moments go past without making the most of them.

The First is a bloody idiot and needs to sod off.  Incorporeal evil or not, if it keeps taunting me, I'm going to find a way to rip its head off its annoying, copycat, nonexistent body.  I do not need to deal with another thing I don't want to see.

I haven't been this furious in a good long while, but Mr. or Ms. Big Naughty seems to be reading it a mite wrong.  It's not "that bitch."  It's "that bastard."  Well, okay, so it's partly her too, but Angelus over there is receiving far more of my ire at the mo.

You see, I've been in this scene before.  I've watched as the girl I love, the girl I'd die for, the girl I've given up everything for, the girl whose random temper tantrums and rages and near hysterics I put up with, wilts into Angel's arms like a pansy in the heat of a sweltering summer day because he happens to show up and say "I'm back."

Notice the ponce never says for how long.

Because I know the inevitable next scene, too.  After he's wrapped her around his little finger and reminded her that there is no one who has ever taken a step on this earth who can compare to him, he'll up and leave her.  He did it to Dru twice, and this'll make number three with Buffy.  Does no one else sense a sodding pattern here?  He shows up, he leaves, he shows up, he leaves, he shows up, he leaves… He's like a hulking, walking, talking, snogging, brooding yo-yo.

And they keep falling for it.  It's all fine and dandy in the moment, but there will be a moment afterwards.  There always is, unless we're lucky enough to have the world actually end this time.  If that's the case, you two can play kissy-face to your hearts' content, but if not, you'd better be ready to deal with the consequences of it all.

Angel will leave, just skulk off on his not-so-merry way.  Buffy will stay.  And I'll be here.  I've cleaned up Angelus's messes so often that I should keep a dustpan and whiskbroom in my duster's pockets.  Whether it's a woman-child who lives in a murderous fairyland and falls weeping to the floor with no notice decades after daddy left because she suddenly can't take the loneliness anymore or whether it's Slayer who's twenty-two and acts like she's eighty-two because she's so emotionally traumatized from when her dark knight abandoned that she never lets anyone within arm's length, I've swallowed my pride and been a crutch.  But not this time.

This time, she's made a choice, whether she knows it or not.  She chose to go to him for comfort.  Yeah, she chose me last night, but I'm not a complete moron.  I was the proxy:  her very own substitute Angel, similar body temp and all.  Given the choice, she'd always pick him, and I'm tired of it.  I'm tired of finishing second.  If my life were the Olympics, I'd have enough silver medals to start my own mint. 

I love her.  I always will.  I hate him.  I always have. 

And I'm through.

Tell me, do y'all know what a triptych is?  Well, for the unenlightened amongst you, it's a picture painted in three sections.  There's usually one big ole main picture, and two other pictures that sorta add more to the story, kinda like bookends.

But you know what my old art teacher back in grade school once told me, bless the heart I ripped out of her?  A piece of art ain't a piece of art unless someone's looking at it.  It's gotta have a viewer, see?  That'd be me.

Now the Slayer over there, she don't realize that I haven't gone on to my great reward, which just goes to show the folly of all women.  I'll admit to this slash in my belly being on the uncomfortable side, and if I hadn't joined with Her just prior to this, wellsir, I reckon I'd be dust to dust.  But, I'm not.  I'm just lying her nice and still like, watchin' this whole picture laid out in front of me, and I confess to findin' it mighty interestin'.

See, this whore is a fickle one.  She has her two dead, damned demon lovers, and neither of them is even a respectable fiend anymore.  Course I know all about both of them.  She's told me their little tales of woe and perdition to pass the time between battles and cleansings.  Now, Angelus and William the Bloody?  Well, the First surely did enjoy the goings-on of those two good ole boys.  Now, though, they're looking for some kind of  redemption, and that just ain't fittin' to what they're supposed to do.  But, see, they have the same fault as all men do, for they are but flesh, after all, and they are called to the flesh. 

It's her fault, naturally.  It's through woman that sin came into the world, and it's her lot in life as a daughter of Eve to tempt the menfolk to sin and sin and sin again.  Blind man could see it, or a one-eyed man, at least.  I purely did enjoy doing that, by the way, but I apologize to y'all for getting' side-tracked.  The world is gonna end, you see, and she's engaged in a carnal embrace with one demon whilst another is a-lookin' on from the shadows.  I don't see this bodin' well for any of 'em.

But what I'm a-puzzlin' on is this:  which of 'em is the main picture, and which are the two bookends?  Now, the Slayer seems like the obvious choice for the big one, with the two muzzled hounds of hell that she's taken to her impure, filthy bed framing her, but I'm not so sure.  Maybe it's that Spike one who's really the central figure, and the other two are his fallen angels of temptation, one pullin' at him with the horrible sin of lust and the other with the mighty and terrible vice of rage, both of 'em tryin' their best to send him back into the fires from which he came.  Of maybe it's the new one there, that Angel fella, who's the main draw, and the other two are symbols of his past tryin' to keep him from goin' on to what's been planned for him, the Slayer with the lure of fornication that could destroy him and the vampire with the remembrance of how good it felt to just let go and kill somethin'. 

It's funny the things you think about when your guts are all over the floor.  The only thing that I am sure of, though, is that this is gonna be one interestin' business a-comin' up.  I'm gonna purely enjoy it all.