Title: "A Better Place" 1/1
Disclaimer: If I owned these characters, they'd still be around.
Distribution: Sure thing, just let me know.
Dedication: Written for Leanne (Candylea) who certainly led me to write something I never would have considered before, and for indulgent, last-minute betas Ducks and Michelle
A/N: Written for the Buffy ficathon, hosted in somefairytale's LiveJournal, entry 110634
It was louder than she'd thought it would be.
The pain she'd been ready for, had braced herself for, but the noise – the piercing, skull-crushing, crawl-out-of-your-skin noise – it seemed out of place. The wrong thoughts kept flying through her mind as the world flashed past and the wind grew faster and faster. Dawn up on the tower and where was Willow and was Xander still with the wrecking ball and she was never going to finish "Catcher in the Rye" now and shouldn't she finish that before but who was going to take out the trash now Dawn doesn't know what day they come and this isn't what she wanted to wear to her death and she never watched that episode of "Friends" that she taped all those weeks ago and remember watching those ridiculous Indian movies with Willow and Xander and oh god oh god oh god oh god oh
She opened her eyes, her body still waiting for the crash landing. A careful inventory of limbs splayed across the ground assured her that she was in one piece. The awful clamor was gone, leaving her ears starkly empty. Lifting her head cautiously, she peeked up at her surroundings, a faint wisp of hope in her heart that she would find them all smiling down at her and she'd leap up and they'd all go home and –
The statement came from behind and she scrambled to her feet, vaguely noting the vast field of gently waving grass that surrounded her. She squinted into the sunlight surrounding the mysterious voice.
"Name's Doyle," the person continued, leaning casually against a fence and tipping a bottle of amber liquid to his lips. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."
She stared dumbly. Her first attempt at speech produced a weak croak. She tried again. "Where?"
"You'd be Buffy," he went on, ignoring her feeble inquiry. "There, now that bit's out of the way." He smiled, his blue eyes coming into sharper focus. "Welcome."
Swallowing thickly, Buffy searched for some grasp on reality. "Am I in-"
"Heaven?" He shrugged. "I dunno. You could call it that, yeah. They're not really big on names up here, you know?"
Brows still furrowed, Buffy took her eyes off of the man long enough to do a sweep of the area. Nothing but that same waving grass in every direction, with this stretch of a weathered wooden fence meandering across the fields.
"Been waitin' for you," Doyle's voice drew her attention once again. "They told me you'd be comin', but were a little fuzzy on the when. They've an odd sense of humour, those guys."
"Who?" Buffy stared at the man, willing him into clearer focus, sharpening the edges of the cheap leather jacket he wore until she could see the old stains and scratches on the surface.
"The Powers That Be, of course." He gazed critically at the expanse before him. "Who else'd dream up a place like this? My own fault," he shrugged. "I asked for the job."
Doyle smiled again and she could swear the bottle wasn't getting any emptier every time he took a sip. "Watchin' out for you, helpin' you through, that sort of thing."
He raised an eyebrow. "What, you wanted to do it all alone?"
"No," she shook her head, trying to clear it. "Why did you ask for the job? I don't even know you."
"But I know you," he said quietly. His voice grew more somber. "Angel asked me to look out for you."
Her heart leapt. "Angel? Is he here? Is he – "
"He's not here," interrupted Doyle. "Don't go gettin' your hopes up. He's on his way, yeah, but it's a long time coming." His expression softened. "I'm sorry, lass."
Buffy nodded, struggling to keep her mind in the conversation. "Then how – "
Doyle sighed deeply. "Long time ago, long before I ever made it here," he squinted up at the orb of sunlight, "Angel and I were havin' a discussion. 'Bout things that could happen, 'specially in our line of work. Things that we'd want done, in case. You know."
She nodded again. The entire situation was surreal but having no alternatives, she accepted it for the present. An image flashed across her mind and she blurted out, "Oh God, you're Doyle!"
He smiled wryly. "He always said you caught on quick. Anyway," he took another drink from the bottle in his hand. "Angel and I came to a sort of agreement. If anythin' were to happen, whichever one of us was left standin' would look out for ones left, and the other one would watch over anyone that came up after him. I agreed to take care of you and Angel agreed to take care of my girl."
He swallowed again, this time without a drink. "She's on her way, I know, but she won't stay for long. I only get her for a bit until they need her down there again." At this, his eyes turned darker and Buffy felt her first shiver of cold since she'd found herself in this place. "People goin' back and forth, doesn't happen often, but when it does – it's messy for both sides."
Buffy resisted the urge to squirm under his gaze. "It's … happy, isn't it? Heaven or wherever?"
"Then why don't we get to be with the people who make us happy?" Her voice cracked. "It's not fair."
"Never promised fair, love. Just the way it is. Time for everythin' and all that," He smiled ruefully. "He's needed down there – you wouldn't take him away from the people he saves, would you?"
Her eyes pinned him resentfully.
"Let me put it another way – is that what he'd want? To leave them unprotected, so you and he could be happy together? Could you be happy, knowin' the cost?"
His eyes were too knowing and she couldn't bear holding his gaze any longer. She sighed as she looked out over the ocean of grass. So there were the same issues up here as down there. Figured.
"Hey," he said softly. "You're not the only one missin' someone, you know. At least you got to be with yours before you died." A wistful tone entered his voice. "Not that I'm regrettin' what I did, mind you. But it seemed a little unfair of 'em to let me get so close and yank me away." His eyes turned upward with a hint of resentment.
"Are my friends okay?" She kept her voice low, not daring to give the words the weight they deserved.
"Doing' all right." Doyle shrugged. "Missin' you of course, but they'll get on. They always do."
Buffy had a sudden vision of her mother's grave and the flowers that must have wilted by now. She hoped Dawn had gone recently. She just hadn't had time. There was never enough time and now all the time was gone.
For a fleeting moment, she thought she saw a pattern in the flowing movements of the grass in the breeze. A woman's face, there and then gone. She smiled for the first time since opening her eyes. "It's beautiful," she said, gesturing toward the horizon.
"Yeah, beautiful," Doyle agreed, his attention wavering briefly to the field before returning to her.
"What are you drinking?" she asked, still watching the waving grass.
Doyle paused and considered the flask in his hand. "Don't really know. It just - makes me feel better, so I do it. Kind of what this place is about, you know? The fun stuff without the consequences."
She turned at that, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, most of the fun stuff anyway," he amended. He waited a beat before adding, "He's coming, Buffy. He just can't be here now."
She nodded slowly, squinting into the light that didn't quite seem to hit her skin. "How long?"
Doyle sighed. "Awhile. Time works differently up here, yeah? Kind of like - "
"Hell. I know." Her face darkened.
"But he didn't want you to be alone," Doyle said seriously. "Really, Buffy, he wanted you to be happy. Always did. That's why I'm here. Helpin' you along the way and all that, but also just to be with you." He shrugged. "Do the friendship thing and all that. Maybe we can swap stories?" he suggested with a grin. "I've got some choice ones about your boy Angel."
She smiled, looking down. "You miss your girl?"
"Every day," he said simply.
"Do you worry she'll forget about you?"
At that Doyle smiled. "Never."
Buffy nodded, still avoiding his gaze.
"I'm a prize catch, you know!" he added, lightening the moment. "'Sides, I can feel her. Can't you?"
Buffy closed her eyes, focusing inward. Shaking her head, she opened them again after a moment. "Just sadness."
Doyle touched her arm. "That'll change. Give it time. They're all hurtin' down there, it's hard to see through that right now. Trust me."
She shrugged and remained silent.
"There's something I've always wanted to ask you," Doyle said suddenly. "Now's as good a time as any, I guess. You remember coming to visit Angel after Thanksgiving last year?"
A shadow crossed her face. "I remember," was all she said.
"Do you?" She frowned at him and he pressed on. "I mean, do you remember all of it?"
"Why wouldn't I? I came, we talked, I left. End of story."
Doyle took a long drink before continuing. "Think a little harder. Time's not the only strange thing around here. Boundaries shift, memories cross, things open up."
Buffy took a deep breath and tried to imagine herself back in L.A. that day. "I showed up, you guys took off, we argued, that Mohair demon showed up, Angel killed it and its blood…its blood what? Why am I thinking … ice cream?" She looked questioningly at Doyle.
The corner of his mouth quirked up. "Told you."
"Told me what? What's going on?"
"Angel told me you two had a day together, a day that got rewound, only he remembered it afterwards. A day including ice cream, apparently. I don't think I want to know about that bit," he finished with a slight frown. "Anyway, it was a pretty big deal and I always thought it a shame that he had to keep it alone. Glad you're startin' to remember."
Buffy sighed, rubbing the palms of her hands over her eyes. "I see bits and pieces - Angel in the shadows outside walking toward me, a kitchen table, and - and peanut butter, and - but it's all so fuzzy and I'm so fuzzy." She shook her head.
"Don't worry, it gets better after awhile. Not clearer, but … you start to understand the fuzzy more," he smiled. "Besides, it's only an issue for as long as you're here."
"You're saying I won't be here for long?"
Another cryptic smile. "Sorry, can't say. One of the benefits of workin' for my new employers - all the knowledge of the future I can handle, minus the brain-numbin' migraines. A parting gift, if you will," he added with another mischievous grin. "I get to make mysterious comments and feel smug and not explain them. Told you we had fun stuff here." He winked at her and took another swig.
Buffy watched him carefully. "Are you – how long have you been waiting here for me?"
He kept his eyes on the bottle. "Long enough," he finally answered.
"Did you even remember what I look like?"
"Saw a picture. Angel used to – well, I found it, is all. And I did meet you that one day … hard to forget a face like that. And the vision gig … well," There was a glint in his eyes as he leered at her. "You've an interestin' life, Buffy Summers."
Her eyes flew wide open. "You were watching me? Like, all the time?"
"Well, it's not like I've got a television up here, is it?" He grinned at her discomfort. "Relax, darlin', only what they showed me." His expression turned more serious. "You're a good person, you know that? Besides the whole Slayin' deal. You've a good heart."
She flushed at the compliment, looking away. Suddenly, she whipped around to face him again. "There's no TV here?!" she demanded.
He chuckled. "Don't need it, now."
"So … what do we do, then?"
He put down the bottle and grinned, reaching out a hand. She took it after a moment of hesitation. She had no idea where she was or what was going on, but it was nice to hold on to something real, solid, familiar. She wrinkled her nose at the thought, because how could someone she barely knew be familiar? But as his fingers squeezed hers, she thought about the look in his eyes when he talked about Angel keeping his secret alone. The catch in his voice when he mentioned his girl, his irritating logic about why Angel couldn't be there, his quiet confidence in the people still down there – he knew her world, even if she didn't know him. She wasn't alone.
His eyes smiled at her and she felt herself flush red all over again. A warmth spread over her, as if the sun, or whatever it was above them, was finally hitting her. She'd be okay. They walked companionably toward the edge of the field. She felt … good. Like the fuzzy was becoming less 'confusing static' and more 'her favorite pink Angora sweater.' She smiled at the thought, and hazel eyes finally looked up to meet blue ones. As she looked down at their joined hands, the image began to blur.