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Shrine

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Summary: After the war, things are different. Tea, coloured notes, tattoos, a laptop cord, a frying pan and Hermione Granger make an appearance.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Harry Potter > Buffy-Centered > Pairing: Harry Potter(Moderator)FaithUnbreakableFR1318,61021376,38811 Apr 0711 Apr 07Yes
Disclaimer: I own Harry Potter and Buffy the Vamprie Slayer, not. I own nothing and don't make money with said nothing. At all. J.K.Rowling and Joss Whedon on the other hand do, because they own the characters I'm playing with.

A/N: Thanks to the delicious Anneliese for beta, a bottle of cheap white wine for inspiration and the paper industry for the 67 post it notes that this story was created on. I do not thank the hangover that followed.

Can you believe it, I wrote romance. Like, straight, uncensored, drip-the-fluff Romance. I'm still not over it. And before you hit me, I just wrote another 2000 words for Lunar so no, I didn't forget about it. I'm just all out of steam.

Oh, the first one to figure out the title gets a cookie from me.


ETA: Spellchecked 05/10/2009.




+

Shrine

+

It’s Tuesday evening.

Sometimes Harry Potter feels as if it’s been Tuesday evening for the last five years because Tuesday evenings have a very special flavour. It’s the flavour of nothing accomplished and everything to do, the flavour of wasting your youth and not having it in you to care. There are, he muses, few things as pathetic as sitting in a deserted club on a Tuesday evening with a Bacardi and Coke in your hand and static white noise in your head. And that pretty much sums up the last half decade of his life. Bad company, cheap drinks and long nights. But today is special. Five years ago today, It ended.

It, capital ‘I’, refers to past events that no-one seems to want to talk about anymore these days. You’d think the whole world has better things to do but not Harry Potter, no. He’s here to get royally smashed today in hopes of forgetting he was ever born and the world ever decided to start spinning on its axis.

So he gulps down the last of his drink with a distasteful frown. It’s the fourth in a row and he has yet to notice any sign of the state of inebriation he is aiming for. It’s a sissy drink, he decides, but unless he wants to slurp cocktails, there’s not much else to choose. The Backdoor is a muggle club whose only positive attributes are that it is open seven days a week and no-one looks in his direction twice unless they want to take him home.

Tonight however, the chances of that happening are slim to zero. He slinks over to the bar, decides to hell with it and orders a frilly orange cocktail that looks like a cross between pumpkin juice and well, he doesn’t know what exactly. The bartender pushes the tall glass across the counter and hands him his change with a lacklustre expression that matches the place perfectly. He finds a dark corner, not that there is ever a lack of those in the Backdoor, and informs his drink, “This can’t possibly get worse, can it?” Then he knocks it back, repressing a shudder as the sugar reaches his taste buds. He pulls a face as he blindly drops onto a couch that smells vaguely of sex and spilled beer, placing the empty glass beside his feet carelessly.

There a wisps of stale smoke floating above the dance floor, undisturbed by the few patrons lounging in two’s or three’s in shady corners, drinking a lot more than they talk. The music is turned down lower than usual, in order to allow talk but still loud enough to give the illusion of privacy in an open room. Throwing his head back to rest against the sofa and closing his eyes, he can almost imagine he’s out having fun. Almost.

”Well, look how the mighty have fallen.”

“And the fact that you’re here as well just points toward you having the time of your life,” he drawls as he slowly blinks open his eyes to face the American sing song voice that disrupted his daydreaming.

Buffy Summers, resident slayer, cold hearted bitch and gorgeous blonde smiles mildly as she drops down beside him without an invitation. Her hair is longer than it was the last time he saw her, almost reaching the small of her back and he has to admit, although reluctantly, that she looks good in her jeans and purple shirt. She’s gained weight in the last five years but then so has he. During It, eating was neither his nor her top priority.

She pouts cutely at him, commenting, “Aren’t you a ray of sunshine?”

Resolutely he returns to his prior position, eyes closed in the hope that she will just disappear if he refuses to acknowledge her. When she doesn’t move he informs her through his teeth, “Unfortunately, your face doesn’t hold the happiest of memories.”

Her eyes are what he hates most about her face. Those eyes that are the exact same shade of green as his but there is nothing in them. He imagines that his eyes will look like that when he is dead, empty, void of life and emotion. And he swore to himself years ago, that if he ever looks into a mirror to find her eyes staring back at him, he’ll off himself, no questions asked.

“I can read a calendar, you know. I know what day today is.”

“You do?” he asks, his voice sounding more acidic than he thought he could work up the energy for. He hopes she gets the hint and leaves him alone but no, that would be easy, wouldn’t it? Five years ago today, It ended and Harry hoped never to see the face of the woman who taught him how to kill again. Alas, his wishes never do come true and she stays put less than half a couch away, which is two miles closer than he ever wanted to get to her again. She popped into his life unbidden when he was nineteen, hired by the Order to teach him the one thing no-one else had been able to teach him. How to survive. And surviving in a fight against Voldemort inevitably involved killing and that was a lesson he’d rather never have learned because even years later he still hasn’t managed to bleed the deadly grace and the cold calculation from his veins and he doesn’t think he ever will.

Buffy Summers is a bitch without a heart and she moulded him in her own image. The only time he suspected, for just one night that there was more than ice and death inside her chest, he got a rough wake up call the next morning when he rose to find her gone. No, she and him, they are the best killers money can’t buy and that’s all her doing. Thank you very much for that, he thinks as he open his eyes one last time to glare at her, hoping she’ll take the subtle hint and disappear from his life once more, never to be seen again.

Instead she pulls a bottle of tequila out of nowhere, unscrews it and takes a hefty swallow. “I do,” she confirms and she sounds almost….sorry?

Nah, he decides as he holds out his hand and demands, “Hand over the liquid oblivion,” and she does so without protest.

He hates her for what she did to him, to his humanity, but he spent three years with her and he guesses he can deal with one more night. Besides, he doesn’t want to be alone. Not tonight.

+

He groans as he tries to turn over only to realize that he’s trapped by a veil of hair definitely not his own. His head pounds, his eyelids feel like someone transfigured them into concrete during the night, his stomach is rebelling against the generous amount of alcohol it’s been forced to digest and he feels sticky all over from cold sweat and cold memories. And that’s before the events of last night hit. He doesn’t have to look to know that the hair he’s tangled up in is a pale golden shade of blonde.

He would like to know how exactly it is that he always ends up in these exquisitely horrible situations. It takes five minutes to blink the sleep and drowsiness out of his eyes and all the while he stays deadly still, knowing better than to move a single muscle before he decides what to do because she’ll wake immediately if he so much as frowns hard enough.

So what to do? It’s her fault they ended up like this, definitely. She’s got slayer stamina and he knows from a few similar events that while he was knackered, she was probably only slightly more than tipsy. She should have stopped this like she tried to stop it five years ago. But she did, didn’t she? Walking out on him the next morning certainly put a stop to anything else that might have happened so that’s what he does.

He walks out on her like she walked out on him so long ago and it might be petty but he prefers to call it just and it’s not like he planned to end up in her bed in her flat in her life in the first place. Hell, he didn’t even plan to ever waste a thought on her again in this lifetime.

He rolls to his feet in one smooth movement; he has the grace of a cat that’s all her doing as well, and gathers up his clothes, pulling them on one after the other before pulling out his wand and waving it against his temple, getting rid of the headache. Then, without turning to even look at the bed where he just knows she’s lying propped up on her elbow watching his every movement with an unreadable look on her face and eyes that might almost look sad on someone else, anyone else, he walks out the room. There might even, possibly be a small, grim smirk flitting over his features for a moment because at least he gives her this. He gives her the knowledge that yes, he’s really walking out on her. It’s better than waking up alone in a cold bed and never quite knowing what happened. But she obviously doesn’t understand that.

Her apartment is as much of a mess as her rooms at Hogwarts always were, with clothes, some washed some dirty, lying around, her weapons chest unlocked and open, dirty dishes piling on the quaint little coffee table. He makes his way through, managing not to trip on the cord of her laptop and his hand is already on the doorknob to freedom and denial when her voice startles him, entirely too close and almost soft enough to ignore.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

For what? For letting this happen? The first time? The second? For making him cold enough to kill but not to forget? For the last five years of his life? For walking out on him? For letting him walk out on her? For not stopping either of them? For letting him slip away again or for tearing him out of his shell in the first place? For grieving? For not grieving enough? ”What are you sorry for?” He wants to ask.

Instead he allows his gaze to slide over her naked form standing unashamedly in the bedroom doorway one last time before opening the door and slipping outside. The door clicks shut behind him with a soft sound in the early morning hush and he doesn’t ask her anything at all.

+

The neighbourhood she lives in is nice in the way all things he refuses to have an opinion on are nice. The weather is nice. Living in a world with shrimp is nice. Blue is nice. These things exist, they pose no direct threat to him or his continued existence, nor do they dredge up memories of any past time, pleasant or not. So he doesn’t really give a damn at all and he only notices because he didn’t expect her to live anyplace nice. She doesn’t do nice. She does hard and cold and sharp and harsh and bitter and fast, but she doesn’t do nice.

He should know because he spent the years since he first met her trying to file her away under ‘nice’ and not let her rub him the wrong way, but he never succeeded. Either you love her or you hate her, but to not have an opinion on the Original Slayer is a thing of simple impossibility.

Buffy Summers is anything but unremarkable and easy to forget although, right now and for the last half decade, he made a point of fiercely wishing that she were.

+

Seventy two hours later he’s sitting in the same coffee shop he always spends his mornings in. It’s owned by a lovely little, old lady who just happens to be a squib. The place is perfect for him because no-one faints or calls the police at his occasional accidental use of wandless magic but neither do the other patrons point and stare, nor ask for autographs or his babies.

Seventy two hours later he’s sitting in his own private little haven away from home when she drops down in the empty chair beside him, all boneless, deadly grace and a kind of exasperation that looks cute on teenaged girls but not on women in their late twenties.

He looks around desperately for old Mrs. Miles. She usually deals with the few people trying to pull the awestruck fan routine on him with a confusing mixture between stern grandmother and complete dragon. She reminds him a bit of Molly Weasley some days, actually. And, lo and behold, the old lady catches his desperate look and is already coming to the rescue when Buffy turns to follow his gaze. Recognition flickers in Mrs. Miles’s eyes and she loses steam as she identifies his supposed fangirl as a war hero and none other than the slayer. Instead of chasing her away, she pats the younger woman’s shoulder and asks, “And what would you like for breakfast, Ms. Summers?”

She always dealt better with the publicity than he does and gives a smile that he might have called sweet on anyone else before stating, “Just a cup of black coffee would be great, Ma’am.”

The old woman nods and waddles off, leaving Harry to his damnation. He takes a sip of his tea saying, “You know, this might be considered stalking.”

This time there is definitely nothing sweet about her smile as she counters, “I prefer to call it determination.”

“To do what, drive me insane?”

Her face slips from friendly blank into that carefully wiped-clean-of-emotion blank that mirrors her insides perfectly as she reminds him, “I recall you waking up in my apartment, not the other way around.”

“And who’s fault is that?” he demands sharply before falling silent abruptly as her coffee arrives. She was the more sober of the two. She was the one who didn’t have to grieve for lost friends. She was the one who was supposed to have some fucking brains the first time around! Enough brains to stop a desperate boy, just turned twenty one, from falling into bed with a woman who was killing him bit by bit and calling it teaching.

She raises an eyebrow at him. “I don’t remember being responsible for your actions.”

No, he thinks, never that. That was the first lesson she ever taught him. If you fuck up it’s your fault and no-one else’s. If you kill someone it’s your guilt and no-one else’s. If you make a decision it’s your consequences and no-one else’s. Ah yes, what a delightful lesson that was. He came to her seeking comfort for killing two Death Eaters on a raid and what he got was, “I can’t take away the fact that you killed them, Harry. You have to accept it, deal with it and then move on because this war doesn’t wait for you to catch up.”

He pushes his chair back with a loud scraping noise, on his feet in a second and he bends in real close until he can feel her breath, coffee and mint, on his face and he hisses in a way that’s as close to the snake language as he can get while still talking English, “Stay the fuck out of my life then.”

Then he turns and walks away from her for the second time in three days because whether you call it stalking or determination she’s still invading his life bit by bit and that’s not right. They parted ways on the day It ended, their purpose served, never to meet again and now she’s back but he has no desire whatsoever to have her face back in his nightmares, thank you very much.

+

She is there again the next day like he knew -dreaded- she would be. But today is different. She is sitting in the farthest corner, occupying a table for six all on her lonesome. There are what seems like a million different coloured little notes strewn all around her, without any obvious order. A blank stack of bright green notes is in front of her and she’s scribbling like mad, a cup of what looks like cold, forgotten coffee sitting to her left.

Right, he remembers Hermione giving him two books to read last year, the author’s names hexed off the covers. He actually liked them before she revealed that the author was none other than the obnoxious blonde who seems to have made it her mission in life to drive him up the wall and around the bend. Writing is not something he ever thought Buffy would pick up as a living but, he has been informed, her sister suggested it before she ever came to Great Britain and after It she remembered the advice. He has to admit that she does have a way with words when she wants to and she certainly has a few stories to tell, disguised as light hearted action fantasy novels.

He contemplates leaving again, leaving her alone before she ever notices him, but only for a moment. This is his haven, his part of town, damn it, his country and he’ll be thrice damned if he allows her to push him out of his own life just because she got it in his head that she needs to make him like her after all that has happened.

He picks up his usual cup of tea with lemon and two sugar at the counter and drops down at the empty table next to hers, snatching a blue note that’s about to float off the edge of the table and onto the floor and wouldn’t that be a shame. Her hand writing, he notes absently is neat and tiny in the way every legible hand writing that’s not Hermione’s is neat and tiny. Once you’ve seen Hermione’s handwriting, no other will ever look neat and tiny again.

+

She sighed as she ran a hand through her hair in frustration. It was growing again, but still short enough to be a reminder of things that were supposed to be over. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she put a gentle hand on Nazareth’s shoulder only to have him jerk away. The glare he gave her was flat and tired and she found herself missing the old defiance.

“I don’t think this is what you were meant to use your powers for,” she admonished softly, warmly. They had sent her to talk him out of his funk, but looking around her she could see that it was no use. It had taken her half an hour already to weave through the repelling wards, the spells for remembrance and time-slowing. It must have taken him days, if not weeks of blood and sweat to create this place, outside of time, of space, of reality. This place, littered with memories of times long past, people long gone. It was a shrine, this house, this hideaway from reality after a war that had torn them all apart.

They had moved on, all of them, after what happened. They had gone home to their families to either build or rebuild their lives, somehow, somewhere. Nazareth, fiery, powerful, strong, defiant, stubborn, beautiful Nazareth never had. Somewhere along the way he had forgotten that there was something more, something different out there.

She flexed her wings in a huff, angry at him for being stubborn and herself for not getting through to him and made one last ditch attempt, “The new guards could use your expertise to whip them into shape.”

He shook his head. “They’ll have to make do with yours.”


+

He snatches another note, the next one, thinking that he might understand this system, and he is pretty sure that he does, because he spent a decade with Hermione’s plans. First her homework planners and then her battle plans. Oh, he knows all about anal filing systems, even if they were created by people whose minds defy every rule of logic, physics and whatever other laws he can come up with.

+

“You know,” she snapped, finally unable to play nice and patient anymore, “If I had to choose between living in this place and hell, I’d probably pick hell!”

+

There’s more on the back of the note but a tiny hand enters his field of vision and plucks the yellow note out of his grip without looking up. He scowls at the side of her head asking, “What is this anyway?”

She replies without any heat at all, still writing. “My new novel. Eventually.”

There’s something wrong with this picture of the woman who lives to make his life hell sitting there, ignoring him as if he is the one who’s disturbing her!

“See,” she finally starts after a few moments of silence while recapping her fountain pen and putting the latest note, a pink one, in its designated place. “Now it’s not stalking anymore. This time it was you who came to me.”

She turns away from his frosty gaze to sort through her ‘novel’, unconcerned by his ire. He clenches his teeth to keep from snapping at her yet again because he knows that it will get him nowhere. If he snaps at her, she will snap back and they’ll both shut down. Not that there’s anything wrong with him shutting down, but she makes him want to smash her head in when she does it. So instead he shifts his gaze to glare at her work instead because he’s neither dumb nor illiterate and he doesn’t really appreciate the parallels between her so called fiction and his reality.

“I read your other two books,” he says without thinking. For some reason the words just tumble out of his mouth before he gives them permission to do so.

She stops shuffling paper around, looking at him and there might just be a hint of surprise in the way she cocks her head to one side. “Did you like them?”

He answers in the form of a frigid glare and suddenly she throws her arms up, frustration marking her every movement. “What do you want from me, Harry? Yesterday you yell at me and now you’re trying to make small talk, but then you glare again like I’m the antichrist! What the hell do you want from me? You hate me, remember? You hate what I did to you.”

He doesn’t like the inflections of that acid, sarcastic drawl in her voice during the last part. Nor does he like being psychoanalyzed by the most fucked up, dysfunctional, sociopathic person to ever grace this planet with her oh so lovely presence.

“Make up your mind, damn it!”

+

Every now and then Harry gets what he calls the Itch. It’s that restless feeling of ants crawling under his skin, driving him to do something, anything. So far he has found three ways to cope with the Itch, classified in different categories of pain. Category One is going out and getting so knackered that the Itch simply fades away under the dull throb of his pulse in his head. Category Two is going out and getting his ears pierced. The feeling of someone sticking a needle through his flesh usually ends the Itch and he feels some sort of…accomplishment. It’s like an outward sign of his inner distress. Category Two has to account for twelve silver hoops in his left ear and three on his right (two lobe, one cartilage) so far. Since Molly commented that he probably has more piercings than brains these days and forbade him to get any more, Category Two has lost some of its appeal, though.

Category Three is by far the one that hurts most but also the most simple. Walk into a bar, gulp down a few shorts of vodka and slam the empty shot glass into some bulky biker’s face in order to start a bar fight. It’s also the most effective because some very real bruises and a cracked rib or two are usually more than enough to make him forget about the restlessness crawling under his skin.

How exactly he landed in front of Buffy Summers’s door with the Itch riding under his skin and inside his skull for the fifth day in a row, he’s not sure but his hand decides to knock before his mind catches up on the action and she opens the door clad in only a pair of boxer shorts and a tiny tank top. The look on her face is bitter for a moment but then she lets him in with the air of someone walking to the gallows.

She closes the door behind him and comments, “I’d better go and find some wine. This is not gonna work otherwise.”

He has a brief moment to wonder when exactly she started drinking on a regular enough basis to keep alcohol in her home because she used to stay out of those kind of things, saying she and alcohol of any kind didn’t mix. The only times she joined him and the others in drowning the world in firewhiskey was on those days she spent with her mask painted on badly and her eyes straying to the calendar every now and then. She always seemed more approachable on those days. Until they landed in bed drunk out of their minds, and she disappeared for twenty four hours afterward, that is.

“You better,” he agrees as he steps carefully over the laptop’s cord spanning from the coffee table to the wall where it’s plugged in.

+

The Itch, unlike usual, doesn’t start to dwindle with an increasing amount of liquid oblivion in his veins. Instead it grows. It grows so bad that he talks to her without remembering a word of it less than a minute later. His mind has switched to white noise on the first third of the second bottle and he’s only dimly aware of her not drinking even half of what he gulps down. Finally, when the last drop of the bottle is gone, Buffy snatches it out of his hand and puts it down out of reach, along with the empty glass he’s toying with.

“Why are you here?” she asks with the air of a mother scolding her child. Why did you eat all the cookies before dinner?

But there’s this thing roaring in his ears, making his skin crawl and his guard drop, making his head light and his hands shaky and he utters what he’s meant to tell her since their last conversation. “I do hate you,” he slurs and then he’s on her side of the couch suddenly, his lips pressing against hers, teeth clashing, noses bumping and his hands, suddenly not shaky anymore, sneak under her shirt, up her back, up, up and around to trace the underline of her breasts with his thumbs.

She barely moves, only lifts one hand to tangle in his hair even as he works his right down her stomach and into her shorts. After that, things get blurry.

+

So this is what they do. He comes to her after dark, standing in front of her door, his hand halfway between knocking on the door and slapping himself in the face until she lets him in. Sometimes he brings something to drink, sometimes he doesn’t and they fall into bed with teenage fumbles and awkward limbs, going through the motions of shagging and afterward he doesn’t really remember any of it.

She drops a comment or two when he dresses again afterward, hopping through her bedroom on one foot while looking for his socks and then he leaves the same way he did that first –second- time. With a single look back and no goodbye. She stops apologizing though.

Occasionally he falls asleep only to wake in the middle of the night, with her wrapped around him like vines of living, breathing flesh and he remembers reading that all women are like ivy, somewhere. He’s never there for breakfast though and after a full week he knows only the way from her door through the living room to her bedroom and from there to the bathroom.

Talk is optional and unappreciated although he sometimes catches himself answering to some of her inane comments as he dresses and they banter for a moment or two before he notices what it is he’s doing and leaves. Yesterday it happened the third time in a row and he even learned the way to her kitchen, where he watched her make tea for him before he left.

Sometimes, just to annoy him, she’ll stick one of her infernal notes on a door jam or the bathroom mirror where she knows he’ll stumble over them and those always leave him slamming doors on his way out, they do. And every time he walks through that nice neighbourhood of hers to the nearest tube station he feels the Itch inside of him rear its head again, never gone these days, only temporarily sated and every morning he knows he’ll be back by nightfall, one way or the other.

+

She is tracing idle patterns on the naked skin of his back as if she doesn’t see the network pattern of scars already there. Traces idle patterns as if on unblemished skin and the trouble is that he can’t yell at her for it because only half an hour ago he fumbled blindly in the dark, like a teenager, like a man drowning and he could feel every one of her scars under the rough pads of his fingers. She has many more than he does.

He has that hellish burn scar on his right hip, the unmistakeable pattern of something that exploded next to his thigh and, gods, did that hurt, but hers are different, harsher somehow. Ragged tears in parallel lines of three’s and four’s running over her torso like claw and teeth marks.

He was there when a dying manticore took a piece out of her leg and he doubts he’ll ever forget the look on her face as she broke its jaws to salvage her calf. Oh no sir, and that’s why he never wanted her back in his life.

He rolls onto his back, forcing her to stop her ministrations or have her hand squashed beneath his weight and asks, “Who is Darkness?”

He’s been wondering that for days, weeks, ever since he snatched the first note because sometimes Darkness sounds so much like her in those notes that keep following him around her flat but in others, there is no trace of the blonde in her. She shrugs, drawing circles on her knee with a single digit.

“A friend.”

For a moment he’s tempted to ask where she would take a friend from because in all the time he spent here there hasn’t been one call, one visit. But then he only comes here at night, doesn’t he?

“What friend?”

Her finger stops and she frowns at him with something like anger burning low in the back of her eyes, “She’s Faith.”

He remembers Faith, vaguely. She was the one who came on the last day of It, for the last stand. He watched them hug, he remembers and then, only an hour later, he watched her crumble under a curse meant for a sixth year she was covering for. He remembers her dark hair like a halo around her, making her look like she was only sleeping. He remembers Buffy screaming her name, racing across the battlefield to kneel down beside the woman she introduced as a sister and he also remembers the rage burning in her eyes when she got back to her feet.

He remembers seeing her as a human being for the first time since he met her and the sharp bite of satisfaction he felt as her mask crumbled.

He climbs to his feet, rising from her bed and his memories and dresses calmly, walking out without the obligatory backward glance.

+

All in all they drink too much wine and don’t really talk. She drops a comment once, about how her two best friends married after a decade of dancing around each other and are now having babies like they come cheaper by the dozen. He has that image of a bunch of bushy redheads running through his flat and empties his glass too fast.

If he ever needed proof that life isn’t fair, he guesses that’s it. Possibly.

It’s the first time he spends the entire night.

+

He’s making tea a few days later – when did he start staying long enough to learn his way around her kitchen? But it’s kind of nice– when he notices the picture pinned to the fridge with magnets the shape of stars for the first time. He drops the spoon he was stirring his tea with into the sink carelessly as he takes a closer look. A regular piece of white paper, folded like all children’s pictures always are, with a glossy photograph glued messily to the centre. It shows a little boy, no older than five with brown hair and green eyes standing in front of a giant fairy tale castle, waving at the camera. Underneath two words are spelled out in big, colourful letters, proclaiming, for Mama.

He gulps and puts his cup down shakily as sudden horror floods his system. The boy looks about five and he has, what, her eyes? His eyes? The horror lasts a second, followed by shock that immediately morphs into blind rage. If this is his son, his son and she kept him away, didn’t think to tell him, didn’t….

He spins around, her name on his lips, ready to yell down the house, only to find her standing behind him already, wearing his shirt and not much else. She looks tired, defeated, weary.

“Who is he?” he hisses, tones sibilant in his anger, pointing a raging finger at the boy waving innocently at his…. parents?... from his vantage point on the fridge. For a moment he thinks she’ll crumble under his rage but then she sighs and steps around him, taking the picture down, tracing the clumsy letters with a finger. He’s about to repeat his question –his demand- when she speaks.

“He’s not yours, if that’s what you think. This came with the mail yesterday. He’s with my sister in California right now.” She smiles at him, carefully, offering peace, but he doesn’t deflate this easily.

“So you were what, pregnant during the final battle? We fucked while you were pregnant and you didn’t think to tell me?!”

He doesn’t even see her hand coming before her palm makes contact with his face with a resounding smack that shocks him into silence and proves that while she taught him everything she knows, he’s still only human and she never was.

And then, for the first time since she walked back into his life, the first time since Faith died, she loses it. She pushes him in the chest hard enough to hurt his hip as he crashes into the counter and then she yells in his face, “He’s not mine! He’s Faith’s! You remember Faith, don’t you? The sister that came that last day, to fight your fucking fight? The one who came because she loved me and knew that I loved you? She died that day, on your fucking battlefield, for your fucking cause! Nathan LeHane is her son! And he doesn’t remember his Mommy!”

She’s breathing heavily into the silence that follows as he just stands there, too stunned to speak, to even think. He watches numbly as she collects herself, takes a step back from him, from her anger and snaps, “What is it? Where’s all your self righteous anger now? Did you honestly think you were the only one who lost someone? Did you?”

When he doesn’t answer she coldly points towards the door, her other hand still clutching the crumbled photograph of her –what, adoptive son?- and snarls, “Get out.”

Moments later the door slams shut behind him and he just stands there, in the hallway before her flat, feeling numb.

+

He spends the next two days locked up in his flat, staring at blank walls, trying to somehow deal with what Buffy threw at his head with such anger, such grief, but he can’t. Somehow something inside of him refuses to accept the words she said, the accusations she made and so he does the one thing that always works in these kinds of situations. He goes to the one person who can make sense of everything he could ever throw at her.

Hermione Granger-Weasley, wife of one Charlie Weasley, meets him for lunch on a sunny afternoon that doesn’t fit his mood at all. She smiles and pecks him on the cheek and then she silently sips her tea as he pours out his heart to her, hoping that she will make everything right, the way she always did. When he finishes with his monologue she puts down her cup and thoughtfully says, “I was wondering why she cancelled our breakfast yesterday.”

“You were going to have breakfast with her?” The words are out before he can stop them, earning him one of those reproachful looks that are usually reserved for mothers and their wayward children.

“Yes,” she states firmly, “Buffy is my friend. Not everyone broke off all contact after the war to leave and never look back.” The like you did goes without saying.

He whines, “You’re supposed to be on my side, you know.”

She smiles weakly and puts an absentminded hand on her stomach, looking him hard in the eye. “I am. Believe me, Harry, I will always be on your side but she’s right. The war has been over for five years and we all moved on and trust me, it wasn’t always easy. I had one hell of a time convincing Charlie that I wasn’t using him to replace Ron,” she smiles wryly, “And Buffy suddenly had a three month old infant dumped on her. Their watcher told Faith she should name a second guardian for Nate and she did. What no-one figured was that she’d name Buffy.”

“Yeah, great job she’s doing. She said he’s with her sister in California. Who sends their six year old son to America, alone?”

She sighs and takes a long sip of tea. “Nate is used to being shipped off to some relative or friend. Charlie and myself take care of him sometimes when Buffy has to go on a mission. He’s with his aunt because she demanded some quality time with him before he starts school in autumn. They’re in Disney World, I believe.”

“What missions?” The war is over, what missions would she still go on?

“Oh Harry,” she says in that voice that says he’s being stupid and dense. The voice she always used when he and Ron did something silly as kids. “Her job isn’t done just because the war is over. She is still the Senior Slayer and she’ll be until her death. She can’t just walk away.” There it is again, the like you did.

She presses her second hand where her first still rests and confesses, “I’m pregnant, Harry, and I’d love nothing more than to name you godfather of my first redhead, but you have to clean up some of your messes before I can do that. Buffy loves you. She’s always loved you. You have to get past what happened half a decade ago and concentrate on the present. A present where you’ve treated one of my friends like shit for the last three weeks. What happened isn’t her fault and you’ve got to tell her that. She did what she could to make sure you survived.”

They finish lunch and Harry leaves, grumbling and with a lot to think about. He wishes Ron could be here now to make some joke and help him suss this out, but Ron is dead. Ron is dead, just like Faith and Nathan doesn’t remember his mother. Buffy must have been out to forget that damned Tuesday night, just like he was. He guesses the feeling squirming in his gut might be guilt. Possibly.

+

Now, most days Harry is still busy trying to get used to the fact that he will probably live to see thirty. It’s a fact that takes some getting used to and falling in love is not something that has ever crossed his mind as something to do in the meantime. But after two days spent pacing his flat he’s got to admit that the worst case scenario is probably taking place.

He’s falling in love.

Has fallen in love five years ago.

With Buffy Summers who walked out on him after a perfect, desperate, drunken night for some reason or other and never came back. But she did, didn’t she? And he was too angry, too hurt, too stuck on all the things he’d lost to see. How many hang ups can a twenty-six-year-old war veteran have? A lot, he thinks, as he pulls on his shoes. A lot.

+

The first time he rings her doorbell she slams the door in his face hard enough to make the neighbour poke her head out the door and glare at him and the next three days and the next three tries don’t go remarkably better until, in the end, she simply refuses to answer the door at all anymore.

He retaliates by sliding down the wall across the hall from her door and proclaiming at the top of his lungs that he won’t leave until she allows him in. They are at a Mexican standoff for three hours until the nosy neighbour comes out, a set of keys in one hand and a frying pan in the other.

“You better be serious about the lady, boy,” she informs him, waving the pan in his face.

He nods. “I messed up. Badly. But she deserves an apology.”

The old lady nods, seemingly satisfied with his answer and unlocks Buffy’s door. She opens it a crack and calls in, “I’m letting the laddy in now, Miss. He promises to behave. If he don’t, well, I’m leaving my frying pan right here, by the door.”

Harry smiles despite himself and nods his thanks as he slips past her into the flat.

+

She looks a fright as she stands there, in the middle of her living room, wearing the shirt he forgot that last day, her expression jumping from eyeing the pan contemplatively to glaring at him with red rimmed eyes. Well, he did want to see her more human, didn’t he?

He opens his mouth to start in on the apology he spent three hours formulating as she cuts him off with a pointed look first at the pan and then the battle axe lying on the closed weapons chest, well within her reach.

She crosses her arms in front of her chest and demands, “Is falling in love with me really so horrible? Did I hurt you that badly? You needed to survive and I made sure you did, damn it. That’s what I do. I keep people alive and you’re still breathing so I can’t have done my job too horribly. I’m trying, Harry. I’ve been trying for a month because I thought if I gave you enough time you might let go of your anger, but I was obviously wrong. I’ve been in love with you for a long time and I’ve put up with your shit for almost as long but this ends here. You need to get your head screwed on straight, not for me, but for yourself because the way you're living can’t be healthy.

“If you ever fix the mess you’ve made of yourself, you can come back. But I’ve got enough shit in my life to deal with and I don’t need yours on top of it.”

She grabs something thick and heavy off the coffee table and walks up to him. It’s the script she’s been working on, he realizes as she presses it against his chest before shoving him back out the door and closing it in front of his nose yet again. At least she doesn’t slam it.

+

The first two pages of the script are blank and the next only has a single sentence printed on it in neat black letters.

+

For the most stubborn man I’ve ever met. Harry, you idiot, this is for you.

+

Darkness stood in front of the floor length mirror in her bedroom, turning this way and that, playing with strands of her auburn hair. It hung between her wings down to the small of her back in soft waves. She loved her hair because it was a symbol for everything she yearned for. During the war, thelas war, she corrected herself mentally, she had always kept it short. It got in the way of her weapons and her wings, gave the enemy a weak point to attack and simply demanded too much time. But after the war, she’d allowed it to grow out.

For thirty years she had kept her hair long now, thirty years of peace and now the call to arms had come once more. It wasn’t her war this time. She had given up her position with the guard after the war, hoping that she would never be needed again. But dark times lay ahead of them and the Lady knew that the new head of guard, a man named Nazareth couldn’t win the fight alone. He needed help, needed the tricks and experience of someone who had fought so much longer than him. Someone who had fought before he had been born. He needed Darkness.

And she would answer his call because that was what she did. She was a soldier. And so Darkness took the elegant pair of scissors off her dresser and chopped off her hair to fight another war.


+

He finds her in the last place he goes looking for her, naturally. She is almost invisible here, in the fields of Hogwarts, sitting in the long grass, surrounded by another copy of her script and more damn notes. Both her eyes are closed and her hands are pressed against the ground in front of her.

“Do you feel the dead here?” She asks as he slips down beside her, mindful not to sit on her notes.

“Every single one.”

“I think they like it here,” she decides as she opens her eyes to look around the sun warmed meadow.

Harry mm-hmms his agreement as he gently puts a hand on her shoulder and pulls her head down into his lap. He can feel her muscles tense under his palm for a moment until he lets go and starts to softly run his fingers through her long hair. Then she relaxes into his touch like a giant cat and closes her eyes once more.

+

They spend the afternoon fooling around in the warm sunlight. He calls it fooling around because it’s not having sex but he doesn’t dare call it making love. Not yet. Possibly.

“The first scene of your new book, that’s not Faith.”

She turns from her stomach to her side to look at him, her nose scrunched up in the cutest of ways and wonders, “What makes you say that?”

He runs a hand through her golden locks, tucking a heavy strand behind her ear and says, “Her hair was long that day.” He kisses her on the forehead and adds, “Yours wasn’t.”

+

He understands now, that she fought long before he did. Her own war was barely over when she came to help him fight his. She’s not colder than him, or harder. She just had longer to practice the façade. Ron wasn’t the only one who died that day. Her first two novels were for fun, for action and suspense. They were to remind herself of the good times.

This one, surrounding them now in the form of coloured notes that confuse the bees, this one is for therapy. It’s for herself. It’s her encouragement to herself and she too, needed five years to be able to say it out loud: Move on.

She has two tattoos on her back. Down, where her spine dips into the soft roundness of her arse, gothic letters proclaim the number eleven in bold black. At the other end of the spectrum, on her neck, hidden beneath hair, the same gothic writing flows into one word. Faith.

“What do they mean?” He asks, tracing the number with his finger.

“Eleven people lost to the fight. And Faith. She’s the twelfth but she gave me Nate. I’m not his Mommy but I’m his Mama and the least I can do is keep a piece of his Mommy with me.”

“In ink on skin? Isn’t that a bit permanent?”

She chuckles wistfully and declares, “I don’t plan on that number changing ever again.”

He can understand this. “Do they have names?”

“Every single one of them.”

+

Another hour later she lies with her head pillowed on his stomach, watching the sun set.

“Why did you run that very first morning?”

She doesn’t look at him. “I didn’t want to set myself up for you to kick me down.”

She sounds bitter. He guesses he gave her few reasons not to be and so he kisses her as gently as he can until darkness has fallen all around them and he can only see her pale hair and eyes sparkling in the moonlight. Eyes that look just like his, full of past regrets and old scars. Full of humanity and weariness. How he could ever mistake them for cold he’s not sure.

+

Darkness didn’t move as Nazareth sat beside her on the low garden wall that marked the boundaries of this prison of his own making. For a long time they watched through the blur of the wards as life outside went on and on and on while inside his bubble nothing changed. Sometimes Darkness thought he wasn’t too weak to move on but too strong. Maybe the rest of them were weak.

“You asked what I was waiting for,” he finally whispered. “What are
you waiting for?”

She turned slowly to find him meeting her gaze evenly for the first time since she had started growing her hair again. He looked weary but calmer now. More serene.


+

“Are you coming with me to pick Nathan and Dawn up at the airport tomorrow?”

He frowns, unsure suddenly, of this place he claimed for himself in the last few days. Has it really been less than a month?

She stretches, standing on tiptoe to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth and mutters, almost too low to hear, “I’m scared too, you know?”

+

Fin

+

The End

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