Author's note: This story takes place just before the first episode of season 3 of Angel.

A Time to Mourn
by Jeanne Rose

 Angel sat staring at the steady flame of the candle, trying to breathe in and out in the cadence he had been taught.  His muscles were beginning to cramp at the awkward position.  He resisted the urge to sigh.

 Meditation was supposed to calm the soul, ease his grief.  So far it wasn't working.  Images of Buffy her eyes, her hands, her upturned face continued to surface unbidden, drenching him in renewed sorrow.  Her voice, soft in his ear, the smell of her hair, the smile that was only for him, the fast pulse of her blood when she fought, her strength, her impertinence, her loneliness. . . .

 He blinked away incipient tears and discovered that he'd stopped breathing again.  It took effort to remember since his body didn't need it.   The old human reflex seemed to kick in when he was surprised or in pain, but he didn't usually keep it up for such long stretches of time.  And he wasn't quite sure this measured breathing did the same thing for him that it would for a human.

 Surely soon the gong would sound.  Even monks had to eat now and then.  They knew what he was and had provided a plasma substitute that was totally tasteless but would at least quell the hunger pangs for a while.  Then perhaps after sundown he would sit out in the courtyard and watch the jewel-bright stars make their slow journey across the sky.  It seemed to bring him more peace than anything else here.

 Unexpectedly he felt it.  Sunset, the passing of the world from deadly daylight to friendly  darkness.  It must be much later than he'd thought.  The gong should have sounded long ago.

 He stirred uneasily.  These monks were as rigid in their daily time table as any medieval Christian monastery with their horarium.  Could something have happened?

 Slowly Angel stood, stretching the kinks out of his muscles.  The unfamiliar white clothing hung loosely on him.  He stood still and listened for some sign of trouble.  No sound reached his ears no soft shuffling footsteps, no heartbeats.

 He picked up the candle and padded barefoot through the entire enclave, poking his head into all of the areas he had been told he was allowed to go . . . and finally to those he had been forbidden.  He found no one at all.

*     *     *

 It took him most of the night to discover that not only was the monastery empty but also the nearest town and, as far as he could tell, the rest of the world as well.  He found a phone and called every number he knew, including the operator.  No one answered.  No planes flew overhead.  The radio and television stations were all static.

 He went back to the monastery and consumed a bag of plasma substitute.  It was not really adequate nourishment he was starting to feel light-headed.  Then it occurred to him that if all of the animals had disappeared as well, it might be the only sustenance he had.

 He sat down on a stone bench under a large spreading tree in the middle of the courtyard.  Beyond the branches the sky was huge, the glorious spread of stars unimaginably distant.  He had often felt alone before alone in a crowd, alone because he was neither vampire nor human, alone because no one cared.  Buffy had helped heal some of that aloneness, and in their own way Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn had helped too.  But Buffy was gone, and now it seemed the others were lost to him as well.  He was truly, utterly alone.

 For a moment the weight of it pressed down on him like a mountain.  If there were no people left there was very little reason to go on living.  If there was no one to help there was no redemption to earn.  What purpose could his life serve?

 Abruptly he shook his head as if to clear it.  This was madness.  All the people on earth could not suddenly disappear without a reason.  Something must have happened, and perhaps if he could figure out what it was he could bring them back.

 He looked around.   The monks might have books or scrolls, but he probably couldn't read them.  His own resources were half way around the world.  He could get there on foot, he supposed, given enough time.  Shoes would definitely be helpful.  And maps.

 Suddenly he was aware of someone else in the courtyard.  Perhaps he wasn't alone in the world after all?  Then he realized that it was someone like him, someone without a heartbeat.  Perhaps only demons remained.

 He recognized the scent and turned abruptly.  "Spike!  What are you doing here?"

 Spike looked around.  "Don't rightly know.  Same as you, maybe."  His gaze took in the windswept courtyard, the tree, the sky.  "What are you doing here?"

 Somehow Angel felt no need for glib answers.  "Mourning."

 Spike nodded.  "Right.  Me too."

 Angel stared at him incredulously.  "Why would you want to mourn the Slayer?  You hated her.  If you didn't kill her you probably watched the back of the demon that did."

 Spike looked him in the eye.  "No.  I loved her, just like you."

 Angel took a step backwards, wondering if this night could get any more surreal.  "You can't love.  You don't have a soul."

 "I can and I did.  She was a real special girl.  One of a kind."

 Spike was the last person Angel wanted to talk with about Buffy . . . even if he was the last person on earth.  He changed the subject.

 "What's going on here?"

 "What do you mean?"

 "All the people have disappeared.  I thought I was alone until you showed up."

 Spike looked a bit put out.  "No people?  What's there going to be to eat?"  He looked at Angel accusingly.  "You didn't finally succeed in destroying the world, now did you?"

 Angel glared at him.  "I have to figure out what happened, how to put things right again.  Are you going to help or not?"

 Spike shrugged.  "Fine.  OK, maybe it's you that disappeared, not everyone else."

 Angel considered this new idea, surprised he hadn't thought of it.  "So you're saying this isn't real.  I'm in some other dimension or something?"

 "I'm not saying nothing, mate.  How would I know?"

 "Good question," Angel said sarcastically and turned away.  Perhaps Spike was right and he had somehow accidentally crossed a boundary into hell.  It would surely explain why he was alone in the universe with the one person least likely to be any help.

 Then Angel smelled a new scent one that made him dizzy with hope.  He turned.

 "Buffy?"

 She was standing a few feet away in jeans and a white sweater stained with blood.  She had no heartbeat but her scent was unchanged.  She stared around her in confusion.

 "Buffy, right," Spike said.  "I was wondering when she would show up."

 She looked from one to the other.  "Spike?  Angel?"

 Spike stepped toward her and smiled with such gentleness that it made Angel's brain freeze up.  "Buffy.  You all right?"

 She looked down at the blood on her sweater.  "I'm dead . . . right?  I remember . . . falling . . . had to save Dawn . . . save the world . . . but . . . you guys can't be . . . you're not both dead too, are you?" she asked with a note of panic.

 "Technically we already were," Spike reminded her soothingly.

 "Oh yeah."

  The sight of Spike's black nailed hand on Buffy's arm abruptly caused Angel's brain to unfreeze.  He stepped forward and took her hand, claiming her.

 "It's ok," he said, trying to make it sound as there was some reason to believe it.

 "So you're dead in a vampire sort of way but you didn't get staked or anything?"she asked him.

 He shook his head.  "I don't think so."

 "And this doesn't happen to you normally.  You don't . . . talk to dead people?"

 Angel shook his head, and thanked the gods that he did not.  Being cursed to remember their faces was bad enough.

 "Where are we?" she asked.

 "This is a monastery," Angel answered.  "I came here, after Willow brought the news.  I was trying to meditate, and then everybody disappeared."

 "Except me," Spike interjected.  "I'm here."

 "Then Spike showed up," Angel added grudgingly.  "And now you."

 Buffy looked back at Spike, refusing to dismiss him as neatly as Angel might have hoped.  "OK, so I'm dead, but I'm still . . . talking and stuff, and you're both . . . undead, and everybody else is gone.  What's going on?"

 "I don't know," Angel relied, grasping her hand, which was now as lifeless as his own.  "But we're going to find out."

*     *     *

 He started toward the door of the main building, intent on finding where they had stowed his street clothes.  When he walked through it he found himself in the lobby of the hotel in LA, already wearing them.

 And his hand was empty.  "Buffy?" he called.  There was no answer.  He turned and walked back through the front door.  Nothing happened.

 Loss washed over him again.

 After a minute he looked around.  The place was deserted.  "Cordelia?  Wesley?" he called out without much hope.  The sound echoed against the high ceiling.

 "No one here, mate," Spike said, drifting out from behind the pillar by the elevator.

 "You again," Angel said with little courtesy.  "What are you doing here?"

 "Following you around, evidently.  This the new place?  A little roomier than the last one.  A few too many windows, though."

 Angel ignored him.  He walked to the fridge, then remembered that he'd drunk the last bag before leaving.  He turned to the bookshelves.  At least now maybe he could figure out what was happening.  He pulled out a stack of books and began to read.

 Later that night he went out for a walk.  The streets of LA were empty, though somehow the lights continued to blaze.  There were no cars, no horns, no music.  Yesterday's newspapers remained in the stands.  There was no one at Wesley's apartment, or Cordelia's even her ghost was not in evidence.  Gunn's end of town was deserted.  Caritas was empty.  The karaoke machine was still working, and he turned it on and sang a few bars, hoping it would somehow induce Lorne to appear, but nothing happened.  The offices of Wolfram and Hart were locked down, but they appeared vacant as well.

 He walked by a hospital and considered breaking in to get some blood but found he wasn't hungry.

 He went back to the hotel before sunrise.  Spike was sitting on the step.  Angel was surprised to find his annoyance muted by the prospect of someone to talk to.  He sat down on the opposite end of the step.

 "Not much of a world without them, is it?" Spike said glumly.

 "No," Angel agreed.

 "Find anything in those books of yours?"

 Angel shook his head.  "All the apocalypses seem to involve destruction of the whole world, not just the people.  And the demon dimensions all seem to be inhabited."

 Spike nodded without comment.

 Without changing tone Angel asked, "Where's Buffy?"

 "Not here, it looks like."

 "At the monastery, why were you expecting her?" Angel asked.

 "What?"

 "You said, I was wondering when she would show up.' Why?"

 Spike shrugged.  "It just seemed like what ought to happen next."

 Angel looked at him suspiciously.  "And what seems like it ought to happen now?"

 "I don't know.  Why don't you walk through that door again and find out."

 Angel slowly got to his feet.  He looked at the door he'd gone through it before and nothing had happened.  But there was nothing for him here.  If he was going to understand what was happening he had to move on.  He opened the door and walked through.

 He found himself standing in the doorway of Buffy's home, covered with sunlight that streamed in through the door and windows.  He ducked instinctively into the shadows, cringing at the expected burning of his flesh.  But he felt no pain.

 Hesitantly, shielding his eyes, he stuck his hand into a block of light.  It felt warm on his skin.  And the brightness didn't hurt his eyes, either.    He stepped back into the light and stood, trying to wrap his mind around the gentle warmth of the kindly rays.  Then, warned by her scent, he turned.

 "I knew you'd come," Buffy said, and he gathered her into his arms and they stood together in the sunlight for a long time.

*     *     *

 
 "I suppose there's not much reason to go on patrol," Buffy said a little later as they sat on the couch.

 "I guess not," he responded.  "No demons to kill."

 "No world to protect either.  Which is a really nice thing, because I was getting tired of doing it."

 "You did more than your share," he assured her.

 She nodded, looked toward the kitchen.  "There's food in the fridge, but I'm really not hungry."  She looked up at Angel worriedly.  "Are you?"

 He shook his head.  "I was at first, but not any more."

 "Good, because we're fresh out of blood, and I don't think I'm good for eating anymore."  She smiled, making it a joke.

 "I suppose we could find out," he teased.  But when he reached inside himself to where his vampire instincts lay he found unexpectedly that he couldn't have called them forth if he'd wanted to.

 "What's wrong?" she asked.

 "Nothing," he said.  "It's just . . . everything's different here."

 "Yeah."  She traced a line of sunlight across his cheek with a fingertip, then nestled more snugly under his arm.  "Everything's safe."

 Naturally Spike chose this moment to wander in from the kitchen.  "Oh yeah, it's safe all right.  Safe and boring as hell."  He eyed them grumpily.  "But you two love birds probably won't mind."  He looked Angel in the eye.  "I guess you're happy now."

 "Go away, Spike," Angel told him.  Spike shrugged and left them to each other.

 They settled into a companionable silence.  With no demands, no danger to be faced, no battles to be fought, time seemed to flow seamlessly as the shadows shifted infinitesimally across them.  Angel would have thought that Buffy would want to talk, to tell him about everything that had happened, but she seemed content to enjoy the silence.

 He wondered what death had been like for her, or if she had been waiting long.  He wondered if this was a dream, or an illusion, or some kind of spell that could burst like a bubble at a moment's notice.  It didn't feel like one.  Buffy was solid and real against his chest, as real as when he'd held her the night after her mother died.  This time he could not feel her heart beating against him, but he didn't mind.  And here, no desire rose up to torment him.  If she felt safe in his arms, it was enough.

 As the hours passed, the stillness of the room found its way into his heart, and his mind grew still.  He smiled at the realization that perhaps this was what the monks had been trying to teach him.  Funny that no breathing seemed to be required.

 A bit after sundown Buffy yawned sleepily and said she was ready for bed.  He followed her upstairs to her bedroom, where as soon as she walked through the door she was dressed in pink flannel pajamas.  She brushed her teeth out of what he supposed to be sheer habit and climbed under the covers.  He watched her sleeping for a while, then went out for a walk.

*     *     *

 In the dark Sunnydale looked pretty much as he remembered it.  He was tempted to think nothing had changed . . . except that all of the houses were empty.

 He wasn't sure exactly when Spike joined him.  They walked in silence until Spike finally said, "Can't shake the feeling that I ought to be horribly jealous."

 "You're not?" Angel asked.

 Spike shrugged.  "She's safe, she's happy, I'm happy.  A hell of  lot happier if she was getting all snuggly with me, mind you, but I suppose that wasn't in the cards.  We might have had a moment, though, if Glory and her apocalypse hadn't happened along."

 Angel didn't care for the sound of that.  "A moment?  What are you talking about?  Buffy could never have loved you."

 "You left her.  You've been in LA.  How would you know?"

 All the reasons he had left, all the excruciating justifications for that necessary abandonment crowded Angel's mind, but he didn't feel much like arguing the point.  Fortunately he didn't have to because Spike was still talking.

 "Look, I tried to fight it, but I love her.  Nearly got myself tortured to death just to save her from grief, so she knew I meant it.  And she treated me decent."

  "So what are you doing here," Angel asked pointedly.

 Spike snorted. "Yeah, what am I doing in the middle of your little paradise?  That's a good one."

 They had only walked a few more paces before Spike suddenly stopped.  He let out a startled chuckle, then looked at Angel and laughed again in earnest, nearly bent double.  Angel glared at him.  "What?"

 "I just figured it out."

 "What?" Angel repeated.

 "Why I keep turning up wherever you are.  Why the only time I'm here is when I'm talking to you."

 "Gee, I don't know maybe every paradise has to have a snake?"

 "Hey now, no sense insulting your spirit guide."

 "You?  A guide.  You're right, that is funny."

 "Hey, the joke's on both of us.  Never say the Powers That Be don't have a sense of humor."

 "More like a sense of irony." Then suddenly it hit him.  "Wait a minute.  Are the Powers That Be doing this?  What for?  Is this a test?"

 "I don't think so," Spike answered.  "I think it's just the universe giving you a choice."

 "So is this real?"

 "Didn't say I was the fount of knowledge," Spike replied.

 "Great.  I have an annoying spirit guide who doesn't even know what's happening."

 "I steered you here to Sunnydale, right?"

 Angel conceded this with a nod.  Spike grew suddenly serious.

 "You won't go anywhere else until you're ready to."

 Angel stared back toward Buffy's house.  "What if I decide not to go?"

*     *     *

 

 When morning came Angel found Buffy sitting at the kitchen table.

 "It's spotless," she said.  "I don't think it was ever really this clean."

 "Likely to stay that way, too," Angel observed, "unless you're in the mood for blueberry pancakes."

 She shook her head.  "Let's go for a walk."

 He took her hand and they went outside, leaving the front door open.   The sun shone midway up a dazzling blue sky.  The green of the trees and grass was so brilliant it nearly overwhelmed his senses.  He had forgotten how alive things looked when the sun touched them.  Buffy smiled, watching him.  He picked a daisy from someone's front yard and stuck it behind her ear she rewarded him with a silly grin.

 They took their time, making a pilgrimage to all of the places they had been togther.  The Bronze, the factory, the high school, the streets and alleys where they had kissed and argued fought any number of foes, always in the dark.  Seeing them in sunlight made it seem as if this were a different world, as if such suffering had happened long ago, to someone else.

 They ended up in the cemetery, walking among the graves and crypts.  The sun was setting, bathing the undersides of the clouds in orange and pink.  They stopped next to her grave.

 She looked up at him.  "Stay with me."

 He let the words sink into his heart.  But then he shook his head.  "I don't belong here."

 Her face clouded, and the brilliance of the sunset dimmed.  Then suddenly he knew something else.  "You don't belong here either."

 "Where do I belong?"

 "I don't know.  Maybe with your mother.  You shouldn't be alone here."

 Her brow twitched, and he knew she had received the same gift of knowing.   "I won't be," she said.  She stepped away from him, still keeping hold of his fingers.

 He knew when he looked away, she would be gone.  "I love you," he said softly.

 "I know."  She smiled the sad, soft, wistful smile that he remembered so well.

 "Wait for me," he whispered.

 She nodded.  He stood memorizing the contours of her face and the pressure of her fingers a moment longer, then gathered everything he had and let her fingers slip from his as he turned.

 The air was empty behind him.  Spike stood waiting.  "You ready?"

 Angel nodded, unable to speak.  Spike stepped forward and he followed.

*     *     *

 
 They were back in the monastery, surrounded by monks.  There were perhaps thirty of them chanting softly, a low sound that seemed to invade his bones.  Their scent told him they weren't human.

 "What's happening?" he asked Spike.

 "It's a simple spell, really," Spike told him.  "All you have to do to break it is decide to come back."

 The chanting had ceased abruptly when he spoke.  The monks were beginning to rise.  One of them had a broad-bladed axe.  Without warning he sliced with lightning speed, catching Angel across the chest.

 The pain was powerful restorative.  Angel felt strength and anger surging through him, the vampire once again just beneath his skin, crying hungrily for blood.  And abruptly the subliminal sense of a million heartbeats around him returned.  The memory of holding Buffy in the sun began to slip from him like a dream.

 He kicked the demon monk in the chest, sending him flying across the room, and turned on Spike.  "Was it real?" he demanded.

 Spike shrugged.  "Your call."

 With a roar the rest of the demon monks fell on them.

 "I'm not going to remember any of it, am I?" Angel asked, blocking one blow after another.

 "Probably not," Spike responded, ducking.  But somehow the demons did not seem to be attacking him.  And then Angel wondered who he had been talking to.  He was alone, surrounded by demon monks, and there was nothing to do but fight.

 Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to go home, to watch Cordelia's delight when he handed her the necklace, or Wes' face when he unsheathed the knife.  He had chosen time over eternity, chosen the battle, chosen the journey through darkness to find the light.  Death was a part of that journey.  Buffy had gone without him, but someday perhaps he would become human, and join her.  It was time to get started.

The End

Author's comments:

 The choice between a safe, static paradise and the mortal world of experience, joy, pain, love, and death is as old as the Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  It is a common mythological element from Odysseus to Lancelot and Galahad, and continues to show up in modern entertainment stories as diverse as the original Star Trek's "This Side of Paradise," Toy Story II, City of Angels, and Star Trek: Generations.  It's been in the back of my mind for a while to write a story that gives Angel this choice, with the odd twist that he is not choosing humanity, but merely the chance to become human.  When I needed to find some way to justify how Angel got over Buffy's death so easily in "Heartthrob," the pieces just came together.  I'd have preferred that he remember it, but since I like to write in the spaces within the canon, he had to forget so that it would fit into the continuing story.  Joss kindly left a hole, and I filled it.

 I know some readers will be disappointed that Buffy and Angel didn't take the opportunity to make love in their little bubble of paradise.  Hey, I enjoyed "I Will Always Remember You" as much as the next Buffy/Angel romantic, but it just didn't feel right here.  First of all, sex is not safe thing in Buffy's world.  In the wake of everything that happened with Glory, it seemed to me that she would go back to a child's paradise, where someone held her and then she went to bed in pink flannel pajamas.  Physical desire is mostly a form of torture for Angel, since it has no safe outlet.  And really, sex belongs to the world of reality, where pain and pleasure and consequences are all mixed together.  In a world with no hunger, no pain, no danger, and no responsibilities, I think sex would mean something quite different than it does here.  It would have to have been as innocent and serene as hot chocolate and falling snow, and I didn't think I could pull that off.

 So, was it real, or was it all in Angel's head?  Like Spike said, your call.  It had to be sort of real, or why would Spike come with his love for Buffy and memories of things Angel knew nothing about?  And how would Buffy know that she didn't belong there either?  And yet, they are also filtered through his eyes.  My interpretation is that the monks cast the spell sending Angel into an uninhabited world, but the Powers sent Buffy to give him a choice, and Spike to show him the way home if he chose to return.  They do have a sense of humor, after all.

 



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