HOW SHOULD I PRESUME?
Author ~ Arrie ~ journal
Title ~ How Should I Presume?
Rating ~ G-PG
Timeline ~ Post Season Four, BtVS Season Seven
Author's notes ~ Set immediately post Chosen. Angel thinks about the choices he’s made as he prepares to be Buffy’s second front. Thanks to Linnaea for the beta.
Story written for ~ Chrislee
Two requirements ~ Angel, a line of poetry from T.S Eliot's poem 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'
Two restrictions (optional) ~ no C/A, no deathfic
Spoiler level ~ S5 - Aired
Rating level ~ NC-17
As the car climbs back through the hills towards LA, Angel remembers the first time he made this journey, still bruised and dirty from the battle with the Mayor, but needing to leave before he had time to change his mind, come up with reasons why it was okay to stay. Walking away from Buffy then was the hardest thing he’d ever done, the most difficult choice he’d ever had to make; something that’s no longer as true as it once was. Mohra demons, Wolfram and Hart and Connor have all seen to that. So many decisions he’s had to make and, despite what he lets the others think, he’s often wracked with doubt about the things he’s done.
In some ways, leaving this time is even more difficult, even without the apocalypse hanging over their heads. So many changes since he first left her, changes for both of them. Today has pressed home to him just how much they’re not a part of one another’s lives any more, how much they don’t know about each other, and maybe never will. So many things he can’t talk about; things that never happened for anyone else. So much that he doesn’t want to hear from her. He managed to hide most of it behind petty sarcasm, which he knew even before she said anything made him sound about twelve, but the pain of knowing that she’d let Spike in, let him be something to her when he can’t, even though he chose not to, was indescribable. More than ever, he is left wondering whether leaving her was the right thing to do. He left for her; thought he could give her a chance at a normal life, a better life, just by not being a part of it. There’s nothing in him that can accept that Spike could possibly have been a better life for anyone, and it was stupid to imagine that Buffy’s life would ever be normal, insanity to let himself believe that he was the only thing that stopped her from having a normal life.
Worse than his doubt about that is the fear that, today, he’s probably walking away and leaving her to her death. Doesn’t want to think like that, but he can’t stop the growing dread. He remembers The First, remembers how it made him feel, the utter despair. Nothing before or since has terrified him the way that did. Even in Hell, he’d fought to survive all that was done to him, but when those ghosts were taunting him with everything he’d been, everything he could be again, all he wanted was for it to be over. The thought that Buffy’s facing that now fills him with fear, for her and for himself, for the thought of having to mourn her again. He thinks about going against her wishes, turning back, taking that amulet and using it any way he can. At least then he’d know he’d done all he could to protect her.
But he doesn’t. For once, he’s certain he knows what’s right, and this is it. He doesn’t like it, hates feeling so powerless, but he’ll do what she asks. He may not be Buffy’s champion any more, a hurt that he’s not letting himself feel at the moment, but he’s still a champion, and if there’s any chance at all that he will be needed to be her ‘second front’, then that’s what he’ll do. He’ll fight, they’ll fight, it’s what they do, and hopefully they’ll beat this thing back, even if they can’t destroy it. That’s what he has to focus on now. There’ll be plenty of time later for questioning his choices. There always is.
When he reaches LA, he heads for the hotel. He’s accepted the Wolfram & Hart deal, but that doesn’t mean he trusts them. He’s not completely stupid. The very fact that Lilah gave him the amulet is a good reason not to let her or any of them know that he’s not going to use it. There’s probably a catch in there somewhere, and he tries to quash the very small part of him that hopes there is, and hopes that what he fears will happen. He did warn Buffy that it might be dangerous. He doesn’t want her to think of Spike as a champion, can’t even believe that it would be possible, but if Spike happens to be given the amulet, and there does happen to be some kind of price, that’s not really like Angel doing something to hurt Spike himself. Not really
By the time he gets to the Hyperion, the others are all there already, gathered in the lobby. They’ve spent so much time here recently that it’s not surprising that this is where they’ve ended up rather than scattering to deal alone with the decision they’ve made, the decision he’s made for them. He stops in the doorway for a few moments, watching and listening. It’s like the calm after the storm, the post-battle breakfast that used to be such a tradition in the early days. The peace is nice, and he’s reluctant to break it up just yet with news of another apocalypse. Not surprising that they’re talking about Wolfram & Hart, but a little surprising to hear that they’re talking about him.
"It’s just, I know why we all agreed. Well, I wasn’t really sure, but you all seem convinced. And that lab is just unbelievable and I honestly think I could use it to do good things, not just use it for evil. I mean, not for evil at all, you know, but it is kind of an evil lab just because of where it is. Anyway, there’s the books and stuff, and the clients, who can’t all be evil, right? And the resources and, well, whatever they showed Gunn besides that girl. So, they have lots of useful things, and there’s no reason why we can’t try and help the helpless with them, instead of helping the evil. It’s just…why would Angel have agreed? He really hates them, and he already has all the things he needs. You know, he’s a super powered vampire, and he’s gonna live forever. And, maybe they’ll be able to help Cordy, but probably not, and I don’t know if that would be enough of a reason."
When Fred finally pauses for breath, it’s Wesley that she looks to for an answer, but it's Lorne who finally speaks. Angel waits in the doorway a little longer, curious to hear what he has to say, and hoping it’ll save him from having to give an explanation he doesn’t really have. No use talking about saving a son who doesn’t exist any more, giving a new life to someone they don’t even remember.
"Well, sunshine, I don’t know that there’s any use in looking for logic there. Angel does what he wants when he wants, and no doubt there are reasons that make a whole lot of sense to him. Me, I’m just going to get on with that business we call show, and leave the guilt and angst to our resident brooder. It’s what he does best, after all."
Lorne’s platitudes don’t seem to impress the others much, and the sceptical look on Wes’s face makes Angel wonder just what he thinks, what he actually knows. Could he remember more than he should? Even if he doesn’t, Angel’s not sure just what his relationship with Wesley is any more, whether the tension that came about because of something that no longer happened will still be there. The mechanics of what he’s done suddenly feel like too much to deal with yet, and it’s almost a relief to put them aside and interrupt the peace.
He bangs the door to make it sound like he’s just come in. Sweeps in and straight into action, not giving them time to question him.
"Wes, what do you know about the Turok-Han? Weaknesses, anything?"
"Er, as I remember, an ancient vampire race, much stronger than regular vampires. Thought to be a myth, although I’m guessing from your questions that that might not be the case. Other than that, not a great deal, but I’m sure Wolfram & Hart…"
"No! I don’t want to use them for this. Not yet, anyway. Find me something from somewhere else." Even as he spoke, Angel was rifling through their weapons, assessing what was still there in the wake of the Jasmine situation and trying to decide what else they needed. He’s so absorbed in the task he doesn’t notice Wes coming up behind him until he feels a touch on his shoulder.
"Angel, I’ll do what I can, but I think first you need to tell us what’s exactly is going on."
When Angel turns, the others are there as well, looking at him in shock. It’s Fred who says what they are all thinking.
"Another one? Already? I thought we usually only got one a year?"
"We do. This one’s Sunnydale’s. But it’s bad. They might not be able to deal with it, and we’re the back up."
"You’ve been to Sunnydale? That’s where you went after Wolfram and Hart? So, who’s Connor? Isn’t that who you said you were planning to see?" Wes’s face is open and curious, and Angel is able to let go of the fear he had earlier that Wesley actually remembers something he shouldn’t.
"Connor is…he’s nobody. That’s not important." Speaking those words causes a pang of almost physical pain. Even seeing Connor with his new family, it hadn’t sunk in, but denying his existence to his friends seems so wrong. Denying it to Wesley, who, more than anyone, was changed by Connor’s presence and the things he did because of it. Lying to people who helped care for his son and dealt with Angel’s insanity when he was gone just feels so final.
To cover his pain, Angel launches into an explanation that he doesn’t really want to bother with.
"Yes, I went to Sunnydale. They’ve got trouble, and if they can’t bring it down, it’s going to become our trouble. It’s The First Evil." There’s a flicker of recognition and almost panic in Wesley’s eyes when he says that, but the others simply look blank. He can leave the explanations to Wes though, who’s much better at them. "And it’s gathered an army of Turok-Han, which, it turns out, are not mythical, but very real and very strong. The first has been wiping out potential Slayers and it’s planning on destroying the entire line, ending with Buffy. There’s going to be a battle, and it’s going to be big, and we’re the second front. Now, are we going to stand around and talk about this all day, or are you going to help me get ready to do what’s supposed to be our job?"
There’s a silence at that. It’s a while since he’s tried to pull rank like this, but he doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want to think, just wants to get ready for a battle that he never wants to fight, because if it gets this far, that means Buffy’s failed, and the only thing that would let her do that would be if she fell.
Obviously, his look and his words are enough to get the message across, and the others leap into action. They know this routine so well now that they don’t even have to talk before they do anything. Fred and Wes head for the books, Gunn joins Angel in pulling everything with a remotely sharp blade out of the cupboard, running them across the pad of his own thumb to assess their sharpness and dropping them into two separate piles behind him. Lorne, unusually silent, gives Angel a long look, and seems about to speak. Even goes as far as opening his mouth and taking a breath before he thinks better of it and goes over to join Fred and Wesley at the counter.
For a while, it feels like old times. The bustle of activity, the rush to be prepared for the undoubted badness ahead. He can’t ignore the absence of Cordelia, but it doesn’t hurt quite as much as he expected it to. The whole feeling is familiar and almost comforting. For the first time in years, he thinks of his childhood, and the way that autumn brought a rush of action, a need to prepare for the shortening of the days and the threat of winter ahead.
As the only son of a respected member of the community he was supposed to lend a hand, get ready for the days when he would take over his father’s land and business. Not a prospect that he ever looked forward to. He was never a fan of hard work or getting his hands dirty, and he fought against it tooth and nail, the source of many violent arguments with his father. There are other, less bitter memories too. He remembers September evenings, not quite cool enough yet to need a jacket. Hours spent pretending to help farmers hurrying to get their harvest done before the weather changed, always checking the sky for signs of the first frost and muttering about cows lying down, or standing up. He can never remember now which it was that mattered. He does remember Kathy ‘helping’ the farmhands to bring the crops in, a game that only ever lasted until she spotted the first windfall apple or a horse chestnut shiny enough to distract her. His own interest in the farm revolved mostly around the times he managed to convince his father to let him practice with the flintlock rifle, although even as he got older he was never trusted to touch it without close supervision.
Even the fascination of that only held until he was old enough to experience the delights of the local inn. After that, anything else just felt like a waste of time that could be spent enjoying himself. Longer nights meant more time for carousing, and all he had to worry about was whether the beer still ran and how friendly the girls were. His death actually changed very little in that respect. Darkness is a blessing to vampires and, with or without a soul, he looks forwards to the extended darkness for the extra freedom it gives him. Today, though, he’s thankful it’s still summer. They need all the daylight they can get, need the time to prepare for whatever might come next.
He realises suddenly that he’s spent the last couple of minutes staring blankly into a cupboard that Gunn has already emptied of weapons. He’s already started sharpening them, leaning on the counter and looking at Angel like he thinks he’s lost the plot. Unlike Lorne, he doesn’t choose to hold his tongue.
"I gotta tell you, man. I’m on board with the fighting, and the saving the world, but the waiting around here for things to get really bad? Not my thing. This First thing’s as bad as I’m guessing it is from the fact that Wes looks even paler than usual, wouldn’t we be better heading over there to help smack it down before things get really dangerous?"
"No. Buffy wants me, us, here, just in case. She’s got things in hand over there and we’re back up. That’s all. We probably…we might not even be needed."
It doesn’t sound convincing even to him. He’s not sure Buffy can beat this and it shows. Like Gunn, he’s itching to be in on the action, can’t stand the thought of sitting around here and waiting for whatever’s going to happen. At the same time, there’s a part of him that just wants to run, to get as far away from the First as he can, as quickly as he can. Doesn’t want to ever have to go through that again, and every time he entertains the thought of Buffy facing it backed up only by her friends and a few untrained teenage girls he’s filled with fear, for her and for himself. Hearing Wesley filling Fred in on what he knows about it, Angel can’t bear to listen.
"I’m going to go upstairs and…I’ll be upstairs. Wes, let me know as soon as you have something on those Turok-Han?"
Wes barely takes his eyes off Fred as he answers. "Of course."
Once Angel gets upstairs, he’s not really sure what to do. All the weapons are downstairs, he isn’t hungry and there doesn’t seem to be any benefit in working out when he may well need his energy for actual battle later on. It occurs to him that he hasn’t slept for days, but he can’t imagine even trying now. Instead, he grabs a book, turns out the light and sinks into his chair with an audible sigh of relief. Cordelia and Doyle used to ridicule him for this, but it offers him comfort in a way that nothing else does. Usually, the book is just a prop, so he can pretend he’s doing something other than brooding, but right now, he really doesn’t want to think, so he actually opens it.
He doesn’t really read novels. Too much work when you end up having to go and wipe out a nest of vampires ten minutes in, and you never remember what happened when you come back to it. Most of his books are poetry, some short stories. Nothing less than twenty years old. Reading has always been an escape for him but today almost every line he reads resonates uncomfortably. The one thing that can usually give him a moment’s peace is just making it harder to repress the thoughts he can’t bear to let himself think yet. Too soon to deal with what he’s done to Connor, for Connor. And he can’t let himself think about Buffy at all at the moment. His anger about what’s happened with Spike battles with the ever-present need to protect her, to know that she’s safe, even though he feels he’s failed in that so many times in the past, even though he’s been a part of what’s threatened her. There’s too much history there to think about when he knows what she’s facing today. If she gets through this, there’ll be time enough later for recriminations and the painful conversations they’ve gotten so good at.
With thoughts like that plaguing him, the silence and darkness aren’t a retreat but a torment and Angel has to move, needs to be doing something. Dropping his book he heads back downstairs, looking for a distraction, something to keep him busy until he knows what comes next.
Even as he joins Gunn, sharpening blades and pretending to listen to Wesley’s lectures on the First, the Turok-Han and evil in general, the words he’s read are playing on his mind.
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
Reading words like that, how can he help but recall and question the decisions he’s made, the things he’s done. Changing things that have already happened, not once, but twice. Maybe it was the right thing to do, but he can’t honestly say that either choice has made him happier. And maybe he doesn’t deserve to be happy, can’t afford to be, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. He can’t help but try. Perhaps it’s been the wrong thing to do, but he doesn’t know anymore. In the last few hours, he feels like he’s lost the thing that’s always kept him going, the knowledge that he’s doing what’s right.
He’s struck by the apparent futility of what they’re doing, what they always do. Rushing to fight battles that are so much bigger than they are. So much time spent waiting and preparing for the world to end, for the people he loves to die. It’s going to happen, and he’s probably going to be there to see it all. The possibility of Shanshu once seemed like a reward, something to work for, but he can’t let himself think about a light at the end of the tunnel that still seems so far away. Doesn’t want to spend his days waiting for a humanity that might not happen until long after he’s watched his friends age and die. He knows why they do fight, why he still does it, but he’s not always sure that it’s worth it. He can hope, hopes for so many things, but he’s lost the certainty, the sense of righteousness that used to make the fight so easy.
I am no prophet – and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker
He knows that now is not the best time to let his doubts take over and he’d do anything not to be thinking about any of that now but there’s not very much left to do in their preparations for the apocalypse that may or may not hit them later today. All the weapons are primed and ready, even though they have no idea what use they’ll be against a non-corporeal evil; Wesley has imparted all the knowledge he has managed to dig up on the no-longer mythical Turok-Han. Now all they can do is wait. And while Angel waits, he thinks. Cordelia always used to be able to distract him, and the others try, but they’re so much less forceful than her. They let him stay on the edge of the group, there but not there.
The television in the lobby is tuned to the news, and plays quietly in the background as they talk, never touching upon the reason they’re there. Angel’s fears have affected the rest of them, and the tension is a tangible presence in the room, obvious in Fred’s edgier than usual babble and Lorne’s continuing silence. The wait seems interminable and the attempts to maintain conversation gradually fade to nothing. Even Fred is quiet, chewing on a fingernail and flicking through the notes she made during Wesley’s earlier lecture. Gunn paces, intermittently swinging an axe experimentally and never staying still for more than a few seconds. Wesley continues to page through books he’s already read, occasionally repeating facts they’ve heard a hundred times now. Angel waits, propped against a wall and barely even blinking, attention torn between the news station and the telephone. He feels like he’s been standing in the same position for hours when the television finally delivers what he’s been waiting for.
"…hit by an earthquake that experts had seen no early signs of. Fortunately, power failures meant that most residents had left the area earlier this week. It’s not clear if there were any people left in the town when the earthquake happened and rescue workers are at the scene now, although they say it’s unlikely that anyone would have survived the impact, which has wiped out the entire town…"
The newsreader continues to talk, but Angel doesn’t hear any more. He’s vaguely aware of Fred talking in the background, the others gathered around her, but the feelings rushing through him drown out her words, drown out everything but the fears he’s been repressing ever since she sent him away. Is this it? Is Buffy really gone? Buried in the Hellmouth that’s been threatening to swallow her for the last seven years? Suddenly, his thoughts are clearer than they have been since he left Wolfram and Hart what seems like days ago. He knows that the rest of it doesn’t matter if she’s alive, even though that seems like a remote possibility, looking at the crater that used to be her hometown. He needs to be wrong, though. He can’t grieve for her again. With everything else he’s lost recently, it’s just too much. She could choose Spike, never see Angel again. He’d be okay with that if that’s what it took just to know that whatever she was doing, at least she’d survived.
He’s so consumed by his distress that he doesn’t notice the sudden rush of activity around him until Fred says his name. When he looks up, she’s holding the phone out to him. He can’t read the look on her face, and he doesn’t have the courage to ask, so he just takes the receiver from her, expecting Willow, Dawn, maybe even Xander, and not daring to hope for anything else.
"Angel? It’s Buffy. How do you feel about putting your hotel to its more traditional use?"
The relief is overwhelming and it’s a few moments before he can answer her. Even as he fumbles his way through an invitation, he knows that whatever promises he offered up in return for her life, they were a lie. He’ll never stop wanting more, and even though she might never be able to offer it to him, it’s not something that he wants to change.
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