Disclaimer: Not mine, never have been mine, never will be mine.
Timeline/Spoilers: Immediately after "Sleep Tight" and "Hell's Bells."
Content: Some B/A, with mentions of B/R and B/S
Summary: An unexpected visitor brings another example of love gone wrong.
Author's notes: I know this isn't the best Buffy's voice out there, but this is actually the first time I have tried to write something entirely from her point of view. And there may be some continuity errors, as I have not watched a bunch of Buffy episodes this season. So bear with me.
Dedicated: To everybody on NutMeg's and my new list, trying to prove that canon isn't necessarily a bad thing. :)
It was quite late by the time the knock came on the door. Lost in thought, I hadn't been that aware of how long we'd been sitting there. Dawn had already gone to sleep some time before. Willow was still with me on the couch, and from the expression on her face her thoughts were just as heavy as mine were.
I was thinking about love, and about loss. Love and heartbreak. Love and disappointment.
I'm not such a big fan of love anymore.
You know that cliché, "all you need is love?" I used to think that. Back when I fell in love with Angel, and it didn't matter that he was a vampire, I believed that.
I miss that innocence.
But to love is to lose, and I lost Angel far more times than I got him. And the line between love and pain began to blur.
Next, there was Riley. His name doesn't mean heartache to me, but it doesn't quite mean love either. Safety perhaps. Which isn't to say I didn't care for him a great deal. And I think he may even have loved me. Those possibilities are gone now, though, as surely as if he hadn't.
And my mom. My mom, and the absolute love of parent and child. Like everything else, loss. Death and pain.
Spike. Spike says he loves me, and I believe he does as much as he can love anything. But I don't love him back, so there's the pain again.
But I still had some belief in love, even if it wasn't for me. Xander and Anya...they were supposed to be the great shining examples of that love. Love without pain and without supernatural obstacles. Happily-ever-after kind of love.
Love that was broken, not by anything of the Hellmouth, but by the most human. Doubt.
These thoughts had gone over and over in my head all evening. Maybe one hundred times by that point, and no closer to any sort of conclusion.
And then came the knock on the door.
It was soft, but still Willow and I jumped. Willow's eyes went wide.
"Should I...?" she'd started to offer, and I'd waved her off, heading for the door. At that hour, I had plenty of guesses as to who it could have been. Some of them were dreaded; some of them were welcomed.
All of them were wrong.
He stood there as if my evening's thoughts had summoned him, pale and serious against a dark backdrop. Old love wrapped up in one solemn figure.
There was something in his eyes I had never seen before. There was an emptiness that I was familiar with - in myself, not in him. Like Heaven ripped away. His words, when he spoke, were without gentle greetings or shades of softness. Purpose alone.
"I need to see Giles' books."
The books. The books that had been left behind for us to research demons and various threats that came our way. The look in Angel's eyes told me to ask no questions. So I didn't. With nothing more than an 'I'm okay' wave to Willow, I grabbed the spare keys to the magic shop and hurried into the night.
No words were spoken the whole way to the magic shop. It was like Angel carried a spell of silence with him. That he was not in a talking mood was obvious. Not that Angel was ever in a talking mood, but this was rather extreme.
Inside the shop, Angel spoke only to tell me what to look for. Information. Time-shifting demons and dimensional portals.
I hate dimensional portals.
I mean, you want to talk about bad associations? There was the portal that had taken Angel into Hell. There was the portal I jumped into to save Dawn's life. To say I have bad experiences with portals is a massive understatement.
But Angel didn't even notice my reaction. I should have known something was wrong then.
I should have known something was wrong the moment he came to the door. It's not like that was an everyday occurrence, even before he left town!
I said nothing. And Angel hit the books with the intensity of a madman.
Only once did I dare ask him about what he was doing here. I asked why he didn't try Wesley's books. I asked why he didn't have Wesley help him. Surely the ex-Watcher would be more helpful in research than I could ever be.
Hey, I never claimed to be research girl.
"Not Wesley," he'd nearly hissed, his eyes flashing with a vehemence bordering on hatred.
I couldn't have been more shocked.
Angel - soft-spoken, emotionally repressed Angel - showing hatred. And not just hatred, but hatred of someone who'd been a friend when last we spoke? I didn't want to know what had happened between them.
Aside from that, this meeting between us, for the first time ever, was oddly emotionless. It was coldly business-like, me grabbing books and Angel reading them. It felt...wrong, and yet, after a roller-coaster emotion day, I couldn't have dealt with an emotional Angel encounter. So I dealt with an unemotional one. No love; no pain.
And so the research continued. Angel practically devoured any book put in front of him. His energy never waned. When the words were blurring in front of my eyes, Angel was going as strong as he had been in the beginning.
Nothing could distract Angel from his determined search. His cell phone rang once. He cast it from his pocket and across the table without a second glance.
I should have gone to sleep hours before. The day caught up with me, the long day of excitement and disappointment. It must have been a long day for Angel as well, for though he was a vampire he didn't keep to a vampire's fully nocturnal schedule anymore. Who knew how many hours he'd been awake already? And yet his frenzy never calmed.
He kept right on going until it was late enough he'd be racing the sunrise home. Until I had no more books to hand him.
I didn't know it was possible to go through all of these books in one evening.
"Buffy," he'd said insistently, waiting for the next text. It was the first time all evening that he'd said my name.
The near silence we'd worked in was broken.
"If you don't go soon you'll be stuck here for the day," I'd finally gotten up the nerve to point out. Buffy Summers, universal mother.
He still did not look at me. "Then I'll be stuck here."
I'd scooted my chair a little closer to his, wondering where this cold determination had come from. "There's nothing else on dimensions, Angel."
When his eyes finally met mine, I could just see him crumble. I don't know how else to describe it. It was like he'd been hanging on tooth and nail to a façade of quiet strength, and once that was gone...he just crumbled. I'd never seen anything like it. Not in him. He just collapsed in on himself.
"I'm supposed to protect him," he'd said, his voice painfully soft. "He's my son. I'm supposed to protect him."
I could hear his breath catch. A sob?
Angel was crying.
I had no idea what he was talking about, I was baffled and confused and a bit hurt for no particular reason, but Angel was crying. And that was all that mattered.
I leaned forward and held Angel around his shoulders. It was awkward in more ways than one, but it would have been more awkward to do nothing while he cried.
He spoke brokenly into my shoulder. And once he started, the words could not be stopped. They took a life of their own, tears and words in equal measure: a torrent of emotion.
He told me of despair and darkness that ended in a miracle and joy. I could feel his paternal love for an infant who should have been impossible. I could see a tiny child with his eyes. He still radiated a fierce protectiveness, even without his son.
And then trust turned to betrayal. Betrayal and the taste of blood. Love, as it is bound to, turned to despair. Loss, as the child's only chance of survival lay in the hands of a fanatical enemy, and that very enemy jumped through a portal into darkness.
Through Angel's eyes, I could see that terrible portal close. I could taste the hopelessness, only hours before.
When his story wound to a close, I did not do any of the hundred things I really wanted to do. I did not rage at him for having a child whose mother wasn't me. I did not share my own horrors in the months since I'd seen him last. I did not make a useless apology for events I had no hand in. I did not declare my love and try to kiss his pain away.
I just handed him back his discarded cell phone.
"You should call them," I'd said.
He'd looked at me blankly, his tears mere shadowed traces.
"I'm sure they loved...Connor," my tongue tripped slightly on the name, "as much as you did."
He'd looked at me sharply at that. "I do," he'd said, that old fire returning. Shock, this time, instead of hate. "There's no past tense to love, Buffy."
He left a short time later, a step ahead of the dawn, the final nail in the coffin of love's good name.
Man and woman. Slayer and vampire. Mother and daughter. Father and son. It doesn't matter. All love and loss. Pain and heartbreak.
I hope that he gets his son back, but I don't think he will. At least, not in any good way.
Three months of joy for a lifetime of loss.
I wonder what he'll do when he gets home to see an empty crib and untouched toys where his son should be. Or how his friends will react to the news. I wonder if Wesley has any hope of being a friend again.
I wonder if Willow and Tara will really get back together.
If Spike will find someone else to love.
I wonder how Anya will react to her forever turning abruptly into a never.
I wonder what the Hell is going on in Xander's head, and where he is tonight.
But I don't wonder about love so much. That, I think I'm starting to understand. Angel was right - there is no past tense to love. It's undying. Immortal.
I just don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
The End - enough angst for you?
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