ON ANCIENT WINGS
DISCLAIMER: Okay, obviously anything you recognize, I don't own. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and all related characters, etc. don’t belong to me.
DISTRIBUTION: If you have any of my stories, fine. Otherwise, just ask, please. All of my stories can be found at http://www.ficgoddess.com/fanfic/cynamin
CONTENT: B/A, angst
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Okay, I’m trying for something very different here. You’ll definitely have to tell me how it has turned out (especially considering the relative lack of dialogue as dictated by the plot). The setting is the very distant future – like I don’t know when now is compared to then future. Centuries from now, definitely. If anyone is wondering why it’s not very sci-fi-ish, remember that this story takes place in the bottom rungs of society. This idea came from compiling Buffy vampire information and remembering that the oldest vampires we’ve seen (The Master, Kakistos) no longer looked entirely human.
SPOILERS: Anything and everything is fair game, but nothing specific. As I’m writing this, I have not yet seen the season 5/2 finales.
FEEDBACK: As my elementary school P.E. teacher said, “Questions, comments, criticisms or snide remarks?”
In the depths of the shadows, in the tiny spaces between the buildings where only the lowest of humans walked, a battle had raged only moments before. It wasn’t a major battle; it was not the first such of the night nor would it be the last. Its like had been seen many times before, in nights stretching before the memory of all living things and most of the undead’s. No great victory was accomplished. Just a couple more demons that preyed on those living on the permanent twilight streets would not be around to take another life.
This battle was over, though, and as he took a bare moment’s rest Angel took little notice of the fine sheen of vampire dust that coated him. He did not wipe it off of his misshapen brow, nor did he feel any sense of victory as he automatically cleaned his weapons of demon remains. He paused for just a moment, sitting in the shadows, uncertain as to what he was doing and where he was going next. Uncertain on a level even as to who and what he was.
Old. Nothing should be this old.
Angel paused for a second in wiping his axe’s blade. He shivered, though he didn’t feel cold. Never had, not since…. Never. This was something else. There was something in the air. Something that was almost familiar if he could just truly pause long enough to figure out what it was. One thing was certain: change was coming.
Whether the change was good or bad, he didn’t know. Change was more often bad than good anyway. Change was to be avoided. He turned his attention away from the feeling and back to his task. With a hand more closely resembling a claw, he wiped at the blade again until it was clean. He paused again, looking at that hand as if seeing it for the first time, even though it had been that way…for a long time.
No, change wasn’t good at all.
He bunched the rag up in his fist for a moment. When Angel frowned, he could feel the sharpness of his fangs against his inner lip. They never went away, now. That had been one of the first changes.
He threw the rag away violently as he stood. The axe back under his cloak, he moved on, keeping to the shadows like the things he killed. He couldn’t go elsewhere anymore. The time for that was over. He’d seen enough fear reflected in the eyes of others to know that. He didn’t need to see himself in a mirror to know. The monster inside left its mark.
Keeping to the shadows, he sought the demons once again. He couldn’t fight his own demon, but he could fight others. It didn’t matter anymore that he usually didn’t remember why he fought. It’s what he did. All that was left to do.
A sharp gnaw of hunger distracted him, further reminding him of just what he was, should he ever truly forget. He needed to feed. He needed to stop fighting for the night and get blood to fight back the hunger once again. For a little while.
There wasn’t redemption anymore for one such as him.
Of all the mysteries in her life, this one was the biggest.
How the hell did she get here? And where was this anyway?
In time she came to realize that it wasn’t ‘where’ that was the question. It was ‘when.’ Because either she’d stepped into a whole other world when she woke up that one morning, or this was still her home in the far, far future. She honestly still wasn’t sure which it was. All her attempts at finding out had been useless – she couldn’t even figure out how to compare the calendar. Maybe, in the levels above – the towering heights of the city, connected by bridges, places the sun still touched – there was someone who could tell her. But she’d woken up in the alley, in the places in between – the bottom – and no one up there would open their doors to a bottom dweller. She’d learned that the hard way.
Safe to say she didn’t have any further clue as to how she got there, either. She just knew that was where or when she was, and there was no going back that she could find. She had to make the most of it.
So that’s what she did. She was still the Slayer, no matter what time or place this was. She slayed.
In her own time and place, she was Buffy Anne Summers. Here, she was just Slayer. And there were plenty of demons to kill.
She made her way from one region of the city to the next, rarely staying in one place too long, rarely resting from her fighting. Her attire had changed. She no longer even knew what the fashions were, so how was she supposed to stay up to date? Instead, she wore all black – simple jumpsuit and jacket. It was functional, and it kept her hidden when she wanted to be. The demons even came out in the daytime, here. There were nearly always enough shadows to keep them safe and unnoticed. So Buffy used that to her advantage, too. They hid in the shadows; she hunted them on their own ground.
With her change in attire had gone Buffy’s choice of weapon. It was too hard to get actual wood, and she often lost stakes as a vampire turned to dust. So, no wooden stakes. She wore a sword strapped to her back. A bit medieval even for her home time, it was oddly not looked at twice here. No one dared look twice at anything in the lower levels.
She made her way across the endless city, occasionally trading in favors from the ones she saved for a bit of money, food, or a place to stay. She never stressed their hospitality too long, though. She felt better on the move.
Tonight, Buffy was looking to settle down for a bit again. She was tired; she needed food and a place to rest. Sometimes she could find a place that would pay her for a short while, somewhere that wanted protection for (or from) its customers. Easy work, short term. That’s what she wanted.
Knowing the impossibility of keeping a low profile as a small woman with a big sword, Buffy made no effort to keep her appearance quiet. She followed a boisterous group into what seemed to be an active, lively – if more than a bit seedy – bar. “The Underground” the sign over the door read. She strode in confidently, allowing her very walk to show she knew what she was doing with a sword, and sat herself down at the bar stool.
“Hey!” she cried, getting the bar tender’s attention.
He looked at her a bit patronizingly. “You old enough to drink?” he asked sharply.
Buffy glared at him. “You gonna tell me otherwise?”
The man held up his hands in surrender. “You’re feisty, kid. What’ll it be?” He was a short, round man – reminded her a bit of a fat version of Willy. Buffy winced at her own sense of nostalgia. She was really homesick if she was missing Willy!
Buffy did not let her glare diminish. “It’s Slayer, not kid,” she snapped back. “And information.”
“I’ve heard of you,” the bar tender said, grudgingly impressed. “Thought you’d be bigger, keeping all those demons on the run.”
“Everyone always says that,” she retorted.
“Still,” he added, only a touch regretfully, “no information unless you order something.”
“Fine,” Buffy gave in. She slid some money across the bar. “Whatever you’ve got.”
He gave her a glass of clear liquid that Buffy made no move to drink. “It’s good,” the bar tender promised.
“I’m sure, but I told you I’m not here for drinks.”
The bar tender took a second to collect money from another patron before looking back at her. “What do you want, Slayer?”
“I’m looking for a place to settle in for a while,” Buffy explained, loud enough for others in the bar to hear as well. “Thought this might be the sort of place where someone might know someone who could lend me a room in exchange for protection.”
To her surprise, the bar tender shook his head. She’d never had someone dismiss her so easily before, especially not someone who knew her reputation. No one else at the bar seemed to be showing any interest, either, and it wasn’t because they weren’t listening in. “What?” Buffy asked, and winced inwardly as her tone emerged more defensively than she would like. “You think I don’t have the muscle?”
“Hey, I’m not doubting your capabilities, kid,” the man said in return. “Already got protection here, though. And before you ask – yeah, from demons and all that.”
Buffy did not let her surprise show. After all, there should be a Slayer in this time and place. Slayers weren’t the only ones that fought demons, anyway. She just gave the bar tender a contemplative look. “What if I wanted to meet your protection?” she asked.
The man scowled still further. “Then I’d say that’s not a good idea,” he retorted oddly.
Buffy was about to make a sharp comeback when something froze her. Something was suddenly different in the air. She felt it in the pit of her stomach and crawling up her spine. Familiar. Her breath caught.
She had to be imagining it. Not here…not now….
The bar tender’s eyes flicked past her abruptly, into the darkness of the bar. “Excuse me,” he said softly. He reached under the bar, grabbing a small cold box – modern variant of the cooler, but more like a portable, cheep fridge. He hurried out from behind the bar without another word.
Buffy watched him go. She watched him hurry to the darkest area of the bar and open the door to a back room. Buffy saw nothing of whom he spoke to, but when he returned to the bar moments later the box was gone.
And Buffy knew.
“He your protection?” she asked abruptly when the man returned to his duties behind the bar.
The man froze. “You saw him?” he said in a hushed voice. “No one ever sees him. He doesn’t let anyone.”
Buffy shook her head. “I didn’t see him.” But if I’m right, I know him. “Vampire?”
The bar tender looked very nervous. “Listen, I don’t ask questions,” he said. “Never spoke to him. Don’t even know his name. He comes here every few weeks, I give him…the box. In return he keeps violent demons off the doorstep. Been that way since before the current owner bought the place.” He pulled himself a bit straighter, his voice stronger. “It’s a good thing, too. A lot of the people here owe their lives to him and don’t even know it.”
Buffy pulled out a bit more money in thanks and left it on the counter as she stood. “I don’t doubt it,” she replied, slinging her single bag back over her shoulder.
“Hey!” the bar tender said abruptly, noticing her leaving.
Buffy turned to look at him.
“Don’t you go slaying him,” he said angrily.
Buffy looked at him innocently. “And why shouldn’t I?”
“Honestly, I don’t think you can,” the man replied.
“Oh really? Think that poorly of me?”
“Think that highly of him,” he retorted. “He’s a good man, Slayer, even if he’s not human. I won’t be responsible for his death.”
“And neither will I,” Buffy replied honestly. With those parting words she left the bar, in search of an old dream.
‘He’s a good man, Slayer. That better be you, Angel, ‘cause insanity’s not something I need in my life.’
If the lower levels of the city were consistently dark, behind The Underground was darker still. Buffy could barely see a few feet in front of her, and she’d always thought she had pretty good night vision. Still, she knew she was going the right way. She could feel that feeling once again, could feel him. Every second that passed with that old tingling further convinced her that she was right.
Angel. How long had it been since she’d seen him? In her mind it was nearly a year now, and even that had only been a relatively brief meeting after her mother’s funeral. A brief comfort. But how long had it really been? How long?
The shadows moved around her, undefined shapes slumped against the foundations of buildings. Refuse and debris. It was hard to make anything out. Abruptly, one of the shapes moved separately, and she followed. She was certain now. Somehow, she was certain.
The shape froze. After a second of seeming indecision it straightened up to its full height and turned towards her. She could barely make him out in the darkness. He was like a creature made of shadow, completely dark, and he radiated strength and age like no other vampire she’d ever been around. If she had not been so certain as to his identity, she would have been frightened.
“Angel,” she said again, gentler. Something was wrong and she hadn’t the faintest clue what it was.
Even with her eyes adjusted to the near total darkness she couldn’t make out any details, but she could see him cock his head to the side ever so slightly, regarding her. She felt her breath quicken and smiled as calmly as she could. He took a hesitant step forward. A tiny bit of light from something passing over head illuminated him for a moment.
It was Angel; Buffy knew that now, but changed. So changed.
In her life in Sunnydale, Buffy had encountered all of two vampires that she would consider ancients. Both were so old they could never again pretend at being human. The Master had been bald and had worn an extreme version of the demon’s countenance forever upon his features. Kakistos had hands and feet that had become cloven…well, before Buffy and Faith had killed him, of course.
Angel looked like neither of them, but his age was stamped upon his features nonetheless. Ancient. His hair was longer than she remembered and slightly unkempt, but that wasn’t what startled her so. His eyes were golden instead of the old familiar brown. His face was almost like a vampire’s game face, but not quite. Harsher, if that was possible. The hand that held the cold box to his chest was twisted into something resembling a claw.
Yet past that, in the moment where she could see the expression behind the changes in Angel’s features, there he was. Angel. Yet not Angel. Lost.
Dear God, how long had it been?
Then the moment was broken, the glimmer of recognition faded, and wordlessly he turned away. Moving off into the darkness.
Buffy had no choice but to follow.
She needed him, the one last familiar thing in the world. Some part of her told her that right now, he needed her, too, even if he didn’t know it.
He needed her, before he was lost for good.
Her smell filled the confined space between the buildings, seeming to overwhelm even the ever-present stench of refuse. Her heartbeat was like thunder in his ears. Hell, he could even feel her along his skin. So familiar. So her.
He frowned to himself. He knew nothing was ever meant to be as old as he was, and this just proved it.
The centuries had finally destroyed his sanity. That was the only explanation.
It was a pleasant vision, but a vision nonetheless. If he acknowledged it, it would disappear. Or maybe it wouldn’t; maybe it would change, and become something out of Angel’s nightmares instead of his dreams. So, no comfort to be had here. No relief. Just the sad reminder of times long past, things long lost, and a curse that was the bane of his existence in all its forms.
Just a hallucination.
That, of course, did not explain why her scent and her heartbeat followed him all the way home.
Despite trying her hardest to stay calm, Buffy’s thoughts were racing. Just when she thought she had her new existence figured out, just when she was making her place in the world, this had to happen.
Sure, no matter how much time had passed, there was always the possibility that he could be alive. Undead. Whatever. But once it became clear to her just how much time had passed, how different this world was from the one where she had grown up…she hadn’t even entertained the possibility. One night in this world, over two months ago, Buffy had come to a final realization: she had no way home. Her friends would have to get her if they could, but that hadn’t happened yet. She realized she had to stop hoping for a way home and start living a life here. On that night she had mourned everyone she once knew. That had included Angel.
But he wasn’t dead. Out of everyone, he was the one still walking the earth. Even if she’d imagined he was alive, though, she would not have imagined him like this. Changed in body and mind, he was an ancient vampire who would no doubt be incredibly powerful – and terrifying – was it not for the existence of his soul. Still fighting, still existing…but that was it. Whatever he’d once hoped for was long gone now. Except for that one brief moment where she thought he’d recognized her, Buffy couldn’t even find a spark of the Angel she once knew.
A small part of her dreaded that any trace of her friend – her love – was gone for good. A small part, one that she squashed ruthlessly as soon as she was aware of the thought.
Her Angel was still there somewhere, and she was going to bring him back. She needed him, after all. She needed something. She needed…she needed home.
So she followed him. She followed him even as her ignored her presence and maneuvered through and in between buildings with feats no human could duplicate. If she ever fell so far behind that she could not see him anymore, she could feel him. As long as she could feel his presence, she could follow it, and if she could follow it she could find him.
She’d lost him again, briefly, just when she thought she had the knack of keeping up with him. He only had one free hand, anyway, so his mobility was restricted slightly. Not that it made much difference, but it helped. Still, for a moment she stood there, in darker shadows still. Confused, she couldn’t put a direction to the sense of him. Unless…
There was still further down in this city? Peering into the shadows, Buffy searched, finding at last something like an old, metal grate set right into the pavement. She lifted it with minimal difficulty and dropped into the total blackness below.
Yes, that was better. He was ahead of her now. Smells were different here, older. Not the modern refuse and futuristic stink, but more familiar – old sewage, perhaps? Eww….
She made her way along by feel. The wall of the tunnel was cold to the touch. Not the sewer at all, she was relived to realize, but some sort of access tunnel. It was lighter up ahead and she could see a square opening where this tunnel ended. Please, let that be the destination – it had been a long, emotionally draining night, and Buffy needed to stop to figure out just what she was going to do next.
The sense of him was strong again. Close once more. Buffy fumbled her way to that lessening of darkness – not light at all, just slightly less of its absence. She wasn’t afraid, not as long as she knew Angel was nearby. Okay, so he was ignoring her presence, but still….
She reached the end of the tunnel and dropped into the open space.
There was a brief jolt as she landed. She rolled, coming back to her feet unharmed and searching for her next step.
Angel was there, just in front of her. For a moment, as she stood there, she could feel his gaze upon her as clearly as if he’d touched her. Was he startled that she’d followed him all the way to his lair? Then the moment slipped away and his gaze went elsewhere, ignoring her once again.
Buffy sighed. Too much to hope for, she supposed.
She crouched down where she was, reaching into her bag. Angel might see fine in this near-total darkness, but human eyes weren’t meant for this. If she was planning to stay – and some part of her had already made that decision – she was going to need to look at where she was living.
After a couple of seconds of rummaging she came out with a portable lamp. In deference to Angel (this was his home, after all) she switched it on its lowest setting. It took a second for her eyes to get adjusted after the total darkness of the tunnel, and when they did….
“Oh my,” she gasped.
This place must have been beautiful once, but it was now forgotten and buried by the city above. An arched ceiling was gracefully undamaged above her, decorated with mosaic tile, colors dulled with dust and time.
“What was this place?” Buffy asked. She might as well have been asking herself instead of her silent companion. One of those fancy train stations, perhaps. Buffy had never seen one herself.
It bore little semblance to whatever it had once been. What space weapons or Angel’s scant furniture – a chair, a bed, and an old (yet sophisticated compared to what Buffy had been used to) fridge – did not take up was covered with…papers. Books, scrolls, loose pages, even sketches were piled on every available surface. There might have been tables and shelves under them, but Buffy wasn’t sure. They were all covered in a thick layer of dust.
The Angel she’d known had never been that careless about his texts.
It looked like nothing in that segment of the room had been touched in ages, anyway. As Buffy watched, Angel stood in front of the fridge and began to take packets of blood out of the cold box and pile them in to stay fresh. The last one in his hands moments later, he closed the fridge, sat heavily in the chair, and neatly punctured it with his fangs. Buffy watched with something like morbid curiosity.
“You never used to feed in front of me before,” she said, if just to break the silence.
He continued to drink as if she wasn’t even there.
“I hope you don’t mind a house guest,” she continued.
He finished the bag and threw it into the discarded box.
“Well, I’ll take silence for consent,” Buffy said lightly. “I warn you, I’m going to be one of those annoying guests. For one, this place is not fit for human habitation as it is. I’m going to put food for me next to your blood, I’m going to organize your bookshelves, shuffle through your belongings…and I’m not going to leave until you speak to me.”
Nothing. His meal done, he stood and proceeded to strip as if he was completely alone. Buffy blushed and turned her head quickly. Seconds later she looked back to find him completely burrowed into the old blankets covering his bed. His eyes were closed and he was frowning slightly.
Buffy sighed. “Goodnight, Angel,” she whispered.
She turned off her light and watched him from the haven of total darkness.
Things fell into a pattern pretty quickly after Buffy moved into Angel’s lair. In the day, Angel slept and Buffy made herself at home. She was true to her word and made her presence very noticeable. Her first day there she went out and bought herself a mattress, a couple of blankets, and some food with what little money she had. The mattress and blankets took up space in a corner; the food found a slot next to the blood in the fridge.
Also, just like she said, she began to go through the piles of stuff Angel had collected over the years. That was a task where it was difficult just to figure out where to start. She couldn’t even read a good chunk of the stuff. Eventually she began to separate things into three basic piles: personal writings and sketches, books, and other stuff she couldn’t make heads or tails of.
She hesitated at first at going through Angel’s personal things. But days went by and he never looked at them or paid any attention to Buffy. She got tired of talking to herself or staring at walls in the daytime. So she began to read what she was organizing. She had to be careful with some of them – so old the paper was incredibly fragile. And her nosiness did stop at one point – she couldn’t bring herself to read his journals. He’d apparently kept them for quite a while, sporadically at times. In the last of his journals his handwriting rapidly deteriorated and then the entries abruptly stopped. Buffy could only guess that was due to the changes in his hands – it couldn’t be easy to write with claws.
Buffy frowned. Had it been as long since he had read the texts in his possession? Had it been as long since he’d spoken to anyone?
Maybe it was no wonder that his mental state was questionable. He’d been a total recluse for possibly centuries.
Other clues came in the form of sketches. There were several pleasant images – people, friends…even a couple of herself, to Buffy’s surprise. Those were vastly outnumbered, however, by more horrific images – demons and victims. Angel himself, but not as Buffy remembered him or how he appeared now. Monstrous distortions she only knew as him by other writing and details on the pages. It was an obsession with self, Buffy was beginning to recognize. Angel had always had an awareness of his self-image. The black-on-black clothing, the massive classic convertible…Angel always had an image, and that image was strong, mysterious, and human.
Buffy could only imagine what he’d gone through when his appearance had begun to change.
So, that was her daytime. There was so much to go through that she’d made very little visible progress. In nighttime, when Angel woke, Buffy stayed with him. She was a step behind him wherever he went. She fought next to him when he fought handfuls of demons and vampires every night.
Whether or not he actively acknowledged her presence, Buffy began to realize that he was aware of her. His behavior shifted ever so slightly, and every little bit served to reassure Buffy. After that first night Angel didn’t again strip in front of her. After about a week Buffy noticed the return of Angel’s old habit of unnecessary breath.
Most noticeable, though, was the shift in Angel’s fighting style. Ever so slightly he accommodated someone else fighting with him. It was almost like old times, if a whole lot quieter.
Two weeks after she had first felt Angel in the depths of The Underground, she followed him as he returned there once again on an errand for blood. The back door was closed, and she watched with some surprise as he produced an old key and slipped it easily into the lock. The door opened silently, and Buffy slipped in behind him.
She watched as Angel slipped through the pitch-black storage room they’d entered to approach the door to the main bar. There was a small window set into the door, and he paused in front of it briefly before slipping into deeper shadow.
Moments later the door opened. The same bar tender who’d been working there last time Buffy was there blinked into the darkness. He held another cold boy in front of him. He did not leave the comfort of the pale light of the doorway, but looked into the darkness for Angel. When his gaze fell upon Buffy he gasped.
Buffy winked at him.
The bar tender was obviously flustered as he passed the cooler to Angel. Angel never emerged completely from the shadows as he took the blood and disappeared through the back door.
Buffy hesitated. If last time were any indicator, he’d head right back to his lair with the food for the next two weeks. Buffy could easily catch up with him again there. It might be nice to have some human company for a little while.
The bar tender was still standing in the doorway. “What are you doing here, Slayer?”
Buffy grinned, stepping towards him. “I don’t know,” she said. “I thought maybe I could get a drink. That is what you serve here, right?”
He looked back and forth for a moment between Buffy and the door Angel had disappeared through. “What are you doing with him?” he asked suspiciously.
“He’s an old friend.”
The bar tender had an odd expression on his face. “I wasn’t aware he had any friends,” he said.
“He used to,” Buffy replied honestly.
The bar tender looked at her seriously for a long moment. “Well,” he said at last, “are you going to have a drink or not?”
Buffy felt a gnaw of unexpected guilt at leaving Angel on his own. Just because he wasn’t the best company right now didn’t mean she should abandon him without a word. Abruptly that feeling was joined by the sharp pull of something else. “I can’t!” she said quickly.
“But I thought…”
“I’m needed,” Buffy said mostly to herself and rushed out the door after Angel.
The familiar sounds of violence met Buffy almost immediately, plus a horrible stench. She paused only long enough for her eyes to readjust to the total darkness behind the bar then took off at a run.
She rounded the corner to see Angel trading blows with three demons. Each was taller than him by about two feet and was two large people wide. Buffy had never seen Angel so dwarfed by essentially ‘normal’ demons. The blood he’d been carrying was carelessly spilled against one wall. For the moment Angel was keeping the demons at arms length, but they were bigger, likely stronger, had wicked looking claws, and outnumbered him.
Damn it, she shouldn’t have left him alone.
Buffy drew her sword from her back and jumped into the fray. She swung her weapon wildly before the nearest demon even knew she was there. The large blade barely scratched its heavily scaled back. The demon turned on her, absolutely furious. It was one less demon for Angel to deal with, but Buffy was not liking this situation.
Keeping the sword in front of her, Buffy focused entirely on evading the demon’s claws. It was like trying to parry ten daggers at once. Even if she could hurt it, she couldn’t take her attention away from those claws long enough to inflict any damage.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Angel go down, then come up moments later with a rusted metal rod. He swung it wildly at one of the demon’s heads, making it rear back dazed. Before it could recover, he drove the pole into its eye.
The demon screamed, staggering back from the vampire. The other two demons looked at it, alarmed. Buffy took the momentary distraction to follow Angel’s lead, lunging in with her sword and aiming for the nearest demon’s eye. She connected, but didn’t get the damaging blow she wanted before the demon returned its full attention on her, screaming and flailing in startled pain.
She barely had time to be surprised before the demon’s claws caught her across the abdomen. After that it was like everything happened in slow motion. Lines of pain erupted as she fell away from the demon, only to be replaced by a spreading numbness. Distractedly she heard a different roar, followed by a scream from the third demon. Then nothing but running feet, followed by silence.
She knew she’d been seriously injured and was likely in shock, but she couldn’t bring herself to move. She could feel the coldness of pavement under her and the spreading warmth of her own blood. At least she didn’t see any demons at the moment. Maybe they’d run away or something.
A face swam into her blurring vision. Buffy had never been so relieved to see golden, vampiric eyes. “Angel,” she gasped.
She just hoped distractedly that wasn’t the last thing she was going to say.
She was just so tired….
Oh, God, he could smell her blood!
Panic was hammering at Angel in waves, but instead of making him freeze it spurred him into action. It suddenly didn’t matter if she was a figment of his imagination or not. If she were, then soon he’d know for sure. If she wasn’t, then he couldn’t lose her. He was surrounded by her heartbeat and her scent twenty-four hours a day. She followed him and fought by his side. He found himself terrified at the prospect of losing that. Losing her.
Cradled against him, she didn’t feel like a hallucination at all. She felt very solid and very real. He could feel her heartbeat against his chest almost as if it was his own. He could smell her blood, too thick in the air – he remembered what that smelled like, and this was real. The panic suppressed any hunger he might have felt at that otherwise.
Angel ran, keeping to the darkest shadows where he could, running faster than a human could possibly match. There was a clinic he’d taken unconscious injured to before. That’s where he was taking Buffy. He couldn’t just leave her, though. He had to know she would be okay. She had to be okay.
For the first time Angel did not slow as he came near the clinic. He didn’t hesitate as he neared people, but held Buffy closer as he barreled through the front doors.
There was a moment’s hesitation just inside the door. A young nurse gaped at his entrance, frozen. Angel came to a stop, uncertain for a second. This wouldn’t do at all. As fear overwhelmed him, he couldn’t even tell how Buffy was doing anymore. She needed help now.
He locked eyes with the nurse, and she took an inadvertent step back. This wouldn’t do at all.
“Help her,” he growled.
There was a strange atmosphere in the clinic, to be sure. Doctor Hasna tried to remain unaffected, but everyone had been jumpy since the vampire had shown up at the door. The girl was resting comfortably now – surgery had been easier than Hasna had expected. Now she was the only one willing to approach the vampire to talk to him about the girl’s injuries.
She didn’t need to ask where the vampire was. Simple observation showed one room that staff was passing just a little faster and a little warily. It was a small lounge, often used by members of the clinic staff to rest when they were too exhausted to make it home. For the moment, it was a place for a very worried elder vampire.
Doctor Hasna had to fight her own hesitancy to approach that door. The clinic treated demons as well as humans on occasion, so while vampires very rarely needed her attention, she was familiar with their existence. She’d never seen a vampire quite like this before, though.
With a deep breath she opened the door to the pitch-dark room. “Hello?” she called hesitantly. She closed the door behind her and turned on the light. The vampire was suddenly starkly obvious – all in black on a background of hospital white. He blinked at her in the sudden brightness. His elbows were on his knees and Hasna had the impression his head had been in his hands only moments before.
She swallowed hard to calm herself. “I’m Doctor Hasna,” she greeted as gently as she could. “I need to speak to you about the young woman you brought in.”
The vampire nodded and sat up straighter.
The doctor hesitated for a second. She didn’t know what to expect of this vampire. There was nothing typical about him or his behavior thus far. Hasna approached him cautiously. “First off,” she said, “could you tell me her name?”
The vampire didn’t seem to understand what she was asking at first. Then he swallowed audibly. “Buffy,” he said. His voice was softer than she expected, like he was uncertain of his own voice. “Buffy Anne Summers.”
Hasna smiled, trying to be as reassuring as possible as she would for any concerned loved one. Not that the same thing usually went for vampires, especially when it came to a mortal. She took nothing for granted, though. “How about your name?” she asked lightly.
“Angel,” the vampire said, only a bit more confidently.
She didn’t let the vampire’s incongruous name faze her. “Alright, Angel. Well, whatever got to Buffy did a pretty bad number on her stomach. It managed to cause some significant muscle damage.”
Angel tensed. “She’s okay?” he asked urgently.
Hasna was startled by the sudden force of feeling in the vampire’s brown eyes. “She’ll be fine. A little scarred.”
His entire body relaxed and the slightest hint of a grin turned up the corners of his mouth. “Can I see her?” he asked.
The doctor had to think about it for a second, remembering the general unease currently prevailing in the clinic. She thought about the injured girl currently resting in a private room, the victim of a demon’s attack, and the fact that she was actually considering letting a vampire into her company. And then there was the fact that this vampire was responsible for the girl’s life, and the concern he obviously felt over her well-being. Hasna didn’t think it was possible to fake that.
She brushed a strand of black hair behind her ear. She smiled. “I’ll take you to her,” she said.
Buffy awoke slowly. Her head felt like it was stuffed full of cotton, but she wasn’t in pain. Good drugs, she thought. Either that or her wounds had killed her, and she wasn’t ready to contemplate the second option.
Her eyes opened on blank whiteness, and for a moment Buffy panicked. She was so used to darkness. This was wrong.
Then things came into focus and Buffy knew her surroundings for what they were: a hospital room. She sighed. It was so quiet, not at all like the hospital back in Sunnydale. She looked around to try and catch the other changes time had wrought.
Her eyes caught something else instead. Leaning against the wall, his head was down in repose. She couldn’t tell if he was awake or not. She hadn’t expected him to be here. Hell, considering his behavior since they met in the street weeks ago, she was lucky he’d acknowledged her presence enough to get her medical care. She assumed he was the one who brought her here….
“Angel,” she found herself whispering despite her consistent lack of response.
This time he surprised her. His head shot up at the sound of her voice and within seconds he was at her bedside. His eyes locked with hers and Buffy found herself smiling despite their surroundings.
For a second Buffy thought she imagined his whisper. He spoke! She grinned even wider. “Hey, stranger,” she said happily. “Long time no see.”
He blinked at her for a second. His eyes were back to the old familiar brown instead of the vampire gold she’d gotten used to in recent weeks. It made her feel unexpectedly comfortable and reassured. It was like Angel was suddenly once again present behind those eyes.
“Buffy,” he said again, clearer this time.
Buffy sensed the unspoken question in that one word. “Yeah,” she said gently, “it’s me.” She raised a hand to touch his face, but he shied away just before she could connect. “Hey,” she said again, whispering this time, “it’s me.”
He sat back, just slightly out of reach. “I’m sorry,” he muttered.
“Don’t be,” Buffy said as gently as she could. It was so nice to hear his voice again, even distorted by his fangs. “Come on, Angel, don’t pull away from me.”
He scooted the room’s only chair closer to the bed. Carefully, afraid she’d scare him away, Buffy placed her hand on his own. She could feel him tense as if to pull away for a second, and then relax. “There,” she said happily. “Isn’t that better?”
He kept his gaze locked on their hands. “How?” he asked simply.
Buffy knew what he was asking. “I don’t know,” she admitted.
He looked flustered, as if trying to reconcile reality with what he thought reality was supposed to be. “You died,” he said after a while.
Buffy didn’t know quite how to respond to that. “Not that I remember,” she faltered. “I just…went to sleep in Sunnydale and woke up here.” She chuckled to herself. “Well, not here…in the city, you know? In this time. Whatever.” She shrugged, and Angel smiled ever so slightly.
He looked at their hands again. “You’ve really been here?” he asked softly.
“Yeah, I’ve been here,” she said. “Last couple of weeks, pretty much 24/7. Though I must say I like this new talkative Angel more than the Angel zombie I was starting to think I was living with.”
Angel would have blushed if he could have. “I’m sorry.”
“You keep saying that,” Buffy pointed out easily. “You don’t need to apologize. Though I wouldn’t mind an explanation for this sudden turn-around.”
Again Angel faltered. “You’re real,” he managed at last.
“That’s all it took?”
He swallowed hard. “I couldn’t…. I needed….”
“Take your time,” Buffy said gently. She looked at him curiously. “How long has it been since you…even spoke with anyone?”
Angel’s brow furrowed in thought. “Long,” he said simply.
Buffy squeezed his hand. “Well then…”
At that moment a woman with long black hair and a doctor’s coat entered the room. “Good morning, Buffy,” she said. “How good to see you awake.”
Buffy watched in surprise as Angel sat back in his chair, fading into the background once again. It was like a switch had been flipped and he was suddenly reverting to his behavior of the last few weeks. He was abruptly and instantly out of reach.
She swallowed, unsure of what to do about this – what she could do, even – and glanced at the doctor. “Hello,” she said, acknowledging the woman briefly. She looked back at Angel once again.
The doctor came the rest of the way into the room, stood next to the bed, and to Buffy’s surprise smiled at the vampire trying to blend into the chair. “Have you been here all night, Angel?” she asked gently.
Angel jumped slightly, startled back from wherever he’d gone. “Yes,” he replied easily.
The doctor turned her smile back on Buffy. “I’m Doctor Hasna,” she introduced herself. “That demon really did a number on you.”
Buffy’s hand went to her bandaged stomach. “I guess so,” she said. “They were tougher demons than we usually expect to encounter.”
Doctor Hasna looked shocked. “You were expecting demons? Why?”
“Someone has to fight them,” Buffy replied.
“Both of you?”
Buffy nodded and smiled at the doctor’s obvious shock.
“You didn’t tell me that,” the doctor directed at Angel.
“You didn’t ask,” he replied.
The doctor seemed to be having serious thoughts, but she shook them off and smiled at Buffy once again. “Well, you’re going to be fine. I’d like to keep you here one more day. Once I release you, take it easy on the demon hunting for a while, yes?”
Buffy frowned. What else was she supposed to do?
“Angel?” the doctor tried.
He looked at her questioningly.
“I don’t want her fighting demons with or without you for at least a week,” Doctor Hasna insisted.
Angel nodded. “She won’t.”
“All right. At the end of that week, you need to come back so I can do a final check on you, okay?”
Buffy nodded reluctantly. “Okay.”
The doctor smiled. “I’ll see both of you later,” she said calmly, and left the room again.
Buffy sighed and sank back into her bed. “I’ve told you how much I hate hospitals, right?”
“No,” Angel replied.
“Well, I do,” Buffy complained. “Something’s going on. I can’t wait to get out of here.”
It almost felt strange returning to the old train station after two days at Buffy’s bedside. Angel was still in a bit of shock after everything that had happened. He was overwhelmed by the sudden change in everything around him.
No, that wasn’t right. Everything around him had been like this all along. He just couldn’t hide from it as before. Buffy’s very presence effected him just like it had the first time he’d seen her – drawing him suddenly and irrevocably from the shadows, literal and metaphorical. Once again she surrounded him with the essence of the humanity he lacked. He was drawn back into public identity by her just as he might be drawn to sunlight – beautiful, longed for, but deadly.
It terrified him.
He wasn’t human. He hadn’t even appeared human in a long time. Even more terrifying, though, he didn’t know if he knew how to be human anymore. How to pretend. He couldn’t remember what it felt like to live, to interact, to just be. It had been so long, perhaps too long for him to ever return.
But Buffy…she was different. Beautiful and vibrant, even when gravely injured, she carried on with the strength and heart he remembered from that too brief time ages ago. She was the antithesis of change.
Change; unchanged. Darkness and light. Monster and human. Death and life.
Yeah, Angel was confused.
Buffy seemed to continue on regardless. Well, no, not regardless. She was very aware of him at all times, smiling and speaking to him even when he was too befuddled to answer. Which felt odd in and of itself – she never hesitated, there were no uncomfortable silences, just the warm glow of acceptance and companionship. Unintentionally, they were both grasping on to old shreds of familiarity from before the world went dark.
“So,” Buffy had asked soon after they returned from the hospital together, “what kind of demons were those?”
Angel just shrugged.
Buffy looked at him with raised eyebrows. “If you don’t know what they are, how do you plan to kill them?”
“I….” Angel couldn’t think of what to say. He didn’t plan to kill demons anymore. He just did. He no longer had a seer to direct him to people in trouble, no drawn out hunts. He killed what he happened to find as he wandered and that was that.
“What?” Buffy asked with a chuckle. “You just cut off their heads and figure they’ll die?”
“It works,” Angel muttered.
“Sure, if the things have necks,” Buffy retorted.
Angel couldn’t help but smile ever so slightly.
“Well then,” she said, moving slowly across the room. She cleaned off his second chair, long covered by books, and carefully lowered herself onto it due to her injuries and its rickety nature. “I’m not usually research girl,” she declared. “You tell me where to look.”
Buffy just looked at him patiently. “There are three angry demons out there,” she said. “If you think they’re going to stand by with us half blinding them….”
“Strasman’s Compendium,” Angel interrupted her.
Buffy grinned broadly. “There, that wasn’t so hard.” Her smile slipped and she gestured to the pile of books. “Uh…which one?”
So research mode commenced, and Angel found himself looking back with nostalgia on other times. The early times pouring over prophecies with Giles, and the years of Angel Investigations with Wesley…this was a sort of camaraderie he used to be familiar with, where talking was unnecessary and he could bury himself in someone else’s written words. As long as it had been since he opened one of these books, it had been even longer before that since he’d had someone else to look at them with him.
It turned out to be both good and bad this time to have someone with him. On the one hand there was that silent companionship. The more time went on, the less Angel could imagine being alone again. He knew he would be eventually – simple fact – but if he could put that off forever he would. On the other hand, Angel had been alone for so long. He’d become intensely private, for one. Breaking that habit and adjusting his existence to accommodate for someone else’s presence did not come easily. And this was Buffy, which raised other issues. Like things he had kept from her for so long he’d forgotten she’d never known….
Angel was reading yet another obscure demon reference when one of those later issues practically smacked him in the face. He had the large tome open on his lap and was scanning the text with one nail running across the page. It looked like this might hold the information they were looking for, but the archaic German was difficult to puzzle out even without the faded ink. Buffy sat across from him, still sorting through the massive piles of books.
“What’s this?” she asked abruptly.
Angel finished the sentence he was reading and glanced up, expecting to see another old book with a battered cover. Instead there was an old notebook in her hand, rebound several times, with pages torn and slipping from their rings. If Angel could have, he would have paled.
He’s forgotten he still had that.
“Uh…it is…was Wesley’s,” he managed.
“Oh,” Buffy said softly as she began to very carefully open it.
“Buffy!” he said quickly.
She looked at him again, startled no doubt by the abruptness of his tone.
“It’s not…it has nothing to do with….” he struggled.
“What is it?”
Angel swallowed the lump in his throat. “Prophecy. Translations.”
Buffy looked at him oddly. “You’re sure there’s nothing…?”
“No!” Angel snapped, standing.
Buffy jerked back in surprise.
“There’s nothing,” he said more gently. Nothing but empty promises and battled still to be fought. It was the iron grip of the Powers That Be, keeping him alive for some supposed battle that never came. So God damn important…. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, gesturing at the book he’d been reading. “I know what I need to know.”
He turned away from her, grabbing the broadsword standing against the wall.
“I’m coming with you,” she said from behind him.
“No,” Angel said, not even looking at her. “You’re not.”
He left at a speed he knew she could not follow.
For a while after his abrupt departure, Buffy simply gaped at where Angel had gone. What had she done to deserve such a reaction? She couldn’t even begin to figure out what he was feeling at the moment. Was he angry with her? Or was there something else going on entirely?
Well, some wry part of her noted, at least she got a reaction out of him. Less than a week ago she wouldn’t have gotten that much.
So Buffy frowned, and she worried, and eventually she read. She read about a vampire with a soul, written about ages before his own birth. She read about battles, fiends, and plagues he was meant to face, and she read about his reward. Multiple translation and reinterpretations, but it all led to one conclusion.
Some day, Angel would be human.
There was no hint of when or how, but there it was. Angel would one day be a vampire no longer, but rather a living, breathing member of the human race. Buffy read the notes over more than once, her thoughts a turmoil of possibilities. She couldn’t find the answer to one question, though.
Why had her finding this upset Angel so much?
She was jolted out of her thoughts suddenly. Just as abruptly as he’d left, Angel returned. Buffy was startled and shocked by his appearance. Only his sword was free of gore – cleaned before he left the battle site as always. His shirt was practically shred to ribbons, and the red blood mixing with blue demon ooze testified to the wounds beneath.
“Angel!” Buffy could not help but cry, springing from her chair, heedless of her half healed injuries.
He looked at her, saying nothing. Buffy could see him wincing with every step he took. Sitting heavily in his chair, Buffy could see lines of pain on his face.
She rushed to action, grabbing the first aid supplies and going quickly to his side.
“Don’t,” he said oddly, flinching away from her first attempt to check his wounds.
He couldn’t exactly go far, and Buffy would not be dissuaded. “Stop it,” she said sternly. “Take off your shirt so that I can look at your wounds.”
Angel looked at her stubbornly. “You need those,” he insisted, gesturing at the bandages and antiseptic wash she carried.
“I’m almost healed,” she retorted. “Slayer, remember?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Take off your shirt.”
After one more stubborn look that Buffy easily matched, Angel complied. Once the wounds were laid bare, Buffy sat next to him on the chair’s armrest and began to carefully wipe blood and gore away. Angel trembled under the first couple of touched and Buffy couldn’t help but be reminded of an animal yearning to escape. He relaxed only after a couple of minutes and let Buffy bandage his wounds. He was silent.
“So,” Buffy said after a long while, taping one bandage on his back into place, “did clobbering some demons make you feel better?”
“No,” Angel replied simply.
Buffy knew what that felt like. “Did you get them?”
Buffy nodded and they fell into silence once again. It was awkward this time, and to her surprise it was Angel who broke it.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked in a voice barely above a whisper. He sounded absolutely miserable.
“Because I don’t like seeing you in pain,” Buffy replied honestly.
“I would have healed,” Angel began to reply.
Buffy finished securing the last bandage – low across the ribs – and then moved so that she could face him. She crouched in front of his chair, her hands resting lightly on his knees. “I didn’t mean just this,” she said very gently. “I think you’ve been in pain longer than the oldest person alive ever lived. I could feel it from the moment I found you again. I want to make it go away, or at least lessen it.”
Angel looked away from her without comment.
“I read the prophecy while you were gone,” Buffy continued. “I read about how some day you’re supposed to become human. What in that – in me finding it, whatever – upset you so much?”
Angel faced her abruptly with a snarl, his eyes flashing yellow with emotion before returning to brown. “How can you ask me that?” he hissed around his fangs.
“I asked because I was worried about you!” Buffy explained. “When you ran out of here like that I was afraid you wouldn’t be back!”
“And that would bother you?”
“Yes, it would bother me!” she said, aghast that he would think otherwise. “You’re my friend, Angel. You’re the only one left.”
“So better the monster you know than the humans you don’t,” Angel muttered sarcastically.
He obviously did not mean for her to hear that. “You’re not a monster,” she said vehemently.
“Then what am I?” Angel retorted. “I’m sure as hell not human!”
“But you could be!” Buffy cried, remembering the prophecy.
Angel nearly glared at her. “With this face?” he growled. “With these hands? There’s no place for me among humans anymore.”
The finality in his voice infuriated her. “Fine!” she declared, standing up. “You think you’re a monster, do you? Well then, I guess you are what you think you are! I mean, look at Faith. She killed a man and thought she was evil, so guess what? She became evil!”
Buffy kept right on going. “So go ahead and be a monster,” she said. “I mean, you think you are one and that you look like one. How far from there to being one? I mean, all you have to do is start killing people again and you’d definitely fit the part!”
Buffy crouched at his feet again, calmly meeting his pained gaze. “But you know what I see instead?” she asked gently. “I see a friend in pain. I see someone who has tried to suppress parts of himself for so long that it hurts just to be. You are one of the most human beings I have ever met.
“No monster would have rescued me from those demons,” she went on. “No monster would care like you do. They wouldn’t go on fighting, even when it seems senseless and the possibility of reward seems gone. You’re not a monster. When I asked about you that first night at The Underground, the bar tender made a point of telling me you’re a good man. I see that. He sees that and he doesn’t even know you. Why can’t you see the same thing?”
Angel was silent.
Buffy took a deep breath and ran a gentle hand across his brow. He closed his eyes at her touch. “You may not look human here,” she said, “but you’ll always be human here.” She placed her hand over his heart with that last phrase, then stood again and withdrew from him slightly. She swallowed. “You lost a lot of blood,” she said, changing the subject. “You should eat something.”
Angel blinked at her oddly and hesitated.
“There isn’t any. The blood….”
Memory image: cold box of blood spilled in the midst of battle. “You haven’t fed in four days?!”
Angel shrugged. “I don’t need much.”
Buffy shot him a ‘don’t be ridiculous’ look. “Clean up, get a new shirt on, and let’s go.”
Buffy smiled reassuringly. “To ask your supplier for an advance,” she explained. She had more plans than that, though. Angel was finally talking to her. He needed convincing as to his own potential for humanity? Then it was about time he started talking with some other members of the human race.
Angel licked his lips nervously. And part of him felt ridiculous for being nervous.
“Front door,” Buffy had said. No problem, right?
Next to him, Buffy was as strong and confident as ever. She was trying to be confident enough for both of them. When his footsteps would slow, she would smile at him and lightly touch his arm, moving him inexorably forward.
The reaction when they entered the seedy bar wasn’t what Angel expected. More specifically, there wasn’t a reaction. Buffy and Angel were noticed, but that was it. No one looked at them twice.
Angel’s confusion must have shown on his face, because Buffy suddenly chuckled.
“You should have seen the blue slimy guy that was here on my first visit,” she said just loud enough to be heard. “I’m sorry for the janitor.” Then, a bit more seriously, “I’ve learned one major thing since I arrived here. There aren’t many – at least, down here – that don’t know about the existence of demons.”
She drew him then over to the bar and grabbed a stool for each of them. “Hey!” she called to get the bar tender’s attention.
He smiled when he saw her. “Hey, Slayer! Back again so soon?”
Buffy smiled back. “I’m here, aren’t I? You know, I never did get your name.”
“Richard,” the bar tender replied. “You going to introduce me to your friend?”
“You know my friend,” she said, placing a hand on Angel’s shoulder.
Angel glanced at the bar tender. He’d been watching the mass of people around them pretty much since they got there, both fascinated and overwhelmed. Now he met the bar tender’s shocked gaze and dropped his eyes almost immediately. Buffy’s second directive – “speak” – was suddenly an impossibility.
Buffy squeezed his shoulder slightly before releasing it. “I got him to come in through the front door this time,” she teased.
Richard swallowed audibly. “Well,” he said, “what can I get you then?”
“Same as last time,” she replied.
“The drink or the information?”
Buffy chuckled. “The drink.” There was a pause. “Angel?” Buffy prompted.
“Bloody Mary,” he muttered sarcastically. He was rethinking a bit too late the idea of coming to a room full of humans when he was hungry. He’d never attack anyone, but he was not comfortable.
The bar tender chuckled, and he could feel Buffy grin. It had been a rather juvenile joke, perhaps, but it was something.
“Actually,” Buffy said before Richard could fill their drink orders, “that’s why we’re here.”
He looked at her oddly. “What is?”
Now Buffy seemed a little nervous herself. “We…ran into a little accident after we left here last time,” she explained. “The cold box was lost in the process and never made it home. We’re having a…food shortage as a result.”
Richard looked back and forth between them. “It’ll take a couple of days,” he began.
“Come on,” Buffy pressed. “You don’t even have a little something to tide us over?”
“Why would I have that?”
“You do serve demons here,” she pointed out.
“I serve neutral demons,” he clarified. “Blood drinkers aren’t typically neutral.” He glanced at Angel. “No offense,” he added.
Angel just nodded.
Richard sighed. “Look, I…might have something in the back. It won’t be very good quality, and I don’t want you spreading the word that I’m doing this.”
“Anything you can do would be wonderful,” Buffy said sincerely.
Richard just frowned at her and disappeared behind the bar. About a minute later he returned with a drink in each hand; clear alcohol for Buffy, and for Angel…. “Your Bloody Mary,” the bar tender said with a smirk.
The blood smell hit Angel hard, but he couldn’t…. His hand trembled slightly, a centimeter away from the glass. He glanced at Buffy uncertainly.
She smiled at him and raised her glass. “A toast, perhaps?” she suggested to ward off the awkwardness.
Angel lifted his glass towards hers.
“To humanity,” she said.
Angel brought his glass to his lips and drank slowly, trying with all his might just to look like any other patron of the bar. The blood did not bring him any pleasure, but it did sate the hunger some, if not the desire.
He lowered the glass at last, completely drained, and noticed the bar tender watching him. “Thank you,” Angel said honestly.
Richard smiled back at him. “Any time,” he said and moved on to other customers.
Angel could feel Buffy’s happiness next to him and turned to see her smile. Freshly fed and with the hazy sense of uncaring acceptance around him, Angel allowed himself for the first time to truly smile back.
Just when Buffy thought she had Angel figured out, when it seemed he was making his way back to the Angel she once fell in love with, he managed to baffle her. With the crisis of the one group of demons behind them and Buffy medically forbidden from joining him in hunting others, Angel’s mood seemed to change abruptly. The evening of their joint excursion to The Underground he had been relaxed and delightful company. When they awoke the next day, that was gone.
Instead, Angel spent even more time than usual outside, fighting demons. When he was in the lair he spoke to Buffy only briefly and seemed sullen and withdrawn.
He had re-perfected the art of brooding and Buffy hadn’t the faintest idea why.
Buffy watched him as she continued organizing the books. After their joint research session she had some idea of what they were, so she could actually make some progress in putting them in their place. Not that she was actually making any progress. She kept getting distracted by Angel.
He wasn’t doing anything distracting, really. In fact, he wasn’t doing anything at all. He was just sitting in that chair, staring at his hands. Buffy doubted he was actually seeing anything at all.
He’d always been capable of brooding, but this was ridiculous.
Buffy had finally had enough of it. She put the book she was holding on the shelf and walked purposefully over to his chair. “Okay, what’s wrong?”
His head snapped up and his eyes went wide with surprise when he faced her. He didn’t reply.
“Something has been bothering you since you woke up yesterday,” she said. “Please, tell me what it is?”
“Nothing,” Angel said briefly, standing. He walked away from her as if to leave.
“Angel….” Buffy pleaded.
He froze in the act of reaching for a weapon. “When will you leave?” he asked softly.
“When will you…?”
“I heard what you said,” Buffy interrupted. “I just…. Do you want me to leave?”
Angel’s reply was mostly muddled since his back was to her, but Buffy caught the word “inevitable.”
“Why do you think it’s inevitable?” Buffy asked in surprise. “I mean, I know we haven’t always been on the best of terms….”
Angel turned to look at her, and it was his turn to be confused.
Buffy sighed. “Please come back over here. We need to talk. Or, if you don’t want to talk, just listen to me for a moment, okay?”
Angel paused only briefly before returning to the chair.
“This is weird for me,” Buffy said once he was seated. “It feels like only months since we last saw each other in Sunnydale. I sometimes forget how much longer it has been for you. So while time has dulled those memories for you – hell, it’s been long enough I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve forgotten all together – I can still vividly recall after my mother’s funeral, the way we kissed….” Buffy blushed. “Not quite the moment I was going for, here,” she said, slightly embarrassed.
Angel smiled sadly.
“The point I meant to make,” Buffy continued, “is that I know we don’t have the best track record on anything that involves an ‘us.’ But that’s still no reason for you to expect me to leave you…unless you want me to.”
Angel shook his head.
“Then what is it?”
“You don’t want…” he made a vague, all encompassing gesture, “this.”
Buffy looked at him in confusion. “How do you know what I want?” she pointed out. “Or is this like you assuming that someday I wouldn’t want you in Sunnydale?”
“You want this?” Angel retorted. “Do you want to wake up every day and have this face be the first thing you see?”
She couldn’t tell who was more surprised: him for hearing that or her for saying it.
“Someday, Angel, when I’m old and gray and wrinkly…will you turn away from me?” she asked.
“Then why would you expect that of me?”
Angel was silent for a moment. “It’s not the same,” he tried.
“Isn’t it? It’s called aging, Angel, either way,” Buffy argued. “I’ll be an old woman. I never expected to see you as an old vampire, but I’m not going to leave because of it.”
Taking a risk and surprising both of them, Buffy abruptly sat on his lap. For a moment neither of them did anything, then Angel placed one of his arms loosely about her waist.
“Is that what this was about?” she asked at last. “Or are you so eager to get rid of my company?”
“I like having you here,” Angel admitted.
“Then what is it?”
Angel scowled and stared at his free hand. He flexed it into a fist for a moment. “Before I…changed the first time…. Before the first permanent change I was sore for weeks,” he explained haltingly. “I didn’t know why at the time. But every time, weeks before….” His voice trailed off.
“What hurts?” Buffy asked in understanding.
“My hands,” Angel replied, making a fist once again.
Buffy grasped his fist lightly, then kissed his knuckle.
Angel took a deep, unnecessary breath as if to calm himself. “Can you do this?” he asked slowly. “Can you…not be repulsed when I look less human than I do now? Can you stay even then? Because if your answer is no, you’d better leave now, before….”
“Before I can’t stand living without you again.”
Buffy smiled at him. “I’m staying,” she said gently.
He looked at her in delighted shock. Buffy found the expression so adorable she just had to do something.
She had to kiss him.
He didn’t respond immediately, and Buffy almost pulled away, but then Angel’s other arm wrapped around her to hold her closer. Neither of them pulled away for a long moment, not even when Buffy ran her tongue lightly over Angel’s fangs. It was hard to believe at that moment that they technically hadn’t seen each other in centuries up until three weeks ago.
When Buffy pulled away to look at Angel again, he was grinning. “Thank you,” he said sincerely.
Buffy grinned back at him. “No, thank you.” She chuckled slightly. “If you keep smiling like that, the curse is going to be an issue well before either of our appearances are.”
Angel blanched. “I didn’t…. It’s been….”
“Hasn’t been much of an issue lately, has it?”
Angel shook his head. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said earnestly.
“And you won’t,” Buffy replied. “We’ll figure out something.”
Angel just nodded, then held her a little tighter. Buffy smiled and leaned into his shoulder. She fit there as comfortably as she always had.
“Buffy?” Angel said a little while later.
“Time hasn’t dulled the memories that are worth keeping,” he said softly.
Buffy just smiled to herself and remembered the best times.
Doctor Hasna, working the night shift as usual, looked up when the front desk nurse ducked into the room where she was treating a patient. The nurse spoke before Hasna could ask anything.
“You’ve got repeat customers,” she said.
Hasna looked at her in surprise. “Who is it?”
The nurse gave a nervous grin. “The odd couple.”
Hasna took a moment to interpret the unusual description. Then she realized the date and that exactly a week had passed. Nearly to the minute, actually. “I’ll be with them in a moment,” she replied. “Uh…give them a private room, hmm?”
“Already done. E 110,” the nurse replied easily, leaving her with the patient once again.
Hasna finished with her one patient quickly, cleaning him up and sending him on his way, then made her way to room E 110. It was a corridor that wasn’t under heavy use, giving the room even more privacy than expected. As evidenced by the desk nurse, the staff was more comfortable with the clinic’s unusual visitors than a week ago. The same could not be said about the average patient, unfortunately.
The doctor entered the room quietly and couldn’t help but smile at the interaction between the two occupants. The patient was seated on the bed, her back to the door, speaking quickly and happily, apparently about absent friends. Her companion – amazingly pleasant master vampire – noticed Hasna’s entrance but other than that smiled and nodded and listened to the girl’s story.
“Hello again, Miss Summers,” Doctor Hasna said when the girl paused.
Buffy swiveled around on the bed and grinned. “Doctor,” she said pleasantly. “Angel and I were just reminiscing.”
“I noticed,” Hasna replied. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” Buffy said quickly.
“Let me take a look,” Hasna insisted.
Buffy sat back on the bed and lifted her shirt. Hasna could not help but gape at her. Instead of the angry red new scars she expected, the gashes had faded until they were almost indistinguishable from the uninjured skin surrounding them. Buffy smiled. “I heal fast,” she said.
“No kidding,” Hasna muttered, flicking her hair over her shoulder in what might be considered a nervous gesture. “Miss Summers,” she said seriously, “are you fully human?”
“Well, yeah!” the girl said quickly. “I’m stronger and faster and I heal quick, but I’m still human.”
Doctor Hasna looked at her in blatant disbelief.
“Buffy,” her vampire companion said gently.
Buffy sighed. “Not that it makes any difference to you, but I’m a Vampire Slayer,” she said.
Hasna’s thoughts raced. That fit all available facts except…several, actually. “Last I heard the Slayer was a wealthy Asian girl. So unless she died in the last…five days, you’re not her.”
Buffy looked more than a bit surprised that Hasna knew what she was talking about. “I died once,” she said.
Hasna glanced at Angel, who nodded. Problem number two…. “You’re a vampire slayer, and yet the two of you…?”
“That’s a long story and really none of your business,” Buffy said defensively. “And how do you know about the Slayer, anyway?”
“A lot of weird things come through here,” Hasna supplied. “I’ve made a point of learning all that I can.”
Buffy pulled her shirt back down. “Not that this isn’t fascinating, but can I go?” she asked.
“I have no way to hold you.”
Buffy nodded and hopped up from the bed. She looked at Hasna with a thoughtful expression. “So, you see a lot of weird things here, hmm?”
“Yes,” Hasna replied, wondering where she was going with this.
“Those weird things wouldn’t happen to include someone who knows a little something of soul magik, would it?”
Behind her, Angel gasped. Hasna suddenly found the full weight of both of their attentions upon her. This was important.
“Why?” she asked suspiciously.
“We have this problem with a curse….”
After walking up two flights of stairs decorated heavily with astrological symbols and other, less recognizable designs, then passing through layers of beaded curtains, Buffy and Angel stood in a small, tacky office. Buffy almost burst out laughing, except the office’s proprietor – in equally ridiculous robes – stood there waiting for them.
“Good evening to both of you,” the woman said solemnly. She was quite old, and her completely white hair was tied back in a bun.
Buffy just blinked at her for a second. “Um, are you Regina Osgold? Doctor Hasna, from the clinic, said you might be able to help us?”
The old woman smiled, wrinkles crinkling around her eyes. “Ah yes, that sweet girl,” she said. “She told me you were coming.” She closed and locked the door the two of them had just entered through, then gestured for them to follow.
Buffy and Angel glanced at each other, and Buffy shrugged. This was not at all what they were expecting.
The aging fortuneteller opened another door, hidden at the back of the office. Abruptly they went from a tacky, carnival atmosphere to a warm and homey living area. A step ahead of them, the old woman removed her robe to reveal a basic gray jumpsuit underneath. She flung the robe carelessly over the back of a kitchen chair. “Would either of you like some tea?” she asked.
Buffy just looked at her in confusion. “Umm, no, thank you.”
Mrs. Osgold turned her attention to Angel. “And you? Surely you’ll join me in a cup of tea. I hate to drink alone.”
“Alright,” Angel acquiesced.
The old woman grinned, placing two large mugs on the table. They both bore chips at the rim and fine cracks along their sides, but neither leaked at all when she filled them. “Now, don’t you mind all those trappings,” she said to both of them, gesturing at the outer office. “Most people come here, I show them flash, wish them money and love, and send them on their way. It keeps those that prey on true psychics and witches away from my door.”
“But you can help us?” Buffy asked.
“I’ll try,” she replied. “If I can’t help you, I’ll find someone who can.” She smiled at both of them reassuringly. “We mages stick together.” She took a slow sip of her tea, and Angel raised his own mug to drink.
The woman watched both of them over her mug for a moment. “You’re an interesting pair,” she said.
Buffy couldn’t help but fidget under her gaze.
“You are displaced in time,” she said to Buffy, “and yet not. There is nothing in you that rejects being here. It is most confusing. But you are tied to each other more than you realize. I can not tell you how it will turn out, but I wish you well in that.”
Buffy placed her hand on Angel’s leg under the table, in desperate need of reassurance.
“But you’re the one who’s really here to see me, yes?” she asked Angel.
“Yes, Mrs. Osgold.”
The fortuneteller chuckled. “Just Regina, dear. No need for formalities.” She took another slow sip of her tea. “You’re a fascinating one. I’ve never seen one like you in all my years.”
Buffy chuckled. “Yeah, he’s one of a kind.”
The woman went on regardless. “You belong in this time,” she said, “and yet you seem more displaced in it than she is.”
Angel shifted uncomfortably.
“You’ve spent a long time hiding,” she said. “You think you’ve been hiding from others, but you’ve truly been hiding from yourself. You’re at a turning point, now. You can either go back into hiding, or you can become someone new. Someone whole, and part of the world around them. Personally, I’d recommend the later.”
She took another sip of tea before she continued. “You have a destiny,” she said. “You already know this. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. But you can not just sit and wait for destiny to come to you. You must seek it out, and embrace it when you find it.”
She smiled then. “But you already knew all that.”
They drank their tea in unison.
Buffy fidgeted again. “Fascinating, really,” she said, “but not why we’re here.”
Buffy bristled at her tone. “Yes, remember? A matter of the soul?”
“These are matters of the soul.”
Buffy had to fight not to roll her eyes. “And a curse?”
“Curse?” The old woman seemed genuinely confused.
Angel was more patient with her than Buffy. “My soul is only here because of a Gypsy curse,” he explained. “But the curse…has broken before.”
The woman looked at him intently. “I do not know what you are talking about,” she said.
“Then you can’t help us?”
“You don’t need helping,” Regina clarified.
“But my soul….”
“Is yours by right.” She was looking at him intently. “What you describe would involve a dissonance between soul and body. There is none. Your demon is more at odds with you than your soul.”
Angel just blinked at her.
Buffy gaped. “Then…he can be happy?”
“Is that what broke the curse before?”
“Your soul is yours,” the woman said, “until the eventual true death of your flesh.” She smiled then, the serious psychic replaced once again by the congenial grandmother. “I guess you’ll be leaving then?” she asked.
“Um…yeah,” Buffy replied, standing.
Angel hesitated a moment, then stood as well.
“Will you have a cookie before you go?”
Buffy couldn’t help but grin. “No, thank you.”
“Well,” Regina said, seeing them to the door, “it was nice meeting you two. If you ever need anything….”
“We’ll visit,” Buffy assured her.
Angel turned to look at her with one hand on the door.
“Every living being is both good and evil,” she said. “Monster and human. Those parts of a being can create a harmony of action or a cacophony you will be drowned in.” She smiled at him slightly. “Don’t ignore the human – in yourself and others – when it is the monster that shows its face.”
Angel was filled with conflicting emotions as Buffy and he returned to his…their home. Mostly he was confused, mixed with a heavy dose of anger. How long had the curse not been an issue? Was this a recent thing, or did it go all the way back to the last time his soul was restored? How come he never knew? Was him laboring under the false assumption that the simple act of being perfectly happy would release his demon upon the world amusing to someone?
Yet beneath that conflict something unaccustomed was growing. Getting stronger by the moment, a sense of relief and hope was swelling in him. Not that he planned to immediately test the old psychic’s revelation, but it was…nice to know happiness wasn’t forbidden.
“Do you trust her?” Buffy asked suddenly. She had been silent the entire way to the lair.
“Yes,” Angel replied without hesitating.
Angel nodded, but he couldn’t meet Buffy’s gaze yet. “I just…”
Angel sighed. “I want to know when my soul became…mine,” he said. “Even if there wasn’t potential for perfect happiness, there’s still a difference between unhappiness and enforced despair.”
“Yes, I’m glad,” Angel replied quickly. “I mean, not that I’m going to…test it immediately. It’s not like…”
“What?” Angel asked in surprise, looking to see her grinning at him.
“You have serious self-confidence issues, you know that?” she said with a laugh. “I mean, I nearly jumped you yesterday, and don’t tell me you weren’t returning the attention. That’s why we looked into the curse in the first place!”
Angel fought a smile and nodded at her.
She stepped close enough to him that they were nearly touching. “I told you I’m staying,” she said. “I still love you, and have missed you. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
“I don’t want to be alone, either,” Angel found himself whispering.
Her face broke into a broad grin, and Angel smiled back.
“Are you waiting for something in particular?” Buffy teased.
Angel grinned at her and closed that last tiny distance between them with a kiss. In that one moment, he put aside thoughts of appearances, of the monster in the man, and in her arms remembered what it was like to just be.
Buffy blinked her way to full wakefulness. She was burrowed into a delightful haven of old blankets, beaten pillows, and familiar cool flesh. She could smell dust and sweat, but that was familiar, too. Her current position wasn’t, though, comfortably nestled against Angel’s chest. That was delightfully new. She smiled and snuggled close.
Angel’s arm wrapped around her shoulder. She looked up at him. “You’re awake,” he said, pleasantly surprised.
“Mmm.” She smiled as she looked up at him. There was a pleasant silence in the lair this evening, a delightful lethargy she didn’t want to disturb. She wanted to sleep right here forever, but she couldn’t. She shifted to look at him closer. “How are you?”
Angel just smiled, his eyes shining with love and a new sense of contentment. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, it was quite obvious that his soul wasn’t going anywhere. He was actually smiling wide enough that Buffy could see a glimpse of his fang over his bottom lip. He held her a little closer.
As much as she wanted the moment to last, she had a reason for asking. “I mean, how are you feeling?”
Angel’s smile slipped. “We were having a moment,” he protested a bit playfully.
“I want to know,” Buffy insisted.
Angel frowned now. “You don’t need to mother me, Buffy.” His lip quirked, fighting a smile at his inadvertent choice of words.
Buffy didn’t even blink at the years separating them anymore. She just smiled at him. “I like taking care of you,” she said. “Now, how are you feeling?”
“Well?” Buffy persisted.
“My hands still ache,” he admitted very softly. “Nothing new there.”
Buffy looked up at him seriously. Then she shifted, sitting up higher against the headboard. “Give me your hand,” she requested.
She felt Angel tense, his self-consciousness suddenly retuned. “Buffy…” he protested.
“Angel…” she retorted. “You’re being silly. I love you. I’ve seen you naked, for God’s sake!” she said in irritation, drawing attention to their current, unclothed state. “Give me your hand.”
He shifted and held out his hand that was not around her shoulder. She grasped it without hesitation, yet gentle at the same time. She did not even blink at its deformed shape, at the fingers that were permanently curved, or the sharp nails they ended in, enhancing their claw-like appearance. Gently she held his hand in her two smaller ones. “Relax,” she requested.
Angel was tense for a moment more, then his hand seemed to get heavier as he allowed her to support it. She knew his hands had been bothering him for days, signs of an impending change. No matter how much she assured him that any changes he underwent could not turn her away, he doubted. She could only prove it to him when the time came, and try to ease the ache in his hands – and heart – until then.
She brought the hand to her lips and kissed his knuckle. He chuckled and some measure of tension was released. Slowly she began to massage his palm with her thumbs. As she felt his preternaturally cool flesh warm beneath her touch, she moved her attention to his fingers. She rubbed the joints with gentle pressure and Angel sighed again, but in contentment this time as he relaxed still further. He surrendered to her touch.
Buffy smiled slightly. With that small encouragement she continued her work on his fingers. She felt muscles long clenched begin to relax. There was a sudden release in his ring finger and Angel gasped.
“Are you okay? Did that hurt?” Buffy asked quickly, stopping what she was doing.
“I’m okay,” he assured her.
Buffy turned to catch his eye. “You’re sure?”
Angel nodded. “It hurt for a second,” he admitted. “But…it was a good pain. Now…” he curled and uncurled his fingers for a moment in Buffy’s grasp. “It doesn’t hurt anymore,” he concluded, pleasantly surprised.
Buffy was surprised as well. Relaxed again in her hand, she looked at his claw-like fingers. His ring finger stood out a little straighter, a little more human than the others. As she held it between her fingers, moving it gently, she discovered its full range of mobility restored. She smiled, and moved on to the next finger, and the next. Slowly she was rewarded with muscles unclenching, releasing from the positions they’d been held in for decades.
One hand done, she removed the arm from around her shoulders and began to work on his other hand. Angel’s eyes were closed, and Buffy sensed that he was just barely awake. She kept up her self-appointed task until both hands were relaxed in a less clawed appearance. They still didn’t look completely human – seeming oddly lengthened along with their sharp nails – but they were better.
“Angel,” Buffy prodded gently.
“Hmm?” Angel blinked at her, drowsy.
She smiled at him. “Wake up sleepy head,” she teased.
He opened his eyes fully. “Thank you,” he said.
“Better?” Buffy asked honestly.
Angel nodded. “The ache is gone,” he said in surprise.
“Mmm,” Buffy murmured noncommittally. She tilted her head up to look at him even closer. He was grinning, then playfully wrapped her in his arms and rolled her onto his chest. He brought her head to his and kissed her eagerly. His hands went behind her head, into her hair…and stopped abruptly as they encountered a knot.
“Ow,” Buffy declared with a chuckle, pulling away from his lips.
“Sorry,” Angel whispered, his eyes sparkling with amusement. He tried to untangle his fingers, but only managed to tug the knot some more.
“Let me help,” Buffy said.
“No, I’ve got it,” Angel assured her, and moments later the pressure on her hair was released. An odd look passed over Angel’s face.
“What is it?” Buffy asked urgently.
Angel pulled his hand out from behind her, looking at it in surprise. He stretched the fingers as straight as they could go until they were fully extended. A slow and delighted smile spread across his face.
“About time you noticed,” Buffy teased.
He said nothing for several moments, curling his hand into a fist and then spreading the fingers once again. “I never expected…” he managed.
“Change?” Buffy supplied, smiling.
Angel nodded. “Not like this,” he explained. “But…the pain is gone. Change.”
“For the better.”
Angel was grinning broadly. “How?”
Buffy replied with a question of her own. “How are you feeling today, Angel?”
He looked at her curiously at the seeming repeat of her waking question. Then he grinned in sudden understanding. “Reborn,” he said, his voice delighted and not at all distorted by his constant fangs, “and very, very human.”
Buffy grinned back at him. She hadn’t seen him so happy…ever, that she could remember. Abruptly he sat up, full of energy, tossing aside blankets. “Where are you going?” Buffy asked, both puzzled and amused.
He stood up, stark naked. “I want to draw you,” he declared, making his way across the room.
Buffy laughed out loud. “Draw me?”
He nodded eagerly. He shuffled through the pile of books and papers Buffy had not yet managed to rearrange. “It’s been so long since I’ve drawn you,” he explained. He looked at his right hand again, fingers flat against the tabletop. “It’s been so long since I’ve drawn,” he amended.
“Angel,” Buffy interrupted with a laugh.
He kept right on going heedless. “I know I have some blank paper here somewhere…. I mean, I did….”
Buffy had never seen Angel so…giddy. Manic almost. “Angel!” she said a little louder. His head snapped up at last. Buffy held up a blanket in front of her chest as she reprimanded him, “You are not drawing me like this.”
He looked at her in confusion. “Like what?”
Buffy looked back at him wide eyed. “Well, ignoring the fact that I’m not entirely comfortable posing nude, even for you, look at me! My hair is a mess—“
“You look beautiful,” Angel interrupted.
“You always say that,” Buffy retorted.
Angel stepped around the table to look at her seriously. “You’re beautiful,” he said again.
Buffy looked him up and down appreciatively in turn. “You’re beautiful, too,” she said. “You’re also naked, which means you should be snuggling with your girlfriend and not wandering about the room looking for a pencil and paper!”
Angel chuckled. “Well, since you put it that way….”
“Come here,” Buffy said with a laugh. “You can draw me later.”
He flopped back down on the blankets. “You promise?” he teased.
Buffy grinned back at him. “Sure. We’ve got plenty of time.”
It was hard to get a glimpse of the sky, but standing here, tilting her head all the way back, she could see the palest pink of early dawn in a tiny sliver of sky. It made no difference in the light level this far down, but it made Buffy smile. Even if she couldn’t see it, the sun still rose every day, and so long as that was true everything would be alright.
She could sense Angel moving behind her, and held out her hand to him. His hand was in hers moments later, large and cool.
“I think I know why I’m here, Angel,” she said.
He squeezed her hand. “Why is that?”
“I’m needed here. Now.”
Angel didn’t reply, but his silence was questioning.
“You’re here, for one. You need me,” Buffy added.
“I was here all the years in between,” Angel protested. “I needed you then, too.”
Buffy shrugged. “Maybe so. I think there’s something else too, though.”
He was standing next to her now, and he wrapped an arm around her waist. “What is it?”
Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know. Something’s coming.” She leaned into Angel’s shoulder. “Something big. Maybe the very thing that we were both put on this planet to face.”
“Destiny,” Angel said in understanding.
Buffy nodded. She looked up again, searching above her for that sliver of sky. It was slightly lighter now – it was day already on the rooftops. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Angel followed her gaze and looked up at the light that could never reach him. “It would be more beautiful up there,” he said. “Where you can actually see the sky.”
“Maybe,” Buffy agreed. “But we’re not up there. Even if I could get there, this is where I am. Where we are. Where we’re needed.”
“You don’t ever…?” Angel hesitated. “You should see the sunlight.”
Buffy smiled at him. “I will, someday. And when I do, I’ll see it with you.”
Angel smiled back, encouraged by recent changes – his eyes back to human brown, his hands returning to their unclawed appearance…. He would see the sunlight again someday. He only hoped it wasn’t the last thing he saw, but rather his first sight as a human, his destiny fulfilled.
He kissed her on the forehead and for once found himself looking forward to what the future would bring.
Things were changing for the better.
The End! To be continued in the massively requested sequel, One For the Ages.
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