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Takes place about seven years after `Not Fade Away'.
This is for Deb and Dark Star and Ares, because they had this conversation recently, which prompted the idea:
From the Angel Elders Mansion commentary on BtVS season 3, The Prom:
"Deb: Start mentioning other dimensions and Jo's mind is a whirl with ideas…
Dark Star: If you mention a teapot, Jo's mind is a whirl with ideas!
You said it, ladies. Thank you!
Angel sat at the table, his hands wrapped around the hot mug of tea. On the counter, the meagre contents of the kitchen were packed into boxes, just as the rest of his possessions had been. He was ready to move on. He had a bag with some clothes, weapons, toiletries, things that he would need immediately. Everything else would be in store until he'd found somewhere to live.
He'd no idea where he wanted to go. For the last fifteen years, the only places he'd cared about had been Sunnydale, first, and then Los Angeles. Friends. Family. Lovers… Lover. He'd cared about them, and none of them were left to him any more. Now, it was time to go
somewhere else, although he couldn't bring himself to care about where that somewhere might be. He doubted that he'd care too much about anything ever again.
He looked down at the mug. It was black. Dull, unrelieved black. Like him, really. Gunn had given it to him, and somehow it had survived the years, which was more than you could say about Gunn.
His mugs hadn't always been black. He remembered a time when they had been soft blues and greens, sage green, almost the colour of her shadowed eyes as she drank from it. He shook his head and wrenched his mind away from such unprofitable thoughts.
He didn't know where she was, and if he only knew that, it would make his decision about where to go, where to settle, so much easier. He'd go as far away from her as possible. That would be safest. He'd never got over her, never stopped loving her, but he'd been able to live with it, push the memories and the feelings into a small, secret part of himself, where they were cherished and kept for special occasions. Recently, he'd started to think about her more
and more, though. And today? Today the thoughts wouldn't stop, but that wasn't surprising, considering which special occasion this was, which anniversary, that only he remembered.
He took another drink of the tea. It was a modern, bland brew from a tea bag. Pour boiling water into the mug and dunk in the tea bag. That's what he'd been doing for years now. He preferred proper leaf tea, from the bright spiciness of Assam Mangalam to the smoky kiss of
Lapsang Souchong, but for that, you needed a teapot, and he didn't have one of those. He'd had one, a long time ago, but it hadn't survived his first year here, and he hadn't replaced it. He'd drunk coffee instead for a while, nauseated by the memory of tea. Now, he only had the tea. And the memories.
In front of him, on the table, a small cardboard box held the kettle and the tea caddy, ready to be carried out to the car once the mug had been packed safely into it. Whenever you arrived at a new place to live, you made a pot of tea. It was a ritual, a rite of settlement. It was something every human did. Suddenly decisive, he stood up and rinsed out the mug. Ignoring the stupidity of the impulse, he shrugged into his coat, and went to buy a teapot.
This part of the store was just as he remembered it from all those years ago, full of china and glassware on chrome and glass stands, sparkling in the harsh glare of over-bright spotlights. Humans, in such a place, are inclined to gather their trappings – coats and bags and umbrellas – tightly around themselves, fearful of the tinkling sound of inadvertently broken fragility. He felt even more dangerous, even more of a bull in a china shop, dazzled as he was by the myriad blazing coruscations, the flood of coloured fire as the brilliancy of the lights was reflected from every gleaming surface and jewelled cut-glass facet. He thrust his hands into his pockets to tuck his coat closer to his body, and carefully made his way to the relative tranquillity of the darker-coloured china.
He remembered the last time he'd been in here as clearly as if it had been yesterday. Still, he supposed, in the grand scheme of things, for an immortal creature like himself, it really had been yesterday, relatively speaking. Time might heal all wounds, but perhaps that was why his wounds still ran deep, because time ran differently for him.
His thoughts ran back to that remembered time, when the pain of parting was still as bright and sharp as a midwinter sun. He'd been setting up home, newly arrived here from Sunnydale, his hopes and dreams lying like freshly-staked ashes around his feet. He'd seen
the teapot as he'd been passing and it had reminded him of another time. It had been a dark charcoal grey, with a soft sheen that at first glance looked like buffed metal. It had been shaped like an old-fashioned kettle, the body rounded, the lid with a neat knob, the
spout long and sinuous, and the graceful handle rising high over the top, as if to keep safe the cloth-wrapped hand that lifted it from the steam and the flames. It had looked exactly like the kettle that his mother had had, the kettle that always sat on the hob, warming by the fire, ready for use whenever tea was required.
And so, in the middle of the pain of loss that blazed with a solar radiance through his entire being, he had opted to add a smaller pain, a pain that had the comfort of habitude, a pain that soothed by its presence, and detracted from the larger agony. It was like picking at a scab, or sucking at the cavity of a rotten tooth. It was irresistible, and it hurt, and yet it consoled by its very familiarity. He'd bought the teapot and remembered his first long-lost family every time he looked at it. With the distance of two and a half centuries, it had been better than remembering Buffy. For a while, anyway. Things had changed of course, later, when the pain of sacrifice almost became too much to bear.
Today, there was no such teapot on any of the store's shelves. But, despite his indecision on the larger matter of where to go, he clung to his resolution on this. His mind was made up, and he wanted that teapot. He wanted it to be there for the rite of settlement, for the tea ceremony, like an old friend. Like a lover.
He approached a sales assistant standing at a small counter, another construction of shimmering glass and chrome, the top dulled a little, and scratched from use. She, too, was showing signs of wear, a woman in late middle age with hair an indeterminate blonde, but with a warm smile of welcome on her creased face for this handsome young man. She had a nametag on her blouse that pronounced her to be Joan.
"Can I help you?"
No one can ever help me again.
"I… I'm looking for a teapot."
She glanced meaningfully at the corner where dozens of teapots sat in a variety of shapes and sizes, and started to point to them.
"No… I mean, I've been there, and I can't see the one I want. I bought it… from here… a little while ago. It's broken now, and I wanted to replace it."
"Oh, I see. Well, the patterns change, of course, and quite a lot of our lines are imported. Sometimes we can't get replacements. How long ago was it?"
He thought back. Was it really so long?
Her smile was sympathetic.
"Unless it was one of the classic lines, we might be in trouble here. What was it like?"
He described it, his hands outlining the shape in the air, and his long fingers drawing the spout and the handle on the scratched glass of the counter. As he described that smooth, brushed metal finish, her brows drew together in a tiny frown.
"I remember that one. We only had it in for the one season, I think. It came with blue and green mugs. Now, was it an import, or was it from one of those small potteries to the north…?"
She fell silent for a moment, her fingers tapping on the pile of soft, white tissue paper sheets to her right.
"Excuse me while I just check my records…"
She turned to the computer screen behind her, scrolling through lines of script until she came to what she was looking for. Or, more accurately, didn't. As she turned back to Angel, she wore an expression of honest puzzlement.
"There seems to be no record at all of that shipment, although I'm sure we entered everything onto this system. I could go to the stockroom, see if the old records tell me which supplier we got that pot from. It may still be possible to order one for you."
What was the point? It was water under the bridge. There were plenty more teapots in the sea. Or tea made in a mug.
"Thank you, that would be very kind of you."
The words surprised him. He didn't think he'd meant to say that. They certainly weren't the words he'd had in his head.
"The stockroom is in the basement, so I may be a few minutes."
It seemed that he was always waiting, so what was new there?
When she returned, his eyes were aching from the glare. If he'd been human, he'd have had the beginnings of a headache. He could see, though, that she was carrying two slightly shabby boxes, and had a small cobweb in her hair. Her smile was triumphant. He tentatively pointed out the cobweb, but it didn't diminish her smile, even as she plucked at the spidery remnant by her ear.
"I can't believe the luck of it! It seems that in two of the sets the mugs were damaged, leaving just the teapots. And they were still in the stockroom, pushed into a dusty old corner! Let's see what we have here…"
As she spoke, she undid the boxes, lifting the teapots out onto the counter. Both were perfect. He picked one of them up as he heard her tell another assistant to take the second pot to the display stand in the corner, and then he heard no more as he lost himself in
This had stood on the table between them, on that single long-lost day when he'd been human. Twelve years ago today. He'd poured tea into her green mug and his blue one, and there had been a small green milk jug for her. He remembered a dish of fruit, too. Even as a
human, the fragrance of her had wrapped around him, a promise and an invitation. As he held the soft, smooth curves of the teapot, cool against his skin, he remembered the feel of her hand over his, and then her sleeve in his fingers, and then… Then her legs around his waist as he pressed her against the fridge, but that was too high, and his left arm was holding her to him as he swept teapot and mugs from the table, the bright, brittle sounds of breaking crockery heard only now, in this memory… And then he'd laid her back on that table and swept away the fruit, and everything else that stood as an obstacle between him and Buffy, and he'd climbed on with her, over her, into her, all recollection of the existence of a bed lost in the imperative heat of the moment. And all the time there was the feel of her lips on his, and her hands clutching at him, impatient to have him closer, harder, in her, with her forever.
With the loss of the day, the day that he had given up, the teapot and the mugs, the table, and even the fruit had, of course, been restored to their original condition. So had he, and Buffy left Los Angeles, never knowing, never remembering what had happened. Only he carried the pain. And then there had been more pain, and the teapot had finally succumbed a few months later, when Vocah took the bomb into his apartment. The smooth coolness of the china beneath his palm seemed to sear memories into his very skin of all that had been lost.
His humanity – and Buffy – had come and gone. His friends had come and gone. Connor, too, had come and gone. And the shanshu, that divine promise of humanity for him, had come and gone. Had been given away. All of them had. He'd given them all away, when he thought about it. They'd never been taken from him. He'd let them all go, in one way or another, freed them from his darkness. He remembered something he'd read. If you want to know whether
something is truly yours, you have to let it go. If it's yours, it will come back to you. He'd never thought about that at the time, and didn't believe it now. After all, only his friends had come back and they had died for it. He closed his eyes against the ache of that loss. If there were any truth in it, it seemed that only the teapot was meant to be his.
The scent of her still filled his nostrils, even as he stood in the store. Whenever he dreamed of her, that oldest, most primitive sense made her absolutely real to him, and that was what she seemed to be now. Her scent was real enough for him to touch.
"Are you alright, sir?"
The worried voice of the sales assistant brought him back from the past. He'd no idea how long he'd stood there, clutching the teapot.
"I'm… I'm fine. I'm sorry, I was just lost in memories for a moment."
She nodded, and took the pot from him.
"Shall I box this up again for you?"
He could still taste her on his tongue, feel her beneath his hands, was lost in the heady scent of her. He tried to concentrate once more on this simple transaction, and this unknowing woman.
He smiled, and Joan made a mental note to ask Maintenance to check the positioning of some of the spotlights. The one over by the teapots seemed to be shining directly onto customers at the counter, with disquieting effects. This man had simply smiled, and yet his
teeth had seemed to glitter, reflecting the light in a way that made them look sharper. And then he moved away a little, out of the path of the light, and everything was normal again.
She glanced at the teapot stand, and at the errant spotlight, and then she looked up at her customer.
"It seems as though you aren't the only one lost in memories today."
She looked back towards the display of teapots. He followed the look. He knew that his heart would never lurch again, but his stomach was still fully functional, and that was exactly what it did. Because of the arrangement of the display stands, she couldn't see him, but Buffy stood there, holding the twin of his teapot, clutching it tightly to her, lost to everything around her. But for the saleswoman, he would have thought that he was hallucinating.
He said something to Joan, still wrapping his teapot, although he never afterwards knew what he'd said, and he started across the oceans of space and time towards his lover, trying not to wreak destruction on the way.
He had no choice but to approach her from behind.
She turned, her lips a perfect `O' of surprise. And then the teapot slipped from her grasp and fell towards the carpeted floor. He reached out a hand, curling his fingers around that tall, curved handle. When he straightened up, it was his turn to cradle the teapot.
She stood as still as a beautiful statue, gazing up at him. It never crossed his mind to think that she was here, in his town, or to wonder why. He was simply terrified that she would believe that he had been following her, stalking her. He didn't want her to think badly of him. At least, no more badly than she probably already did.
His traitorous tongue started to blurt out excuses.
"I… I came to buy a teapot. I didn't have one, and I didn't want to make tea in the mug anymore, and this… this was where I got the last one, and…"
"Angel. You're babbling."
He felt his teeth close together with a snap.
He realised that she was different now. Quieter. Older. Possessed of a certain serenity. She'd be thirty now. Older than him, in a sense. She looked a lot less worn than he felt, though. He guessed that life was good to her just now. Her voice was exactly as he remembered it.
"No. I don't babble now… well, not much. Some things change."
They did indeed. And some things never would, never could. It was time for him to take his darkness away with him. He couldn't resist prolonging the moment, though.
"You came shopping for a teapot?"
Her smile was dazzling.
"Yes. I thought I should be able to offer tea to friends without having to make it in the mug. When I saw that one, I don't know why, it just made me think of things…"
It had made her think of wishes, hopes and dreams, although she could never say why. She wondered how much… things… had changed.
"Buffy, some things, some things never change. I'm… I'm still what I was. Nothing has changed there."
Her hand started to reach up to him, but then she let it fall.
"I don't believe that. You're different, Angel. I can see it. I can feel it."
"Not on the outside."
"That's not what matters."
Once again, the words that he said weren't the sentences that had formed in his head.
"Do you think… Do you think that the teapot might hold enough for an extra cup? Is there room for another visitor?"
"It looks big enough to me."
He thought of how he'd given everything away, and how, just this evening, the teapot had come back to him. And now…
"Let me get this for you."
He turned and walked towards the counter, wondering whether she would follow. Unconsciously, one hand loosened its grip on the pot and slid to his side, ready to gather his coat in. He felt her smaller hand slip into it.
"Angel, you'd better hold on tight."
He asked himself whether she just meant the teapot, and looked back over his shoulder. When he saw her face, he knew she'd meant more than that.
"I always have. I always will."
On the counter, his own purchase stood ready for him, neatly wrapped in blue gift paper. The sales woman smiled benevolently.
Buffy squeezed his hand before she let go.
"Angel…? Will… I mean, can we…?"
He didn't know what to say. And then he did. If you want to know whether something truly belongs to you, you first have to let it go. He'd done that bit.
"We've got a teapot, Buffy. It's a start."
He was suddenly, unaccountably, sure that it was.
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