Rating: PG-14 (a few naughty words)
Characters: Whole Cast
Spoilers: The Gift and There's No Place Like Prlz Grb
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters, setting, or the concept of either show. They belong to Joss Whedon, Fox, the WB and UPN. I'm not making any money from this. Don't I wish.
Summary: Angel's reaction to Buffy's death affects their friends in a surprising way.

The Long Howl
By Matt

-----



"It's Buffy."

The staff of Angel Investigations came to a halt behind him. Fred merely looked perplexed and curious, but Gunn frowned in confusion and turned to Cordelia and Wesley.

"Buffy? Who's-" He stopped when he saw their faces. He'd never seen them look so scared. No, that wasn't true-he'd seen them scared. This was different. This was.dread. That was the right word. Dread. Something they'd dreaded for a long time was about to come true. Someone was about to kick the supports out from under the world, and whoever this redheaded chick was, she was the one who was about to do it.

Angel took a few numb, heavy-footed, clumsy steps down the stairs, looking at Willow's sorrowful face rather than where he was going, then came to an unsteady halt in the middle of the room.

Willow took a step toward him, then stopped. "Angel," she started, then shut her mouth again. She tried again. "Angel, I-" her voiced failed again.

"Just tell me," he said. "Just.tell me."

She looked down, away from his eyes, and focused on her wringing hands.

"We were fighting this Hellgod named Glory," she began.

Every jaw in the room except Angel's and Fred's dropped. Fred merely cocked her head curiously. Angel just kept staring, grim-faced and waiting.

"Glory?" Lorne asked, his face paling. "Glorificus?"

"Hell*god*?" Gunn demanded. "Damn, and I thought we got into some bad shit *here*!"

"She was going to use Dawn to go home, only we couldn't let her do that, 'cause that would have opened all the gates to all the dimensions, which would pretty much end the world-"

"Use Dawn?" Angel asked.

Willow explained. She explained everything. With every word, the story became harder and harder to tell, as her body shook and her voice hitched with sobs that became harder and harder to suppress, and her eyes filled with tears. The nosey little sister that they all remembered had never actually existed. She was a construct, a disguise to hide the Key from Glory. A god. And they had fought this god, and beaten her, but they had still lost. One of her followers had cut Dawn and opened the Gates. The only way to close it was to stop the blood flowing. To kill Dawn. But Buffy had refused. Of course she had refused. And there was another way. The Monks had made Dawn from Buffy-flesh of her flesh and soul of her soul.

So there had been another way.

The tears finally spilled over. Angel already knew what she was going to say. All of them did. Cordelia was wiping furiously at her eyes, and Wesley was polishing glasses that had passed crystal clarity long ago.

"So she jumped, and she fell into that big knot of energy in the air, and it must have worked because all the gates closed and the monsters stopped coming out, but when she landed, she.she." The dam broke. Later, those present would admire her strength for making it as far as she did. But even the strongest soul can only stand so much. The wound was too fresh and raw. "She was dead, Angel, she was *dead*, and I know she's been dead before, but this is different, 'cause how can CPR help *that* and it didn't get better after a couple minutes, she just kept being *dead*." She stood there, shaking violently, biting her lip to keep from bursting out into sobs, her fists clenched at her sides. Strong. She would be strong. She had been chosen as the messenger, because she was the one who could be strong. Giles, Spike, and Dawnie were lost. Xander was taking care of Anya. That left Tara to watch Dawn, because she couldn't deliver the message to Angel. Angel should get the message from a friend. Angel would need a friend. She couldn't need him, he would be the one in need.

Strong. Strong.

All eyes were on Angel. What did they expect him to do in that moment? Did they expect denial? Rage? Did they expect him to weep and wail? Call out her name? Cry out to the gods or to Willow to make it not true? Or go on a furious rampage, smashing everything in the room with his superhuman strength? Certainly they weren't surprised when he dropped to his knees as if his legs had been cut out from under him.

But all of those were human things to do. As they so often tried to forget, Angel was not human. He was a vampire. A man with a demon inside. A demon with a soul. There had been one person in an existence that was longer and lonelier than they dared to imagine that had truly loved him and accepted him for what he was. Who made him feel like a person. One. Somewhere in the back of his heart, he had always clung to the hope that somehow, someday, they would be together. He had given up his humanity so she could live. The possibility of being with her had been the brightest promise of the Shanshu.

And she was dead.

The beast inside him was screaming, too. Its mate was gone. For the first time ever, man and demon, Angel and Angelus, were of one mind.

Buffy/the Mate was dead. There was only one thing to do.

As Angel crumpled forward and folded in on himself, his friends started forward. Cordelia and Willow, maybe even Fred, would hug him and weep. Wesley and Gunn would be tempted, but the former being a man of reserve and the latter being a man who refused to show any weakness, they would not. They would settle for clutching a shoulder, clasping an arm. Grim faces and soft apologies. Men understood these things. Grief is no less real for being spoken quietly. All of these were very natural, understandable responses toward a man who had lost the love of his life.

Angel wasn't a man. Only one of them remembered that. Lorne knew what was coming, and he stood back.

Just as his friends were about to touch him, Angel lunged back on his haunches, threw his head back-

(Game face, he's in game face)

(The demon, why is he showing--)

And howled.

*

In Sunnydale, the Scooby Gang sat listlessly about the study table in the closed Magic Box. Their various wounds were bandaged, and some of them-especially Dawn and Anya-really should have been at home. But no one wanted to do that. Dawn, in particular, had no wish to return to the empty house on Revello.

Every so often, one or the other of them would leave the room and return red-eyed.

It was all probably unhealthy. But what else were they to do?

Suddenly, Spike stumbled to his feet, knocking his chair over, his eyes distant and his face wild.

"Spike?" Dawn asked. "Are you all-"

Spike threw back his head and howled.

*

In LA, Angel's fists were clenched and shaking. His howl blended equal parts of a man's scream and a lion's roar. Man and beast wailed their anguish.

*

In Las Vegas, Darla suddenly lost her grip on the young high roller whose neck she'd been licking, threw back her head, and howled.

*

On the other side of the planet, Drusilla woke from her midday sleep in Venice, and howled.

*

The Scooby Gang had leaped to their feet, scattering their own chairs, staring at Spike as he stood howling at the ceiling, blood-tears running down his face.

"What the *hell* is wrong with you?" Xander barked.

Spike, of course, ignored him, but Anya was able to explain.

"Angel just found out,"

*

Across the world, every vampire that Angelus had ever made, and every vampire that they had ever made, his entire bloodline of darkness unto the last generation, howled out their ancestor's grief.

The psychic shockwave that raced through their blood could only have one source.

The Sire's True Mate was dead. Let the stars fall down.

*

"What is he *doing*?" Cordelia demanded of no one in particular.

"He's mourning," Lorne answered. "This is the vampire way."

*

"Vampires can fall in love, and that's one thing," Anya continued to explain to the Scooby Gang, who alternated between staring at her sad calmness and Spike's wild howling incredulously. "But True Mating is a lot rarer."

*

"Y'know, vampires being as selfish as they are, they don't usually give that much of themselves." Lorne continued. "But when they do, it's supposed to last forever."

*

"And I wouldn't have thought he would do it with Buffy," Anya said, " 'Cause, you know, with the whole not-living-forever thing-"

*

"But whenever one is broken, the whole Clan feels the pain. The whole clan mourns together." Lorne finished.

"His whole clan?" Fred asked. "You mean his whole family?"

"Family?" Cordelia said, startled. The word struck a chord.

(Don't be embarrassed. We're family.)

She looked up at Wesley.

"Family," He said firmly.

Cordelia and Wesley both screamed.

*

Dawn looked at Anya for a moment, then turned, walked to Spike's side, and began to howl. Without looking down, he looped an arm around her shoulders.

The Slayerettes looked at each other. Then, one by one, from the gentlest to the most dignified, they joined in.

*

In LA, Gunn added a deep, warrior's shout to the chorus, throwing the force of his own grief behind it.

Willow joined, then Lorne added a long, high note-almost a descant to the whole thing.

Then it was over. Angel fell silent, and his face snapped back to normal like someone had thrown a switch, and he crumpled back in on himself, collapsing to the floor.

*

In Las Vegas, Darla shrieked in rage and began to destroy her hotel room. True Mate. The little cheerleader had been his *True Mate*. He'd given that underfed mortal child something he'd never given to her. And now the little tramp was dead. Maybe she could have won him over from another woman, but she couldn't fight a ghost.

She would never have him now.

*

In Venice, Drusilla wept and wailed like a lost little girl, clutching Miss Edith to her chest.

"Daddy," she sobbed.

The Bad Slayer was dead. Her daddy would love her forever now. They would never be a family again.

*

In Sunnydale, Spike sighed and lowered his eyes from the ceiling. His face came back into view with a strange, sad smile in place.

The humans around him did the same, and looked around at each other. Confused and not a little bit disturbed at what they'd just done.

Anya was the first to break the silence. "I feel strangely better," she said. "Does that mean I'm backsliding?"

"No," Giles answered. "I think we all feel it."

There were murmurs of agreement.

"Yeah," Spike agreed with a grin. "Sometimes the old poufter actually does something right."

*

In LA, Angel started making sounds halfway between a man sobbing and an animal whining. Cordelia, Willow, and even Wesley-stripped of his reserve-crowded around him. Lorne, Fred and Gunn stood back. They had comfort to offer, but they would do so later. Now was the time for family, not friends.

But as Lorne stepped back and wiped a blue tear away, he thought of all the ways Angel the man might have reacted, and he compared them to what had actually happened.

Sometimes, he decided, every once in a while, the Beast is the one who's right.

end



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