I needed this. "Innocence" really hurt. But I don't know if this makes it better. Prepare for some major angst. Sarah McLachlan's "Mary" (copyright 1993) makes an appearance.

"Total Recall"
by Hannah R.H.
Copyright 1998

Buffy toyed with the foam on top of her skim-milk latte and watched people come and go in the Bronze. It was the first night in a long time she hadn't been with Willow at Xander's or with Giles in the library, and it was starting to feel good.

Or less bad, anyway.

Xander and Willow had asked her to go with them to "Titanic" that night, but instead of seeing the offer as an invitation, she saw it as salvation and declined. Maybe it would only be three and a half hours of not worrying about them, not feeling like she had to stand guard outside Willow's house to make sure Angel wouldn't go after her that night. Or maybe it would be all she needed to help her make a decision.

"He'll come after you particularly, Buffy," Giles had said in his car that night. Something about it being in Angel's nature.

What Giles didn't remember, or chose to downplay, was that it was in Angelus' nature to go after the loved ones first. It's what he did to Drusilla, Buffy thought, shuddering, and look how she turned out.

She thought a lot, lately. Lots of thinking, and little action. Angel was leaving her alone, oddly enough, though she guessed that the increased number of strange deaths of local homeless people was his to claim. No matter how many lesser vampires she took out, the deaths continued unabated.

Lots of thinking, and little action. Lots of reading on vampires' souls, why they lose them, how to restore them, to no avail. More people were dying. And she was sitting in the Bronze, playing with her latte froth. Pathetic. And stupid.

She remembered Xander's teasing about moping at the Bronze not long ago, and this night was perfect for it. Her friends were safely at a movie. Some popular kid with absentee parents was having a party, and as a result the club was virtually deserted. A few strangers, either too above it to attend the party or too beneath it to be invited, occupied the tables and the dance floor. The regular deejay was off, probably at the party, and the replacement--code- named "Lilith" because she'd play female angst-rock until someone demanded she stop--was playing Indigo Girls.

The perfect night for moping.

She was starting to learn to give up the hope that manifested itself in her dreams--Angel, her Angel, striding into the club, looking for her, but so subtly only she knew he was doing it, seeing her finally and moving with slow, long strides, purposeful, until he was with her. Sometimes, the kiss. The same dream plagued her for weeks after he changed, but now it was starting to fade.

Until he was there. Across the room and moving towards her.

In an instant she realized it wasn't Angel--wasn't her Angel, anyway--but that sweet second when she thought it might be him threw her off-balance and she swore at herself. If it was possible for him to be more leonine, he was. Angel had always approached her with supplicating hands, gentle, but with a grace of movement that made her feel like she was being hunted. His approach always made her heart beat faster. It was an instinctive response to the thrill of inevitable capture.

He kept approaching. Smiling.

Angelus.

The smile scared her, and she cursed her body for not having learned yet that this wasn't her Angel, that capture would lead to death. She was on her feet in a second, adopting a modified fighting stance that drew only a few glances from the club's other occupants. There was little that one didn't see at the Bronze.

"Here to kill me?" she said bitterly. His smile didn't fade. "I would think sneaking into my bedroom would be more your style."

"Relax," he said, holding his hands defensively in front of him. "No killing tonight. I'm here to talk."

"Talk." She looked at him in disbelief. "What could we possibly have to talk about?"

He looked as if he were seriously considering the question. "I don't know. I mean, we always seemed to have plenty to talk about. Before." He moved to take off his jacket, settling it on the back of one of the table's chairs.

She tried to keep her face from showing any reaction. Her arms lowered, and she stood next to her own chair. "You're not Angel. I don't know who or what you are, but Angel is dead to me."

"Really?" He smiled again, though none of it showed in his eyes. "I remember everything. Total recall, you see." He tapped the side of his head in emphasis.

"You're not here to talk, Angelus. Do you want to watch me suffer more? Is that it? Or are you here to distract me while your vamp minions hatch the latest brilliant plan to take over the world?"

"Well, I can't speak for Spike or Drusilla, but I'm currently sans plan." The mocking, sarcastic tone kept her from focusing too hard on his warm, brown eyes. "Really, it's embarrassing. I might get kicked out of the club." He slid into the chair opposite the one she had abandoned.

"What do you want from me, Angel?" she demanded again, continuing to stand.

He shrugged. "It's not what I want from you, Buffy," he said with mock exasperation, the smile fading. "It's what I can give you. I'm offering you something you never had. Sit down."

She ignored the order. "You don't know anything about what we--I--had."

His lip curled, exposing a hint of incisor. Warning.

"Yeah, babe, I do. Total recall, remember?"

She did, but decided to play ignorant until he showed his full hand. "What does an overrated Schwarzenegger movie have to do with me?" She watched him, wondering what was going on behind his eyes. Sometimes, like now, they looked just like Angel's.

"Be serious, Buffy. Unless you want me to leave, maybe have some fun slaughtering your schoolmates. Sit down, please."

"Fine," she said quietly, taking her seat again. "What are you offering me?" She remained alert, ready for any sudden movement from him.

"A last dance," he answered. Then he was silent, waiting.

She looked at him with disbelief, and then scanned the Bronze to see if some plot was unfolding while he distracted her. But there was nothing. She turned back to him. "Right. A last tango in Sunnydale." Before the words were completely uttered, she reeled at the unexpected wave of pain that washed over her. It hit her: A last dance with Angel. Her lips pressed together, and she struggled to keep fresh tears from forming. She had cried too much, and tears were so easy now. "You bastard," she hissed.

He smiled, and she realized that that only a few more degrees of humanity would make him look just like ...

The one across from her, the one who was not her Angel, leaned toward the table. "Consider it a chance to say good- bye. Closure. A fond farewell--whatever," he finished, mildly amused. "The one thing you never got, Buffy--a last dance."

She hated herself for it, but the sudden surge of feeling was undeniable. She wondered how many young women this demon had manipulated to learn what offers couldn't be refused.

"Why do you think I would need--want--that?" she spat. She asked herself, Why do I need it?

"Don't you? Isn't that why you're crying?"

She would have denied it, but at that moment, the tears did spill. She reached up and angrily wiped them away with her fingertips. When her hand returned to the tabletop, Angel reached out to touch her, attempting to cover her fingers with his own. She pulled away with a jerk. As she composed herself to speak, he interjected.

"I already told you: No killing tonight. Tomorrow, I'll be back, and I may come after you with everything I have. Or not. I haven't decided yet, actually," he said casually. "But tonight, you can touch him one more time. You can feel his arms around you. You can say good-bye."

"And you?" Her chin came up defiantly, a gesture she frequently found comfort in. "What do you get out of it? Besides the joy of seeing me hurt."

"Totall recall, remember?" His lips curved into a sensual smile, the one that always held such promise for her. His voice was low and throaty, and chills ran up Buffy's spine. "I remember every moment of pleasure I took from you. You were ... sweet." He reached for her fingers again, pressing just the tips, and she forced herself to hold still.

She finally noticed, startled, that he still wore the ring, and it made her wonder what significance it held for him--if it was just a habit. After three days of leaving hers in her music box, she had retrieved it and put it back on her finger, the heart pointing inward. She still belonged to another--she would remove it when her heart told her she didn't any longer.

Buffy looked away. "I hate you, Angelus."

"I know, Slayer. Dance with me." His fingers covered hers, the two rings together. "Dance with me," he whispered again.

She stood, unsure until she was on her feet whether she'd leave or acquiesce. "Yes," she answered, surprised at the certainty in her own voice. "I'll dance with you. Once. For Angel."

He smiled, and he almost looked like ...

The room's silence gave way to the opening notes of the next song. Her blood sang in her veins, a warning siren about what she was going to do, as she watched Angel-- Angelus--lift her hand from the table and draw her to the dance floor.

"Mary walks down to the water's edge
And there she hangs her head
To find herself faded, a shadow of what she once was ..."

Through the numbness she felt his arms slip around her back, and she moved towards him.

"She said how long have I been sleeping
And why do I feel so old why do I feel so cold
My heart is saying one thing but my body won't let go ... "

"Why am I doing this?" she whispered, pressing her face against his shirt and feeling his strength beneath. She realized as soon as the words were out that she was asking Angel. Her Angel. The numbness began to abandon her, taking the protection with it.

"Because you loved me," Angelus answered for him. His hand moved up to stroke the nape of her neck, and she imagined it to be almost a gesture of comfort. Her fingers pressed into his back, pulling him closer. The numbness fled. They swayed on the dance floor, barely moving.

Only touching.

"With trembling hands she reaches up
A stranger's flesh is offered ... "

He continued to caress her neck with his fingers while the other hand strayed down her back, tickling softly, a familiar touch. She breathed deeply, inhaling his scent, and made a conscious decision.

Three minutes. Accept this man as Angel for three minutes. Three more minutes of his arms around her, the fabric of his shirt rough against her cheek, his chin resting on the top of her head, and his fingers at the base of her skull. Three more minutes, two ... and then Angel would be gone, and it would be her sacred duty to learn to kill what had taken his place.

"And I would be the last to know
I would be the last to let it show
I would be the last to go ... "

Buffy remembered the last night, her birthday, seventeen years old and the fact that, for once, she understood what "years old" meant. Cold and shivery in his bed, sure she had almost lost him, joyous in the knowledge that he was still with her. It was her decision to make, and letting him into her body had been a given, because he was already in her heart. She was amazed, afterwards, that she only loved and trusted him more.

"Take her hand
She will lead you through the fire
And give you back hope
And hope that you won't take too much
Respecting what is left ... "

His fingers left the back of her neck and both hands settled on her lower back, pulling her into him as if he could tell what she was thinking. She remembered the last time he had held her, when he had finally whispered ...

I love you.

I love you, Angel, she thought, felt, forcing the thought loud from her mind, hoping that somehow, if she projected it enough, it would get past this demon that held her and Angel would hear her. I love you, and I wasn't ready to let you go. I never could have been ready to let you go, and I'm still not. But I can't keep believing that I'll find you, that it'll be you that walks in that door one night, that I can restore your soul like I helped take it away.

She sighed, shuddering, and his hands tightened on her back.

I have to destroy you. I have to find the strength to look into your eyes and put a stake into your heart. I need to know that I'll be strong enough to do it. And I need to know that you'll understand.

"She cradled us ... she held us in her arms
Unselfish in her suffering
She could not understand
That no one seemed to have the time
To cherish what was given
And I would be the last to know ... "

She knew the song was coming to an end. Soon it slowed, fading, and she felt his lips on her forehead, kissing her briefly before he pulled away. He watched her intently for a moment, and she tried to decipher the expression he wore.

"You're still so sweet," he whispered, and, pausing to touch her cheek, slowly retreated. Her eyes followed him as he left the dance floor and the Bronze, never looking back. She found herself standing, alone, with tears on her cheeks, and she wiped them away again, breathing deeply to compose herself.

Another night gone, and she still couldn't kill him.

Please make me strong enough.

***

Towards dawn Angel slipped into the basement that now served as the trio's makeshift headquarters. The place was silent. Feeding was over, and it seemed that Dru, Spike, and the current set of devoted lackeys had retired for the day.

He heard a noise come from across the room, and he turned to discover Spike, quite awake and watching him from across a large oak table. "Angelus," he purred, and Angel heard trouble in the tone.

"Still up?" Angel asked, slightly wary.

"I wanted to make sure you were ... all right," Spike replied. He was starting to walk again, but couldn't last for too long, and Angel guessed he was too tired to stand. He walked over to the table.

"I appreciate your concern, but, unlike some of us, I'm always all right." He knew where this was going. One of the underlings had heard something and ...

"Well," Spike began, interrupting his thoughts, "I heard something interesting, if you can believe it. I heard that you ... and the Slayer ... were making like Fred and Ginger at that club tonight."

"What of it?" Angel asked, annoyed.

Spike's tone remained light. "You want to explain yourself?"

Angel straddled the chair directly opposite the table from Spike. "Let's get one thing straight." He knew Spike would push to a point, but would back down before he truly offended Angelus. "I don't explain myself to you." Spike raised a hand, capitulating, but Angel continued. "However, I'll humor you. It's all part of my plan."

"Your plan?" Spike leaned back in his chair, appraising Angel. "You're planning on stepping on her feet until she's dead?"

Angel ignored the comment. "I said once that, to kill Buffy, you have to love her."

"Yes, I remember," Spike answered, frowning. "Thought it was rather a lame observation at the time, considering that you don't love anything other than your handsome self, you devil."

Angel snorted. "Yes, well, it was inaccurate. No, it has nothing to do with how I feel."

"Well, what, then?" Spike prodded, always fascinated by any plan to kill the Slayer.

Angel looked away, linked his hands together on the tabletop, and settled in for a few hours of planning. "To kill this girl, this Slayer, I don't have to love her ...

"I have to make sure she loves me."

THE END

Hannah’s Site

Additional Notes: I won't lie--this episode really did a number on my emotions, which I've been breaking down with any friend who will listen. It made me angry at guys I haven't communicated with in 10 years. It made me analyze my own history of betraying and being betrayed. It's made me screw up a lot of work that I really needed to get done last week.

I guess it's because BtVS does such a tremendous job of presenting the story on many levels, and what viewer can't empathize with Willow's devastation at finding Xander kissing Cordelia, or Buffy's horror at having the guy she trusted turn into a monster the next day. I really hope that I can get this out of my system, because I have more work to do this week. But thank you, Joss Whedon, for making me think.



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