Disclaimer – I don’t own them; Joss and Mutant Enemy and all the various other Powers That Be do. If I owned them, I’m pretty sure they'd be much, much happier.
Comments and feedback to Ralkana47@yahoo.com would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
Author's Note – Thanks go once again to Maquis Leader, for all her help.
Timeline – Set between Amends and Gingerbread.
Spoilers – Amends. A little one for Becoming, and a little one for The Prodigal.
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He walked the streets of the hushed village, reveling in the silence. They were quiet and hidden, but he could hear the blood singing in their veins. Singing to him.
He approached the door of the house he knew so well, and the latch yielded under the pressure of his hand. He stepped forward, only to growl and fall back as he bounced off some unseen force that nearly threw him to the ground. Darla had warned him, but he’d forgotten. The whisper of the blood was so loud, and he couldn’t ignore it. He was drawn to it.
His handsome face became feral, predatory, and the flickering light of nearby torches flashed off of his teeth as he bared them in an unholy grin. Through the open door of the house, he could see her in the sputtering light of the dying fire, which provoked some nameless and incomprehensible dread within him. Forcing down the unease the fire created in him, he returned his attention to her. He could feel her, smell her. Every particle of his being was focused on her. He smiled again, calling her name softly.
Her head shot up in surprise as she gasped. She ran toward the door, stopping just before the threshold. And just out of his grasp.
“Liam! But you’re… Father said… Are you…” Her deep brown eyes, so like his own, grew wide. “Are you an angel now?”
At her awestruck whisper, his smile grew, but if the young girl understood – or even saw – the malice in it, she said nothing.
“An angel… yes. And I’ll tell you all about… heaven, Kathy, love. But first you must ask me in.”
The girl’s smile faltered, just slightly, for the first time.
“Why?” she asked curiously. “Why must I ask you in? Why do you not simply enter? This is your home, Liam.”
His hands twitched as he fought the urge to reach out and snap her slim neck. That was not his plan. Besides, whatever force was guarding the home from his presence would not allow him to harm her. Not yet. Not until she gave him leave to do so.
“Ah, love, there are different rules for… angels. You must ask me.”
She stared at him for a moment, and then she giggled, dropping a curtsey. “Very well, sir. Please come in.”
With an elaborate and mocking bow, he stepped forward, gasping as the heat from her body intensified the pounding in his head, in his dead veins and his lifeless heart. He stroked her cheek with a cool fingertip, smiling into her beautiful, young, vibrant face.
“And now, Kathy dear,” he growled, tangling his fingers into her hair. “We’re going to play a little game…”
“No!” Angel sat up, eyes wide and staring but unseeing, the sound of unneeded breaths harsh and ragged in the silence of the room. His equilibrium slowly began to return and he sensed a presence beside him. He whipped his head around just as she reached a hand out to touch his shoulder, and before he realized what he was doing, his fist swung out and towards her, a growl ripping from his throat as his features shifted.
She blocked his swing with ease, holding his fist to prevent another one, and he gasped. With fierce effort, he forced his features to shift back, banishing his game face.
“Buffy! What are you–“
“Angel, are you okay?” She was staring at him, hazel eyes wide with anxiety.
“I’m… uh… what are you doing here?” he asked, avoiding the question and her eyes.
“I finished training early, so I thought I’d come surprise you, be here when you woke up. What was that? Was it a nightmare? Are they starting again? Is it the First–“
“No… it wasn’t that…” He closed his eyes as the dream-the memories-came back to him again. “Oh God. I can’t… I have to get out of here.”
He slid out of bed, extremely grateful that he’d fallen asleep in his trousers, and then his reasoning for sleeping with them on came crashing back to him. His face contorted into a grimace and his fists clenched, and he fought for calm once more. Ignoring Buffy, he tugged his boots on and grabbed the shirt that lay at the foot of the bed. Her small hand clamped around his forearm, stopping his frenetic movement.
“Angel, what is going on?”
“Buffy, please. I just have to go out for a while.”
“Is it the First Evil again?”
“No, I told you, it’s not that!” Angel stopped, forcing a breath in and out. “I’m sorry. Look, I just have to get out of here.” He shrugged her hand off, gently, and she let him. He pulled the shirt over his head as he moved toward the bedroom door.
Hearing the fear in her voice, he stopped and turned around. She was standing in the middle of the room, staring at him, and she looked so lost. He sighed, briefly closing his eyes.
“I promise, Buffy, I’ll be back well before sunrise.”
Without another word, he slipped out, sighing in relief when she made no move to follow him.
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She watched him as he fought. The motions were fluid and graceful, not one movement unnecessary, but she could tell his mind wasn’t on the battle. The actions were automatic, and she winced as Angel gripped the head of the vampire in both hands, growling as he twisted it off. Both head and body turned to dust in his hands, and he hung his own head, staying still and unmoving for several moments. Eventually, he raised his head, and though the shadows hid his face, she could tell that he was looking straight at her. She stepped forward from the darker shadows of the treeline.
“I don’t have to tell you how dangerous it is to fly solo with no weapons,” she said, handing him a stake. “Though you seem to be doing all right.”
He took the stake wordlessly, as well as the leather jacket she handed him. He felt a quirk of amusement at the jacket; it wasn’t like he was going to catch his death of cold. He shrugged into it and fell in step beside her. They moved in tandem, easy, synchronized, each holding a stake loosely in one hand.
Buffy was content to walk beside him. His thoughts were elsewhere, she could tell, but he would share them with her soon. She hoped. Though they seemed to be patrolling at random, she realized where their path was taking them, and she felt a trickle of dismay crawl down her spine.
Very little about the dead and undead bothered her anymore, but there was still one part of the cemetery that made her wig. Majorly. Everything was so small. The stones were smaller, the spaces between the graves were smaller, even the spans of time between the two dates on the stones were smaller. If there were even two dates. The ones with only one date were so sad.
“Angel,” she said softly and uneasily, “Why are we here?”
He sighed and said nothing, dropping down onto a nearby bench. Buffy sat next to him, as close to him as she could. She didn’t want to be here, she really didn’t want to be here, but he needed her.
He stayed silent, and the tension escalated. Buffy did everything she could not to squirm. Angel closed his eyes. I don’t want to tell her. God I don’t want her to know. I don’t ever want her to know. But I have to tell someone or this is going to tear me apart. Maybe that would be better. Maybe it would be better if nobody ever knows and I just…
His eyes opened, drawn to hers. And the trust and fear and love he saw in those beautiful gold-flecked pools of green calmed everything in him. He had to tell her. She deserved to know. She grinned quickly but worriedly, and before he could open his mouth, she leaned over and took his hand.
“Baby, you can tell me what’s eating at you, or I can sit here and imagine it, but you gotta tell someone. It’s killing you.”
“You couldn’t possibly imagine what I’m remembering. You might have seen some ugly things, but…” His voice trailed off as he stared out at the tiny gravestones before them. “This… this is where she’d be.”
Her brows knitted in confusion at the last, almost inaudible, sentence. “Where who would be? Angel, please, tell me what’s got you so upset!”
He finally looked at her, and even in the low light of the waning moon, she could see the overwhelming crush of despair and guilt in his eyes, weighing him down, dragging him back to the depths of pain he’d been lost in on Christmas morning. Her heart broke for him. This wasn’t the madness thrust upon him by the First Evil; this was simply remembrance. Remembrance of Angelus and his thoughts and his deeds.
“Kathy. This is where she’d be.”
Buffy’s breath escaped her in a rush. “Oh, Angel,” she sighed. He had never spoken of his family to her, other than his perfunctory statement telling her of their deaths at his – Angelus’, she reminded herself – hands. She couldn’t even remember how she knew that Kathy was his sister’s name. She just knew.
She wrapped her arms around him and pulled his head down to her shoulder, and he stiffened. His arms didn’t go around her in return; he simply waited, unmoving, in her embrace. She let him go, knowing that he didn’t want her touch right now, and if she was honest, she knew it was because he felt he didn’t deserve her comfort.
“Did I…” He swallowed, stalling, and Buffy idly wondered if his habits were left over from his life or if he picked them up from those around him. She realized she was trying to distract herself from this painful conversation that she wasn’t sure she could handle, and she mentally shook herself, focusing. She would handle it, because Angel needed her to.
“Did I ever tell you where the name Angelus came from?” he asked.
She smiled briefly. “Giles told us, when I first found out about you, right after the first time you went 'grr' on me. The vampire with the angelic face,” she finished, stroking one finger over his cheekbone. She drew back when he flinched. “I think it fits.”
“That’s not…” He sighed, glancing quickly at her and then away again. “That’s not where it comes from. When I… he began to make a name and a reputation for himself, that’s the idea that got around, and he let it. But that’s not why he chose it.”
He stood, beginning to pace, and she let him. As long as he didn’t go too far from her. He stopped and turned to stare at her.
“Kathy chose it for me.” He waited for her response, but she did nothing, simply watching him. “She asked me… Oh, God. She… she asked me if I was an angel. And it was the perfect way in. The perfect way to hurt her.”
“Today’s her birthday. So you see, it’s not the First Evil. It’s just me. Every year, the dreams, the memories come, and I can’t stop them.”
“That’s why you haven’t been sleeping.”
“I can’t, Buffy. I can’t get away from them. I stay dressed, I stay uncomfortable, I read and patrol and pace, but it happens… I… I fall asleep, and they come.”
“But they should! They should come! So I don’t ever forget what I did to her!”
“It wasn’t you!”
“It was, dammit. God, it was me!”
He dropped to his knees, burying his head in his hands. She too slid to her knees, grasping his hands and pulling them away from his grief-stricken face. He resisted, but she didn’t let go.
“It wasn’t you, Angel. It was him. Angelus. You wouldn’t have hurt her, you loved her.”
He nodded, and she was relieved that he agreed, but her relief didn’t last long.
“I did. I loved her. And that’s why she died. That’s why he killed her. She was beautiful, and she was my baby sister, and I loved her. And I murdered her!”
He wrenched his hands away, and she watched as they curled into fists. They clenched tighter and tighter, and she was stunned into immobility as she saw his blood well and fall from between his fingers onto the rich earth of the graveyard. As she stared at the ground, she saw another drop fall, this one clear, catching the moonlight as it danced to earth. Another fell, and another, and they came faster and faster, and she looked up, shocked. His head was bowed, but she could see the tears sliding down his cheeks, each racing to catch up to the one before it. He was crying. Her beautiful, strong Angel was crying, and she felt her tears fall with his.
Slowly, not wanting to startle him, she raised her hands until they rested on his broad shoulders. With the slightest of pressure, she pulled him toward her, and he collapsed, melting into her this time, clinging to her with a ferocity that would have crushed a normal woman. His tears and flesh were cool against the warmth of her skin. She held him, stroking her fingers through his soft hair as he cried out his grief, grief she was willing to bet he’d never allowed himself to express before.
Time passed, and though she whispered her love in his ear as he wept, she also kept an eye and ear out for anything that might be tempted to sneak up on the two of them while they were seemingly defenseless. But there were no disturbances. It was as if the earth itself was sharing Angel’s grief.
Eventually he stilled in her arms. There was no comforting motion of his chest as he lay in her arms, and she tried to tell herself that maybe he had fallen asleep, but his body was too still and tense for sleep. It frightened her to know that he was too weary and upset to pretend to breathe as he normally would.
“Angel,” she whispered, and when there was no response, she shifted slightly to make it easier for him to look up at her. “Angel, please, baby, look at me.”
He did, and she had never seen him look so empty and so vulnerable. Not even… her heart wrenched and her stomach twisted with the memory. Not even when she’d told him to close his eyes, and he had so trustingly obeyed her. She tried to keep her voice light and yet stern at the same time.
“Angel, I’m the Slayer, and I have a Watcher, and it’s his job to tell me all about vampires, and – no, just listen to me,” she said, putting a finger over his lips to forestall the angry retort she could see in his eyes. “Giles knows his vampires. Angel, you weren't the first vampire who killed his family, and you weren’t the last. If he’s right, mostly all vampires do it. It’s in the wiring or something. The family is the easiest to get to.”
He looked away and she slid a finger under his chin and tilted his head back toward her so that he was forced to look into her eyes.
“It wasn’t you, baby. You loved Kathy, and I know you would never have hurt her. It was Angelus, Angel, and you aren’t him.” She sighed, rubbing his large, cool hands in her own small, warm ones, gritting her teeth to ignore the blood that slicked his flesh. “You have to let her go, Angel. She’s at peace. Let her rest in peace. She wouldn’t want you to remember her this way.”
Angel stared into her eyes, and though she could see that his eyes were no longer wild and chaotic, there was still so much distress in them.
“She was… she… the only person in my family who loved me no matter what… and he destroyed her, Buffy. Just killing her wasn’t enough. He made sure that she was terrified when she died. And she thought… she thought it was me! Him! Liam! God, how can you–“
“Because I know it wasn’t you. I know it was that bastard of a demon inside you, and I can tell the difference, dammit! Angel, I looked into his eyes, and you weren’t there. Nothing that makes you good, nothing that makes you you was there! He may have been wearing your face, your body, but nothing of the man I love was in there.”
She cupped his cheeks in her hands, stroking away the remains of his tears with her thumbs. “Angel, I can’t take the memories away. I wish to God I could, it hurts so much to see you in so much pain. But I can help you. Talk to me, tell me when things get this bad. Baby, that’s what I’m here for. I love you, and I will never judge you for anything Angelus did. Let me help you. I know you only want to shield me from what you think you’ve done, but nothing he did will ever make me love you any less.”
He gazed into her eyes, searching her face, hoping to divine the truth in her words. He desperately needed to believe that she was telling the truth, that he might have someone to talk to, someone who wouldn’t turn away from him in disgust and horror. Her face was open and honest, hiding nothing from him, not her love and her devotion, but not her fear and her anxiety for him either. Slowly he nodded, and her face lit up in a heartbreakingly beautiful smile.
“I’ll try, Buffy. I can’t… I won’t promise anything, but I’ll try. You’re right. Nothing will ever take away the pain of Kathy’s death… or the pain of any of the deaths I caused… he caused… but it has helped to tell you. Thank you, beloved. You’ll never know what a gift you’ve given me, just listening. But please, don’t ever think that you have to… I mean, I’ll understand–“
She stopped his words with a light kiss, a feathery brush of her lips to his.
“Shh. I know. Come on, let’s get you home so you can sleep. You haven’t been sleeping very well. I know why now, but you do need sleep.”
He looked alarmed at the prospect of sleep, but he slowly got to his feet, extending a hand to help her up. They began to walk, unhurriedly at first, but completely in step once again. Buffy glanced up at his face, studying the dearly loved lines and planes and angles in the moonlight. He wasn’t completely at peace, and she wasn’t sure he ever would be, but he was a lot closer than he had been at the beginning of the night. She took a deep breath, determined to do one more thing, something that would vanquish one of her demons and one of his.
“Angel,” she asked softly, and he glanced at her but said nothing. “I’d like… Will you… would you sketch me a picture? Of your sister? I’d like to see her.”
She held her breath. She wasn’t sure if he was ready for this yet. For that matter, she wasn’t sure if she was. The last sketches she had that he’d drawn had been done by the demon. Angel looked shocked, but gradually he relaxed, and the corners of his lips turned up in a tiny, hesitant smile.
“I… I think… I’d like that,” he murmured, and she sighed in relief, squeezing his hand happily. They stepped through the gate that separated the smaller section from the main cemetery, neither knowing – but both hoping – that one more ghost had been laid to rest there that night.
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