Reflections

Reflections

By Ares
Author's Notes

Entering the lobby, Buffy spies the doors to the elevator closing, and knowing how long it takes to wait for any hotel elevator, she yells for the people inside to hold it for her. Some kind soul does so, and she manages to squeeze in, shopping bags and all. The car is full to capacity with one Buffy-sized hole left for her to fill. She ignores the not-so-quiet grumbles and becomes another sardine in the tin can. Somehow she has enough leverage to move an inch and, trying to reach the floor number she needs, Buffy sees the number is already lit.

The ride is a short one, and she has to exit the car at the second floor to allow a few of its passengers off. She doesn’t mind, it gives her and the people behind her a little more room. Rearranging herself and her bags, Buffy’s thoughts wander to the retail therapy she had indulged in earlier that day. It has been a while since she has spoiled herself, and she is pleased that she had been talked into a few hours of shopping bliss. Buffy has a party to go to, and that meant a new dress, red, as it turned out, shoes of course, and a matching hand bag. Buffy smiles as she recalls the beautiful lace of the underwear, black and as sexy as hell. The girl who served her asked a lot of questions, wondering who the lucky guy is. Buffy’s daydream falters. There isn’t anyone in her life like that just now, and she thinks the only person who holds the key to her heart isn’t ever likely to be. She blinks, and sighs with regrets too late to do anything about. The story of her life, really.

The elevator stops again and a family disembarks. The little boy’s legs tangle in her bags and the slight delay produces a murmur of discontent. She apologises, fiercely clutching her purchases to prevent further harm. Buffy’s retreat takes her further into the car, and it is then that she sees herself in the highly polished doors. Oh my God, she thinks, staring at her reflection. Who is that looking back at her? And what has happened to her hair? It is falling about her face having escaped the tie, and she wishes her hair short again. Her lipstick is smudged, the muffin she had eaten earlier has marred its peachy shine. And is that a greasy stain on her cheek? She thinks now would be a good time for some demon menace to appear. Surreptitiously, she tries to tidy her hair, but the bags’ ties around her wrists keep getting in the way. She hears an annoyed hiss when her shoe box bumps against the matronly woman by her side. Buffy decides to forego the hair. The stain she swipes at with the back of her hand. It isn’t as if she is going to run into anyone she knows. Her room is only twenty floors away.

Something makes her glance at the reflections of the people behind her. Are they looking at the mess that says, this is Buffy, a slovenly mess, or are their gazes polite, the doors their focus? It’s hard for her to tell and she tries not to let it bother her. Butterflies flutter in her belly and she can almost swear it’s her slayer vibe acting up. She scrutinises the people behind her but none seem threatening. A couple of men sporting baseball caps chatter muted whispers in jargon she doesn’t understand, but that isn’t a crime. The men get off at the sixth floor, the matron also. Feet shuffle and bodies shift claiming the extra space. Out of the corner of her eye she realises another set of reflections crowd. The walls are mirrored and show far more detail than the polished doors. Who on earth thought up mirrors in an elevator, Buffy wonders? How many people want to see their flaws in life-sized detail on their way out, or worse, stumbling their way back in? She eyes her own image, and shudders.

The car stops at the eleventh floor, two couples alight, friends, by the looks. Their departing laughter lingers, the closing doors trapping the sound outside. A lump forms in her throat. She misses her sister, and her best friend Willow. They would have loved the shopping here. Buffy scoots back a little until she feels the breath from the man behind her. The smells of cigarettes and booze assail her senses, and her peripheral vision shows her a balding man running to fat. His business suit looks expensive, and rumpled. A stain darkens his white shirt. Raising her eyes to the ceiling, she fervently wishes for him to get off next. He obliges by stumbling out at the fifteenth floor, and three people exit on the twentieth. The hairs on the back of her neck rise, and once again she checks the mirror. There are two people left, women young enough to make her feel old. They are nudging each other, grinning and whispering something she cannot hear. Buffy wants to tell them to speak up and share the joke. She doesn’t. She watches the girl with a ring threaded through her nose produce a phone from her pocket. Her companion has a tattoo that snakes up her bare arm, reminding Buffy that Dawn has one of her own. Buffy was so angry when she spotted the initials of Dawn’s boyfriend that she couldn’t speak to Dawn for a week. The boyfriend is history, unfortunately his presence remains under her sister’s skin. Nose ring flips open her phone just as the elevator comes to a stop. The girls saunter past her with attitude.

She resists the urge to comment on their swagger and her shoulders slump in relief when the doors cut off her view. She is alone at last. The butterflies in her stomach flutter anew and her skin prickles. Again, Buffy checks the elevator behind her with a glance to the mirrors. The view is empty. Of course it is, you idiot, Buffy realises in that instant. Boxes and bags drop away and are still falling when her hand hits the emergency stop. She spins around stake already in motion. An immovable force halts her fist in mid-swing and she is held there until her bewildered brain makes sense of what is happening.

Angel’s large hand relinquishes its hold on her and he steps back to give her room.

She knows her mouth is open, she can see it in the mirror, and that is not all she sees. Before her is the most incredible sight and one she would never have thought possible. Looking into a mirror, Buffy can never hope to see Angel reflected there. Here, he is physically before her, his back against the glass, his dark gaze focussed on her. Beside him Buffy can see her reflection. The whole thing has a surreal quality about it. The vampire is immaculate in black and she a total disaster, but Buffy doesn’t notice that. What takes her breath away is that she can see them as if both were reflections of themselves, and like any ordinary boy and girl, they stare back at her. God, but they are beautiful. Chest tight with emotion she should no longer feel, Buffy closes her mouth. She cannot tear her eyes away from the magical scene before her. Angel hasn’t changed – what else is new – and she is no longer the young girl with stars in her eyes. She is nearer to thirty than twenty, and now she realises how much she complements his appearance.

With an effort she drags her gaze away and brings it to bear on the man himself. Judging by the look on his face, he is as surprised as she is.

“I thought you were dead,” she blurts out.

He shrugs those wonderfully wide shoulders, and a grin, his grin, pulls at his lips.

“I am dead.”

She can’t help it, she grins back at him unable to resist. It’s as if no time has passed and she is back in Sunnydale whiling away the hours with her undead boyfriend.

His grin falters, however, and hers follows suit.

“Where have you been? I thought you were dead, as in gone for good, dusted, ashes, poof.”

Her attempt at humour is ambushed by the hitch in her voice. She had been grief stricken when she found out what he had initiated, back in the alley in Los Angeles. They had answered the call, albeit late, and found no sign of him or any of his crew, at least any that were left alive. Judging by the demon carcasses they saw, the battle had been terrible. Time passed, her grief faded, but it was never forgotten. She moved on, had been moving on before Angel’s demise. And then a whisper, a hint that he was back, only not in L.A. She had been hurt that he hadn’t contacted her, devastated that he hadn’t had the grace to let her know for all that time he had been safe. It has been five years since she heard he was still walking around. She hasn’t made an effort to find him either.

“Around, nowhere, everywhere.”

It is no answer and Buffy thinks she deserves more. The hurt comes crashing back, it slams into her like a knife.

Stung, her tone harsh, she asks, “What are you doing here?”

He seems a little distracted when he answers, “I’m meeting some one.”

“Oh.” Some one. Buffy wonders, who. And then for no reason other than old bitterness, she adds, “I got married.”

He stares at her, his big dark eyes trying to hide the hurt she has inflicted. Buffy can see his struggle, and ashamed at her need to inflict pain, she whispers, “It didn’t last.”

“I’m sorry.”

Is he? Buffy peers across at him. Is that a hint of relief ? How dare he.

“Yeah, well I’m not. My life has been full.”

She hears him swallow before he says, “Good, that’s good.”

Has it been good, she wonders? Aside from her brief few months of marriage to a man who could never fill the emptiness that always threatens to devour her, the men she had loved and discarded, her friends being in constant danger, and oh yeah, the apocalypses and no few demons she has slain, it’s been peachy.

She asks herself if he has been so lucky for the years unaccounted for. “You?”

“I’m good.”

A perverse satisfaction fills her on hearing that. He has had as much heartache as she has. And guilt follows hard on the heels of that thought. One question remains, and fearing the worst, she enquires, “Do you have anyone?”

“Anyone?”

He isn’t making this easy for her. She settles for, “Are you alone?”

“Alone.”

She snaps, “Angel! You know what I mean.”

He glances away and towards the reflections that belong solely to her. He looks to where he should be. What must that be like, she wonders, to know the world doesn’t want you and refuses to show your very existence?

“If you mean, do I have anyone in my life right now? No, I don’t. I have had. Some one I cared about...” she hears his dead lungs heave in a breath, “All the people I care about have died.” His brown-eyed gaze pierces hers. “You did.”

“That wasn’t your fault.”

“Wasn’t it?”

“You didn’t choose my calling, it chose me. It’s pure arrogance to think that you are responsible for what happens to me.”

Angel’s look tells her he isn’t so sure. “And the others?”

“Angel, they chose you. If there is one thing I have learned over the years is that people will do what they will. Nothing can change that. I know, I’ve tried.”

“Yeah. I get that.” His attempt at a laugh makes her want to cry. “Saying it isn’t my fault, doesn’t make it feel that way.”

“So you stayed away.”

He shrugs. “It’s easier, and safer.”

“For you, or for me?”

Another shrug, and he doesn’t answer.

She can’t help herself, she glances back to her dream of her with him by her side. What could have been stares back at her. The hurt trickles away, the stream of bitterness and grief ebbs, and for the first time in a long while she feels weightless. The past years have been a burden she hasn’t wanted but accepted all the same. Isn’t it that the nature of the job? And isn’t it in her nature to do what is right, to fix what is wrong? Isn’t it time something went right for her just this once?

A squawk on the intercom makes them both jump, and they smile sheepishly at one another.

Buffy surrenders to its demands, turns away from the magic that has had her mesmerised, and hits the button to resume the elevator’s ascent.

A pale hand retrieves her packages before she begins to kneel. He is close when she looks up, and her gaze becomes trapped in his. His eyes follow her tongue when she licks her suddenly dry lips. Her heart thuds loudly in her ears, and his, she is sure. Buffy puts out a hand for her purchases but he refuses to relinquish his hold.

The devil in her prompts her to say, “I have a birthday party to go to. When you’re finished with whatever you are doing, you’re quite welcome to come along.”

It’s been a long time since she experienced one of his brilliant smiles, and she is blinded by the one he gives her now.

“Already have an invitation.”

Her eyebrow twitches. “Oh?”

The doors open on the twenty-seventh floor and it is a moment before it registers.

“Oh!” Her eyes narrow. “Faith.”

“Faith,” he echoes, and gestures for her to proceed him out of the car.

“We’ve been set up,” she laughs, and the sound of his chuckle is music to her ears.

Is there a party?” he asks with a twitch of his eyebrows.

“There had better be,” she answers, thinking about her new outfit. And then she revises that thought. Sexy-as-hell lingerie pops into her head, leading her to more salacious thoughts. Her new-found enthusiasm plummets when she remembers that this is Angel and he is a no-go zone.

“What is it?”

Heart aching, Buffy forces a smile.

“Tell me how you got an invitation, and how Faith is the one who knew where to find you while I fix us a drink.”

Buffy leads the way to the room that she and her sister slayer share. Buffy swipes her key card and enters, murmuring, “You can put the bags on the bed,” and indicates which of the two bedrooms is hers.

The rooms are spacious and a spectacular view of the city skyline waits on the other side of drapes that have been drawn against the glare of the bright afternoon sun. The suite is one of the hotel’s more expensive, and Buffy has wondered how Faith can afford it. Of the other slayer there is no sign. A small metallic bottle catches her eye, sitting pride of place on the table. Buffy picks up the note resting beside it.

This is my birthday gift to my two best friends. Buffy, no argument, and treat the guy right. He is paying for this after all. Oh, I came across this in my travels, in a brothel, no less. It’s for you, Angel. Trust yourself, and let yourself believe. I’ll catch you later. F.

Buffy is aware that Angel had come up behind her and has read the note. She doesn’t see the look of anguish, incredulity, and hope that blossoms in his eyes as he stares down at the bottle. She doesn’t notice that his hand trembles when he reaches out towards it. She doesn’t see his fingers shy away from the bottle at the last second. She doesn’t know his thoughts are racing, and are recalling the magic potion that he and the Groosulag bought to safe-guard Cordelia’s visions. She doesn’t see his brow furrow as he tries to understand the puzzle before him. Does this potion carry the same protective qualities that Cordelia used, and if it does, will it work to protect his curse, or is this another mystical elixir made especially for him? Because she isn’t looking, she misses his speculation giving way to determination, and the way the slope of his shoulders straighten from his usual hunch with resolve.

The words ‘He is paying for this after all’ is all that she can see, and the only thing that crosses her mind is that he has lied to her.

The hurt she thinks she has put aside comes rushing back, and she wields it like a blade. “You knew about this?”

Startled, Angel backs away, hands up, defensive. “I didn’t. The room was her idea, it was my gift to her. I didn’t know that you would be here.”

“And would you have come, knowing?”

His hesitation is all she needs. “Get out!”

“Buffy.”

Tears threaten. She blinks rapidly hoping to prevent their fall.

“No, you don’t get to say my name like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like you love me,” she all but sobs. Treacherously, her tears do fall. She scrubs madly at them, angry at her weakness. Angry that it is always this way, the arguments, the pain, the heartache his presence brings.

His answer is so quiet she almost doesn’t hear it. “I do love you. Always have, always will.”

“But.”

“No buts.”

Buffy blinks at him, her vision fracturing more. Strong arms engulf her and she finds herself crying into his silk-clad chest. He holds her as if she were the most delicate of flowers. Buffy surrenders, closes her eyes and sinks into his embrace. The image of the ordinary girl and boy flares bright behind her lids. It no longer has the appeal. Here is where the magic lies, here in his arms. ‘A vampire in love with a Slayer, it’s rather poetic, in a maudlin sort of way,’ Giles told Angel once. She remembers Angel confessing this to her on one of their many moonlit walks back in Sunnydale. She thinks Giles was right, and wrong, in so many ways. A Slayer in love with a vampire, it’s rather poetic, in an extraordinary sort of way, is what he should have said.

Angel’s murmur is a deep vibration against her cheek.

“Together we are strong.”

The words resonate and pry loose something lost deep inside her. A spark, a flicker, recognition perhaps. To the Slayer, Angel’s words sound like prophecy. Perhaps it is. Buffy defies prophecy. It’s what she does. She likes the sound of this one, though. Perhaps, this time, she’ll just let it run its course. She smiles. She definitely likes the sound of that.

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: G
Summary: A chance encounter?
Disclaimer:Buffy and Angel belong to Joss and co.
Thanks to Jo who spanked this into submission, and who offered excellent advice. Hugs, sweetie.
Everyone who loves Buffy and Angel will have recognised the scenes I referred to in various episodes of Angel. IWRY of course, and Couplet are the main ones.

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