It’s an old dream.
He doesn’t indulge it often anymore; what’s the point? Sunnydale, and his life there, are in the past. No one should have as much past as he’s had, he thinks. No one deserves this much future.
But on this night, after he’s returned from Sunnydale, the amulet safely delivered into Buffy’s hands, he’s feeling self-indulgent. So, before he goes to sleep he lets the almost transparent images of her filter through his mind.
Buffy on the steps of Hemery.
Buffy knocking him on his ass in the alley.
Buffy patching his wounded side.
Buffy’s fingers threaded through the hair on his neck.
Usually, the innocence of that mouth, that first kiss, is enough to topple him from his magnificent resolve to let well enough alone. And sometimes thoughts of that kiss hardens his mostly listless cock and he jerks off to thoughts of her warm lips wrapped around him.
Driving back from Sunnydale he has the nauseating feeling that he’ll never see her alive again. He remembers the look on her face when she glanced up, past the offered hand to his smile: uncomplicated and grateful, mirroring exactly how he felt to be able to touch her after all these months apart. They hadn’t parted on bad terms, but they had parted. A reconciliation was out of the question. But it was every bit as unlikely that they’d remain “just good friends.”
He’d known that as soon as he’d touched her hand, pulled her up to stand beside him, kissed her, igniting what he thought was dead and buried with as much ease as a match thrown carelessly on a trickle of gasoline. As a matter of fact, Angel knew first hand exactly what kind of damage that sort of thing caused.
He hadn’t known what to do with the amulet Lilah had given him until Buffy had told him that his battle wasn’t to be fought at her side; he was to go back to Los Angeles and lead a second assault, should it come to that.
So he’s waiting.
She’s selfish. She has been all along, but it took Angel’s reappearance, Spike’s death, and all the mayhem to make her admit it to herself.
It’s all over now. Behind her on the bus, the people she loves, minus one or two, are battered and exhausted, but mostly whole and for that Buffy is grateful. She rests her head against the window and closes her eyes and is not surprised that the face she sees is Angel’s.
Her guilt hitches up a notch. After all, it isn’t Angel on whose shoulder she’s been crying for the past few months. And it certainly isn’t Angel’s body on which she’s taken out her mostly self-centered needs and desires. She can feel Spike’s eyes on her, but she is resolved to keep him out of her head and her heart. That had been her goal all along. She just hadn’t been able to keep him out of her bed.
Hadn’t been able to, hadn’t wanted to. Tomay-to, tomah-to.
The bus lurches to a dusty stop in front of a motel advertising vibrating beds and rooms by the hour, but all Buffy wants is a place to wash the blood and vampire dust out of her hair and then a relatively clean place to lie down and sleep.
She wants to be alone.
Angel paces for hours. By now the media has made much of the crater that was once Sunnydale. They have no way of calculating the casualties, the physical loss, or even exactly what happened, but Angel knows. Just as he knows with certainty that while many lives were lost, Buffy’s has been spared.
He circles through the hotel lobby once more and Lorne shakes his head. It seems to Angel that the phone is grinning.
He heads back up the stairs and slips into his rooms. When his cell phone rings he’s almost afraid to answer. Very few people have his number; Buffy and Giles are among the chosen few.
“Yes,” he says.
Angel sat on his bed. “Tell me.”
“She’s alive, Angel. Alive and well.”
“We suffered some significant losses,” Giles said. “Anya. Spike.”
Angel ignores this information. “Can I talk to her?” Angel asked.
“She’s asleep. I know she would have called.”
“The past few weeks…I don’t know how much she told you, Angel.”
“Try nothing,” Angel said dryly. But he remembered her fingers pushing into the thick leather of his jacket and he remembered the way her mouth had opened against his and he remembered tasting something in her kiss that had never been there before.
“Where are you?”
“Outside of Las Vegas,” Giles said.
“Jesus. You’re going away from LA. Why?”
“I don’t think it was a conscious decision,” Giles said kindly. There was a short silence and then Giles said: “Do you still love her?”
Angel didn’t hesitate.
“All she wants is just something to hold onto, that’s all she needs,” Giles said. And then, ironically, he asks: “Can you let her go Angel?”
Angel knows he should be grateful that Buffy is alive, but it isn’t enough.
He presses end on his cell and lets it drop onto the floor beside the bed.
Buffy watches Giles expectantly.
“Well,” Giles says carefully, “as you can imagine he is relieved to hear that you are safe.”
She digs the heels of her hands into her eyes and sighs. “He’s hurt, isn’t he?”
Giles smiled. “I just don’t think he understands why you’re going away from him rather than going to him.”
Buffy dropped her hands into her lap and shook her head. “I just…”
“Buffy,” Giles said, joining her on the bed, “I’m the last person in the world you owe an explanation to.”
“I want him. I do,” she said.
In the old dreams, they run away. Angel realizes that it’s stupid to even contemplate a life beyond the one he has. Whether he actually chose this life or not, it is the one he has. And even though he left her behind years ago, he never really left her. Something always connected them, something he could never name, something as tangible as her lips on his that very first time.
They run and they don’t look back.
Angel makes the old dream new. He puts Buffy where he always wanted her to be, in the light. So much light that it practically spills from her. He watches her walk along a beach, a busy street mid-afternoon; he sees her car-pooling, at a baseball game. These are the things he wanted for her, nothing less. All he ever did was stand in her way.
In this dream he doesn’t step out from the shadows. He steps back, into the darkness so that she won’t see that he is still a demon. Even her love for him won’t redeem him. He doesn’t try to touch her. That’s the hardest part because her touch was almost enough to make him feel alive. Here is her chance to escape her life and Angel is going to do the selfless thing and let her go.
She’s gone and Angel has a very long life ahead of him to learn to accept that.
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