He has no experience with this sort of thing. Choosing a tuxedo, walking through an arch of balloons into a room filled with children, (because let’s face it, that’s what they are), seeking her out, knowing that as soon as she touches him he’ll feel a little less dead.
But here he is and there she is: he can see the back of her head, tilted up as she listens to Giles say something pithy. And he can see the look in Giles’s eyes, even from across the room. What is it? Pity? Gratitude? There is definitely a warning there as the Watcher takes a garish umbrella from Buffy and directs her his way with a small nod.
Standing in front of him, luminous in pink silk, Angel almost forgets why he is leaving her. Almost.
In his arms, she feels fragile. It is such a weird sensation to know that, despite the tender hollow of her throat, the slim arms and narrow waist, she is built for speed and deadly accuracy.
Her cheek rests against his chest, her hand in his. They dance in a small, tight circle: their world safe for a moment.
When she does look up at him there is such horrible sadness in her face, even though she tells him that she understands why he has to go. Maybe she can explain it to him then because at this moment, with her brilliant eyes pinning him in place, he isn’t sure how he’s come to this decision.
Then she drops her eyes, rests against him and he remembers.
The dance is over and they stand on the steps of the school. Angel shrugs off his jacket and wraps it around Buffy’s pale shoulders. She’s twirling the umbrella and chewing the lipstick off her lower lip. She looks every bit her age.
“I’ll walk you home,” he says.
“You don’t need to.”
“I know.” He reaches out his hand and she hesitates, but only for a second.
This will be the last time I do this, he thinks. He tries to memorize her hand in his: the vulnerable curve of her palm, the slender length of her fingers, the bump where she’s pressed too hard, over time, with her pen.
The sky overhead is starless. He wonders, briefly, if this is his destiny. If this is what Whistler had known when he had first shown her to Angel: you will help her and you will fall in love and you will hurt her. You will leave her.
They cut through Restfield Cemetery without even thinking about it. How many other people (never mind vampires) have such vivid memories of graveyards? But there’s the very tombstone where, just before he kissed her again, she’d told him that she didn’t think about children. And there’s the place where he’d touched her naked breast for the first time. And there, right there, they’d dispensed with several slimy Brith demons. This is where they’d watched the sun yawn over the horizon, where they’d parted, where she’d cried…
Angel stops and lets go of Buffy’s hand.
“What?” She says her body instinctively poised for battle.
“I…” He doesn’t know what to say: Can’t in good conscience say anything.
He looks down at her, her frail but capable shoulders swimming in his tuxedo jacket.
“Nothing,” he says.
“No,” she says, shaking her head, “you have something face.”
Something like bile swims at the back of Angel’s throat. Her words are so familiar. Wasn’t it just a few nights ago that she’d said almost the exact same thing to him in the sewers?
“I was just thinking that this was doomed from the start…” he says and regrets the words immediately. “I mean, you can’t court a girl in a graveyard.”
“Is that what we were doing? Courting?”
Angel shrugs helplessly.
“It felt more like falling in…”
Angel presses his fingertips against Buffy’s mouth, halts the word before it has found a voice. When he is sure she won’t say anything more, he drops his hand and finds her fingers once more, pulling her gently along the path to the edge of the cemetery and down the dimly lit street to the intersection: left for Revello Drive, right to the highway.
“I’ll be there on Graduation Day,” he says, looking past her shoulder to the light Mrs. Summers has left burning on the porch.
Her voice, wavering, draws his attention back to her. She has never looked as beautiful or as frightened as she does in this moment and it takes every ounce of willpower left to him to take a step back.
She slips out of his coat and hands it back to him.
“Thank you for tonight,” she says. “For coming.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it,” he says. And it’s true.
He knows that if he continues to stand here, mesmerized by the halo of light in her hair, she will never go inside. He will have no choice but to pull her to him, to kiss her, to feel, one last time, the silk of her hair and skin against his fingers. And he can’t let that happen.
So, he says: “I should…”
“Me, too,” she agrees too quickly.
She turns and, gathering her dress in one hand, runs down the walk and slips into the house. Just like that, the porch light goes out.
He indulges himself for the last time.
It’s a few minutes before she enters her bedroom. She’s carrying a cup of something hot; Angel can see the steam curl up from the mug. She puts the cup down on her dresser and reaches around to unzip her dress.
He can’t help it; he moans as her body is revealed with the dress’s descent. Her bra and panties follow and for too brief a time, she is naked: glorious, golden and then, she wraps herself in her ratty terrycloth robe.
From his perch, Angel watches as she sips from her mug, unclips her hair, turns on the light beside her bed. There she sits, her back facing him.
For a long moment nothing happens and then he hears, faintly, the sounds of her sobs. His first instinct is to go to her, to make it better. But he knows that he is the reason for her tears and the only way to make things right is to leave. He believes this.
Just as he once believed that living forever was a blessing rather than a curse.
He knows nothing and is ashamed at how arrogant he has been. He watches Buffy’s shaking shoulders still, watches as she lifts a hand to rub at her eyes, watches as she curls into Mr. Gordo on the bed and wishes, more than anything, that he had never followed Whistler out of that alley.
Mrs. Summers comes in later, switches off the light and covers her sleeping daughter with a quilt. He watches, through the dark, the sliver of skin exposed by the sagging housecoat. He watches as the sky lightens and never seriously considers staying until the sun is fully up, exposing Buffy to its illumination and banishing him to hell.
He’s a coward; the sun chases him from the tree.
He lies awake for a long time, his tuxedo jacket on the pillow next to him.
He doesn't know which he regrets more: leaving her or hurting her.
He doesn't know how long it will take before the smell of her will be gone from his clothing, or the taste of her from his mouth. When he closes his eyes, his life stretches barren in front of him. He thinks he will be very lucky if he dies in the battle against the Mayor.
But when has Angel ever been lucky?
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