because nobody likes a vague disclaimer: Most characters belong to the fantastical Joss Whedon.
Soon turned out to be an overstatement. Sorry bout that.
Guest POV (one time only): NINA!
Chapter XIII: For Sullen-Seeming Death May Give More Life To Love Than Is-
Or Ever Was.
from Maud part xviii by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
From the moment I hear the beat of his heart, I can't help but wonder if it's me who's standing in the way.
Despite the fact that they hadn't exactly ended on good terms, it was obvious from the moment we saw Buffy in that crumbling office, that she was still in love with him. Seeing them together for the first time, it became clear that while Angel loves me, there's a past between them (a past I'm far too familiar with), and a part of him will always belong to her. I can't say i've ever really pretended otherwise.
So the morning after she runs and he tells me he's going after her, in my gut, I know it'll happen. I feel it. When he comes clean about it though, I realize that sensing it and knowing it, are two very different things. Of course, he barely says a word, but I know what he means, and there's no point in the how because it won't change anything but me.
Presumably, he fell into her undeniably welcoming arms, and even though I'm sure she had no intention of letting him go, he's come back to me and I know it must have been him who did the leaving.
And so, I cling to that.
I only wish it were true.
The following days I feel her on his skin, and there's space between us, and the not talking about it isn't helping, and I don't know what to do. I want to say as much, but I can't.
The next time I check in with Paola back in Rome, it all finally comes gushing out. I've known her nearly as long as we've lived there, and I've always been able to confide in her. She doesn't condemn him like I expected she would, she only asks me three questions.
"Can you forgive him?"
The first, an easy answer. "Technically, I already have."
"But have you?" She counters back.
This time, I'm not sure how to respond. Because I do understand why it happened, and I know who he is. His self-sacrificing nature got him his life back, but he can be blindsided by the weight he carries on his shoulders. Even now, when it's only her. And that's the crux of it: he put her, before us.
When I don't reply, she asks her last question.
"Do you still love him?"
I think I know where she's going with this, so it takes me a few moments to speak, even though I know the answer as soon as she asks it.
She seems to sense this, and after a few seconds she says, "You need to let him figure out where it is he wants to be."
And I know that she's right, so I do the only thing that comes to mind: I put some actual distance between us. I use the excuse of checking on our life in Italy, and unsurprisingly, he doesn't challenge the decision.
When he drives me to the airport I can't finds words to say to him, I can hardly look at him, even though I know that this could be the end of our relationship, the last time I'll know he's mine.
When we're standing in front of the gate, it finally hits me and I wrap my arms around him, breathing in his familiar scent and feeling the warmth of his embrace.
And then, I break. The truth comes out in one small sentence.
"I just- I really need this."
I hold him for a second more, and kiss him on the cheek because it's all I can manage, and then I pull away. I force myself to look at him, and as he gazes at me I can see both his guilt and his love, but it's too much, and I turn away.
I throw out some common response, and he does too, and then I'm gone.
Being back in Rome ends up being a lot easier than I expected. I felt dread at returning to an empty apartment, worried that seeing our old life would hurt considering we may never get back to it.
Thankfully, Paola seemed to know this and we arrive to a full house, complete with a boastful Italian "Sorpresa!" I fall back into my friendships with ease, and it's not until my friends leave that I remember to call Angel.
I can already tell the space between us has done us some good as the call starts out friendly and light, and it actually feels like he's invested in our conversation, like he's actually missed me.
I ask him what he's been up to, and I'm pleased to find out he's being diligent about finishing the renovations on the hotel. The sooner he's done, the sooner it can be sold and we can resume our old life, albeit a little different now that he's human.
"I'll have the lobby done by the time you get back."
He says then, and suddenly everything I'm trying to forget comes rushing all at once, and I realize in that second that i'd been unconsciously hoping there would be no need for me to return, because he'd hurry here to me.
I make up some lie about dinner and tell him I love him, but I hang up before he can say it back.
My first week abroad is full of errands, visits and friendly outings. I take long walks in my free moments, and it's on one such occasion that I run into my old boss. We get into talking, and I apologize for leaving as I had, telling him there was some family emergency back in the US. He says it's alright, and asks me if I'm back for good now. I'm not sure how to answer at first.
"Hopefully." I say, leaving it at that.
He seems to understand, and offers me my old job back if I am.
"You let me know, whenever you know."
The weight of this conversation hangs about me, and the next time Angel and I speak, I can't help but mention it.
"Joe offered me my old job back. Seems he can't find anyone to fill my shoes."
I keep my tone light, as if i'm talking about the weather or something.
"What did you say?" He asks, almost too casually.
"I thanked him for the offer. But that's it."
He doesn't say anything for a second, and I don't know why it feels like I have to prove to him that I hadn't accepted.
"So you didn't say no then?" He asks then, sounding as if he already knows he's right.
His tone fuels me on.
"Why would I? The point is to come back to Italy at some point or isn't it anymore?"
He doesn't reply at first, and I keep my mouth shut so I don't say something I'll regret.
"You're right." He eventually says, his voice acquiescent, "I didn't mean anything by it-"
"You did. But it's not important." I interrupt him. I know him better than he thinks.
"Ok fine, I did." He admits, "But not for the reason you think."
In fact, I already know what his reason is; he's referring to this so called 'crush' he thinks my boss has for me. His jealousy rouses from the fact that Joe isn't much older than me, and working at his art gallery, we have a lot in common.
"No, I get it. Joe is just a friend, I've said this many times."
What I'd reproached him for, that was my issue. I only wish his jealousy made me feel anything but the irritation I feel at it right now.
"Not if it was up to him."
He teases back, obviously unaware of my mood. What he says doesn't help either. I know that it means it's up to me, so if I said yes what? Angel would just step aside? Is that what he wants me to do?
With a bitter feeling in my gut I realize something; me leaving would be the easy way out for Angel. Without the guilt of breaking my heart, the road back to her would be clear, and painless.
"Well it's a good thing it's up to me." I say dauntlessly.
The silence turns stiff at my response, and with weariness I add, "well it's getting late, and I have a big day tomorrow."
It's not exactly true, but I'm suddenly very tired of this conversation.
"Ok, i'll call you tomorrow night. Get some rest."
As the days go by, I start to feel Angel's absence more and more. I'm alone in the apartment more often then not now, and when I call him or when he calls me, we have less and less to talk about, and I can feel our relationship quickly slipping away. And though I know I'm supposed to let him come back of his own volition, I realize I'm not willing to lose him without a fight.
And so, after a few weeks, I finally decide it's time to go back.
I'm not sure why, but I don't tell him of my return. Instead I book my flight, ask Paola to watch my place for a little longer, and commute my way back to the Hyperion after I land at Los Angeles International.
It's dark when I arrive, and I take a few moments to appreciate all the hard work he's done in the lobby.
"Angel?" I call out, but there's no immediate response.
I make my way up to our room and when I enter I can hear the shower running. After another long flight i'm desperate for a rinse, and I think of joining him, but I go to the small kitchenette instead, and proceed to make some omelettes, suspecting he probably hasn't eaten yet.
They're nearly done by the time he comes out, an expression of near disbelief on his face when he sees me. He's clad only in a robe, and drying his hair with a towel so he doesn't immediately realize i'm there, and it's still strange to be able to catch him unaware.
"Surprise." I say softly, trying hard to force my lips up into a smile.
"You're back." He replies, returning the gesture with more mirth than I manage to muster myself.
He walks over to me, hanging the towel on the back of a chair as he passes the small dining table. I take the eggs off the burner and set them aside. As I turn he's already before me and nearly a second later he's wrapping his arms around me and I do the same. His skin is still warm from the shower, and although his familiar scent surrounds me and the feel of his embrace is the same, I don't experience the solace I once did when he held me.
I pull away a second sooner than he probably expected, and when our gazes connect he seems surprised. Consequently, I turn to the eggs on the cold countertop burner and say, "I made omelettes. I figured you probably haven't eaten yet."
It takes a few seconds before he loses the expression and replies, "You figured right."
He seems to be moving in to kiss me and for some reason I panic.
"Well, while you get dressed i'm gonna freshen up a little."
He stops, the look of alarm on his face once more as I step back from him, but he manages a small nod before I turn away and nearly run to the bathroom to escape.
I close the door behind me, suddenly alone in the hot steam left from Angel's shower. I splash a little cool water on my face and when I catch sight of my expression I wonder why i'd freaked the way I had. I want to say it's the distance, and maybe the pain of what had happened between him and Buffy, but the truth is that things are different between us now. Whatever our relationship had been before is gone.
By the time I leave the bathroom, I realize that if this is going to work, we're going to have to start over. Again.
Dressed in a ribbed tank and a pair of sweats, Angel is setting the table when I return and it's not until we're both sitting that either of us speaks.
"Why didn't you tell me you were coming?" He asks.
I wait for him to take a bite of the omelette before I answer. I use the moment to figure out what to say because it seems obvious I didn't tell him I was coming because I actually did want to surprise him. I needed to know for sure that she's out of the picture.
"I already told you, I wanted to surprise you. And with all the work you're doing, I thought I'd save you the drive."
As I speak, he reaches for the salt and pepper and adds both to his dish.
"I could've picked you up, it's hardly a hassle at all."
"Well so is taking transit." I answer, digging into the eggs on my own plate.
There's a small moment of silence as we both leave it at that.
"How was your flight?" He eventually speaks first, again.
It feels like he's asked me this question too many times, and I'm starting to wonder if he really wants to know or if he's just using the question to move the conversation towards me. And so I keep my reply short and simple.
"Long, as usual. Uneventful, at least."
He doesn't say anything, only the sound of our forks scraping along the plates filling the air. This time he doesn't ask me anything to break the quiet that's formed.
As the silence extends, it's clear we're not off to a very good start.
Even when Angel lies beside me in bed quietly reading a book, he feels miles away. I can't help but realize how deteriorated our relationship has become. It's been weeks since he's really touched me, and there is always something hidden in his eyes when he kisses me. I'm not sure how much longer I can keep up this lie, this charade of a relationship.
I wish he'd admit it to himself, admit it to me so I can move on with my life. I love Angel, like I've never loved anyone else, but I'm beginning to see that it simply isn't enough.
But then he looks at me and smiles, and it's genuine enough that I reach out and pull him close, planting a soft kiss on his lips. When he returns the kiss, and wraps his arms around me, I push all my doubts aside for now. These moments are rare, when it feels like he's actually here with only me.
And they're fleeting at best.
The phone rings twice before I wake up enough to answer it.
"Hello?" I mumble groggily, feeling Angel stir beside me as I do.
"Who is it, Nina?" he asks sleepily.
There's a sudden intake of breath before I hear the line disconnect. The loud beep beep of the dial tone cuts in before I hang up the cordless in my own hand.
"I don't know. They hung up."
He's suddenly more alert as I feel him sit up and ask, "Did you recognize the number?"
I feel a pinch in my heart at his words.
After a moment, I pass him the cordless phone forcefully, and get out of bed.
"Here, check for yourself. I'm going to the bathroom." I say, leaving the room with my shoulders slumped.
All this time, there's been no mention nor innuendo of her, and though I don't feel her presence the way I had before, she's still here. And not only do I finally understand why that is, I have the answer to the question that's been gnawing at me since Angel's heart first began pumping.
He's not mine. He never was.
A/N: So this was originally just gonna be a drabble, just a peak into Nina's point of view. In the original draft of this story, there's no trip to Italy for Nina, but when I added that in I realized this chapter needed to explain how she came back to L.A. So it's longer, and a little choppy at the end. My apologies.
But anyway, this will be her only POV, and we'll pick up with Buffy next. And soon, since it's basically already written.
Thanks again for following and reviewing!