RECONCILIATION

            It had snowed all day. The clouds thick and heavy, the sky gray, the sun wrapped up and tucked away where it couldn't touch him.

            Magic, he thought, because he couldn't bring himself to think, Miracle.

            With Buffy's small hand in his, he walked the main street of Sunnydale, kicking up the heavy, wet snow. He still wasn't convinced it was real. But from time to time the clouds shifted, the vaguest hint of sunlight sliding through to touch his hands, his face. It tingled--sometimes it hurt. Just enough to make him realize this was, indeed, real.

            He should have been a pile of ash by now. That had been the plan. Even Buffy couldn't have saved him from that. He'd been determined. He'd hated himself that much, in those hours he'd been tormented. The First had taken credit for his return from hell and it had made sense to him. Bring a demon back to do a demon's job. To kill the Slayer. And he had wanted to. So damned badly. Wanted inside her, wanted to love her, drink her, feel her pulse disappear against his tongue.

            Now he held her hand, felt her warmth ad kept the demon deep under the surface, where it belonged.

            Demon or no, he knew now that he had not been brought back by any force of evil. The snow had convinced him of that much. Something else wanted him. Something stronger. Something good. Or at least not evil. The knowledge calmed him, made him feel surer, more at ease than he had in a long time.

            Since the first time he'd seen Buffy, he realized. The feeling he had now was that pure.

            "What are you thinking?" Buffy's voice broke into his reverie, gentle, concerned. If he hadn't answered, she would have let it go, he knew. But he looked down at her and smiled a little.

            "Nothing, really."

            She nodded. Her lower lids were still slightly red from crying. His fingers tightened on hers, for comfort at first, then just the slightest bit tighter as a realization struck him.

            "Buffy--" he began, then stopped. Stopped completely--stopped talking, stopped walking, stared up at the shrouded sky.

            She looked up at him in concern. "Angel? What is it?"

            "Giles. I have to talk to Giles."

#

            Angel shoved his hands into his coat pockets and hunched his shoulders as Buffy knocked on Giles' door. When he had come by here yesterday--had it only been yesterday? It seemed like a lifetime--Giles had been less than welcoming. Angel couldn't blame him. But he needed to face this. Giles was, Angel had come to understand, the closest thing Buffy had to a father. She spoke of her biological father with affection, but also with sadness, and often anger, but there were empty spaces in their relationship, places where there was no place for the emotion to go. But Giles was always there for her to love, to hate, to resent, to rail against. And it was healthy. A beautiful thing. Angel didn't want to be the one who broke that.

            He wished he could have had that with his own father. Maybe he could have, if he, Liam in those days, hadn't been such an insufferable ass. He had no chance now for forgiveness from the man who had sired him, the man whose throat he had ripped out.

            There was so much pain down that path, if he let himself feel it--his mother, Kathy, the innocent servant girl--well, not so innocent, really. That girl had had a deep, skilled and willing mouth--

            Giles opened the door. For a moment, Angel saw his own father, thin-lipped, face hard with anger, then the vision dissipated. Angel swallowed. Even knowing this was only his own mind tormenting him, the similarity to the ordeal he'd just undergone was disquieting.

            "Giles," Buffy said carefully. But Giles wasn't looking at her; he was looking at Angel, his gaze intent and evaluating. Angel forced himself to look back, to meet the wariness in the older man's gaze, the silent condemnation.

            The fear. That was what disquieted Angel the most. Before, Giles had never been afraid of him.

            After a moment, Giles shifted his attention to Buffy, then he sighed and stepped aside to let them in. "What can I do for you?"

            Angel opened his mouth to speak, but Buffy beat him to the punch. "Angel wants to talk to you."

            Giles' gaze shifted warily to Angel again. "You're…better, I assume?"

            "He was being harassed," Buffy put in hastily. "By a Big Bad. Found it, kicked its ass." Her brow crinkled into a puzzled frown. "Well, actually it just went away. Not sure what to make of that, except it seemed pretty sure Angel was going to kill himself--" She broke off.  Angel looked at the floor, shifting his feet and wishing he were a much smaller person.

            "The snow," said Giles abruptly, and Angel looked up at the wonder in his voice. "My God."

            "Somebody like that," said Buffy. She laced her arm through Angel's, guiding him toward Giles' kitchen table. "Why don't you two talk? I'll see if I can figure out how to make some tea."

            Obediently, Angel went to the table. He shrugged out of his snow-damp coat, surprised when Giles put out a hand to take it. He hung the coat on a coat tree by the door, then came back into the kitchen. Angel sat, not entirely at ease even when Giles took a seat across from him and said, "What did you want to talk about?"

            Angel folded his hands on the table, gathering himself, settling into his own stillness. No heartbeat, no breathing, no rush of blood in his ears. It must be unbearably noisy to be alive, he thought absently. He couldn't remember.

            "I remember…" he said slowly, the words heavy in his mouth, hard to form. "I remember what I did to you."

            Giles said nothing, only looked at him, but Angel heard and saw him swallow. Angel blinked at the images flaring into his memory. There was an art to torture, a way to make it last longer, hurt more, leave fine, symmetrical marks that looked like art. He knew this art intimately. He was good at it.

            And he remembered everything he had done to Giles. The shattering of small bones, crushed with a sound like the crushing of insects in his hands. Wounds opened with a thin blade, blood welling along carefully placed lines carved with precision into pale skin. He had licked the blood from Giles' skin and he could still remember what it tasted like. If he thought about it, let the memory form itself too clearly, it made him hard.

            Giles was still looking at him, waiting. In the kitchen, Buffy had abandoned all pretense of making tea and just stood staring. Angel glanced down at Giles' hands, there on the table. The scars had had time to change from pink to white, but they were still there, thin, spidery. Artful.

            "Nothing I say is enough." It was so hard to talk. The pieces of his voice didn't seem to want to come together. "Apologies, platitudes--it's all just--air. I know what I did to you. I have to carry that."

            He paused, hoping Giles might speak, but Giles said nothing. His eyes had gone dead, and Angel recognized this as the defense mechanism it was. Giles didn't want Angel to see his pain. Angel had seen that look many times during the endless, bloody hours at the mansion.

            "I can't--I can't take it back," Angel fumbled on. He glanced toward the kitchen, toward Buffy, for emotional support, but that didn't help because Buffy had tears on her face. He looked back at Giles, at the shuttered, emotionless face. "There's nothing I can do to make it right."

            Giles' jaw worked a moment, then, carefully, he said, "You're right. There isn't."

            The simple statement cut deep, so deep Angel actually flinched. Giles regarded him steadily. "There is something you can do, though. It won't make it right, but it would mean something to me."

            "Anything," said Angel.

#

            The sky was still heavily overcast, but now night lurked behind it. Giles knew Angel would sense that, but he wondered how. A smell? A difference in the way vampiric eyes translated light? At one time he would have asked without hesitation--in fact he wouldn't have thought twice about sitting down to a cuppa and a conversation with Angel.

            That was before.

            He wondered how Buffy could accept Angel back so thoroughly. There was no hesitation in her; she held his hand and bumped shoulders with him absently as they walked. Giles looked at Angel's hands and saw them wielding that thin blade, a long finger pressing into a freshly-made wound, making it hurt, making it hurt more, trying to make Giles break. Then, when Giles had refused to break, Angel had laughed and licked the blood from his fingers before trying something new. New and inventive and always, always painful.

            He tried to tell himself it hadn't been Angel. That it had been Angelus, the demon chronicled in the Watcher diaries. But the fact remained that the face, the voice, the big, solid hands, the long, slim fingers, were all exactly the same.

            And Angel remembered. Everything. Suddenly it occurred to Giles to wonder what that was like. He had tortured, maimed, raped, killed, for a century and a half. And he remembered everything. Not just an afternoon spent tormenting an innocent British Watcher.

            As he led the way to the cemetery, Giles wondered exactly what he hoped to accomplish here. Because this was just one more memory for Angel to bear, and he knew for a fact that he'd committed worse sins.

            At least Jenny, as far as anyone could tell, had died quickly.

            And this, he was all too painfully aware, would not bring her back. But something inside him, something nearly as brutal as Angelus himself, needed to shove Angel's face into that fact.

            He stopped in front of the tombstone and stared down at it. A piece of stone, a name, two numbers. All that was left. That and memory.

            Such a fragile thing, memory. The soft curve of her smile, the smell of her skin. He had come so close to happiness with her, had felt it brush against his skin like butterfly wings before it had been taken away. He wondered if he would ever dare allow himself to feel anything like that for another woman. It hurt so much when it was wrenched out of you. He had to wonder if it was worth it.

            But the memories were there, for him to treasure if he wanted. Or to drive him to vengeance.

            What was it like for Angel, to carry his memories? Memories were nothing, intangible, untouchable, but everything Angel was came from his response to his memories of what he had been. Now, as he looked down at the gray headstone, those memories flooded his dark eyes, creased his wide brow.

            And Giles, even tormented by his own memories, could almost feel sorry for him.

            Angel stood there, hands deep in his coat pockets, staring at the grave, seemingly unaware of Giles standing next to him, or of Buffy, holding his arm, fingers digging hard into the cashmere coat. His eyes glistened. Tears, Giles realized with a jolt.

            "I liked her," Angel said finally, his voice cracked around the edges.

            Giles nodded. Angel had not looked up, his attention riveted to the headstone. "Nothing you did to me at the mansion," Giles said slowly, "hurt me as much as this."

            Angel finally bent his head back, looking not at Giles but at the darkening sky. "God." The word came out as little more than a breath, and as he closed his eyes a tear slid down his cheek. "The roses."

            This was almost more than Giles could bear. He swallowed hard, blinked a few times as the pain lanced down through his chest. Don't think about it. Don't walk up those stairs… And he managed not to, in the memory.

            He sensed rather than saw Angel shift next to him, and Giles shifted as well, meeting the dark, haunted eyes as they turned toward him. "I'm sorry," Angel said, and it wasn't enough, it was never enough, but the fact that he could look Giles in the eye and say that meant something.

            Giles clenched his fists in his coat pockets, steeling himself. "Was it quick? The coroner's reports indicated it would have been."

            Angel nodded once, still holding Giles' gaze, letting him see the pain there, so deep and dark and old Giles simply could not fathom it.

            Giles nodded back. "That's something, then." He looked away, back at the tombstone, then he stepped back and, without looking at Angel again, headed for home.

END.