Title Rust
Author Aphotica
Rating PG-13
Length 2 Parts
Summary Angel is facing the apocalypse and loses something with his gain of humanity.
Warning Major character death!
Lyrics are from Tegan and Sara
feedback is adored!

"God, listen to me," she said, looking up at me, "I sound like some helpless cheesy drama chick. 'Just go, save yourself!'" She laughed a little, and I thought she sounded so girlishly like herself in the early years. When she had come to Wolfram and Hart to help with the end of the world, she was different than when I saw her in Sunnydale. I think her freer life made her more light-hearted, more human. Now she sounded like the little girl that I had met all those years ago. It was really only ten, but it seemed like a million, and that's a lot coming from a vampire.

I suddenly glanced down at her small body in my embrace through the darkness. I could feel fear comfortably wrap itself around my stomach and squeeze as I saw her blood-soaked clothing. Both human and demon were interspersed across her sweater and jeans. I slowly worked my hands down from her shoulders to her abdomen, where I could smell the blood coming from in large amounts.

"No," she softly cried, but I didn't heed her as I ripped her shirt down the middle. I knew that she didn't want to see it anymore than I did. It would only prove how much more serious her injury was. A large gash marred her belly, tearing down into her insides. It wasn't healing as fast as I knew it should be, instead it was slowly knitting, only slightly faster than the average human. She looked up at me almost ashamedly at how weak she appeared and I pulled her close.

"It must be the demon blood," she whispered against my cheek, "it must be making me all slow with the healing." She let out a rusty laugh at that. God, why was she joking so much? Didn't she know the danger that we were in? She may have killed the demons, but the end of the world was far from over and I still had other injured people on my hands. I didn't even know where Wes was.

"I'm sorry," she started, and I wanted to stop all apologies. This was no time to apologize. Even if we hadn't seen each other in four years, and she'd been parading around Europe. I knew that she was still the same woman that I loved at her core, that I would always love. Nothing could change that. "I'm sorry I never came back. I said that I foresaw a future for us in Sunnydale, Angel but…I was just a chicken. I was so used to being alone after awhile, that I began to think that it was the only way to live. I was selfish."

"No," I quickly chastised, "you were always selfless, Buffy."

"So many years were wasted…alone." The laugh and smile were wiped from her face, instead a slightly sad wistful look. She looked so beautiful in her sadness. I wanted to kiss her until she was too exhausted to cry.

"I'm still a vampire," I reminded her.

"But not for long, right?" She smiled up at me, but it was a worn and tired smile. One of a soldier that hasn't had time for anything but war. And, to some extent, that's exactly who she was. She was still battling demons daily, and dealing with Slayers alone. I wished I could have had enough balls to force her to come to LA on those lonely nights, or go to her in England. Maybe then we wouldn't be here now.

"The war isn't over yet, Buffy," I said gravely, "Who knows if we have this thing won?"

Despite her pain, she brought her hand up to my face and touched it gently. "I believe in you, Angel," she said softly. The grin had faded, but there was still a ghost of it on her countenance. She was so strong and so lovely, my Slayer. Even in the face of the End of Days, death, pain, destruction, she still had the will to believe in me and give me her smiles. As lame as it sounds, I wished I could have kept her smiles in a jar, and reserve them only for me.

"We need to get you out of here," I breathed, noting that her bleeding was only getting worse.

"I'm fine. You know me…I'll stick it out in the end. I'm a Slayer, I'll live. And hey, even if I die, you can always bring me back right?"

"Buffy, I'm serious. We need to get you somewhere; you're not healing. This is no time for jokes."

Her face went serious almost immediately, and I started to gently pick her up from the forest floor. She moaned in pain, and some blood oozed out of her and onto my arms. I was soaked in her blood, and oddly my demon wasn't pressing forward with unrestrained bloodlust. I didn't know why, all I knew was that my worry for her life was closing in on me. It was suffocating me. Perhaps it was squelching my bloodlust. I had one objective, carry Buffy to somewhere where she could be healed. Of course, I would check on the others first.

I heard my name called before I could reach where Gunn was and saw Gunn limping along beside Wesley. I was flooded with relief. One of them was carrying Fred also. This way, I wouldn't have to carry them one by one back to the car. I held Buffy as gently as I could, but I still knew that it hurt her to be jostled over the leaves and trees and other debris that marked a tangled path back to the two separate cars we had.

I was surprised and relieved to see that both of our cars were still intact, despite the demon raid that had taken place just a few hours before. I hadn't been here; I had only parked next to them when I had returned from Wolfram and Hart. I needed a little more information on some demons we were about to fight, and apparently I had researched the wrong ones. But at least they were dead now, and my warm love was in my arms and as safe as she could be. Something still clawed at me about her disposition, and her physical state, but I tried to disregard it. We would be with a Wolfram and Hart doctor in about fifteen minutes, and I wished that we could go any faster than we already were. The blood was coming in thicker now, and Buffy seemed almost incoherent.

"Falling asleep in your arms
If I believe that everything is alright
Here I am beside you and I'm falling down
Will you catch me?"

"What's the situation?" Wes asked as soon as we got in the car.

"Some of the demon blood got her…or poison or something and she's not healing. It seems like she's the worst out of all of us." My voice sounded panicked and frantic, too weakly desperate. I was a Champion for Christ's sakes; I should have more strength and resolve than this. But when it came to Buffy, I was blindsided and I shed that whole "Champion" thing. Still. She still made my dead heart almost tangibly thump beneath my chest with vitality. All it took was a breath or a word. We didn't even have to touch.

When we arrived I frantically dashed as gently and precariously as I could with her in my arms. I thrust the doors open and it almost seemed like everyone in the whole law firm froze in my wake. It was no more "Good Morning, Mr. Angels", they all just stared with slack jaws. Like they wouldn't expect their boss to be running in with the Slayer in his arms, scared to fucking death like an animal that sensed danger. I fell to pieces when I was around her, what could I say? And then with her potential death…well, it intensified my confusion and desperation by about a thousand.

An hour later the doctor came toward me. He didn't look like a regular doctor, and I didn't trust him at all. In fact, I didn't trust anyone but myself with Buffy, but I knew she wouldn't heal with just me and I couldn't do this alone. He came toward me looking grim, and I prayed to The Powers and whatever else there was out there to let her be all right. I knew that I had made a mistake letting her go all those years ago, and an even bigger mistake letting her go in Sunnydale.

"Mr. Angel, she's awake and coherent, and we've stopped the blood flow. Unfortunately, she has yet to heal. My only advice would be to see her now, because this may be the last time you see her alive. I have to go deal with the impending apocalypse now, please excuse me." It was blunt and to the point. It cut me, worse than anything I've ever felt. Worse than her previous death. She hadn't come all this way just to be shot down right before I was human. She hadn't fought all the goddamn demons in the world just to die on some empty bed in an evil law firm. She had a chance for a normal life now, and I had a chance for a normal life if we won this thing, and we were yet again ripped violently apart.

I felt like slashing into that doctor's throat, killing him for not being good enough. But he was the best we had, perhaps the best mystical doctor in the world. I wondered if I should call Dawn, and Willow and Giles and everyone else. This was all my fault. How could I face them? First I had to deal with Buffy. I just had to see her one last time, in case that doctor was right. Then I would do anything in my power to help her. I would kill anyone who WOULDN'T help her. I stepped toward the door tentatively, not sure if I would be able to hold back my emotion in front of her. I had just been told the most devastating news in my two and a half centuries. It wasn't enough that I had hear about her selfless death the first time, the second time I had to watch her die. To know that in a few hours, a few days, she would be dead. Again. I pounded my fist through a wall violently, making some of the nearby employees jump and scurry away.

I open the door gently, changing my mood completely opposite of the angry beast that I was before. My face slipped back into a human visage as I closed the door softly behind me. She was in a white room, with the sun softly shining on her in one of the windows next to her bed. She had her eyes closed, and a soft smile played on her lips. "I knew you'd come," she rasped without opening her eyes. My heart broke a little more. I wondered if she knew.

"And before you say it," she added, "the doctor already informed me."

"What?" I choked out.

"Angel," she said firmly, opening her eyes. They were a clear green, crystallized with understanding. "I know that I was supposed to die five years ago, when I was twenty-one years old. I know that. I have to accept it. I'm not afraid. You forget that I've already been to the other side."

"So you want to die," I whispered almost to myself.

"No, but I know that there's nothing we can do about it."

"No!" I suddenly screamed, slamming my hand against the wall, making her jump. Her eyes were as wide as saucers and she was shrinking away from me. My throat was thick with tears. "I won't let you die, not again. I can't go on. Please, Buffy, don't just accept this. Fight it."

"There's nothing we can do," she said softly, sinking lower in the large bed she was in.

"I love you," I said desperately, taking long strides until I was standing next to her bed. "I want to spend my life with you. I don't want you to die just when I become human." A tear slipped out and I wiped it away hastily. I didn't want to be weak to her. I wanted to be strong for her, always. "I can't let you go."

She looked away and bit at her lip. "Don't make this harder than it is, Angel. I still have Dawn and all my friends; they have to deal with it too. I knew that this was coming, I just didn't know when."

I sat down next to her bed, in a small uncomfortable chair that didn't bode well for my large frame. I rubbed my face fiercely, wondering how the hell this was happening to me. There were no choices, only death. Well, no I was wrong, there was a choice whether to accept it or not.

"You're not even worried about Dawn?" I said quietly. It was a deadly tone, and I knew I was playing dirty, but I was desperate. I had to make her care, to make her care for me. She didn't love me anymore, and she wanted to die.

"Dawn's fine," she said. "Dawn is in the comfort of her own friends and family. She's twenty years old now Angel, she doesn't need me anymore. Willow and Giles can take care of the Slayers, Xander and Faith and Wood can offer support. I've built them up and trained them to lead this world just as much as I have trained the Slayers. The last resurrection was a fluke. This world doesn't need me anymore, and you know it."

"I need you," I whispered tremblingly.

She paused for a second, studying the dust motes floating through the air thoughtfully. "You haven't needed me for a long time," she sighed. Her eyes flicked down to the blanket that covered her thin body and I reverently reached for her hand. I grabbed it in a crushing grip, wanting to feel her slender fingers within my grasp. "We've been apart for almost eight years, Angel. Eight long, lonely years. I've taken on only two other lovers, and pleaded with you several times to come back to me. You haven't needed me."

"Buffy," I hissed, "it's all going to work now. We can be together, don't you care? Don't you want to be with me?"

"I want to die with you," she said gravely. "And that's exactly what I'm going to do. I'm going to give my life to you. I'm going to live through you. My soul has always been locked to yours, my heart chained to yours, and nothing can change that. Not even death," she ended slowly with a sardonic smile. "I love you more than anything I could have thought possible. I didn't know what pain and ecstasy were until I met you. That's why I won't be gone, not really. Not when you gain your life."

I kissed her then. There were no more words exchanged between us. I just kissed and kissed her, until she was robbed of breath. And when she was robbed of breath, she clung to me desperately, and her heartbeat ebbed away like the sea. It waned like the moon, and all of her strength was gone. I cried and sobbed, and rocked her slowly cooling body. I whispered words of love into her ear. I mourned for the times that we could never have. I would never get to make love to her for a second time, I would never impregnate her with my seed, I would never stand with her in the sunlight and dance with her in the moonlight. Hours, days past before I was both physically and mentally able to let her go.

My humanity is unfulfilled. I always dreamed of this day, this Shanshu. But it's empty, meaningless. It's simply a means to an end. I keep contemplating the day that I'll die, so I can be with my beloved again, and fill her as much as she fills me. She gives me light, vitality, energy. And as much as I love her soul filling me with life and warmth, her absence makes me cold and hollow. It's been four years since she died and I haven't taken on another lover. I enjoy my life as much as is allowed, with friends and family. But I allow no one to touch me intimately, no one to get close to me, no one to know of my past. Not that the others haven't pushed dates on me, but I always politely decline. It's not that I think I will betray her; I just don't have the energy, the love to give to someone else. It would be selfish to take someone's love and not be able to reciprocate. Like I said, I'm waiting for the same release that she has experienced, I'm living my life to die.

Part 1