ALL ROADS LEAD
S J Smith
Disclaimer: So the wrong sex to be Joss Whedon.
A.N.: Written for the Full Monthly challenge at Blood Roses forum: "Because St. Patrick's Day is in March, the first topic is IRELAND. Your story must be B/A, include 'Something connected with Ireland' (Apart from Angel!) and also use the word 'March'.
Buffy tightened her cardigan around her, trying to hold in some body heat. That old adage, 'March comes in like a lion' was definitely right, she thought, huddling in on herself. Wind whipped around the buildings, trying to rip her sweater off her body. She had no idea what it might be doing to her hair. She wasn't sure she wanted to know.
But it wasn't really as if it made any difference, no one would see it when she got home anyway. Home. She snorted indelicately. She wasn't sure where home was any more. Buffy used to think home was where the heart was but maybe that wasn't true, either. Her heart was...well, somewhere else, she thought; possibly lost in the crater that had once been Sunnydale, California. Or maybe ripped out and dragged down to hell.
She clenched her jaw and swallowed. "Stop it," she muttered to herself, "you are so not thinking about this again tonight." Fixing her gaze on the building in front of her, she unlocked the lobby door, scooted inside and closed out the wind. It whistled its disappointment as she shivered, heading for the staircase that led to her second floor apartment.
The answering machine was blinking away when she unlocked her door. Buffy stared at the light, feeling compelled, though she didn't really want to, to listen to the messages. She could almost recite the first three word for word: a call from the library, to let her know the book she'd wanted had arrived and two telemarketers, asking for money for something or other. She deleted calls two and three and waited for the fourth call.
Buffy's fingers clenched over the machine, caught in time from punching the 'delete' button. She instead took a step back, then another, swallowing hard as the sound of her sister's words filled the small apartment.
She had to play the message twice before she actually could comprehend what Dawn was saying and even then, the words haunted her as she showered and got ready for bed. She tried to shut them out, ignore their meanings but they circled inside her head. Buffy wished she'd stopped by the library on the way home, if she had, she'd at least have the book for a buffer against the images Dawn's voice conjured.
God, she so wasn't ready for this.
At four in the morning, still awake, Buffy crept out of her bed and into the living room. Her fingers clutched the air above the answering machine, flexed and twitched, then she pushed the button to play Dawn's message again.
"Hey Buffy!" the machine said in her sister's voice. "Are you there? Are you? Come on, pick up the phone." A pause, while Dawn waited for her to answer. "All right. So you're out on patrol. Or maybe a date. Are you out on a date?" Another pause, more suspicious, then a sigh. "Well, wherever you are, I wanted to tell you that Ireland is gorgeous. Angel's been taking me everywhere, Buffy. Well, at night. During the day, I'm going off by myself. You wouldn't believe the things that are here. The things you can see. Everything's so green, Buffy. It's like some fairy tale and I'm living it."
Still another pause, longer this time. "We're in County Galway. Angel says this is where he's from, you know, before." Dawn's voice took on a slightly wistful tone. "I think he missed it more than we ever knew."
Buffy folded her arms, trying to get warm. It almost felt like the wind had followed her inside her apartment. She swallowed, lowering her head, pressing the tips of her fingers into the corners of her eyes. Windburn, Buffy thought, her eyes were windburned. These weren't tears in her eyes.
Dawn went on, twisting the knife ever so gently. "I'd better get going, Buffy. I just wanted to call and say that I love you and I miss you. I think he misses you even more." A slight hesitation and she blurted, "I'm sending you something. Look for it in the mail, 'kay? I love you. You know how to reach me. 'Bye."
A week went by in the usual manner; fights on the streets and in the cemeteries at night; once in some warehouse that reminded her of Spike and Dru and all of that again. She didn't sleep well afterwards; dredged memories did that to her. Didn't matter who was in them, not really. Just that they were there, lurking beneath the surface like a pack of piranhas, waiting to rip her to bones. Buffy had almost managed to remind herself to forget Dawn's promise when the package arrived; the airmail stickers bright and somehow threatening. She didn't really want to touch it, didn't want to open it and it laid on the counter in her kitchen for two days before she worked up the nerve to do so.
Inside was a pack of photos, of course; bright, sunny photos of expanses of green; dotted with sheep like clouds. Buildings, because Dawn had developed a fondness for architectural photography. The inside of churches, sunlight streaming through stained glass. Cemeteries, because those fascinated her sister, too. Brief descriptions written on the back of each picture. The darkness that had to be a pub; Dawn's face smiling out at her, a moon in the night sky. A picture of Angel, his concentration focused on a dartboard, probably taken in the same pub. Buffy pressed her fingers to her forehead, letting the pictures spill haphazardly along the counter. A sheaf of papers; Dawn's regular correspondence. A small nubbin of something, wrapped in plastic.
She poked at the plastic with a cautious forefinger.
Something hard was inside; interesting. Buffy bit her lower lip and unwrapped the object, letting Dawn's gift rest in her hand. A key chain, the fob a piece of heavy plastic, a four-leaf clover squashed inside. There was a note, fortune cookie size, with Dawn's scritchy handwriting: "For Luck."
Buffy dropped the whole mess on the counter, retreating to the kitchen and a bottle of J.D. she kept stashed for just such occasions. Retreating to the pale comfort of bourbon and coke, she sipped, staring at the gutted bits lying before her like an offering. A few more sips and she felt fortified enough to pick up the mess, carrying it with her to the living room. Curling up on the couch, she let the packet rest on the cushions nearby while she turned on the TV.
The actors who appeared on screen brought a faint smile to her face; Xander had been right: you could turn on a TV at any time of the day, anywhere in the world, and find Star Trek. It wasn't like she hadn't seen this episode before but it gave her something else to focus her attention on while she looked over the package.
With a heavy sigh and another swallow of her drink, Buffy fanned the photos in her hands. Green, white, dark, color, faces - they blurred, a shuffling kaleidoscope of images. She set those aside, she'd look closer at all of them later and chose the letter instead.
While Captain Kirk tried to convince mirror-universe Spock that he should take control of theEnterprise, Buffy read Dawn's letter. Dawn didn't say a lot but what she did took nearly six pages, a little travelogue of where Angel was taking her, what they'd seen, what Dawn had done while he was confined during the day. And then a postscript, tagged on another sheet of paper, hotel stationery and written in different ink than the rest, with Dawn's words glaring out at her. She read that part twice and carefully folded the letter back together, shoving it in the envelope and turning off the TV so she could go to bed.
Sleep didn't come but then Buffy hadn't really expected it; she couldn't remember when she'd slept the whole night through any more. Had it been back in high school or maybe before that? Lucky her, she had that Slayer power, like the Energizer Bunny or maybe a Timex watch. So she twisted in her bed and tangled up her sheets and Dawn's words chased themselves around her thoughts and her memories and all the things she didn't like to think about rose to the surface again.
It was three a.m. when she rose from her sleepless bed and turned on the computer. It was three-fifteen when she made flight arrangements to go to Ireland. It was three-thirty when she emailed Dawn to let her know that she was coming.
And finally, at three-forty-five, she was able to lie down and close her eyes.
Dawn met her at the airport with balloons. After squealing her welcome, Dawn draped a necklace of cheap plastic beads with a shamrock hanging from them around Buffy's neck. "I couldn't find a lai," she said.
"This isn't Hawaii," Buffy reminded her.
"Yeah, still." Dawn hugged her again, her arms warm and tight and feeling like home. "Come on, I've got so much to tell you."
"I don't know how much I'll understand," Buffy said wryly as she started towards the luggage claim.
"Oh, yeah, you don't sleep on planes. I'm sorry." Dawn's flashed her an apologetic glance. "Let's just get you to Connemara and settled in, then. We'll have time to talk later. When you've slept." Her gull-wing brows slipped into a scowl. "Wait a minute, have you been sleeping?" She caught Buffy's arms, holding her in place. "You haven't been sleeping. Why haven't you been sleeping?"
"Dawn," Buffy said, drawing out her sister's name in a long whine.
"Oh, we're so going to be talking about your sleeping habits," Dawn warned her. "And have you eaten anything this month? Do you think you can live on air?" Keeping a close hold on Buffy's arm, Dawn scolded her all the way to the car.
Buffy woke sharply, blinking away the remnants of the dream clouding her senses. It was quiet but if she strained her ears, she could hear a soft tick-tick of a clock somewhere. Curiosity and a full bladder dragged her from the bed. She stubbed her toe on an intricately carved chest and swore under her breath, hopping on one foot for a few seconds until the sting went away.
The house was dim but Buffy found her way down the hall to the bathroom, made use of it and paused in the hall. She glanced back towards her room, almost longingly. It had been a long time since she'd slept that well. Still, she wasn't sure her stomach would let her go back to sleep and she continued to the kitchen.
At first, she didn't see him, sitting at the table, then she wondered how she could miss him. She'd already started into the room and it would be rude to back out. "So, what's for breakfast?" Buffy asked, opening a few of the cabinets.
His voice trailed over her spine like cool honey. She kept her hands on the cabinet doors to hide their shaking. "Don't you have something like cereal?"
"I don't exactly eat," Angel said, sounding faintly amused.
She wrinkled her nose. "Dawn does or is she just eating pub food?"
"I'm sure she has something around here," Angel said and Buffy heard the scraping sound of his chair moving. She could almost feel him coming closer and her skin tingled in anticipation. Not sure if that was a good or bad thing, she sidestepped before he could get too close. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed his flinch, the way his whole forearm tightened up and his hand fisted. Buffy bit her lip as he moved past her, a sudden rush of force, pulling something out of the cabinet over her head and dropping it on the counter. "Cereal," Angel said, his voice now sounding something like a growl, "and there's milk in the fridge." As he made his way back to the table, he added curtly, "My blood's in there, too."
"Thanks." The word fell soft and unheeded into the tense air between them and Buffy stared at the cereal box, some sort of healthy thing she'd never in a jillion years imagine Dawn, she of the Lucky Charms fan club, eating. She found a bowl and a spoon without any help from Angel and poured cereal and milk in the bowl. "So." She took a mouthful of cereal, thinking whatever it was, it tasted like ashes.
"Why did you come?" Angel's dark eyes glittered from behind the table, his huge hands wrapped around a mug so tightly that Buffy thought maybe they wanted to be around her neck.
She choked down another spoonful of cereal, crunching whatever crunched and made a face at the squishy thing that had to be some sort of dried fruit. "Dawn said." She set aside the bowl and spoon, folding her arms, remembering she was in her night shirt and shorts and Angel - Angel! - was in the room with her. Taking a breath, trying to settle the stomach that suddenly didn't want cereal, or milk, or anything at all but maybe that J.D. and coke she'd left back in the States, Buffy said, "Dawn wanted me to come."
"And what? Isn't it enough that my sister wanted my company?"
"She's asked you to come each time we stopped." Angel's fingers tapped the mug in some complicated pattern. "Why here."
Buffy shrugged. "Because I wanted to see Ireland?"
"You saw it."
"Looking for a Slayer is different than being on vacation, Angel." She let out a sigh. "Listen, I don't really want to be...fighting," her hand drifted in the air languidly, even though she wanted it to move quick, "not with you." Tilting her chin up, Buffy stared into the darkness that hid the man who'd been her lover.
Angel rose to his feet, more of that sudden fluid water motion that made her head swim, this time, to see it. "All right," he said, fishing into the pocket of his pants. "I'm going out. Dawn's asleep in my room." At whatever expression settled on her face, he said, tiredly, "You're in her room. She didn't want to wake you." His shrug was eloquent and conveyed more than just words could. "The couch isn't that comfortable to sleep on. There's books or TV but I'm not sure you'll find anything to watch. No cable." His gaze slid across her body in a totally impersonal way and Buffy tried to figure out if she was annoyed or amused by that. "You could go back to sleep."
"Oh, I think I've gotten enough of that," she said lightly then, on impulse, "or I could go with you."
Angel's eyes narrowed and his mouth tightened, just a bit. What had Dawn written? "He's tense. Different than anyplace else we've been." "Why?"
"Because I pretty much slept all the way from the airport?"
"It's night. You won't see much."
"Not like I haven't toured cities by night before," Buffy said. She cocked her head, reaching back into the past they'd once shared and showing him how big her lower lip could get. "But if you don't want company...."
Making a sound of exasperation, Angel caved. "I'm leaving in five minutes."
"I'll be ready in three." Buffy ducked out of the kitchen and back down the hallway. She just hoped he wouldn't leave before then.
The car waiting outside, engine rumbling, was small. It was the same one Dawn had picked her up in but with Angel crammed inside, Buffy wasn't even sure there'd be enough room for her. Dawn obviously fit in and she was taller, so Buffy scooted inside, trying not to notice when Angel's right arm brushed her left. Her skin turned traitorous though, the scuff of his jacket against her sent chills through the rest of her body. "Where are we going?" she asked, when she thought she could control her voice.
Angel's big hands clenched around the steering wheel. "Out," he said.
"I left a note for Dawn," Buffy offered. "In case she wakes up." She plucked a strand of hair from out of her face and tried to smooth it back. There really was nothing out the window. She wondered how Angel could see.
"She's used to it," Angel said, smoothly turning the car onto another road.
Biting back the retort that automatically rose in her throat about her baby sister being left alone in foreign countries, Buffy settled for, "You go looking for trouble?"
"Sometimes." Angel's voice was wry and he flashed her a look that she almost remembered. "Sometimes it's looking for me."
"I know how that is." Buffy tapped her fingers on her upper thigh lightly. She stared out the window at the blank, dark countryside and wondered where Angel was taking her.
It seemed that he drove aimlessly, in circles, over hills and around buildings and finally, he stopped the car. At the sound of Angel closing the door behind him, Buffy jerked awake, blinking away the doze that had settled over her. She swore under her breath and scrambled out of the car to follow him, rubbing irritably at the drool at the corner of her mouth. She nearly tumbled over something on the ground and bounced on one foot, wincing at the stab of pain in her ankle then realized where they were.
As cemeteries went, it wasn't that big. As Buffy slowly turned, she could see the small church, sitting quietly atop a hill. The moon overhead was big enough to cast shadows that at one time in her life, might have made her nervous but now just made this place feel homey. "And how wrong is that," Buffy muttered under her breath. She could just make out Angel's dark form amidst the darker shadows and slowly made her way across the grounds, picking her way through the older, more decrepit monuments.
There was something to the set of his shoulders, the way his hands hung at his side that tugged at her memories but not enough to coax them to the surface. She hesitated behind him, wondering, suddenly, why she'd come.
Angel said, sounding almost completely emotionless, "When Darla changed me into a demon, the first thing I did was murder my family. I then set out to murder everyone in the town. They weren't sure what was causing it at first," here his voice turned sarcastic, "it being such an enlightened age. Vampires weren't real; it was some sort of sickness. But before Darla and I rode off, we'd destroyed nearly everyone with any connection to my family. Those that ran away spread the tale of the creatures that walked like men but weren't.
"In the end, the bodies were left in the streets like warnings. Offerings, maybe. We were...I was drunk on the power. How easy it was to kill. How much pain the human body could take. How much more it took to break a mind." He tossed his head, as if some memory in particular bit deep. "I had no regrets then."
It was the demon, not you, Buffy wanted to say but something made her hold her tongue.
"Whistler led me to you and it was," Angel seemed to rethink what he was about to say. "Seeing you pointed me on the path. I thought I could do something that would matter; make a difference. Instead, my friends were killed for following my lead. I try to help and wind up destroying the people I care most about." He tilted his head skyward, communing with the face of the moon.
"You didn't destroy Dawn." Buffy said, her voice small, "You didn't destroy me."
He turned, his back to the moon, his face in shadow. "I left you. How many times did I leave you?"
"I left you too, Angel." Buffy spread her hands. "And we survived. I could've fought harder for us to stay together but we both knew, everyone knew, no matter how much we wanted it to, we didn't work." She turned her head to the side then back up to face him, her voice softening more, the emotion almost surprising her, "I won't say that sometimes I needed you so much when you weren't there with me. But if I'd had you to lean on, maybe I wouldn't be able to stand on my own now."
"You don't know the extent of my betrayals," Angel said, the words cutting through the darkness like daggers.
"Yeah, well, you don't know mine." She tossed her hair back, folding her arms. "Wanna throw down, cowboy?"
He straightened slightly and Buffy could almost catch a glimpse of the amusement that flickered across his moon-pale face. "'Cowboy'?"
"What can I say?" She shrugged. "I don't sleep and I watch late night westerns. It doesn't matter, Angel. We've both hurt the people who care about us." She reached out, her fingers grazing his sleeve, catching on and holding tight. "We've hurt each other more. I - I loved you." She searched the darkness that was his face. "Still. I love you. I may not get a chance to say it...or even, sometimes, really want to." Sucking her lower lip between her teeth, she released the cuff of his jacket and turned away. "But it doesn't change things. You're still you, I'm still me and that whole thing about twains never meeting, aside from sounding like Tweetie Bird, still sounds right. You know?"
Angel's voice ghosted over her shoulders. "Yeah. I do."
Buffy almost shivered at the defeat in his words. It made her want to hold herself tightly against the cold. "I," she said, wondering wildly what she was going to say, "I haven't slept so well in a long time, at, you know." She waved a hand in a general direction.
"You were in Dawn's bed," Angel said, accepting the change in subject. "Her scent...it probably reminded you of, you know."
"Home," Buffy finished for him, closing her eyes against the pain that beat in her throat. "Angel, why did you ask Dawn to come with you?" She still remembered Dawn all but daring them to argue her choice. How Xander had protested angrily, how Kennedy had thrown in her two cents, how Willow had tried to pour oil on the troubled waters. Buffy remembered kissing Dawn's cheek and whispering to her to have fun.
"She wanted to learn about art and thought I could teach her." He stood next to her now, looking over the cemetery. Not at her. "Because...because she's a part of you and I've only ever hurt her by proxy." He met her eyes then, that old, familiar connection, the one where they didn't really need to talk because everything was already said.
The air snarled in Buffy's lungs and she swallowed hard, seeing too much in Angel's gaze. The words came out, stilted and strange in her own ears. She could only wonder how he heard them. "You - you don't have to make amends. To me."
"No," Angel said, lightly, "but I never said they were for you."
She gulped air like water and said, "This was your home."
"You can't ever go home again."
He took her shoulders so smoothly it wasn't a grab, pulling her against him. Her hands came up, she wasn't even sure if it was in protest or to cushion her fall onto his chest. Angel's grip was too tight to wriggle free from easily; her heart trip-hammered in her ears and Buffy found herself flinching as his face came close, the coolness of his skin radiating against her own. He hesitated briefly at her flinch, the openness he'd given her earlier gone. She forced herself to stillness, to relaxation - this was Angel. He was Angel - as he bent ever closer, a soft puff of air touching her ear. He was, he was -
- breathing -
- breathing her in, taking her scent, her scent that reminded him of -
Buffy gasped, realizing, winding her arms around his shoulders, pressing herself tight against him.