Title: Holding On

Summary: Angel feels like something is wrong so he makes a visit to Sunnydale. Set during Btvs S6 Afterlife. This was written for Emelie. I'm not sure it exactly fits with the request so feel free to throw things at me dear. The additions were Dawn, the quote by Hermann Hesse and the lyrics near the end of the story by Steve Conte and the Seatbelts.

The tea kettle shrilled, shattering the thick silence in the house. Dawn turned the fire off. Her movements were mechanical, stiff. Her eyes shone with unshed tears. She swallowed past the lump in her throat. She understood strength now. She'd spent an entire summer learning about real strength. It had nothing to do with being able to break through walls or kill vampires. Real strength was surviving when your world fell apart.

Dawn was ripped out of her thoughts by a soft knock on the back door. She glanced up, surprised to see the person lurking there. She opened the door carefully, her brow furrowed.

"Hi, Dawn. Can I come in?"

"A-Angel?"

He nodded.

Dawn shook her head. "I'm not inviting you in. If Buffy revoked her invitation…I'm not inviting you in."

He chuckled softly and stepped inside the kitchen. "I was just being polite."

Dawn glanced in the direction of the stairway. "She's upstairs."

"Wh-what"

"Buffy, she's upstairs."

Angel swallowed hard. He felt like he'd been hit in the gut with a sledgehammer. He shook his head. "There was something wrong. I felt it…I thought…I-I just came to check on you…what?"

She gave him a look of utter confusion. "You…aren't you here to see Buffy?"

Angel's knees buckled. His knees hit the floor hard enough to crack the tile they impacted. The world imploded, crumbling inwards and then she saved him.

At one time he would have called her a goddess, or an angel. He knew now she was neither. Goddess' and angels didn't have that haunted look about them.

He clung to her, on his knees in the kitchen, unbelievable relief at being let out of his own private Hell, his world without Buffy in it. He wasn't sure if he'd spent hours repenting at his altar or merely minutes, eventually he stood, stepping away from Buffy, afraid she was going to disappear the moment he ceased touching her. Dawn had slipped out of the kitchen at some point during his worship.

"Angel." She used to say his name like a wish, like a prayer, like a dream, now she just said his name and he ached.

"Buffy?" It was a question. He still wasn't sure she was here. He wasn't sure he wouldn't wake up gasping for breath and hurting so much the way he had every night at the monastery.

She nodded almost imperceptibly. She had a far off gaze, a look that said she didn't want to be here, that she wasn't really here. He reached out to take her hand and that's when he noticed the knuckles were abraded, bleeding. Her nails were ripped, fingers torn. His knees buckled again and the only thing that kept him upright was the rage that churned inside of him. He remained outwardly calm, leading her up the stairs and into the bathroom.

Once there Angel sat her down on the edge of the tub and took the first aid kit out of cabinet. It was still in the same place it had been since he'd known Buffy. He carefully cleaned the cuts with antiseptic. He noticed she didn't even wince at the sting of it. He swallowed the lump in his throat and gently bandaged her hands. When he was done, he remained knelt before her, holding her tiny hands in his.

"You dug out of your grave."

She nodded.

"I'm sorry, if I'd known…if I'd known I would have been there to dig you out."

She shook her head. "I'm not a vampire."

"You shouldn't have had to do that."

She shrugged. "I could have stayed in the box and died again."

He closed his eyes, unable to stomach the thought of Buffy dead and equally unable to stomach the images of Buffy digging out of her own grave that came unbidden. He shook his head. "Buffy…" he trailed off. There was nothing to say to her.

"No one will answer me. How long was I gone?" Her voice was a bare whisper hung heavy with regret.

"One hundred and forty seven days," he answered without pause.

She nodded. "It seemed…longer."

"But…you were…" he stopped, unable to finish his question. He needed to know the answer and yet everything in him railed against finding out.

"In a Hell dimension?"

He nodded.

She sighed and looked away, down at the floor. "I-I don't know. I don't think…Mom was there. I was happy, safe, warm and I didn't hurt anymore, Angel. I didn't hurt."

His teeth bit through his bottom lip. The blood welled. Her fingers reached out, touching his chin now red with blood. She drew her hand away and stared down at her fingers, painted with bright, wet, crimson.

"You were in Heaven."

"I think so."

Now he knew where the haunted look came from, where the regret and pain came from. It wasn't from being tortured for hundreds of years, it wasn't even from digging out of her grave.

"I-I think I'm in Hell now, Angel. I think maybe the last three years have just been pretend and really we're back to that summer that I gutted you. I think I gutted me too and we're both in Hell."

He took her hand in his, raised the fingertips to his lips and kissed them. He licked the blood away and pulled her into his embrace.

"I'll lead you out. I got out once and I'll lead you out," he promised.


She was finally sleeping. She had closed her eyes only after hours of whispered assurances, softly sung Gaelic lullabies, and constant, gentle touches. Angel sat in a chair close to Buffy's bed. The door opened a crack and light spilled over his perch. Dawn followed the light inside.

"I didn't think she'd sleep."

"It took me three hours to get her to close her eyes," Angel confessed. He twirled the stem of a withered rose between his fingers. He'd found it on Buffy's dresser along with pictures of Willow and Xander.

"That's from Buffy's funeral," Dawn said.

Angel dropped it as if it burned. The dried petals turned to ash when it hit the ground.

Dawn nodded toward the bed where Buffy slept. "Is she…is she okay?"

Angel sighed. He knew instinctively that Buffy wouldn't want anyone knowing she'd been in Heaven. She wouldn't want them to hurt that much. "I don't know. When you've been through what she's been through…I don't know, Dawnie."

Dawn nodded. "I guess you're more qualified then any of us to know what she's gone through."

Angel gritted his teeth against the truth and nodded. Dawn assumed he didn't want to talk about his own sentence in Hell.

"I shouldn't have left her. I know that now, I should have never left her, Dawn."

"Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go." Dawn paused. "Hermann Hesse said that. It's…I mean you probably know that. Buffy needed-she…before you left Buffy was a teenager, a girl. She was Buffy. When you left it forced her to grow…to become the Slayer. She had to become that, part of evolution I guess. I don't know. I think it helped her survive some things, stop the end of the world a couple of times."

"At what cost?" He asked, his voice rising slightly. Buffy whimpered in her sleep and furrowed her brow. Angel reached out, stroked her cheek and she fell back into a silent sleep. "At what cost? This?" He gestured to Buffy curled up on the bed. "I'm sorry, Dawn, but I can't pay that price anymore, she can't pay that price anymore."

"So what, Angel, you just waltz into her life, sweep her off her feet, make her smile, make her laugh and then when she's almost happy, you decide that it would be better if you left her."

It cut, but it was fair. He balled his fists, nails digging into his palms. "No, not this time. I-it's not better, Dawn. It's not better for either of us. This time I'm staying."

Dawn regarded him coolly. "The monks were good with the memories. Perfect actually, I remember that summer. She spent the entire time crying. She lost too much weight, she slept too little. She got hurt slaying, a lot. She built these walls. Buffy was never the same after you left. She was much more the Slayer and so much less Buffy. It let her survive though. She started eating, she stopped crying. Sometimes it seemed like I had my sister back as long as I didn't look hard, as long as I didn't notice that her smile never reached her eyes."

Dawn paused and looked at Buffy lying curled up on the bed. She looked vulnerable and young. "The Slayer is stronger than Buffy in so many ways, except when it comes to you. They're both vulnerable to you. Willow, Xander, Spike, me, no one can break down those walls, but you slip through them like butter. The Slayer won't survive you leaving again, and I'm not sure there's enough of Buffy left to even put up a fight."

"She won't have to fight anymore, Dawn. I'll fight for her."


She woke up screaming, clawing at the air. He caught her up in his arms, her hands striking out at his face. Blood trickled down his cheek and still he held her tight, willing to take every wound she could inflict.

"Shhh, I'm here, Buffy. Wake up, Baby. I'm here."

She used to wake up by inches, degrees, bit by slow bit. She woke up with a start, suddenly like a door slamming. Her eyes were wild, searching until they found his. That haunted look replaced the wildness, and he'd almost wish to keep the wildness instead.

"I close my eyes and I keep seeing things, Angel."

"What kind of things?"

"Rainbow waterfalls and then, I'm there again in my box, under six feet of earth and I can't climb out. I can't climb out and I'm suffocating and a part of me just doesn't care because maybe I'd get to go back."

He pulled her into his embrace, cuddling her against his chest. He kissed the top of her head and his hands made a quiet pilgrimage over her hair, her back, her hip and up her arm. Her face turned up to look at him.

"I hurt you," she whispered. It reeked of apology.

He shook his head. "No." He really wanted to say he deserved it. He wanted to ask her to hurt him more.

"Ease my mind, Angel. I need…I need reasons for me to know you, reasons to live my life. Will you give them to me?" He didn't miss that she'd asked will you, not can you. They both knew he could. She had shown him the light and now he had to show her.

Call Me Call Me

I close my eyes and I keep seeing things
Rainbow waterfalls
Sunny liquid dream

Confusion creeps inside me raining doubt
Got to get to you
But I don't know how

Call me, call me
Let me know it's alright
Call me, call me
Don't you think it's 'bout time
Please won't you call and

Ease my mind
Reasons for me to find you
Peace of mind
What can I do
to get me to you?

I had your number quite some time ago
Back when we were one
But I had to grow

Ten thousand years I've searched it seems and now
Gotta get to you
Won't you tell me how?

Call me, call me
Let me know you are there
Call me, call me
I wanna know you still care
Come on now won't you

Repeat

Ease my mind
Reasons for me to find you
Peace of mind
Reasons for living my life
Ease my mind
Reasons for me to know you
What can I do
to get me to you?