The vision came right before sunset so we decided to just swing by the hotel and pick Angel up rather than waiting for him to show up at the office. We didn't bother to call first or anything. I mean really, where else was he going to be? We never expected him to have company.
Things never really went back to the way they were between us after he came back and I wish I could say that the changes were for the better but I'd be lying.
Angel works for us, he's not our friend, we don't stop by his place unless we have a need to, he doesn't hang around or cook breakfast after late night world saving anymore. In the beginning there were times when I was almost certain Angel wanted us to ask him back into our circle, but we were still punishing him so we didn't. Now he's so guarded around us I don't know what he say if we did.
The first few weeks were awkward. What we expected really. Angel was apologetic, remorseful and maybe we reminded him why he should be a few times too often but he hurt us. Just by letting him come back we did our part. The rest was up to him.
In the beginning he had a tendency to forget he wasn't in charge anymore when things got hectic, but someone, usually Gunn, always reminded him of that afterwards. We never really expected the whole employee thing to take, but Angel adapted. He stopped phrasing things as orders, started making suggestions. He started waiting for our signals, letting us take the lead. His whole presence changed, he's different somehow, not Angel anymore.
Except once, about a month ago, we ended up cornered by about a dozen vampires. I thought we were done for. So did Wes and Gunn, I could see that go-out-with-a-bang mentality in their eyes. We'd all given up. Then Angel turns on this whole I'm-someone-to-be-reckoned-with vibe and backs them down. It was strange, even though he called himself Angelus; I was seeing the PTB's warrior for the first time in over a year.
Afterwards he apologized to us for acting out of turn. We really didn't know how to respond to that, so we didn't.
We usually don't really know how to react to Angel. Early on we set patterns, made rules, because it was a habit to trust Angel and we were afraid of getting hurt again. So yeah we were kinda mean to Angel, reminding him all the time of how he'd screwed up, but we were really reminding ourselves. Those patterns were supposed to be temporary, just until we were sure he was really back, but people can always develop new habits. Some habits are harder to break than others, and those patterns… that's just how we interact with Angel now.
Like when he gets hurt. My first reaction was always to worry, to check how bad it was this time, to care. I didn't want him to know I still cared, so I'd revert to the old me from high school and be nasty and sarcastic when I tried to get him to let me patch things up. Then he'd just say it was nothing, that it would heal, that I didn't need to bother myself about him, and then he'd leave. He does heal, he's a vampire after all, but I'd feel better if I knew his wounds got proper attention. Sometimes I watch him favor an injury, and I just know he's taking longer than he should to heal. Except I can't really be sure since I never know how bad it was in the first place. I really do worry, but the first thing that comes out of my mouth is some stupid crack or Angel just takes whatever I say the wrong way. Then nothing gets done about the problem.
Nothing ever gets done about anything with regards to Angel. We discussed it, decided that maybe the guilt over getting all dark and creepy while having a soul broke something in Angel. We all thought that maybe it was us that had broken him, but we never said it, didn't want to face the possibility. Afterwards he was always so somber, remorseful, even compared to Angel's normal standards, which is saying a whole lot. He wasn't really broody anymore, more like being shut down. It was like he only felt this really narrow range of emotion, nothing on the positive end of the spectrum, but never angry or hurt or upset either, just regretful.
But there'd be little cracks, like when he needed to relate to someone in order to help. Of all of us Angel's really the best at understanding people. It's not just the stalker, evil types we fight either. Those he understands because of a century and a half of being a soulless psychopath. The others; people who are hurt or scared or lonely or abused, the lost souls we try to help; he understands them too, because of century that came afterwards. The one we don't really know anything about. Not even the Watcher diaries say much, just that after a century and a half of being one of the most notorious vampires ever Angelus moved to the US and dropped off the map. Whatever happened to him then, or maybe during his human life taught him to understand people who are hurting.
The only times I ever see the Angel I used to be best friends with is when he's too busy helping someone to notice that I'm watching him. Then he's warm and caring and sympathetic, alive and whole in a way that the new Angel never is.
Until today I thought he was doing that from memories of what he was like before, like when he pretended to be Angelus to draw out Faith. He's always been the best actor of the group. Which is probably only because he's had a lot longer to practice, but I can't deny that he's convincing when he tries to be. Now I'm suddenly wondering if it were us that he convinced. Wonder if he's been so different because he was giving us the person we demand he be.
There's this courtyard area behind the hotel. Angel always loved it, cause it's got enough shadows that he can be out there even during the day. That's where we found him when we showed up. He was talking with Kate and didn't notice us right away. She was really animated about something, smiling and cheerful, exuberantly excited to be sharing her good news. Angel was listening to her, absolutely enthralled. He looked relaxed and kind of happy. I'd forgotten how that looks on him, it's been so long since I've seen him enjoy anything. It's not perfect, curse-breaking, world-endangering, happiness, there are still shadows in his eyes, his past still haunts him, but it's a balanced kind of pain. The past happened and it wasn't pretty, but it's the present he's living in.
When he first came back we were the ones that wouldn't let go of the past. We demanded retribution for our grievances. At first we didn't really want him back as a friend. Then it just seemed like too much work to try to change how things were, and why should we be the ones to do the work. It was Angel's fault, shouldn't he be the one to do all the rebuilding of bridges? Then we worried that maybe he couldn't, but still we never really tried meeting him half way. We just assumed that there was something wrong with him and that was why things weren't working out. In the end we accepted how things were now and tried to forget there were parts of the past that we missed.
Angel came back; we let him come back, because we all agreed that he could, that he should help us. Because I still get the visions, because I'm still his connection to the PTB, he can't leave, not really. Sometime I think the visions are the only reason he stays with us now. I wonder if he ever wishes that I weren't his seer. Our sticking together has nothing to do with friendship, our friendships with Angel are in ashes and even those went cold a long time ago.
We thought Angel gave up on friendships after he came back. Only watching him with Kate, I know they're friends. It wasn't friendship Angel gave up on; it was us. He came back and he tried and we threw that in his face so he quit trying. I guess even Angel isn't that much of a glutton for punishment.
I shouldn't be bitter. I always knew, deep down that he needed us. That he hurt himself as badly as he hurt us, maybe worse, when he cut himself off. That he draws stability from having relationships with people. I should be glad he has Kate, because it's good for him. Because having friends or at least a friend, is what he needs to be able to help people and there are people out there that Angel can help even when Wesley, Gunn and I can't. Sometimes it's because of what he is, but sometimes it's just because of who he is.
I should be glad for those people's sake that he and Kate made up. That she was willing to make an effort to repair what broke between them even if we weren't. I knew that they'd buried the hatchet back around the time he had his epiphany, at least in a vague sort of way. I always assumed it was the sort of truce Angel had with Giles or Xander… or with Wesley, Gunn and I; A "We'll let you help us and we won't try to stake you, but we don't like you and we certainly won't forgive you," sort of thing.
We didn't really feel that way, but we acted it, because… well… I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. We always thought we'd go back to being friends with Angel, eventually, once he'd proved himself. I guess we forgot to tell him that. Now we're the just the people he works with, Kate's the one he's friends with… I wonder if he cooks for her.
Angel was wrong. He hurt us. It was our right to decide when to accept his apology, to decide when to forgive, to decide when to forget, or to decide not to forget. But standing here, at this moment… this doesn't feel like a right. It feels like a mistake.