The Briar and the Rose
The Caritas' host glanced up at the bright blue sky dotted with picturesque fluffy white clouds, then stepped out of the small gathering on the freshly cut lawn.
"//I fell asleep down beside a stream//
//And there I had the strangest dream//
//And down by Brennan's glen there grows//
//The briar and the rose//" he sang.
Buffy burst into the Hyperion's lobby, smiling like a lunatic and practically skipping, she threw herself into Angel's arms.
By reflex alone the souled vampire caught her. "Buffy?" He asked, frowning slightly at his ex-girlfriend whom he hadn't seen or spoken to in over two years.
"Giles found a prophecy, a good one for once," Buffy babbled leaning close to steal a kiss. "About you… becoming human."
With a heavy, airless sigh Angel set Buffy gently on the ground. "I was afraid you'd react like this," he said.
"You knew," Buffy said, the exuberance draining from her face and voice. "You knew and you never told me."
"I knew about the prophecy. I knew that I might become human at some undetermined time in the future," Angel said. "How could I ask you to wait for something that might not even happen in your life time?"
"You didn't have to ask," Buffy said glaring at him. "All you had to do was tell me. Shouldn't I have had the right to decide what I think is worth waiting for? …Unless you don't want me in you life anymore."
"Buffy, I didn't want you wasting your time," Angel protested.
"Do you still love me?" Buffy demanded.
"I don't have that right…" Angel began but Buffy cut him off with a fierce glare.
"Tell me you don't love me Angel. Look me in the eye and say that and I'll leave," She ordered.
"I…" Angel's words caught in his throat. "I love you Buffy, I shouldn't but I do. I have since the first moment I saw you and I always will."
Buffy's angry mask melted into a soft smile. "Then I'll wait. It's my choice Angel, don't try to make it for me, and don't feel guilty about it. You didn't ask me, I decided what I want to do with my life."
"But what about Riley? I thought he made you happy," Angel asked.
"I lied," Buffy said. "And not just to you. I told myself Riley was exactly what I wanted everyday we were together. I thought I believed it, but psych majors think too much, Riley was probably the only one who didn't buy the line. He knew he'd never be anything more than my second choice. I really don't blame him for wanting better. When he first left it really hurt me, but eventually I figured out why he left. He does deserve to be with someone whose heart hasn't already been claimed. I've been trying to really get over you for a long time now; I didn't want to make the same mistake again. I decided I wouldn't get involved again until my heart was free to give, but it didn't work. No one will ever replace you for me."
"Buffy," Angel said brokenly. "You deserve better, but I'm not strong enough to send you away. I've missed you too much."
"Good," Buffy said. "Because I won't stand for anymore of your leaving me for my own good crap."
"//There's a tree in the forest and I don't know where//
//I built a nest out of your hair//
//And climbing up into the air//
//The briar and the rose//."
Gunn wrapped a supportive arm around Cordelia's shoulders. She turned and buried her face against his shoulder. Wesley patted her shoulder reassuringly.
"You're sure I should be here?" Angel asked fussing with the suit jacket he was wearing. "I'm not exactly friends with either of them."
"The invitation said to bring a date," Buffy sighed. "Xander knows perfectly well that means you."
"Maybe it was a subtle way for Xander to suggest you should bring someone else," Angel said.
"No, it was Xander's not so subtle way of saying he's still not going to admit that holding a grudge against you is stupid." Buffy replied. "But he wants me to bring you. Xander hasn't really hated you since Will and Tara made your soul permanent."
"You know it's been a lot easier wait for my shanshu not that we can safely be together while we wait," Angel said. "But you're sure it's okay that I'm here? Xander still does a good impression of despising me."
"Xander's probably afraid that him being nice to you would be a sign of a coming apocalypse." Buffy said. "Do you think Xander and Anya choose to get married here instead of in a church for Spike's comfort? Before you answer, remember that Xander put garlic power instead of sugar into Spike's coffee only two week ago."
"//Well I don't know how long it's been//
//But I was born in Brennan's Glen//
//And near the end of spring there grows//
//The briar and the rose//."
Anya entwined her fingers with Xander's as his arms tightened painfully around her. Her free hand held they're daughter close to her side.
"You said I should go on picnics," Buffy wheeled.
"In the sunlight," Angel replied.
"Moonlight's more romantic," Buffy said firmly.
"You aren't going to let me feel guilty are you?" Angel asked, smiling slightly.
Buffy fluttered her eyelashes innocently and Angel chuckled shaking his head at her silliness.
"We could do to the beach," he said. "It isn't nearly as crowded at this time of night."
"I'll get smores stuff, we'll make a fire and toast marshmallows," Buffy laughed. "I haven't done that in forever."
"Smores?" Angel asked.
Tara watched Willow worriedly. The red haired woman stared blankly into the distance.
"//I picked the rose one early morn//
//I pricked my fingers on a thorn//
//It had grown so close its winding wove//
//The briar and the rose//."
A choked sob shattered the slender witch's composure. Relieved Tara pulled her lover to her, stroking her hair comfortingly as Willow finally cried.
"Wow," Buffy exclaimed, looking around at the candles on every flat surface in the old mansion. "Is there some special occasion I don't know about?"
"I… um… I wanted to ask you… this part was supposed to come after diner," Angel stuttered. Then he took Buffy's hands and dropped gracefully to one knee before her. "Buffy, may I ask for your hand in marriage?" he asked formally.
Buffy blinked. She looked down at Angel and blinked again. She bit the inside of her cheek, it was more discrete than freeing a hand to pinch herself. Angel was still there, waiting for her answer.
"I wanted to wait until I was human… In case you changed your mind." Angel fell back into stammering uncertainly. "But after last week…"
Buffy sat on Angel's leg, leaning into his chest. "It really freaked you didn't it?" she asked gently.
"I couldn't find you," Angel whispered. "I could hear the battle, but there were too many echoes, it confused me. I couldn't reach you and then the sounds of fighting stopped. All I could think was that I was too late."
"I got lucky," Buffy admitted. "That guy was way better than me with a sword. Him stepping in that rat hole couldn't have happened at a better time."
"Thank the Powers for that," Angel said feverently.
" But, I already promised not to go rushing head long into things again… unless I have a good reason."
"I worry about you," Angel admitted. "And it's worse when you don't let me back you up. If I'm with you at least you won't leave me here alone."
Buffy rolled her yes and gently hit Angel's shoulder. "You can be so morbid sometimes," she complained. "Nothing is going to beat us, especially not when we're together."
"Thinking about the worst that could happen is a hard habit to break," Angel said looking around the room. "This was an overreaction wasn't it? I shouldn't have…"
"Oh you're not getting out of it," Buffy interrupted. "You asked and I'm answering. Yes, I'll marry you. I only wish I'd known months ago that all I had to do to get you to propose was scare you silly. I know you've been thinking about formalizing things ever since Wesley eloped with Marianna… I still can't believe Wesley did that."
"I think he was afraid to plan anything, you know how many times Willow and Tara's ceremony had to be put on hold for demonic occurrences." Angel commented. "… Did you say yes?"
"You noticed huh?"
"//I tried to tear them both apart//
//I felt a bullet through my heart//
//And all dressed up in spring's new cloths//
//The briar and the rose//."
"It wasn't supposed to happen like this," Giles thought. "Buffy was going to beat the odds. She was the strongest Slayer he'd ever heard tell of. And with Angel beside her, they'd been unbeatable. It just didn't make any sense… Buffy and Angel were supposed to be getting married in just a few months."
"So you've got the dress and the place, and if you think I'm wearing that bride's maid dress you're kidding yourself." Willow said. "How abut this one."
"I think Xander should stand with me too," Buffy said examining the dress Willow had pointed out. "Cordelia's going to do it for Angel. She and Wesley are both going to since he couldn't decide which one to ask. So I was thinking you and Xander should be my Bride's people."
"I think Xander will be almost as flattered as Giles was when you asked him to give you away."
"It took him almost an hour to remember to be all British and reserved," Buffy giggled. "Ack!! Put everything up quick, Angel's supposed to be meeting us any minute now, I don't want him seeing even a picture of the dress."
"Wouldn't want to tempt fate," Willow agreed gathering the scattered magazine clippings into Buffy's wedding notebook.
A sharp crack followed by an alarmed cry from the shop across the street brought Buffy's head up with a snap. "I'd better go check it out. Tell Angel." Buffy ordered thrusting a handful of magazines at Willow then racing across into the shop."
A teenaged boy holding a handgun spun around, his eyes wild and panicky as Buffy pushed through the doors.
Buffy skidded to a stop. "Uh, hi…this is unexpected. You wouldn't happen to have seen a nice demon around here anyplace?"
"You're nuts!" the boy exclaimed.
"Look who's talking," Buffy muttered.
"I'm not crazy!" the boy cried.
"Okay, not a good time to be channeling Cordelia," Buffy said raising her hand placating. "I'm the crazy one, you're perfectly sane, despite the waving a gun around thing."
A familiar sensation drew Buffy's eyes to the rear of the shop and she almost smiled as she saw Angel quietly entering the shop through the back door.
"So, I guess you want something," Buffy said trying to keep the boy's attention focused on her.
"I want things to be like they were before," the boy said.
Angel crept up the aisle behind the boy.
"Alright, that's a start, a little lacking in specifics…but a start." Buffy said. Then cringed as a small child pointed excitedly at Angel.
The young gunman pressed himself back against the front counter of the store, his aim swinging rapidly between Buffy and Angel. "Don't try anything!" he yelled, his voice breaking.
Angel's shoulders slumped as their easy resolution slipped away, but he kept walking toward the boy. "You don't want to hurt anyone," He said.
Some of the tension left Angel's frame as the boy apparently chose him as the greater threat and kept the gun pointed squarely at the souled vampire.
Angel took two more slow steps forward.
"I'll do it," the boy shouted. "I'll shoot."
"Take a life?" Angel asked softly. "You don't want to do that, trust me." He took another step forward.
The gun was shaking; the boy brought up his other hand, trying to keep it leveled on Angel.
The bell over the door chimed as Willow entered the shop. Startled by the noise the boy spun toward it. Both Buffy and Angel saw his finger tightening on the trigger.
Buffy dove for Willow, Angel went for the boy. The sound of the gun going off was deafening.
Angel felt the bullet impacting his chest; he ignored it and snatched the gun from the boy's hand.
Two of the hostages came forward to help restrain the boy as Angel turned to check on Buffy and Willow.
Both girls lay sprawled on the floor. "Buffy?" Willow asked uncertainly as she struggled out from beneath the Slayer's unresponsive form.
Angel knelt beside them and carefully took Buffy into his arms. "She's fine," he said. "There was only one shot, I felt it hit me, everything's going to be okay."
He stared uncomprehendingly at the red stain above Buffy's heart. "No… you have to be alright," Angel told her.
"Let me help," one of the former hostages offered. "I'm a paramedic."
"Buffy can't be hurt," Angel argued.
"I'll take care of her," the EMT promised, trying to get Angel to let him take Buffy.
"She'll be fine," Willow said, pulling Angel back to give the other man room to work.
Angel let Willow pull him down to sit beside her against the counter. His eyes never left Buffy. "She can't leave without me," he said. "Not now."
"She won't," Willow reassured him.
"Then why can't I hear her heartbeat?" He asked plaintively.
Willow swallowed softly. "There are probably too many other people in here, you're just missing it in the confusion."
When the ambulance arrived the man who'd identified himself as a paramedic turned Buffy over to them. He glanced at Willow and Angel, then said in a soft voice. "I've been performing CPR on her for ten minutes now, no response and none expected given the location where she was shot. She died before she hit the ground."
"No," Angel said, rising to his feet, a bright red smear of blood marked the point where he'd been leaning back against the counter. "Buffy isn't dead. She can't die, not now."
Angel knelt beside her again, taking her had. "We're getting married in a few months. She wouldn't leave, not now. Things were finally going right. We've dealt with so many things to be together, it's not fair for her to die now. I can't loose her again, not like this. She's supposed to be happy. It's all I ever wanted. She can't die… I was here; Buffy always said we could beat anything together. How can she be dead?"
Angel's litany ended in a spade of coughing that brought blood to his lips. He gasped for air and began coughing again. Willow stared at him in confusion.
"Where are you hurt?" one of the medics asked, trying to examine Angel for injuries.
"Oh, I understand now," Angel said between bursts of hacking wet coughs. He sat on the floor cradling Buffy in his arms as he fought for air he hadn't needed a few short minutes ago. Blood from his injuries pooled in his lungs, slowly drowning him.
"It's perfect really," Angel said with an awkward smile. "There was only one bullet."
"//And when I'm buried and in my grave//
//Tell me so I may know//
//Your tears may fall to make love grow//
//The briar and the rose//"
The Host looked sadly at the two graves. "We'll miss you," he said. "But it's a comfort that you're together, we know you wouldn't have had it any other way." And he laid a single yellow rose between them.
Notes: The song is "The Briar and the Rose" by Niamh Parsons and The Loose Connections.
A yellow rose can symbolize farewell or remembrance among a whole list of other things.