Disclaimer: I have no rights when it comes to BTVS or ATS...it's all Joss's, that evil, evil man ;)
Spoilers: Up through Disharmony on ATS, and Forever on BTVS.
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Angel absentmindedly flicked his blinker on as he prepared to take the exit, and marveled anew at the way his heart sped up as he thought about what he was about to do. Lub dub. Lub dub. Lub dub. His heart was beating.
Even though he had lost the heightened senses that he'd possessed as a vampire, he imagined he could feel the blood rushing through is veins, carrying oxygen to all the parts of his body...rejuvenating him; keeping him alive. *Alive*
As he passed the Welcome to Sunnydale sign his pulse quickened again, and he tried to quell his anticipation. *Soon* he promised himself...*You're almost there.*
As a distraction, he thought back on the events of the past year that had led him here, to this moment. The battles had been fierce; sacrifices had been made. None of them had emerged unscathed. But in the end, the evil army was vanquished, and the prophecy was fulfilled. Angel was human again. Granted his humanity after his years of torment and atonement, he was free. Free to breathe, free to walk in the sunlight. Free to live out his life. Free to love.
There had been surprisingly few things to see to in L.A. before he headed to Sunnydale...before he came back to the one thing he'd wanted more than anything else. To the one thing that had kept him going through all of it. Buffy.
Even now, memories of her muddled in his mind...happy memories, sad ones; ones he wished he could forget. Their history was long and tumultuous...but he knew he loved her as he'd never loved anyone or anything else in his near two hundred and fifty years. She was the first person he'd ever cared about, ever loved, ever fought for. The memory of her had kept him on his course, the promise of humanity his only hope to ever be with her.
Among all the memories, one in particular stood out forefront in his mind as he cruised down the streets of Sunnydale, making his way to her house. He remembered a year ago, when he'd come back after Joyce died. He'd walked up beside Buffy at the graveside, and without a word she'd taken his hand. Took comfort in his presence, grateful just to be near him. All that night they'd sat together under a tree that overlooked her mother's grave, and it was as if no time had passed between them at all. He'd offered to stay as long as she'd needed him, and she'd looked up at him with eyes that had seen too much, and wished sadly for the things she knew she could never have. "How about forever?" she'd said. "Does that work for you?"
She'd quickly taken it back, recognizing the futility in voicing the yearning between them, but a moment later found her in his arms as they kissed tenderly. The moment lengthened, and the passion between them grew until she pulled back, both of them realizing that this was the way it had always been between them. The way it would always be. They could never just *be* there for each other. Not for very long. They both wanted more...they both wanted the impossible. For Angel it had been a realization. He'd thought that he'd had an epiphany after Darla...that he'd realized his true purpose. But he'd been wrong. That was only part of it. Sitting there with Buffy under the tree that night, Angel had realized what he truly wanted out of life.
It was right here...all of it. All he'd ever wanted or needed. Buffy. His love, his light in the darkness.
He'd returned to L.A. with a clearer head...certain now of what had to be done. With renewed vigor he battled the forces of evil, following the directives of the Powers that Be, with one purpose in mind. To finish it. To end it once and for all; to get it done. Yes, he was still atoning. The weight of his thoughts of all of the people he had killed still smothered him, and he fought every day to try to make it right. But it was no longer the only force that drove him. He had a goal, now. To win this war, to gain his freedom, and return to his love.
And he'd done it. Despite the impossible odds, he and the others had done it. They'd won. He could still vividly remember the dawning joy in Cordelia's eyes, the disbelief and happiness on Wesley's face, and Gunn's weary but elated smile. They'd won. And he was alive again. Just like that. For only the second time in two centuries his heart beat in his chest, and Angel breathed in deeply again just for the pure joy of taking in the oxygen. The sunlight glinted off the chrome of his convertible, and he giddily wondered if he might even get a tan now.
With a grin, Angel turned onto Buffy's street, eyes eagerly searching out her house at the end. For the first time he saw her house in the sunlight, the green of the lawn contributed to the peaceful, homey air. He noticed several cars in the driveway, and pulled across the street. Pocketing his keys, he practically vaulted up the stairs to the front door.
Angel knocked, and could barely contain his excitement as he waited for the door to be opened. He could hear blood rushing in his ears, and suddenly his mouth was dry. His stomach was reacting like he was on a roller coaster, and a little half-laugh escaped him as the anticipation got unbearable.
He knocked again, wondering again about all of the cars in the driveway, and where everyone was. Finally, he tried the door and found it unlocked. Opening it timidly, he peeked into the foyer and saw nothing. He heard voices in the kitchen though...familiar ones. Willow's, Xander's. With a smile, he closed the door softly behind him and ambled through the dining room.
Everyone in the room looked up, startled, when he came into the kitchen. Giles and Xander sat at the counter, and Willow stood with her back to the sink, a glass of water raised to her lips. The door to the back porch was open, and Tara stood framed in the doorway, looking out at the yard. She'd turned when she heard someone enter, and took in the stunned looks on the faces of her friends. She looked back at the tall, handsome man, and noticed that he appeared to be rather buoyant. He looked around at others and smiled widely, and even Tara thought that the smile looked odd on him. As if it had been a long time since he'd had a reason to be happy, and was unfamiliar with it.
Angel noticed the somber air permeating the room, but was too happy to really be worried by it right now. Right now he only wanted one thing. To find Buffy. He addressed the group. "Giles, Willow, Xander. How are you?"
The gang continued to stare back at him without so much as a word. Finally Giles blinked, and looked down at his tea as if trying to gather his wits. He looked back up, straightening his glasses. "Angel," he said. "We...we weren't expecting you."
Xander stared back down at the counter, not looking at Angel. "News travels fast, I guess."
Angel's brow furrowed. What did that mean? He looked to Giles for an explanation, but the Watcher seemed to be searching for words. Angel finally realized that everyone was dressed in black, and the melancholy atmosphere finally penetrated the bubble of happiness he'd been in. His smile slowly drained away, and trepidation replaced his joy. "Giles, what's wrong?" he asked worriedly.
Giles looked at him, stunned. Was it possible? Did he not...know? Suddenly he realized that Angel must have come through the front door...and it was broad daylight outside. "Angel," he said, amazed. "How did you...it's day!"
Angel brushed aside the question. "There was a prophecy...a war, between good and evil. We won. I was granted my humanity. I came back to tell...Giles, where's Buffy?"
A quiet sob from Willow drew his attention to the slim redhead, and he saw the way her knuckles were white around the glass she still held. Tears filled her eyes and she brought her other hand up to her mouth as she looked at Giles and then closed her eyes. "Giles," she nearly whispered. "He doesn't know."
Angel's sense of foreboding grew into full-blown fear as he looked back at Giles. The Englishman stuttered, obviously off his balance. "I...I'm sorry...I tried to call you…."
Angel's voice was strangled when he shouted. "Giles, tell me! Where's Buffy? What's happened?"
Giles stilled, and then slowly pulled off his glasses, blinking. He looked up at Angel sympathetically, and Angel could finally see the pain in the Watcher's eyes. And before he even spoke Angel knew what he was going to say. He just *knew*. "No," he whispered.
"I'm sorry, Angel..." Giles started.
"No!" Angel cried. "She can't be, she can't be!" His hands jerked to cover his ears, as if he could block out the truth by not hearing it, but he stilled them as the fear and foreboding overwhelmed him and he realized that it was all for nothing.
Giles' expression was pained. "She died two days ago," he said softly. "A...particularly powerful demon. She was...unable to save herself, though every one of us is still here thanks only to her efforts."
Under the stares of everyone in the room, Angel felt everything close in on him. Two days...two days ago. *Buffy was dead*. Suddenly Angel couldn't breathe. The world spun around him and turned dark as he fell to his knees. In his periphery he saw Willow start toward him, concerned, but couldn't speak to her as his world came crumbling in on him. It encompassed him, enveloped him...and Angel drowned in the darkness; in a world suddenly devoid of light.