Three years pass and he's still with the ad agency. He's the head of the art department now and his latest TV ad (for stockings) won a Cleo. He spends a quarter of his time out of town – meeting with prospective clients, presenting new ad campaigns, going to industry conferences. He's relearned the fine art of small talk and can discuss recent movies, current best sellers and the latest TV hit show without missing a beat. His clothes reflect his salary; Italian silks, Egyptian cotton, crisp linen, tissue thin wool. He laughs more freely, the fact that he manages it without ever actually smiling goes unremarked.
Outwardly, the rest of his life hasn't changed at all. He still lives in the same small studio apartment, in the same "colorful" neighborhood. He still goes out every night and always winds up in someone else's bed. But subtle aspects have changed.
One night he comes home and stares at himself in the bathroom mirror until his eyes begin to water. He covers it up the next day and takes down all the remaining mirrors wondering if his soul is being sucked out a teaspoon at a time.
He has a shot or two with his ale nowadays. Sometimes he smokes a little pot. He knows one day it will all catch up to him and everything will come crashing down. He can't work himself up over it. Part of him knows he deserves it.
On the night Fred comes to call, he watches as she stands with her hands outstretched, beseeching him, silver trails on her cheeks. He hits four different bars before he finds exactly the right person. She's more than happy to hurt him just enough and then just a little bit more. He screams as he cums and the abyss waits for him, endlessly inviting. Several days later, he examines the small white scar that has been left imprinted on his chest. It's the color of vampire skin.
On the weekends he and the rest of New York run errands. He spends extra time at the gym, does his laundry, picks up his dry cleaning, does his grocery shopping and vacuums the apartment. He almost always has Sunday afternoons free. Sometimes he catches a movie; sometimes he heads to an art museum, sketchbook in hand, sometimes he strolls around The Village. It's mid-March and still a bit blustery. His Sunday excursion for the day will be uptown at Central Park. He's a bit out of sorts when he realizes the park is much more popular than he would have expected; he's not in the mood to be near other people. He quickly hikes to the center of the park where The Ramble is. With over thirty acres of woodlands, it's just as empty as he expected. He stands near a bench, sketching the scene in front of him, trying to capture the interplay of sun and shadows on the trees.
He's so intent on drawing that he doesn't hear the snap of a twig until it's too late. When he turns around, his sketchbook falls from his hands into the soft scrub below. The demon is a few inches taller then he is, covered in grayish scales with an undertone of green. The wrist, elbows, knees and shins all have bony protrusions that are, for all intents and purposes, permanently affixed daggers. It smells dank and moldy and it's already lunging for him before his legs obey his brain. He's running as fast as he can, his Nike trainers slapping hard against the path. He chances a quick look behind him; the demon is on all fours, in an easy loping gait. He suddenly realizes he's heading north, straight to the lake. The boathouse only opened a week ago and there's sure to be families and couples renting boats. Muscle memory takes over as he stops short, somersaults and starts running back the direction he just came from. It's not nearly as smooth or as quick as he used to be, but it's unexpected enough that the demon is thrown off track for a second. His lungs are killing him and his legs are burning. He's huffing shallow breaths of air, not enough to keep him going but he doesn't have a choice. He's blinking and shaking his head at regular intervals, trying to keep the sweat out of his eyes. He's long gone off the path, crashing wildly past trees and shrubs. He stumbles at one point and as he's righting himself, he feels a slight tug. The sleeve of his sweatshirt and the outside of his arm, from his shoulder to an inch above his elbow have been bisected. He yanks himself away and puts on a final burst of speed. Thirty seconds later, he almost crashes into one of the huge rock outcroppings that dot the park. He's got nowhere else to go and the fetid stench of the demon behind him is overwhelming. His only thought is how long will it take his body to be discovered. He feels a whoosh of air and waits to feel the demon tear into his flesh. It doesn't occur and finally he turns around. He knows the shock in her eyes is mirrored in his own.
"Angel?" For a brief, eternal moment he wants everything that her voice has ever promised. And then his heart hardens.
"What…what was that thing?" He easily channels his surprise at seeing her into a more general state of shock. He adds a soft brogue to his question.
"Angel?" she asks again, but this time he can hear uncertainty in her query. He doesn't hesitate to press his advantage. Emotional devastation has always been his strength.
"If that's an angel," he points to the severed head lying at her feet, "I'd hate to meet the devil himself."
He sees her shoulders slump ever so slightly at his words and then he sees the steel of the slayer take over. "You need to get your arm looked at. It probably needs stitches."
"Thanks for saving my life. Cian Brennan."
She nods. "Buffy Summers. I'd suggest you keep out of unpopulated areas in the future." And with that, she melts into the surrounding trees. He stares after her for a while, trying to memorize the cadence of her voice.
Four days later, when the doorbell rings he opens the door without bothering to check the peephole. He's expecting the FedEx guy with a delivery from Amazon, instead she's standing there, arms crossed, eyes blazing.
"Can I help you, miss?"
She shoulders her way past him and steps into the middle of his studio. "Did you know Dawn is all grown up now? She's a Watcher. Not what I wanted for her at all, but she finally made me understand that I didn't have a lot of say in the matter." Her eyes narrow a bit at the memory. "She's an expert in languages. Can speak twelve demon languages fluently, reads another fifteen and as far as human languages? Well, let's just say that she's handy to have on vacations in exotic locales." She stands there hands at her sides, tension evident in the lines of her body. Her expression is angry but her eyes speak of immense sorrow. He remembers seeing her look just like this in the Sunnydale sewers a lifetime ago. "Cian Brennan. Ancient Sorrow." He turns unable to meet her gaze any longer.
Her voice hardens immediately. "Some things still didn't make sense. But you know Giles. Loves a challenge, especially when it involves musty books. It took it him two days to find the shoe shine prophecy." She chops her hands in the air, making it clear he isn't to interrupt. She takes a step toward him, eyes snapping dangerously. "I can understand you not wanting anyone to know about the changes in your life. It's your life after all." She's trying to keep her voice emotionless, but he can hear the bitterness seeping in. "But you had a demon army to battle. There are two hundred slayers that could have been there in a matter of hours. What were you thinking?"
At that, something snaps and he straightens up and shouts back at her. "It had already been made perfectly clear on several occasions that we were on our own. How was I supposed to know that that time didn't count?" Her expression is initially befuddled, then shock and betrayal blossom. He watches her and realizes she never knew. He was cut adrift that terrible year but it wasn't with her consent. The anger drains out of him at the sight of her pain. "It doesn't matter. He was right not to trust me." He doesn't want to be the cause of a rift between Giles and her. "I started a war without considering the consequences and hundreds of people died as a result. My fault. My fault. " He shuts his eyes and for a split second, he can see them all endlessly stretching out before him, an endless march of the dead.
"Angel, that's not your fault. There's plenty of…"
"Angel's dead. He died four and a half years ago along with all of his friends and one thousand, eight hundred and thirty-six other people." He looks past her, at the white wall behind her. "I think you should leave."
She doesn't say anything and then he hears a rustling sound. "I'll be in town a few days. Here's the number where I can be reached if you want to talk." He can hear the defeat in her voice and then the door opens and closes. He finally stops staring at the wall and collapses onto the couch.
When he picks his head up, Cordelia is standing in front of him. She isn't sad though. She isn't anything. She's the lifeless body they buried on a dark February evening, arms and legs wasted because of the coma. "No, no, no, no." He shuts his eyes tightly and She's storming into his dingy little office, taking over the place, asking about sign painters and exterminators and charging the rich. She's changing Connor's diaper and blowing a raspberry on his belly. She killing some demon with a sword because she's Cordelia, damn it and she'll do anything she sets her mind to. She turns to him, full on, with that killer smile that brings men (and vampires) to their knees. And then she rolls her eyes at him. "You are such a dumbass, you dumbass." And just like that, she vanishes. He blinks a few times, trying to process it all. Finally he strides into the bathroom and snatches the pillowcase from where it's been covering the medicine cabinet mirror for more than two years now.
He looks into it for a long time and all he sees is a man. Just a tired looking man, staring back at him. He walks back into the single room that defines his living space and notes that it's devoid of decoration or personality. It contains an oatmeal colored couch, a sisal rug, a blonde wood coffee table and a folding table and chairs. He's been living in a shithole for well over four years. He picks up the small piece of paper lying on the table.
He clears his throat three times before speaking. "Hey, ah. I was thinking that I would like to see you. Dinner tonight, maybe? If that's ok?" He rattles off his number and is about to hang up the phone when he picks the receiver back up to his mouth. "This is Angel. See you later?"
He still doesn't know how or why but maybe it's time he stopped trying to return the gift and started using it instead.