This is a sequel to "Guilt Trembling Spoke My Doom". It is not necessary to read that story to understand this one, but comments on it would be appreciated.
I don't own. Thanks to TKP for the beta, as always.
The air was so heavy with moisture that his shirt stuck to his back, sodden with dampness. He took out the paper and rechecked the address, even though he had memorized it long before he got off the plane. This was definitely the door, but he hesitated anyway. He rolled his shoulders, unsuccessfully trying to relieve the tension, but finally there were no more excuses and he rapped sharply. When the door was finally opened, his first thought was that Giles had aged. It had been almost nine years and his hairline was decidedly higher, the lines in his face more pronounced. But what Angel noticed most were his eyes; they seemed both harder and more grief-stricken, all at once.
"Hello, Giles" and reached out to shake the other man's hand. The gesture wasn't returned as the older man narrowed his eyes.
Finally he spoke. "Angel."
There was no inflection, nothing welcoming in the tone, but Angel didn't hear out and out hostility either. "I go by Cian nowadays."
"Yes, Buffy did mention that." Giles flattened himself against the wall a bit as Angel grabbed his carry-on and stepped inside the flat.
His first impression was that every bit of floor space was either occupied by a young girl or by a stack of books. He wasn't able to see much more than that when he was nearly bowled over a vigorous hug and a pair of arms around him
"Angel," she whispered into his neck. "I'm so happy you're here. We all thought you had died. Well, gone pooft." She smelled like herbal tea and lilacs.
He pulled back a little, surprised as always by her unabashed pleasure in seeing him "Willow, it's wonderful to see you also."
"How was the plane ride? Are you hungry? Because airplane food is not of the edible. Oh, did they give you those little peanut bags? Wait, no, because peanuts can cause rashes and death. What's New York like this time of year? It was coincidence-y, wasn't it, the way you and Buffy just ran into each other in Central Park? Like a of all the gin joints in all the world thing, except without gin? Not that people wouldn't drink gin in—"
"Willow, " Giles gently interrupted. "I'm sure Cian is tired after his long flight. Upstairs, second door on the left."
"Oh, yeah. Excuse the babble. I'll talk to you later, ok?"
He nodded, a bit amused by her Joycean steam of consciousness. At the same time, he was tremendously gratified. He had been convinced that no one would be all that eager to see him. Certainly, he had been surprised when Buffy had told him that he would be staying in Giles' guest bedroom. After the horrible events that had occurred – that he had caused – Giles had never trusted him again. It turned out that Giles had been correct never to do so; five years ago he had caused the deaths of hundreds. He suspected that Buffy had demanded that Giles put him up. In this, he and Giles were alike. They could refuse her nothing.
The bedroom was appointed in deep, warm tones; the bedspread was a rich brown, with a hunter green and gold paisley design. The walls were painted in the same brown, lightened several tones, and the trim the same rich green. Every available inch of wall space was filled with books. He examined the shelves and was surprised to find a few books purely for reading pleasure. Then again, he and Giles were likely the only two people on earth who considered reading Thomas Mann in the original German pleasurable. The vast majority of books were council related. Encyclopedias of demons, titles in unpronounceable languages, books relating to specific prophesies. He saw Wesley before him, pushing up his glasses, utterly engrossed in ferreting out some obscure rite so they could vanquish the latest threat. His chest tightened painfully in remembrance.
He was almost through putting away his clothes when there was a knock at his door. "Dawn!" The name died in his throat when he saw the hatred in her eyes. The last time he had seen Dawn (I've never actually met her, his mind unhelpfully insisted), she was a pigtail wearing child, all long-loosed limbs and coltish energy. The young woman before him had matured into a stunning beauty; she possessed a self-assuredness that he suspected intrigued as many men as it frightened. At the moment, her arms were crossed on her chest and there was not a drop of friendliness to be found in her expression.
"Why are you here?" The question seemed rhetorical, so Angel decided it was best not to answer.
"Do you have any idea what Buffy was like when we thought you were dead?" Dawn stepped into the room, using her foot to loudly close the door behind her. "She was in L.A. for almost five months searching for you. When she finally came home, it was almost as bad as when Willow pulled her out of heaven. She barely ate, she didn't sleep. And you, you bastard, were alive the entire time. Really alive, in fact. Having a grand old time making up for missed opportunities, I bet."
Angel looked at the floor, unable to meet the look in Dawn's eyes. It didn't occur to him to dispute Dawn's interpretation of events. All he could think of was that once again, he had caused Buffy pain.
"And now you have the balls to show up here. I don't want you near her. Buffy invited you here because she has the biggest heart of anyone I know. She's finally happy again. Damien makes her happy. Don't try to ruin that."
Almost three hundred years of keeping his true emotions at bay suddenly proved a blessing. He looked at Dawn and in an even tone of voice said, "We've been exes a lot longer than we were ever together. Buffy hasn't been on my radar for a long time."
Dawn studied him for a long moment and finally turned and left, slamming the door behind her.
Angel sat on the bed for a long time and twisted his fingers into the bedclothes beneath him, barely able to keep from trembling. When he had first been made human, his guilt over the apocalypse that he had brought forth in L.A. and his belief that Buffy wanted nothing more to do with him had prevented him from seeking her out. He had made a new life for himself – changed his name, moved to New York, gotten a job, but for all that, he had been sleepwalking through his existence at best, attempting to quell his endless depression and remorse with booze and anonymous sex. And then, as usual with his life, fate had stepped in and twisted things around.
Buffy had run into him and he had agreed to have dinner with her. They had talked of superficial things. There was a lot in his life that he was too ashamed to bring up, and he could tell that there were things she was holding back on also. It hadn't mattered. By the end of the evening, he was in love with her all over again. The way she wrinkled her nose while thinking, the way her eyes lit up when she talked about Dawn, the way her strength lay just under the surface. He had readily agreed when she asked him to come to England for a visit; there was going to be some huge slayer powwow and everyone would be there.
At the end of the evening she had leaned over and kissed his cheek, burning him and blessing him in the same instant. And now Dawn was telling him that Buffy had moved on. He had no claim on her; if she hadn't found him again, he wouldn't have sought her out. But still, he knew in the deepest recesses of his heart that he would never stop loving her. No one else would ever be to him what she had been, what she still was.
Most of his nights were spent in an alcohol-induced haze in order to block out the nightmares. When that didn't work, he spent the night tossing and turning, remembering blood soaked days, his victims' pleas the only thing he heard. But once in a great, great while sleep brought him memories of his early days with Buffy. One time he dreamed about an entire conversation that they had had in which she patiently tried to explain the X-Files to him. When he had laughed, asking who could possibly watch such nonsense, she raised one eyebrow and retorted, "So says the vampire." He had woken up, happier than he'd been in years.
The front door opened and the rhythm of her voice called to him. He understood that by taking the bait, he was likely to find himself gasping for breath and gutted, but he started down the steps anyway. He stopped halfway down and marveled at the scene before him. There were at least fifty girls (slayers, he thought) swarming around her, and with each word or smile or gesture from her, he could see them puff up a bit.
"I knew it!" A crow of delight split the air. Willow, he realized. The crush of girls surrounded Buffy so that she was no longer visible, but he could hear the delighted squeals of the other girls.
"Was it romantic?" "Did he get down on one knee?" "It is so beautiful."
A glint on her left hand was visible and he finally noticed the man who had been standing at her side the entire time. She turned and looked up at the man. Angel remembered all too well the look she was bestowing on her partner. In that instant, he died once again, hope he had barely admitted to still carrying withering within him. She lifted her head at that moment and looked at him. He couldn't tell if he actually saw regret in her eyes or whether he was just imagining it. She held his gaze a beat too long and then turned to talk to someone else. He trudged back up the steps to his room. The flight had been long and he was tired.