He woke up to the sun streaming through the window, a moderate headache in the middle of his skull and a brief sense of complete disorientation until he remembered where he was. Peering at the time, he was shocked to see it was already 9:30. He was normally up at 5:30 in order to fit in jogging, showering, shaving and personal grooming, and a quick read through of the newspaper. He decided that it was a combination of jet lag finally kicking in plus way too much booze the night before.
The house was completely silent, which was extremely odd, until Angel remembered that today was some sort of outing for all the slayers and watchers. There were going to be training exercises, weapons demonstrations and various meetings. It sounded way too similar to those horrible rah-rah yearly corporate meetings he was forced to attend (well, except for the actual weapons demos) and he was just as glad to be here, alone. He decided that he would stroll around town for a bit, maybe eat lunch at a pub and have a pint (or three). Then he would call up the airline and have his flight switched to tomorrow. There wasn't any point in staying here.
He quickly rummaged through the closet, throwing on a pair of jeans and a sweater. Half way down the stairs, he stopped. She sat in the middle of the couch, bent over, looking lost and forlorn.
Quickly and quietly, he sprinted down the steps and crossed over until he was standing in front of her. "Are you ok? Why aren't you with the others?"
She picked her head up and he could see she'd been crying. She couldn't have been more than 14, all spindly arms and legs, braces and acne. But she also had red-gold shoulder length hair, skin the color of cream and denim blue eyes. In a few years, she would break the hearts of every male in her school. Angel squatted directly in front of her, not close enough to touch her, and patiently waited. After a few sniffs, he was rewarded. "I stayed behind. Nobody noticed. My watcher hates me because I can't do anything. He's got Laurie and Tanya also and they're so good at this and I'm just useless." She burst into tears again.
He almost smiled, but managed to hide his amusement. He hadn't forgotten the long ago roller coaster of emotions that Buffy used to exhibit. He had loved her more than he had thought possible, but there were times that teenage dramatics had proven wearying to an old guy. "When did you get called?" he asked gently.
"I found out I was a slayer two weeks ago. Another slayer, Faith, told me all about it."
For a moment, he let his thoughts drift. Faith wasn't here at this little gathering, ostensibly because she was needed to guard the Cleveland hell mouth. He wondered if it was more because she and Buffy still didn't get along. He missed her. She would have been the only other person besides Willow genuinely happy to see him. He shifted his thoughts back to the girl in front of him and now he did smile. "Well, that explains it. They've probably been doing this a lot longer than you. In fact, I would guess you're the newest slayer here."
"Do you think?"
"Yes. What's your name?"
"Cian," he said, holding out his hand for a formal handshake. "I tell you what. We could go out back and do some crossbow training. And I'll be happy to show you some hand to hand combat moves. Absolutely no need for tears."
"That's what Mr. Winston said also," she said, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.
"My watcher," she clarified. "He said that slayers shouldn't cry. That we need to be strong."
Angel frowned. "There's nothing wrong with crying. I've cried on a few occasions. I'm just saying that this time, you don't need to cry because I'll bet you're better than Laura and what's-her-name."
"Tanya. And why did you cry?"
"Because I lost people I loved."
"Some of them. Some of them I left because their lives were better without me there."
She sat up, brow furrowed, contemplating his words. "How do you know they were better off if you left?"
He had a vision of Connor enjoying college life, Buffy gazing up at Damien with love in her eyes. "Because when I was there, all I ever did was make them unhappy."
She looked at him a little suspiciously. "Why are you here? How come you're not with your slayer?"
"I'm not a watcher." He shrugged, grateful for the abrupt change in topic. "I knew Buffy and Willow and Xander back in Sunnydale. For a little while I helped them fight." Little while was pretty much an understatement. Two years tops, and yet aside from his years in L.A., the only time in his long, undistinguished existence that mattered to him. "I still remember the moves." He gave her a full on grin. "Although I'm a lot more breakable nowadays, so go a little easy on me." At that moment, her stomach growled and she ducked her head in embarrassment. "Have you eaten?" She shook her head. "Well, neither have I. French toast, eggs or pancakes?"
"You can cook?" The tears had stopped and only curiosity was in her expression now.
"I am a man of many talents." He stood and mock bowed, gratified to hear her giggle.
"Pancakes it is," he stated as he strode to the kitchen
Right before the sun set, he left the confines of the flat. Now that everyone had returned from the day's activities, the place had felt claustrophobic to him, and so he had slipped out without anyone noticing he was gone.
He walked aimlessly, not particularly worried about finding his way back. He had always possessed a good sense of direction. The cool night air felt good against his overheated skin. Depending on what Giles told him in the morning, he would likely be leaving later tomorrow. He should have left the past in the past.
He looked up and found himself in front of a small Anglican church that had obviously been built over a century before. He easily swung his long legs over the iron fence and sat down among the cracked and leaning gravestones. He wondered if he would always be more comfortable among the dead than the living.
He wasn't particularly surprised when Buffy tracked him down less than ten minutes later. If the two of them were randomly tossed into the crowd at Times Square on New Year's Eve he could have unerringly found her; he suspected the same was true of her. She stood before him, arms crossed over her chest, towering over him for once.
"I spoke to Giles. Why are you doing this?"
Had he expected her to be this angry? Perhaps, although he wasn't sure about it. "Because it needs to be done." He wanted to tell her that this wasn't any of her business, but that wasn't true.
"Is it because she's going to be gorgeous in a year or two?"
He wondered if he should be offended at the implication, but instead he stated the bald truth. "She's going to be dead in a year or two unless something changes."
"She's already got a highly capable watcher."
"I didn't say he wasn't capable. He's just not the right watcher for her."
"And you are?"
"I know more about the monsters that hide in the dark than all your watchers and slayers combined. Or did you forget I was a demon for a quarter of a millennium?"
"Some of the others told me who Cian Brennan is. You're highly respected in your field. You've won awards. You probably make a lot of money. I don't understand."
"Because helping to save people is a lot more important than selling toilet paper and cars."
For a moment, he flashed back to his final visit to Sunnydale and how she asked him to leave because she couldn't bear his death due to her battles. Now, it was simply a rote warning she gave to all who considered this life. He sighed and closed his eyes. "Yes, it is."
When he opened his eyes again, she was sitting close enough that he could smell the citrusy scent of her perfume, but all it did was serve to remind him of the way she used to smell to him, the earthy scent of air after it rained, the sugary sweet scent of cotton candy, a hint of almonds. If he moved his hand just a little he could sift his hand through her hair and let it gently fall back onto her shoulder. He used to run two fingers up the soft skin of her neck and she would arch her head back slightly, making a soft sighing noise as he traced up to her jaw. He would continue upward and rest a finger in the corner of her mouth, just pushing in ever so slightly, until finally her tongue would flick out and lick just the tip of his index finger. Then it would be his turn to moan softly.
He could easily reach out and touch her; he remembered every dip of her skin, every jut of bone, every tiny freckle. But he wasn't sure what would happen, if he would see her eyes drift closed in desire or her mouth twist in revulsion. He wasn't even sure which he'd prefer.
He remembered a time when they had been comfortable together in the silence, but now only awkwardness loomed between them. "Are you happy?" As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to take them back. He had no right to ask her things like that. Not anymore.
She was sitting with her knees tucked under her chin, arms wrapped tightly around her legs. Protecting herself, against what or whom he couldn't say. She was staring out into space, lost in memory, when finally she began to speak. "I used to have this dream where I was in bed. It wasn't my bed, because it wasn't a twin. Maybe a queen? And the sheets were greenish with some kind of design. You were holding me." A smile stole across her features. "We were holding each other, all tangled together and I could feel your heart beating." The smile gradually disappeared and she turned and looked at him, straight in the eyes. "But that never happened, did it?"
Her eyes were a blue and brown and green pointillist painting. He always felt that they could see deep inside him, see all the bad he'd done but good things also. As long as she believed in him, he could go on believing also. But that didn't matter much now. He remembered a long ago promise that he would never hurt her, never lie to her, never leave her. Time makes liars of us all, he thought.
"No, it never did."
Silence loomed again, even louder than before.
"How come you never came for me?"
An old movie clip unspooled in his mind, Dustin Hoffman rattling a church window, a man possessed, screaming, "Elaine." A desperate chuckle almost escaped from his lips at the utter ridiculousness of his subconscious.
But then the image morphed and they were standing in a tiny kitchen, their kitchen, and his arms barely reached around her gravid belly, her head pushed back again his shoulder and he was laughing. He couldn't remember the last time he laughed. All he had to do was take her hand and they could leave together. Find someplace far away from monsters and death and just live a life. They could be happy, together.
He turned toward her in order to reach for her? Kiss her deeply? He tried to read her expression but her face was totally obscured by shadows.
As he stared, he could see her cheeks still had the final bit of childhood chubbiness clinging to them, tears streaming down her face as he mocked her for giving him the gift of herself. Her face kept getting slimmer and the tears dried up as he told her he was ending their relationship, that he was going to turn back time, that he couldn't stay even though her mother had died, that crawling out of her own grave wasn't enough to make him go back to Sunnydale with her. Her eyes kept getting deader as he watched.
"Angel?" A question and an entreaty, a prayer and a hope, he memorized the cadence of her voice so that he could have something for later.
She blinked and looked away. "I'm happy, Angel."
After a few minutes, she stood up and started to walk away. When she was almost at the fence, she turned back toward him. "What happened during the final battle with Wolfram and Hart?"
"We all died." He watched her walk down the street until he could no longer see her at all.