I stand outside the Hyperion, still unsure of why I'm here

Disclaimer: Joss and David G. and associated PTBs own Kate and Angel. I own a battered Subaru.

Thanks to Tanja for another beta-read.

Note: Kate-friendly fic! As always, if you can't deal, best move on.

Rebuilding

by

HonorH

I stand outside the Hyperion, still unsure of why I'm here. All I know is that I need to talk to someone right now. I need to understand, and . . . Angel's the only one who can help me.

It takes me a few minutes to pick him out of the darkness inside. He's sitting on a couch in the lobby, in the darkness. When he sees me, he stands. His movements are almost awkward, which strikes me as strange. Most of the time, he moves so gracefully, like a dancer.

Or a hunting predator.

"Kate," he says as he sees me. "Are you all right?"

I nod. "I'm okay." And aside from a stomachache, backache, and headache, I am.

Then I get a good look at him. His face is battered, and from the stiff way he's holding himself, I'd say that's not the only part of him that's hurt. I come closer.

"Are you okay?" I ask. "What happened?"

He looks ashamed of himself. "I got into a fight."

I come closer, touch one of the network of cuts on his face. "Let me guess: I should see the truck that hit you."

That gets him laughing. It startles me to hear it, but it's a real, honest laugh, even though it sounds like it hurts him.

"As a matter of fact, it's pretty banged up, too," he finally manages. "Guy, truck, sledgehammer—not a bad way to go if you're picking a fight with a vampire."

I shake my head, not certain I even want to know. "So who rearranged your face?" I ask.

"Doesn't matter." He shakes his head and winces. "Do you need something, Kate?"

I nod. "I need to talk. I need . . . to understand."

His eyes meet mine, and they're full of compassion. "I don't blame you."

He moves toward me, and he flinches as he turns a little to the right. "You're really in pain, aren't you?" I ask.

"Doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does." I'm not sure why I'm suddenly going all mother hen over Angel—he's a vampire, he'll heal—but I feel like I need to help. I reach out and feel his right side. Something's broken in there.

"Just my ribs," he says. "It's not a problem."

"Would it help if they were wrapped?"

He shrugs, wincing again. "They'll heal anyway."

"But you'd be more comfortable if they were." I look at him. "Let me help."

He looks into my eyes for a long moment, then finally nods. "I've got medical supplies up in my bathroom."

I follow him upstairs, where he takes out bandages and medical tape. Then he removes his shirt. Underneath, he's a mass of bruises, dark blotches all over his ribcage, stomach, and back. Strange, though—there's no swelling, and his skin feels cool to the touch as I start to bind his ribs. He helps me with this, and the job doesn't take long. The whole time, his eyes are fixed on me. We don't speak, but his eyes never leave my face.

I can't help but touch the beautiful tattoo on his back. As I do, he flinches, almost like I've shocked him. I wonder how long it's been since a human touched him in friendship.

How long has it been since I touched someone?

His eyes are still locked on my face. I finally meet them.

"Would you like some tea?" he asks.

***

Holding a cup of Earl Grey, I follow Angel on the grand tour of the Hyperion. He shows me the renovations he's made, the work he still hopes to do. It's a beautiful place, really. Beautiful and sad. Like Angel himself.

We finally end up in a courtyard, where the scent of earth and flowers rises up in the warm night. It's peaceful. Still and quiet, a mirror of how I'm feeling. I've got so many unanswered questions, but there's no urgency to them. It seems like it's okay just to be right now.

We sit down on a stone bench. "I didn't mean to sound brusque earlier, when you were at my apartment," I tell him, feeling a need to explain myself before I ask for answers from him. "I just wasn't in any state for company right then."

"I can understand," he says.

I take another sip of the warm, fragrant tea I'm holding, working up the courage to ask what I need to. "Angel, what's happened? To you, to me, what's happened? I don't even know exactly what I'm asking, but . . ." I trail off, not knowing where this is headed.

Angel shakes his head, smiling a little. "It's a long story," he says. "Does it matter that it begins in 1753?"

I shrug. "I'll listen."

With that, Angel begins laying out his history for me. I listen as he tells me about being turned, about nearly 150 years of savagery. I can see the pain and regret in his eyes as he tells me this, feel it in his voice. Some of this I already know. What I don't know finally comes out.

"In 1898, I killed a gypsy princess—Romany, of the clan Kalderash. The elders of her tribe inflicted upon me the worst punishment they could devise. I was given back my human soul." He hesitates, watches the effect this has on me. I don't quite understand, so I wait. "When you become a vampire, your soul is released from your body. You have no feeling for humanity, no conscience, no guilt. When I was given that back and remembered the things I'd done . . . it nearly killed me."

I think about it. The vampires I've seen, hell, some of the humans I've seen, match Angel's description perfectly. Soulless beings with no remorse, no conscience . . .

I remember one young man we brought in while I was on the force. He'd murdered two innocent thirteen-year-old girls, and when asked, he just shrugged and said it was what he'd felt like doing. I remember thinking about how much I had wanted to somehow force on him the knowledge of how precious those lives were, how wrong it was for him to take them. I wanted to make him feel.

Someone did that to Angel. Now, looking in his eyes, I can feel no satisfaction at that fact.

He continues to talk, skimming over the next century. Part of me is amazed at how he simply dismisses such a large period of time, but dismiss it he does. Then he tells me about Whistler.

"He was a demon, but a force for good," Angel explains. "That's how it is, sometimes. Most demons you'll meet will be evil, but some are neutral, and a few have turned to the side of good for whatever reason. That's what Whistler was. He found me and brought me here, to L.A., and that's where I first saw Buffy Summers, on the day she was called as the Slayer."

I know about Slayers in general terms. I've met two of them and not been terribly impressed. I don't imagine they were much impressed with me, either. But the way Angel says Buffy's name, I know there's something more to hear.

"When she was sixteen, she came to Sunnydale, where Whistler had told me she'd end up. I met her there, tried to help her. What ended up happening was . . . we fell in love."

I can't help it. "Sixteen? Rob the cradle much?"

Angel gives a self-deprecating laugh. "You know, after the first century, chronological age doesn't matter that much. Slayers grow up quickly, in any case, and frankly, I was pretty much an emotional infant. I hadn't had meaningful contact with anyone, human or demon, in such a long time, I-I'd forgotten how. Buffy almost overwhelmed me. She was strong, pure, good, alive in a way few people are or ever will be. And she carried such a burden—all I could think was how I wanted to protect her from the pain."

He's silent for a long moment after saying this. I get the feeling he's trying to work up the courage to say what happens next.

"On her seventeenth birthday, we made love," he finally says. "That's when I discovered the other part of my curse."

"What was that?" I ask, both curious and afraid.

"The curse was fashioned to make me suffer. Since that was its function, it could be undone by pure happiness. Even a moment. Making love to Buffy, falling asleep with her in my arms, was that moment." His eyes are distant and dark. "I awoke to the sensation of my soul being stripped from me, and then I spent the next few months making Buffy's life—and the lives of those around her—a living hell."

Neither of us says anything after that, not for what seems like a very long time. I'm on the verge of asking him what happened then when he picks up the story again.

"Eventually, a way was found to curse me again. I regained my soul, but I could no longer remain with Buffy. Aside from the danger our love posed, I'd just caused too much damage. For Buffy's friends, my face had become synonymous with that of the monster who had terrorized them and killed people they cared about. And I remembered everything. Every moment. All the feelings and emotions I'd felt during my soulless state, the pleasure I'd taken in doing what I did. That's the worst thing."

And now it hits me: Angel knows he's condemned to far more than a mortal lifetime of pain. He knows that if he ever has a moment of happiness again, he'll turn into a monster again.

"How do you bear it?" I ask, my voice nearly failing me.

He smiles sadly. "Sometimes better than other times."

Then he begins to tell me about L.A. Doyle, Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn—I hear all their stories. It's a story of hope, of friendship, of the promise of redemption and humanity for him, a chance to be happy and love without danger. A chance to stand in the sun again, and with good friends.

After awhile, he stops. I have to prompt him to go on.

"So what happened?"

"Darla," is his answer. Wolfram & Hart brought his sire back, human, with a soul. Angel identified with her too strongly. He tells me of his obsession with her, how he came to care about her to the exclusion of anything else. He pushed his friends away when they didn't understand.

Then he comes to the final night, the night he bartered his life for hers.

"She understood then what it was to be human," he tells me, a sort of wonder in his eyes. "She was ready to live out the rest of her life, short as it was, and I would have been there for her. I wanted to be there for her." He looks lost. "And then, just as she found that peace, Lindsey McDonald burst in with a bunch of Wolfram & Hart goons. They'd brought back Drusilla. They brought her here to turn Darla again. Just when she stopped wanting it, they forced it on her."

He stops and swallows. I can feel the pain emanating from him. At least one of my questions has been answered.

"That was why you let Darla and Drusilla kill them, wasn't it?" I ask. "Poetic justice?"

"I just couldn't bring myself to care," he says, shaking his head. "I was so angry at them, so tired of their games, so sick that they'd actually beg me for help after all they'd done, that I just turned my back and locked the door. I'm not defending myself; whatever my reasons were, what I did was wrong. I'm just explaining."

And I do understand. I can't approve, of course, but that's not what this is about.

"After that, my team was horrified. And I forcibly shoved them out of my life. I was convinced the only way to win was to go deeper into my darkness, to stop caring about anything else. I never quite managed the last, but I tried. I did some . . . fairly questionable things during those months." He looks into my eyes. "And a few of them were to you. I used you, Kate, and I'm sorry."

I look straight into his eyes. "Then I forgive you."

An expression washes over his face I can't even begin to put a name to.

"What's wrong?" I ask.

"That's the first time anyone's ever said that to me," he says simply.

I smile at that. I'm not sure why. This man has lived for over two centuries, and somehow, I've given him a new experience: being forgiven. It's not something I do a great deal, either.

Speaking of which . . .

"I think I may have to ask you . . . I did and said a lot of uncalled-for things after I found out what you are." I look down. "I was angry after my father's death. Angry at you, and for not the best of reasons."

"I understand," he murmurs.

"No, I don't think you do." I shake my head. "It was like someone turned a bright light on and I suddenly saw what was lurking in the shadows of L.A. I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it before, and then I realized I had. Only before, I'd been able to deny it. You stopped that, Angel. You stopped my denial, made me face what I'd ignored. That's what I was angry with you over. You forced me to look at things I didn't want to. Denial is a comfortable place, and you took me out of it."

For a long time after that, we just look at each other. I know that what I just told him is the absolute truth, a truth I fought long and hard to deny.

"I do understand," he finally says, and I know he does.

"The fact is, I got obsessive myself," I tell him, going on. "I started ignoring the human monsters and chasing the literal ones. I don't know why—maybe I thought it was honoring my father, going after the Evil Things that killed him. My colleagues didn't understand . . ."

"So you pushed them away," he finishes.

"I got too focused on my own issues."

"Like nothing else mattered."

"And then things fell apart . . ."

". . . and you hit rock bottom and just kept going."

We're the same, Angel and I. It's suddenly just that clear. I smile, and he smiles back.

"I feel like such an idiot," I admit finally.

"Lotta that going around," says Angel with another rueful smile.

"I just couldn't . . . my whole life has been about being a cop. If I'm not part of the force . . . it's like nothing I do means anything." I realize that's what last night was about.

"It doesn't," he says, startling me. He lays out his new philosophy to me: that there is no Grand Plan, that there's only a journey, never a destination, so it only matters what we do now.

I listen with great interest. I'm not sure I agree with him on all points. Part of me still believes there's a Grand Plan, a reason for everything. Maybe I need to believe that. Maybe Angel needs to believe there isn't. Given his life, I can see why.

But I don't feel like arguing it with him. He's found some sort of peace, and frankly, there are a lot worse things than to believe your acts of kindness are the only thing that matters.

So all I say is, "Yikes. Sounds like you've had an epiphany."

He looks insanely grateful to hear those words. "I keep saying that. No one listens."

I don't know what that's about, and I don't need to. "Well, I'm pretty much convinced—since I'm alive to be convinced."

"You know," he says, "you don't have to be a cop to be . . ."

I hold up my hand, stopping him. I know what he's going to say, and it's not necessary. "I'm okay," I reassure him. I can tell he's not entirely convinced, and I don't really blame him. I'm still a little shaky, still just a little in shock. "Anyway, I'm not headed for another pill-a-thon. I'm . . . grateful." It's something I need to tell him, something he needs to hear. "I never thought you'd come for me. But I got cut a huge break, and I believe . . ." Here, I falter, not sure what to say. "I don't know what I believe," I finally admit, "but I . . . have faith. I think maybe we're not alone in this."

"Why?" he asks.

"Because I never invited you in."

The vampire's invitation never came from me. Yet somehow, Angel entered my apartment to save me. I know that had I died, even clinically, a shower would never have revived me, so that's not the answer. The only answer is that someone bent the rules for me. For Angel. For us.

He shakes his head, genuinely puzzled. "I wasn't even thinking . . . when I came, all I could think about was getting inside, saving you, and it never even occurred to me that you would need to invite me in. I guess the Powers That Be must have intervened." He shakes his head again. "I may decide to stop by sometime, just to see if the barrier is still in place."

I look away. Try as I might to stop it, a thought, unwanted, won't leave my mind. "Angel, why would they intervene for me, but not . . ."

"For your father?" he finishes gently. "I don't know, Kate. It might be as simple as the fact that you were my mistake, one I needed to correct, while your father—I'm sorry—made his own."

Bitter as it is, that's the truth. I can't resent Angel for stating it.

"It might also be that the Powers have taken an interest in you for some reason. That's not beyond the realm of possibility. They might have decided it wasn't really your time to go. Knowing them, it might just be that they've got a thing against suicide—they put a forcible end to my attempt a few years back."

"You tried to kill yourself?" It honestly doesn't surprise me, given what he's told me tonight.

"I did. Tried to take a walk into the sunshine. Would you believe the Powers sent a snowstorm in Sunnydale, California to stop that?" He laughs. "Not exactly subtle. But whatever the reason, Kate, I'm glad I could save you." He bites his lip, suddenly looking years younger. "You know, you were the first person I ever befriended on my own?"

That does shock me. "Really?"

"Yeah. Doyle was sent by the Powers, and Cordelia more or less jumped into my life with both feet, but you—when we met and talked and then became friends, it was the first time I'd ever really accomplished that on my own. I was . . . kinda proud of that."

I don't mind saying I find that charming.

He looks away, shadows deepening in his face, making it look older again. "And now, I've got to go try to mend some broken friendships. Friendships I broke. I don't know if it's even possible." He looks lost. "How do I even start?"

"Try starting out with 'I'm sorry' and letting them take it from there," I advise him.

Humor washes over his face. "We're talking Wesley and Cordy. It could be a long time before I get to speak again." He sobers. "But I need to try. I can help. If I'm there, it may prevent one of them from getting hurt again, and besides, I need to heal those connections. Doyle once told me that my ties to the world are what keep me from going back to what I once was. This last year has certainly demonstrated that in abundance."

It suddenly strikes me how strange this all is, that Angel and I should be talking so comfortably together, revealing ourselves so completely like this. And yet, it's not so strange. We've both come to the end of ourselves. Everything we were is gone, and we have to rebuild ourselves from the ground up.

And oddly enough, I can take comfort in that fact. I'm not alone in this.

I finish my tea and stand, stretching my legs as I wander through the dimly-lit garden. I can smell the earth, but there aren't many flowers. Just a few annuals, shut up for the night.

"I guess vampires aren't much for gardening," I say.

"Some are," he replies. "I've just got a cold, dead thumb."

I have to laugh at that. "I love to garden. After my mother died, I took over hers. It just feels good to make something grow, you know?"

"I'm sure it does. Do you have boxes at your apartment?"

"A few. It's not like a real garden, though."

I stop to examine a winding vine, and suddenly, he's beside me. It's creepy how quietly he moves when he wants to.

"Would you like this one?"

I blink. "This garden?"

He nods. "If you want it, it's yours."

I wander away from him, thinking. Financially, I'm not bad off. I've always been good with money, and I can afford to go without pay for awhile. And I do need a break, badly. The department, so wrong about so much, wasn't wrong about that.

I turn back to the vampire, the man, beside me. "What are you going to do, Angel?"

"Help. However I can, I'm going to help." There's truth in his face. "What about you, Kate?"

I look around at the empty garden, ready to bloom but needing help.

"Live."