Regret is the Colour of My True Love's Eyes

The broken glass littering the floor of his front room was too grotesquely metaphoric for Angel's liking. All that sweeping it up did was remind him of shattered hopes and damage he'd done that could never be repaired. What a fool he'd been, accepting love, believing he could ever be worthy. And today. Letting Buffy kiss him, holding her, touching her, risking his soul once again. He didn't know why he'd been given a second chance, but he knew damn well it wasn't so he could throw it away once again in the arms and bed of the girl who had been born to return him to the dust to which his kind were destined by nature.

Brooding. That, too, seemed to be his destiny. He remembered the rhyme about what little girls and boys were made of and he asked himself: what were souled vampires made of? Ashes and anguish and agony, that's what souled vampires were made of. He wanted to laugh hysterically until the walls of the house came down. He wanted to cry until the sun rose and burned him to cinders.

The knocking was faint and almost imperceptible. In fact, he sensed the rapid, nervous beating of a familiar heart before he heard the hesitant tapping on his now-needless door. He didn't look up. There was no need.

"Come in, Willow."

She opened the door and walked in. He wondered why she was there, but he knew her well enough to know that she'd never really answer if he asked.

She was like that, getting tangled in her words when she felt put on the spot or confronted. It was something Angel had always found endearing, but it would be selfish to do that...to make her uncomfortable just so he could lose himself for a moment in her humanity. He didn't deserve it anyway.

"Thanks. I mean...I just came by to say thanks, you know, for saving my life tonight and all. I appreciate it. That's really all. Oh, except that, I feel kinda bad because it might be sorta my fault that Buffy isn't here right now." He looked at her curiously and she continued. "See, when Xander told us you were back, I kinda staged an intervention, only everybody ruined it by not using 'I' statements like they were supposed to, except me, that is...and...well...I think we made her feel too guilty and bad and I really shouldn't have just jumped on the 'Angel is evil' bandwagon, cause after all, if anyone should have known that you weren't evil anymore, it should probably have been me, and..."

Angel stepped closer to Willow and put his finger to her lips. Now he did have questions he needed to ask.

"What do you mean you should have known I wasn't evil? How could you have known that?"

"Well, 'cause I did the soul restoration spell and all. Twice even. Well, once really, 'cause the first time Drusilla kinda ruined everything by putting me in a coma, but then in the hospital I did it again and I felt your soul go through me and everything, so I knew it worked. Or at least I should have known. I think I just projected my anger at Buffy lying about stuff and keeping secrets onto you, but..."

He stopped her words by pulling her into his arms, holding her so close he could feel her heartbeat through his skin. This girl, a girl he had stalked and tormented when he'd lost his soul, whose home he had desecrated and whose favorite teacher he had brutally murdered, this sweet, innocent slip of a girl had risked her life for him, had given him back his soul. Why? Why would she do all that for him, for a demon who had barely allowed himself to be her friend when he'd had a soul and who had planned to rape and turn her when he'd lost it? It made no sense. He didn't deserve it. He was overwhelmed. What he was feeling right now, it should have been gratitude, it should have been only gratitude, but there was something more, something he had no right to and was determined to bury under his awe and obligation.

"Thank you." He whispered the words into her hair as he held her, the tears he'd been holding back now flowing freely.

After a moment, he loosened the embrace, sensing that she needed a bit of breathing room. But he still held her, not wanting to let her go.

He wanted to ask her to tell him why, but a part of him knew that any answer she would give wouldn't be the one he needed, knew that there was Buffy and the past and awkwardness between them that would make any answer a meaningless hodgepodge of words that were honest and a silence that hid any larger truth forever from them both. So he kissed her instead.

His mouth moved over hers, gently at first, catching her surprise with the gentlest brush of lips against lips, then coaxing her to open herself to him, to give in to his need. She did, sighing softly as she let him draw her close once more. She tasted of sunshine and innocence, of forgiveness and redemption and he longed to drown in the purity of her, to partake of her blood, to mark her and claim her so that wolf who thought she was his would never touch her again.

But he did none of those things. Instead, he let her go, watched as the knowledge of what they had just done filled her with guilt, barely listened to her stammered apology as she fled stumblingly out the door and into the darkness.

He'd robbed them both that night, stealing dreams and illusions and certainties they both needed desperately to give their world a sense of order. This kiss wasn't the last thing he'd ever regret, he knew that, but he'd regret it far more deeply than many darker, more violent deeds, and during each day, when all there was for him was loneliness, he would regret most of all that there would never be another moment like this, no matter how long his unlife might be.

Tomorrow would be the first of many empty days. For tonight, he kept to the shadows as he followed Willow home.

The End.