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"It's Angel, isn't it?"
Faith can feel Dawn breathing down her neck as they stand together with Willow in the doorway to Buffy's room. She shivers, not from Dawn's shallow exhales, but from the aloofness in B's voice. Faith was not there the first time Angel died, but she is pretty sure this calm was not a part of it. Buffy had run away to LA, after all. This serene lack of emotion scares Faith. She was prepared for tears or cursing anger. She called Willow, who had brought ice cream and comfort foods and her best friend attitude, while Faith herself had marked new nests of demons for Buffy to take her anger out on. They had climbed the stairs ready to help Buffy work through the pain. Their preparations fall flat because Buffy does not seem to need anything. They freeze in the doorway, the moment becoming as taut as a tug-of-war rope. Finally, Faith answers Buffy's question.
"Yeah, B. Big battle, Angel brought down some major evil in this dimension, but none of his crew survived. I wasn't there to fight, I just got there in time for clean up."
Faith is still not sure how B feels about her, so she lets Willow and Dawn pass by and cross to Buffy. They kneel next to the chair she is sitting in by the window. She still has not faced any of them, choosing instead to watch the sunlight fall and reflect off of the Italian cobblestones below.
"Buffy..." Willow's voice is uncertain. She also expected sadness or rage and she feels helpless surrounded by this silent cool. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Talk about what, Will? How I should have trusted Angel, how we should have worked together and stayed in touch, but we didn't and now he's dead?!" Buffy explodes. Or at least the Buffy in Faith's imagination explodes. The Buffy sitting in front of them doesn't seem capable of yelling or even looking at them.
The shrinks in jail had drilled into her head that people can only heal after they have delved into and discussed their trauma. So Faith picks up the knife to gut Buffy again, in the hopes that she can cut the poison out and let her start living again. She crosses the room and shoves a box into Buffy's hands. It is small, a child's plastic pencil case. It sits stiffly on Buffy's lap. She does not open it or even look at it. Dawn instead leans over and pops the lid. The box is full of grayish brown mud. Dawn looks quizzically at Faith, her eyes asking if this is a joke.
"It's all that was left of him," Faith says in explanation, "There's more stuff coming. You know, his books and stuff. He kept them at..." She realizes that this does not matter. She should finish telling the story that she had to piece together by beating up various people and demons as there were no survivors to ask. It will be easier for everyone, especially Buffy, if she gets this over with quickly. "Apparently there's been this whole prophecy thing with Angel taking down Wolfram and Hart. So a few days ago, he starts up with them, targeting members of this super-bad group called the Circle of the Black Thorn. Then there are these armies of hell, wicked stro-"
"He's been gone for three days, nine hours and twenty four minutes," Buffy cuts her off quietly. The words fall heavily into the silence. The absolute calm in her despair has rendered them all speechless. She is still staring out the window, and this time, Faith follows her eyes. And Faith realizes that Buffy has not been staring at the shadows on the pavement. She has been looking intently at the balcony outside her room- the one so aptly called the widow's walk. Faith wonders if she will see Buffy pacing along that balcony. "Twenty five, now." And Buffy looks into Faith's eyes.
Faith struggles not to recoil at the gutted look in B's eyes. In that look, that moment, Faith learns that some scars are too deep to ever come close to being healed. What can I say? I'm the world's best actor. She was wrong then and she is wrong now. Buffy far outstrips her as an actor. Faith never could have guessed at the pain that B still feels over everything that has happened to her. But in the next breath, Buffy's gaze scabs over, growing blank, and everyone is frozen out again.
"I know. I can feel you."
"Than why won't you open your eyes?"
"Because when I do this will be a dream."
A smile in his voice. "Isn't it a dream even if you don't acknowledge it?"
"Only if you want to be logical about it," she grumbles and opens her eyes. He's sitting on her window sill, as she knew he would be. With her lying on the bed and him observing from the casement, it's like no time has passed. But so much has happened. "How are you here?"
"You came to me when you were gone. I figured it was only fair."
"So you're really...?"
Instead of answering, he holds a hand out to her. "Walk with me."
Her bed and bedroom fall away and the scene segues so she is standing in the graveyard next to Angel. It is like a hundred patrols on a hundred different nights a hundred years ago. They fall into step and she is awed at how easy and natural it is, as if they never hurt each other.
She stakes a vamp, but it's an unconscious, effortless kill. He stares down at the pile of vamp dust. "Now you've banished the demon and the body disintegrates, decomposes, because that's natural."
It occurs to her that perhaps he is answering her question. But she needs clarification and she aches because once they would have understood each other automatically. That she does no know what he is thinking just shows that now is not then; now there are secrets and nothing between them is clear. "So you're dead then. I mean, no more undead, just really dead?" She winces at her own candor and the fumbling words, but he just nods solemnly. She chances another question. "And you're in heaven?"
She has seen people and demons explode from the inside; this is different. Light seems to pour out of Angel's whole body, like a giant light bulb has been turned on inside of him. For a minute he looks like a real angel. His eyes half close and he releases a deep breath and all the tension in his body. "Yes," he breathes, so tangibly happy to have succeeded in his mission that tears blur her vision. She reaches over and nestles into his arms. "I can't think of anyone who deserves it more," she whispers into the crook of his neck, knowing he hears her.
They stand for a long moment; Buffy takes in every noise and movement and breeze, until she notices that they are standing under the tree by her window. She took psychology for long enough to know that this is a subconscious signal. 'Time to wake up now, Buffy.' Angel seems to know it too, because he kisses her very gently, but with intense passion. A spark of the light under his skin seems to come into her, filling and warming her. He leans back on his heels and looks into her eyes.
"Take care of yourself, Buffy. Don't be afraid to fall in love and be happy. Don't get immersed in the past."
The advice he was giving sounds like goodbye, but she knows better. The two of them never say goodbye because they are never over. "When will I see you?" she asks.
He smiles and she soaks it in. "I'll be around," he responds, giving her a soft kiss on the forehead.
On all other occasions, she had stood by and watched him walk away. This time he stands, fog playing around his ankles, reclining against the oak by her window. A patient smile is on his face and she understands the message. Giving a little wave, she climbs lithely up the tree, pausing only once to watch him watch her intently before she goes back to bed.
"It's Angel, right? Even after all this time, everything that's happened...?"
"Dawnie?" Buffy is out of breath. She has been working out. "It's 2:30 there. Is something wrong?"
"No," Dawn answers quickly, "No, everything's fine. Everyone's okay. It's just...God, you're gonna think I'm crazy!"
Buffy chuckles quietly. "Dawn, the majority of sane people in the world would think I'm crazy. Just spill. I won't think you're crazy. And if I do, there'll only be the best asylums for my baby sister."
"Okay," Dawn takes a deep breath, releasing it slowly, "Angel came to me last night, in dream." There is no answer except almost silent breathing on the other end of the line and Dawn rushes to explain. "I don't know how, but I know beyond a doubt that it was Angel." Buffy still does not speak, so Dawn asks: "Do you believe me?"
When Buffy finally speaks, her voice sounds a little lost and lonely. "I believe you, Dawn. It's just usually he comes to see me and I haven't seen him in a while. I didn't think he was visiting anyone else."
"This is the first time for me," Dawn answers, slightly dazed "But obviously not for you."
"No," Buffy whispers, "Angel's been visiting me in my dreams for a long time."
"Does Tom know that you're in love with another man?" Dawn's voice is sharp, an accusation now.
"Of course Tom knows. I told him before we even started dating and he said he wanted to do it anyway, even if I could never love him like that. I love Tom too, because he's a good person and he makes me laugh and he's a good listener, but...it's not the same thing."
"In my dream, Angel said I should call you to talk. He said you were feeling sad. How did he know?"
"He's my soulmate, Dawnie. It's his job to know these things."
"Soulmates," Dawn scoffs, "Are there really such things?"
Buffy contemplates for a moment. "People...souls...they're like pieces, all jumbled together in a really big puzzle. Among all those pieces will be some that have some of the same notches and dips, some that almost fit together, but not totally. But then, if you're really lucky, you might stumble upon two pieces in the whole wide...puzzle, that click together completely, that match up all the way. You can love many people, but there will only be one person that you would know if you were blind and deaf and you had never met before. You would just know them from the way your skin sparks and your heart jumps."
"I thought you outgrew romance novel corniness like that," Dawn says, tears in her voice nevertheless.
"How can I outgrow that?" Buffy asks gently.
"But why didn't you tell anyone? Why let us think for thirty years that you had moved on?"
"I just want to keep the people I love happy. If this is the way to do it, than that's fine by me."
"But what about yourself? Why can't you be happy too?"
"I am happy. I like my life. I wish to God every single day that it was thirty years ago and Angel turned up human and we lived happily ever after. But that didn't happen and I can accept that. This world is not meant to be perfect, Dawnie, it's just meant to be life, and I learned to live with that a long time ago."
"So you just live with acceptable happiness even when you know what the real thing is like?"
"In this life, I loved and I was loved. What more could I ask for?"
"A mansion full of shoes would be a good start, just as long as we're wishing." Dawn pauses, not sure if she wants to ask her next question because she doesn't know if she wants the answer. "Any more secrets."
"Nope, I've come clean on all the important things. I love you, Dawnie."
"Love you too Buffy. I'll see you at Thanksgiving. Only a few days."
It's Angel!... The air around her hums the news and she soaks in it. He takes her hand and she opens her eyes and looks into his.
"Hey," he says, "I've been waiting for you."
"Not too long, I hope," she volleys back.
"It always feels too long when I'm not with you."
She leans up and kisses him softly. "You don't have to sweet talk me, Angel. I found the love of my life. It's you; it always has been."
A/N: The idea popped into my head for a short stories starting with the words "it's Angel". It came out too short, so I added more. Hope you liked the results! Feel free to drop me a line and let me know.