Author's Note: This one has been buzzing about my braincase for quite awhile. I just now decided to put the fingers to keyboard, I guess. I'm still not quite satisfied with the end result, but being the annoying perfectionist that I am, it's probably just me.
Takes place before the episode(s) "Becoming".
The night chill nips at her cheeks and fingers, encouraging her instead of hindering. The stars hide away from the eyes of those curious enough to seek them. The moon, though, is high and full.
She wears no coat. Hair is let down, straight and willowy. Errant strands shelter weary eyes. She feels so much older than her youth would promise. Halfheartedly against the cold, she curls her arms tighter around her shoulders, her pace resolute but migrant, her thoughts wandering.
Looking for him.
Whenever she's looked for him in the past, he is never there. Always a step ahead, always lurking too far in the shadows for her eyes to see. But tonight is different. For she is finding him. She knows he will be here.
It is not a question of luck, but a warranty of fate.
This is knowing.
She can feel him, could always feel him.
The reasons why are not relevant. They don't matter. Nothing matters. The fight is out of her tonight. She is emotionally depleted.
The graveyard beckons. Haunting and quiet.
It hadn't always been like this. She hadn't always felt so eerily unwelcomed or set at unease when stepping foot here. Not while walking hand-in-hand with him. They'd braved the darkness together, fighting for the safety of humanity. That empty void between life and death. For a place so full of souls, lost and saved, they always seemed so abandoned.
But then, the dead always ended up somehow forgotten.
The temperature drops suddenly.
The crickets fear to sing. The wolves don't dare call.
Yes, he is here.
Visual hasn't been attained, she knows she will never hear his approach, but she could always feel him. Such a blessing and curse could never be expected to change when his chosen side of the war was turned on its axis.
Light and shadow.
She stills. Alone and lost, but really she is just lost.
His voice is like fire and ice, sweet and altogether wrong. Smooth, coaxing her ears. Wrapping around her like a fleeting veil.
Such a tempting lamb.
But there's no adrenaline rush. No sudden need to battle – she hasn't even brought a stake. She just wants to lie down in the dampened grass and sleep. Sleep until there's nothing more to wake up to. Or everything to wake up to.
He's moving. He comes up stealthily behind her, his distance near but safe, slowly circling. She closes her eyes and feels exactly where he is because it's as if every cell in her body lights on fire.
It's nothing new, she tells herself. Expected Slayer response to a vampire's proximity.
Except it's not. It's really not.
"I'm tired," she says. Her lashes flutter, hooding her eyes as she bows her head.
Oh, he knows. A blacker shadow in the night, he slows to a looming stillness just a reach away. Watching her. Judging her. His head tilts in curious examination of the small, weary creature before him.
Her eyes look out into the night, trying to find a prospect worth seeing. There's no wind to restore life to hanging wisps of hair. Nothing. All she sees is nothing. He takes a step closer, and she's forced to wonder.
Perhaps he'll finally kill her. And the next Slayer will rise and be dealt the duty of cleaning up after her devastating mess.
And she'll be spared of it. The responsibility of having to put an end to the existence of this thing who's been killing off her friends one by one, tormenting her every waking moment. Haunting her dreams. Claiming her heart. This thing that she loves, will continue to love, more than anyone or anything in her life.
The thought is small at first, but lingers. Growing with intensity, a sweet temptation.
His heart doesn't beat. She feels as if she's lost hers. Tears prick the corners of her eyes, but well no further. She shakes her head, taking her bottom lip between her teeth.
"I miss him," she admits. Her eyes still search the night, almost hoping he'll appear. Take her hand. It doesn't matter that his body's current inhabitant is haunting her in the present.
"Poor Buff," he says, soft. But she can hear the mocking smile steal over his perfect face.
Lacking hesitation, she eventually turns on her heel to look at him. Her face is unreadable, calm.
He looks the same as always and ever.
High, angled cheekbones. Skin as pale as porcelain. Tall, framed by long black duster and open-throated shirt. It's his eyes that can't disguise the change. Large and brown, they're almost the same except for the intent behind them.
Almost black in their wicked depths.
He studies her closely, also calm. He can smell no fear, no dreaded anticipation.
They stare. Both unwilling to be the first to break.
Lovers and sworn enemies.
Good and evil.
Monster and monster killer.
"It's harder than I thought it would be," she says finally, blinking sadly at her feet. With a sigh, she sinks onto the nearest bench, curling further around herself. Lacking in interest, she plays with the ends of her shirt ties. "You've taken everything."
He doesn't move. Closer or farther, he stays. Rooted.
Low, dark with intensity.
She ignores it. Glances at the empty space beside her. "Come and sit with me."
Startled amusement sparks his seedy gaze, and his ashen lips part around the silent laugh. Unconvinced distaste. He's about to make a sharp, derisive refusal when she speaks against his thoughts.
"Coward," she says quietly, without malice.
Slowly, his cheeks split with the strength of his grin. White teeth bared under the moonlight. Guardedly, he accepts her challenge.
Sitting in lonesome silence, she feels his arm brush against her shoulder when he joins her. Just like her initial reaction to his presence, every nerve comes alive. She forces her emotions into quelling deference.
He can't read her mind. But he knows it. Sitting here, with her, without callous intent at least in the physically damaging sense, elicits a strange sensation.
She'd loved him. Still loves him. A remorseful soul paying for sins committed, struggling for undeserved redemption. But it isn't the same. She'll never seek him like she had him. For he is an unrepentant killer. He craves no atonement.
He doesn't hate her, though. She made him feel human, yes, an unredeemable offense. But he's fascinated by her. He can't be sure why he hasn't killed her yet – or even really attempted to.
Perhaps he is waiting.
Waiting for her to ask. Ask of him that eternal kiss.
He wants her at his side, it's no secret. His ensouled counterpart loved her unconditionally, which, in truth, sickens him to the point of insanity. But he can't ignore his rapt obsession with her.
Passion. It isn't love. But something far more reckless.
Soul or no soul, they're soulmates. Meant to be.
Anyone else to him – even Darla, his sire – would be less in comparison. Forever fall short.
He needs her to ask. His undead, lifeless heart almost pounds again with new life at the very thought. Maybe soon.
He could take it. But it wouldn't be the same. Nothing could compare to her at last being too broken to care. Too lost in the absence of his love to think clearly. Eventually, her surrender would come.
She belongs with him.
He thought maybe, seeing her in such a state, it would be tonight. But he can be patient.
Her voice breaks the communal quiet, heavy and thick with tears kept at bay. "I need you to be him." Before he can speak, she cuts him off with devastated emphasis. "It won't mean anything and we'll both benefit. You think it will make me feel better, and maybe it will. But it won't last. Later, even now, I'll still know the truth, and it will be worse."
Her logic is enticingly sound.
A single moment of happiness had cost Angel a fresh eternity of pain, and his little blond sunshine was forced to pay the price as well. It was an odd equation, but impressively corrupt.
Perhaps a new method of torture he could gladly get behind.
For a while, she thinks he'll laugh and leave her. Taunt her with Angel's memories. But out of the quiet, slowly at first, she feels his arm gently weave around her shoulders, drawing her into his side.
His entire demeanor shifts. And for a moment, a single moment, she's almost forced to wonder.
"Buffy…" he says. His voice. Kinder, sweeter.
Her muscles seize, and she's sobbing. The first breaks from her lips with agonized relief. His other hand brushes her hair from her eyes with utmost devotion and she buries her face in the junction of his neck and shoulder. His cool skin draws the fevered heat from her cheeks with welcomed proficiency.
It's terrible how well he can fool. Deceive.
"Shh," he whispers. Calm, soothing. Loving. "It's okay."
It isn't him, she inwardly commands of her heart. It's not him. He's gone. It's a lie. A terrible lie…
But the past months quickly catch up to her, and before she can restrain herself, she's clutching at the folds of his coat, small and curled against him. Begging him not to leave her again.
He presses a kiss into her hair.
And it is a lie.
But this is what she needs. She doesn't weep because she believes the false hope that he's somehow returned to her. It's because she knows now that he's never coming back.
How could someone so young be so utterly devoted to another?
She prays that it's a little real, so that maybe he can hear her, wherever he is. Lost to her and the world. Hear how sorry she is, how so very sorry. It's her fault he's gone, and she pleads with him to forgive her.
"Do you still have my ring?" he asks. Stroking her hair, holding her close. Murmuring affections.
The claddagh ring. The closest thing to a wedding band he'd ever give her and she'd ever receive. Their honeymoon had been his wake. Her fault he's gone. She killed him, because he loved her. Loved her unconditionally. Perfectly.
"Yes," she cries. "Yes! Yes, I never got rid of it. I kept it. I promise, I'll never take it off again!"
"It's all right," he consoles. Whispering, assuring. "Everything will be fine."
"Please, Angel! Please, don't leave…"
"Never," he promises. It is only the wolf in sheep's skin, dormant and waiting beneath the surface. "I'll never leave."
Angelus smiles, like a shark tasting blood in the water.
"Forever, Buffy. That's the whole point."
But she never surrenders. He's never able to break her like he had Drusilla, who's looking at him now. Prattling on about some primeval rock called Acathla.
Sinister fury boils within him, and dark eyes shift into smoldering gold. A scowl mars his devastatingly handsome face, free of age and mortal blemish.
Fine, he thinks. Cruel in execution. Ego bruised to the point of harsh retribution. To hell with her. To hell with everything.
The whole damn world can go to hell.