Angel held his mother's hand as her life slowly drifted away. She gave him one last gift, and told him her final wishes.
Buffy is heartbroken, but keeps a souvenir of their time together.
Angelus reminisces, a single object triggering emotion in his soulless mind.

Rating: K+
Pairings: Buffy/Angel
Set in the past and then in season 2 during the episode "Innocence."

Brought Together

Angel held his mother's hand delicately in his own, tears clouding his vision. Seeing his dear mother in her bed, so pale and fragile, broke his heart. Catherine had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis two months earlier, and the disease was finally taking her life. He would have done anything for just another day with her; he would have gone any distances to make her healthy, but there she lay on the steps of Death's door, and there was nothing he could do.

Angel had always been an over-emotional child, and even now, at sixteen, he still felt things that other boys his age did not. He was nothing like his stone-cold father, who just stood now in the doorway, puffing on a cigar while his wife's breathing began to slow. But Angel felt enough for the two of them; his mother was dying! He was allowed to feel like this! He was only human after all.

Gazing down into Catherine's soft brown eyes, he felt a surging anger throughout his entire body. It just did not seem fair, it didn't seem right! She had been such a gentle woman, showing empathy for everyone, always a smile on her face. Angel had learned so much from her.

"Angel…" wheezed her once song-like voice. Catherine reached up painfully towards her son's face. "Come…close…r."

He sucked in precious air, not ready to hear her final words. He obeyed her though, just as he had done his entire life.

"Yes mother?" Angel replied, his voice beginning to shake. He knew his father would never let him forget this moment of "weakness", but he did not care. All he cared about was being close to the woman that had inspired her, for the last time.

The delicate woman blinked slowly and then a small smile crossed her thin, white lips. "My Angel," she whispered. "Take…this." She held out her hand to her son's.

Angel caught his mother's presents as she dropped them in his hands. Two identical silver rings rested there. He could tell they were old, at least two hundred years old, by how intricately the shapes were forged together; two hands topped by a crown. They held a heart.

Angel's gaze caught his mother's.

He vaguely remembered hearing of such rings. It was a Claddagh ring. Memories of his grandmother telling him stories of the traditional Irish ring flew into his stream of thoughts. Angel had never truly believed they existed, let alone that he would ever be holding them in his own hands.

"Mother, I…" he choked out, over-flowing with appreciation.

Catherine just smiled, still optimistic, even in her last moments. She blinked slowly, and then patted his hand gently; too gently. "The…hands represent…friendship," she explained through ragged breaths. "The crown…is for…loyalty. And the heart…" She forced her small smile into a grin. "Well…you know."

Angel was too emotional to respond.

"Your…father gave them…to me," she continued. "When he… proposed. They…are a sign of…" She was cut off by a series of painful-sounding chest coughs. Angel leaned forward to help her, but she shook her head, signalling to back off. "Devotion," she gasped. "You will…find love some…day, Angel. When you…do, give one…to her."

All Angel could do was nod. "Yes mother." He could feel in his heart that the moment he had been dreading for so long was about to unfold. He laid his head on Catherine's chest, like a small child would after scraping his knee. Angel choked out a small sob.

"Live…your life," she told him, "for me."

Angel cried harder, fat drops of salty emotion draining from his eyes, slowing soaking Catherine's blouse. He felt her breathing cease under his cheek in seconds, her whole body growing still. The unsteady rhythm of her heart silenced, and the room was finally quiet, except for Angel's howling. All he could do was take comfort in the fact that where ever she was now, Catherine was no longer feeling the agonizing pain she had felt while diseased.

Several hours passed before Angel could pull himself together. He took time to analyze his mother's final gift to him. The rings were as beautiful as she had been.

He vowed right then and there, with God and Catherine's spirit as his witness, that he would fulfill his mother's final wishes. Angel would find love someday, and he would live.

For her.

----

Buffy wandered the streets without a real destination, the sun disappearing slowly beyond the horizon. Her hands were stuffed in her leather jacket's pockets, gaze lowered. From a different perspective, the young slayer would appear defeated, done in, finished. And in a way she was; but it did not mean she was going to give up, and cease to defend her loved ones.

She knew the vampires and demons would be coming out into the streets soon, and normally, her course would lead her to the graveyard, where she would do some serious slaying. But tonight, Buffy sent messages to her feet to bring her home; she just could not deal. Physically and emotionally, with what was lurking out there tonight.

From within her right pocket, she gently spun the ring which Angel had given her around her ring finger. She ran her thumb along the intricate designs; the hands, which represented friendship, the crown that represented loyalty and the heart that represented love.

Buffy felt like the strongest demon she had ever faced had just punched her in the stomach. She had to stop and close her eyes tight to withstand the pain. She inhaled and exhaled sharply, feeling a pinch behind her eyes.

No, she could not cry. Not here, not yet.

The young slayer began to run towards home, faster and faster, her eyes filling with tears just as quick. She would not let herself fall apart where she was still vulnerable; out in the open where Angel could find her. She would not let the soulless monster get satisfaction from her agony.

Buffy cursed under her breath seeing Joyce's car in the driveway; she did not have it in her to deal with her questioning mother right now. She made her way up her walkway, taking in breaths to calm herself. The young slayer counted to three, slowly, before opening her front door.

Joyce was at her side in an instant. "Buffy!" she gasped. "Dear, God, where have you been? I've been worried sick!"

"Mom, I'm sorry," she replied with as much sincerity as she could fake, but her voice still came out monotone. "I stayed late at the library with Willow…"

Her mom shook her head, defeated. "I don't know what to do with you, Buffy…" And she walked away. On a normal day, Buffy would have chased after her mom, not wanting to have such a cold wind passing between mother and daughter, but tonight she didn't, she couldn't…Not tonight.

She climbed the staircase as if it was a towering mountain and her muscles were made of melted plastic. It took her twice as long to trudge down the hallway, dragging her feet behind her, black slouched, eyes to the ground, arms at her side…

This was the walk of the heartbroken. Buffy was like a zombie, forced to join the others in a life of mindless actions.

Buffy gently eased open her bedroom door, and closed it soundlessly behind her. She sniffed, and then unbuttoned her trusty leather coat, draping it over her desk's chair. For a moment, she just stood there, eyes wandering the perimeter of her room, taking in the familiar landmarks of her room. Everything was so silent…

It was just the calm before the storm.

She clasped her hands together, not quite knowing what to do. She instantly felt the impact of metal against flesh, so vaguely familiar...

Buffy had believed that she had shown so much emotion the night before when Angel had given her the ring, but it was nothing compared to what she was feeling now. It bubbled deep within her belly before rising up into her chest. It was like the iciest flame, lapping at her insides. She began to shake; an earthquake throughout her entire body. It was like Hell was erupting from inside her.

The young slayer collapsed on her bed.

She clutched her ring. She remembered...

"My people - before I was changed - they exchanged this as a sign of devotion," Angel had explained in a gentle whisper. "It's a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship; the crown represents loyalty... and the heart... Well, you know... Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody."

Buffy finally let the inside Hell loose. She let agonized tears fall over and over again, staining her comforter. She did not know how long she lay there, minutes or hours? She willed herself with all the strength she had left to stop crying, but her body no longer belonged to her. The rivers streaming from her green eyes were the cause of an unstoppable flood, and she knew that she would not stop until she had no more tears left to cry.

Buffy grasped the ring tighter in her palm, afraid of letting it go. Almost like, if she let it go, she would lose her Angel forever.

----

Angelus sat back against a gravestone, staring up into the cloudy, indigo sky. The taste of blood still lingered on his lips, and in one swift motion, he ran his tongue along them, letting the sinful taste take him over completely.

Oh, how he had missed his natural diet.

Out of habit, he ran his hand through his short, spiky hair. He jumped slightly, when the silver band on his ring finger brushed a small patch of bald skin. He brought his hand down to eye level, and analyzed the ring.

Angelus vaguely remembered what each symbol represented. It seemed to him now like it had been centuries since he had felt any of the promises the ring held...Loyalty, friendship, love? He growled bitterly deep in his throat at the thought.

There had been a time when two women had changed his life. First Catherine, and then Buffy. They had been the only ones worthy of the ring. Angelus felt a brief pain in his unbeating heart; no, he could not be feeling anything at all; especially not love...

He was suddenly blinded by a flashing light. Images passed before his eyes; the ring in all its glory, Catherine's face before saying her final words, Buffy's expression when he had given her her ring. He experienced each image over and over again, and felt the intense emotions each image held. He could not escape; it was like his personal Hell.

When the images finished, and he could see clearly again, Angelus was on his knees, holding his head in his hands. This was the third time today this had happened.

This was not how he was supposed to feel. Not without a soul.

Angelus ripped the ring from his finger and raised his arm to throw it into the distance, hoping that if he got rid of the ring, he would get rid of these visions for good. But something triggered inside of him, like somebody had pressed the stop button on a remote. He lowered his hand along with the ring in defeat.

No matter where he went, what form he took. No matter how empty or full his soul was, the images of Catherine and Buffy would always follow him close behind him. And no matter how hard he tried to fight it, they would always carry the feelings of friendship, loyalty and love with them.

Angelus spun his silver ring around his finger again; it had become a habit. Maybe these visions would become a habit too. Part of him, deep inside, hoped they would.

He kind of liked how it felt to feel.