Hearing soft footsteps enter the room from behind her, Buffy turned away from the monitor in front of her that displayed a room of slayers training in smooth synchronized movements. The chair squeaked as she spun towards the door.
"Giles." Buffy's voice was as perky as her spirits as she greeted her Watcher. Training was going well for the new slayers and life was settling into a routine in Scotland. Structure is what they all needed now. "Why the frowny? Something go wrong in the library? Did one of the girls remove a sacred volume?" Buffy smirked at the humor of her own quip.
Giles didn't answer. Instead, he slipped his hands into the pockets of his olive green corduroys and hanged his head to stare at a spot on the concrete floor. Buffy felt her body tense. That feeling of dread, that awful sensation she should be so used to yet never would be was climbing up her spine. She could hear her own heart beat as its pace increased.
He slowly lifted his head to meet her gaze. His eyes, always so supportive and warm, were filled with sympathy as they connected with hers.
She knew. Buffy knew instantly without Giles having to speak. She felt the death in her heart.
Days turned into weeks. Buffy lived her life but with a hollowness inside her. The emptiness she felt could only be compared to her emotions, or lack thereof, a few years earlier when she'd returned to earth from a heavenly plane. But even then, she'd had a spark. When she had thought of Angel; when she'd met with him. He soothed her, calmed her. Knowing he was there, that he could feel her, that he would come running if she asked; it gave her a small sense of peace. Now there was nothing.
He was gone. Dead. Killed in a slaughter in a dank alley.
The first few days had left her immobile. Her closest friends would intermittently try to comfort her. They'd bring her soup and rub the back of her hand where it laid on the empty pillow next to the one her head occupied.
She did try. Buffy wanted to talk to them, to explain what she was feeling. But it felt as though there was a lock on her jaw. She couldn't unhinge it to speak and instead lay curled up in the darkness remembering. Angel's face danced on the back of her eyelids. She saw his lips curve into a small smile as his body covered hers. All the times they'd shared, good and bad, replayed themselves in her mind and pain coursed through her body as if she'd been struck a physical blow.
Eventually she'd raised herself from the bed. Buffy concentrated on how Angel fought; how he'd always wanted her to fight. So she began to slip back into her role as the leader: the slayer. Those closest to her could see the change Angel's death had made. The loss was in her eyes even as she gave a rallying speech to her new troops. Buffy was always good at putting up a brave front.
The pain lessened but never went away. It stayed in the back of her heart as she moved through her days. Moments would come when something would spark a memory and Buffy would have to stop. Her fist would fly to her chest to lie against her heart, as the ache of her loss would heighten.
Buffy would close her eyes and breathe. She'd remember his smile and knew it would always be with her.
This is how she learned to cope.
Four months after Angel had passed away Buffy strode into Willow's room. Her friend was sitting on a pile of soft silk pillows on the floor. Willow's auburn hair was tucked behind her ears as she smoothly poured dried green petals into a glass jar and screwed the lid on tight.
"Whatcha doing?" Buffy asked.
Willow glanced up to see Buffy standing just inside the door with her hands tucked into the back pockets of her jeans.
Grinning widely, Willow replied, "Just replenishing some of my spell supplies. How's it going with you today?"
Buffy nodded and gave a slight shrug. She walked further into the room and sat on the edge of Willow's bed. Placing her elbows on her knees, she leaned down towards her friend where the witch sat in front of her.
"Do you have any plans for this afternoon?"
Willow shook her head. "Nope. I was going to ask you what you had on the agenda."
"Great." Buffy smiled at her friend. "I was hoping you'd go with me."
With no other thought than how wonderful it was to see her best friend smiling again, Willow's own face light up with a grin. "Of course!" Then realizing she had no idea of their destination she asked, "Uh, where?"
Buffy looked her in the eye and replied, "To get something for Angel."
Buffy and Willow stood inside the tattoo parlor looking at the pictures on the wall. The tattoos in the images ranged from simple and elegant to detailed and abstruse.
"Are you sure you want to do this? I mean needles..." Willow shivered.
"Yes I am." Buffy gazed at the pictures as she answered.
Willow watched Buffy for a moment. With her arms crossed, Buffy walked along the wall taking in the photos. Her eyes were alight and there seemed to be a nervous yet happy energy emanating from her.
Stepping closer to Buffy Willow lowered her voice to ask, "Why did you say this is for Angel?"
Buffy turned to face her. "Well, I guess technically it is for me but it's to remember him. To honor him. He was...more than everything for me even when we were apart." Her voice slipped on the last sentence. It was as though she had trouble trying to explain the depth of her feelings.
Willow reached out and rubbed her friends arm. "I get it."
They smiled at one another until they heard a man call out Buffy's name.
Buffy took a deep breath and looked towards the hallway that led to the rooms beyond then back again at Willow. They stared at each other wide-eyed and on a nervous laugh Buffy said, "Time to put up or shut up."
The pair followed the man into a private room near the back of the store. He was a big, burly man with tattoos covering his shaved head and a horseshoe shaped ring hanging from the end of his nose.
He looked like the type of man she'd have to fight in a dark cemetery so she was surprised when he smiled at her, showing her all of his teeth, and asked nicely, "So, what kind of tattoo were you thinking of getting today?"
Reaching into her back pocket Buffy pulled out a wrinkled beige piece of paper. She handed it to the man and watched as he unfolded it and studied the image.
"A gryphon and an A?" The artist looked at her surprised.
Buffy nodded. "Yep. On my right shoulder blade please."
"I like it." He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. "Let's get started."
Willow leaned over and whispered in Buffy's ear as Buffy laid her chest against a padded chair. "Giles is going to kill you for tearing that out of the Watcher's Diary."
"It's worth it." Buffy beamed at Willow.
Two days later, Buffy stood in her bedroom. She removed the shirt she'd worn that day but paused before slipping her pajama top over her head. She turned her back to the mirror and gazed over her shoulder.
Silently she thanked no one in particular for her fast healing abilities. Her new tattoo seemed to glow in the soft lamplight. Just like Angel's own tattoo an A and an antique-styled gryphon adorned her shoulder. Buffy's tattoo differed only in scale. After all, she was a quarter of the size he'd been.
Buffy reached around her body and let her fingertips graze the art. As she touched it, she recalled sliding her skin over Angel's tattoo as they had lain in bed.
"Definitely worth it." Buffy murmured. "I'm still your girl Angel. Always."
A/N: Feedback is greatly appreciated. This story was written as an accompaniment to a manipulation photo I made of Buffy with the tattoo. To see it, please visit my livejournal & search by the tag "manips" or you can see it on my youtube channel background (crystalsc). Thanks for reading.