Characters: Angel

Pairing: some B/A

Setting: post-NFA

Warnings: sex (it's not explicit but it's there)

Additional Notes: I haven't had much time to write because of college, but now that it's summer, I have free time again! Along with Buffy fic, I'll also be writing Doctor Who fic, so if you're interested, check it out. As for this story, it's a bit of an experimental style and I'm rather pleased with the results. I used a prompt over at angel_hoard on livejournal – forgiveness.

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon owns them, not me.

these scars of mine

He barely manages to stagger out of the city. His clothes are torn, body bloody, feet heavy, mind sluggish. He should not be alive, but somehow he is. Not just not-dust alive, but real alive. Real heart-thumping, blood-rushing alive.

He is also alone. Gunn was the first to go, too many injuries on too fragile a human body. Illyria next, a blue and red blaze of fury, of vengeance and power. She took down so many, but even gods fall. And then it had been Spike and Angel. Like old times, but now they fought the demons. Spike had turned to dust eventually, but not after taking down hordes of the others. Then he was alone against a force of demons. He clung to existence and fought and killed and destroyed until it was just him among the corpses.

That was when the sun rose and he closed his eyes to burn. He was ready.

There was burning, a deep sensation enveloping his battered body, his skin like fire. And then it was gone and he was still there, blinking at the light. It only took a few moments to take a deep breath in because he needed one, a bit longer to realize that the dead flesh of his heart was beating.

After that, he stumbled his way through burning streets and fallen debris, right out of the city. He only got as far as the nearest gas station before crumbling on the cool tile floor.

He is here now, his eyes closed, his mind focused on the steady beat of his heart. He doesn't want to think about his dead friends or the fact that he's still alive or really anything at all. Instead his thoughts turn to her.

He almost expects her to appear here. Blonde and beautiful, wielding her scythe, bathed in light, his avenging goddess. It would be right, to have her here at his rebirth. But she doesn't come. She doesn't know where he is and anyway, her camp has forsaken his.

(Later he learns that she did come. But it's late, when the city is already smoking and he's already curled in its aftermath in a dirty station a mile away. She came and she slayed and she looked, but he wasn't there. He was pronounced dead that day.

But oh, he is so alive. More alive than he's ever been.)

He thinks, with a hacking chuckle, that he will simply die here. His heart will just give up, already tired after centuries of inactivity. It will think he's a waste to keep around, that he is far too hurt to keep going. He almost wants it, wishes for the quiet darkness to fill him and take him from the pain. Death's embrace seems far more like forgiveness than this damning life.

Hours pass. The sun sets and darkness arrives. He still hasn't died. Warily, he pushes himself up and finds that while there is pain, it isn't as bad as he thought. His hands trace along his body, running over ruined, blood-caked skin. Wounds have shut, bones are unbroken, his body is bloody and bruised but it is whole. Sometime in the restoration, during Shanshu, his body was patched up and he didn't even notice (if only the mind was as easily healed).

He washes up in the dingy bathroom, stares at his marvelously healed skin, pale under the layers of blood and demon slime. It's glorious and wonderful and strange – he doesn't deserve this cure.

But there are scars. He is not an innocent babe, newly birthed. He is still the broken soldier, still the man chasing redemption, his sins stacked around him and marked into his skin. He traces a particularly nasty one, a long line along his torso. Recalls it as the dragon's handiwork.

His stomach complains for the first time in far too long. He leaves the bathroom and pulls food off shelves. Chips and powdered donuts and beef jerky. Packages are torn apart (like lives – why is he the only one left? what gave him the right to live when the others perished?) and he digs in. The tastes are unfamiliar, all sweet and salty and processed, not natural like his old diet. But he savors it all and continues to eat until his stomach hurts for an entirely different reason. He stops and downs a bottle of water before sitting down.

He hasn't let himself think much about the others or the battle, but now, full and clean and almost content, the thoughts rush into his mind.

How hands shot into the air when he asked them if they would stand together. How they had all been willing to risk their lives, he most of all, he had been ready to give it up for everything and everyone. But it wasn't him who gave his life up. The others did, falling like tin soldiers and he their commander, still standing in the end. Standing alone. Commanders were never supposed to live – first to lead, first to die.

He wonders why he's lived. Knows it's nothing but luck. Pure, dumb luck that nothing took his head, that no wood ran through his heart. Luck coupled with natural strength, but then Illyria was stronger and she was gone.

He wonders more than anything why he was given this reward, but he has no answers.

X-X-X

He cannot stay in this Chevron gas station forever. The world spins on and he spins with her. And now his time is limited, every heartbeat a beat closer to a final end. He is no longer an unchanging pillar in the face of a time, a boulder surrounded by flourishing, withering creatures. He is one of those creatures and now he will flourish and wither (but he will never flourish alone).

He can go anywhere. He chooses San Francisco.

Los Angeles is too broken, too much like him, too empty now because of the battle. Too many specters haunt the streets, too many memories of better days. New York City, while appealing in its size, is the home of the old him. The one that wouldn't fight and he refuses to ever step back there. Italy, where last he glimpsed her, is too far away. It is another world, one of light and beauty and he isn't sure he deserves that, even with his new humanity.

So San Francisco, foggy and sunny and open-armed, with the next largest population of demons on the West Coast.

He gets an apartment, a new wardrobe (still black, always black), a false identity for the records, a bank account. He considers becoming a private investigator but it hurts too much and he can't work it like he once did. He eventually folds and gets a job at an independent bookstore, one that sells magical tomes along with fictional ones. He keeps an axe in his bedroom and goes out hunting nearly every night, but he stays away from the large nests. He comes home damaged most days and slowly learns his limits.

He buys a mirror, excited to see his face all the time, but it's too much (shadows and lies and blood – Shanshu was supposed to clean him of blood but there is more on him than ever before) and he throws it out. He can hear Cordelia chiding him for wasting a mirror and then asking if he's okay. He's not, but he lies and says he is. She wouldn't have believed him.

He keeps the refrigerator stocked with food at all times, eggs and peaches and beef cutlets and in the back, a single container of cookie dough fudge mint chip ice cream. He never touches the ice cream, but the rest of the food enters and leaves in an endless cycle of consumption.

One day, as he limps home, his ankle throbbing from a nasty fall that would've meant nothing once upon a time, he sees her. He freezes and watches from a distance. She dances with her opponents, a hurricane of power and glory, light and darkness perfectly interplayed. They're dust within moments and she's turning. She'll spot him in a moment.

He wants to run, would've run, but his ankle is still damaged and more than that, he can't move. He's paralyzed by her and all the things he wants to say to her and all the feelings he has for her. Anger and pain and sadness and love, that last more than anything and it's just too much.

She sees him and she's just as frozen. They watch each other, separated by too much distance but maybe also far too little. He's not sure which it is now.

Then she's moving, running towards him, and she says his name, happy and relieved, a question and an answer and a request, and then her arms are around him and his around her. It doesn't take long for their lips to find one another. They still fit. All this time, all these scars, on both of them, and they still fit like interlocking puzzle pieces.

Eventually she notices and her eyes widen. She stares up at him like he's a dream, like he's not real, a beautiful figment of her imagination. But her imagination would never conjure up such a broken version of him, would never give him so many new scars.

"How?"

"Long story." An out, for her, for him, for them.

"Tell me."

X-X-X

He takes her back to his apartment. They sit at a table, with tea and cookies and all that table (he flashes back to another table, at another time, and wonders if they'll christen this one too) between them, and he tells her the story. He tells her of Wolfram and Hart, the final battle in Los Angeles, the light and then the life that filled him. He tells her of his eventual decision to go to San Francisco and his job at the bookstore and his nightly hunts. In return, she tells him of the Slayer assistance in the battle (too late, he thinks bitterly but doesn't say), the evacuations, her failed search for him, and her decision to remain in California. She tells him of the coffee shop she works in and the life she's built here.

There are far too many words. They are too tightly wound, too hesitant to start anything, too frightened to imagine a world where they can have a happy-ever-after.

And it isn't. It's too pockmarked and damaged, there are too many friends lost and too many hearts broken and too many tears shed for this to be a fairy tale. He knows he doesn't deserve this, doesn't deserve her.

Their words run out. They are both done with their stories and they just sit there. He stares at the last dregs of tea in his cup and wonders what he should do. If he should reach out and take this opportunity or let her go. He knows she isn't an unblemished doll, perfection sitting atop a pedestal. She is damaged and broken and scarred and imperfect just like him and everyone else. But she is still better.

They don't know who makes the first move, but they're both up and their arms are around each other and their lips smash together. They make it to the bed, just barely and only because his apartment is so tiny and because he wants their sorta-first-new time to be special and slow.

It isn't slow. This first time with both of them human (but it isn't, not really – and he will tell her that story one day too, but not today, not when they are rediscovering each other), it's messy. Glorious and perfect, because it's them and it's right and it's love and passion, but messy. Bodies move fast, desperate to reclaim and remember and re-everything. There's tongue and teeth and sweat, fast thrusts and pleasure, so much pleasure, for both of them. And then he's collapsing on her, sated and happy.

It isn't long before they start again. It's slower this time, all lingering kisses and sweet caresses and long climbs to ever pleasurable heights. There are whispered "I love yous" and screams of ecstasy and soft moans. She traces his scars with her fingertips and then her lips. They'll still be there when she's done, but it feels like a second chance.

It feels like love and hope and the promise of something better. A life together, imperfect and never free of the past, but good and together.

It feels like absolution.