Disclaimer etc.: see chapter 1

"Giles," said Angel, as the door opened and closed again quietly.

The Englishman took an armchair opposite him and sat down.

"I hope you're feeling better."

"Better? What's better?" Their eyes met. "I keep hearing her voice, Giles."

"You may always hear it," said Giles gently. "Some voices never leave you."

"Miss Calendar," breathed the vampire.

Giles acknowledged this with a nod and a half-smile.

["Hang on," I interrupted him, "who's Miss Calendar?"

"I was in love with her once," Giles told me. "She … Angelus killed her, a long time ago. Before the latest oc – occasion."]

"You and I have more in common than the others," Giles continued. "Our lives were both centred around the same person. Willow had Tara, and Xander. Xander had Willow and Anya. But you and me both lived only for Buffy. I know that. I know you regret what Angelus did."

"Stop it!" cried Angel. He got up and started pacing the room. "Stop it! Everyone keeps saying that. That Angelus and Angel are not the same person. They are, Giles. I have memories stretching back nearly three hundred years. I remember what I did as a boy, days spent fishing in Galway harbour, I remember seeing Darla in that alleyway, I remember my first kill and the first time I sired another vampire and the night I saw Drusilla and when I brought her Spike, and the gypsy girl," his words running out fast and angry now, "and wandering Europe tortured by voices that would not leave me, and lonely years on the streets of New York, and the first glimpse of golden hair in the sunshine," the voice obscured by choking sobs, "after all those years in the dark, Giles. I meant something to somebody. We shared a moment of true happiness, and then I hurt her and her friends – and her Watcher, and was punished for it. But her love brought me back. And I left her and walked away, not once but again and again, and then I killed her. I did all that. Me."

Giles was silent, stunned by the torrent of emotion. He could not remember ever having heard Angel say so much in one go. The vampire stopped pacing and suddenly dropped to the floor in front of the old man.

"I hurt Buffy, but her suffering is over. Yours isn't, Giles. You were a good Watcher. The best. You loved her. You gave everything for her."

"I would have done," stammered Giles, looking down at the dark head bowed in front of him.

"You did. Do you remember that day in the mansion? The day with Acathla?"

Giles nodded, flexing his fingers gently without seeming to realise it. Angel looked up and their eyes met.

"Nobody ever lasted that long. I can't forgive myself, Giles …"

Giles took off his glasses and after a second's hesitation laid his hand on the vampire's shoulder.

"I forgave you long ago, Angel."

For a moment there was complete understanding between them, and Giles got up and went out before it could be broken.

*   *   *

Giles sat silent after he had recited his conversation to me.

"It's true," he said, half to himself. "I did forgive him long ago." He came back from his memory and stood and patted me on the shoulder. "This is good work, Lizzy. Thank you."

Xander arrived as I was still pondering Giles's story, and half lay down on my bed.

"I don't want to do this," he started. "I'm only doing it for Giles and for Will."

"Xander," I said, "you don't like him, do you?"

Xander sat up.

"You got that. You're as sharp as your mother, Liz. No, I hate him. I think I always did. Ever since the first day Buffy turned up at school all starry-eyed about her mysterious stranger."

"What did you say to him?"

*   *   *

Xander closed the door and stood looking down at Angel.

"Don't say anything," he warned. "I've not come to discuss. I've come to say."

"Then say and have done, Xander," said the vampire wearily.

"All right. You should never have come to Sunnydale. Whatever your reason, you just shouldn't have come. And you should have left when you saw it getting serious between you and Buffy. She'd have been all right if you hadn't been there. So many times in that year after she was seventeen she nearly died because she was thinking about you. Always you. Always Angel this, Angel that. You're a vampire. It's not – it was never right. I'd have thought you had enough experience of life – or being, anyway – to know when to stop. And then you had to …" Xander couldn't finish. "Yes, I hate you, Angel. And you will never have my forgiveness, if forgiveness is what you're looking for. Willow might be able to give it, or Giles, or Cordy and Wesley, but not me. Never me."

"You've finally said it," Angel returned. "I've known that since you told Faith I was back and she tried to kill me. You know why Buffy would never agree to going out with you, Xander? It was because she knew how much Willow liked you. She loved you as much as everyone else in her way, but she couldn't hurt her best friend. You messed up your own life, Xander, not me. Blame me for killing Buffy, because I did that, and blame me for Spike and Drusilla, because I did that too, but don't blame me for your own failures. Goodbye."

He turned away from Xander.

*   *   *

"That was it?" I asked.

"That was it." Xander got up and started to leave. "Lizzy, as your mother's oldest friend, please don't show that to her. Or to Anya."

"Promise," I said, and he gave me a sort of smile and went out of my room, leaving me with even more to ponder.

Mum came in later that evening, after I had been to see Angel too (I felt I had to, but more about that in a bit).

"Giles told me what you're doing, Lizzy. Thank you. You don't know how valuable it might be."

I hugged her and breathed in her special Mum-scent and her red hair mixed with mine.

"I love you, Mum," I told her, suddenly wanting to let her know.

"I know, sweetheart. I love you too." She disentangled herself from the hug and sat down on the floor with her back against the bed, clutching her knees to her and looking up at me. She looked very young all of a sudden. "Okay, this is my part."

*   *   *

Mum sat down on the sofa next to Angel and passed him a plastic bag of blood.

"You haven't eaten all day."

"Oh, Willow." Angel took the bag and held it uncertainly.

"Drink up and don't be embarrassed. Resolved Face."

Angel smiled in spite of himself and turned away from her. Mum waited until he had finished before talking again.

"Are you feeling a bit more like yourself?"

"Which self? I'm feeling more like I did about ten years after the gypsies first cursed me. I'm not quite back to how I was in Sunnydale yet."

"Angel, I'm sorry. I had to do the spell, you understand that?"

"You were right, Willow. Right not to risk any lives. The lives of those you love."

"I love all of them."

"I know you do. You always cared, Willow."

Mum took his cold hand in hers.

"And I care about you too, Angel. I want you to get better again. I know it'll be hard, but in a few months you can be back fighting demons every night and doing good. And the prophecy that Wesley told us about."

He shook his head sadly.

"No. No, there's no chance of that. Believe me, Willow. I've had my chances and I've blown them all."

"Nobody can resist a spell."

"But it's possible to resist a message," he pointed out. "What if it happened again?"

Mum smiled, a little proudly.

"It won't. It's stuck for good this time. No magic in the world can take your soul away from you again. I've been working on that spell for nineteen years and last night I know it was right. I felt it."

Tears rolled slowly down his face yet again.

"You're a good witch, Willow, and the best friend anyone could have. Whether they be vampire, Slayer, Watcher … we all owe you so much."

Mum glanced away, embarrassed, her cheeks glowing red.

"Thank you," Angel said simply. They sat in silence together, remembering.

*   *   *

Mum sniffed a little, and then got up.

"I'm going to make some dinner."

"I'll be along shortly," I told her. "I have something else to write."

*   *   *

I went to see Angel – after what the adults had told me I'd somehow dropped the ending of his name – after Xander had left me. In an odd way I felt I owed it to him. And also I needed to convince myself he was real to get rid of the annoying nagging feeling that I was having a very long and detailed dream.

I knocked on the door and when there was no answer opened it anyway. The living room was gloomy, the curtains shut and the lights turned off, and I could see absolutely nothing for a minute.

"Hey," I said into the darkness. "Anybody here?"

There was a movement and a pale face turned towards me.

"Elizabeth."

"Lizzy, or Liz, please," I said, but I think my nerves showed through my voice. "Nobody calls me Elizabeth except Mum when she's mad."

"Willow mad. Enough to make anyone scared." His voice was nostalgic. "El – Lizzy, I … I apologise for last night. I'm sorry if you were … frightened."

I moved across the room and perched on the end of the sofa where I could actually see him.

"I was, a bit," I admitted. "Like, I knew Mum and Giles and the others would be there, but still … but I'm not now."

"Really?" He sounded doubtful, and sad.

"No." I found I wasn't. "I've been talking to people."

"Ah." The single syllable held masses of meaning, and he turned away from me.

"Tara showed me her memory," I explained. "What happened nineteen years ago – I saw it like I was there. You, then, and last night – I don't think that's you now." There was a bitter little laugh from the darkness. "I don't," I ploughed on. "Mum and the others, they care about you. They're worried out there. This wasn't their plan, but they're glad it turned out this way really."

"You're so like your mother," Angel said. "I remember the times she used to give us all a good talking to, admonishing us for treating Buf … Buffy too severely."

"You loved her," I said.

"I will always love her," he returned, glancing up at me with those gorgeous brown eyes. But where the night before I'd seen a glint of confidence and charm there was only pain and longing and guilt. It made him all the more appealing, in a way. More genuine. More … more like someone you could trust. "Even … even during the last years, even without my soul, I was always obsessed by her. She was my reason for continuing, before. Why should I continue now?"

"Because people want you around," I told him firmly.

"I would love to think that, Lizzy," he murmured, his voice low. "Yet in all my years I've never been convinced of anything less. But thank you, anyway."

I smiled at him, guessing that probably he could see me smiling even if I could barely see him.

"No problem. See you later."

I left him in the darkness.

*   *   *

At dinner we were all very quiet. I don't believe Tara said a single word, and the rest of us just asked for pepper and butter and things. Afterwards Cordelia and Wesley said they were going, and nothing Mum could say would convince them to stay for another night. They said they'd be in touch. Xander and Anya had already gone. I don't think Xander could bear to be in the same house as Angel. It was sad. I like Xander a lot, he's always been a sort of uncle to me, and seeing him scowling and silent was really painful. Giles, still obviously not quite back to normal, excused himself after dinner and went up to the spare bedroom with a cup of tea and an old book. Mum and Tara started washing up. In the end, after a sporadic email check, I went to bed.

I was woken before dawn by Mum rushing into my room and turning on the light.

"Angel's gone," she said, throwing clothes at me with frantic waves of her hands. "I'm worried, Lizzy. We have to find him."

I started pulling on the clothes, half-asleep.

"Gone?"

She handed me a small piece of paper, one side of which was last week's shopping list, the other side written on in neat copperplate.

'Dear Willow. I'll be gone by the time you find this, gone to join her. It's been a long time and I'm tired of everything. A long journey from Galway to Sunnydale, and it's painful. I don't deserve your kindness and your sweet words and I won't stay to haunt your nights any longer. I'm sorry, sorry for everything. Angel.'

"The cemetery!" I said, suddenly wide awake.

Mum grabbed the car keys and we ran. The streets of the town were quiet and the sky above was turning paler by the second. We drove too fast and jumped lights but by the time we reached the cemetery we could see each other's drawn faces. Mum was pale and worried, her brow pinched, as we raced through the dewy grass. Somehow there was no need for words, we both knew where we were going, and we slowed as we got there.

In the first rays of the new sun the white stone shone golden, and still in shadow the tall figure was black as it bent over, weeping.

"Angel!" shouted Mum. I skidded to a halt and let her do the talking. This was her friend, not mine. "Angel, get inside, please," she said. I saw tears running down her cheeks as he looked up.

"It's too late, Willow," he said, smiling at her. "It's too late." He looked up at the red sky. "Isn't it beautiful? I'd forgotten what the sun was like."

"Please," begged Mum.

"No," he replied. The sun came up and the light caught his face, reflecting it for a second in a halo of iridescent gold. Suddenly he looked beyond Mum, and held out his hand to an unseen person, and smiled, and then there was a burst of flame.

The dust fell to the ground, scattering the white rose with specks of black.

Mum sank to her knees and I went to her, and held her as she cried.

We're having his name added to Buffy's gravestone. The others are all in agreement, even Xander, which surprised me. We're not bothering with dates. For a start nobody seems very sure exactly how old Angel was, and apparently it all depends on whether you start from when he was born, or when he was turned into a vampire, or even (as Cordelia suggested) when he was given his soul. Far too complicated. So we're just going to put 'Angel'. And we're going to plant a red rose next to the white one too.

It's been a stressful few days. I'm glad it's the summer holidays and I can get some rest now. Giles is going later today, back to his house in the hills, but Mum says next time she goes to visit him (now I know that's where she went every now and again) I can come. I'm glad. I like Giles, and he says he's going to teach me things about demons and such, so even if I can't do the spells I can help Mum and Tara. I never realised how much they kept from me. I'd be mad if I didn't know it was just because they were worried about the things haunting the night.

Anyway, I have to finish this and print it out and give it to Giles so he can send it to whoever he needs to send it too. So the missing people aren't so missing any more, and a little gap's filled. I can give a name to the photo on the living room wall. Buffy Summers, the girl who affected so many people, and whose influence lives on.

My mum's a witch, and she helped someone to return to the girl he loved. And I love her for it.

Elizabeth Rosenberg, Sunnydale, CA, 16th August 2020.