Endless Path of Shattered Glass
Author: Michael Con
Summary- Willow's resurrection spell made Buffy immortal, and she goes to Angel for support.
Rating R: For language and slight sexual content.
Special Thanks to Kairos for being my beta.
Morning millennial memories of reunion in the Hyperion Hotel. I didn't think in this voice, then. Then was the young voice of humor, of nows and secret hopes. This now is the voice of ash and glass that remembers in the present tense with its own past.
The hour before the risen sun is the most beautiful. It is my hour to wash the dust off, my hour to hold my breath so the last kiss would last that much longer, my hour to rest. Heaven is like the ephemeral colors of sky and shades before the sunrise manifested to all senses, and more, and not really.
Behind buildings, the sun is tipped on the horizon. I tried to get here before morning, but the night has already dyed. I think of him closing thick curtains every morning for over two centuries. I promised myself I wouldn't come here after I asked him to hurt me at the place in between. I had needed to know I wasn't in Hell, so I begged him to make me feel it through him as he had felt it because of me. Will I feel it in time? Over time? Through time? Words and time are difficult, now. Does Angel know how to talk of time? Angel learned torture through time. Will time torture like Angel? The sounds lose their meaning with repetition.
I open the glass door and walk through, my head bowed slightly to hide marks on my skin. An interior of jade floors with veined and vined reds lit with faded vanilla and window dawn.
Angel is by an open cabinet, placing a sword on a rack inside. His clothes are damp with something from under the city. After closing the cabinet, he turns and sees me.
Angel is the same, the same, the same. He looks at me as if at some tragic miracle, a soul of heaven fallen, and all his touches would only burn it.
Prayers. Words and Angel are difficult, always.
I promised I wouldn't come here. He doesn't deserve this (what Angel deserves is the enigma of his life).
"What's... Is there someth... Wait. Sorry." A pause to prevent our pattern of disasters. "Hi." He walks toward me, taking notice of the edges of growing natural brightness.
"Hey." A stare of guilt, revealing that I'm here for help, for need, and I'm so sorry. "Are you alone?" I step down on to the lobby floor. He notices my suitcase.
"Yeah, everyone's either asleep or at their own place, I think."
He is closer now, just beyond my breath.
"Angel, do you remember when you asked me if I ever think about the future?"
"Well, but don't you... I mean, how can you think of the future? H-how do you stand it, knowing that-"
"Knowing that what?"
I lose the composure of my face. Never so fast before, and I hate myself for my weakness. I avert my eyes to our feet, and two confessions drip from them.
"Buffy, what's wrong?" The fate of our duets. He makes the motion to touch me, but stops at the place in between. Our history reduces him to a passive vessel for pain. He doesn't deserve this.
"Angel, I'm wrong." I raise my head. I must look at him again. "I came back wrong."
"I don't understand."
"Could you please just hold me?"
For a moment, he's surprised at my lack of heroic stoicism, enough to make me feel more pathetic. Then his arms are around me, an embrace both graceful and hesitant. His care, his guilt, his love. One of his hands cups a shoulder blade with a delicate pressure fit to stop the bleeding of a wounded breast or severed wing stump. My lips and lashes press over the chilled threads of his shirt and give off warm moisture. My arms fold against his chest in a shadowed gesture of prayer.
I think of time when I smell sewer on his clothes, and start sobbing. Exhaustion dissolves any strength in my legs, and I lean everything that is me on him. He doesn't expect this submission from me, and he won't grip me with any power he doesn't think he deserves. So, even though I'm small, we both descend to our knees, my lower back against the first step to the entrance. He doesn't whisper soothing words in my ear.
I cry and croak: "I can't go back. I can't go back. I can't go back. I can't go back."
One of his hands guides my chin so that I'm looking up at his eyes filled with anxiety at the possibilities of my meaning. Then, for the first time he notices the faded line curved into the front of my throat. In mirrors the jagged scar looks like a mockery of a finite time line choking me after a fall that didn't break my neck.
"Buffy, what happened?" His hands, hands that have shredded and shattered the necks of countless innocent people, tremble as the finger tips faintly trace the scar.
"Willow's spell, the one that brought me back, it-it did something to me, something else." There are many names and phrases for it, but none seem adequate to the immense reality. Words and time. Best to capture time with narrative. "Six days ago, I chased a demon into the sewers. So stupid. Nothing special or apocalyptic, just your average bad guy. It was raining though, so the sewers were flooded. It was hard to move my legs. But it was a lot taller, so it didn't have so much trouble. We fought, it won. Guess it had to happen eventually." A lying smirk flashes and dies on my lips.
I continue trying to steady a tremor in my voice, "It broke a rusty pipe and beat me with it till I was on my hands and knees trying to stay above the water. It got over me and... and cut my neck with the jagged end."
His fingers fall from the scar as if it cut them, and I lean my head onto his chest again. "I tried to get up, but I blacked out so fast. I-I should have died! I bled out. I felt it, I felt my blood gush out! And if I didn't bleed out I should have drowned like the first time. But no, I just woke up again! I woke up under Sunnydale's shit and had to crawl out of it like it was my grave! Three times, three times! But no damn paradise interlude this time, no, just shit, fucking noon sunshine, and flies following me like I was a zombie. The flies followed me into my house, Angel, into my house."
Cold tears patter on the back of my neck.
"Immortal?" I pull my head up and see his tears. "Yeah, close enough, I think. When I got in the shower to wash off the shit I made sure." His eyes die a little, and then ask, and mine consent. He pulls up my sleeves and looks at the faded scars trailing up my forearms. More cold tears fall. I wish they'd land on the scars, but they miss. "There wasn't enough blood in me to fill a shot glass. When I looked in the mirror I really did look like a zombie." There's so much sorrow in him that I regret saying everything. I try to ease my confession. "Don't think of it as a suicide attempt. It wasn't. More like research, really." He just looks at me with so much pity, and all my defenses crumble again. "Why did you stop holding me?"
His puts his arms around my back and under my knees then lifts me from the floor against his chest. My heat has warmed his torso. He carries me to the circular couch in the middle of the lobby and sets me down on it next to him, convinced that I'd rather not sit on his lap, and holds me.
"I don't know what to say."
"S'okay. I don't know what I want to hear."
We calm with each other, and for a few minutes watch finite beauties of a dawn fade in the brutal infinity of the day.
I ask, "How long were you in Hell?" Every part of him that I feel tenses.
"How long were you in Heaven?" Every part of me cries for impossible expression.
"Point taken. But still, you're a lot older than 246, aren't you?"
"Yes, in a way." This is the first time he has revealed anything about Hell to me. He desperately needs to change the subject. "Does Willow know?"
I understand the need and go along. "She's the one that found me in the tub. She screamed and I, oh god, I just laughed. Hurt my throat, though. Willow didn't deserve that."
"Does she... do they all know everything? Where you were and... this?" I nod, and see the resentment he has for them because they had told him nothing until after I had been back for days. "What are you going to do?" He motions toward my suitcase on the landing.
"I don't know. Sounds stupid, but I'm so scared of this. I just needed to see someone who could relate," I won't mention Spike. "And I can't be around my friends right now."
He looks at the floor. "If you're blaming them for being happy that you're back, you'll find the same fault with me." He then whispers. "Sorry. I can't..." His stare shifts from the floor to my wrists with the beginnings of rage, then to my neck and he just feels impotent.
"Angel, it's not that." But I'm not sure. We stay silent because we are afraid of further truths.
Sounds of footsteps above interrupt us. I'm both annoyed and grateful. I turn around and see a woman descending the steps, small, brunette, glasses. She conveys a skittish familiarity of the space around her.
She says, "Oh, hello. 'Morning, Angel. New client?"
We stand and separate. Angel replies, " 'Morning Fred. No, she isn't a client. This is Buffy Summers."
A surprise at whispered rumors made flesh. "Oh. Oh! You're the vampire slayer from that hellmouth? The one that Angel...? But you're so tiny."
"Yes, that's me," I say with a mask of a greeting smile.
"Well it's a pleasure to meet you. My name's Fred. And sorry for the tiny remark. It just slipped out." We shake hands.
"It's fine, I get it all the time. Fred?"
"Short for Winnifred. I've heard so much about you from Cordelia and Wesley. Seriously, how many times have you saved the world?"
I chuckle. "Seven or eight times, give or take a demi-doomsday." She makes a "wow-ed" face, and I ask Angel, "So, Wesley ended up working with you?"
He says, "Yeah, almost two years ago."
I wince. "Ouch. Though, I will admit that Watcher skills do help."
Fred looks confused.
Angel adds, "You'd be surprised at how much he's changed. Cordelia too," he looks at my suitcase. "Buffy, do you need a place to stay for a while? You're welcome to stay here if you'd like."
I'm relieved by these more conventional topics. "I'd really appreciate it. I didn't bring enough money for a hotel."
"It's not a problem, this is a hotel. Over a hundred empty rooms, all free. And I'm sure none of my guys would have a problem. Right, Fred?"
Fred says, "It's no problem with me. You just have to find a room that's furnished."
"Thank you," I say. I take time to thank Angel with my eyes. " 'K , so, lead me to my room?"
"Sure, then I'll take a shower. I smell like sewer." He realizes the connotations of the smell, and then steps away from me. "I'm sorry." Then, for the first time, I see the face of a man who truly feels like shit.
"It's okay. It doesn't matter." Despite me saying that, he still keeps distance between us as he guides me to the main stairs.
"Fred, stay near the phones till Cordy or Wesley get here. I'll be back down in a bit."
Fred says, "Um, this may be none of my business, but is something wrong?" Angel's eyes shift to me for a second. "I don't mean any offense, Buffy, but I've heard that every time you've came to see Angel it's never been exactly a social call. Should I be expecting something?"
I make up an answer, "There's this demon I tracked from Sunnydale. No worries, though. Nothing I can't handle. I just needed a place to stay."
Angel backs me up, "Trust me Fred, Buffy can take care of herself."
"Right, super powers and all. Well, it was nice meeting you."
I say, "It was nice meeting you, too."
Fred walks to the reception desk. She will die someday.
"Where's your room?" I ask.
The slightest hesitation. "Third floor. Room 312. It's a suite. Would you like one too?"
"I will admit that the temptation is too great for little me, but would it mean any trouble for you?"
We continue to walk up the stairs.
"You really are making up for being homeless, aren't you? First the mansion, now an entire hotel. What's next, a sky scraper?"
"Also tempting, but no, they reek of evil lawyers. Maybe a mall, less windows."
"Then I demand visitation rights."
"I'll try to save the clothes stores for you, but you'll have to fight Cordelia for them."
He smirks at me and I smirk back. I realize that this is the first small talk we've had in over three years.
As he and I reach the inner hallways of the building we leave the brightness of morning behind. We reach the third floor, and I follow him to room 308. Room 312 is a safe distance away.
He presses his back to the wall opposite the door, a sign that he's not comfortable entering the room with me, maybe because of his smell, maybe because he's afraid.
He asks, "Do you want them to know why you really came here?"
"I don't know. I'm not even really sure why I'm here."
"Do you want me to tell them? If you remember, when it comes to you and me, friends are usually already suspicious. If we continue lying, they're going to suspect something else, something worse." He looks at the door behind me, as if through it.
"Fine, tell them. Right now, all I want to do is sleep. I'm exhausted. Been awake since I crawled out of the sewer."
One of his hands crosses the hallway and holds mine with sympathy and worry over the nights I've spent without rest.
"I'm tired, too." From days, centuries. "I don't know what you expect from me. I don't have any answers about this. I've just endured, sometimes fighting, like you told me the day it snowed, but mostly I feel like I've just been falling."
I think of the tower. "Falling means the opposite for me. Are there moments when you feel like you stop falling and feel like, I don't know, floating?"
"Moments with you. The good and even some of the bad." He takes his hand away. "Buffy, I want to make things clear. This doesn't mean... about us... it doesn't change anything."
I lean on the door with a slight unintentional thud. "I know. My mortality was only one thing on the list of why we don't work. Besides, this isn't about that."
"Right." He looks down the hallway to his room, then back to me. "Do your friends know you're here?"
"Why, dreading a potential visit from them?"
"It's not that. I'd want to know where you were, too."
"No, they don't. I just told them I needed some time alone for a while and left."
"You should call them, then get some rest." He motions toward his room.
"It's just, I've learned to live my life knowing that I'm going to die before the people I love. I accepted that years ago. For the last five days, though, I see my friends, think of them even, and I can't forget that the best I can hope for is to see them all live long enough for their bodies to betray them. When my Mom died I-I felt so helpless. I can't do that again, no, not for all of them. "
He comes close and places his hands on my shoulders, then leans his head on mine, almost as if he's the one needing support.
"Call them. You'll regret it if you don't. Then gets some rest." He kisses my hair, then walks down the hall. I smell sewer.
I open the door to room 308, and close my eyes to bright white. The windows have no curtains or blinds.
Spike's words haunt me as I look at the phone in the bright room.
We were both looking through the window at my friends in the kitchen.
"They seem different now, don't they?" he said.
"And you call vampires the 'living dead'. Heh, look at them. Like flowers in a vase, wilting, vivid decay."
I gave him a look, then rolled my eyes.
"What, I can't be poetic? Anyway, who do you think will go first?"
"What's wrong, Slayer? You're immortal now, so you have to learn the games. Giles, what's he, early 50s? He's already half gone. But that's too obvious."
"What about Xander? No, I see him reaching a hundred, blind, deaf, and in a diaper."
"Shut up, Spike." I pressed my head against the glass.
"Just one more, and I promise I'll stop. Tara. Yeah, that may sound odd, but I like to root for the underdog. Something tells me it'll be quick, though. If that's any help."
"Are you done yet?"
"Yes, but remember you owe me a drink if I'm right."
There were moments of silence followed by my question.
"Is that what I looked like to you?"
"What, like some kind of living fade-out? Yeah. Well, that or meat that's rotting. Subtly, though. "
I saw his double truth in the translucent reflection of my body and in the immediate presence of theirs. But it wasn't how I felt. I felt heavier, constant, like a rock in time. Then I looked at Spike, and saw neither a corpse nor a rock, but something else, a clear enduring state that I couldn't and can't name or understand because I have a soul.
I pick up the phone and call my house. Willow answers the ringing.
I am silent.
She continues, "Hello? Who is this?"
I hang up, disconnect the line, and drown in hard sunlight.
Before Spike left that night, he said, "If you're ever stressed out and just feel like being dead for five minutes, I'd be happy to help out."
Over an hour later, I walk down the hall. Guilt and shame over what I'm going to do, but I hold the knife anyway. I open door 312 to a room of shaded dusk. He's lying on his bed beneath rare reddened fabrics. Stirring from a failed attempt at sleep, he looks at me, squinting from the hallway light.
"A room with no curtains. Clever."
"What?" He extends an arm and turns on a lamp. The sheets fall from his torso as he sits up. I haven't seen his naked chest in three years, when it was poisoned and dying. Now, it is pale and immortal like it should be. I'm wearing a tank top and pajama pants over a body that has changed since then, but from now on will only heal itself to the moment of waking in my grave.
I close the door and rapidly go through motions that have me straddling his hips.
"Wh-what are you doing?
"Sshh. You need to feel this."
I press him back down on the bed, holding his wrists over his head with one hand. He resists, but I'm stronger and more willing. I lean over his face and press the knife's edge deep into the right side of my scarred neck. He jerks under me.
"Or what, you'll kill me?"
Blood trickles off my collar bone to his face and neck. I throw the knife to the floor, hold him down with both hands, and aim the drip. He shakes his head left and right, trying to avoid the blood from touching his lips. With every turn a different face: human, demon, human, demon.
"Please, don't. No!"
"No! No!" He pleads with yellowing brown eyes, "Buffy, please."
I refuse with mine. "I'm sorry."
I loose one hand from his wrists and grab his hair, steadying him. My bleeding neck falls to his lips, and for a moment it's just them in a dead kiss.
Then pain burns as his teeth tear into my neck. I cry out. My blood blooms in his mouth and falls down his throat. He frees his hands and curves his arms around me, gripping my body to his. My breasts feel the pulse of the swallows in his chest, a stolen heartbeat. I start grinding on his hip bone under the sheet. The flow of blood is so rapid, so willing, but somehow he wills himself to stop drinking me, just holding the blood in his mouth, letting it ebb and flow on his tongue.
I begged, "Don't stop. More."
That destroys any will he had to take his teeth out, and he bites down harder. The flow continues like an exhaled breath I didn't know I've been holding in for three years. He turns us over without any resistance from me. His lower half is still wrapped in blankets, so I get tangled in red satin and pale skin. He pulls at my blood with force. My veins lose their noon warmth, and time starts to slow with my heart beat.
Then I'm empty and the beating ceases. My vision becomes dark, and for that mere moment of no-time I'm in the shadow of Heaven's eclipse. Angel smells like a scented instant before dawn.
But then the clouds part, I see again, and time continues its beating. He pulls his teeth out of the wound gently, hides in the crook of my neck with a smoothed face, and cries so softly.
I whisper with shivering lips, "Hey, it's ok, I'm still here. Really cold, though."
He maneuvers us so that I'm sitting against his warmed chest, wrapped in his arms and blood stained blankets. I know what I look like without any blood, and yet he holds me. I know that he should hate me for what I've just done, and yet he holds me.
"S-sorry about the stains."
"Why?" he demands. I can feel his unneeded breath on my shoulder.
"If you want rational reasons, I've got none to give."
"Buffy," he tightens his grips with resentment, "you have no idea what..." He leans his head on my shoulder. "It's so hard. I can't... I'm so confused. Why did you do that to me? Didn't think I believed you already? Scars weren't enough? Damn it, Buffy."
I close my eyes in regret. "It wasn't that. I'm sorry, I just... It's so sick." I look at the ceiling, as if for answers. "When I blacked out in the sewers, I felt so relieved. At the last moment, I actually felt at peace in a river of shit. There's so much I want to explain, but I feel like it's all redundant. Repetition just turns all your dread into pathetic whining. Guess that's why you never talk about it." Words and time. "But there are other things I desperately want to tell you, but I don't have the words, or even clear feelings, really. I- I want you to know what Heaven was like."
"Was that your way of showing what heaven was like?"
"No- and yes. Right at the end, there was something, but it was so far away and indirect, and only for me, I guess. The closest thing I can think of is just a lie. Do you remember those nights just before sunrise when we..."
"Stop." The interruption cuts me. "I don't deserve to know, anyway. Besides, the last time I thought I knew what heaven was like I turned into a monster and ended in Hell."
I say nothing. I don't move. I don't breath.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that."
"Please, tell me what it was like. Try. I need to know."
"I want to know what's the worst that could happen if I just gave up."
He stares at me blankly.
"If I could tell you, and I couldn't even if I wanted to, there's nothing to say but pain. No revelations, no dark epiphanies, just absurd, meaningless pain."
I don't deserve Heaven. "I'm sorry." The apology tastes like a pathetic insult.
"I'll never blame you."
"Well, you said it was absurd, right? So, I'm sorry anyway."
We look into each other's eyes. Between and around us, our past, present, and future is a chaos. Then we kiss, and there's nothing in between. It does not feel like eternity. It does not feel like nothing. It's a perfect, simple moment, clear and distinct. A diamond in time.
"I love you."
"I love you."
"Close your eyes and get some sleep." I'm not sure if he realizes the words he just used.
We lay down. I'm so exhausted and drained that my desire doesn't hurt, but it lingers, waiting for tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...
"The reason I haven't slept since that night is because I'm afraid I'll wake up and everyone will be old or dead. Please, stay with me. Wake me up if you leave."
Before I close my eyes I say, "Angel?"
A pause. "Always." He says it not as a promise, but as a dreadful fact.
I close my eyes, and wonder if eternal love is Hell.