Disclaimer: They all belong to Joss. Title isn't taken directly from Led Zeppelin, but I think Robert Plant earned himself a shout-out.
A/N: A part of me wants to say this is a prequel to "Closer Now and Further Still" because I started writing this after I mentioned a similar event happening in that story and because they have somewhat similar tones. But this is canon compliant, so it can stand alone.
Buffy holds her head in trembling hands. "It's your fault, you know," she says quietly. Her tone is unaccusing, a simple statement of fact, but he feels the guilt anyway. It is his fault, really. He brought her the amulet, he let her talk him out of wearing it, he let her give it to him instead.
"Buffy," Angel says, he keeps his voice lowered to match hers. He slips closer to her where she sits in the centre of his bed, legs curled under her. All day long, she's been so strong. Guiding the new Slayers, calming and organising the very confused army of young girls. Now, in the dark of his bedroom, though, her brave front is slipping.
He would never condone her for such an action; she has long since earned her right to grieve, regardless of whom it is over.
Angel settles on the edge of the bed and the mattress dips from the bulk of his body, but it did not do the same for her, the tiny little woman he'd fallen in love with, regardless of how strong she is, regardless of the weight on her shoulders. Still so small. "Buffy, I'm so—"
"I let him die," she says slowly, her hands cupped around her mouth as if to capture her breath and her eyes fixed on a wall which they did not see, replaying instead the final moments of Sunnydale.
"And I let him die thinking there was no one out there who loved him." She turns her head to stare at Angel, and he sees the bloodshot colour of those gorgeous green eyes, the streaks left behind by tears running down her cheeks. "How could I do that to him, Angel?" she asks, her voice is heavy from withheld sobs. "How could I let him think that?"
And Angel says, "Shh, no," and holds out his arms. She huddles her tiny frame against his body and tucks her head against his shoulder. They don't fit together in quite the same way that they used to. She outgrew him, or he outgrew her, but he still holds her tight and doesn't let go.
He wants to tell her that Spike had never known a love that was not unrequited. That Spike would have felt no different in the moment of his death than he had felt in the last one-hundred-and-twenty years of his existence. That Spike would have never expected her to love him back, that he would never have demanded such a thing in exchange for his affection. Spike loved unabashedly and wholly, but also indiscriminately. Spike had loved people who would never return such feelings, and he loved them still when they did not. It was simply in his nature. And it was for that bizarre, anomalous part of his nature for which Angelus had hated him the most.
But the truth there would offer her no comfort and the only words that make if from Angel's lips are soft murmurs. "Shh, shh. I'm here. Shh."
Pressed to his shoulder, her lips move. "It's your fault," she says again, her voice ever so slightly muffled but the pain still so crystal clear to his ears. Her fingers tighten, wrapped in the sleeve of his shirt, pulling the fabric taut. "You know that? It's your fault."
He stays quiet in response. Silent but for the rustle that comes from the ceaseless movement of his hand stroking her back. Up and down, up and down, up and down.
"You ruined me."
She draws away, though her grip on him remains. He drops his hand.
Buffy looks him in the eye, hers so bright and tearful and brimming with sorrow and truth. "I love you," she says. "I love you so much. The way you made me feel…" She looks down at her hand, at the deep blue fabric in her grasp, at the white bandages wrapped around her burns. "Being apart from you made me want to die. When you were near… it was like everything stopped. Like you were the only thing that mattered."
Her eyes return to his. "I loved you more than I will ever love anything else in this world," she tells him. When she says this, it is a truth. A fact. She is not wooing him, she is not being romantic. She is telling the truth and nothing more. "And I took it out on other people. I took it out on Spike. God, on Riley." She shakes her head. "I so fucked up with Riley too. And I acted like it was their fault. Thought that, if I couldn't feel the way about them that I felt about you, then it wasn't real. Wasn't love."
"Buffy…" Angel's fingers brush her arm, stroke the skin where it is broken and bruised and lacerated. She doesn't shiver at his touch the way she once did.
"I loved you so much," she says. "When you left me, it was like the end of the world. It was the end of my world. I was dumb and naïve and inexperienced and you…" she stops talking long enough to force out something that almost sounds like a laugh, pained and tearful as it is. "My mom, she told me, 'everything is life and death at sixteen.' She didn't know how right she was. But that's not me anymore. The person that I was, the person that loved you, the person you loved, she isn't real anymore. She doesn't exist. But I just kept thinking… if I just wait long enough, if I hope and pray and wait, maybe she'll come back. But she never did. She never will."
Buffy drops her hands to her lap. One broken thumbnail picks gently at the bandages on her hand. "You loved me as a girl," she says. "You loved the cheerleader, even as she died. Spike… he loved this me. The me that I didn't believe was real. I got torn out of heaven. I spent the year digging holes for little girls. I grew up. He was the one that stood with me. When everyone else left, he was the one. He was the one who knew me. That was real. I kept waiting to feel more but… there isn't more. This is it." She studies her knuckles mournfully. "And it took me too long to realise that."
Her head lifts back up once more, eyes filled with sorrow and betrayal. "Now he'll never know."
She lies down, then. Curls her bare legs up close to her body and snuggles against his chest, her head pillowed on his outstretched arm. It's like it used to be, but so far from it.
And Angel lies there, the girl he loves asleep on his arm, and he knows how badly he's ruined her.