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First Love

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Bring on the Night

Buffy laid on the bed. The pain radiated throughout her entire body. She was too hurt to shower so she was still covered in dry blood. There were definitely broken ribs, maybe even some internal bleeding. She tried to remember a time when she had been this badly hurt. But even Glory had been kind enough to leave most of her facial bones intact. She closed her eyes for a moment. Can’t sleep, she reminded herself. But a few seconds of resting her eyes and trying to ignore the pain couldn’t hurt. She thought of a happy place, a beach, the bright sun, somewhere far away from the dark reality of this war.

And then she heard it. Soft like velvet. A familiar breathy quality that could only be his.

“Buffy?”

Her eyes shot open. She gingerly swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up while she held her midsection. She must have been dreaming. So much for not falling asleep.

“Are you OK? Do you need help?”

There it was again. His voice. This time from behind her and she startled. She slowly turned and saw him. Standing near the doorway. His hands were in his pockets and he was slightly hunched over in a feeble attempt to take up less space.

She drew a small, stunned breath. “Angel?” Buffy whispered in disbelief. She wondered momentarily if she had wished him here. Here she was, beat to a pulp, with no plan, little hope and the entire weight of the world on her shoulders - once again. And she didn’t know until that very moment that Angel was the one person she needed to see the most.

“What - what are you doing here?” she asked.

“They called me and told me you might need a hand. And so here I am.” He gave her a concerned stare and moved forward to sit on the corner of the bed. It was a painful reminder that they still had to watch their distance - their intimacy. “What did this to you?” he asked her. His voice was warm and worried. She melted a little at the sound of it.

“Some stupid ancient vamp. With bad teeth. Doesn’t like to follow the traditional rules of slayage. Couldn’t stake it.” Buffy looked down. Her voice was small. “It was... very strong, Angel. I don’t know that I can -” Buffy shook her head and wiped a stray tear as it ran down her cheek. “- I can’t beat it.”

Angel scooted a little closer. His expression looked pained as he regarded her injuries. “Hey. Look at me.”

She complied. When she gazed into his dark brown eyes, she wondered if all of the answers to her problems could be found there. “It’s gonna be OK. I’m here now. We can do this together.” He said in a calming tone.

And for a moment Buffy remembered how it used to be. When she had Angel, and Giles, and Willow and Xander. And when she allowed herself to trust them and rely on them. When they had made her stronger. And she wanted so desperately to believe what Angel was saying. That together they could make it through this. The way they had found victory so many times before.

“I missed you,” she said to him quietly.

Angel gave her his crooked little smile that she recognized so well. A moment passed between them and then his expression darkened. He looked down sadly. “Buffy, do you...still love me?” he asked hesitantly.

“Yes.” She replied almost without thought. And she realized after she said it that it was true. She slowly turned her body towards him and moved forward, preparing to seek comfort in his arms. But as she angled towards him, he disappeared and she landed awkwardly on the bed. Her face was buried in the comforter and her fists clenched. The pain she felt in that moment ran much deeper than just the physical ache of her bruised body. She felt like an idiot. How could she not tell the difference? Had desperation blinded her?

She heard a haughty laugh coming from beside her bed. “See, I knew you were still hung up on me,” she heard Angel say. No. Not Angel. Now his voice was sharp, cold, sinister.

She looked up. His wardrobe was different now. He was wearing his signature leather pants. A silky black shirt. He was leaning back casually with his arms crossed and a smug grin. “Heya Buff. I missed ya too.” Angelus’ voice cut through her heart like a sharp blade. “Although, I gotta say.” He looked her disapprovingly. “You are looking a little worse for wear. You got a little something right here.” He indicated the gashes on her face.

Buffy tried her best to stay composed swallowing back the pain and humiliation she felt.

“Really had you going there, didn’t I?” he continued. “God, you are so pathetic. Think about it, sweetheart. It’s been years. He has a whole new life in L.A. And you really thought he’d drop it all and come all the way over here just because you got a boo boo? You aren’t that good in the sack. I promise you he’s had much better, not too long ago, in fact.”

“You know the problem with you is you love to hear yourself talk. Do us all a favor and shut up,” she deadpanned. She rose from the bed but her injuries prevented her from walking too far. She sat back down at her bedside chair and winced in pain.

The First phased again and he was dressed like Angel now. A grey sweater and black slacks. He walked over and leaned in close to Buffy. “You can pretend all you want, little girl. Hide behind that tough exterior of this unshakable warrior. But I saw it. I see it now, in your eyes. This face. I saw what you want most in your pathetic life. I know what hurts you the most now. It’s - well - it’s me.” He gestured towards his chest, mocking her pain.

“You aren’t him. Go to hell,” Buffy spit back.

Angel straightened up. “Been there. Done that.” He paced around the room, his posture once again mimicking Angel’s. “It’s really not that simple, Buffy. See I really am… well… me.” He turned to face Buffy and crossed his arms. “I’ll prove it to you. Ask me something only I would know. What book did I give you for your 18th birthday? What movie did we last go see at the Sun Cinema?” He approached Buffy’s chair and squatted down in front of her so that he was at eye level. “What’s that one special spot you liked to be touched that makes you scream my name?” His eyes were intense as they scanned her body seductively. He licked his lips.

Buffy shivered in revulsion at the intimacy of it all.

Angel stood up. “No? No questions for me? Hmmm well, how about this. You remember the first day we met, don’t you? In that dark alley. You had a tight little baby blue number on. Do you remember what I said to you, all those years ago?” Buffy glared at him. “You’re standing at the mouth of hell. And it’s about to open. And guess what?” He continued with a toothy grin. “You aren’t ready.”

And in a flash, he was gone.

Buffy slowly curled herself into a fetal position. Tears filled her eyes, threatening to spill as she stared straight ahead. She could hear Giles, Xander, and Willow talking about her outside her room. They were worried she wouldn’t be able to fight.

How could she forget? She was alone. She was always alone.

*

Showtime

She sat on the back steps of her house. The cool wind blew against her bruised face. She sat with her eyes closed. The potentials seemed to buy the show. And she felt better knowing Spike was back in the basement. Safe. For now. The problem was she didn’t believe her own words. She really wasn’t sure if she could defeat this evil. She wasn’t sure if she was making the right calls for all of those who were counting on her.

“This thing with Spike.” She heard his voice coming from right next to her. He once again perfectly mimicked the soft hesitancy of the man who still took up residence in her heart. She couldn’t help but turn to look at him. She regretted it the very instant that she did. His facial expressions were just like Angel’s, so genuinely hurt and confused. “Do you - do you love him?”

She took a moment to remind herself this wasn’t him. But this monster had done such a good job of looking exactly like him. His chocolate brown eyes. His full lips. His broad shoulders. The expression of guilt and love and longing which felt achingly familiar. It had been so long since she had seen him. So long since she had touched him. She found herself wishing she could reach out and feel him now. Even if it was a lie. The lie was better than the absence of him. She took a deep breath and forced herself to turn away.

“I wanted you to have a life outside of demons and darkness. I wanted you to live in the sun. Not in the shadows like me. Like the damned.”

Buffy stared ahead, her eyes fixed and her expression stoic. She was powerless against this assault. These words could have been Angel’s words. He had said them to her a dozen times before. He had given her a remix of this same speech just last year when she had come back from the dead. When she had come back wrong. He still naively believed she belonged in the light. But Spike had reminded her that she belonged in the dark, with him.

The First continued, “How could you do this, Buffy? How could you let him do those things to you? What happened to the beautiful, vibrant girl I knew? Who was full of light and laughter. The one who smiled and laughed -”

“You left me,” Buffy choked out, cutting him off. She had finally taken the bait. “And then I died.”

Angel stood up and paced back and forth in front of her. “So you just had to jump on the next available vampire dick that comes along, is that it?”

This was easier, she thought. It was easier when he wasn’t acting like Angel. When he was saying things that Angel would never say.

The First continued his charade, his voice cracking and tears threatening to spill from his eyes. “I loved you so much. You were my light. My saving grace. Now, look at you. You are cold and sad and dead inside. I could never love you like this.”

Angel would never say this, she kept telling herself over and over. And yet, it was his voice. And really, she had thought about this a dozen times. How would Angel react to the things she had done with Spike? To knowing that even now she had conflicted feelings for him? Would Angel judge her? Would he be disgusted? Or worse, what if he didn’t care?

Angel squatted down in front of her, forcing himself in her line of vision. But he was no longer crying and upset. His anguish was replaced with a cocky demeanor. “And what do you think your little peroxide vampire lackey will do when he finds out that he’s merely the consolation prize? What will he do when he realizes you are still in love with me? Do you think he’ll stick around and watch you wish you were somewhere else? Face it, blondie, what you can give him won’t be enough. Just like it wasn’t enough for soldier boy. No. He’ll walk away just like the rest of us.” Angel straightened up. He moved closer so that he was towering over her. “And believe me, he’ll be the better for it.”

Then he was gone.

Buffy balled her hands up into fists and felt her nails cutting into her palms. She felt an almost palpable feeling of despair in her gut. The thing of it was, every word of what it had said felt like the truth.

*

Potential

With a house full of potentials, it was a wonder she managed to have her room to herself. These days, sleep was hard to come by. She felt the weight of her calling more heavily on her shoulders than in the days of her youth.

She changed out of her clothes and into a tank and shorts. And then, for reasons she didn’t care to explore at that moment, she reached into the back of her closet and pulled out a far too big leather jacket. It didn’t smell like him anymore. She knew that. But it still felt like him. Cool against her skin. Large. Familiar. Comforting. Tonight, when sleep came, she welcomed it.

She was in an older hotel room. But it looked lived in, like someone’s home. She turned and saw Angel standing at the window and staring out at the daylight beyond it.

Buffy walked up behind him. She was dressed in a blue satin gown.

“Must be hard. Seeing everyone so happy because of what you did. Bringing the light back, but not being able to go out into it,” Buffy said to him.

There's no place I'd rather be…” Angel turned to face her with such love in his eyes. “...than here with you.”

She kissed him sweetly. And oh God it was Angel and his lips. They were soft. It was like coming home. She felt her entire body heat up. Her desire to be with him growing. She put her arms around his neck and drew him closer. He started to push away.

Angel looked away, with that familiar regret. “Buffy…”

Buffy looked into his eyes. “No. Whatever it is, whatever the reason or excuse or logic, we're here. Now. Together. Everything is the way it's supposed to be. For once. Angel, haven't we waited long enough?”

She kissed him again and she felt him give in. He responded with gentle passion. She unbuttoned his shirt and slowly slid it off. She closed her eyes and felt him unfasten her dress and slip it down her body as he caressed her intimately. The way he had touched her so many years ago. Just the way she had memorized it and replayed it in her mind for years.

But then something was wrong. She didn’t feel his hands on her body. She opened her eyes and the room was dark. She heard noises in front of her and saw a light surrounded by a thick haze. She walked towards it. Slowly the haze lifted and she was at the side of a bed. And as the haze continued to clear she saw Angel. He was on top of Cordelia. Kissing her softly as they made love.

She gasped.

Angel seemed to become suddenly aware of her presence because he looked up and right at her. His face shifted from pleasure to pain. “Buffy?” He fell off the bed, horrified. “Oh God! No!”

Buffy awoke in a cold sweat. She reached up instinctively for the scar on her neck. It was a dream, she told herself. It was only a dream.

*

Lies My Parents Told Me

After the failed attempt at finding Spike’s trigger, they headed out for patrol. They were walking through the cemetery. Spike was chatting about their last training session with the potentials. But Buffy was lost in thought. She knew Giles wanted her to keep Spike chained up. She knew he was worried about him being dangerous. She had remembered a time before, when she was cautious, when she had chained Angel up to protect her friends. But this was different. Spike was the only one watching her back. She needed him by her side. Not locked up in a basement.

“I remember when the graveyard was our date spot.” She heard him materialize at her side. He matched her every step as he had always done before.

This time he was dressed in a light beige jacket and a white button-up shirt. She remembered that outfit. She had asked him about it one night in her room after they had been dating for some time. Had asked him why he wore it that night - it hadn’t seemed his style. He had done that little thing he did with his eyes - where he looked side to side in what she could only describe as adorable bashfulness. He shrugged. “I thought it would make me less intimidating? Like a friendly vampire?” The memory stung.

“I guess you have someone else to walk home now,” Angel said beside her. She stopped abruptly and turned to look into his eyes. She tried to find anger in her heart for what she knew was nothing more than a cheap imitation. But all she could manage to find in her heart was hurt. At the memory of them.

Spike realized Buffy had stopped dead in her tracks and looked back at her with confusion. “Do you see something, Slayer?”

She turned away from Angel and looked at Spike. She took a breath. She shook her head sadly and kept walking.

Spike paused for a moment. He looked at Buffy intently. Then he continued to walk alongside her.

“How long?” Spike asked her.

“How long what?” Buffy replied, confused.

“How long has it been appearing to you as - y’know - him.”

Buffy turned to Spike with surprise. “How did you…?”

“That look, the pain, the bloody longing.” He shrugged. “It knows that the thing we love the most is the thing that can hurt us most.” He looked at her, sadness in his eyes.

Buffy shook her head. “It’s not real.”

Spike nodded in agreement. “No. It’s not. But that doesn’t make it any easier, now does it?”

*

Dirty Girls

Buffy looked at Giles with contempt. “No, I think you've taught me everything I need to know.” Then she shut the door.

As soon as she did, she heard clapping coming from behind her. “Bravo, lover! You finally rid yourself of that stuffy Englishman. When will he learn not to come between you and your vampire lovers, am I right?” He gave a haughty laugh.

Buffy froze. A chill ran up her spine and anger seethed underneath her skin. The last thing she wanted to do was face him.

“It’s long overdue, if you ask me,” Angelus continued. “Did I ever tell you how he had the most annoying scream when I was torturing him? Oh God, it was like nails on a chalkboard. I really wanted to saw his tongue off but the damned thing about it is, I needed him to talk.”

Buffy finally turned around to find Angelus was seated on a chair like it was his personal throne. His legs were sprawled out in front, in a wide stance and he leaned back. He played with his Claddagh ring. The heart faced out.

“Get lost,” Buffy bit out.

“Now that I think about it, I don’t need any information from the old man anymore. Maybe, now that I’m back to feeling like myself again, I’ll come by and finish what I started. I hate leaving my masterpieces unfinished. Tsk tsk. So sloppy.”

“Back?” Buffy said quietly to herself.

“Oh yeah. I’m me again, baby. The soul has been exorcised from the demon!” he shouted enthusiastically. “I’ll tell you, Buff, honestly, I prefer blondes, myself. And you and I, we had some good times. But I guess soul boy has moved on to busty brunettes. I swear, my taste just goes right out the window with a soul.”

Buffy sat hard on the bed in front of The First. “It wasn’t a dream?” she pondered aloud. Could this thing be telling her the truth? Did Angel really lose his soul?

“Oh, it was real.” Angelus leaned forward so that he was close to Buffy’s ear. He whispered. “It was -” he took a long whiff of her hair “- perfect happiness.”

Buffy didn’t wait for The First to be done with his torture this time. She raced out of the room and down the stairs to the phone. If Angelus was loose she needed to know. For safety. Mostly for safety but also - she had a right to know. Because it was Angel, she had a right.

She picked up the phone and debated who to call. She quickly dialed a number and waited for an answer.

“Buffy?” Willow answered the phone. “Is everything OK?”

“Where are you?”

“I - uh - I - I told you I had to go out of town.”

“Are you in L.A.?”

“Buffy -”

“Just tell me.” Buffy cut her off, annoyance evident in her tone.

There was a long pause and then, “Yes. I’m in L.A.”

Buffy was speechless. The First hadn’t been lying. It was telling the truth. Had everything it had said been true?

“Buffy -” Willow said quietly. “I’m going to help him. It’s going to be OK. We are preparing the ritual now. I’ll call you if anything goes wrong. Hang tight, OK?”

Buffy simply hung up. She had nothing left to say. She leaned back against the wall and then slowly slid down to a seated position.

And she felt it go. That last shred of hope she hadn’t even realized she had been holding onto. That she wasn’t truly alone. That even if Angel wasn’t next to her, that he would be there if she asked him. If she truly needed him he would fight alongside her. That at least they were suffering their forced separation together.

But that hadn’t been true. There was no stupid cosmic connection. No possibility of a reunion. No someday. Even if she was confident in Willow’s ability to restore his soul, he was lost to her. And this love she felt for him was her burden to bear, alone.

*

Touched

Buffy was curled up on a stranger’s bed. Everything about this house was foreign to her. The sights and the sounds. A whole family had made a life here; one she knew nothing about. She was a trespasser in this home. And yet it occurred to her that she felt no different in this bed than she had felt in her own these past few months. She hadn’t even realized how disconnected she was from all of it. How far she had drifted away from everything and everyone she loved. Not until tonight.

Her eyes were shut when she first heard his voice. “I’m sorry about Xander.” His voice was intimately close. So she shut her eyes even harder and silently prayed he would go away.

He continued. “But I can’t say I’m surprised. Being around you is a dangerous thing. Everyone around you ends up hurt, kidnapped, with a sword through their heart, in hell for a hundred years, with a knife in the gut, in a coma, with funny aneurysms, tortured for a soul or dead. Your best friend lost the love of her life from a bullet that was meant for you.”

Buffy clutched the pillow tight, tears spilling freely. It was true, after all. She had brought nothing but damage and destruction. It was no wonder they didn’t want to follow her. It was a wonder they hadn’t kicked her out of their lives years ago.

She opened her eyes against her better judgment.

He was laying right beside her, his face inches away. Of course Angel had stopped loving her. She wasn’t an admirable person - certainly not anymore. Maybe she never really was. She was darkness and death. It didn’t matter that she had refused the shadow men’s offer. She had rid herself of all humanity long before that - it had slipped away bit by bit. She fucked dead things and killed dead things. That darkness was all that she was now. Disconnected from everyone. Even from Spike. After the torture he had put himself through to earn her love and she couldn’t even find it in her to give it to him.

Angel continued to speak at her side. “What did you think you could offer these would-be slayers? What did you think you could teach them? You’re just going to get them all killed. They are better off without you.”

“You’re right,” Buffy replied quietly.

Angel smiled at her. It was his signature crooked little smile. He looked so sincere at that moment. So much like himself. “Hey,” he said in a soothing tone that sent shivers down her spine. “Stay here with me. They can figure this out. Aren’t you tired of fighting?”

“Yes.”

“Then stay here. Rest, with me. I won’t leave you.”

“You aren’t real,” she whispered, her voice raw and raspy.

He shrugged. “I’m all you got.”

Buffy heard a door open in the distance. “Slayer?” She heard Spike calling up. Her eyes remained fixed on Angel’s. A part of her wanted this. To give it all up. To lie here beside him and pretend that her life was so very different from this one. To embrace the fantasy of comfort that was being sold. Could she give up? Walk away?

“I have him,” she whispered back, weakly.

Angel looked her with pity. “If only that were enough.” He disappeared before Spike entered the bedroom.

*

End of Days/Chosen

Caleb picked Buffy up by the lapels and swung her body into a stone pillar so hard that it moved out of place. Buffy fell to the ground. Caleb picked up the scythe.

“I was kind of hoping it'd go this way.” Caleb reared back with the scythe, staring at Buffy.

This is it, Buffy thought at that moment. Her body wasn’t responding. She was paralyzed by the pain in her spine and Caleb had her weapon. This is how it will end.

And then she heard his booming voice. “Hey!”

And in that instant, time slowed. She stopped to consider whether The First was taking this opportunity to taunt her one last time before she met her death. But then she saw him give Caleb a good punch. Could it be him?

Angel extended his hand. Buffy looked at it hesitantly for a moment. After months of being tortured with the sight of him, she was worried this too was nothing more than a con.

But something told her this was different. And then it all came rushing back to her. It was as if she was standing in that alley all those years ago.

Who are you?

Let’s just say, I’m a friend.

Only now he was standing over her, offering his hand. So she took it. Angel responded by grasping her tightly as he pulled her up. He was solid and sure. She looked in his eyes and the spark of their connection fluttered deep inside her. This was something The First would never be able to replicate. Something not even Buffy or Angel understood.

She was extra motivated to finish Caleb off quickly. And when she battled him this time around it was with a renewed vigor. It was as if a switch had been flipped - a fire ignited. She eventually sliced through Caleb’s stomach and he fell to the ground. Pleased with herself, she turned back to Angel.

“See? Under control,” She said with a hint of a smile.

Angel responded with something cheeky about whether she was glad to see him but she couldn’t really focus on what he said. She had been tortured by the ghost of his presence for months. Hearing his words and seeing his face. But this was really him. How could she have forgotten the warmth in his soulful eyes? The way everything else seemed to dim when he was around? There was no replicating this.

Buffy felt an overwhelming need to touch him again. She dropped her scythe absently on the floor. She walked up to him, pressed her body against his and kissed him deeply. And as she kissed him, it was as if something unlocked inside her. She felt a key turn and a lock release. There was no way to be sure what had been set free. Hope? A plan? All she knew was that something felt different.

“Shoulder to shoulder. I’m yours,” he told her. Because of course, he was. They were in this together, even if they were far apart. Seeing Angel was all she needed to know that she was never alone.

But she also knew she couldn’t risk him. She needed to know he was safe. In any case, he had already brought with him the one thing she needed in this fight. It wasn’t just the shiny amulet. Angel had brought with him the reminder that there was something powerful about all of these connections in her life. Her relationships with him, Dawn, Giles, Willow, Xander, Spike, all of the love and support she gave and received from them made her stronger.

Maybe she did have something to teach all of these girls after all. She could show them that they weren’t in this alone.

And so Angel walked away from the fight, like she asked him. But not before she told him that she did, sometimes, think of a future with him. She knew he had his own life. And she also knew she had much to figure out on her own. But if The First’s pageantry had done anything, it was to remind her that after all these years she loved him more than anything. So she asked him, without asking, to wait. And he gave her that crooked little smile that she knew was only hers, and without saying it, she knew his answer was yes.