Title: PROMISES (2) Regrets
Content: read the fics!
Summary: a second promise made voids a first with repercussions. This fic is from Darkness Within.
Spoilers: S2 Epiphany. and some of S5 BtVS (Post The Body).
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt created the characters in the Angelverse. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Anywhere, just tell me where it’s going first.
Notes: Part two of Promises: A series of vignettes.
Thanks/Dedication: To Cat, who betared this for me *mwah* and thanks to all who responded so wonderfully to the last part.
Feedback: Would make writing so many fics all worth while
Sitting back in the farthest corner of the Magic Box, Angel watched the others with moody eyes. The only reason for him being here was that Buffy had turned up at the mansion earlier than expected and caught him before he could go out patrolling alone.
Four months had passed by since that fateful night, and the darkness that had all but consumed him the last time had gradually begun to return.
“Angel? You with the plan so far?” His head jolted up at the sudden question that Buffy aimed his way, and he nodded automatically.
Buffy’s strained expression softened a little at his mute response and, not with a little relief turned back to the others. “Spike. You’re with Angel. You need to stay out of sight until the whole nest come out.” She informed the casually lounging blonde vampire.
He nodded with feigned boredom and then threw an irritated look over towards Angel. “So you want us to be the surprise package, right?” At Buffy’s nod, he added sourly, “I don’t have to hold hands with the Poof do I?”
“No.” Buffy glared at him, albeit half-heartedly. “Just keep out of sight- though it might be a good idea to be on the opposite side so you both come in from different angles”, she mused, half to herself, then went on to outline the rest of the plan for the night.
Angel’s lips twisted at the irony of sharing his space with his one-time evil ally. Evil. It didn’t take much to remember that point, although it seemed Buffy tended to forget.
He seriously doubted having a chip would have stopped his soulless self from continuing his path of death and destruction, and he knew from their history that normally the same would have gone for Spike. Their kind relished pain as much as they gave it out. The decision to play nice with the Slayer led to only one motive in his mind.
For a vampire with two Slayers’ deaths under his belt already, it seemed ironically poetic that Spike had fallen for one along the line.
Buffy had drawn the amorous attentions of a vampire yet again, and Angel didn’t miss the tragic irony of that either. He couldn’t believe she hadn’t cottoned on to the fact by now. One thing Spike could never be accused of possessing was subtlety.
Angel’s thoughts drifted aimlessly, not that bothered by his unusual lack of possessive anger over Spike’s interest in Buffy. Several years ago, he’d have put the young whelp in his place in a way that would have left a mark for a long time, and knew the fact that he hadn’t even warned him off made the blonde vampire deeply curious as to why.
Oddly, Angel had to admit to experiencing jealousy over the occasional men Cordelia had dated in the past. Thoughts of his seer instantly soured his mood.
After just over a month in Sunnydale, Angel had returned to LA to collect some more belongings, not completely able to take all of his possessions and refusing to question why. He’d lingered in the city for a couple of nights and ended up shadowing the friends he’d left behind.
At first, he’d kept to watching the activities in their shabby office, and witnessed helplessly as his seer had a vision, hitting the floor before the others could catch her. As pale as she was after, Cordy had still insisted in accompanying them, and Angel ended up following them, a nameless fear hounding his heels.
It had almost killed him to stand back and watch as they took on a vicious looking demon, but thankfully, they worked well together, Cordelia toting a crossbow she used skillfully, until they’d dispatched the latest threat to the victims in her vision.
The fact that Cordelia was there at all had made it difficult for him to stay in the shadows, insanely furious at Wes and Gunn for allowing her to go along. Only the fact that he’d left them- her, high and dry kept him hidden.
For the next two nights, Angel found himself stalking Cordelia, once even spending most of a night watching her in her apartment.
He’d rang her a few times too on both her cell and home phone, even going so far as to leave tentative messages, asking her to call back. The stronge urge to explain fully what led to his rash action – and apologise. Up to date she hadn’t. One time he’d rang as he watched her sitting in her lounge. As soon as she’d seen who was calling, she’d stepped back from the phone, arms tightly hugging a body that had stiffened in…? Angel hadn’t been able to tell from his angle on the roof opposite.
Then the answer machine kicked in. Keeping his voice on an even keel, Angel again reeled off a casual greeting, followed by a request that she call back, then burned inside when she erased the message as soon as he’d broken the connection.
He’d left for Sunnydale within the hour, spirit lower than it had ever been. From then on it had been so easy to let the cold slide back in, the familiar sensation almost a comfort.
When he’d returned, Spike casually informed him that Buffy had ended her relationship with the soldier, Riley. That was when it truly hit home that he’d made the biggest mistake of his unlife. The very thought of picking up where they’d left off had brought a knot of dread in his gut.
So far, Buffy hadn’t attempted to move further than the odd kiss, and as the nights passed, even that tentative overture eventually ceased, and all too soon they were back to familiar awkwardness, where talking only seemed to ease when discussing business.
Nothing had changed regarding the rest of the Scoobies. Xander Harris still hated him. Rupert Giles still distant, and Willow, who seemed more mature, but was still skittish around him. Dawn refused outright to talk to him, and Angel had yet to figure out if it were over the loss of Riley Finn or her alliances were with Spike, who she seemed to spend a lot of time with.
Being relegated to Buffy’s sidekick once more had been the most difficult to bear- the only difference this time was that he now shared that position with Spike.
Gradually Angel began avoiding the group and their patrols when he could, instead taking to patrolling solo, the need to find at least one kill to ease the cold slowly taking over his soul.
“We all set? Then let’s do it.” The upbeat feminine voice pulled him out of his dark thoughts and he rose fluidly to his feet, making directly for the door in relief, only to be halted by a small but strong hand catching hold of his arm. He looked down into chameleon irises that shifted to dark green, revealing Buffy’s inner concerns as she locked gazes with strangely chilled brown.
“You okay?” she asked, unconsciously chewing at her bottom lip, when for a moment Angel just stood there unresponsively. Then he nodded, a faint smile touching his pale mouth.
“Yeah, I’m good,” he finally replied, deliberately softening his tone.
“Good. Okay. Let’s go kick some asses- or is it Assi?” Buffy frowned before shrugging and smiled brightly up at him. “Kicking, lots of it, anyway.” Her warm fingers flexed on his forearm before dropping to her side. And then she turned away.
Angel watched with expressionless eyes as she walked over to speak to Spike, her spine noticeably stiffening when he merely smirked cockily down at her. Losing interest Angel turned his back on them and exited the shop, the need to get this over and done with eating at him.
Less than an hour after returning to the mansion, Angel heard the front door open, then close after a long pause. He didn’t need to hear the soft yet rapid heartbeat or take in the familiar scent to know who his visitor was.
“Buffy.” Angel turned from the fire he’d been stoking to face his ex love.
Shifting awkwardly under his strangely unreadable eyes, Buffy shoved her hands in her jeans pockets and unconsciously took a defensive stance.
As she gazed up at the vampire who used to mean the world to her, it again shoved home the realization that things had changed too much to go back to where they once were. She’d never been able to read Angel, but never had it been so painfully obvious to her. She didn’t know this man…vampire anymore.
It wasn’t for the first time in the last few months that Buffy had regretted her impulsive grabbing of Angel’s offer to stay with both hands, but a part of her had really hoped that things would work out.
They hadn’t. It wasn’t even a case of old issues rearing their ugly heads, as they hadn’t even got to that point- which should have flashed a big neon warning over her head. Once upon a time, it would have been the only thing on both their minds.
Within a month of arriving, his reassuring presence had subtly changed into something she couldn’t quite put her finger on, and when he’d returned from his round-trip to LA, which had actually turned out to last several days, his whole demeanor had completely changed.
Emotional distance was never something Buffy could have associated with herself and Angel. Hell, the severe lack of it had been the big, giant chunk of the problem. The reason he finally left. But as the days went by, that was exactly the vibes she now picked up.
Plus it was getting harder to avoid a physical distance growing between them, only able to pin him down in daylight hours when he couldn’t vanish into the night.
His whole attitude had changed- and not for the good. Recalling Angel’s brief revelations of the ‘dark time’ he went through shortly before arriving in Sunnydale, Buffy was close to refuting his reassurance that he’d overcome it.
Sometimes the chilling emptiness revealed in his eyes sickeningly reminded Buffy of his alter ego, and that didn’t rest well with her at all, and for once she actually took heed of Giles’s growing concerns over Angel’s strange behavior of late- which eventually brought her here tonight.
Cutting himself off, patrolling alone; the Scoobies finding noticeable traces of his earlier presence – the corpses of demons littering Sunnydale- some they were out searching for themselves. It wasn’t the fact that Angel had got there first that caused Buffy to worry, but the sheer savagery of their deaths. Quite a few times, the remains had left even her choking back nausea.
Tonight had been a real eye-opener for all of them. Even Spike had seemed stunned by Angel’s vicious elimination of more than his fair share of the vampire nest they’d pinpointed and attacked.
On hearing Spike’s muttered, “summat you ain’t telling us, Peaches?” just before Angel strode off once the cleanout was done, had sent shivers of dread along her skin.
“What Spike said to you earlier… Should I be worried?” Buffy now confronted Angel with the question that had plagued her ever since, then waited with bated breath and a hand sliding out of her pocket to edge closer to the stake tucked in her waistband.
Catching the discreet move caused a dry smile to stretch Angel’s mouth and he folded his arms, outwardly relaxed. “I still have a soul, if that’s what you’re asking.” He replied, his dark eyes watchful.
Buffy flushed but tilted her chin defensively, even as her hand moved away from the concealed weapon. “After the show you put on earlier, a big part of me finds that kinda hard to believe,” she responded defensively. “And not just tonight either.” His eyebrow rose at her words.
“Trust me,” Angel coolly replied. “If I was soulless, you’d know it by now.”
“Oh? How?” Buffy retorted, arms lifting to hug herself. “If I remember correctly, Angelus was pretty damn good at deception.” Then Buffy gasped aloud when suddenly he was directly in front of her.
“You’re all still alive, aren’t you?” His whispered words slithered down her spine, and Buffy was unable to resist the urge to step back.
Seemingly satisfied with her reaction, Angel turned away and went back to the fireplace. He reached for the poker and shifted the gently burning logs. Buffy took a moment to regulate her breathing before taking a few steps forward.
“What’s going on?” she asked, genuinely confused. “Why are you being like this? When you first came back, everything was…good. What changed?”
Placing the poker back on its stand, Angel slowly turned to face her, his expression softening slightly. “We all change over time,” he replied almost gently.
Buffy shrugged fatalistically. “Yeah, I get that- but we’re talking about, what, a few months?” Her lips pursed for a moment then she caught his gaze. “Did something happen when you went back to LA?” His brow furrowed.
“No.” His reply almost sounded disappointed and it caught her attention.
“You met up with your…friends?” The word almost lodged in Buffy’s throat as she thought of who those friends were. Cordelia Chase and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. The combination still seriously boggled her mind.
A heavy sigh seemed to be ripped from Angel as he shook his head. “They’re doing okay without me. No need to make things more awkward.” Buffy’s head cocked to the side at his turn of phrase.
“Awkward? Why would things be…. oh,” she muttered a mental ‘doh’ as she recalled exactly what Angel had been up to with them in the first place. “The Agency. So it’s doing okay without you?” she asked curiously.
“Looks like it.” Angel’s mouth twisted bitterly as he recalled just how well they seemed to be doing- without him. “Wes and Gunn are fighting Cordy’s visions-”
“Hold up there,” Buffy cut in abruptly, her face expressing her shock. “Cordelia is your new seer?” At Angel’s nod, she blew out a breath and started pacing.
“You lost your seer last year; you told me that, but,” she looked up and glared at the dark vampire. “…You didn’t tell me Cordelia took his spot. It must be a real killer for someone like her,” she added absently, attempting to process this new information.
For the first time since she’d arrived, emotion flared in Angel’s eyes. “You don’t know her anymore, Buffy, Cordelia’s changed a lot, …” he faltered for a moment, then turned away. “Just don’t talk about her like that.”
Buffy’s cheeks flushed a little at the heated reprimand, admitting to herself that he was right; she hadn’t been around to see how time had changed them, as it had herself and her friends.
Moving closer, she stopped directly behind him. “Why did you offer to stay here?” Her sudden question threw Angel Completely and for a moment he just froze to the spot.
“You needed me,” he finally replied, then turned to face her. “You even kissed me… And then dumped soldier boy soon after.” He added, his tone slightly accusing.
Buffy stepped back at that, her eyes wide. “I didn’t ‘dump soldier boy’-and God that sentence has Spike written all over it,” she retorted angrily, making a mental note to kick his skinny ass a few times for, as usual stirring things. After running agitated fingers through her hair, she took a deep breath before continuing.
“Riley and I…well, we were having issues way before you came back on the scene.” Her lips trembled a little before she was able to control her features into some semblance of calm. Even now it hurt to think about. “I’m not proud of the fact that we kissed… while I was in a relationship with another guy… that just made me realise it was time to end it.” Not wanting to linger on that particularly painful subject she veered the topic away- that wasn’t why she came here, afterall.
After a moment of strained slience, Buffy lifted her head looked Angel directly in the eye.“This new gig you’ve got going- patrolling Sunnydale solo. Maybe you don’t remember, but we work as a team here.” She reminded him tightly. “And the way you’re going about it…” distaste reflected on her pretty face recalling his savage killing techniques earlier that night. “I’m a Slayer, not a butcher.”
“And I’m a demon, not a Slayer,” he harshly reminded her, Then shrugged and added; “I get the job done.”
Buffy shook her head slowly. “And leave me and the others to clean up after you.” She paused then added, “Is this how you worked in LA with the others? Cos I have to tell you, it just isn’t acceptable here.” When he stiffened, his pale face closing off at the mention of the others, she sighed heavily.
“You truly regret offering to stay here, don’t you?” Angel turned his face away and Buffy read the answer loud and clear. She cursed herself for not realizing earlier. “Why did you offer if this wasn’t what you wanted? And what about your ‘friends’ in LA? How do they feel about you leaving?” She asked, belatedly realizing it hadn’t occurred to her to ask when he first offered to stay. The rapid fire of questions stopped when Angel finally turned away to slump down into the nearest chair.
“I didn’t think you’d take me up on it,” he baldly admitted. Buffy gaped, not expecting that.
“Well, that was a dumbass thing to do.” Her expression stricken even as her tone reflected amazement at his stupidity . Angel flinched almost imperceptibly, the word ‘dumbass’ reminding him of the woman he’d left behind, but otherwise didn’t respond.
After several minutes of silence, Buffy knelt at his feet and rested her hands on his hard thighs. “Talk to me, Angel,” she begged. “Things can’t go on like this. Right now, your being here feels just like another burden on top of everything else.” When he leaned away from her, mouth set in a thin line, she climbed to her feet wearily and turned towards the fire, reaching out suddenly cold hands to the flames in an attempt to chase away the chill.
“Maybe… She sighed almost brokenly. “Maybe the best thing for both of us is for you to go back.” This last hesitant sentence had Angel rising to his feet.
“You said you needed me here,” he reminded her doggedly, but his lackluster words told her something she’d known deep down- but had ignored, within weeks of him being in Sunnydale. They’d both moved on. Riley had shown her that.
Feeling fragile and the inability to connect with Riley throughout her mother’s illness, and finally her death, Angel had arrived just when she so desperately wanted to go back to a time that seemed less painful. Her mouth twisted wryly. When had it ever been ‘less painful’ with Angel around, she thought.
Her wan face tilted up to his, eyes shadowed with sadness and apology. “I thought I did,” she whispered hoarsely. “I wanted- no, needed to believe that things stay the same no matter what.” She caught his dark gaze and swallowed. “But I made a mistake- we both did.”
He looked away for a moment, then turned back and nodded in agreement and her heart clenched. It was one thing admitting it to herself, another altogether having him agree. Moving away from him, she turned her back and attempted to compose herself.
When finally she looked back, Buffy found that he hadn’t moved, and a part of her missed the old days where by this point Angel would have reached out and took her in his arms to reassure that everything was going to be okay.
But it wasn’t. Lifting her chin with a trace of her usual indomitable strength of will, she continued. “You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll deal. I always do in the end, plus I have the others.” Her mouth twisted into a travesty of a smile. “I just lost sight of them for a while,” she admitted almost guiltily.
Then she frowned as another thought occurred to her. “It’s good that Cordelia has people to lean on too,” Buffy pinned Angel to the spot with strangely clear eyes and added pointedly; “But still, I’m thinking right now that she probably needs you a hell of a lot more than me.”
Shoving his hands deep into his pockets, Angel turned to gaze into the fire with darkened eyes. “You’re wrong. She stopped needing me a long time ago,” he eventually replied, his face tight and cold.
“But… she’s your seer, right?” Aren’t you supposed to be her,” Buffy shrugged, “ I don’t know- her champion or something?”
“I’m not a champion.” He scowled heavily adding; “never have been”. Then he looked up. “As for Cordy… I lost my chance with her- and the others, the last time I turned my back on them.”
“Last time? – Angel!” Buffy dogged his heels when he turned away and started walking across the room and out into the lobby. “What do you mean, ‘last time?” She asked again, grabbing his arm and pulling him round.
Growling in annoyance, Angel attempted to pull away from her grip, but she refused to let go. He swallowed thickly, tempted to shove her hard, but then decided what the hell. Let her know just what a bastard he was. He had nothing left to lose.
“I told you I went through a bad time…well, I fired the others.” He watched emotionlessly as Buffy’s eyes widened in surprise and continued on, not bothering to pretty the words. “I got my head together after several months and even more bad decisions; realized what I’d lost.” His broad shoulders dropped a little but darkening brown eyes remained firmly locked with swirling gray-green.
“Earlier that night- before I came here? I went to see them. Asked to go back and help.” He left the rest unspoken, but Buffy gasped anyway, able to fill in the rest herself, unable to squelch the feeling of guilt at the realization of her unwittingly causing yet more problems on both sides.
“Go home, Angel. This isn’t where you need to be.” She finally choked out. “Not anymore.”
“I told you, Ive nothing to go back to.” He replied thickly, his eyes almost black with repressed emotions he seemed unable to let loose.
“Then make it so you have,” Buffy responded, her hand finally releasing its grip on his arm. In response Angel half turned away from her.
“Do you want them back?” She sighed when he remained silent, his large body taut and unyielding. “If you do, Angel, go back and sort it out.” Frustrated anger hardened her voice at his continued reluctance to talk. Blowing out a resigned breath, Buffy moved round him and headed across the lobby to the main door.
After opening it, she paused, her back to him as she spoke for the last time, “ I had to grow up the hard way. It’s about time you did too.”