Buffy stood and stared and it was all she could do. Well, no, that wasn’t true. She could run. She stumbled backwards and hit the side of the doorway. The pain brought her mind some clarity and she clutched onto the wall as if was her buoy and she was drowning in the ocean. And, god, did it feel like that.
Angel sat up, dropping the newspaper, and slung his legs over the side of the bed never taking his eyes off her. His hair was streaked with grey, creating a salt and pepper effect that Buffy had always thought looked kind of neat. His face was lined in a way that said he had truly lived and Buffy thought that was kind of ironic.
He stood and he looked frailer to her, definitely leaner and without that supernatural grace he had once possessed. He opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again, unsure, eyes still watching her. Buffy’s nails dug into the wall but she too couldn’t tear her eyes away.
“I thought…you were dead,” Angel managed eventually, voice soft with disbelief.
Buffy’s throat was dry and she had to clear it to speak. “I wasn’t.”
“I see that.” A tiny smile started at the corner of his lips and then expanded into a grin of joy. “Buffy!”
He came towards her, arms outstretched, and though Buffy wanted to turn and get the hell out of there she couldn’t. She couldn’t because it was Angel. He was still Angel. And so, when he gathered her in his arms in a hug full of happiness and relief Buffy let him and her hands clutched at his T-shirt as if holding on for dear life. The warmth she felt radiating from his body was strange and didn’t seem right at all and when she pressed her ear up against his chest and felt his heart beating it was all just too much.
Buffy pushed him away suddenly and stepped back. Angel stumbled into the wall and winced, followed by a look of worry. “Buffy, it’s me.” He looked at her earnestly. “It’s Angel.”
“You’re alive,” it came out sounding like a dirty word, which she didn’t understand at all.
“Yes,” he nodded and straightened. “I’m human again.”
He took a step towards her but stopped when she tensed. “I shanshued.”
Spike stepped up behind her, looking over her shoulder at his grandsire even as he spoke to her. “It was a prophecy. The vampire with a soul would become human again if he was enough of a champion. So, naturally, when it happened it stroked Liam’s ego something fierce.”
Angel scowled but it was playful and that was new. “Don’t call me that, William.”
Buffy glanced back at Spike as he shrugged and smirked. They were acting differently with one another. There was still the sarcastic jibes but it was all in a very brotherly way. It was freaking weird. Not weirder than Angel being human but still weird.
“A prophecy,” she uttered. “A…you’re human. God, what else has changed? How much more can there be!”
Spike placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll give you two some privacy.”
She watched him as he turned and left, walking further down the hall. The very fact that Spike had been considerate enough to leave them alone let her know he really had changed a lot in the past few years. Then again, everyone had it seemed. Everyone but her.
The Slayer turned back to face this new Angel. Or should that be old? A thought occurred to her. “How old are you?”
“Nearly 300? I don’t know, I lost count.”
“No, I mean…”
Angel crossed his arms over his chest, his shirt sleeves riding up to reveal tanned forearms. The rest of him was still pale but his forearms were sun kissed. She figured out why when she saw the tiny window above his bed, a barred window. The bars spaced far enough apart to just about get your arms through. He had done just that for the simple pleasure of feeling the suns rays upon his skin. Buffy felt a deep ache in her chest for him. Angel was confined, imprisoned, when in reality he had finally been freed. Freed of the darkness.
“In human years I’ve just turned fifty.”
Buffy nodded slowly, trying to remain blank and not go nuts. “Fifty. That’s…well, that’s the new twenty right? That’s what all the magazines are saying.”
“Actually, twenty is the new twenty. Fifty is just fifty,” he smiled warmly, a smile that lacked the usual hint of angst his smiles always held. “And yet, I see you haven’t aged at all. How is that possible, Buffy? Where’ve you been all these years?”
She shrugged slowly, awkward. “I went into a portal.”
“And when I came out thirty years had zipped by.”
He nodded. “Like that time I went to hell.”
“Kinda, ’cept without the torture. Well, there were some chains involved and getting hit by a stick but I guess that doesn’t compare…”
Angel let her ramble as he always had until she trailed off. “It’s good to see you again, Buffy.”
“It’s good to be seen again.”
“Kind of ironic, though,” he sighed and sat down on the edge of his bed. “We waited all those years to be together. I wanted to shanshu so I could be with you and then I did and you were gone. And now…now I’m old. And you’re not. And –”
Buffy put a hand up. “Angel, please. Everything is hitting me all at once. I just found out about Giles…about Dawn…”
“Oh, Buffy,” he stood up again and came towards her.
And despite her earlier reaction to being held by him, she let him hug her again. This time she was half prepared for the warmth of his body and she sobbed, wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing her forehead against the base of his neck.
“I can’t do this.” She said, her voice muffled.
Angel stroked her hair gently. “You can. You’re stronger than anyone I’ve ever known.”
“I don’t want to be strong. I just want to go back.”
“There is no back to go to, Buffy,” he murmured. “The world has changed and there’s no going back on that. No matter how much you wish there was.”
Buffy pulled back to look into his soft eyes. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“No,” he smiled at her. “But you’re still in shock. There are a lot of things about this world that are still good.”
Angel glanced at the doorway. “You’ve still got him.”
Buffy turned to look and found no-one there, but she knew who he meant. “No, I don’t. He’s different too. He has a kid, Angel! A kid!” she whispered it conspiratorially.
“Mya’s a good kid.” Angel shrugged. “She doesn’t call me Peaches or Forehead, which I like.”
Buffy nearly smiled but then it dropped. “He’s changed. Everyone is different. Even you. I thought…I thought I could count on you being the same as you always were.”
“And what was that?”
“You know; stoic and mysterious and a vampire type guy,” she pulled away from his arms. “And now you’re all human and locked up and Richard Gere-like.”
Angel laughed. “God, I’ve missed you.”
Buffy looked up into his brown eyes and he really was still Angel. Still her first love. Still able to make those butterflies rise up in her stomach and speed up her heartbeat. Angel’s smile faded, the creases around his eyes lessening. He stepped into her. He smelled of warmth and musk, beyond that the smell of cheap soap. His thumb and index finger rested upon her chin and tilted her face upwards towards his.
Angel whispered. “I’m stuck in here, like this, till I die. You’ve got another chance at life. A real chance.”
“No, I’m gonna get you out of here, Angel.”
“You can’t.” He said matter-of-factly. “And even if you could where would it get me? I’m old, Buffy.”
“You’re not that old!”
Angel smiled sadly. “Too old for you.”
“Hey, I like men to a have at least a hundred years on me,” Buffy reached out and took his hand. “I will get you out of here.”
He shook his head. “Don’t. There’d be no point. I’d just do it again. I can’t not slay vampires. I’d kill them until they kill me. And that probably wouldn’t take long.”
“I’m the Slayer, Angel. I slay vampires too. I’d take care of you.” She squeezed his hand. “And, hey, if not I might be joining you in here anyway.”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I dusted a vamp when I first came back and now I’m up for first degree murder. It could only happen to Buffy Summers, I swear.” Buffy paused. “Well, and you. I guess.”
Angel groaned. “Shit.”
“You cussed!” Buffy’s eyes widened. “So, you’re a cusser now?”
He looked blank. “I’m Irish.” He said as if that explained it all. “Buffy, if you’re wanted for murder too then…is Spike harbouring you?”
“No, he’s not.” Spike announced as he stepped into the room. “I got permission from the Council and H.U. to watch Buffy until she goes to trial. And its likely Buffy will be found innocent.”
Angel nodded. “Because of the circumstances.”
“You’ve hired the best lawyers?”
“No, Miss. Stubborn here insisted on taking on a rookie just because he was cute.” Spike rolled his eyes.
Buffy protested. “Hey! I don’t think he’s cute. It’s just, he was nice to me.”
“Oh, Buffy,” Angel tsked.
“Don’t ‘Oh, Buffy’ me. You two don’t need to patronise me,” she folded her arms across herself. “I think Norman is a great lawyer. Really. I feel very confident in his abilities.”
Angel arched an eyebrow, or tried to anyway. “Norman.”
Spike laughed a little, then glanced down at his watch. “We should be going; the guard will be back in a minute. I’ll let you two fall into each others arms.”
He gave a small wave and drifted out of the room, a small line of tension running through his shoulders that Buffy noticed. Since when had it been in Spike’s humour to joke about Buffy and Angel’s track record? She didn’t know and the look on her face must have been one of puzzlement because Angel sighed.
“He’s always been insecure,” was all he said.
Buffy frowned. “But he moved on. He got married, Angel.”
“I know, but moving on completely is a hard thing to do. I think both of us know that.”
“Yeah, I guess.” She reached out to touch him but her hand dropped before it made contact. “I meant it. About getting you out.”
He smiled. “I know you did. But worry about yourself first, Buffy.”
“I’ll come back again. To visit.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Angel turned to look at the barred window. “I think it’ll make it harder to be in here.”
“When has anything between us ever been easy?” She asked.
He turned back, the light from the sun dancing on his face. “I’m glad you’re alive, Buffy.”
“And I’m glad you’re alive, Angel.”
Buffy smiled and managed to hold it as she turned and walked out of the door, the guard closing it behind her. It was only then that her face crumbled. She leaned her back against the wall taking a moment to compose herself. A pair of shoes appeared in her line of vision.
“You alright?” Spike asked, voice low.
“Let’s go,” she said.
He nodded and they left.
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