Author's Note: This fic in no way lessens my undying devotion to the marvel that is Buffy and Angel. It's just a li'l bit o' angst that wouldn't go away.
Dedication: To my fellow members of the KRT, in all their tarnished armor.
// I could just imagine
What was going on in there
Sunlight streaming through the stained glass
Those flowers in her hair //
Sometimes there were coincidences in life that were not really coincidences at all. There were those who claimed that nothing was an accident. Everything was predetermined, and you only thought that you were in control of your own decisions, when all along the Fates were really giggling at you behind your back for your stupidity.
So it happened that Angel had returned to Sunnydale when he did. He had not been back in five years. The ever-volatile condition of the Hellmouth had been reported to him faithfully by Giles, and a situation had never arisen when Angel had thought it necessary to return. There had, in fact, been times when he had been concerned about the increasing amount of demonic activity, but had rationalized it in his head, preferring to believe that Those In Charge in Sunnydale would eventually get it under control. And they always did, much to his relief. It had not been necessary for Angel to return.
It would not have been possible for him to return any earlier than this anyway. The pain, which he had expected to lessen with time, had not. He was a slave to it, the tight knot of it in his stomach, the slight headache that always rested behind his eyes. His decision to leave had not been an easy one, and the ramifications of it had not melted away, as he had hoped. There were days when it was even difficult for him to eat, and sleep was elusive, only coming when he was completely exhausted. The emptiness in him was never filled. He had thrown himself into his work as his only solace, but even work did not help, for there was the reminder in the form of Cordelia. She was his last link to the small blonde girl he had left behind, the only other person in Los Angeles who knew her, and though sometimes he could not even bear to look at Cordelia for the memories, Angel couldn't stand the thought of letting her go. She was his only physical reminder of Buffy.
So he had not returned to the Hellmouth, fiercely standing by his decision to leave her, in hopes for her to have a normal life. As normal as could be, for a Slayer.
He was only here now because of a rash of demonic activity that had begun occurring in Los Angeles, and try as he might, the research he had done had proved fruitless. He was totally in the dark as to the type of demon that was terrorizing the city, but he knew that there was someone who would know, or at least could provide the information from his books. Giles was his best bet, and though Angel knew that he could have contacted the Watcher by phone, something in him had stirred to life, and he had chosen to make the trip instead.
There were no accidents in life.
He had, of course, made the trip at night, arriving in Sunnydale before the first soft fingers of dawn crept over the horizon, and using his key to enter the old mansion at the end of Crawford Street. Taking off his leather jacket, he spread it on the dusty floor in front of the familiar, much-loved fireplace, and lay his weary body on it. Sleep was merciful to him, coming quickly.
Perhaps it was being in the mansion again, the place that held his memories of her, that started the dreaming. Angel had spent a long time training himself not to dream of her, and it had worked. Until now, when she came uninvited, creeping into his restless sleep. She edged up to him in that way she had, that innocent, provocative way, nudging him with her breasts and taking his hands in her own. She tugged his head down, nuzzling into his neck, breathing deeply. "Mmmm...you smell delicious," she told him, in the same way she had always told him that when he held her close. Angel could smell her hair, like daffodils, and it tickled his nose when he buried his head in it. And then in that strange, dream-like way, suddenly their clothes were gone, and Buffy was beneath him, her eyes closed and lashes fluttering on her cheeks as she sighed contentedly. Her arms reached up to circle around his neck, then down to trace the intricate tattoo on his back, while it was all Angel could do to hold himself back from driving into her. And then suddenly he wasn't holding himself back, he really was sinking slowly into her as Buffy gasped and arched her neck, and then they were both groaning softly and letting the loving wash over them like warm water.
When he awoke again, the hurting in his soul was fresh, and his head was uzzy. It did not dawn immediately where he was. He blinked up at the crossbeams of the ceiling before remembering, and turned his head to the high window, where he could see that the sun was just sliding down into the distance. It would probably be safe for him to go, and the sooner this trip was over, the better. He did not like the memories that Sunnydale brought.
He left the mansion and started the short walk to Giles' house in the velvety dusk, passing the cemetery on his way, and then rounding the corner where one of the town's numerous churches stood. Angel noted absently that the parking lot was full, strange for this time on a Saturday night.
//And in less time than it takes a tear to fall
Those bells rang loud as thunder
As they opened up the doors
Now I don't have to wonder any more//
He continued walking quickly past the church, intent only on getting to Giles' house before Buffy came out on patrol, which he knew had to be happening soon. He had reached the north end of the street, with the church falling behind him to his right, when he heard the double doors bang open and saw from the corner of his eye the people spilling out into the courtyard.
Angel looked over, still curious as to why the church was full when it wasn't Sunday, and noticed several men milling about and looking distinctly uncomfortable in tailored black tuxedos. Ah, he realized. A wedding.
His thoughts were further confirmed when he saw a slim young girl appear in the doorway, clothed in a lovely forest green dress that came all the way to her ankles, holding what looked to be a small bouquet. She was very obviously a bridesmaid, judging from her dress, and when she went to stand with the tuxedo-clad men, it was validated.
As he gave the small bridal party a brief, disinterested glance, one face distinguished itself from the others. Angel cocked his head and narrowed his eyes, wondering if he was seeing the right person. The daylight was just about gone, the glowing streetlamps his only light, and perhaps it was not really who his mind had told him it was. Without realizing it, he drew closer, intent on determining the wearer of the tuxedo, and suddenly the face came into view again, clear as dawn.
Xander. It was Xander. Angel had been right. The tall, lanky boy was no longer a boy, and Angel felt a slight twinge in his chest that something in Sunnydale had changed. Some part of Angel had believed everything had frozen in time the moment he had left, but now, as he stared at Xander, it was apparent that it had not. The awkward, skinny youth had grown into his frame, and his shoulders were broad, his arms muscular. He stood with an air of confidence about him that had not been present five years ago, and a corner of Angel's mouth turned up. The ugly duckling was now a swan.
Angel watched as the young bridesmaid standing with the men turned to Xander and linked her arm through his. Xander bent his dark head to her copper one, whispering in her ear, and the girl giggled and squeezed closer to him. Amazing, Angel thought. Xander's got a girlfr--
--Willow. Her face suddenly swam into view much as Xander's had, and Angel took a step back, caught off guard. The twinge in his chest suddenly became a sharper pain, because of all the things that Willow represented to Angel, it was her friendship to another that he associated the most. To look at Willow, to watch her as she clung possessively to Xander's arm, was an unexpected wave of nostalgia. Willow's quiet, steadfast relationship with Buffy had been constant through all they had suffered, and watching her now was like stepping back into the Sunnydale High School library. With all of them.
Curious now, he began surveying the crowd more carefully, looking for a shining blonde head among them. He hoped --prayed-- that she was not there, but when he failed to find her, something in him was sadly disappointed. He wanted her desperately, but wouldn't be able to bear seeing her. It was a conflict that ravaged at his soul.
Angel thought that there would be no more surprises, but as he was turning away, yet another face in the crowd stood out. This face was older than the others, more weary, though it had an air of happiness about it today, most likely due to the occasion. The hair had more silver in it than Angel remembered, but it was only another testimony to the fact that life in Sunnydale had moved on, traveling slow circles like things in life did. Angel watched Giles with an air of regret, as he always did when he thought of the Watcher, the memories of what Angelus had done to him, and all of them, rearing their ugly heads.
The quest for information about demons was momentarily forgotten as he gazed at the little group. Angel leaned a shoulder against a tree, watching them interact, as he had done so often from the outside of their circle. They were all there, the Slayer's champions, still together after these past years.
One was still missing. He tried not to think of it, but she was conspicuous by her mere absence. Buffy, his golden one, was not inside the small group, and he wondered at it. Perhaps she had skipped the wedding for patrol, as she had missed so many other social occasions due to her calling. Or maybe he just wasn't looking hard enough, and she was there somewhere, mixing with the crowd. He strained harder, searching the faces, suddenly needing to find her.
In his distress, he did not immediately notice the crowd parting near the wide doors of the church. When he finally caught sight of the wave of people, they had already melted away to create a path for the couple now standing, beaming, in the doorway.
The young man was tall and sandy-haired, with ruddy cheeks and a dazzling grin. Wide dimples flashed in his cheeks when he smiled, showing perfectly even white teeth. He was handsome and vibrant, his skin a light bronze color that told of his fondness for the sun. His tuxedo fitted him perfectly, the long tails of the jacket hanging just right and the starched white shirt was snowy and crisp against his tan. He waved at the crowd, laughing, and when he turned his eyes to his bride, the love shone through with an intensity that took people's breath away.
Angel spent a brief moment assessing the groom before turning his eyes to the girl at his side. She was small, only coming to the man's shoulder, and her blonde hair contrasted sharply with the dark of his jacket. Her dress was a shimmering creation of satin and tulle, simple in its elegance, molding to her body before spreading out widely to create a circle of delicacy about her. She was petite, Angel noted, but muscular, and she was holding herself with grace and confidence. Her veil cascaded down her back in a waterfall, adding to the detail of the dress, and when she turned her face fully to the crowd, he could see that she was smiling broadly and --
--and then Angel felt his world topple, and his knees buckled without warning. Only his tight grip on the gnarled tree trunk kept him from falling. The young bride was glowing in her happiness. She was beautiful, and radiated love for the man at her side, and the girl in the soft white wedding gown was Buffy.
Angel felt his throat close up, and there was a roaring in his ears that drowned out the cheers and well-wishes from the crowd. This could not be, he thought dimly. This had to be one of the horrible nightmares that had plagued him when he had first left Sunnydale. He was going to wake up any minute now, in the cold sweat that he was familiar with, and this was going to go away.
It was not going away, he realized after a minute. His head was still pounding and he was still gripping the tree trunk, but it was not going away. Angel watched in a haze of disbelief as Buffy descended the steps to the courtyard with the handsome man in the tuxedo, her arm tucked firmly in his and her bouquet of white roses in her other hand. The couple was laughing as the crowd blew bubbles at them from little bubble jars, the perfectly round circles of soap floating about like tiny fairies.
The bride and groom had made it all the way to the sidewalk where there was a waiting limousine before Angel found the strength to move from his tree. She was close to him now, closer than he wanted her to be, and he realized in panic that if she were to turn around, she would have a clear, unobstructed view of him. It suddenly became deathly important that she not see him, that she not know now or ever that he had witnessed her marriage to another. She was happy. It was all he had ever wanted, and yet had he known the agony it would bring, he would have clutched her fiercely to his heart and never left her, but now it remained his secret to bear.
Angel would wonder forever after what made Buffy turn around at that moment. Perhaps, in some way, she had sensed him, the same way he had always been able to sense her. Perhaps it was just chance, a simple accident that caused her to turn squarely and look him in the eye.
But there were no accidents in life.
When she caught sight of him, she did not gasp or raise her hand to her heart, or do any of the millions of dramatic things she could have done. She merely looked at him calmly, meeting his gaze, and he saw her lips form a single, silent word. "Angel."
A history of battles won and lost passed between them with that look, and Buffy took a single step toward him. Angel stiffened instantly, stepping backwards, and Buffy stopped where she was, watching him carefully. Her eyes were speaking to him in silence, asking for things he could not give, things that involved forgiveness and memories and sunshine.
She broke the gaze and turned back to her husband, who had been watching the exchange with mild curiosity.
"Who's that?" he asked her, touching her nose with the tip of his finger.
Angel watched Buffy sigh, then smile up at the young man while reaching for his hand. She entwined her fingers with his, raising his hand to her lips and kissing it, and she cast one last glance over her shoulder.
//And in less time than it takes a tear to fall
Well the angels sang like thunder
As I felt myself go under
Now I don't have to wonder any more//
"It's...well, it's...just someone I used to know."