For Andra. Happy birthday, I really tried to write a B/A for you.
The call came at nine.
The telephone's harsh ringing cut through the small office, cut short when Cordelia picked it up. Across the room, Angel paged idly through a case folder that Doyle had made for him about a vampire gang that was running the streets.
All night, the silence between himself and Cordelia had been one of easy companionship. A deep friendship had grown between the unlikely pair, seemingly against all odds. Angel slumped further back into his chair, listening not to what Cordelia was saying, but to what tone of voice she was using.
When she first picked up the phone, her voice was clipped and professional. Then, her voice became warm with delight. Apparently the other person was someone she knew - though Angel had repeatedly begged her to stop giving out the office number to her friends. Abruptly, Cordelia's voice became tinged with concern. For a moment, there was no sound at all.
Then she began to sob.
His back straightening with a crack, Angel sat up and looked over at her. The lovely brunette's face was torn with pain, and she was pressing her left hand against her mouth in a vain attempt to stop the ragged sounds of grief coming from her throat. With her right hand, she fumblingly returned the phone to its cradle.
"Cordelia?" Angel asked, rising quickly to walk to her side, "What is it?" To his surprise, Cordelia threw her arms around his neck and sobbed into his shoulder.
"That was Willow. There's been an accident."
Angel's heart was like ice in his chest. Fear gripped him in a cruel hand, and he knew - even before Cordelia could say the words - what had happened.
He was numb.
He couldn't feel anything. It was as though he was wrapped in layers of gauze. Nothing could touch him.
The drive to Sunnydale from LA had surely never been this long. From both the clock and the mileage gauge, he knew that it took him only two hours, but the road seemed to stretch onward forever. The sound of Cordelia's soft crying faded into the background, as did the whistle of the wind outside his window and the sound of the tires on the pavement.
After an eternity, he pulled into Sunnydale. Past the welcoming sign that the townspeople stubbornly kept replacing. Past the mansion where he used to live. Past the new high school, rebuilt in record time. Past the Bronze, where even the teenagers partied, ignoring the dangers all around them. They were young - they would live forever.
He pulled slowly into the driveway of Giles' house, parking along side the cars of the rest of the Scooby Gang. The Slayerettes. Buffy's friends.
They were met at the door by Xander and Oz, who ushered them into the living room, where everyone was huddled - still unable to grasp what had happened. Angel hovered for a moment in the doorway, uncertain of his welcome, but then Xander put a brotherly arm around his shoulders and guided him into the room.
The world had lost one of its finest defenders. But that was nothing compared to what one group of people huddled in a small condo had lost.
Giles had lost the girl he loved as his daughter. Willow had lost her best friend. Cordelia had lost the person who first looked beyond her shallow facade at the person she truly was. Oz had lost someone who would always defend him. Xander had lost his beloved friend.
And Angel had lost his light. The one who had looked at the worst of his demons, and had still loved him. The one who had forgiven him. His redemption. His love.
It was Spike who told him what had happened. Buffy had been walking home from a long night of patrol, and had been hit by a car. She had been killed instantly.
The woman who had sacrificed everything she had to save the world time and time again was killed by a college student who had had too much to drink.
It was stupid. It was senseless.
But it was true.
She was gone.
Angel stood on the edge of the cliff, looking down at the sleeping town. The smell of the approaching dawn hung heavy in the air, and Angel knew that this time there would be no snow to save him.
The soft scrape of a boot came from behind him, and he heard a gentle sigh. The delicate smell of vanilla drifted over to him.
Somehow he had known that she would try and stop him.
"We seem to be making a habit of this." she said softly. Angel clenched his fists and pressed his eyes shut. If he could just cling to the numb feeling that had protected him this far, he wouldn't turn around.
But he couldn't. And so he did.
His tortured brown eyes lifted to meet her sorrowful green ones. Though the night was still - as though holding its breath - the golden strands of her hair danced to a spectral wind. The clothing she was was Slayer Casual. Dark pants, shirt, and jacket. Perfect for blending into the shadows when hunting.
Perfect also for blending into the shadows of a darkened street, so that the driver of the car hadn't seen her until it was too late - until his alcohol-deadened reflexes couldn't respond fast enough to swerve.
"You can't stop me this time, Buffy," Angel whispered. She looked so real. Her delicate skin still seemed flushed with life, her throat still worked to breath in air. Angel's hand burned to reach out and brush against her cheek, to pull her into his embrace.
She looked so real. But if Angel reached out, there would be nothing there but a phantom breeze.
"Why?" she asked simply.
Angel struggled for an answer. In truth, he hadn't thought about that. Upon seeing that twisted, lifeless shell in the morgue, this had been his automatic reaction.
"Because I can't go on without you." he declared. "My life isn't worth anything if you aren't in it."
"But I haven't been in your life for months," she said softly, her green eyes piercing him with their gaze even as her words slashed him with the truth. "What you're doing now is just what you always expected you would do if I died. You're doing this out of guilt."
"*Guilt*?" Angel asked vehemently, ignoring the strange twinge in his heart. The soft whisper in his mind that told him that she was right.
"Yes. Guilt that you weren't with me when I died. Guilt that you didn't stay in Sunnydale. And the guilt that comes from knowing that you *can* live without me." With catlike grace, Buffy walked to him until she was close enough so that if either of them even twitched, they would touch. "What's done is done, Angel. A few years was all we had, and we squandered them. But there is still so much good that you can do. You aren't ready to die yet."
"I was ready to die 244 years ago." Angel protested darkly. "But I didn't."
"Maybe you needed that time to mature," she whispered. At the shocked look he gave her, she continued. "For 100 years Angelus roamed free. For 100 years after that, you barely existed on the streets. But in the last 5 years, you have done incredible things. You have touched people's lives, you've truly lived. You aren't ready to die yet."
Looking at her, Angel knew that she was right. His shield of numbness shattered, and tears of anguish slid down his face.
"Wait for me," he begged.
"Forever," she whispered. "Isn't that the point?"
Reaching up, she gently caressed his cheek. Her hand was soft and gentle - and completely substantial - as it guided his head down to her level. Pressing his lips to hers, Angel slid his arms around her. For one long, blessed moment, she was warm in his arms - offering him all her love, all that she was.
And then she was gone. Only the delicate scent of vanilla lingering in the air was proof that she had ever existed.
Soft rain began to fall from the sky, and it gently dusted against Angel's head and shoulders. The sun's burning rays would be covered today by dark gray clouds.
Turning, Angel walked back indoors.