Angel stood out on his balcony, unable to sleep. It was not having Buffy in the next room keeping him awake, though that in itself was distracting. Once again it was the compulsion to look at the stars that kept him awake.
As it turned out, Buffy and Willow were the only two who chose to stay in LA for the night, the others returned to the beach house. Angel was not sure where Willow ended up for the night, she was talking with Wesley and Fred about things that went way beyond him the last he saw her.
He had been outside for at least thirty minutes when he heard the sliding glass door leading open. It took him a moment to realize he was no longer alone, unused to having company in his apartment.
"Can't sleep?" he asked. He tried to ignore the fact that she was dressed in nothing more than one of his shirts. Granted, with their height difference, the shirttails fell just about to her knees so it did not expose much. But it made him think of the last time he had seen her wear one of his shirts, of eating ice cream and of making love to her.
"No, I needed some air."
"Me, too," he said quietly as she walked toward him. Neither spoke, but both looked in the same direction.
"Piscis Austrinus," he whispered.
"The stars we're looking at. The fish. Every night I come out here to look at them."
"Yeah. There are nights it doesn't matter what I'm doing I have to at least look. Sounds strange, I'm sure."
"I suppose it will seem even stranger when I tell you that the same thing has been happening to me."
"What?" he asked. He shifted his gaze from the constellation in the sky to her, scrutinizing her, careful to keep his eyes only on her face. He should not be surprised that they shared whatever this was.
She nodded her head slightly. "I can't remember how long it's been going on. Giles tried to warn me that it might be something evil. I never paid attention to what I was looking at, I'm not astronomy girl."
"I wonder if it wasn't The Powers That Be telling me you were all right. A way of finding you when I wanted to know if you were all right."
"You think so?"
"I'll never know. Things are so different now, Buffy. I'm not even sure sometimes which way is up. I used to think they were on my side and that they wanted me on their side. Some days lately though I doubt it."
"Why? What's happened, Angel," she asked, placing a hand on his forearm. Years had passed since any real interaction had transpired between them yet he could hear the concern for him in her voice. Her touch warmed him, and it was not the difference in body temperatures causing it. Her unconditional and unbiased love for him overwhelmed him yet she filled him with hope that maybe things were not so bad.
When he left for LA he was lost and she had worried that he would succumb to the demon. She never told him that, she did not have to he knew what her thoughts were. If it had not been for Doyle and Cordelia he very well may have. He had left behind the only thing to ever matter to him when he left Sunnydale. But he had pulled through and turned his life around. He had done it despite knowing how easily she had moved on.
They had both paid the price for getting where they were today. He had lost his soul, hurting his friends. She had died a second time and yet they had both survived. They were both still very much alone and Angel believed it was the way it was supposed to be when all was said and done. They would never belong to anyone, it was their destiny to be alone.
"You have enough to deal with, trying to find these slayers or what happened if they're no longer slayers."
"Angel, you've been there for me when I needed you, despite being in LA and our arguing. You came after Mom died, you called as soon as you heard I was alive, and you came with the amulet ready to wear it not knowing what it did. Let me return the favor."
"Of you judging me, of you walking out the door after I've told you. I couldn't bear that this time, Buffy." He felt like such an idiot talking like this, expressing his feelings so pointedly but he did not want to lose her. If she left him after he told her everything it would be for good he had little doubt of that. He did not expect her to want to be his girl again, but he needed her in his life. She needed him; though she was stronger than eight years ago she still needed him.
"Have I ever left you? Have I ever hated you because of what you've done? Have I ever passed judgment on you?"
He sighed deeply and turned his gaze back to the sky. She had been his champion for the past eight years. She had offered him hope by not giving up on him and forgiving him when she had no business doing so. She loved him unconditionally and gave him her blood to save his life even though she knew he would leave her.
None of those things pointed to a woman who would leave him after he confessed everything to her. But he was not sure Buffy was that same woman any longer. She had changed, grown up, and was no longer a little girl with stars in her eyes and ideas of romantic fairytales. She now knew how much life hurt, whether love was involved or not.
"Angel, please, talk to me," she whispered and it was his undoing.
"I have a son," he said after what had seemed like an eternity of silence.
"Okay. I have to admit that was not at all what I was expecting."
"I didn't mean to blurt it out like that, but it's killing me that no one knows about him but me."
"I realize I can be a little dense sometimes, but I'm lost."
He looked at her and smiled with a light laugh. "Let's go inside, I think this calls for a drink."
"Okay," she said and Angel could tell that she was trying hard to process what he had just said.
He led her inside and poured them both a drink, knowing one would more than likely turn into several before the night was done. At least for him it would, he was not sure how much Buffy imbibed in these days.
As it turned out, he told her everything with the exception of telling her about their one day together. It had been over two hundred years since he had confessed to a priest, and it had never been something he took seriously when he did it. Tonight, at Buffy's expense, he felt well and truly cleansed.
"Do you want that drink now?" he asked. More than twenty minutes had passed since he had stopped talking and she had yet to say a word. She had not run out of the room, he at least gave her credit for that.
"I, uh, no."
"You might want to take it," he suggested.
"There can't be more."
"I'm afraid there is and you'll be upset."
"So you want to get me drunk?"
"No, just offering."
"I'll take my shocking news without benefit of being intoxicated, thank you."
He poured himself another one before he continued, his back to her as he told her about their day together. He could not look at her until he had finished, even then he would have preferred taking the coward's way out and never looking at her again but he had to. If there was ever going to be anything good between them, friendship or otherwise, he had to look at her.
"Okay, up until that part you had me understanding everything you've done. I mean, it sounds like Connor was on a path to destruction, destroying everything. The guy we saw on campus was nice, well adjusted and so not going to end the world. But why would you turn your back on the one thing that would have ensured we could be together?"
"Because I couldn't help you if I was human. Wolfram & Hart wouldn't have given me that amulet and you'd be dead. Again. And I refused to stand by and watch you die because of me."
"It wouldn't have been because of you."
"You wouldn't have had me there to help you, so it would have been my fault."
She lowered her head, staring at her clutched hands and began to cry. Angel was surprised it took her this long to do it. He had cried himself when he watched her walk out the door all those years ago as if nothing had happened between them save for an argument.
"And for all these years I've been thinking we haven't gotten along."
He smiled slightly, unable to stop himself. "I was just thinking the same thing."
"There was nothing I could do. I did it for you, Buffy. I hope you will come to see that one day. Everything I did I did for you."
"You sound like Spike."
"You must bring that out in your men."
She laughed bitterly, fresh tears falling as she lifted her face to look at him. "I loved you more than anything."
"I would have done anything for you."
"Would you have given up being the slayer for me?"
She opened her mouth to reply but stopped short of an actual reply. Angel could see that she was thinking hard. "No," she finally said. "I put being the slayer ahead of Buffy when I chose to kill you instead of saying good bye to the world with you and I haven't looked back since. Robin hated his mother for putting the mission first, but that's the way it has to be when you're the slayer."
"Can you honestly tell me that you don't understand why I did what I did then?"
She stood and walked around the room. She was looking at things around her, but she was not processing what she was seeing. Angel did not have to see her eyes to know this. "I understand it, but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about it," she said finally.
"What do you want me to say, Buffy? Do you want me to say that I'm sorry? Do you want me to say that I'd take it back and do it differently? What?"
"I can't stay here right now. I need to be alone."
"I'll go, you stay here."
"Buffy, I need you to stay. I need to know you'll be here when I come back."
"You don't have to leave."
"You have nowhere to go, Buffy."
"I can go stay with my dad."
"It's almost three in the morning."
She shrugged. "I need some time, Angel. You can't just lay this on me and expect me to be fine with it. Not the part where you took my memories away, not the part where you took any chance of happiness away from me - again - without talking to me."
"I did talk to you."
"After you'd already made the decision and the agreement with The Powers That Be."
He lowered his head, he had no argument to come back with. He had made the decision without consulting her. "You'll come back."
"I have to," she said softly as she walked to the elevator. "I have to find these girls or find the answers."
"I was hoping you'd come back for me."
Her eyes glittered with more unshed tears and she shook her head slightly. "I can't give you that right now." The elevator doors opened and she stepped inside. Angel felt like he had been kicked in the gut. The good, clean feeling he had only a short while ago was gone, replaced with dread and foreboding that he had just lost the one good and constant thing in his life. "I'm sorry," she said as the doors closed.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com