Summary: Some dead things should never be resurrected.
Title, author, and URL of original story: The Empty City by yhlee
Buffy wasn’t surprised to see a blue-haired demon standing in her living room. It was an annoyance, one more crappy thing to happen in her life lately to remind her how thankless her calling really was, but it wasn’t surprising. She pulled a stake out of her waistband and fell naturally into a fighting stance.
The demon glanced at the stake with icy disdain.
“You may sheath your weapon, Slayer King. I am here to tell you that Angel is alive and living among the bones of his empty kingdom.”
Buffy straightened and let her hand fall to her side. A fresh rush of grief, a constant companion over the past several weeks, coursed through her body. It was a strange reaction to exhilarating news, but Buffy knew these gifts of life where there should only be death were not without cost.
“You must come with me. He does not remember who and what he is.”
Buffy frowned and tucked the stake back in her pants. “Then take me to him, Smurfette.”
“I do not know of this Smurfette. My name is Illyria.”
The demon’s name didn’t matter. Only one name that fell from those pale lips made any difference to Buffy at all.
“Angel.” It came out so quiet and she realized she was afraid he might disappear if she said it too loudly, a ghost to drift away on the draft of her exclamation.
He looked at her, blank and unrecognizing, and then turned back to Illyria.
"I told you," Illyria said, "he does not remember us." The demon’s impatient voice grated across Buffy’s sensitive nerves and she had to struggle against the urge to punch that adamantine face. At least the battle would distract her from the shock of seeing him alive when she’d finally begun to accept his loss.
None of it felt real and she was dazed, distracted for several long moments as they traded the most banal of words. It was true, he was alive and she guessed she hadn’t really believed it until this moment when she could see his broad shoulders filling her vision. He looked good, if strange, in the casual clothes he was wearing. Then she noticed the flash of silver at his neck.
"That's not a cross you're wearing." Buffy spoke without thinking, her tone a harsh accusation and Angel looked at her with surprise. His fingers reached up to his neck and he absently touched the partially melted silver. She flinched, waited for the sizzle and burn of unholy flesh that didn’t come. Her eyes traveled down, to his chest that was gently rising and falling with every breath and Illyria’s words took on new meaning.
Angel is alive.
It took her a moment to remember to breathe, a moment to realize that he was saying something. Offering to take the cross off.
She waved off his offer, tried to get control of her thoughts. Angel was alive. And she was a stranger to him. The excruciatingly cruel reality of it clenched at her heart.
She should have felt joy. She should have been bubbling over with some fizzy mixture of wonder and happiness. This was the stuff of daydreams. This was Angel, alive after the fall, after dragons and demons and the dusty ruins of a once sprawling city. This was her high school fantasy, at least the most important part of it, the man she’d always wanted with a steadily pounding heart that would make it all ok.
But. . .
This was not Angel. This was the body where Angel used to live.
She took a deep breath. "I'm Buffy Summers. How do you do." She couldn’t hide the bitterness she felt at having to introduce herself like this, so impersonal and formal after everything they’d shared. She hated herself a little for hating him for forgetting. She’d loved him and she’d sent him to hell. There were things that it shouldn’t be possible to forget.
Her introduction was met with silence. He looked at her with a blank kind of wariness, like she was the one who wasn’t right. Like he hadn’t destroyed this place she used to call home, like he hadn’t killed countless people and come out on the other side with a convenient memory wipe and Pinocchio’s reward. This welling anger was petty. She knew it, but it didn’t stop the burst of her accusation.
"It's so like you to call down armageddon when I have my back turned. Do you know how many people used to live in this city?"
Angel answered her with talk of bones, his voice detached and unconcerned. He was completely unlike the tortured soul she knew.
She realized how much she really missed him, the real him. She decided to stay. Someone had to tell him who he was.
They were alone, and Buffy wondered why she’d been so eager to get rid of Illyria. She didn’t know this man. How could she? He didn’t even know himself.
She would help him. That was the plan, the reason Illyria had found her and the reason Buffy had dropped everything to come. Angel had to be in there somewhere and this was the beginning point of every dream she’d ever had about them.
Buffy faked a yawn. "Where do you sleep?" she asked. She was here to help but she’d also had about as much as she could take for one night. As cowardly as it was, she craved the escape of a few hours of sleep.
He led her to a set of offices. There was a pile of stiff, dingy blankets on the floor of the inner office and another small stack of carefully folded clothes sitting on a bookshelf. She glanced around, looking for some sign of the Angel she’d known. Books, paper, some small piece of the beauty he’d always surrounded himself with. There was nothing.
He told her he’d take the outer office and it took her a second to realize he was being chivalrous. That was familiar, that was Angel, and it made her lips quirk up into something like a smile for the first time since she’d left her home to this dead place.
She challenged him to an arm wrestling match and tried to ignore the pricking part of her brain that was freaking out that he had no idea of what she was capable.
Touching him was thrilling, familiar and foreign at the same time. His palm engulfed hers, long fingers wrapping completely around the back of her hand, his thumb nestled intimately at the base of hers. It was hot and slightly damp and Buffy was nearly overwhelmed with the rising urge to twine her fingers with his and taste that heat under her lips and tongue.
She swallowed and flexed her muscle instead. The quicker it was over, the better, and even she was a little surprised about how quick it was. She forced out a laugh at the look of incredulity that crossed Angel’s face. The twist she felt in her stomach wasn’t humor at all.
He couldn’t tell. He smiled at her laughter and his eyes were clear and warm as he conceded victory.
Reluctantly, she let go of his hand. "It's so strange that you're warm," she said. "Isn't it hard to get used to?” The look he gave her was confused, and a little pitying. She suddenly felt stupid for asking. “Don't answer that."
She turned and retreated to the outer office before he could respond. Buffy listened to him moving as she spread out her blankets and got ready for bed.
He was listening to her too, she could tell. His breathing had gone shallow, quiet, and she could almost feel his attention reaching out to her like a living thing. It was pitch black and the darkness combined with the sudden silence to produce a heavy blanket of oppressive force that seemed to be pressing her into the hard floor.
A sudden memory of coming awake in her coffin, trapped below the weight of that wet black dirt, rose up to choke her. Buffy stuffed a fist against her lips and clenched her eyes shut so tight that tears leaked out at the edges. She struggled to keep her breathing light and even, not wanting Angel to hear her fear and grief and understand its meaning.
The city was empty, and so was this place. She wondered if either of them could really be counted among the living.
They patrolled the dusty broken streets in the dull sunlight. There was nothing to hunt, no demons to kill and no survivors to find. It was mostly an exercise of memory and Buffy tried to help Angel remember their past.
He was silent, awkward. It felt a little bit like old times. The nostalgia for the days when they walked side by side and fought on the same team, against the same enemies, sat heavy in her chest.
“We--we used to patrol together." Buffy looked up at him. The sun hit her eyes and she squinted, looked away. This was all wrong. The silent daylight cemetery of the city, the pale smoothness of Angel’s skin in the sun.
Angel trailed his fingers across the charred hood of a car. "I must have been more useful back then."
"Yeah,” she answered him, without thinking.
She saw the way he looked at her. He wanted her. His dark eyes followed her, day and night, and she felt his gaze alternately prickle and dance across her skin. She didn’t know what she wanted.
That wasn’t true. She wanted him to remember. She wanted him to be Angel. She wanted to forgive him.
One day they fought. They were on another patrol of nothing, a walk through the morgue of the city with its still and broken shell. She pushed him to remember. He pushed her to let him forget.
"Why don't you want to remember?"
"What good would it do me?" Angel said reasonably. "Having a lifetime's worth of memories doesn't seem to have prevented me from destroying a city. Maybe things are better this way."
Buffy was tired of being the only one who remembered. She remembered falling in love with him, of putting aside her fears and believing in him. She remembered killing him, sending him to hell, helping him back again. She remembered watching his disappear into the fog on the night of her graduation, of letting him go to this city so that they wouldn’t destroy one another with the gravity of everything they felt. She remembered loving him.
She didn’t think she could ever forget that. It hurt that he had. It hurt that he didn’t want to remember.
“I never thought you would forget me." It was more of an accusation than she’d meant it to be but she was tired, so tired of tiptoeing around it. It didn’t matter, anyway. He didn’t want to remember and every day she spent here made her wonder if he even could. If this man was Angel anymore, in any real, substantive way.
Angel said quietly, "I don't think I would have wanted to forget you."
It was a weak placation, but Buffy didn’t care. She pulled him to her, unbuttoned his pants and gave into the want they had both been feeling.
He touched her skin, warm hands sliding over her breasts and hips and thighs. Buffy maneuvered him onto his back on the cracked pavement, sank to her knees and took the hot length of him inside her. She rode him, one hand planted over his staccato heart, watched his cheeks flush with blood and a bead of sweat break out on his brow. She tried not to look into his eyes. They were dark and attentive, but they were empty of all of the things she remembered seeing in them when she was sixteen and they were in love.
Buffy closed her eyes in the end, ground down on him until her knees were bleeding, and when she came she had to hold back her tears. She stretched out against his chest and tried not to beg him to remember.
It was only after that she realized that a part of her had hoped for gypsy magic. A curse to take away this overwhelming humanity.
They went out every day. Angel was looking for something that he couldn’t articulate, so they sifted through the bones and the dust of the empty city in search of an unnamed treasure.
Buffy hoped they found it soon. She knew she wasn’t going to stay.
There was nothing here for her.