Remembrances of the Rose

 

Author:  Jo

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Disclaimer: Usual stuff…

Written for the IWRY Fic Marathon, 2010.  Thanks for hosting this, Dark Star, and for letting me play.

Rating: General

Content: Buffy/Angel

 

Summary:  Forever.  That’s the whole point.

 

**

 

 

Remembrances of the Rose

 

It is an all-night vigil, in remembrance and prayer for those lost in battle, including members of this small congregation.  Remembrance of the warriors’ lives, of the freedoms paid for in their blood, and prayers for forgiveness of their sins.

 

In this darkest hour of the night there are few in the church, just a handful of parishioners and priests.  An old man, scarcely able to hold himself upright, stumbles in, crossing himself as he steps over the threshold.

 

The old man settles into a pew under the watchful eye of a priest.  With knob-knuckled fingers, the man pulls from his coat pocket a rosary of black jet and sparkling white crystal, and he begins to tell the beads.  As he works up to the circle of the decades, painfully slowly with his arthritic hands, his lips are moving.  The words are hesitant, as though he’s having trouble remembering the prayers.  The priest hasn’t seen him before, and wonders whether, with death so close, the man has come back to the church after many years away.  The priest smiles on this new parishioner.  With true contrition, there is forgiveness for all.

 

He’s right about the first, but the forgiveness might be harder to come by.

 

The man is Angel.

 

+

 

Angel would prefer to kneel in penitence and supplication, but he cannot.  He’s too weak and in too much pain.  And so he sits, head bowed, speaking the prayers of his youth.  He intends to work through the whole rosary, exploring all four decades of mysteries.  There may not be another opportunity.  He doesn’t think that he will see tomorrow.  He feels cold tears sliding down his face.  This death is so unfair, so unlooked for.  His mind tells him he has very little time to make his peace, although his heart tells him that if he hasn’t made his peace with the Powers now, after all these years of trying, then a couple of hours in this church won’t make the slightest difference.

 

His stiff fingers start their journey over the beads.  His mind can’t concentrate though.  He tries to speak the prayers, but the words are halting, uncertain, as his memories intrude.  With a small sob, he opens himself to the recollections.  They will be a better focus for him.  If it’s blasphemous to make his peace through her, then so be it.  His entire life has been one long blasphemy, except for her.  The Power in this church should understand that.

 

There’s the first bead.  He knows that he should announce the Mystery, and then pray as he meditates on its meaning for humanity, on the spiritual fruit that it should bear.  He starts at the beginning, and hopes there will be enough time.

 

The Joyful Mysteries:

 

1  The Annunciation (Humility)

He would never have thought that he had any pride left in him, living in the New York gutters.  But he must have done.  He was so caught up in guilt and self-loathing that he’d made it into an art form, pasting it onto a banner and waving it at any vampire who would look.  See?  I’m better than you.  You could never exceed my hatred and contempt for myself, if you were in my position.  He’s been humbled many times since then, but perhaps none more so than when Whistler called him a parasite, and announced that he had something to show him.

 

To a filthy, arrogant monster it had been an annunciation of hope, and he had embraced it.  He still embraces it.  His hope is why he’s here, trying to pray.

 

Hail, Mary...

 

2  The Visitation (Love Thy Neighbour)

Whistler had taken him to Los Angeles and shown him Buffy, and he had been enthralled.  He had loved her at first sight, and he had set himself to serve her, to protect her, to do whatever it took to be someone who counted in her eyes. 

 

If his neighbour was everyman, he couldn’t in all honesty say that he had ever truly loved them when he was human.  But, afterwards, when he was no longer human, he had often loved them to death, in many very creative, lingering ways.  She had changed him.  At first, he had wanted to save humans simply to please her, and to vent his anger on the vampires, on those who weren’t like him, but she had taught him her sense of duty and sacrifice.  After a while, he wanted to save them for their own sake.  She had done that and, ever since, he had bled for the innocent and the helpless; he had offered to lay down his life for them.  He wishes he could say that he’s made a difference, but only the Final Judgement will determine that.

 

Please, he thinks, please, I have tried so hard to serve.  Forgive my failures and remember how much I tried.

 

He isn’t certain whether that prayer is addressed to the Power in this church, or to Buffy herself.  He’s not sure whether it matters.

 

3  The Nativity (Contempt for Riches)

He thinks that he’s failed here, too.  He loves fine things.  He always has.  But then he thinks of how much in the way of worldly goods he’s given up in his quest as the Powers’ champion.  He’s given up much more, of course, but this Mystery is about material things.

 

With Darla, material luxuries were important.  Nothing but the best for her.  She liked to be comfortable, to have fine clothes, plenty of toothsome food.  To have a view.  He’d been a good provider.  He’d obsessed about that, as he’d obsessed about it when Connor was... When he was a baby.

 

After Darla, but before Connor, he had been reborn with a purpose, and with Buffy he’d been happy just to have a sword in his hand.  As his finger slips over the bead, though, he thinks that if their past had ever become a future, he would have wanted to be a good provider.  He wouldn’t have wanted Buffy to live in drab poverty.  She was meant for better things than that.

 

I’m sorry, he murmurs.  I have sinned.  And I would have continued to sin, given the chance.  But I would have burned all the world’s finery, to give her one extra moment of peace, of life, of happiness.  He understands that is not the lesson of this Mystery, but it’s the best he can do.

 

4  The Presentation (Purity of mind and body)

It had been the requisite forty days from when she first saw him to when she first truly saw him.  He had presented his monstrous nature to her in a kiss, mind and heart so overcome by her innocence that his body had forgotten itself.  She had looked up at him, a question in her eyes, a temptation on her lips, and he had kissed her.  He had wanted to kiss her ever since he first spoke to her and, forty days after that, he had found enough of his boyhood’s innocence to answer hers.

 

More than ever before, he had wanted to be cleansed and, with his lips on hers, he had thought it might be possible.  He had let the demon go, but it wasn’t going to be as easy as that, of course.  She had seen what he really was.

 

And she had still found something in him to love.  If there is any purity to be had in everything that he has learned, it was all in that moment.

 

Its memory has stayed with him all his life, at first a shining star of innocence to be regained, and later, a dying light reminding him of what might have been.

 

He has thought about purity of mind and body many times, but the obscenity of his animating spirit has always mocked him, and he knows that this is something he could never attain.

 

But he was an innocent, once upon a time, and perhaps the Powers will remember that.

 

Hail, Mary...

 

5 The Finding in the Temple (True Conversion)

He’s had many Road to Damascus moments, some of them no more than fleeting impulses, some that have shaped the rest of his life.

 

In China, he’d snatched the orphaned baby that Darla offered him for supper, and he’d run.  He supposes that was probably the first act of worth he’d ever performed.  The stand-off in the cantina to save a woman from a fate worse than death: that had been another.

 

Knowing Buffy had been his true conversion to the cause of the Powers, marked by the day he killed Darla to save Buffy.  He’d never been able to do that again.  He’s told himself that his later inability was because he wanted to save Darla’s soul, but he knows it was just weakness.  Darla had been everything to him, once upon a time.  You didn’t kill someone like that easily, not even the second time.  Buffy had had so much more strength than him.

 

And he’s been a backslider.  He left them all to die in the Hyperion, when it was still a hotel, after they tried to hang him; and he left all the lawyers to die in the wine cellar, the ones who had tried to drive him into Angelus.  He’d had complicated feelings about both events at the time.  He remembers that the overriding one was righteousness.  That was a blasphemy in itself, but he’s suffered for it.  He hopes he’s suffered enough.

 

There was Angelus, too, in that terrible conversion, on the night when he’d felt complete joy and contentment after a hundred years of misery.  But these are the Joyous Mysteries.  He’ll get round to the Sorrowful ones soon enough.

 

He can only remember the important moments with joy.  With his first sight of her, his conversion began, but it was sealed and confirmed one Christmas morning on a hillside overlooking Sunnydale, when she taught him to fight for his future.

 

She had been Called, and he had seen the instant when she became the Chosen One, had revelled for her in her new-found power, but his heart had bled for her innocence and her pain.  And in his own small way, he, too, had been Chosen by the Powers, had been Called for her, to take his place by her side.  If only it could have stayed that way.

 

I answered the call.  I may have stumbled along the way, but in the end, I never shirked the good fight.  Have I fought enough?

 

The Luminous Mysteries :

 

1  The Baptism (Gratitude for the gift of Faith)

For most of his existence, he’s had a closer acquaintance with the agony of holy water than he really wants to remember.  Was that the last time he had faith, when he was baptised?  Or when he first received communion?  Has it been so long?  But he has had faith in his sword arm, faith in Buffy to stand with him, and after that, faith in his friends, although they didn’t always know it.  And he has had faith that the Powers of Evil would try to dig their talons deeper into him, to never, ever let him go.  Forewarned is forearmed. 

 

He has faith that he has done everything he could to carry out the wishes of the Powers that had called him.  Most of the time.  When he followed his own heart, things became more difficult.  Lawyers in wine cellars come to mind again.  That was provocation, he thinks.  And they were evil.  But his heart is troubled that he should have tried harder, that he must blame his soul and not his demon for too many of the things that he has done.

 

And he hasn’t always been grateful for having been called.  Sometimes, he has cursed the day he tried to become someone.  Never did he wish his soul away more than when he was in Hell. 

 

But there will be time enough to reflect on that later.

 

Forgive me, he pleads silently.  Forgive me when I lost heart and hope and faith.

 

2  The Wedding at Cana (Fidelity)

As a human, he’d been a useless, worthless layabout who would undoubtedly have died of syphilis before much longer.  He’d led a charmed life as it was.  He’d bedded every girl who was available in and around the village, and most of the unavailable ones, too.  He hadn’t cared who they were, as long as they were pretty.  Or if they’d been a challenge.  He’d liked that.  But no matter how dissolute he was, he’d known how he ought to behave.  He’d simply chosen not to follow his father’s teachings.

 

With Buffy, he couldn’t have acted differently than he had, despite the promptings of his worse self.  He’d wanted to wait, not because of her age or her friends or her family, but because of those long-ago precepts that a gentleman had lived by.  No despoiling the maiden you love until she is properly yours.  The problem was that there was nothing to wait for.  She could never be properly his.  He could never marry her.  Not in any way she would want.

 

But he had given her a ring.  To him, it had been a gesture as binding, as unbreakable, as the shackles of Hell and perhaps that was what he truly offered her with that band of silver, but she had never blamed him for his selfishness.  Not for that, at least.

 

If she had not accepted the ring in the way he’d offered it, joining the two of them through friendship, loyalty and love, he’s sure that he would not have made love to her that night.  He would have waited longer, until she was ready.  His fingers, stiffer now than when he began this journey of remembrance an hour or so ago, tighten on the beads, as he remembers the terrible consequences.  He would offer himself to be flayed every day for a thousand years to take back what Angelus did in Sunnydale.  But he can never regret the act of love, the only sign he’d ever been able to give her of his absolute love and fidelity.

 

Forgive me, he whispers silently.  Forgive me for my presumption, for my infidelities when times were darkest.  But see the loyalty in my heart.

 

3  The Proclamation (Trust in Repentance)

The birth of hope, for him, has been a rare experience, not enough to enumerate the beads of a single decade on this rosary.  When he was shown Buffy.  When she accepted him for what he was.  When he knew she loved him.  When he was human for a day.  When he found the Shanshu prophecy.  The birth of his son.  These have been his touchstones, even after their hope died.  He has to believe that it happened once, so it can happen again.  And he has to believe that the Powers have a goal for him, an attainable goal, when he has repented enough; when he has made sufficient amends.  He has to believe in deliverance, or he would have walked out into the sun years ago. 

 

He tried that once, and Buffy stopped him.  So did the Powers, in that soaring moment of hope on Christmas morning, when the snow saved him.  But it was Buffy who restored his belief, and who bolstered his strength, and his trust in the future.  She has always been essential to his sense of self-worth, in giving him the belief that he can earn his place at her side once more

 

Of course, he’s going to walk out into the dawn soon, but that’s different.

 

I believe.  I believe that no sinner is beyond redemption.  She taught me that.  I pray that it is true.

 

4  The Transfiguration (Spiritual Courage)

Since he met Buffy, he’s wished that he was a better man.  Forget the demon, forget the need for blood, the unholiness of his state as a vampire.  Perhaps those might be forgiven.  His great lack has been the weakness of the man.  If he had been better, more principled, when he was human, would he have become the Angelus that stood head and shoulders above all the evils around him?  Would he have been quite so monstrous?  He was lacking spiritual courage as a man, and perhaps that is what will damn him, in the end.

 

But then a small voice gently imposes on his self-condemnation.  Her voice.  When he came back from Hell, she would read to him while he shivered and whimpered in front of her.  And sometimes she would just talk to him.  She thought that he didn’t understand what she said, that he was simply responding to the sound of her voice.  True, her voice was the most beautiful thing he’d heard for hundreds of years, but he understood what she said well enough.  And he remembered.  He remembers now.

 

“Giles doesn’t know you’re back.  I won’t tell him.  I won’t tell anyone.  But he said...  He said, ‘It would take someone of extraordinary will and character to survive that and retain any semblance of self.’  He thinks that you’d probably become a monster.  But you aren’t.  I know you aren’t.  You fought down there.  And you kept fighting.  You were strong.  You kept yourself...”

 

Another tear slips down his cold skin as the remembrances of Hell try to break out of the dark vault in which his memory has confined them.  He’s afraid that, come the dawn, he’ll be back somewhere like Acathla’s killing fields, and if he allows the memories of that to come, then he will be completely unmanned.

 

Was I strong enough? he wonders.  Surely, in those centuries of torment, I paid for some of my crimes, but did my soul learn strength?

 

The voice comes again, reminding him of more that she had said, as she stroked his trembling limbs.

 

“Giles told me this.  ‘In my experience,’ he said, ‘there are two types of

monster. The first can be redeemed, or more importantly, wants to

be redeemed.  The second is void of humanity, cannot respond to reason or

love.’  I love you, Angel.  I know you want to be redeemed.  We can do this.  Together.  You’re strong enough.”

 

He fears the future.  If spiritual courage means accepting Hell as his due, then he has failed.  But he has tried to put others before himself, to take the punishments that his new life has meted out to him.

 

My soul is that of a man, he pleads, just a man, born into sin and surrounded by temptation.  I was a disappointment and a failure.  But I have tried to learn, to be stronger.  I have tried to change.  Please, accept that I was reforged, stronger and better, in the fires of Hell.

 

5  The Eucharist (Adoration)

Angel dare not think of the transubstantiation that happens in this church with every service.  It feels too much like blasphemy, considering what he is.  But there was a time, once, when he and Buffy had their own transubstantiation.  Just as the worshippers in this church believe that the transubstantiation of bread and wine into body and blood means that their Saviour is present, so it was with them, except that vampires are much more direct.

 

When Faith poisoned him with the Killer of the Dead, only the blood of a slayer could save him.  He knew that Buffy had intended to bring him Faith.  He would have drunk that other Slayer, but maybe the Powers had had something different in mind.  In the end, his salvation had once more come from Buffy, from her blood this time.  He had almost drained her, and what was her had become him.  After that, she was written into every cell of his body, even if she hadn’t been before.  Her flesh and blood is his, and he thinks that, perhaps, his flesh and blood was also hers, in some way that the weak and selfish part of him approved of.

 

She is always with him.  Always.  Out of the corner of his eye, he sometimes sees a flash of blonde hair, or a familiar shape; or there is a hint of her scent...  She has been dead for twenty years now, but she is always with him, always part of him, and he knows that this gift is because of her blood remade into his flesh, his mind, his soul.

 

I am yours forever.  You are part of me, and I believe I was part of you.  You are always with me.  That is my Luminous Mystery, and it has illumined my life, has helped make me what I am.  You are my guiding star.

 

He starts to cough, a wracking sound that would speak of worn-out and broken lungs, if only he breathed.  He smothers it as best he can, so as not to intrude on the devotions of the others here.  A woman, renewing candles beneath the battle standards of the fallen, looks towards where he sits, near the back, and gives him a kindly smile.

 

He’s halfway through his circuit of the Mysteries.  He must hurry now.  He knows his time is running short.  And he can smell the approaching dawn.  Vampires can always smell the dawn, and the rising sun must be his deliverance today.

 

His fingers shuffle up the string of beads.

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries:

 

1  The Agony (Sorrow For Sin)

All the centuries that he spent in Hell...  He thought for a long time that surely these must be balanced against the sins that he’d been punished for.  Now, though, he knows differently.  Better.

 

All the agony that he’s suffered, the torments of Hell, the mental and physical agony of most of his life on Earth since that time, none of this matters.  It is unimportant.  It can never extirpate his sin.  He is full of sorrow for what he has done, but that will never be enough.  All the remorse, all the terrors of his soul for the Hell that he expects to be his eternal future, these cannot buy salvation.  Buffy and her friends – and his friends – have taught him this.

 

He thinks of Buffy, to whom he, in his life as Angelus, did so much harm.  And Giles.  What he did to Giles and to Jenny can never be atoned for.  He sinned against them all. He has terrorized them, and he has rejected them, and yet, they did not abandon him.  It was they who suffered for his sins, they who were cast into sorrow, and all that matters, he thinks, is that, out of their sheer humanity, they still tried to help him. 

 

If anything can save him, it is the forgiveness of others for the sins he committed against them, forgiveness arising out of the agony that he brought to them.

 

My sorrow is without bounds.  And if I could, I would kneel in humility at the feet of all those I have offended and to whom I have caused such intolerable pain.  And who have still held out the hand of friendship to me.  Such generosity of spirit cannot be sought, or bought.  It can only be freely given.  This lesson, at least, I have learned.

 

2  The Scourging (Mortification of the Senses)

Angel thinks that he has known every form of torment during his time in Acathla’s Hell.  He doesn’t want to enumerate them, partly because he can’t bear to, and partly because he doesn’t have enough life left in him to encompass them all.  And true Hell, he’s sure, will be so much worse.  But what hope is there for him?  He can never do enough to repay.  If Hell was created for one being alone, beyond its Fallen Archangel, it would surely be him.  He cannot bear it.  He cannot bear to even think about it, so perhaps he has failed here, too.

 

But surely every slash, every sword thrust, every hurt he has borne in his quests on behalf of the Powers...  Surely these will count in the balance?

 

I don’t say that I have suffered enough in that place, because I know I have not.  But I beg you, deliver me from this.   Say that I am not beyond redemption.  Help me.  Please.

 

3  The Crowning with Thorns (Courage)

A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero only one.  He knows this.  He has tried to have courage.  But sometimes it has been hard.  It took everything in him to approach the Slayer for the first time.  He almost failed in the trials to save Darla.  He can see now the array of stakes speeding towards him.  Every time he’s gone out to fight evil, he’s known it might be the end of him.  He’s known what would be waiting for him if he was dusted and, obscene as it is, he has valued his eternal living death as better than the alternative.  Worse has been the understanding that he might die without ever seeing her again.  But he’s persevered through force of will, and laid his life on the line as often as it was needed.

 

He knows, though, that whatever courage he has had has come from Buffy’s example.  Never did she flinch from what needed doing.  She loved him and she killed him, because it was necessary.  Even in the pit of hell, he could never hold that against her.  He has tried to follow in her footsteps, to take the hard decisions. 

 

Worse than the physical dangers have been the losses he has suffered.  Putting his friends in harm’s way.  Killing Connor.  Giving up his son.  Giving Buffy up, although that almost finished him.

 

I learned from a schoolgirl, and then from a woman.  Often, I should have done better but I have tried to do what was right, not what I wanted.  I have tried to have that sort of courage, because she showed me how.

 

4  The Carrying of the Cross (Patience)

His knuckles hurt as he remembers the times his patience has snapped, and, to vent his rage, he has had to destroy something with his bare hands.  Seeing Cordelia with Connor.  Failing to win a second chance for Darla.  He can’t bear to think of what he did when he learned that Buffy had died and his sacrifice of his humanity had been for nothing.  At least he didn’t kill anyone except demons.  It had been close, though.

 

He has not always had enough patience.  That’s one difference between himself and Angelus.  Angelus has had eternal patience when playing his games.  Buffy.  Drusilla.  So many others...  Perhaps that’s why, with his soul, he has failed so often.  He has not wanted to be like Angelus.

 

Perhaps that reason can excuse my failings...  Forgive my sins.  Forgive my intemperance.

 

Hail, Mary....

 

5  The Crucifixion (Forgiveness)

Revenge.  He was born into revenge (I thought I’d take the village).  In his first days as a vampire he had revenged himself on everyone who knew him, for every petty slight and offence that he’d suffered as a human, whether it was real or imaginary.  And then, as he’d grown into his monstrousness, he’d revenged himself on humanity simply because they were alive, and he wasn’t.  Because he could never be alive again.  Because he had strength and skill and power, all of it focused only on the kill.  (Without the artistry, we’re just animals.)

 

And then, others had practiced revenge on him.  Holtz, stealing his son.  Connor, sinking him beneath the ocean.  The gypsies, imperfectly restoring his soul.  The consequences of revenge lived on for generations, destroying the innocent as well as the guilty.

 

He bows his head in memory of all the pain.  Someone once said, The best form of revenge is forgiveness.  He isn’t sure about that, although perhaps there’s something in it.  Buffy forgave him all the hurts he’d ever dealt her, and he still carries the weight of them.  He always will.

 

If anyone, ghost or living, needs revenge, let it be on me alone.  He hesitates, trembling in fear.  If it means Hell, so be it.  If it means living on eternally in this decaying body...  He can’t say it.  The prospect is too dreadful.  Please, please, forgive me.  I renounce all the thoughts I’ve ever had of revenge on those who caused hurt to me and mine.  I have learned this lesson all too well.  Revenge corrodes all whom it touches.  May I find forgiveness, here at the end.

 

His hands are trembling, and he knows he has just enough strength to get back to the door.  He has bared his soul and he could leave now, the final mysteries unexplored.  But he wants to finish with thoughts of hope and salvation, and for some reason that he doesn’t comprehend, it seems important that he do this.  He’d better be quick, then.

 

The Glorious Mysteries:

 

1  The Resurrection (Faith)

He’s had his own resurrection.  He’s had more than one, in truth. 

 

His first resurrection was at the hand of Darla.  He can still remember fighting his way out of his coffin in a blasphemous parody of birth.  After that, he found a different sort of faith, but it was still founded on blood and pain.  He regrets every cut, every kill, but he cannot, now, regret the fact of his life-in-death.  If Darla had not turned him, he would have died young, and died foolish, a much poorer man in heart and mind.  The way has been long and hard, but he hopes he’s better for it.  And he would never have met Buffy.

 

His second resurrection was at the behest of the gypsies, when they brought his soul back from death.  That, too, was a birth filled with pain, and it was more than he thought he could bear.  That had been the pain of guilt, and, unlike faith, it has never left him. In the end, they did him a good turn, although it took a hundred years for him to understand that, and he would have traded a thousand years of life – more – not to have had the happiness clause in that curse.

 

His third resurrection was from Hell, and it was at Buffy’s hand.  He doesn’t know how, although he knows that she had to give him up, and she left his ring on the Mansion floor.  He has never understood his release, but he has no doubt that it was because of Buffy and her love.  She has saved him, body and soul.  He would have served a thousand years in that demon dimension, if he had only known she would call him back in the end.

 

I give thanks.  I am grateful every day of my life for the new chances I have been given, and I have faith that there is still some small mercy for me at the end of things.

 

2  The Ascension (Hope)

For a hundred years, he had no hope, and on one cold New York night, everything changed.  Whistler had said, You could go either way here.  Assuming the little demon hadn’t lied, then what he’d said meant that there was a chance of salvation.  And gradually, day by day, he has pulled himself up the ladder to some sort of worth.  There have been many slips and falls along the way – and some headlong crashes, but every time, the hand that reached down to help him back up again was hers.  Even after they’d parted.  Even after she’d died.

 

Thank you for the gift of hope, which has lighted my darkest days.

 

Hail Mary...

 

3  The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom and Charity)

He can’t help a wry smile here.  His unsouled self always seemed smarter than his souled self.  Smart isn’t the same as wise, but he thinks he often hasn’t had much in the way of wisdom, either.  But at least he doesn’t think that he’s made the same mistake twice.  That must be a start, right?

 

But life with a conscience is not straightforward.  So many times, decisions have had too many choices, too many conflicts.  Angelus never had the problem.  As Angelus, Angel remembers, he simply did what he wanted, what satisfied him most.

 

I have tried to learn from my mistakes.  Forgive me for the times when I missed the clarity that was lost when my soul was gained.  As for charity, I have spent my blood and pain unstintingly to save others.  Does that count?

 

4  The Assumption (A Happy Death)

Is any death happy, he asks bitterly.  Especially ours?  Buffy died in battle, without him by her side.  And yet...  Her death was fulfilled, he thinks.  She died doing what she was born to do, and it was quick, or so he heard.  His death, on the other hand...  And now the bitterness and resentment forces through the calm acceptance that he has tried to impose during his telling of the decades of the rosary.  His death might not be death at all, and he’s terrified.

 

After the young slayers were gone, Buffy was left as the only Chosen One.  And when she died, the line ended.  There were no more Slayers, no more young girls to fight for humanity.  There were still Watchers though, even if they were reluctant to undertake the dangerous jobs they had sent those young girls to do.  And the Watchers came up with something even more deadly than the stake.  They found a semi-mystical virus that was even now in the process of wiping out vampires.

 

There were some side-effects.  Humans who had ever been resuscitated, these suffered as vampires did.  Returning from death seemed to be the cue that the virus sought.  He’s grateful that Buffy was dead and gone by then, because the effects of the virus aren’t pretty.

 

It left the demon unaffected, targeting the body, instead.  It gave vampires back to the world of Time, their bodies ageing and decaying until there was nothing left of them.  What then happened to the demon was unknown, and the Watchers could care less.  They hadn’t even cared what happened to the souls of those humans they had murdered, as collateral damage.

 

But Angel cared.

 

He’d found things that couldn’t possibly be called bodies.  They were just remnants of decayed flesh.  They had still been sentient, in a way that only a vampire could understand.  He’d burned them, or thrown them into the sun, and then he’d travelled the country staking the diseased before they got to that stage.

 

He’d killed humans, too, murdering their bodies in the hope that he was saving their souls.

 

He caught the infection three days ago, and he’s aged sixty years since then.  He’s helped the helpless, but he’s left it too late, and now he is unable to help himself.  He’d intended to make it quick, with a stake, but he’s too weak for that.

 

So, he decided to sit here and pray for forgiveness, and try to think thoughts that would show how far he had come from the monster he’d been, and then to find an open space outside and wait for the sun to cleanse whatever had become of him by morning.

 

And to pray to at least be allowed to know that Buffy is safe, even if he isn’t allowed to join her.

 

But the sixth Commandment is absolute.  Thou shalt not kill.

 

Surely I gave those I’ve just killed a better death than the Watchers did?  Will they, too, be held against me?  Or will they intercede for me?  Will they say that they begged me to end it?

 

Hail, Mary...

 

5  The Coronation of Mary (Trust in Her Intercession)

His throat fills as tears threaten. 

 

Help me, Buffy.  Reach down your hand to me, as you have done so often before.

 

He wishes he could see her one more time before the end, but there is no flash of blonde hair in this candlelit church, no subtle movement that he can recognise.

 

It’s time for him to go.  He has done everything he came here to do.  He pushes himself out of the pew... and finds that he cannot.  He tries again, but there is no strength in his legs.  When he reaches forward to grasp the back of the pew in front, to lever himself up, his arms will not answer to him.  He has left it too late.  Now the tears run down his withered cheeks.  Is he to be trapped inside a piece of sentient flesh, until it has rotted down to its component atoms?  Will his spirit be released even then?

 

Help me, Buffy!  Please...

 

Hail, Mary...

 

As he murmurs the words of the prayer, a small, warm hand closes over his, and a much-loved voice completes the incantation.

 

‘... pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.’

 

He can turn his head a little, and he sees her sitting next to him.  She looks as he remembers her best.  His heart soars.  Even if this is only his memory, the part of Buffy that he made into his own flesh and blood and spirit, he has been granted a last wish, to see her again.

 

She’s holding a stake.  Of course she would be.  He always thinks of her with a stake in her hand.  The stake shimmers, and he tries to focus on it.  It is long and very thin, and it seems to twist around itself, as though it were carving through the dimensions.  It’s as slim and delicate as a misericord and he wishes that, like that knife, it could be used to dispatch a loved one.  Or an enemy.  Which one is he, now?

 

She lifts the stake higher.

 

“We always knew that it would come to this, didn’t we, Angel?  Magic swords just don’t cut it.  Slayer.  Vampire.  Stake.  That’s how it’s meant to be, even for us.”

 

“Yes.”  His voice is little more than a croak, because of the tears, and because his muscles are failing, even there.

 

She twists sideways on the smooth wood of the pew, and runs a finger down his cheek.

 

“Look what you’ve come to, Angel.”  But her voice is loving, and her finger as warm as though she really were here.

 

“You always put yourself last, don’t you?”

 

It doesn’t seem so to him.  It seems that he might have always put his own desires first, even with his soul.  His desire that Buffy live a normal life.  His desire that his son, too, live a normal life.  His desire to keep his friends safe.  His desire to rid the world of evil.  Perhaps it was always about what he wanted.  But now doesn’t seem to be the time to argue the point, and in any event, he can’t form enough words to make his case.

 

She seems to understand.  She would, of course, if she’s a manifestation of himself.

 

“Wanting other people’s happiness isn’t putting yourself first.  Don’t twist things unnecessarily, Angel.  Don’t torment yourself.  People needed things, and you gave them those things.  You paid the price for them too.  You might have learned to consult a bit more – have you learned that? – but on the whole, you did the painful things that needed doing, and just added them to your guilt baggage.”

 

She toys with the stake.

 

“I love you, you know.  I never stopped.  More than anything in the world.  Or out of it.  More than anything.”

 

He tries to smile at her, but he hasn’t much strength left, even for that.

 

“I love you too,” he whispers.

 

He can tell by her body language that she has made some decision.

 

“It’s time,” she says.  “You and I, we have business to attend to.  Loose ends.  Things not done.”  She squeezes his hand, a comfort after her words.  “Angel.  Sometimes I thought I’d never be able to say your name again, but you always came good.”

 

She stands up, and there, at the back of the church, she straddles him.  Slight as she is, he can feel her weight on his thighs, feel the warmth of her through the denim of his jeans.

 

Oh, Buffy...

 

The priest, he wants to tell her.  What will the priest say..?  But he has no more voice.  She positions the stake against his heart.

 

“Ready?”

 

Ready and more than ready, and if only this were something other than a dream...

 

And then she pushes.

 

The pain is greater than he has ever suffered in his life before.  More than the demons could do in Acathla’s Hell, more than the restoration of his soul, more than the loss of it.  And the stake seems to take forever to pierce even this fraying flesh, travelling as long and as slowly as from one universe to another.  Or from one state of being to another.

 

And then it’s over.

 

She stands, taking her warmth with her, and hops up to perch on the back of the pew in front.

 

“Come on,” she says.  “It’s time to go.”

 

He looks down at himself.  There is no sign of the stake, no sign of the Watchers’ disease, just the flesh that he’s familiar with.

 

“Go where?” he asks.

 

“Oh, you know...  Things to do, things left undone.  Where would you like to start?”

 

He stands up, and takes her hand.

 

“Am I hallucinating?”

 

“Does it feel like it?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“So long as it lasts forever, does it matter?”

 

He thinks of all the people he’s killed to save them from the Watchers’ Disease.  Has he deprived them of this?  Of a taste of Heaven?  Oh, please, no...

 

“Stop it, Angel!  No more guilt.  We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, people to see...”

 

She presses against him.

 

“A lot of catching up.  Then you can decide how reality figures in this.  Okay?”

 

He nods, and follows her towards the church door.  The sun is just rising.  He turns to take one last look at where he had been sitting, at his body slumped in the pew.  Buffy always did things differently.  He should have known that she would use the empty promise of the Shanshu and make it real, make it drive away the years of the demon, and the disease of the Watchers, even as it delivered his death.  The Watchers, the Powers that Be, none of them ever stood a chance against her.

 

+

 

The priest walks quickly down the aisle to where the old man is sitting.  He has seen the figure slump into itself, and he is worried.  When he reaches the pew, he is even more worried.  What he sees is a young man in his twenties, his chest covered in a welter of blood.  It seems impossible that one body could have contained so much blood, and the priest forms the fanciful notion that the blood might represent hundreds or thousands of deaths.

 

But there’s no time for fanciful notions.  With trembling fingers, he unfastens the buttons of the shirt, to find the skin beneath whole and unmarked.  Despite that, and despite that the man is still warm to the touch, he’s quite dead.  The priest is sure of it. 

 

And it is the same man he saw come in.  He knows it.  The jet and crystal rosary is still clutched in his fingers.

 

Some sort of miracle has happened here, if only he could understand it.  And then the sun clears the horizon, and light pours through the East Window.  It’s a stained glass picture of the Great Day of Judgement, of the ascent of the righteous into Heaven.  For a moment of time, the stream of blessed light is focused only on this figure, painting him in all the colours of salvation, before it illuminates the whole church.

 

The priest crosses himself, and then he hears the door open.  He turns to look, but no one is there, just the fresh light of a new day.  And when the door closes silently, of its own accord, he could swear he heard two people laughing.

 

The End

October 2010

 

Author’s Note

 

If, like me, you aren’t Catholic, you may not be familiar with the telling of the rosary.  Contemplation of each of the twenty Mysteries should result in a ‘spiritual fruit’, and I have shown each of these fruits in brackets alongside the Mystery itself.  If you want to know more, just google ‘rosary’.

 

‘Rosary’, by the way, means ‘rose’, or ‘rose garden’, since the rose, in Christian iconography, is the symbol of the Virgin Mary.