THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
IWRY November 2012 Marathon
Pairing: Buffy and Angel
Word Count: 4,360
Disclaimer: I don’t own or benefit from these characters.
Author’s Note: A special heaping thanks to my beta, fluffernutter8, for her generous assistance on such short notice. You are awesome!
This story is set in its own little universe but falls in the timeline around BTVS season 3, more or less.
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
Darkness swallows all but the smallest fragments of the images, like she’s looking through a narrow camera’s lens. What little she can see at one time is illuminated by a pale, gray-tinged light from an invisible source. Buffy strains to make sense of what all of this means.
At first a tall, black silhouette looms center stage, menacing and foreboding, in this bleak world captured in stark black and white. And that’s all it is – a figure indistinguishable, yet Buffy can feel what this person feels – or is this a demon? She can’t be sure of which, but she’s immediately privy to the pain, deep in the soul (if it actually has one), of the man/demon in deathly black. Worst of all, she’s frightfully aware of the enormous cauldron of rage boiling inside…inside this thing, this man, this creature. She shudders to think about whomever, or whatever it is, unleashed, running rampant under the deep, shadowy cloak of night.
High voltage sparks of dread lick at her spine warning her to turn away and pretend she never looked for this. But she did. She opened the gates to this hellish scene and now she can’t stop gawking, morbidly glued to it, her nose pressed against the cold, dirty glass. She’s not sure how this can be, by what means she’s able to see these things. It’s spooky and inexplicable but she’s irresistibly drawn into it. Fascinated, appalled and taken in by some unknown strong-armed, invisible hold that has her gripped in suspense and neurotic curiosity.
Buffy almost chuckles, thinking about curiosity and how, like they say, it killed the cat. Everyone knows cats have nine lives, and she’s sure she’s only used three or four of hers, so giving in to her curiosity to just watch shouldn’t be all that dangerous. Nothing she sees appears to be a personal threat. Probably. They’re just images on a flat surface, and she’s reasonably sure they can’t jump out and grab her. She tells herself this over and over as she keeps her eyes straight ahead and takes it all in, incapable of shying away, danger or not. Whatever this…this thing wants her to see, she’s determined to discover what the heck it’s all about. A slayer is, she laughs, irritatingly stubborn that way.
In the beginning the images mean little to nothing, random flashes with seemingly no connections. But Buffy senses this is only the preview before the main attraction, the warm-up before the comedian steps on stage or the first second of fear when the boogey man finds you hiding under your bed. A little scary, but she’s seen a lot worse. But then suddenly as though someone has flipped a switch, all of it starts coming into focus. It’s show time. She bites her lower lip, apprehensive and tense.
The dark, mysterious figure wanes, fading into the background, his image replaced by shutter-fast snapshots that repeat over and over…
A long, shiny sword gripped firmly in a tight fist with just the hint of blood dripping from the sword’s tip. It doesn’t have to be Technicolor red for her to know it’s blood. Buffy snickers, humorously adding to a thought that it could be cherry Kool-Aid, and just as suddenly, she wonders what makes her joke at a time like this.
A massive, expanding pool of blood comes next, oozing very slowly in all directions. There’s so much of it. She shivers. Nothing seems funny now.
Then another sword lying discarded at the edge of the ghoulish, bloody circle shines bright against the blackened mass of quivering, thick liquid. It’s obvious that a fight took place, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out it was between the dark stranger and someone. And that someone is revealed quickly as this scene morphs into the next.
It’s more disturbing than Buffy thought it would be. She’s already seen so much cold-heartedness and death. But this shadowed form of a headless body lying on its stomach, its arms splayed out to the sides at odd angles, and its cleanly severed head nearby leave her nauseous. The face, mercifully, is turned away from Buffy, refusing to reveal itself, but she’s certain it’s a female, evidenced by the long, matted, blood spattered tresses cascading down the bloody neck. She cringes in sickening disgust. What did this poor woman do to be slaughtered so horribly?
A quick cold shudder skitters up her back. Still Buffy doesn’t turn away. But if she was a decent human being she would be completely and utterly horrified, retching on the floor, depositing her lunch at her feet. She remembers when she wasn’t so immune to all this. A million years ago. She chokes back the thought. It won’t help. And before she can cry a tear for this poor woman’s sake, there’s more to see.
Buffy shakes her mind clear and squints at the next image. It’s a set of bloody footprints leading away from the body. They belong to the dark figure, of course, the nasty villainous thing that cut off this lady’s head and left her sprawled, alone, in a bloody heap in the middle of nowhere. Buffy might not be sick to her stomach but she is infuriated, enraged at this – this thing, and she already hates it with every cell in her body. Only a monster would do something so vile, a pure, evil monster deserving of a fate worse than this. And a monster can be human or demon; a fact she knows too well. Buffy starts thinking of every wretched way she would kill this beast and make him pay, but the image changes again. Her attention is once more riveted to the strobe-like movie in the mirror.
The faceless, nameless monster-demon-man is turned away from her, walking, swallowed up into the blackness of the background, his sword’s tip dragging the ground, parting the blood in a thin wake. His shoulders are hunched over, the weight of them sagging beneath his downturned head, and for a moment Buffy feels his sorrow, the depth of his despair, but it’s not for his victim. He isn’t moved by her demise either in joy or sadness – just a job he had to do as though he were swatting a loathsome fly interrupting his evening stroll. Bastard, she breathes out in a huff of hot, angry air.
The screen flickers brightly for a brief moment, then as though the film has been reloaded, the flashes start coming faster. More bodies, more carnage, more blood, different and varied victims of the lone murderer. It’s a frantic slide show of horrid death, and the only constant in every view is some fraction of the dark figure as he towers over his victims, over the blood. The last thing Buffy feels is his rage ebbing, vanquished. His dirty messy deeds done and forgotten as he strolls off. The screen turns completely black. It’s then Buffy realizes she’s finally stopped holding her breath.
She draws in deep breaths, steadies her nerves and almost turns to leave believing that was the end of it. But the mirror has one last detail to show her. It’s totally unexpected and mortifying, sending shockwaves through her entire body.
The final, wretched image is a shimmering ring mired in the bloody mess; a ring of immense, personal familiarity. She gasps, feeling faint, almost sinking her to her knees. Somehow she remains standing, shaking, nearly in tears.
All the while she’s been watching, only one terrible thought kept running through her mind. She wanted to be wrong, but from the first glimpse she knew. She tried everything to make her mind come up with different conclusions, but in the end, there was no denying reality. The ring was the final, undeniable confirmation. This is no stranger she’s seen.
Buffy stumbles away from the slaughter, her mind aghast with wildly spinning questions. Is she seeing the past, or is this a harbinger? Can she stop this from happening? She hates the not knowing. Maybe if she’d come sooner…
She’s back in the living area of the mansion reeling from what she’s witnessed. But before she can settle her nerves, breathe normally and coax her heart rate down, she’s startled, nearly jumping out of her skin, when Angel sneaks up from behind, pokes her playfully in the small of her back, and giggles.
She’s been waiting for him for over an hour, the mansion cold and empty in his absence, and she wishes she’d brought a jacket. But then she didn’t know she’d be waiting so long.
Left with idle time and nothing to do but snoop, she’d wandered through the mansion and found herself in the tiny room in the back, staring into a hideous world veiled in the mirror behind the curtains. It’s a large oval mirror, edged in tarnished gold, reflecting nothing, until she gazes into it up close. She thinks it’s odd Angel has never told her about it. Then again, maybe he doesn’t know it exists, or even if he does, he has no use for one and no need to mention it. And it’s obvious from all the dust and disarray, this room hasn’t been opened or used in ages, overtaken by cobwebs and musty odors - for good reason she’s now thinking.
Angel spins Buffy around and kisses her hard and she responds with breathless trepidation, immediately picking up the scent of sweat and blood on him. She notices a small speck of red on his cheek and turns her head away, hiding her grim look from his eyes.
A quick furtive glance at the floor reveals traces of blood deposited from, where else, but the soles of Angel’s boots. From there she inspects his coat, disheveled and dirty, with splatters of blood on it, too. His formerly white shirt is smudged with dark spots and smears. More blood. Buffy finds herself unnerved, shivering, from the cold and the incriminating signs of combative violence imprinted on her lover.
Angel is talking to her but she’s too preoccupied with worry to hear what he says. Her eyes are riveted on his hands gently holding hers, and she almost relaxes momentarily in his loving touch, until she’s jerked back to reality and sees the small, red-lined cuts marring the back of his soiled hands. And there are flecks of dried blood underneath his fingernails. Her skin begins to crawl. Regretfully, her suspicions are coming together just the way she feared. She can’t stop what’s already happened. She feels like crying.
She’s staring, her heart pumping faster again when the last piece of the mystery slips into place. The evidence is painfully clear. Angel’s ring, the ever-present reminder of his devotion to her, is missing. It’s gone, and she can’t deny the implication. It sends another frozen shard of despair through her, its icy tendrils digging into her soul and sending her mind into a whirlwind of ominous thoughts.
Finally, unable to keep silent, Buffy confronts Angel as gently as her tumultuous mind will let her, and she asks point blank what he’s been up to. There’s not a hint of hesitation as he quietly replies he’s just been out for a walk. It’s not what she needs to hear. She asks again, insisting on the truth, firmly but without anger.
Angel fidgets and stares at his hands. He seems to have just noticed the blood under his fingernails and jams his hands into his coat pockets. Yet he lifts his head and grins at her, apparently with nothing to hide or fear. He’s unusually calm and unburdened by emotion or guilt. This temporary, guiltless attitude always wigs her out. It’s not like him, but right now, as all the other times before, he isn’t himself.
When he’s under the influence of this unknown thrall or whatever the hell it is, she’s looked deep into his eyes, peered into the window of his soul, and all she’s seen is a bleak emptiness. It doesn’t last, which is somewhat comforting; but it’s also unnerving that it happens at all. This is so not who he is. So she’s stopped looking. She’s stopped looking at a lot of things lately.
Buffy demands to know what he did, raising her voice slightly in grave concern, yet not so much that it upsets him. He’s still coming down from the murderous high of his night’s excursion, and the last thing she wants is to see his anger resurface.
Her voice doesn’t bother him, and he only hesitates for a moment before he finally murmurs he saved the world tonight. Saved it from a hell bitch sent to destroy them all.
Buffy’s shoulders sag and her heart drops down to her toes. Angel hasn’t told her everything. He’s left out the part about the others she saw through the mirror, the others he killed. Buffy gazes at him, stunned, as a brief, prideful look beams across his face. Then just as quickly, he sighs and his face changes back to the emotionless, remote expression he’s worn since she started interrogating him.
Oh, God. The night is already forty-eight hours long. She could let it go, pretend she didn’t see what she did, and curl up with Angel, have sex, sleep. But she knows she can’t do any of those things – not now. Not after what she’s seen.
Buffy firmly grasps Angel’s arm and guides him to sit in front of the fireplace, the empty cold fireplace where normally Angel would have a warming fire burning just for her. She wishes she had that familiar fire to warm the numbing coldness spreading inside her mind and body. Maybe it would help her get through this. Sighing with heavy-hearted remorse, she leans her head on Angel’s shoulder and tries to think how she’s going to get through this again.
When she finally speaks she whispers softly, painfully aware she’s not dealing with the Angel she knows and loves. This one steals her lover and takes him out on dangerous assignments, killing missions, in the name of God knows what. For the umpteenth time she warns him about roaming around on his own; reminds him that what he’s doing is wrong. She’s already frustrated, knowing he won’t remember what she’s said. Or does he purposely ignore her? She can’t be sure.
Angel shakes his head slowly, apologizing and promising not to go off without her. She knows he won’t keep his word. He’ll disappear again when her back is turned.
At least she’s relatively sure Angel is killing only demons and monsters; creatures he sees in visions. It’s some consolation to know that, but in the back of her mind she’s fearful these visions will turn ugly and send false, misleading information causing Angel to, accidentally, kill an innocent. She’s already grieving for when that day may come.
Angel’s had these visions, as he calls them, since shortly after his return from hell. He’s told her they show him all the evil in the world that has to be destroyed. He says he has to kill them all. It’s why he was brought back.
Buffy is leery of his explanation, concerned they’re only thoughts he’s fantasized in his head and not orders from above – or below. She tries not to think it’s a hell-induced insanity but some days it seems highly possible. Soon, she hopes, they’ll disappear and leave him alone; in fact she’s counting on it. But she wonders how many he has to kill before they let him stop. She doesn’t dwell on that. It leads to horrible headaches and sleepless nights.
The visions take a heavy toll on Angel, leaving him exhausted, physically and emotionally, sometimes wounded, but mostly an empty shell. She holds him, comforts him when he mumbles that he hates himself for being an instrument of death. But on a good day he accepts this fate without question, believing he’s forever meant to suffer for his sins, and that these visions are his path to redemption. Then on bad days he rails against the very same thing, broods over this fate that makes him kill and sulks away for hours.
Buffy has learned to live with all of it. There’s no doubt in her mind she’ll stay with him. And she reminds herself he’s rarely this way anymore. The visions are lessening, and more often than not, he’s lucid and loving now, the gentle man she knows. She couldn’t ask for more. And they’re happy. Until the next vision hits and Angel sneaks out to the shadows in the middle of the night and the worry and fretting start all over again.
She’s imagined what he does when he slips out into the night. That’s one thing. But to actually see the results of his rage as she’s seen tonight is another, much worse thing. What she can’t see is much easier to ignore. She tells herself he’s ridding the world of the notoriously evil monsters and fiends, and there’s cause to celebrate, but she fears innocent beings may wander across his path and he won’t recognize them. For the second time tonight she frets. What if he kills one of them? Oh, God.
She desperately prays Angel doesn’t cross that line. She knows that if he does kill an innocent, the right thing to do is stop him, but the only way that can happen is if she kills him. Deep down she knows she won’t. She won’t send Angel to hell – not again – not ever - no matter what he does. It’s a heavy burden on her soul, but she’s seen too much damage, too much death and too much heartache to be that innocent and self-righteous again. She’s compromised everything she’s ever believed…for the sake of love. And she’s getting very good at ignoring what she doesn’t want to face. Life alone is not an option Buffy is willing to face either. She considers that most people who know her would say she’s become somewhat of a monster herself. She thinks she probably has.
Angel is awake when she returns, but he’s frowning and agitated. She sits down and wraps her arms around him, watching him stare at his hand, where his ring should be. He looks at her in bewilderment and says he doesn’t remember losing his ring. He’s sorry, he tells her mournfully. Buffy consoles him, and he leans his head on her shoulder. She tells him it’s ok, that she knows he loves her more than anything. She doesn’t need a ring to tell her that. Angel relaxes a little in her embrace and kisses her. He whispers in her ear that he doesn’t know what he would do without her. She doesn’t know either. Left without a guiding hand, she shudders to think about it. So she doesn’t.
She’s in this, right or wrong. For the long haul, the duration, however the hell long it takes. And Buffy understands when she’s totally rational – which is half the time on a good day – her feelings of responsibility and blame are unwarranted. But God love him, Angel never said a word, never blamed her. But sometimes she wishes he would. She gets tired of yelling at herself.
Still. She shoulders her part of the guilt for his sake and does everything she can to convince him he’s not a monster. He’s beginning to believe her. And there are more positive signs every day that he’s getting better. Whatever has been haunting him now for weeks is waning. She guesses she’ll never really know the truth of the visions, and what would it matter anyway, other than to give her something to be mad at besides Angel or herself. Maybe something to hit besides the wall.
She smiles to herself as she watches Angel caress her fingers, one at a time, massaging them, kissing them. Moments like this melt away everything else.
Her black and white world, the one she swore by all those years, is now deeply immersed in every shade of gray imaginable, and she realizes the grays have always overshadowed the black and white. They’ve always been there, silently but emphatically, screwing with her. Her world never really existed. She thinks about it – long and hard. She can’t change the world, not really, not anymore, and she can’t change Angel. But maybe she can help instead of sitting at home wringing her hands in a pity party. It’s not what she would have believed she’d be doing a year ago, but then she was too naïve and Angel hadn’t been to hell and back. Things were so simple then.
A few days later Buffy finally catches Angel sneaking out. As he reaches for the doorknob she confronts him. He gives her a look of surprise and tries to push past her. She stands firmly in his way, in his face, and tells him she’s going with him. He shakes his head no and argues with her, but she insists, taking his hand tightly in hers. They stare at each other for a moment. Angel’s hand is unsteady, nervous in her grasp, and she knows he’s on the verge of bolting from the room. She leans in and gently kisses him and says she won’t let him go out alone again. After all, he promised he wouldn’t do that anymore. His hand slightly relaxes in hers and he nods, even gives her a little grin as Buffy grabs his sword propped by the door and hands it to him. She picks up her sword and together they leave in silence.
It’s never easy watching Angel. Just as she saw in the mirror he’s swift and merciless, a veritable killing machine, unrelenting rage surging through him. He scares her. But she’s not afraid for herself. She’s here to see that he doesn’t hurt the wrong one. She wants to trust him, but she can’t.
Sometimes she blames the mirror for showing her the truth. A good rant and some wailing, a few well-thrown punches at the wall, and she’s feeling a little better. She had choices. Don’t look in the mirror. Don’t worry about Angel’s nocturnal disappearances. Don’t expect normal. She decides it’s overrated. Those seemingly happy people are just hiding their secrets and fears behind masks of normal. And she thinks joining them isn’t such a bad thing.
Normal. The word sticks in Buffy’s throat like a bitter pill. She starts to laugh. Normal is mowing the grass and planting flowers, walking a dog or making love without showering off demon blood first. It would be hilariously funny, if it wasn’t so painfully true. She’d once or twice dreamed of a normal life – of the whole fairy-tale package. But she’s sure someone took off with her normal and stowed it away on a rocket bound for the outer limits of space, buried it on a far-distant planet, never to be seen again.
In the midst of her rambling thoughts, it occurs to Buffy in a blinding flash of clarity that the evil old mirror needs to be destroyed. She almost kicks herself for not thinking of this sooner. Just shows how befuddled her mind can get, she thinks, when her emotions take over. Shaking her head vigorously to clear all her other thoughts, she focuses on the mirror and its possible connection to Angel’s behavior. There has to be a connection! It’s got to be the workings of some nefarious soulless creature – something that probably followed Angel back from hell, to put him through hell again and again, set up shop inside the mirror and now gloats. Dammit! Whatever hellish thing did this will soon need a new home. The mirror is toast.
Buffy pads over to the sofa where Angel is sleeping again. He always does soon after a kill. Perfect. She doesn’t know what might happen to Angel when the mirror breaks. She pauses for a moment, watching her love sleep so peacefully, but then crosses her fingers and keeps moving. Whatever reaction he might have couldn’t be any worse than what’s happening to him now.
She sneaks away to the tiny room, taking Angel’s sword with her, and pulls back the curtain over the morbid mirror. She takes a deep breath, grabs the sword by the hilt and begins flailing and smashing the glass into jagged slivers and shards that clink to the floor around her feet. It feels good to release the pent up emotions she’s harbored for months.
Buffy feels a teeth-chattering coldness in the air as a wisp of black smoky ribbon hovers near the ceiling, then vanishes. “Goodbye demon, good riddance,” she whispers vehemently. Not bothering to clean up the mess, she closes the door and walks away. Someday she’ll come back and nail the room shut - just as a precaution - though she knows whatever lurked in there is long gone. She’ll probably never know why or how the mirror happened to end up here, but for now, she’s just content to know it’s shattered and worthless.
She’s destroyed the mirror, banished the demon, and feeling a little smug about it. And Angel doesn’t appear to have suffered any ill effects. Mission accomplished.
The sun still comes up in the morning and the world still turns - and there is a huge, shiny glimmer of hope that this madness is over. Today is better than yesterday – or the day before. She may never experience normal the way others do, but she’s accepted something else – something better. She has Angel’s devotion and love, and she has her sanity, most days. She’s the Slayer, and she’ll save the world when she has to. Angel isn’t himself quite yet, but he will be. At least he doesn’t have any more visions. He doesn’t go out at night, stalking and killing evil things, and after Buffy explained what she found and destroyed, he’s slowly coming to terms with what happened. These are the thoughts that keep her grounded. She’s glad the worst is over, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes for Angel to recover. She’ll wait. Forever, if she has to.