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Defining Moments (the Look in the Dictionary under Brooding remix)

Buffy is here. Well, not here exactly, but here in the building - down in the catacombs talking to Angel’s secret and not necessarily welcome tenant – the boy who claims he left Sunnydale to protect a girl. What on Earth had possessed him to let this would-be doppelganger in wolf’s clothing past the door… and how did Buffy figure out that this was where he’d chosen to come on his rather vaguely-explained quest?

Cordelia and Doyle had been smart enough – for once - to keep their mouths shut as Angel left the office to head back down to his apartment and he’s still glad of their unexpected restraint. He’s by himself now, sitting in a chair in the near dark, no more in the mood for talking than he was last night, not that Oz had let that stand in his way. Why the wolf had picked his place to get drunk when it was clearly not a habit, Angel would never know, but he’d downed an impressive amount of alcohol – oh had he ever.

Oz had also indulged with equal fervor in amateur psychoanalysis which Angel had done his best to act completely nonchalant – never would he let the boy in on the times when he hit the target dead center. No, he’d done his best to minimize his own revelations and not evince a reaction either way to anything Oz said, trusting the morning hangover to be sufficient punishment for his hubris. Besides, it had been fascinating in a morbid sort of way to see the taciturn wolf transformed by intoxication into philosophical volubility… it reminded him of young William.

He’d never told Buffy about William – not really. Not the important things. As much as he loves her, the totality of his relationship with his family is one of many secrets he never shared, because he knows – knows bone-deep, soul-deep – that all that truth would have turned their love to ash.

Did she keep any secrets from him? He’s often wondered that, but he knows she didn’t, not while they were together. Oz’s well-lubricated discourse last night included the news that Buffy was seduced and abandoned by some college Lothario, but she owes him no duty of confession now – they’re over.

Were they ever real?

He knew her, but she never knew him, and he has the uncomfortable idea that this puts their relationship in the realm of fantasy and not true, lasting love, even if it does hurt that she found her way into someone else’s bed so soon.

A part of him is glad that she suffered for it and he realizes he’s an utter bastard for that, but the feeling is still there.

So many feelings are still there.

If their love wasn’t real, why can he still feel the ache in his heart?

Of course Angel knows too well that myths and lore have razor-sharp claws and the urge to kill, so why be surprised that an illusion built around desperate dreaming has the power to torment him as viciously as the worst fiend in hell?

Giving in seems to be the only option, so he does, letting memories wash over him – that first glimpse of his girl in the sun, her hair shining golden and her eyes sparkling… and the way she was sucking on that lollipop. He groans, trousers tightening at the thought of how much he’d wanted… but no, that was an act in which they never had the chance to indulge. One among so many denied them forever by his curse.

Thinking of the curse somehow dumps him straight out of his Slayer reverie and right into an entirely different realm. His thoughts are suddenly full of Willow. Willow, who cursed him again… with all the same provisions with which the gypsies burdened him.

Is he grateful or angry?

Both, he decides, though gratitude wins out. It has to or he’d have to regret his soul, and as much as it plagues him, he can’t – no, he can’t. It’s his soul, after all, which gives him that small chance of grace. Not, he well knows, if he were to return to dust today, or even tomorrow, but someday… someday. There will be that moment of redemption and he’ll know that the mouth of perdition no longer yawns open, waiting to shred him with its shiny teeth – so much sharper than his own demon’s fangs.

Well there, Angel. You’re a cheerful fellow and no mistake. No wonder Oz chose you as his drinking companion.

A rueful chuckle because Angel has no real idea why the hell the boy showed up here at all or what made him think that Angel would keep his secrets. After all, it’s Willow to whom he owes a debt, not her erstwhile paramour. If he had any honour, he’d pick up the phone and…

And? Tell her that the faithless lover who abandoned her still wants nothing to do with her, for reasons that made no sense to Angel when filtered through liquor but which he’s not sure would make any more sense in the cold light of sobriety? Now there’s the coin with which to repay the favours she’s done him. No, Oz is right – for all the wrong reasons, but the fact remains that Angel won’t say a word to his benefactress. Better for her to think her wolf is baying at a moon far, far away… or to forget him completely and move on at first light.

She won’t, though, will she? Not for her the reckless search for amnesia in a stranger’s bed. No, she’ll light candles on the altar of her dead romance until there’s no more wax in all the world.

You know, Oz’s reasons for leaving Willow make less sense the more he thinks about them. The newly-minted drunkard spouted pretty platitudes about keeping her safe and wanting to protect her from the wolf when Angel thinks that maybe the truth is that he wanted freedom – freedom to pity himself and brood in the fashion Angel himself has elevated into art; freedom to pretend that selfishness is selflessness and that the path of least resistance is a hard road to travel.

Is that what Angel was seeking? Is that what he’s actually done? Was Oz’ s fellow-feeling more accurate than he’d care to admit?

But no, luckily for his sanity, logic acquits him of that crime. There are differences and if the devil is in the details, so too is salvation from the uncomfortable chains of kinship with that wolf. Willow and Oz weren’t denied…

Oh skip the fancy words. They could, were Oz not dead set on monasticism, make love, screw, fuck… whatever they pleased in whatever way pleased them, and that’s no unimportant thing. For all Buffy’s seemingly heartfelt protests about being able to abstain so long as they were together, it was a matter of scant months before she found some callow youth who could give her what Angel never could and for all the pain it causes him, he’s not so sure that wouldn’t have happened had he still been in Sunnydale indulging in frustratingly chaste bouts of slap and tickle with his one and only. A young, healthy woman has appetites only one sort of meat can satisfy and a Slayer even more so.

For the first time, he thinks of Willow that way. Did Oz cheat on her and leave because she wasn’t enough? Because she couldn’t satisfy him? Is that what lies beneath all his convoluted claims of noble motives?

No, for all that she’s not his type, he can see… his demon certainly saw… Yeah, it’s more likely to have been the other way around. A girl who can contain the magical power she does isn’t likely to be tepid in the bedroom, but Oz? Who knows? Maybe she was too much for him. She was, now that he thinks about it, the first to look over the fence and long for a different sort of garden, so it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that wolves aren’t good for much more than howling.

Angel chuckles as he pictures the boy sitting on the edge of the bed and baying while Willow holds a pillow over her head under the covers behind him.

Then he wonders what’s going on in that spare but serviceably soundproof and secure room where Oz is kenneled. What is he telling Buffy? What is she telling him? Memories come and Angel now thinks he said more than he should have. Is Oz sharing any of his insights or those damnably unwise revelations? All right, Angel shouldn’t care, but he does. Real… unreal… the idea that he can’t control how she sees him or feels about him anymore ties him up in knots and he wants to smash things as he thinks about that wolf transforming her image of him into that of a timorous martyr.

He needs to get out of here before he cuts off his nose to spite his face by reducing his furniture to kindling.

So he gets on the elevator and goes upstairs… just in time to hear Buffy’s approach. He quickly takes a seat behind his desk and picks up a book, appearing for all the world as if he’s been quietly reading this whole time. He knows Cordelia and Doyle won’t give the game away – they know who pays their wages.

She walks into his office, face full of care for the boy who broke her best friend’s heart and a look on her face that he knows too well – the look that says goodbye even if her lips never move. He hates that look. But he maintains his equanimity as they exchange idle, superficial chatter and some ‘Alphonse/Gaston’ apologizing even as he wonders how she can’t see that he’s in agony. Seeing her… being in the same room… as hard as being without her is, this is worse. “I think it would be a good idea if we didn’t see each other for awhile,” he says and never has he been more sincere.

She nods, but looks pained in that way which has always maddened him because no, she’s not suffering more than he is, or even as much. Sometimes he wonders if she has any idea how self-centered she seems at moments like this.

Of course, it’s possible that the narcissus in bloom here is him, but he weighs her options against his and can still make an objective claim to bearing the greater burden, so he stands firm in his characterization.

Besides, it doesn’t do a thing to diminish his feelings for her.

“I love you,” he says as she leaves.

She doesn’t turn around or indicate that she’s even heard him. His hands ache anew to break anything and everything within reach.

“Boss?” Doyle’s voice breaks through the scarlet fog of impotent rage. “I made some calls while you were downstairs. A fellow I once knew – he’s got some contacts in Tibet and they put me in touch with this monk. He seems to have this trick with werewolves. Teachin’ ‘em control. Thought you might want to pass that along to Oz.”

It’s at this precise moment that Angel thinks he has his first real friend. “Call a travel agent,” he says in a voice that’s short but not unkind before he turns and heads down to the room where the last link between himself and his broken heart can be found.

Goodbye, Oz.

Goodbye, Sunnydale.

Goodbye… Buffy.

It’s easier to be alone without souvenirs of what he never really had. Maybe, just maybe, his furniture will survive the night.

He keeps walking toward that room and he tries to smile.

The End.
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