: This final chapter is told from Buffy's point-of-view, in second-person present tense.* * * * *
He can’t look at you anymore.
It’s not as simple as not wanting to look at you, or being physically unable to do so; he can’t
One time, for whatever measurement is smaller than a second, you managed to snare his eyes, and what looked back at you was worse than death; it was life, but only in shadow. There was fear – Jesus God, he was terrified of you – and you never wanted that, not from anyone, but especially not from him, and then you remember everything that’s happened to him because of you, long before what had happened that night.
There was anger, and you understood that, could work with that, if only he would let you.
There was shame, such agonizing, heartrending shame, mirrored only by your own.
And finally there was guilt, because he knew he was just as responsible as you, and despite that knowledge, his guilt feels wrong
. It goes against everything you have been taught or believed or thought you knew. Even if the circumstances were his fault, the final outcome is all on you, and as much as you want to own it, you can’t, because you had no more control than he.
That he recognizes this hurts more than it soothes. Both of you are so alone, so trapped by your silence, by your unacknowledged sorrow, and you know that it will never change, because there is no going back, there is no moving on, and right and wrong are useless concepts. There is no black and white when you live only in shadows.
He cannot bear to meet your gaze, and when he senses your eyes upon him – because they always are and he always knows – he hides. Behind a book, behind Giles, in the stacks, in his locker. He hides only from you; to everyone else, his abnormalities are unbearably normal. Almost.
Willow knows…something. It’s frightening to realize that she’s reading you and not him, because she knows him so much better. Except now you’re understanding that she can’t know him at all if he’s able to fool her so easily.
Giles knows; he knows something is wrong, far more wrong than anything in the history of wrongness has ever been, and he gently pleads with you to unburden yourself, to trust in him, but you can’t, because you no longer trust yourself, and because your best friend has suffered enough; because Giles would defend you at the expense of your friend, and part of you wants him to do just that.
And he is
still your friend. That will never change, even if you never speak again. Nothing that happened that night will change the fact that you are part of each other.
Cordelia knows. She doesn’t just suspect, she knows
They got back together almost immediately, and you figured out that she was the one to find him on the floor. She was the one to clean his wounds – your hands on his throat
– and drive him home and bathe him. Now, she is the one who unflinchingly meets your stare. She always did, but now there’s more
. Suspicion has been replaced with knowledge, contempt with loathing, and resentment with unbridled fury.
She holds her tongue at his request, and for no other reason, and part of you hates him for that, because if he won’t force the issue, you’d rather someone whom you know despises you do it for him.
She paces now, all the time, always ready to spring into action, to block your path, to protect and serve. His bodyguard. She is a feral animal in a pretty cage, and he holds the key only because she allows it.
You know, however, that one day soon, she’ll take back possession – if only because it suits her to do so – and unlock the door and come for you. Because even though she knows, even though she understands, even though she holds him accountable, she holds you to a higher standard, and it’s not hypocritical; it is just. Her judgment has always found you lacking but, for the first time, you agree with it. You welcome it.
You watch as he eschews touch, so subtly that he appears foreign. You watch as he floats through the hallways, a living ghost. You watch as he pauses, his breath hitching, whenever he enters the library, his eyes first falling on that spot on the floor. You can tell he wants to scrub it, as if it will remove the taint.
You notice that he always smells like soap now, but it’s not the scent of cleanliness; it’s chemical and acrid. His hair is always wet. The locker room – once the bane of his existence – is now his new best friend, providing hot water whenever he feels the need to indulge. The raw patches on what little skin he exposes indicates that he indulges often.
You understand. You try and you try and you try, but you’ll never get clean. And when you close your eyes, you see him closing his, his voice gone, his fight gone, his choice gone, and you mourn that you have done this to him.
You mourn that both of you have done this to each other.
You look at your hands and you see claws, positive his rent flesh still resides beneath your nails, that your fingers are still slick with his blood. Most revolting is when you remember how much you wanted it, wanted him
, but not then and not that way.
You still feel him inside you, and you know that you will always be inside of him. You were his first.
You are his Angelus.