DISCLAIMER: What Joss said about BtVS and fanfic still goes, so I'm only doing what he wants me to do. But he still owns Buffy and Angel, and all characters connected to their respective shows. So do the WB, Fox and Mutant Enemy, and UPN probably has some residual rights, as well. Lord alone knows who else has an interest, but no infringement is intended on anyone’s rights to anything BtVS/Ats related.
RATING: R for darkness and angst.
SPOILERS: Practically none. Unless you are completely unspoiled for the third season of Angel, as there is a reference to a character who shows up then.
SUMMARY: What if Angel really were immortal? Far future fic.
WARNINGS: I’m not sure the character death(s) presented is/are particularly meaningful in the context of the story, but there is character death. You might need a tissue.
The Last Cold Star
He remembers that she died in his arms, taking with her all the warmth in the world, and on those days when he dares approach the God he has mortally offended, he prays that this is a true memory, not the remnant of an all-too-vivid dream. He long ago lost the ability to distinguish which of the pictures in his mind really happened and which he merely imagined but he has never doubted that Buffy lived, that she loved him, and that dying in his arms was the one wish she clung to. That is why he prays. He cannot bear to think that after all she gave for the world, that modest wish was never granted.
There is nothing left of the world she saved so often, the world that saw his own birth, but that it how it should be. At this far reach of time, how many stars has he seen born, how many witnessed dying?
The last one is dying, now.
Long before the star of his homeworld cast off its outer layers, consuming all within its orbit in its death-throes, the Earth’s children had ventured out to the stars. Whatever they held of value was removed to younger planets beneath brighter suns. He had not moved her sepulcher, knowing she would not have thanked him for salvaging her dust. He had left it to be eaten by the sun and, in that destruction, scattered across the face of the heavens.
It comforts him, sometimes, to think that the breeze blowing past his face, on some world galaxies removed from their own, contains some tiny atomies of his beloved. Such a breeze does not warm him: he carries deep inside a coldness to rival that of the eternal void he has traversed through the millennia, a cold that long ago settled in his bones, chilling the marrow there. Still, the breeze allows him to remember the warmth he knew in her presence and this, too, is a comfort to him.
She saved more than the world, and that more than once. She preserved the walls between the dimensions and in doing so preserved the dimensions, themselves. Time and time again. But that time is incalculably distant, and the other dimensions are all gone now, collapsed in on themselves over the long march of time. With them went most of the demons and nearly all of the magic. He sometimes wonders what force sustains his own unnatural existence now there is no magic left.
There is nothing left, anymore. Only this world, small and barren beneath a fading sun. And only he to bear witness to the triumph of entropy and the death of the last cold star.
He has born witness to all of it. Shan-shu did not mean that he would die until he lived, after all. It meant that he would be dead until he died a final death, his existence eked out in an interminable penance that has not, even yet, come to an end. So long a time, and so little left at the last of it. Most days, he does not remember his own name, though he has never forgotten hers. And then he will think of her voice, and remember the way she always breathed his name with shy wonder and tenderest love, and that will remind him of who he is.
She was always that for him, the light in his darkness, the reason to strive to become. In that, he did succeed. He became someone and he served a purpose. The apocalypses he averted, the Armageddons he fought and won, each of his battles allowed the race of human children to live out their lives in all their destined fullness, as they fulfilled their dream of voyaging amongst the stars. He has seen the birth of almost as many empires as suns, and has mourned their passing. Almost always, he has been the one to provide the last bit of comfort to the last person left of an empire, a galaxy, a planet. He has lost count of how many death-beds he has attended, or how often only he was left to commit the dead to the ground, or the fire, or the sea, or the void of space in whatever ceremony was proper.
His children, Connor’s descendents, were amongst those for whom he performed the final office. He had followed their lives, guardian and protector, as best he could, unto the last generation. His final descendent passed peacefully in her sleep, at the end of a prorogued old age, and was put to rest in ground already holding the bones of her husband, children and grandchildren.
Buffy had no children for him to follow. He still regrets that. Even though there are no humans left now, no living things at all. He still wishes her life had been enriched by motherhood, and thinks the world--all the worlds-- would have been the better for Buffy’s children. He has the same regret, as well, for the long lost souls he murdered in the few years of his villainy. So few years, really, measured against all he has seen, all he has survived, all he has lived through. Not even the blink of an eye. Shorter, still, the span of years he stole from each person butchered to slake his demonic thirst. What is a score of years, or three score, measured against eternity? And yet, for their very transience, those lives were all the more precious. He mourns them, now, more than he did when he was first cursed with his soul.
Not that mourning can save him. He has understood, all along, that the reprieve he was given from hell was simply that: a reprieve and not a pardon. The length of the reprieve, is, in a way, it’s own circle of hell, for at least in death he would be in company with others he has known. And in hell, he might be warm.
There is no company for him, now, nothing alive to offer comfort or fellowship. Even the blood sustaining him is a purely synthetic product, conjured from the very molecules of the air by a science so sophisticated he half believes it is magic. The scientists are long gone and only such of their mechanisms as he chose to rescue survive with him. He saved only what he needs, and he needs little enough: Images of the art he admired, of the plays or movies he enjoyed, music he appreciated. On some days, it is too painful to watch the images--read the words, hear the sounds--preserved by their technology. On some days, it is too painful not to do so. Today, he has turned to one of the writers from the dawn of time, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet providing an odd comfort.
Eventually, the last page is turned, the last word read, and he closes the book. He decides to take a walk and leaves the comfortable metal construct of his house to walk beneath the faded sun. If there is a blessing, or a grace note, it is that he need not wait for night to do so. If the rays of this cold star are too weak to warm him, at least they do not despise his demon flesh, do not seek to devour it with flame. He does not know why this should be so, but is grateful for it. He rarely ventures out at night. When the pale sun sets, taking its light from the sky, the emptiness presses in upon him, for this world has no moon and there is nothing in the heavens at night, no single star, only a vast, illimitable blackness reminding him of all that has been lost. In the weak daylight of the last world, the sun is just bright enough, the sky just blue enough, to make him forget that there is nothing beyond the faint, few clouds above him.
Such things will not long distress him, for the final dying of this last star cannot be far off. He has lived--if that is what he does, he who has found stakes, beheading, and consumption by fire incapable of terminating his weary existence--through such endings countless times before and he is familiar with the signs. In the past, he has simply converted his metal home into his metal ship and ventured out to find the next hospitable planet. But as a ship, his home no longer functions, and it is something of a relief to him that he does not have the materials to make the needed repairs. There are, after all, no other stars to flee to, no other worlds to find, and all he could do with a functioning vessel is drift in the void amidst the stellar grave markers of white dwarves and black holes. Eventually, entropy would triumph over the atoms of his ship, and the void would have him.
Perhaps it will, now, anyway. Whatever ending The Powers That Be have vouchsafed for him must come with the end of this last world.
And so, when the earth shakes beneath him, he does not struggle to maintain his balance, does not race to get to a safety he knows does not exist. He simply turns to watch the suddenly brightening sun, and wonders, idly, if when the outer layers reach him he will know warmth, once more.
His existence cannot be reckoned in years, or even millennia, and his first death was drawn out over a matter of days from the first sharp-sweet touch of his sire’s fangs to the moment when he clawed free of the earth above his coffin. It is almost ironic that his final death takes almost no time at all: the last star explodes, and in an instant the last planet is consumed in flame and he along with it. He experiences a sudden, unbearable brightening of the light, and then the blackness of the void, before that gives way to the streaming of a thousand smaller lights.
Entropy has won. Not even ash is left of him.
It is over too quickly for him to feel, even fleetingly, the warmth of the dying star, but he becomes aware of another kind of warmth drawing near to him now, as the streaming lights resolve themselves into something else.
Bright souls, floating in what must be the ether, in the antechambers of eternity.
He bows his head in acceptance, for it is only justice that his victims should be there, harrying him on to hell.
The one thing he remembers besides Buffy is the face of every man, woman and child he ever slew. Innocent blood, crying out before the throne of heaven, and surely he will soon be very warm, indeed, returned to the hell he has earned for himself. But these well-remembered faces are not as he remembers them. They are not cringing in fear, pleading for mercy, weeping in despair, screaming in agony. They should be full of fury, of rage, demanding vengeance and retribution, triumphant that he has at long last been delivered up to the justice he deserves. He does not defend himself against their blows, having earned them in full measure.
It takes him a few moments to realize that blows are not being rained against him. The touches are gentle, almost tender. And the faces bent toward him are radiant, full of both deep joy and endless compassion. He does not deceive himself. The gentle touches are merely because they need not lower themselves to his destruction when they are delivering him to the devils who can accomplish it, while the joy they feel must surely be at his approaching doom.
"Ponce," he hears a half remembered voice say. He looks around, but cannot find the speaker. "Throw yourself to the lions for a billion, billion years and still can’t shake the old martyr complex. Can’t imagine what she sees in you." It takes him a long time to place a name to that voice.
"Spike." It is not a question. He discovered, the first time, that you meet a lot of people you know in hell, and he knows that Spike earned a seat by the fire.
"Bloody lot you know about it. But a word of advice, mate: doesn’t do to keep a lady waiting."
"Especially when she’s waited quite long enough," she says with a hint of amusement.
He freezes, and the souls surrounding him flutter away. This is wrong. Terribly, bitterly wrong, for she deserves to spend her eternity in heaven, not to be damned along with him.
"You are my heaven," she says simply, drifting up to him, dressed in the white silk of a gown he has only ever dreamed of seeing her wear.
He has carried the memory of her in his heart throughout eternity, and he finds he has not forgotten a single detail. Her eyes are as green, her hair as golden, her lips as softly pink, as sweetly curved, as he remembers. Only one thing has changed: as beautiful as she was in his memory, she is even more beautiful now that she appears before him, once more. And he knows, whatever his own fate, she is not one of the wretched doomed to be cast into the lake of fire.
"Buffy," he whispers reverently. "How?"
She smiles and brings her lips to his and he rediscovers what warmth is as joy explodes through his soul and his heart sings with rapture.
This is not hell, he finally understands, in growing wonder. This is grace, and forgiveness, and mercy. The innocents he murdered do not cry out for vengeance, for the righting of old wrongs, but rather rejoice at his redemption. He weeps in gratitude as the realization comes to him that his penance has been paid, and absolution granted long, long after he gave up hope for it. The gates of heaven have opened, and he has been welcomed into paradise.
For Angel, paradise is the petite blonde girl held fast in his arms.
He has loved her past the last cold star, and she has waited for him beyond it, and they have forever and always to celebrate their love.