The Path Not Taken (Paves The Way)

Author: Anna (bite_or_avoid)

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Summary: Sometimes, the path not chosen is just as important as the one that is.

Rating: R

Author’s Notes: Huge thanks to Kairos for the great ideas and the kind words

**

1999

 

There has never been such a thing as an innocent touch between them.

Her hand lands on his, and she stares, understanding what she’s just done. The shock of the contact is a current that passes through both of them and snaps back on itself again, drawing them into its power.

He kisses her. Hard and fast and warm… Oh God, he’s so warm… and it’s Angel’s smell, his taste, his heartbeat all around her. They crash into his refrigerator, her legs wrapping around his waist. She can feel his desire for her pressing… right… there… and… no hesitation from him, none… she’s never experienced him like this… and… and… he… this… with him is everything she’s ever wanted.

By the time the kitchen table crashes beneath them, Angel’s face is buried in her neck and Buffy’s heart is so full that she pinches herself to make sure she’s not dreaming.

 

 

 

 

2000

 

It isn’t the wedding she imagined as a little girl.

Then again, all this demony business wasn’t high on her ‘When I Grow Up’ list either, so she’s gonna take the happy where she can get it. And marrying Angel isn’t something that was likely to happen… well… until a quarter to never, actually. Not until he became human anyway. Then there were picnics, and plans, and sex, and lots and lots of ice cream, but no talk of anything as serious as marriage. Not yet. Working out the logistics of a Sunnydale-L.A. relationship with someone who didn’t remember how to be human yet refused to hang up his billowy superhero coat was challenging enough, thank you.

Angel immediately became a man possessed, determined to indulge in all the things denied to him as a vampire. One of those newfound joys was driving his convertible, the wind dragging gusty fingers through his hair, travelling up and down the California coastline. He would stop at random spots and just stare out at the ocean, his sensitive eyes half closing even behind the barrier of sunglasses.

He could still smell the sun, he said. But it would never again instill fear in him.

Buffy made sure to remind him of that the first time he came home sporting a sunburn impressive enough to make a lobster jealous.

In any case, they’re driving up the coast one afternoon when Angel suddenly pulls over. There’s a small building ahead—a shack really—overlooking the ocean. A man walks out of the front door and waves. Buffy turns startled eyes to her boyfriend.

“This is what we’re doing for your birthday?”

Angel frowns. It doesn’t look as foreboding as it used to in partial lighting. “It’s not my birthday.”

“Well, technically it’s your Un-Death Day, but that’s… morbid. I suppose it could be your Yay-I’m-Not-A-Vampire-Anymore Day, but I thought you’d like birthday better. I know how traditional you are.”

He laughs; there’s a lightness to it she still can’t get used to, even after a year of being with him like this. “I’ll show you traditional. Buffy… will you…?”

He motions toward the shack, and when she looks again, Buffy can distinctly make out the clerical collar shack-man is sporting.

She stares at Angel, speechless. He takes the rare opportunity to lean in, placing warm palms against the sides of her neck.

“All I’ve ever wanted was to do right by you, Buffy. Before… the way I was… it just wasn’t possible. But now…” He moves closer and brushes his lips against hers. “I can spend my whole life trying to deserve you. Please let me.”

“But I’m wearing my comfy jeans.”

She instantly feels appalled. The man she’s loved for so long she doesn’t remember not loving him just proposed, and all she can talk about is her jeans?

But Angel just laughs again in that easy way. “And you’re still the most beautiful thing in the world to me.”

“Love me even when I’m covered with slime, huh?”

“Especially then.”

She laughs, too. Gets out of the car, and starts walking toward the chapel. Trusting that, as always, he’ll be right behind.

“I’m not even gonna ask how you found this place.”

His hand finds hers and squeezes. “It’s probably better if you don’t.”

 

***

 

When she says I do to an ex-vampire, standing in a tiny building that feels like it could collapse around them at any moment, with only the sun and the ocean and an old priest to bear witness, it’s not the wedding she always wanted. But it feels like the most perfect dream.

 

 

2001

 

“Why does everyone assume that my current state is the opposite of conducive to slayage? I mean, I should be out there. Chosen One, and all that. The handbook didn’t exactly come with an except in case of clause.”

Angel chuckles behind her, his breath warm against her back. She shivers with automatic desire. Even as a human, his senses are so finally attuned to her every need that he curls himself tighter against her and begins to trace light patterns across her sensitive breasts.

“You didn’t read the handbook. Besides, Faith can handle it.”

Buffy scoffs, insulted beyond coherent speech, and tries to turn in his arms.

“Shhh,” he soothes, stilling her more effectively with gentle touches than if he still had vampire strength. “You’re supposed to be resting.”

“And trust man-poaching psycho-Slayer to perform dutifully instead of signing up for Team Big Bad? Not buying into the group insanity.”

“Buffy.”

At his reproachful tone, she does turn. “Careful which horse you back, there, bucko.”

“Did you just refer to yourself as—”

“Oh, no you don’t. Nice try with the diversionary tactic, but you’re not getting off the hook that easy.”

Angel leans back against the headboard and sighs. “I never do.”

Buffy sits up, trying to cross her legs awkwardly, and pointing an angry finger at her husband. She never figured herself for the kind of girl to do the pointy finger thing, but that’s probably because she normally has sharper things to point.

“You’re all about boring old facts, so let’s review our history here, shall we? Faith hooked up with the Mayor. She tried to seduce you. Then she tried to turn you. Then she tried to kill you. Flash forward a year. She wakes up from her coma, body-swap- thingy’s me, and tries to seduce human- you. Are we seeing a pattern here?”

She knows this is a really old argument with no clear-cut winner. Angel is going to stick up for Faith anyway, despite everything, and Buffy’s going to sulk about it. She knows this, just like she knows the next words out of his mouth are going to be…

“But she didn’t seduce me.”

“Only because you were smart enough to realize that I wasn’t me! Or, you know, that she wasn’t. But what if you hadn’t? What if you—”

“Buffy.” This time there is no reproach. Just the tenderness and adoration that never fail to take her breath away. He reaches up to cup her cheek. “If I was blind, I would know you.”

“That’s not fair,” she whispers.

“It’s not?”

She shakes her head adamantly. “Nope. Because you say something like that and, whammo. Buffy puddle, argument over. It’s fighting dirty.”

He smirks knowingly. “With you, my love, I’ll take what victory I can get.”

Buffy pouts. Just like she knew she would five minutes ago. “But—”

“Look, you don’t have to remind me about everything Faith’s pulled. But when it was all said and done, she asked for my help, Buffy. She tried to atone. She’s still trying. I can’t ever turn my back on someone who needs a champion, even if I can’t be the champion I was.”

He suddenly looks ashamed, so burdened by the reality of not being a warrior for the Powers any longer, that it’s like the last three years didn’t happen. Like he’s still her dark, broody vamp, with a list of sins the size of Pluto to atone for, and a guilt-complex to match.

Well, she certainly can’t let that stand. He may not be the stuff of vampire legend anymore, or whatever, but he’s his own man now. The life he’s living matters, dammit, to no one more than her.

“Hey, quit with the nostalgia-face. Don’t go glorifying your blood-drinking days, okay? Besides, you’re my champion.” She takes his hand and places it on her growing belly. “You’ll be her champion, too. Until she’s a teenager anyway. Then you’ll just be the scary guy who threatens her boyfriends.”

A slow smile stretches across Angel’s face and their baby stirs, as if to prove her mother’s point.

 

*

*

*

 

 

Buffy wakes to the smell of damp earth and stale cigarettes. Her hands instinctively fly to her abdomen.

It’s flat, her womb as empty as the rest of her.

This was the worst one yet.

That first year was confusing, but it sort of made sense. She had just seen Angel in L.A., smacked him upside the head with a good dose of well-justified anger, watched him kill some green goblin she had never heard of, and left him in that strangely sunlit office. For a second, she had thought maybe he would stop her. But that would have been a recipe for impending disaster. So the mature plan, then.

Which apparently involved seeing him to tell him not to see her, and then dreaming about him that very same night. That was where the weird factor came in. Or, you know, the weirder than usual factor.

It wasn’t the first time she dreamt of getting sexy with Angel. It certainly wasn’t the first time she imagined him with a heartbeat, all warm and chock-full of humany goodness that she could just savor for the rest of her life. But the sights, the sounds, the sensations were so real, so vivid. Like Technicolor. With surround sound. On steriods. Not even like a Slayer-dream, where Giles could find subtext and portents. More like a memory of something that never really happened.

She spent days mourning a life she hadn’t really lost.

The next time wasn’t much better. It had been like watching a show from the second act, but somehow inherently knowing what you had missed. A whole year’s worth of moments with human-Angel packed under her skin that were as tangible as if she had actually lived them.

She had woken up by her mother’s side with the warmth of a sun-filled church still on her face.

Turned out to just be some overzealous hospital lighting.

And Angel… no, definitely not her husband. Like she would get married at nineteen anyway.

“Oh, Buffy!”

Her mother’s voice interrupted her thoughts. Just as well. That way had always lead to badness.

“What is it, Mom?”

Joyce took her hand, tearful. “Thanksgiving, honey. I just realized. It was yesterday.”

“Oh, Mom.” Buffy wrapped her arms around her mother. “We’ll have you home soon, I promise. And you can make a Christmas feast that will leave us begging for mercy.”

As Joyce drifted back off to sleep, Buffy was left with the uncomfortable feeling that she should remember something. Something important.

She has that same feeling now. But a lot has changed in a year.

Another loss. Another sacrifice. She died to save the world, and it still wasn’t enough.

Nothing seems more important than that.

She realizes, with a sort of detachment, that Thanksgiving was yesterday. Strangely, not really thankful much for the post- turkey day human- Angel fantasy. Three years in a row must qualify for significance of some sort, but she’s too tired to care.

She sits up in bed, suddenly wishing for a mirror. If only to prove to herself that she’s still real.

“Not going to find any self-righteous poufters around here, if that’s what you’re looking for.”

She jumps at the sound of Spike’s voice behind her. But that’s one of the reasons she keeps coming back; when he’s quiet… on the rare occasion that he shuts his trap… she can pretend that he’s not even there.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Buffy climbs out of bed and begins dressing. She won’t look at him though. There’s something about the way he reaches down into the hollowness inside that she can’t take right now.

“Who do you think you’re fooling, Slayer? He’s practically in the bed with us. Never imagined you were into that sort of thing, but—”

“You’re disgusting.”

“You seemed to enjoy it an hour ago.”

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

She slams the door to the crypt on the way out.

The bitch of it is, Spike has a point.

It’s easy to forget sometimes, but he’s the only part of Angel she can still touch.

She hates herself for using him, hates him more for letting her.

This is the opposite of helping, she tells herself. Just give it up.

 

***

 

Cold turkey for two days straight, and she’s like a junkie. Jonesing for a fix.

Jonesing for Spike rates about a ten point five on the disturb-o-meter.

A phone call is all the confirmation she needs that her life is the punch-line to some horribly cruel joke.

“Buffy.”

He says her name the way he always has; like a prayer. She wishes he wouldn’t. The shell she’s become can’t be the cornerstone of his religion anymore.

“Angel.”

“How are you?”

There’s no good way to answer that. When they met last, somewhere midway between their past and his present, he had known at first glance that something was very wrong. The pained understanding in his eyes had kept from her lying.

She wonders if he can read her as easily over the phone.

“Oh, you know, still knee deep in demons. Guess they didn’t get the memo about a post-resurrection grace period.”

There is an awkward silence on the other end of the line. It must be pretty bad if she’s made a two-and a half century old vampire uncomfortable.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, peachy. The not being dead thing is pretty good, actually.”

“If this is a bad time, I can—”

“No, no. It’s always a bad time at Casa de Buffy, so don’t worry about it. What’s up?”

There is another silence, and then he says, carefully, “I was hoping… ah… Wes said he tried calling Giles and…”

Buffy feels a fresh wave of bitterness, replacing the ever-present ache of nothingness. First her father, then Angel, now Giles. Maybe there’s just something inherently leave-able about her. She should ask him sometime.

“Giles left.”

“Left?”

“Yeah. You know, splitsville. Vamoose. Sailed away to parts unknown.”

“Never pictured him as much of a sailor.”

“That was just me being loose with the metaphor. He actually got on a plane and flew back to England.”

“Buffy, I’m sorry, I—”

“What do you want, Angel?” It comes out sharp; brittle words slicing across her tongue like shards of glass. She supposes she’s the one who should be sorry, but what’s the point? He’s not here.

He’s not here.

When it comes, his voice is soft, calm and quiet in a way that used to cover her like a blanket. She could be all wrapped up in its velvety richness and feel so safe. Now, she can barely remember what it was like to be that warm.

“I wanted to tell you something. It’s unbelievable. Nothing like it has ever… That doesn’t matter. I wanted to tell you. Even though it’s going to hurt. Buffy, you’re going to hate me.”

She doesn’t rush to reassure him, to tell him that she never could. In a way, she already hates him a little. Hates that he finally got a life after he walked out of hers.

 “I have a son.”

 

***

 

She lets him tell the whole story without saying a word.

“Soul-having and reproduction-capable. Bet the Watchers Council doesn’t have that one on file.” It’s the only response she can come up with when he’s done.

“I’m so sorry. I just thought you should know.”

“Consider me updated.”

She hangs up after that, despite his efforts to talk about it. Since when did he get so gabby, anyway? Since when did he get to have friends, a business, a child

A child.

Her hands grab at the taut muscles of her belly; that useless flesh can’t sustain a living being. She came up from beneath the earth and she screws a soulless vampire and her own soul is still trapped somewhere between this world and the other. There’s no spark of life inside her anymore. She just is, existing.

She throws up, brushes her teeth, and leaves the house.

No excuses needed for where she’s heading. No one to answer to. It’s fitting, in a way, that she would find something close to comfort in the sharp curves of his body and the sharper turns of his tongue.

Fucking Spike doesn’t make her feel more alive; it makes her feel less alone.

She may have a pulse, but she’s just as dead as he is.

 

 

2002   

 

It’s only when she hears the note of worry in Cordy’s voice that Buffy realizes what Angel has done.

Three minutes later she’s got an address.

(Threatening to bring Xander by the A.I. offices always does the trick.)

No sooner does Willow’s foot cross the threshold for emergency Kathy-sitting duty, than the redhead realizes that Angel is in very real danger.

From a very pissed off wife.

“What the hell does he think he’s doing, Will?” Buffy gesticulates wildly between throwing weapons into a haphazard pile.

“Well, Angel does know a whole lot about a whole lot of old stuff. I’m sure he thought it through.”

“Really? This is the genius who insists on working as a P.I. specializing in the supernatural when he is no longer one of the supernatural!”

The witch seems to take offense. “Hey! Just because he’s human now doesn’t mean he’s useless.”

“I know that! But, ex-vampire. Ex. As in, of the past. As in, hand-to-hand combat with poisonous demons leaves you with more than just a funny tingly feeling.”

Willow sighs. “Look, I’m not taking sides or anything. And I’m totally on yours, by the way. But he’s still who he is, Buffy. He’s got that helpless motto and everything.”

“He also has a wife and a baby girl to think about.” She kisses the top of Kathy’s head and moves toward the door. “That thing better have left enough of him for me to strangle.”

 

***

 

Everyone knows that all respectable demons hang out in sewers, abandoned warehouses, and filthy alleys.

This one just happens to enjoy the ambiance of old Hollywood mansions.

The gothic pillars and twisted steeples make the place look like Tim Burton’s funhouse. Definitely minus the fun when she finds Doyle unconscious in the entryway. The floor shifts under her very feet, lengthening and merging and blending, walls transforming even as she walks past them. Buffy follows the sounds of a struggle, while the rapidly changing scenery begins to resemble something strangely familiar.

She emerges like a mouse out of a maze into the living room of the old mansion on Crawford Street.

And finds Angel face to face with…

Himself?

 

***

 

They’re identical in every way. Right down to Angel’s trademark monochromatic ensemble. (She was hoping that humanity would have inspired him to diversify his wardrobe, but no dice.)

Scratch that. Of the two Angels now staring at her, one is holding a sword. The other, a dagger.

“What are you doing here?” they ask in unison.

Buffy stares. She’s seen this before. Only then it was funnier. At least, after Xander’s two halves stopped trying to kill each other.

“Okay, which one of you is my you?”

“Buffy, get out of here! Now!” Dagger-Angel sounds desperate.

“Is it really necessary to talk to her that way?” Sword-Angel casts him a disapproving frown before stepping toward Buffy. “I’m sorry, lover. This was something I needed to do on my own.”

 “And what’s that, exactly?” She clenches her fists, his casual use of the word lover sending a chill up her spine.

“Why, isn’t it obvious? Exercise my own demon, of course.” He laughs then, a harsh, cruel sound that forever echoes in her nightmares.

Dagger-Angel’s eyes widen in recognition. “Buffy, no, don’t!”

The other smirks—all white teeth and unapologetic evil and the bitter taste of lost innocence. “Oh, yes, Buff, please do!”

A sudden scream fills the room. It takes Buffy a moment to realize that it’s not hers.

The figure of her husband is splayed on the ground, yellow blood oozing from where her stake rests in his heart.

She doesn’t even remember throwing it.

Suddenly, Angel is at her side (her Angel), moving them through once-again morphing rooms.

“We need to get out of here.”

She is too busy reminding herself to breathe to bother arguing.

 

***

 

They’ve been sitting in the unmoving car for the last twenty minutes, her white-knuckled hands gripping the seat tightly enough to hear the frame crack. It is Angel who breaks the stalemate.

“I’m so sorry.”

She swallows back the rising bile.

“I should have warned you. But I wanted… I needed…” He falls silent for a moment. “It didn’t look like that, you know. Not until you came in.”

 “We had the translation all wrong, Buffy. Kiliyakos means poison of the mind, not poison of the body. The demon, it takes your greatest fear and manifests it, uses it against you. That’s why I didn’t tell you I was going. I thought I knew what it would read in you and…” He shrugs helplessly. “I was right.”

“What did it read in you?” The sound of her own voice is foreign. Remote. Like she’s a manifestation too.

Angel turns away, unable to suppress an involuntary shudder.

 

*

*

*

 

This is a new twist on her annual Angel dream-fest. She wonders if there’s a message in there somewhere. L.A.’s recent rain of fire certainly doesn’t make it a top vacation spot anymore, but on a scale of one to Hellmouth, it’s somewhere between Gee, that’s kinda weird and You call this an Apocalypse?

Maybe she should offer a hand anyway.

But then there are demon monks and ancient vamps and an ever-growing number of potentials to protect from the First, and the whole Angel thing fades into non-priority.

It’s not like his Big Bad could bring any more of the dire than hers, right?

 

***

 

A few months later, when Willow rushes off on some top-secret witchy business, Buffy can’t shake the nagging feeling that she should already know why.

 

 

2003     

 

After three days, Buffy finally decides that enough is enough. She goes down to their basement work-out room to find Angel pummeling a punching-bag mercilessly. His face has coalesced into one large purple bruise, the left eye swollen shut. The knuckles of both hands are freshly cracked and bleeding.

It hurts, to see him like this. It hurts more to see what he’s doing to himself. 

“Who’s winning?”

Angel sighs wearily, reaching out his arms to still the bag. “Certainly not my ego.”

“It’ll recover. So will the rest of you.” She strokes his shoulder blade gently, but he flinches, retreating from her touch.

“Don’t coddle me. I’m still a man, Buffy.”

“That’s right! You are a man. Although the resemblance to a two-hundred and fifty year-old baby is uncanny. Seriously, how can you have saved the world as many times as you did and still be a perfect ten on the dummy scale?”

“Well, it was clearly the demon that the world needed. To hell with the rest of me.”

She stares at him aghast. “You miss it! Maybe not the gross parts, but… This is all about the power, isn’t it?”

“It’s always about the power, Buffy. Who has it. Who wants it. Who has it and wants more. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I miss is having a purpose. Being a part of the grand scheme of things.”

Funny, how that’s what he misses. What she wouldn’t give to be purpose-free for a while.

“Some of us are trapped by destiny, Angel. Be glad you got a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

His laugh is hollow, caustic in her ears. “My destiny was to live in torment for a thousand years. Or however long the Powers felt like yanking my chain. This, our life—it’s a reward I never earned. I didn’t consider which would be harder to bear.”

“What about what I earned, what I deserve? Doesn’t that matter?”

“You’re all that matters, Buffy.”

But she can’t ignore the way his shoulders stoop, the way he can’t quite meet her eyes.

That was selfish of her, she knows. He’s been stripped of the prowess that promised to tip the scales between good and evil. He refuses to accept that she doesn’t see him as a liability. Feels useless, helpless, unnecessary.

“I love you, Angel. With or without the vampy bits. It doesn’t change who you are to me.”

She’s acutely aware that he’d said something similar to her once. It hadn’t been an easy pill for her to swallow, either. The Cruciamentum made Slayer into Normal Girl, but it had been a perversion. Once given, power like that can’t be taken back. Not without consequences.

Angel had finally gotten everything he ever wanted.                        

And in the midst of perfect happiness, lost himself.

 

*

*

*

 

She hears about it later.

Over dinner, a lawyer friend of her companion shares a story about how the whole L.A. branch of Wolfram and Hart went completely berserk. Electronics going haywire, mass psychosis, and at least three bludgeonings.

“So, typical day at the office then?” she quips.

“And that CEO of theirs. The Senior Partners had their doubts, of course. But he’s completely given up fighting against them. The best part is, they didn’t have to lift a finger.” He leans forward conspiratorially. “Just goes to show you—the tougher they are, the easier they’re bought.”

Buffy grits her teeth. She never would have believed Angel capable of selling the soul he fought so hard to keep. Then again, she never would have believed it of herself either, and now look at her.

Look at the company she’s keeping. Delayed adolescent rebellion much?

Maybe neither of them is who they used to be. She’s been holding onto the romantic notion that she would always know him, that their connection can survive anything. But romantic notions are for girls like Dawn—girls who still kiss with their eyes closed, and feel the flutter of butterfly wings, and laugh like their hearts have never been broken.

Buffy’s heart has been broken too many times to count. Denial’s not just a river in Egypt. Maybe it’s time she swam back to shore.

Her lover swirls his sherry and laughs. “Angelus never did know his place. So much for the power of destiny.”

The Immortal has always been a sucker for an existential crisis. Buffy just feels like a sucker.

 

 

2004           

 

She is alone in the ruins of an old house.

It is theirs.

The surface of this place called home has been wiped clean of him, of their life together. In fact, the empty space inside her heart is the only evidence that he ever existed at all.

She doesn’t know where he is or how he vanished, or even how she got here. She does know, with a certainty that makes her stomach churn, that he’s not coming back.

The dark skies overhead rumble with foreboding. A second later, rain beats down over the crumbling edifice; water sluicing through the jagged remains of a fever dream. Battle cries can be heard in the distance, yet nothing stirs the calling within into action.

It is not the Slayer’s fight.

There is something she is meant to do. If only she could just remember…

I’ll never forget, she said. Bah! You broads are all alike.”

 “Who’s there?”

A familiar figure emerges from the darkness, squinting against the increasing downpour.

“Oh. It’s you.”

“Well that’s a fine Howdy Doody for you.”

“What do you want, Whistler?”

The little demon purses his lips thoughtfully. “A beer would be nice.”

Buffy gestures to where the kitchen is nothing but a charred wall. “Sorry. Fresh out.”

Whistler sighs, shakes his head, looks up to the Heavens. With a snap of his fingers the rain stops.

“That’s just great.” She wrings the moisture from her limp hair. “No snappy earlier ‘cause the drowned-rat look is all the rage?”

“Nah. It set the proper mood. Dreary, uncomfortable. I swear, you two crazy kids are gonna be the death of me.”

Something between fear and recollection flares hot within her, and Buffy advances menacingly. “Alright, you little weasel. Start talking before I rip off your arm and beat you with it.”

“Woah, relax there, kid. Do you have any idea how many rules I’m breaking just by being here?”

“Why are you here?”

“To help.”

“How does that even the score between good and evil?”

He laughs. “It doesn’t. Thanks to that champion of yours, the whole balance is doing the funky chicken right now. Seems my calendar opened up just in time.”

“Did Angel—”

“Can’t go there. I can only say what I’ve come to say. The question is, are you ready to hear it?”

“I’m ready to introduce you to my fist.”

He stares at her, hard. “Then here it is. Together you were powerful.  Alone, you are dead.”

That’s it? she’s tempted to ask.

But the words trigger something hidden, something primal. She’s suddenly a livewire, vibrating with intensity.

 It’s the truth. She knows it is.

“So what the hell are you waiting for, kid? An engraved invitation?”

 

*

*

*

 

Buffy sits up amidst tangled sheets, pretty clear on exactly one thing.

Either Thanksgiving came really early this year, or the world’s about to end, with Vampire Ex Number One smack dab in the middle of ground zero. Shocking, really.

Maybe she wouldn’t have thought twice if this was just the latest installment of Life With Angel-Imaginary Edition, airing annually in her dreams.

But the thing is… it’s only May.

No, she won’t be waiting for that invitation.

 

***

 

They find each other at the place where a hotel no longer stands.

She has long ago stopped being surprised at the way fate throws them together.

It seems, they both have.

Faith hoists her crossbow over one shoulder and shoots Buffy a crooked grin. “Figured you’d turn up.”

“Like a bad penny, that’s me. How did you know to come?”

The Dark Slayer casts her eyes towards the carnage. “Thought this looked like the Big Guy’s handiwork. Angel and subtle aren’t exactly well acquainted.”

“That whole communication thing isn’t one of his stronger qualities, either.”

“Heroic and stupid, on the other hand… Now that’s him to a T.”

Buffy sighs. She should have known better. It had been her decision to keep to her side of the globe, to believe the things he wanted her to.

To make him think she no longer trusted him. It’s no wonder he hadn’t asked for help.

“Angel.” She whispers his name, the taste of it heavy and familiar on her tongue, like a half-remembered sacrament.

Faith groans beside her. “You’re not gonna start waxing poetic, are you, B?”

Buffy stares at the rubble and ashes, the echo of a dream reverberating through her bones.

Together you were powerful.  Alone, you are dead.

But would she really be here, awareness burning within her, if it was hopeless? Would she feel like she was finally waking up from a long sleep if there was nothing of him left to find?

He’s worth fighting for. That’s what she was supposed to remember. She shoulders the scythe.

“Come on, Faith. No waxing. Let’s get to work.”

 

 

2005               

 

There has never been such a thing as an innocent touch between them.

The bed dips behind her, and she congratulates herself for not pouncing right away. After all, she’s been waiting. His hand smoothes gently over her bare hip, causing an involuntary gasp as she whole-heartedly approves of his intentions. The shock of the contact is a current that passes through both of them and snaps back on itself again, drawing them into its power.

She turns into him and he kisses her. Soft, at first, then harder and faster when he senses her impatience. He traces the contours of her body, lips and tongue igniting fires in their wake. She can feel his desire for her pressing right against where she wants him most.

She flips and straddles him in one fluid motion, and his throaty groan echoes in the space between them.

Want. Take. Have.

Appreciating the finer points of Faith’s philosophy has never been easier.

 

***

 

She wakes up alone, a stickiness tangible between her legs. The blinds are shut against the coming dawn. Cobwebs of sleep are still wrapped tightly around her, and Buffy doesn’t resist their insistent tugging back into the warm cocoon of dreamland.

“Where are you?” she whispers sleepily, turning her face into the pillow. “Where are you, and why aren’t you here?”

“Miss me already?”

The voice is a soft murmur in her ear, and she smiles without opening her eyes. “Where’d you go?”

“Well, someone left their filthy clothes all over the bathroom floor. And judging from the looks of things, you went after that Shuraki nest without me.”

She burrows herself further into the bedding. Why he’s insisting on being all talky now, is beyond her. “Mmmph. Slayer here. Perfectly capable of performing Slayerly duties solo.”

“You just couldn’t wait until I got back. Always the impatient one, Buffy.”

The smirk lacing his tone makes her open her eyes and immediately narrow them at him. He is wearing only black boxer-briefs, arms crossed against his bare chest, looking both deliciously tussled and unbearably pleased with himself.

“I wasn’t the one getting handsy under the covers earlier.”

Angel slides in behind her, body curling around hers. “You weren’t complaining.”

“I never will.” She sighs contentedly at the feel of his cool skin. “What took you so long anyway?”

“Well, Connor—”

“You know what? Don’t even tell me. That kid of yours has enough explaining to do.”

He chuckles softly, mouth caressing the shell of her ear. “I thought Dawn had you all squared away.”

“That’s the problem. Your son, conspiring with my sister. Gives me the wiggins.”

Angel’s lips begin a journey across the nape of her neck. She arches into him, shivering.

“Speaking of conspiring. Care to tell me why a certain bleached-blond pain in my ass is sacked out on our couch?”

“Mmmm. Faith threw him out.”

“Again?”

“Yep. In the middle of the day.”

“Um…. good for her?”

“Angel! He showed up here all… pathetic and crispy. Was I supposed to let him just turn into vamp flambé in the front yard?”

At the reproach, he pulls away a little. “You don’t really want me to answer that.”

Buffy leans back, trying to make him resume his exploration. This discussion isn’t over though, she knows. Anything on the Spike-agenda requires exhaustive brooding and grumbling, before usually petering out at grudging acquiescence.

“So, what? We’ve adopted him?” he asks. There is a hint of petulance to his tone. In never ceases to amuse her how the two vampires reduce each other to bickering old fogies in two seconds flat.

“Don’t worry, honey,” she sooths. “This is Spike we’re talking about. I’m sure he’ll sweet-talk his way back into her pants in no time.”

“That is a mental image I definitely did not need.”

“Agreed and seconded. Anyway, I’m sure he’ll be out of the house by the dinner.”

“What dinner?”

Buffy rolls her eyes. Ancient scary vampire, but still such a guy. “We’ve talked about this. Dinner. Next week. Thanksgiving. Ring any bells?”

“Thanksgiving.” He says it cautiously, as if handling live ammo. When he remains silent, she turns to face him.

His features are composed into a mask of neutrality. She knows that look well; wanted to smash it right off his obstinate face for months after L.A. fell. It can be pretty directly tied to things he still refuses to tell her. But she can see the despair lurking behind his dark eyes, and that’s something she’ll never ignore.

“Angel, what’s wrong?”

He shakes his head silently. Takes some unnecessary breaths in that way he does when he’s trying to steady himself. Her palm glides over the smooth planes of his chest.

“It’s just something I did, a long time ago.”

“You’ve done lots of somethings. There’s like, a quarter of a millennia of somethings to choose from.”

“Buffy, I… I can’t talk about it. Please, don’t ask me to.”

Normally, she’d force the issue. Remind him that when they agreed to give this a shot, there had been ground rules. No more secrets, not even to protect each other. But she still had one of her own, so how could she begrudge him his when he looked so angsty about it?

Not dragging the past into their future; that was a rule too.

“Do you think you’ll ever tell me?”

“Will you ever tell me about your dreams?”

“Touché.”

The truth is, she hasn’t had any. Not since the one that sent her to L.A. and to his rescue. Because he totally needed rescuing. Sometimes, she still feels like those dreams had some deeper meaning she has yet to get. But that mystery is hers and hers alone.

To help her remember.

Her head drops to rest against his chest. There’s something about the stillness of it that centers her.

“Buffy, do you ever wish that—”

“No.” These thoughts, when he voices them, need to be nipped right in the bud. He can wallow in heartbeat envy all he wants. But there’s no sense in suffering for a life that’s just not in the cards instead of living in this one.

For all their interspecies issues, she hasn’t wished humanity on him in a long time. Not once she understood how it could change the fundamental balance between them.

Besides, she’s seen the mayhem a little wishing can cause.

“We are who we are, Angel. And everything that’s happened has led us here. I wouldn’t change that, not for anything.”

“Not even for a normal life?”

“I have a normal-allergy. Or, normal has a Buffy- allergy. Either way, these two things are not mixy.”

That seems to appease him, for now. She doesn’t imagine it’ll last long.

He’s still taciturn as ever, stubborn as ever. He barks out orders and whines when she overrules them. He’s still not great with using his big-boy words. And, God, is he ever the captain of self-flagellation.

But he knows himself, his heart, in ways only someone who’s spent a long time coming to terms with themselves could. He wears his pride like a badge of honor because he’s earned it. He doesn’t walk in her shadow, but beside her, as any true partner should.

They stand shoulder to shoulder, in all their imperfect glory, and tip the scales, if even for a moment. It doesn’t last, of course. The evil always comes. But they always keep fighting.

Together, they are strong.

She’ll never let him forget.

 

 

Fin.

 

 

AN2: For anyone who’s interested, here are the canon timeframes the events take place.

1999- AtS I Will Remember You; 2000- BtVS Shadow/Listening To Fear; 2001- BtVS  Wrecked; AtS Lullaby; 2002- BtVS  Never Leave Me; AtS  Apocalypse, Nowish; 2003- AtS  Destiny; 2004- AtS  Not Fade Away