Disclaimer: Nothing here belongs to me.
A/N: Written for the 2014 I Will Remember You Marathon.
Thanks to spuffy_luvr and nikkiLouise for the beta work.
It's summertime in southern California, so it doesn't really rain. It suits Buffy perfectly fine that way. She doesn't think she could stand the sound or the smell. She has to walk to the diner anyway and she has neither a hood nor an umbrella, and (for possibly the first time in her life) she doesn't have a spare pair of shoes. But about a month into her Anne-hood she wakes up to a crash of thunder that shakes her mattress.
There are no blinds and she's been sleeping with the window open, pretending that the air outside actually cools down the apartment. The carpet is getting wet now, though, and she pushes the sheets aside and crosses the floor to stand and stare out at the street below.
She puts her hands on the damp sill and leans out, just a little, so that the wind brushes her hair against her face and the rain spatters on her cheeks.
The thunder booms in the distance like drum beats, loud and rhythmic.
One of his hands spreads across her abdomen, the other rests on the sill beside hers. She can feel his chest against the back of her shoulders. Angel kisses her hair and he rests his chin on the top of her head.
"This means you have to go, doesn't it?" she asks, her voice low.
"I'm right here."
"It never rains here. Not in the summer."
"Yeah," she can feel the vibrations in his throat when he laughs, "I can see that."
She blinks the water from her eyelashes. Down below on the wet pavement, a man darts across the road without looking, a paper over his head as his only protection. He doesn't get hit, but the car that pulls up a few feet from him, headlights cutting through the dark and rain. The squeal of the tires and the brief cry of the horn cuts into the momentary peacefulness of the night.
"Don't go," she says. She turns away, dislodging his hand from her side. She looks up at him, her hair sticking to her wet face. "Don't go, please."
"You're the one who makes that call," he tells her. With his palm he wipes the dampness from her cheeks and pushes some of her wet hair behind her ears. Now her dry hair is going to get wet too.
"I call no," she says. "I call don't go."
He looks her in the eye and smiles, but when he speaks his voice is not sweet. "It's a little late for that."
She sees the pain flash in his eyes and his hands drop away from her and land against his gut instead. When she looks down, the carpet isn't wet from just rain.
Another boom of thunder cuts her off and her eyes snap open. Her face is wet again.
She lies in bed, aching. The curtains are still in the hot warm air and her pillow is damp. She wipes her nose of the edge of her sleeve and stares at the ceiling.
Angel doesn't talk to her again after graduation. He doesn't call her all summer. Once he leaves Sunnydale, he tries to cut himself off. At most, he half-reaches for a phone when he's near one before pulling away. He makes it all the way until she should be gone and surrounded by college boys her age who can see her in the sun, when Joyce should be at work, and until all he should hear is her voice on the answering machine.
He knows he made the right choice in leaving. No matter how much it hurts for either of them. And he told Buffy before, they can't save everyone, they can't win for good, but he couldn't save Tina or her friends who were already dead long before Doyle broke into his apartment and he lets his failure make him weak.
He still wants her. Still wants to be with her. Still loves her more than anything. But he hangs up the phone when she answers and maybe that means he's not too weak.
Riley probably doesn't know how close he just came to losing several teeth to the Grotto sidewalk.
Don't sneak up on a Slayer. Especially don't sneak up on a Slayer if you're going to clap giant—attractively giant— man-hands on her shoulder.
"What are you guys up to?" Riley drops into the chair between Buffy and Willow as Willow scrambles to cover up the demon research with her other books and then with the napkin holder.
"Studying!" Willow squeaks loudly. "You know, with the books and the words and-and the being good students and all."
Okay, so, future tip, mochas are to-go items during the monster studyage, which is and should remain to be a non-campus type event. Still, Riley's here. And smiling. Cute, normal, unfangy smile, in the sunshine even, which is a fun new occurrence on the Buffy boyfriend front (or, boyfriend-type interest front, at least). That's going to be a bit of an adjustment. Also, Buffy is kind of sure he stuck something on the back of her sweater.
"And we could ask you the same question, Mr. T.A. Man," Buffy says, pawing at the back of her sweater. She needs better nicknames. Also, according to this post-it, 200 copies, double-sided. "What are you doing in the outdoors and not in huddled-over-a-desk-grading-papers places?"
"Two hundred copies," Riley thumps his backpack, "double-sided."
Okay. So, she gets sunshine time with boys in exchange for interesting conversations and an understanding of Slayage. Maybe it's kind of like a trade? That's only fair, right?
Even with the top rolled up, the traditional back alley scents of mould, booze, vomit, and unemptied dumpsters permeate the Plymouth and cause Angel to grimace each time he finds there to be demand for breathing.
Cordelia, it seems, manages to remain oblivious by sheer force of will. She hums a little to herself as she flips through her paperback, her other hand wrapped firmly around her thermos of coffee. With her hands and lap full and no extra space on the seat between them (it's possible that they may have packed more weapons and spy gear than necessary), her stack of cookies has ended up piled atop her breasts and somehow sit quietly without falling, to Angel's continued fascination.
She'd complained about another alley lurking adventure, tried to talk him out of it and into expanding into divorce cases or spying on cheating spouses, but he kind of liked how she complained, in a way. It also almost made him leave her at the hotel and call Gunn instead, because of the way it reminded him of Buffy.
"You never take me any place new."
And now Cordelia is snacking and sipping coffee while on duty and he probably should have brought Gunn, because if you don't have superpowers (fighting super powers, not just precognition superpowers) then you should probably be paying attention during scenarios that might end in demon carnage.
But he kind of likes watching her casualness to the situation, even if it makes him a little sad. He almost asks her if she ever misses Sunnydale, but before he opens his mouth she starts humming and so he turns away and focuses on not breathing.
When they finally get up off the floor, when she finally closes the front door because there's no one outside of it and the person she wants to be outside of it isn't going to be, when they finally haul themselves upstairs still pained and whimpering and gasping for air, she puts Dawn in her bed. Curled up together, Buffy sleeps with one arm pinned under her sister and the other stroking her hair. Buffy's breathing has mostly evened out but her eyes still burn and her cheeks are still damp and sticky. They're both fully dressed.
She's had a lot of forevers to think about for the past few days. The forever of the coffin. The forever of taking care of Dawn. The forever of maybe not seeing her dad again. And for the first time in a while, last night she thought about the forever of her and Angel.
Now it's time to think about the forever of her mother being gone. Because this is it. This is their family. Just her and Dawn and no matter what happens, no matter where they end up in the future or who they add to that count, they're always going to be missing Mom. Forever. And she has to get used to that if she wants anything to be okay.
But still, there's a part of her that keeps thinking about Buffy and Angel forever instead. Maybe because it's a distraction. Maybe because it's the first time she's really thought about Angel since Riley left without tying him to Riley in the 'everyone leaves' sense.
Seeing him again, seeing him again and not fighting over something, was so nice. It was comfortable. She's holding Dawn now but, God, she just wants someone to hold her too. Even if she and Dawn have each other, there's still that hole, that gap. And her friends can't fill that and Angel or Riley can't fill that, but she just wants someone to cover it up, just for a little while.
Between heartbeats, she vacillates between thinking about calling him and not. Thinks the conversation through in her head. Hey, I changed my mind. Come back forever. But—thump thump— she can't do that. She can't just throw her neediness at him. She needs to start being strong, really actually strong and not just pretend-to-make-people-stop-asking strong. And Angel has his own life. His own world. His own forever that, whatever happens in the end, doesn't involve her right now.
He stays in the garden after Kate leaves and thinks over his own words.
Two hundred and forty-seven years ago, Darla had slipped into his life. Or, more accurately, had lured him into hers. And there she shaped him into Angelus. She took the clay of drunken, worthless, layabout Liam and moulded him Angelus, into her perfect, vicious, sadist monster. She created his identity for centuries to come.
He wouldn't have been Angelus without Darla, but he wouldn't have been Angel without Buffy. If Whistler had never shown her to him, he might still be in the gutters. If she had never kissed him, he might have followed Darla into the Master's lair. Buffy was the one who made him care, made him want to fight.
And he'd done that, but he'd never really realised why before. He'd done it because she had. Because that was his new identity. He was Angel, he helped save the world. It was a good identity. And Buffy liked it too.
He'd even said things like he'd just said before. He'd tried to play like he knew all the answers when he was with her. It's not about winning, it's about doing what's right. He'd said it, but he hadn't gotten it before, not until now. At the end of the day, he was still looking to win, looking to save the girl or the day, and looking for the reward. Save enough people, avert enough apocalypses, and he'll Shanshu.
But now he really just wants to help so that he can help. Because, like Holland showed him, everyone is hurting and everyone is suffering. He became who is he because of Buffy, to be on her side. And now, finally, he really is that person and he really wants to save people, he really wants to create some good in the world. He's on her side not because of her, but because of him.
Darla lured him in again, strung him along, and she could because he's not over her, not entirely, probably not ever. But he's also not over Buffy either. They made him into who he is. That's not the sort of thing you just move on from.
But Darla couldn't bring him back, couldn't keep him, because the only difference is that Buffy also turned him into the person he wants to be.
It isn't until later that she realises that when she met Angel, he was a mess. A screwed up, crashed, mangled, tattered-up mess of man who was only just still moving.
It isn't until she's bandaged the gash on her arm, settled the argument of whether or not it's okay to keep possibly hypnotized vampires in the house, and can look across her living room to see Spike curled up under a blanket, shaking like he's coming down with something, coming down from something, that she realises.
She realises that when she threw Angel to the ground when he followed her into an alley on her second night in Sunnydale, that she had saved him. That when she'd promised him her trust in the Bronze, promised her love, promised him more something than a cycle, a sickness, more than a demon, more than what he could ever be with Darla at his side, that she'd pulled him from the alleys and the gutters he'd still lived in in the deep parts of his mind.
She can't say why she fell for him. She can't say why she wanted him as much as she did, because she can never justify the way her heart thump-thumped and fluttered in her chest or the way the blood rushed up to her cheeks when she saw him on those rare nights in the beginning, brooding (or what she could now recognise as lurking) in the corners.
Thoughts of Angel still spark the mostly-dormant teenaged girl in her head. The little girl who lived in fantasies of marrying Christian Slater, and wedding dresses with trains that no practical Slayer would ever touch, and of her parents remarrying, and her sister disappearing off the face of the Earth when she bothered Buffy too much with all her questions and nosiness.
The memory of the way he'd look at her can fill her up with butterflies even now.
When she told them that she could never love anything more than she loved Angel, she meant it. Really, truly, deep down meant it in a way most things aren't meant anymore.
There's a little tiny part of her that he took away with him when he walked away into the smoky dark evening, the scars he left on her neck still puckered and healing, the scars on her heart fresh and raw.
But even with the wounds that mar them both, she can look back and realise that even though neither of them walked away whole, after they'd fallen against each other for those rough and painful three years, they'd both come away put together a bit better than when they'd started.
They'd grown and evolved and changed. Maybe they didn't fit together as well anymore, but if they'd changed before, if they could find others to help them, and find others for them to help, maybe someday they can become something that fits together again.