Title: Rewards
Author: Emily
Summary: "There are moments when Buffy thinks of how it could have been."
Rating: PG 13

There are moments when Buffy thinks of how it could have been.

When she's lying in her bed listening to the rain slowly drip down her window just before she falls asleep.

Or when she wakes up and rolls over to find empty space. Of course, he never stayed the whole night before, so she has nothing to miss. She doesn't know why she's so disappointed about it.

It's just one of those little things that she wishes could have been.

She wishes she hadn't given him perfect happiness too. Or even that she had known it would be just once. These moments are supposed to be special anyway but Buffy just remembers rain and skin. She does not remember the specifics. She can't replay that night in her mind. She thinks she should be able to but she can't. Buffy had always supposed there would be more nights. Surely not just one. She thinks that if she had known that this was it, this was all she would get, then she would remember it better. Or that it would have been more special.

She embroiders on the experience sometimes when she is tired or lonely. She makes up little details that could have been and perhaps were, only she can't remember.

Cordelia buys Angel a puppy. He writes to Buffy you see, every couple of weeks or so. He tells her about the weather, about what movie they all rented out, about the little things. They don't talk about the big things anymore. She thinks she would like to walk the dog with Angel on a crisp spring morning. Maybe stop and get a bagel for breakfast. Recommend her favourite strawberry, banana and kiwi smoothie to him.

He is human now, of course.

It turns out that heroes do get their rewards - eventually - and now Angel has puppies and sunshine.

Buffy is human too. She thinks she always was though but maybe not because surely the Slayer is something other. She's not sure. She still isn't sure if she came back wrong or just turned out wrong. Whichever it was, she is destiny free now though. She doesn't need to worry about it. She is feeling just a little hopeless.

She sits on a sunny terrace and writes back to him. The weather is good, the weather is always good. She is good, she's great in fact, she has a killer tan and he has to tell Cordy about all the shoes here. Dawn is fine too, she's doing great in school. The puppy sounds too cute and he needs to send pictures. Yes, they'll make her wistful and sad but she would like to put them up on a wall all the same and say "This is my ex and his stupid dog. Aren't they adorable?" He needs to take care. Of course she'll take care. She is careful. There is nothing to be afraid of anymore. She does not even need to be careful.

In these moments before she falls asleep, Buffy ponders catching a plane to L.A.

The moment slips away before her very eyes and the thought is suddenly ridiculous. People, of course, change. She can imagine waking up in his arms but she knows it wouldn't work out that way. They would be awkward and maybe their bodies wouldn't fit anymore. They'd eventually run out of words. She likes to hold the ideas in her head though: walking the dog; kissing on some city bench; watching a movie and spilling the popcorn. It's the mundane things that she imagines. These are things that could have happened. They are a possibility.

Only, that's not it.

The possibility has passed, she thinks. They could have had this years ago but years ago they could not have had this because he was a Vampire and she was a Slayer. As for now? They could but they can't. They are human and it is possible but they're so different now that really, it's impossible.

These are the things that could not have happened.

Heroes get their rewards, yes, but always a little too late.

Buffy entertains these thoughts though and sometimes she even considers catching that plane. But it only takes a few seconds for the realisation to hit her that they are not the same people. Angel has a puppy now, and in his last letter he talked about doing DIY, fixing Cordy's shelves. He likes Mexican food and he doesn't wear leather anymore. Buffy drinks black coffee and her hair is brown. She still carries a stake in her purse and she is not afraid of the dark. Afraid of being alone, perhaps, but not of the dark. She has grown up - and now that she has she realises that she preferred being young and complacent. Back then, she could dream without being so absolutely sure that it could not be.

They are not who they were.

She likes to think that they could live the fantasy but knows they never could. Going to L.A would make this painfully true and so she won't go. Buffy likes to think that the dream is out there, waiting for her, whenever she's ready. Yeah, when she's baked and when she is whole then she shall go because he's not getting any older and he'll be waiting. Then, then they can have what they've always wanted. But that's just what she likes to think. What she really thinks? She thinks that the dream died the day she turned seventeen. Or maybe the day she put a sword through his heart or the day he broke her heart in an alley.

And it's not what she has always wanted either. Truth be told, as she got older and as things got harder she thought about it less and less. She thought about it so little that she forgot it. She considered normality with Riley, even Spike, and then with any random perfect guy. The undefinable Mr Right who inevitably comes along to sweep you off your feet. She considers that there is only one. The One. And that the One has been and gone. Because now he's not the same One and so how can the dream be the same dream?

Maybe they were once an always and maybe once this was all they ever wanted and that was once upon a time. So, the dream is dead or faded or gone. Buffy accepts that. Perhaps it was never really there after all - surely dreams are never there and physical anyway. That's why they are dreams, because when you wake up they're not real.

They cannot be real.

There are moments when Buffy thinks of how it could have been.

The little moments in the day when she's not busy. When she thinks about the things that used to be. She remembers her mom and being sixteen and then inevitably Angel. She remembers what it felt like to get older. A feeling that she just can't pinpoint. She imagines living in a house with Angel, he would do DIY and she would make coffee. It seems empty - even in her imagination.

There are moments when Buffy thinks of how it would have been.

It's in these moments that she realises she prefers the impossible lie of how it never could have been.