Rating: I'll say PG, just cuz, well, a bit angsty in places
Feedback: Twould be nice, that would.
Spoilers: If you know what happened at the end of Season 5/beginning of Season 6, you're set.
Distribution: Here. If for some reason you would like it, please ask me.
Summary: Angel and Buffy meet once more… finally.
Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy. Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you.
Dedication: To all the poor B/A shippers who have been hanging on for dear life for sooooo long.
A Familiar Face
Gold and russet leaves were drifting with the gentle autumn breeze on a warm October afternoon in Sunnydale that day. Buffy snuggled more deeply into her peach wool throw and took another sip of steaming tea as her hazel eyes inspected the landscape through the window. Everything was peaceful. Peaceful and quiet. Very quiet. In fact, she realized, it was too quiet.
With a muttered curse, she heaved herself out of her favorite, comfortable chair by the window and shuffled back to her room. After flipping on the light switch, she fumbled through her bedside table until she retrieved the item she had forgotten once again: her hearing aid. She looked around her bare little bedroom, which was painted what had once been a cheerful shade of yellow but had since aged to a rather sickly manila, and plopped down on the bed. Her one, tiny window threw a small ray of sunlight across half of the faded blue floral bedspread.
"Summers, how did you ever wind up here?" she said aloud to no one. She had developed quite a habit of talking to herself. Perhaps it was because she so rarely had anyone else to converse with.
Suddenly, her Slayer instincts, what was left of them, kicked in. She knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that someone was watching her through the doorway behind her.
"Look, Larry, I already took my medication today," she replied in her cracking voice without even bothering to turn around. "Why don't you go see if Mrs. Bunston is trying to drag race with Mr. Kemp again? Ever since she got that souped-up electric wheelchair, she's turned into a contender for the Indy 500."
For a long moment, there was no response. Then, so quietly that she could barely make it out, she heard again a voice that she still knew at once even though it had been sixty years since the last time she had heard it.
Her breath caught for a moment, and she was overwhelmed by a rush of different emotions, all of them terribly confusing. Swallowing hard, she turned her head and saw him standing in the shadowy doorway.
Time had, of course, done nothing to him. His handsome face was as smooth and youthful as it had been when she was sixteen. Warm brown eyes were smiling at her without a hint of the many years of existence they had seen. His hands… she remembered now that she had always loved his hands… were the same as they had always been, like perfectly sculpted white marble. He smiled at her in greeting, a smile full of affection.
"No," she whispered under her breath. "No, you can't be real. I'm dreaming again, and when I wake up, I'll be alone."
"I'm very much real," he said as he moved towards her and sat down on the half of the bed that was still in shadow. The springs creaked slightly under his weight, and Buffy turned away from him with tears in her eyes.
"What is it?" he asked gently, concern making his velvet voice even more tender than usual.
With a small sob, Buffy stood up and covered her face with her hands, preparing to run from the room. Angel caught her by the arm and stopped her, pulling her close to him and wrapping his arms around her, enfolding her form completely as she began to shake with tears.
"Tell me what's wrong," he urged as he placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head.
"What's wrong?" she responded, sounding unmistakably bitter. "Don't you mean what isn't wrong? Angel, look at me! Would you even have recognized me if you saw me on the street?"
She stepped back from him and waited. His eyes took in the orthopedic shoes on her no longer dainty feet, the sixty or so pounds she'd put on, her liver-spotted hands, the wrinkles that radiated from her eyes and lips, the thick glasses that covered her eyes, and the short, steel gray hair that hung limply around her face.
"I would know you even if I was blind," he chided her. "And none of this matters. You're still as beautiful to me as you ever were. Maybe even more so."
She choked back a bittersweet laugh. "You're lying. But you lie pretty well for an old, dead guy. So, why are you here? I've been retired for about forty years now, so if there's some big nasty to be fought, you've come to the wrong place."
He shook his head. "I just came to be with you."
Buffy blinked her eyes in surprise. After all this time he just showed up on her doorstep? Part of her said she should be angry with him, but the other part of her quickly told it to shut up. From the moment he'd stepped into the room she'd felt the old bond between them. Never, not for one day of her life, had she ever stopped loving him.
"Tell me about yourself. It's been a long time," he said as he sat back down on the bed. She perched herself on a small chair that stood in a corner of the room facing him. "What have you been up to since I saw you last?"
This time Buffy really did laugh. "You mean since that night out in the desert after I came back? Well, let's see. Willow and Tara, I don't think you ever met her, wound up as life-partners. I was godmother to the two children they adopted: Crystal and Rupert. Giles was pretty pleased about that," she said with a wistful smile. "They're both married now and have two kids apiece. I call them my grandchildren."
"And Willow and… Tara, is it?" Angel asked. "How are they doing?"
"Willow passed on about fifteen years ago, and Tara followed not long after," Buffy replied with a catch in her voice. "I still miss them every day. Especially Willow. I never would have guessed that the girl I met on my first day at Sunnydale High being pushed around by Cordelia would turn out to be a friendship that would last so long."
Angel nodded silently. "She always was a special girl. How about Xander?"
Buffy's face took on a pained expression for a moment. "He died not long after the last time I saw you. A Grogoth demon got him. It was going after his girlfriend Anya, who was pregnant at the time, and he managed to kill it but…" her voice drifted away.
Angel reached out a hand and stroked her arm comfortingly.
"The baby was a girl. Anya named her Alexandra, and who became absolutely smitten with the little darling but your own grandchilde Spike. Geez, he doted on her. Spike actually fell in love with Anya and ended up marrying her, something I will never get over until my dying day," Buffy said with a laugh. "He brought up Xander's daughter as if she were his own. Spike and I stayed good friends for the rest of his life. When Anya died five years ago, though, he didn't handle it very well. He started trying to kill every evil demon in a fifty-mile radius, and he managed it pretty well until the last one got him, which was probably what he wanted. The population of nasties is still way down thanks to him. Idiot. I miss him," she mumbled.
"He moved back to England about a year after Xan died. He visited Sunnydale a lot, though. He finally found a girlfriend and got married when he was forty. They never had any children, but he was very happy. He died at ninety."
"She's living in Miami Beach now with her husband. I call her every Sunday at six. After the whole Glory-Key business nothing ever really went out of the ordinary for her again."
"What about you?"
"Well, for starters, I'm the first recorded Slayer who lived long enough to retire. When I was about thirty-eight, my powers started to decrease. Two years later, another Slayer was called up even though I wasn't dead. Unbelievably, the Council appointed me as her Watcher. Which was nice, because I was really sick of working the Welcome Desk at Wal-Mart."
Angel laughed whole-heartedly. It was a wonderful sound, one that she didn't remember ever having heard before. "I bet you were a great Watcher."
"Anita might tell you otherwise. But, hey, she's currently alive and kicking and training her own replacement, so I couldn't have been too bad. But what about you? What's been going on with your end of things?"
"Oh, Cordelia surprised the heck out of everyone by marrying Jonathon, the kid you went to high school with. They've had so many children I've actually lost count at this point. There's Ali, Joe, Ryan, Kate, Stephanie, Angela, Eleanor, Nate," he listed as he ticked them off on his fingers. "I'm forgetting somebody. Oh, wait! The weird little one! Joss!"
Buffy's eyes were huge. "Cordy actually agreed to get fat nine times?"
"Well, some of them were adopted. I always forget which ones. And, happily, so do they. I'm godfather to three of them. I'm guessing you know about Wesley?"
"He was the head of the Council for almost thirty years. Retired to Tibet with his wife, didn't he? What was her name again?"
"Annabelle," Angel answered. "Yes, he's still living in a little village over there."
"A couple of my co-workers got married: Gunn and Fred. I don't think you ever met them. They died a few years ago," Angel said.
"So, you're still carrying on the good fight back in L.A.?" she asked.
Angel gave her a little smile. "Yes and no. I've kind of gone through a few changes."
Angel and changes didn't necessarily go well together as she recalled all too clearly. With a tiny bit of suspicion, she gazed at him warily and questioned, "Such as?"
Very slowly, so as not to frighten her, he stood up and walked deliberately into the sunlight. Absolutely nothing happened to him. Her jaw dropped.
"You're not on fire," she said in disbelief. Then a realization struck her. "And I didn't invite you in."
Angel shook his head and gave her a wink. Buffy, however, was not the least bit amused. In fact, she looked positively livid.
"Now! They do this for you now?" she actually yelled as tears began to stream down her weathered face. "The Powers turn you human when it's no longer even vaguely possible for us to be together? Do you know how many years I hoped and prayed for this to happen? For us to finally live happily ever after? There was never, ever anyone I loved the way I loved you. Eventually I just gave up trying to find my soul mate because I knew I'd already found him, and he was the one man I couldn't have. I tried to remember I was lucky since so many people never experience love at all, but," she began to sob, "but now, to dangle this in front of me, what I wanted for so long, and we can't…" Her words broke off raggedly as he knelt beside her and touched her hand.
"Shhh," he comforted her. "No, Buffy, you've got it all wrong."
"But, you are human now, right?"
The answer startled her so much that she actually stopped crying. "You're still a vampire?"
"No again," he chuckled.
"You've completely lost me," she said with more than a hint of exasperation in her voice.
"Buffy, do you remember what we said that last time we saw each other so long?"
"How could I forget. We were both so torn apart by what had happened that we decided we wouldn't see each other again unless we never had to say goodbye. And now you're finally here, but it's too late," she half-whispered. Then, a sudden thought sprang into her mind. "Angel, if you're not a human, but you're not a vampire, what exactly are you?"
His smile became absolutely dazzling. "You might say my name has become particularly appropriate."
"Bingo," he smirked.
She blinked as she tried to figure out exactly what he meant. Taking pity on her, he filled her in.
"Two years ago, I was battling a Fresnek ogre when it threw me out a twentieth story window at one o'clock in the afternoon on a particularly sunny day. At least there was no mess for anyone to clean up afterwards. Instant ashes."
"You're dead? So what are you doing… here…" She looked at him as realization dawned on her.
"They let me come to be with you when it happens." He took her hand in both of his and kissed it softly. At the same moment, Buffy felt a sudden weight settle over the center of her chest and her breathing became labored. "It's a heart attack, Buffy. I know it's painful, but it'll be over in a few minutes."
"Stay with me," she gasped out, terrified in spite of herself.
"I'm not going anywhere without you," he promised as he cradled her head tenderly against his chest. "You're not alone."
She gripped his hand with the tiny bit of strength she still possessed as her rib cage seemed ready to burst from the pressure. Everything was spinning, and she felt as though she were about to black out. With a great effort, she managed to speak.
"I love you," she said so softly that even a vampire's ears wouldn't have heard her. But Angel's did.
Suddenly, the pain stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Angel had never let go of her hand, and now, once again, he brought it to his lips as he silently guided her to her feet.
It was then that she noticed her own hand. It was now smooth and white and slim, the hand she had possessed when she was a girl. She glanced down and saw the same white dress she had worn so many years ago when she had defeated the Master, her body once more young and perfect.
Angel's eyes were filled with tears of happiness as he brought out of his pocket the same claddagh ring he had given her on her seventeenth birthday. He looked at her, and she smiled at him with just as many teardrops in her own hazel eyes aso once again the ring was placed on her finger, the heart pointing towards her.
"My soul mate."
With that, he grabbed her around the waist and spun her through the air, her long blonde hair fanning behind her, the walls of the dingy retirement home and her discarded body melting away like snow in the July sun. He set her back down and kissed her, their lips moving together with a bliss neither had ever known in life. Then, with a grace she didn't know he possessed, Angel slipped one hand around her waist and caught her right hand in his left. He began to dance with her to a waltz played by the stars that had begun to come out, and as they whirled to the heavenly music, each step brought them higher into the air, leaving the earth behind.
"You know," he whispered into her ear, "you have a whole lot of friends waiting to see you."
Buffy gave him a mischievous smile. "I think they'll understand if we're a little late."
They were very late, indeed.