Okay, this thing probably has something to do with watching Waiting for Godot for my Intro to Theatre class, though reading lots of Wishverse fanfiction recently might have also contributed.
Buffy and Angel, Wishverse incarnations or not, are still not mine, because I am still not Joss.
A little bit of explanation on my train of thought is probably required for this one. Buffy and Angel were both killed in the Wishverse before Giles smashed Anyanka's necklace and all was right with the world again. So, in effect, smashing the necklace ended that world. This is what my incredibly random muse decided should happen to Buffy and Angel (who are still dead) as a result of their world no longer existing. Xander and Willow don't join them in this scenario because they were soulless vampires, so, dead or not, they wouldn't have ended up with Buffy and Angel anyway. Cordelia isn't involved either because she died much earlier in the episode and wasn't even native to the Wishverse in the first place. *shrug* Make what you will of it. As always, reviews are very happy things.
He became gradually aware that the agonizing pain had ended. And so, it seemed, had everything else. Where was he? What had happened? More to the point, who was he? He found it difficult to concentrate. Fragmented images flashed distractingly in his mind, more powerful than the murky gray scenery swirling around him. Red hair, black leather, pain. The smell of his own flesh burning. He flinched and cast around for something else to focus on. He tried to get his bearings, but his surroundings only confused him further, so he retreated back into his thoughts. Memories or hallucinations? He couldn't tell. He couldn't find it in him to care one way or the other, so he merely took the part of impartial observer. What he observed, however, quickly made him decidedly less impartial. A long blonde braid, hardened gray-green eyes, scarred lips. The Slayer. Buffy. As surely as he knew that, he suddenly knew the answer to at least one of his earlier questions, and felt close to discovering the answers to the others as well. Angel. That was his name. Ironic though it was. That gave him pause; why should it be ironic? Why should it be anything? He pushed these thoughts aside. Additional questions were only making things more confusing.
Angel looked down at his hands. The pale skin was clean and whole. He didn't know why, but was quite sure it had been neither only a moment ago. The mysteriously unblemished hands went instinctively to his chest, as if to clutch wounds, but none were there either. Before he could be too puzzled about this, the images returned. It was like a forgotten dream that comes back gradually, but far more vivid. A battle. Hopeless, outnumbered, chaotic. She was there with him, and then one of his tormentors was coming at her. Without thought, he dove to intercept the fatal blow, and called her name as the world fell away.
Almost mechanically now, everything began to click into place. He was dead—well, more dead than usual. He had died for her. It was certainly a better death than the one he had anticipated, which would have involved a few more months of starvation and torture before getting unceremoniously staked by his apathetic redheaded jailor. Now that he knew who he was and how he had arrived in his current setting, he decided that the matter of where he was had become a suitably pressing mystery. He didn't have time to do much more than ascertain (to his bemusement) that he didn't seem to be in hell, as he had always expected, when he realized that he had company.
"What? How did I get here?" It was her voice. Angel turned to look at Buffy and felt a disconnected sort of anguish. Apparently dying for her hadn't been enough.
"Probably the same way I did," he answered quietly. She whipped around to stare at him, and he noted immediately that there was no longer a scar across her lips. She brought a hand up to rub her neck, though she was apparently unconscious of the action.
"You," said Buffy, her eyes widening in recognition. She frowned and shook her head. "What do you mean? And where's here?" Before he could answer, her expression took on a whole new level of astonishment and she spoke again. "I saw you get staked. What's going on?"
"I did get staked. He would have killed you, but I stopped him," said Angel tonelessly. Something like horror was clouding in Buffy's eyes, and he couldn't bring himself to help her come to the unhappy conclusion more quickly.
"But if you're dead...," she trailed off and looked around at the grayness for a moment before locking gazes with him again in desperation.
"I was supposed to help you," he said, echoing his earlier words to her with the added hollowness of failure.
"I'm dead?" she asked. The anguish Angel already felt threatened to become less disconnected, but there seemed to be an impenetrable barrier between him and his ability to feel anything.
"Yes." Buffy's eyes dropped to examine her own feet. They remained silent for what felt like quite a long time.
"I guess I knew it would happen sooner or later," she said finally, her voice as devoid of emotion as his. "Hell, I almost welcomed it."
"I know the feeling." She looked back up at him, and her head tilted and eyes narrowed with curiosity.
"You really are different from the other ones, aren't you?"
"I wasn't always."
"What happened?" It was his turn to give the curious look. Why did she care?
"Killed the wrong girl. Her people restored my soul in punishment."
"What, were they all out of boils and blinding torment?" Buffy frowned at her own choice of words, though she didn't know why.
"Why are you asking me this?" said Angel. She shrugged.
"Well, if you haven't noticed, you're the only one around. Which means you're the only one who can distract me from the whole 'being dead', which is a concept I really don't want to look at too closely right now."
"Fair enough." Buffy sat down rather abruptly and gestured at the patch of indistinct grayness in front of her. Still a little perplexed, he sat as well and watched as she drew her knees up to her chest and leaned her chin on them. They stared blankly at each other for a moment before remembering simultaneously that they'd been having a conversation.
"You were telling me about the very unconventional punishment you got," she said in response to his continued silence.
"Oh. The curse." He blinked. The next words came more easily than he would have expected, and carried with them a sense of déjà vu that he could not place. "When you become a vampire, the demon takes your body, but it doesn't get your soul. That's gone. No conscience, no remorse. It's an easy way to live. You have no idea what it's like to have done the things I've done…and care. I haven't fed on a living human being since that day." Buffy stared at him, a slight frown on her unscarred lips.
"So you really weren't just helping me because of the whole 'the enemy of my enemy' thing, huh?"
"No." Not even close.
"What's your name?" she faltered, "I mean, you already know mine."
"Angel." She looked amused.
"A vampire ghost named Angel. How many ways is that ironic?" she asked.
"You noticed that too, then."
"What did you mean when you were talking about destiny?"
"I don't think it matters anymore." She snorted derisively, and he felt his face form the closest thing that it had to a smile in a century.
"Yeah, I think it's safe to say we've been royally screwed no matter what 'destiny' had to do with anything," she agreed. "Or maybe our destiny was to die like that." Angel wanted to object, but considering the circumstances, doing so wouldn't have made much sense.
They went on in silence, the bulk of which they spent looking at each other, because neither found the alternative of staring into bland grayness very appealing. As they sat there, Angel decided that there could certainly be worse endings than being in the company of the girl he'd fallen hopelessly for the first time he saw her, particularly as the situation showed no signs of changing any time soon.
For her part, Buffy found the presence of the dark almost-stranger oddly comforting. She hadn't had much opportunity to look at him since rescuing him from his prison at The Bronze, nor had she cared to, but she now had all the time in the world for that—the fact that they might not actually be in the world anymore in the first place notwithstanding. With no trace of any of the grime or gruesome wounds that had previously marred his form, she quickly concluded that the phrase "drop-dead gorgeous" had never been so fitting. Then the double-meaning hit her, and she would probably have burst out laughing if not for the strange vagueness that seemed to have penetrated her to the core since her arrival.
The silence stretched longer and longer, and they both felt a sense of disappointed anticipation when everything continued to remain exactly the same. While Angel had long since grown accustomed to brooding on any and all subjects, no matter how dark, Buffy had not, and soon felt cornered by unwanted trains of thought.
"What are we waiting for?" she whispered.
"I don't know," he said, though that wasn't entirely true. He knew what he was waiting for. Surely, at any moment, the grayness would crack open and pull him into a place of fire and torment, while an angelic chorus would lead her away to some glorious place of light and rest.
"I'm scared, Angel." The vulnerability in her almost inaudible voice jerked him out of his dismal reverie, and before he could think better of his actions, he had moved closer and pulled her into his arms. She surprised both of them by melting into the embrace instead of throwing him off, and they sat there for a while, her head buried against his chest as she tried to block everything out. One of his hands gently stroked her hair with soothing, repeated motions. She couldn't remember the last time someone had held her like that, and couldn't bring herself to reject that feeling of safety and warmth that resulted. For whatever reason, Angel cared about her, and Buffy decided to let him.
Try as she might, even within the circle of Angel's arms, Buffy couldn't escape her thoughts. Ever since becoming the "chosen one", everything about her life had gone wrong. As the memories pelted at her, she thought humorlessly that her life was supposed to have flashed before her eyes when she died, not after.
She tried to tell her parents about being the Vampire Slayer, and they put her in a mental institution. Merrick took her out, but only after she'd spent two miserable months in the place. The first week after she was able to return home, both of her parents had been killed by the things she had been chosen to fight. So had Merrick. Her new Watcher in Cleveland had been even colder and more restrictive, and under his instruction, she had become little more than a weapon in the hands of the Council. But that was what the Slayer was supposed to be, right? Emotions were weakness. Grief was weakness. She had been allowed to show neither.
Eventually, the only escape she could see was death, but even then she hadn't been able to seek it. It would come soon enough, whether she wanted it or not. But now she had it, and it was empty. Wasn't she supposed to be with her parents again? Weren't there supposed to be harps and togas and wings or something? Why was she here in this gray nothingness? Was this all there was? She buried her face deeper into Angel's chest at this, suddenly feeling almost painfully grateful that he was there with her.
At her movement, Angel made up his mind. He might deserve this and far worse, but she did not. As much as he wanted to keep holding her in his arms, sitting there wasn't helping anything. It might even be what was keeping them from moving on, or whatever dead people were supposed to do. Gently, he pulled her with him as he stood.
"What are you doing?" she asked in confusion.
"Exploring, I guess," he said. Her face fell.
"Oh. Uh, bye, then," she mumbled. So much for her one source of comfort. Angel shook his head and held out a hand, a real smile breaking out across his features this time. She looked at him uncertainly, but took his hand anyway, and they began to walk together. "So where are we going?" she asked.
"Hopefully somewhere," he said. They walked like that for some time, both a little disheartened when the scenery failed to change. As a means of distraction, they tentatively began to exchange stories from their lives. Buffy smiled when he described the place where he had grown up, and she wondered if—after they found a way out of there—she would get to meet the little sister he spoke of so tenderly. In return, she told him about how much she had loved to ice-skate, and about the fanciful games she had played as a little girl. Angel made a very attentive audience, and soon they were so lost in sharing tales of their pasts that they almost didn't notice when the scenery finally began to change.
"What's that?" she asked. In the distance ahead of them, color was beginning to permeate the grayness.
"Your guess is as good as mine," he said. They continued towards the color, which grew stronger and brighter as they drew nearer, until they were walking through what looked like streaks of the Aurora Borealis. What was more, the vague disconnectedness seemed to have waned somewhat. Their pace quickened as the hope of reaching a destination grew stronger. Rather abruptly, just when the dancing ribbons of light and color had almost become too bright to look at, they arrived at a dimly glowing white wall.
"Um. Okay, you getting a sense of anticlimax too?" asked Buffy.
"Little bit." They exchanged a puzzled glance. Angel watched in mild trepidation as Buffy stretched a hand out towards the white surface. Her fingertips were a mere inch away when she hesitated. She felt Angel squeeze the hand he was still holding slightly, and she felt braver. The instant her skin met the barrier, ripples shot out in every direction. Though she immediately jerked her hand away again, the ripples didn't stop until nothing of the opaque whiteness remained, leaving something more like a window in its wake. On the other side was a very familiar scene for both of them. The day she was called as the Slayer. The day everything changed. It continued, moving simultaneously through both of their lives, but the familiarities in the story stopped after the second week of Buffy's stay in the mental clinic, though Angel saw no difference yet in his.
Buffy watched with an ever-deepening frown of confusion as the story of her life veered off in an entirely different direction than the one she had lived. She watched herself slaying the vampires she knew she had been too late to stop from killing her parents, but her parents were still there. She watched as their endless arguments resulted in divorce, and saw herself burning down the Hemery gym and getting expelled. She watched as she and her mother moved to the very town where she and Angel had just met their deaths—but it was a far brighter and more cheerful place; much worthier of its name than the veritable ghost town she had arrived in. The dark-haired boy she recognized as the vampire who had killed Angel knocked into her in the hall and awkwardly introduced himself. The Watcher who had insisted she leave Cleveland immediately and come to Sunnydale, looking a great deal less scruffy, here insisted that she continue to fulfill her sacred calling. The red-haired girl who'd been torturing Angel for the last two and a half years timidly made way for Cordelia at the drinking fountain—and how did Buffy know the brunette's name in the first place?
Angel's eyes widened when his and Buffy's paths intersected for the first time in this fascinating alternate version of events.
"That was what was supposed to happen," he gasped.
"The Harvest," she said automatically, "I stopped it." The images continued to move through time on the other side of the barrier, feeling more and more like memory as they went—though not nearly enough to take the surreal edge off of seeing it unfold. Buffy watched in wistful awe as friendships stronger than any she'd ever known grew between herself, Willow, and Xander. As her mother continued to be there for her long after she would have died. As Giles became as much of a father as her real dad had ever been. As she died and was brought back, and defeated demon after demon far stronger than any she had ever faced, including the Master. As she fell deeply and irretrievably in love with the vampire whose hand she was now gripping with almost enough force to break bones.
"Why didn't that happen?" Buffy asked in a cracked whisper. Angel said nothing, but he didn't have to. After working its way to the late fall of Buffy's senior year at Sunnydale High, the story of their very different lives seemed to hit a snag, where it began to play on repeat like a broken record. The same few seconds over and over.
"What happened there?" Angel asked. Neither of them was doing anything particularly interesting during those looped moments. Buffy was laughing with Willow and Xander in the school courtyard, and Angel was turning the page of a very worn French existentialist novel from within the shadowy confines of the mansion. For the first time, there was sound to accompany the picture, and they got the answer they'd been looking for, which came in Cordelia's resentful tones.
"That's why," said Angel. "It has to be." That wish had changed everything. It had thwarted destiny.
Buffy looked up at Angel, then back to the repeating scene with a determined expression. She reached out her hand towards it again, and to her triumphant delight, it sank through easily. "What are you doing?" asked Angel in surprise, his grip tightening on her hand.
"Going back," she said simply. "Coming?" He glanced uncertainly from her face to the barrier, and his resolve hardened. He nodded, and they walked through it together.
Willow giggled at Xander's comment, but Buffy frowned, struck by a sudden unexplainable feeling that she'd forgotten something important.
"You okay, Buffy?" asked Willow, noticing her friend's odd reaction.
"What? Oh, yeah. Sorry, what were we talking about?" Buffy asked, shaking her head and looking back and forth into the faces of her two best friends.
"We were plotting ways to get Snyder fired that couldn't be traced back to us," said Xander. Buffy smirked.
Angel looked up from his book, his brow furrowed. For a moment he had been almost certain that he wasn't alone in the mansion. When nothing confirmed the notion, however, he discarded it and turned the page to continue reading.
It's a good thing I didn't actually like Waiting for Godot very much, or I might have just left them there in the gray void where their world used to be before Giles smashed the necklace. They definitely deserved better than that. The barrier thing was like the divide between the two worlds, which is why nothing was there on the side they'd been sitting in. Also, I'm just fond of the Aurora Borealis (which I have yet to actually see in non-picture form, alas), which is why the grayness gave way to stuff that looked like it. But then, that whole Northern Lights plus parallel worlds thing could have been influenced by Frequency, which is an excellent film that I highly recommend.