So sorry for the extended absence, I've hit a bit of a wall with the multi-chapter fic I've been writing, and got distracted working on other things in the meagre spare time my work schedule offers me. Maybe one day I'll stop being scatter-brained, stop working on 6 fics at once, and get it finished for you. In the meantime, I banged this out at the end of last month in hopes of being able to enter it in the IWRY Marathon, but alas I missed the deadline! I decided to post it anyway, since it is IWRY month and all that.
I've had this story idea swimming around in my head for about a year now, and much to my dismay after finally getting it written down my evil muse came up with an alternate-ending that I could see becoming another multi-chapter fic... it'll be awhile before I get to writing it, so please don't hold your breath if you end up being interested! Anyway, I'm not sure that I'm entirely happy with the way this turned out, but I've been trying to edit it for about 3 weeks now and I just don't know how to fix it, so I hope you enjoy anyway.
I know there are definitely a lot of plot holes and unanswered questions, but I always intended it to be a one-shot and I didn't want it to run away with itself by trying to fix all the little details that really aren't important to this overall story. I wanted to focus on the interaction between Buffy and Angel, so I hope all you lovely readers can push aside any of the flaws and just enjoy it for what it is.
The dialogue at the beginning of the story is from the AtS episode "I Will Remember You" (as I'm sure you'll recognize)... I know it probably seems lazy that I have two IWRY centred stories uploaded here, I swear I have other ideas! Long, meandering, other ideas... *shakes fist at muse*
BtVS and AtS belong to Joss Whedon and Co. I'm just borrowing some characters to play make-believe for a little bit.
"What is done can not be undone!"
"What is not yet done can be avoided."
He didn't dare let their words give him hope, not yet, there were still too many unanswered questions.
"Temporal folds are not to indulge at – the whims of lower beings," the Male Oracle scoffed.
He wondered at their words, a temporal fold? How would that help him? How would it save her?
"You are wrong." the Female challenged her companion, turning her full attention back to him, "This one is willing to sacrifice every drop of human happiness and love he has ever known for another. He is not a lower being."
The hope started to grow, he was tempted to drop to his knees and beg, but he figured after being told he was not a lower being that it would be a foolish thing to do.
The Male studied him intently, his attitude still skeptical, but the words of his companion seemed to sway him, "There is one way, but it is not to be undertaken lightly," he stated.
"We swallow this day," the Female explained, watching him curiously, "As though it had never happened. Twenty-four hours from the moment the demon first attacked you, we take it back."
He felt as though his world was crashing around him, his mind was reeling, "Then none of this happened, and Buffy and I..." he couldn't bring himself to utter the words out-loud. If he agreed to this, he would erase everything they shared over the past day, he would erase one of the only truly happy moments they had ever shared together. He knew, on the other hand, if he did not agree, then she would die, "What – what'll stop us from doing the exact same thing again?"
"You," the Female answered, rather matter of factly, "You alone will carry the memory of this day," her eyes were piercing, as though she were searching his soul to see if he was truly noble enough to go through with this, "Can you carry that burden?"
He could, he knew he could, but there was another part of him screaming that it wasn't fair to Buffy, that he shouldn't be making this decision for her, that he had caused her so much pain already.
"Like a normal girl, falling asleep in the arms of her normal boyfriend. It's perfect."
Her words echoed in his ears. She'd been so happy, so rare it was that she had those moments. They were always overshadowed by her responsibilities, by death and destruction. It wasn't fair that she couldn't have the things she wanted. She so desperately deserved them.
"Can you only turn back one day?" he found himself asking, a new idea piecing itself together in his head. One he knew he would regret if they agreed to it, but if he couldn't give her happiness himself, he would find another way to do so.
"Why, Warrior?" the Male asked, "It is sufficient time to fix what you've asked."
"But if you wanted to, you could turn it back further?" he pushed.
The Female narrowed her eyes at him, "Tell us what is troubling you, Warrior,"
"I want five years," he stated. Confidently, despite knowing it was the most outlandish thing he could request of these beings, "I want to go back five years ago, and I want you to make sure this Slayer is never called."
The Oracles were silent for a moment, he readied himself to be thrown out of their chambers, but he was not. Despite this fact, the shock on their faces was evident, "What gives you the right to toy with the tides of time?" the Male barked.
"How many Slayers have been called and have died over the course of history? What does it matter if it's her or another?" he argued.
"Her contribution to the fight against the Darkness has been great. You would take that away from the Powers That Be?" the Female asked in astonishment.
"She's already lived longer than most other Slayers, hasn't she? Hasn't she done enough for your cause?" he demanded.
"She has done much. And you would choose to erase it all?" the Female continued.
"If you do this, I promise I'll make sure the things she's averted don't come to pass, I'll serve the Powers however you need," he begged, "Besides, if she is never called, and we never meet... that alone will change so much,"
As much as he never wanted to think on it, he knew most of the troubles Buffy had faced in the past few years had been caused by him. Spike and Dru, Angelus, Acathla. If he had never been in Sunnydale, she probably never would have faced them to begin with.
The Oracles stole a glance to each other, before looking up to the Heavens as though they were listening for a voice. Finally, after a long and agonizing silence, they turned back to him, "You will be able to live, knowing she will not even remember your name? Your face? Any of the time you shared together?" the Female asked.
He felt the breath being sucked from his lungs, his heart was pounding furiously in his chest, echoing in his ears, as he felt his temperature rise, as his body began to shake; it was possible he was about to lose his very reason for existing, that he was about to let her slip away like grains of sand through his fingers, to a time when she had never been soiled by his touch.
"Yes," he answered, his voice more confident than he thought he'd be able to muster.
The Male glared at him, "If you fail... you realize the consequences will be dire,"
"Then punish me however you will. Just keep her out of it," he answered.
The Female smirked, a sense of intrigue and approval on her face, "Then it is done."
She was there, pacing his apartment when he returned from the Oracles. Relief seemed to wash over her as she saw him descend the stairs, and she threw herself into his arms. He winced slightly, his wounds from the battle the night before still fresh.
"Sorry," she whispered, a small, apologetic smile playing on her lips, "Where did you go? I was worried."
He didn't answer, he just gazed down at her, tears welling in his eyes as he tried to memorize her every feature before she would be ripped away from him forever.
"Angel?" she whispered, her eyes searching his face, her mouth pulled into a frown, "What's wrong?"
He shook his head, and tried his best to smile, the tears blurring his vision betraying him, "Nothing... nothing, I..." he brushed his thumb over her cheek, before winding his fingers into her hair.
Her brow knitted together, and her hands unconsciously flew to his chest, where she rested them over his still beating heart, "That's not a nothing face, that's a something face," she stated, "Spill."
He chuckled. He would miss her flippant way of getting him to talk about his troubles, "I was just thinking about last night," he lied, not wanting to ruin their final moments together. He should tell her what he did, he knew she deserved to know, but he didn't want his last memory with her to be another one filled with tears, "I couldn't-"
"Shhh," she hushed him, her hands coming up to caress the sides of his face, "It's over now. The Mohra's gone and we're both okay,"
"He said more would come," he muttered,
"They always do," she replied nonchalantly, "And I'll kill them, it's what I do,"
He couldn't help smiling. She was so brave, so selfless; she was the type of warrior the world needed, but they would have to find it elsewhere. She would get the happy life she deserved. He leaned down to capture her lips in a kiss, it was sweet and chaste, but he poured into it everything he couldn't put into words. When they broke apart, she was studying him even more curiously.
"Are you sure you're okay?" she asked, "Or did your first near-death experience in over two-hundred years rattle you this much?"
He smiled again, "Maybe. It could be," her smile grew wider upon seeing him grin at her, "Right now I just want to hold you,"
She chuckled, "I'm not going to complain about that," she teased, letting him pull her to his chest. She wrapped her arms around his waist, and turned her head so her ear was pressed over his heart, "This is the best sound in the world," she sighed.
He felt the tears well in his eyes again, now that she wasn't looking at him. He knew their time was almost up, and he tightened his arms around her, "I love you Buffy," he whispered.
She squeezed him tighter, and he almost welcomed the pain as his ribs screamed in protest, "I love you too," she murmured.
He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, and struggled to keep his breathing even, he couldn't let her know he was crying, not with only seconds left.
She knew anyway, and her hand gently rubbing circles over his back was the last thing he felt before the light enveloped them, and threw him backwards in time, where he would never again know the feeling of being held in her arms.
Whistler never came for him.
He was never urged by the funny little man with horrid fashion-sense that there was something he needed to see, yet he went anyway, and on that fateful day he found himself once again hiding in the shaded confines of a beaten-up car outside of Hemery High as he waited for her to emerge.
And she did, just as he remembered her to the first time around. Her hair done perfectly, her clothes not fit for a battle, a lollipop clutched in her hand instead of a stake. She talked animatedly with her friends, before waving goodbye and settling down on the school's front steps.
So Angel waited, holding the breath that he no longer had, hoping that the Oracles had not fooled him, hoping that she would not be approached by the trench-coat-clad older man, telling her she had a destiny.
He waited, and waited and waited... Merrick never showed.
Buffy was finally approached by a young boy on a motorcycle, cocky and arrogant, yet she smiled at him flirtatiously, and after a brief conversation she hopped on the back of his bike and rode away.
Angel's heart screamed in his chest as he watched her go, but he reminded himself that this was what he wanted for her; for her to have someone who could take her in the sunlight.
He hung around Los Angeles for the rest of the year, patrolling, killing vampires. Wherever the girl was who had been called in Buffy's stead, she was not in L.A. but Angel didn't mind, it gave him the opportunity to re-build his strength.
The end of the school year came, and nothing went wrong. Hemery's gymnasium was never set on fire, Buffy was never expelled.
She was free.
He left the next year, headed to Sunnydale as he promised the Oracles he would. The Master would be trying to rise, someone needed to stop him. He discovered Buffy's replacement was a mousy, unassuming brunette. She was a strong fighter, but she lacked Buffy's passion, her fire... her complete and utter disregard for the rules.
Nevertheless, he lurked in the shadows, he didn't make himself known as he had when Buffy was there. He found he didn't feel as compelled to.
Much to his surprise, Giles had still been assigned as her Watcher. He momentarily entertained the idea of approaching him, but immediately the image of Jenny Calendar, her neck twisted at an unnatural angle, her dead eyes open and staring as he artfully arranged her in Giles' bed flashed through his mind, and he retreated. Instead he resorted to anonymously leaving paranormal volumes at the back entrance of the library. Whether Giles found this curious, or merely assumed it was the Council, he didn't care to discover, but the information was enough to avert The Harvest. His next move was to steal the Codex, the volume that held the prophecy that led Buffy to her death at the Master's hands. He remembered her eventually confiding in him that if she had never ventured down there to kill him, he never could have risen. What the Slayer didn't know, definitely wouldn't kill her.
On that fateful evening, with the memory of discovering Buffy face-down in the pool, her hair floating around her like some sort of ghastly mermaid ingrained in his mind, he made his way down into the old church. The Master was alone, he had sent everyone away, assuming he would soon be meeting the one to set him free.
"Angelus..." he muttered in surprise, "You were not whom I was expecting."
"I know," Angel replied stoically.
The Master glared at him, Angel knew he suspected something. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
Angel merely smirked, tightening his grip on his axe, and feeling reassured by the pressure of the stake tucked into the side of his boot, "I'm holding up my end of a bargain."
He was back in Los Angeles after that.
He knew what would come next; Spike and Drusilla. He hoped if he wasn't around, that Dru wouldn't regain her strength, and perhaps would not be insane enough to try and reassemble the Judge. He didn't dare hang around to find out, and went back to spying on Buffy.
It had been easier the year before, in Sunnydale, when he could distract himself with patrolling, covertly sneaking research and clues for what was going on at Giles' feet. He hadn't thought twice about what it would do to see her again, he though he would be content just to know she was safe.
Seeing her hanging off the arm of some football jock, however, nearly made him come undone.
He found himself waiting outside the Oracles, pacing furiously with a book of matches in his hands, glancing every so often at the urn. He wanted to go back, he wanted to march in there and beg them, tell them he made a terrible mistake. Buffy belonged to him, not some insipid teenage boy that would never appreciate the true depths of her heart and soul.
He chuckled to no one. The loneliness had gotten to him, he was beginning to lose his mind. Even if the Oracles didn't toss him out, tell him it was too late to go back on their deal, he would never have Buffy again. They were doomed to lead separate lives, yet remained inextricably linked until the day one of them died. There was nothing either one of them could do to ensure their tale would not end in tragedy. Defeated, he left, and found himself once more standing in the shadow's outside her parents house.
There was only one car in the driveway, and Angel noted that her parents must have divorced sometime in the past year. He wondered how Buffy had dealt with it, if she had someone to lean on. She looked happy enough when he'd seen her leaving school, but he also knew how expertly she could conceal her true emotions when she needed to. Had that only been a skill she had developed to help her with Slaying, or was that something that just came naturally to her?
He waited, and waited, hoping to catch a glimpse of her, but instead was only met with dread, as the later it got, the more often Joyce poked her head through the curtains to peer out at the dark street.
Finally she appeared, sauntering nonchalantly up the walkway to her house, fishing for her keys in her purse. It was a strange sight to Angel, he had never seen her looking so relaxed that late in the evening. Once the sun set, she had always been coiled, ready at any moment for an attack.
Before she could slide her key into the lock, the door flew open, and Joyce pulled her inside, slamming the door behind her. Angel crept closer, and though he couldn't completely make out their words, he could see them arguing passionately through a sliver in the curtains. Joyce continuously pointed to her watch, her face red with rage, Buffy simply looked exasperated, her arms flapping at her sides, the slightest hint of guilt playing on her face, but she was struggling to conceal it. Finally she spun abruptly and flew up the stairs, all the while Joyce was screaming after her.
She appeared in the window of her bedroom moments later, her forehead pressed against the glass, and Angel could see tears streaking her cheeks.
He disappeared back into the night; slayer or not, it seemed he could not save her from pain.
Doyle appeared to him not long after that. Sooner than it had been previously, but he welcomed the distraction from Buffy, and threw himself wholeheartedly into into saving the poor souls in Doyle's visions.
He still swung by Buffy's school, or her house when he could, just to make sure she was safe and alive. She always was, and it always killed him.
Until one evening, as he was waiting in the shadows by her house as he always did, just in time to see Joyce pull her car into the driveway, and sweep inside with a bag of groceries. She'd forgotten to close the blinds, and Angel could see her inside, bustling around, chatting on the phone. There was no sign of Buffy, and Joyce didn't seem to be too concerned.
Climbing up the tree in their yard, he peered into Buffy's room; it was almost empty. The furniture remained, but all the photographs, knick-knacks, clothes discarded on the floor, were gone. It was as though she didn't exist.
Angel's stomach dropped as he realized that Buffy was now 18, she would have left for University.
She was gone, and he had no idea where to find her.
The holidays were the hardest. He didn't care much for them himself, but whenever he thought of his and Buffy's stroll through the snow on that magical Christmas Eve, it was almost impossible to ignore the ache in his heart. He didn't dare go searching for her though. The pain seemed to lessen, the longer he went without her.
The first days had been the hardest after discovering that she was no longer nearby. He had been sullen, more withdrawn than normal. Doyle had taken notice, but hadn't pried. It was what he was always good for, he seemed to have an unspoken understanding of what Angel needed, and to be questioned and prodded about something that seemed to trouble him so was not it. Despite the lack of words spoken on the subject, Angel was thankful to have someone there, to distract him from his grief. He briefly entertained the idea of opening up to him, to explaining what he had done in an attempt to give Buffy a happy life, but he didn't know if that would violate the terms of his agreement.
Instead, he threw himself headlong into saving souls, into patrolling for vampires or other creatures of the night when there were no visions to work with. It was a welcome distraction from his memories of Buffy, from the perpetual wondering of where she was, and how she was doing.
The days turned into weeks, months, years, and before he knew it, she became a constant and subtle ache in his heart, one that he had expertly trained himself to ignore.
That was, until a cruel twist of fate, threw her right in front of his face.
It had been over three years since she had gone off to University, on an abnormally quiet night, almost three whole weeks had passed without Doyle having a vision, and Angel wandered the streets of L.A. in hopes of finding a wayward vampire or demon to fight.
He didn't like the quiet, it often meant something larger was coming; the calm before the storm.
His prayers were answered, in the form of a shrill scream echoing from a nearby alley. Angel took off sprinting towards the sound. Expertly weaving his way through overturned garbage cans and other debris, when he came across two vampires, attacking a petite blonde woman. One threw her to the ground, and before they had time to pounce on her, Angel was on top of them slamming one into the brick wall and staking him before ripping the other off of her. He landed a strong left-hook on the vampire's jaw, send him stumbling backwards into a pile of discarded garbage bags, he scrambled to his feet, and swung at Angel, but he caught his arm, and threw another punch, one that this time caught him in his midsection, and caused him to double over, giving Angel the chance to sweep his legs out from underneath him. He slammed his stake down into his chest, and watched as the ashes settled onto the pavement before turning his attention back to the girl.
What he didn't expect to discover, was Buffy's round, hazel eyes staring up at him in shock and horror.
He froze as he stared at her. She was huddled against the wall, up against the side of a large dumpster. Her knees pulled up to her chest, her arms wrapped around herself, her breathing heavy. There was a large gash in her forehead, and blood was seeping down her temple. Tears shone in her eyes, and a look of complete and utter fear and confusion marred her face.
As soon as he remembered himself, it broke his heart. He had never seen Buffy so terrified, not since that night Merrick had taken her out patrolling for the first time. She'd always been a fierce and fearless warrior, even in the most dire of circumstances.
Against his better judgement, he slowly approached her, she whimpered, and tried to squirm further into the wall, as though she could meld into it if she tried hard enough.
"It's alright," he said softly, dropping the stake, and holding his hands out in front of himself, "It's alright, they're gone."
She looked past him at the pile of ashes the wind was now scattering through the alley, "Wh-what were they?" she whispered.
He frowned, "It's hard to explain..." he muttered, "But you don't have to worry about it anymore," he held out his hand to her, and after studying him silently for a moment, trying to decide whether or not she trusted him, she hesitantly slipped her hand into his and let him pull her to her feet.
Electricity instantly shot up Angel's arm, and he shivered slightly. Even after all this time, after everything that had now only occurred in his memories, he couldn't believe she still had such an effect on him.
She stumbled slightly, and he caught her elbows, helping her back to her feet. She raised a hand to her head, and feeling the lukewarm, stickiness of her own blood there she frowned, and brought her hand in front of her to discover her fingers stained red, "Oh..." she mumbled.
Angel scanned the surroundings, he knew they should not be together, he wondered what the Powers would do, was this some sort of violation of the bargain? Should he have simply walked away? He knew in his heart that he could never have let her fall victim to those monsters. He would simply have to find a way out of this situation before things got complicated. Across the street, he noticed a small Diner, it was early enough that there were still quite a few patrons inside, it didn't look very seedy, and he felt confident that she would be safe inside, "Here," he offered, leading her out of the dank alley, and helping her cross the street, "Go inside, call for help," he instructed her once they arrived outside the door.
"Where are you going?" she asked, wide eyed, gripping his arm as though her life depended on him staying at her side.
"I... I can't be here, I'm sorry," he stammered, unable to explain to her just how excruciating it was for him to be in her presence.
He pried his arm from her grip, it took nearly no effort on his part, and he recalled that she was nothing more than a normal human girl, no slayer strength to keep her safe. With a sad smile he turned away and hurried down the street.
"Wait!" she called after him.
He didn't turn around, the heartache he'd taught himself to ignore over the last three years was throbbing painfully in his chest, he couldn't look at her a moment longer.
"Wait!" she called again.
He balled his fists at his side, and willed his feet to keep carrying him away.
She'd lowered her voice, but his heightened hearing still managed to catch her words.
He ducked around the nearest corner, and decided to take back alley's the rest of the way back to his apartment as tears he'd been holding in for almost six years threatened to spill down his cheeks. He bit them back, he would not cry for the pain he'd inflicted on himself.
It had taken ages, and much willpower for him to forget her again after their brief encounter. He found himself wandering the area aimlessly on countless nights, hoping perhaps to catch another glimpse of her, he wondered if she'd made it home alright after the incident. He should have stayed until he knew she was safe, he would tell himself. He shouldn't have let his emotions get the best of him.
It was another three years before he caught sight of her again. She was intoxicated, that much he was sure of, as she stumbled out of a nightclub, a silly plastic tiara on her head, and a beauty-pageant sash hanging on her frame as a gaggle of giggling girls ushered her out the door. He cursed his luck, he had just been in the area because vampires often lurked these streets, drunken women were an easy kill for them, he had not expected to run into her.
More unexpectedly, he had not anticipated that she would notice him.
She paused as her eyes caught his, and a slight smile spread over her lips. She pulled away from the other females, as they were trying to usher her into a car. She stepped away, from them, and held her finger up to them as though to say 'one minute' as they called after her to come back. She ignored them.
She moved towards where he stood, leaning casually against the wall of a nearby building, simply watching the people come and go. Her eyes never left his form, but he looked around frantically for a way to escape. His body on the other hand, would not cooperate, and he found himself frozen in place as she sauntered up to him.
She grinned sheepishly, and pulled the tiara from her hair, smoothing it down afterwards, "Do you remember me?" she asked.
Against his better judgement, he nodded.
She blushed, and ran a hand over the sash, "I don't think I looked this silly last time though... or maybe I did..." she chuckled, "I was kind-of a mess, I bet."
Angel remained silent, simply watching her, she was older now than he had ever seen her before, but just as beautiful as ever. She had grown into a graceful young woman, he could tell even though she swayed slightly before him, her cheeks flushed from alcohol.
"It's my bachelorette party," she explained, gesturing at the silly get-up, "This wasn't my idea, I was forced into it..."
Angel couldn't help grinning, he could tell she secretly was loving it. It seemed that even in this world there was something making her reluctant to let people know she enjoyed these arbitrary traditions.
"You haven't changed a bit..." she continued, "You look like you haven't even aged,"
Angel frowned, she wouldn't suspect anything, would she? "Neither have you," he offered, hoping to derail her.
She grinned, "You speak!" she chuckled, "And yes I have... I'm getting old!"
Angel swallowed hard, he needed to escape. If circumstances had been different, he would have found the absurdity of her statement amusing. Her old? To him? Even if she lived to be a hundred and one, she would still be young in his eyes.
"I'm sorry for bugging you," she said.
He wished he could tell her it was not bother, he wished he could stand there talking with her all night, he wished a lot of things that he knew would never come to pass, he'd given them up so she could be standing here now, her mind fuzzy from alcohol, about to pile into a car with all of her girl friends, and probably be taken home to her fiancee.
His heart screamed as the fact that she was having a bachelorette party sunk in to his mind, and his eyes trailed down to notice her twisting a delicate diamond ring on her left ring finger.
"I saw you, and I just wanted to thank you," she said hastily.
He looked away from her, "It was nothing,"
"It was something," she argued, "Who knows what would have happened to me if you hadn't come along."
He knew. She would have been dead. Dead, and everything he had given up would have been in vain.
"Besides, if you hadn't brought me to that Diner, I never would have met my fiancee," she said with a dreamy smile.
If anything, her words cause Angel's despair to double. She met the man she was marrying the same evening he had saved her life... so that was how the PTB would punish him for interacting with her.
"I went inside like you told me to, and called the police. He was there, and he was a Med student, so he helped me with the gash on my head," she retold, brushing her hand lightly over her forehead, parting her bangs enough to give Angel a glimpse of a small scar just below her hairline, "I was in the middle of a degree in nursing, so we got talking... and he was really sweet... and here we are now..." she muttered, as though she could tell it was paining him to hear her words.
"Fate... fate works in funny ways," he managed to choke out in response.
"Definitely," she said, studying him quietly, "It's almost as though you're my guardian angel,"
His heart squeezed in his chest, and he ripped his eyes away from her flushed face.
She giggled, "I'm sorry, I must sound like a complete idiot right now... I swear I'm not that drunk."
He smiled sadly, and looked back to her. He'd never seen her inebriated, she'd been too young when they were together. She looked rather bashful and self conscious, as opposed to her friends who still stood beside the car mere feet away, giggling incessantly.
"Will you tell me your name?" she asked.
"I think it's better if I don't," he answered, more to protect his sanity.
She smiled again, there was a twinkle in her eye, like she knew he was trying to hide something.
"Alright," she answered with a nod, "I understand. Thank you though, I mean it. You changed my life... for the better,"
Her words stirred something in him, and he found suddenly, despite the heartache at the thought of her marrying another, that his sadness had lessened.
He had done what he'd asked the Oracles for, he'd given her a normal life. There didn't seem to be a crushing weight on her shoulders, her eyes sparkled with wonder and vivacity, no longer hiding years of hardships and death. It was the way he'd always hoped he'd one day see her looking at him.
"I... You're welcome," he finally stammered.
Her smile widened, and she took a tentative step backwards, towards her friend, "Take care of yourself... see you around guardian angel," she said with a wink, before she spun around and jogged as quickly as she could in her high-heels back to her friends, who instantly began fawning over and pushed her into the car.
They sped away, and against his better judgement, Angel climbed back into his car and followed them to a small bungalow in Santa Monica, where the girls spilled out of the car, escorting Buffy up the front steps. The door swung open, and the silhouette of a tall, broad-shouldered man stood there, shaking his head at the group of women. They pushed Buffy forward, and the man wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her inside, he waved at the girls as they scurried back to the car and drove away, before he turned with Buffy leaning heavily into his side, and closed the door behind them.
Although he knew he was playing with fire, Angel found himself sitting in his car outside the small Santa Monica home on rare occasions. He managed to catch a glimpse of her on her wedding day before she slipped into the limousine. She looked like an angel herself, all dressed in white, her hair in loose curls hanging around her shoulders. In the safety of the shaded confines of his car he finally caught a glimpse of her husband, as they unloaded groceries from their trunk late one afternoon. He had sandy blond hair, light eyes, and seemed to smile constantly in her presence, a stark contrast from Angel's dark, brooding persona. The man dotted on her, wouldn't even let her carry the grocery bags inside the house. A move that caused Buffy to pout, her arms crossed angrily over her chest. Her husband simply continued to smile, and ushered her into the home, his arms piled high with food as though he were her pack mule.
When Angel returned to the home six months later, he understood why the man hadn't wanted her doing anything strenuous, as he caught sight of her stepping out of the door in her hospital scrubs, one hand supporting her evidently swollen belly.
She was pregnant.
Once again, Angel was left feeling empty and hollow, knowing that another man had given Buffy everything he had wished he could give her himself, he tried to imagine the serene smile that played on her lips being for him, instead of the sandy-haired, sunny dispositioned man that was probably inside the home.
It only made him feel worse.
He continued to watch them as her stomach continued to grow, as they brought home the small bundled child from the hospital, as the child grew into a miniature double of Buffy herself.
He slowly found himself smiling as Buffy chased her giggling daughter around the yard, or pushed her on the tire swing her husband had attached to a large tree.
Somedays she would pause, and look around with a mysterious expression on her face as though she felt someone watching her, he found himself wondering if she could still feel his presence.
Angel stepped out of the hospital and let out a heavy and unnecessary sigh. The victim he'd brought in hadn't made it. It wasn't the first time he had failed, but it didn't make the sting of defeat lessen any. He stopped, leaning against the cold brick wall, momentarily letting himself indulge in the despair he felt, before he would have to put his brave face back on, and keep fighting the Good Fight.
It never seemed fair when things happened this way. That he, a monster, could live for centuries, and the poor innocent people he was fighting for sometimes didn't even make it out of their teens. It was during moments like these that he was always reminded of Buffy, of how many times during her high-school career in Sunnydale she had faced death.
"You really do need to tell me your secret," came a voice at his side suddenly, startling him out of his sombre daydream. He turned, and discovered Buffy standing at his side. "I mean you still don't look a day over twenty-five,"
He looked her up and down. She would be thirty-one now, he realized. Her blonde tresses were tied back in a messy bun, she wore a jacket over her hospital scrubs,, and sensible running shoes for bustling about the hospital. She was smiling at him, and he could see the tell-tale beginnings of laugh-lines around her mouth, the tiniest crinkles in the corners of her eyes. She was aging, but she still took his breath away.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, immediately realizing the idiocy of the question.
"Just finished a shift... what about you?" she answered. She didn't even smirk at his inane query.
"I um... I brought someone in..." he answered quietly, looking away from her as his thoughts suddenly returned to the young girl he had been unable to rescue.
"Still saving lives I see," she quipped.
His eyes fell to the ground.
"Oh..." she whispered. Without even having to say anything, she understood that he had not been as successful with this person as his heroics had been with her, "Was it someone close?"
He shook his head, "No, but she was too young." Almost as young as Buffy had been when the Master had drowned her, almost as young as she had been when Angel had thought he had lost her forever.
"I'm sorry," she said, he voice full of empathy. He wondered how much of it was genuine, and how much of it was years of practice, but when he looked back towards her he discovered her face filled with pain. Once their eyes met, she attempted a smile, "Do you... do you want to go for a drink? I had a long day, and you look like you could use some cheering up," she asked with a smile.
"No, I really shouldn't," he replied hastily.
"Come on, I'll buy," she tried to encourage.
"I can't," he said, taking a step away from her.
She continued to smile at him, "Right," she nodded.
He nodded in return, and finally found the strength to turn away from her.
"I have a daughter now," she called after him.
He turned back to her, unbidden, and cursed his lack of willpower, "Sorry?"
"I have a daughter now," she repeated, a brilliant smile on her face, and she laughed, "I'm sorry, I don't know why I feel so compelled to tell you about my life!"
He smiled bitterly, and took a step back towards her, "It's alright," he said, hoping she would continue. As much as he knew he should leave, he would give anything for a few minutes in her presence.
She smiled again, gratefully, "She's just started the first grade... her name's Angela... I was going to name her after my mother, but Joyce is such an old-lady name, and I just couldn't do that to her," she rambled.
Angel found himself smiling despite himself, "I'm sure if she's anything like you, she's a wonderful kid,"
Buffy rolled her eyes, "She's way too much like me... even the bad parts. Stubborn and independent to a fault... but I love her,"
Angel nodded again, imagining the miniature Buffy he'd seen on so many occasions racing around the yard, just a bundle of energy. He suddenly found himself wishing she were his.
"I'm sorry, I must be keeping you... I should get home anyway," she said after a few moments of awkward silence.
"No, it's fine," he replied hastily, "But... but I'm sure you want to get back to your family."
"I should," she agreed, "I just thought I should say hello since you were there and all... goodnight," flashing one last smile, she turned to leave.
"Wait," he called suddenly, curiosity getting the best of him.
She turned back, a questioning expression on her face.
"Can I ask you something?" he asked.
She nodded, and waited silently for him to continue.
For ages he had wondered about her life, about what had happened to her to cause her to make the choices she had made in this time. If she was so willing to talk to him despite him being a stranger to her in this world, why not take advantage? "Why nursing?" he asked.
Her eyes suddenly begun to twinkle with wonder, and he wished he could be inside her head, know what she was thinking, "Why do you want to know?" she asked.
He shrugged, "I'm curious, I'm nosey, whatever you want to think,"
She grinned again, but as she contemplated his question, she became still and silent, "I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I got out of high school..." she began, "I was a cheerleader, a bit of an airhead..."
Angel watched her silently, she seemed a bit ashamed of her shallow past.
"But then my Mom got sick at the end of my Freshman year in University. A tumour. I dropped out to take care of her, but it was too late."
"I'm sorry," Angel whispered, he wondered if in her Slayer life Joyce would have fallen ill as well. Was this a price she had to pay for being spared the calling of the Chosen One?
Her expression was sorrowful as she continued, but there was a strength behind it, a hope and a determination that he remembered her to always have, "Thanks... but it wasn't all bad. It sort of opened up my eyes, I realized that there was this whole world out there that I was completely oblivious to. It made me realize that I wanted to do this, that I wanted to help people. It was a little ironic considering how much I used to hate hospitals, but after spending so much time in one with my mother, I started to realize it was a whole world in it's own,"
He didn't speak, he waited for her to continue.
"People are born, people die... people cry and laugh... everything is more urgent, more important... people are more alive here, even when they're dying. And I get to be a part of it," she finished with a smile, "God, I say the stupidest things to you!" she chuckled, shaking her head.
"No," Angel answered with a smile, "I thought it was rather nice," and he suddenly felt better about his choice. She may not be stopping the end of the world, but she would fight to keep someone's world from ending; and from the look on her face, he knew that she would do it with the same fire and passion she had put into slaying.
"I guess it doesn't really matter what you think anyway," she continued.
His brow furrowed, "Why would you say that?"
"Because you're not real," she explained, taking a step away from him, her eyes still twinkling as she tried valiantly to keep from smirking at him, "Until next time, angel."
The end of days was coming, everything was unravelling. The Hellmouth had been destroyed, Sunnydale was reduced to nothing more than a crater.
And now it was coming to Los Angeles.
He waited across the street until he saw her husband and Angela climb into the car with one of her friends and drive away. Buffy stood in the doorway for a moment, waving after them.
He ran across the lawn, and pounded furiously on the door as soon as he was certain the car wasn't turning back around. It flew open, and Buffy studied him in shock, "Oh... hello..."
"Do you trust me?" he asked her.
She nodded, without hesitation.
"Then listen to me carefully;" he began, noticing how she gripped the door too tightly, how her body seemed to tense, how her eyes grew suddenly dark, "Something bad is coming, I can't explain it to you more than that, but you need to leave California, and you need to do it now."
Her face became ashen as she watched him, "Why can't you tell me more?" she whispered.
"I just can't," he sighed. He turned to look in the direction her husband had drove off, "Where are they going?"
"Just to the movies," she answered.
"When they come back, tell them... I don't know, tell them anything that will get them to cooperate with you. Get as far away as you can," he begged.
He tried to hide the fear in his face, to replace it with confidence, and he found Buffy struggling to do the same. He imagined she was thinking of the safety of her daughter, as she finally managed to replace the terror with sheer determination, "When can we come back?" she asked.
"You'll know when." was all he said, before he turned and walked away.
It was all he could do, he just had to pray her family would cooperate, and that she would escape what was certain to be ugly death for all who remained in the city.
They never came back.
The city was decimated, no one who managed to get out ever could. With the widespread devastation, it had been hard to track who had been killed and who had escaped, but no reports of her or any of her family members missing ever surfaced, and for that Angel was thankful.
He tried for awhile to track her down, hoping to ease his mind if he knew she was alright. He hadn't anticipated how hard it would be to track down someone with as unique a name as Buffy Summers.
He was about to give up, about to admit defeat, and accept that she had finally been completely erased from his life, when a strange little man, with horrendous fashion sense found him patrolling in a cemetery in Oregon.
"I'm a messenger for the Powers that Be," he explained, "But you know that already, don't you Angel?" he asked.
It seemed he had been filled in on Angel's request, that he knew all about what he had sacrificed to give the would-be Slayer her happily-ever-after.
"What do they want with me now?" he asked.
Whistler smirked at him, "She's in Cleveland," he said simply.
Angel didn't have to ask who he meant, and he felt his heart leap out of his chest, "Why are you telling me this?"
Whistler shrugged, "I'm just the messenger, I don't get all the details," he began, "What I do know, however, is that they don't seem to care if you know where she is or not... and, ironically enough, there's an active Hellmouth in Cleveland,"
He knew instantly what was being asked of him. With Sunnydale gone, Cleveland would be a new hot-spot for paranormal activity, it seemed he had a new place to save souls.
"It's your lucky day, Angel-boy!"
When he finally stumbled across her, it was the only time they spoke for a very long time. He hadn't actively searched her out, he knew it would be for the best if he didn't, but he couldn't help driving past a hospital every now and then, to see if he could catch a glimpse of her. Finally he did, as he was coasting slowly through the hospital parking lot late one night.
He saw a petite woman, her chin-length blonde hair bouncing around her face as she bounded towards a car, as he drew closer, she turned towards him, almost as though she expected someone she knew to be inside the automobile. When her eyes fell on him she froze in shock, her hand, which was poised clutching her keys, about to unlock her car door, falling back to her side. As he stopped the car beside her, she turned, slowly approached him, and leaned into the window as he unrolled it.
"It's been awhile," she stated.
"I... yeah," was all he said.
She watched him silently for a few moments, her eyes looked glassy, like she was fighting back tears, "Thank you..." she whispered finally.
He only smiled sadly in response.
"So terrible... what happened," she continued, shaking her head in disbelief.
"Yeah," he agreed, it had been terrible. He'd been there, fighting through it all. "Your family's alright?"
She nodded furiously, "They're all fine," she sighed, "Angela starts middle school tomorrow, I'm terrified."
Angel chuckled, "I'm sure she'll be fine,"
"It's not middle school I'm worried about, it's what comes after!"
He thought back to Buffy as a teenager, to how she'd been when he knew her. She'd certainly been passionate, dramatic, but justifiably so given her circumstances. Despite all her hardships, she'd turned out alright, "I'm sure she'll be fine," he repeated, "If she's anything like you, I know she will,"
Buffy smiled, and tucked her hair behind her ear, "That's what I'm worried about, her being like me,"
Angel only smiled back, he knew nothing he would say could quell a mother's fears. It was why her own had convinced him to leave all those years ago, "I like your hair," was all he said in return.
She laughed, "Thank you."
Feeling relieved that he had finally seen her, seen that she was alright, that her family had made it out in one piece, he decided it was time to end this conversation, "Take care of yourself," he whispered, drinking in the sight of her, after searching for her for so many years.
"You too," she whispered sadly, and backed away from the car.
He pulled away slowly, noticing in his rearview mirror that she stood at the back of her car, and watched him drive away until he turned the corner and out of her sight.
That was the last conversation they had. He caught sight of her every once an awhile, but always from a distance. Sometimes she would see him, and she would wave, but never approach, other times she was too wrapped up in whatever she was doing to take notice of him, something that both elated and pained him.
He watched as she aged gracefully, as the lines in her face grew deeper, as Angela grew into a spitting image of Buffy herself. He crossed her in a shopping mall one day exiting a shop, giggling with her friends, and was certain if he had been alive he would have had a heart attack.
Years continued to pass, and he would stumble upon her less and less. Her appearance being more shocking every time; the wrinkles grew, as did the amount of grey and white in her hair, but she was still unmistakably Buffy, she still had the fire and the vivacity in her bright hazel eyes.
He wondered if she would have made it to such an advanced age as the Slayer, if she would have even had a daughter, let alone been around long enough to see her graduate from not only high school, but from University. To see her start her first job, to get married, to start her own family.
Time truly did heal all wounds, and though some part of him did wish he could have experienced all these things with Buffy himself, he was proud that he had in a way given them to her, that because of him she had the life she had always dreamed of when she was forced to sneak out at night and slay vampires, instead of studying for a chemistry final or attending a school dance.
Of course, taking her away from Slaying did not save her from the fate that awaited all mortals when their time came.
He had been sitting on a bench in a cemetery, waiting in front of a freshly filled grave for the fledgling vampire to rise, when a woman suddenly materialized beside him. She approached him so silently that he actually jumped.
"Did I startle you, Warrior?" she said, her voice smooth and clear.
Angel studied her, she wore a simple, long dress, her dark hair impossibly curly, tied up in an intricate bun. She looked familiar, but Angel couldn't put his finger on where, until it dawned on him that the last time he'd seen her, she had been dressed in a toga, her skin shimmering gold.
"How...?" he muttered, as she lowered herself gracefully onto the bench beside him.
"Do you really question the abilities of the Oracles?" she asked bluntly.
He smiled smugly, still cold and emotionless, he saw, "Why are you here?"
She stared straight ahead, not looking at him, or anything else in particular, "You have held up your end of the bargain, it seems that many of the things that came to pass were dependent on your Slayer being called... as she wasn't, it greatly changed the way certain events unfurled."
"I know," he nodded in agreement.
"Because of your noble sacrifice, the Powers That Be have decided you deserve a reward," she stated.
He waited silently for her to continue, he knew they didn't like questions.
"She is dying," she continued.
An excruciating pain shot through his heart. No mercy from the Oracles.
"I shall take you to her, so you may say your goodbyes," she explained, "They felt it was the least that could be done for you."
All these years of watching her from afar, he had justified them, staved off his grief by telling himself she was safe and happy, that she was right there if he ever felt the urge to see her.
He didn't know what he would do when she was gone. He suddenly felt hollow in a way he hadn't felt before, he felt like he was falling, and there was no one there to catch him.
"Come," the Oracle said, rising from the bench and extending her hand to him.
He took it, and barely had time to blink before he found himself standing in a hospital hallway, alone. Glancing around, the only people he saw were a doctor and a teenaged girl standing outside a room, conversing quietly. She had large eyes, and long, straight, shining brown hair that fell halfway down her back. He began to move towards them, unsure of where to go. She nodded, and quietly thanked the doctor, who moved away from her and brushed past Angel as he made his way towards the room.
The girl's eyes fell on him, and she studied him strangely as he approached her.
"Is this Buffy Summer's room?" he asked her.
She nodded, her brow furrowed, "Who are you?" she asked.
"I um... I..." he stammered, when he suddenly felt something small and square materialize in his pocket. He pulled it out, to discover the small volume of poetry he'd given Buffy for her eighteenth birthday clutched in his hand, he smiled sadly, "I volunteer here, I read to the patients," he lied.
She shrugged, "I'm not sure you'll get much out of her today," she admitted sadly, "The doctor's think her mind has gone, she's been saying all day that she's waiting for an angel."
He tried his best not to show the hope that had risen up inside his chest, had she meant him?
"Are you her grand-daughter?" he asked, changing the solemn topic.
She nodded, her large eyes fell to the ground, staring at her shoes, and her dark hair fell like a curtain to hide her face.
"Where are your parents?" he asked.
"My mom was crying too much," she sighed, "Dad took her to the car,"
"I'm sorry," was all he could think of to say.
She shrugged again, "Yeah..." she whispered, her voice cracked a little, "She lead a long life though... she helped a lot of people... I guess she deserves to rest... or whatever."
Angel felt a lump form in his throat, he fought it down, "I'm sure she does,"
The girl chewed her lip, and looked back up to him, "I should probably go, my parents are waiting," she said, "You can go in if you want,"
He saw her brush a tear from her cheek, before she hurried down the hallway. He was certain she didn't want a complete stranger seeing her cry.
Once Buffy's grand-daughter was out of sight, he turned back to the room. The door was open, but all he could see from where he stood was the foot of her bed. Bracing himself, he stepped slowly into the room, his eyes not needing to strain against the dim lighting, he found her propped up by many pillows, nestled under the blankets. There were no beeping machines, no needles or tubes in her arms, they must truly know it was the end, that there was nothing they could do for her. His heart broke at the sight of her; his fearless slayer, weak and frail.
He edged closer to the bed, the book clutched to his chest, when her eyes flew open, and landed immediately on his form. A weak smile spread across her lips, "There you are..." she whispered, "I knew you would come to take me, I told them so."
Tears pricked behind his eyes as he slid into the chair beside her bed. After all these years, she still believed him to be a guardian angel. If only she knew the truth, if only she knew all the atrocities he'd committed ages before she'd even been a thought in her own mother's head.
"Still not very talkative I see..." she chuckled.
He smiled weakly, trying his best to fight the tears, "Of course I came for you," he replied, there was nothing he could do for her now, what harm would it be to entertain a dying woman? If he could not be her love, than why not the source of comfort at the end of her life? He knew as much as she did about what would await her on the other side, if he could make her happy in her last moments, it would be enough, he supposed.
"They think I've lost my mind... dementia... but I knew you were coming, I knew you would see me off."
He was thankful for the darkened room, for the fact that her once-bright hazel eyes were milky with cataracts, perhaps she couldn't see the stray tear that slipped down his cheek. He reached for her hand, and she let him take it, the electricity was still there, the same as it had been all those years ago when he'd helped her to her feet in the alley, "I'm here for you, don't worry," he whispered.
"My angel..." she smiled.
His heart shattered, and a sob escaped his lips.
"Don't cry for me," she said, squeezing his hand weakly, "I've lived a long, full, life. No doubt thanks to you,"
"You did everything yourself, I had nothing to do with it," he answered. It was the truth. He may have saved her that one night, but she had built this life entirely on her own.
She smiled weakly again, and squinted at the book he clutched in his other hand, "What do you have there?" she asked.
"Sonnets From the Portuguese," he answered.
"Elizabeth Barrett Browning," she mused, "Will you read to me?"
He simply nodded, as he fumbled to open the pages of the book with one hand, unable to release his hold on her frail fingers.
"Can I ask you a question?" she whispered as he flipped through the book.
He brought his eyes back up to her questioning face, "Yes,"
"Will you tell me your name?" she asked.
Angel smiled sadly, as he contemplated what he should do. What harm could it do now, as she was about to shuffle off this mortal coil, to reveal himself to her?
"My name is Angel," he answered quietly.
She laughed softly, here eyes twinkling and alive despite their milky whiteness, "You're not teasing a frail old lady are you?"
"Never," he replied earnestly.
The amusement left her features, and she seemed to contemplate him serenely, "Angel... how perfectly fitting."
Tearfully, he smiled, and gestured to the book, "Shall I?" he asked.
"'A heavy heart, beloved, have I borne, From year to year until I saw thy face, And sorrow after sorrow took the place...'"
By the time he was finished reading, she was still. Her chest no longer rose and fell with each breath, he could no longer hear the steady beating of her heart, he no longer felt the jolt of electricity between their clutched hands.
He dropped the book to the floor, and cradled his face in his hand as he finally let out a strangled sob. After all these years, after all this time of watching her from afar, he'd never let himself cry, he would never let himself feel regret or remorse for the choice that he'd made.
As much as he mourned her, he felt a sense of freedom as well. He had done it, he had changed her fate, let her live a long, happy, normal life. She never knew evil, she never had to risk her life to save a world that didn't even know who she was. He had freed her from that curse.
Rising from her bedside, he left the room without even another glance at the woman that lay there. He wanted to remember Buffy as the vivacious young woman she had been before he'd lost her, as the fearless woman who would sacrifice anything for the ones she loved; and in this life the vibrant young woman who saved lives every day, who took care of a loving family. She would never just be a frail old woman lying in a hospital bed to him, even if that was how he last saw her.
He stalked out of the hospital into the night; wondering if that fledgling vampire had ever risen, he needed a fight, he needed to pound out his grief before he met the sun for the first time in centuries.
He always wondered what he would do when Buffy died, he wondered if he would keep going, or if he would want to end things, he was slightly surprised that it was the latter.
It was the reason behind it, however, that was the most shocking to him.
Grief was not his motivation behind leaving this world, instead, he longed to finally have a real conversation with the woman he had loved for her entire lifetime.
He wanted her to know what a truly amazing woman she really was.
He wanted her to finally know the truth about her guardian angel.
Thanks for reading!
Maybe if you all harass me enough I'll finish my other fic sooner! ;)