This is a story that isn’t a story. It’s a story of might have beens and never wases, of chimeras and dreams.
What might have been?
The Postcard 18 July 1997
I’m having a really great time with my dad. Lots of shopping and no
slayi problems. I hope Sunnydale is peaceful and you’re having a fun time. Sorry about that dumb mistake I made. Of course you’re not a vampire! Hee!
And that postcard was the start. Because Angel did miss her. And he came to the city to tell her how much. Fast forward to: dating, making love, going to college, breaking up due to distance, coming back together when Buffy was twenty-four, knowing they’d been wrong and were meant to be together. To finding ways round Slayer duties. To Angel getting a role with the Council. To big rows about whether he should become her Watcher. To getting married and having kids, in that order - though only just. To semi-retirement and mainly letting Faith (and Faith’s successors) get on with the job. To dropping in and out of Slaying, according to how guilty Buffy felt.
To living each suburban middle-class day as though it were their last, because one day it was going to be Buffy’s. Too soon.
Clearing the Air 15 November 1997
Buffy would always remember that day, for as long or short as she lived. When everything changed. When Ms Calendar drew her aside in the hallway, and told her to visit after classes. When Jenny said, “Buffy. I’ve been thinking. This is really hard for me to talk about, but there’s something you should know about me. And about Angel.”
How could she forgive Jenny for being a spy; what Xander called a ‘secret anti-vampire agent – but aren’t we anti-vamp agents too? Also, secret...’. She and Giles were silently furious with each other for many months.
But with Angel, it brought them closer. He mustn’t become too happy; but he had never believed he deserved happiness. Knowing he had to be perpetually on guard against it was just one more (well-deserved, weighty) burden. Buffy’s own life was full of trouble, ever more so – their connection was clear and irresistible.
Over the months which followed, they became ever more intimately connected; slowly losing Buffy’s closeness to others. Embracing the pain of life. They loved each other, but they couldn’t afford to focus on it. The mission was what mattered. The Scoobies watched, helpless and on the outside.
But Buffy and Angel were unconcerned. They were stronger than anyone would have believed. They fought like gods, learning each other’s ways in ever greater detail. When Spike tried to jump them one night, they killed him in seconds. He didn’t get so much as a chance to speak.
Two days later, Drusilla awakened Acathla, and the world went to hell.
Not Going For the Hurt 19 May 1998
Buffy fought with desperation. She’d been in bad spots before, of course, but not like this... she’d never been forced into spinning out time this way, instead of going for that final deadly manoeuvre. Not going for the hurt, but instead dodging, enticing, playing with the monster that was trying to kill her.
She could only focus on the fight, no time for more. But still, there was a background hum in her consciousness. A little longer. Just a little more time. Xander said... Got to give Willow the time to cast the spell. Could it work? Could she not try?
And in the end, yes: Willow’s spell worked. Angel came back to himself, before he’d had a chance to touch the sword and set Acathla’s destiny in motion.
Angelus had, after all, become distracted.
Angel swam towards consciousness. Aware that he’d lost time, barely knowing what he was doing. There was a wonderful flavour in his mouth, a beautiful smell surrounding him.
“Buffy,” he said. But it was muffled. He looked downwards, as his vision cleared. A spatter of blood had fallen from his mouth as he spoke. Dropping like petals onto Buffy’s face as she lay sprawled at his feet. She didn’t flinch, because she couldn’t feel.
Angel leant down, knelt beside her, bowed his head. He raised her face, trying to avoid the great ragged wound at her neck. Kissed her pale, still lips, leaving them smeared with her own blood.
And walked out into the sunshine.
The Shanshu June 2004
After the whole LA episode, which somehow felt so unfinished, Buffy couldn’t help but dream of Angel again. Really specific dreams, repeated over and over.
That there was some mystical beast that makes vampires human, and Buffy was there to feel Angel’s heartbeat as he realised he was mortal. They had a magical time with everything they had never shared. Picnics and the beach. And, for some reason, a lot of peanut butter.
Mainly, though, she dreamed of making love with glee and relaxation, obliterating the anxiety that had held them back before. She woke from those dreams with the most terrible sense of loss. Which was stupid, because you shouldn’t miss what you’ve never had. And she’d never have any of that.
It was only when Angel came to her after the Shanshu that she understood. That he finally explained about the Mohra, their lost day, what could not have been and now was. They toiled together in the hell pits of Los Angeles, trying to undo the scars caused by Wolfram and Hart’s fury, and the thought of that day, and what it portended, served to keep her going.
On the surface, they were working for a brighter future now. Slowly though, Buffy began to see Angel’s underlying thoughts.
He hated the Shanshu. Had tried to sign it away as he’d signed away humanity before. Had won his ‘prize’ while losing all his friends and his mission. Felt somehow less than before.
Buffy tried to understand. But it hurt pretty bad all the same. Angel as a human was everything she once wanted, and the old dreams resurfaced as though she’d never quite cleansed herself of them. In the end, though, she had to walk away. What they’d had when she was young was a beautiful memory; they couldn’t recapture it, and she didn’t want it despoiled.
She hadn’t heard from Angel in twenty years when he died; too young and wasting his humanity. But still, she cried for him.
The time when she’s done baking 12 May 2026
I’m not sure whether you thought this time would ever come. I never imagined we would both live long enough.
Your son is grown, my kids are in college. We’re alone and we can make our own choices.
This is it, Angel. I’m done baking.
If you want me, you know where to find me.
He will be there within ten hours of receiving the letter, and will never leave. Growing old together? Not quite, but Buffy will take pleasure from Angel’s unchanging form. “You’re like my Dorian Grey – ever young, while I take all the fun of ageing for you.” She will have arthritis, of all things for a Slayer to suffer. She will be funny about it in public, but Angel will see her pain and frustration in private.
There will be good times, though, many of them. Grandchildren, for both of them. Sunny evenings with friends. Seeing the Slayer Council save the world, over and over – and better than the Watchers could have dreamed. Knowing that they made a difference.
And, in the end, many years on, Angel will be at her side as Buffy labours painfully through her last hours. She will be beautiful, still, if you know how to see it.
She will say, “Angel... I’m so glad you’re here.”
He won’t need to answer, just kiss her crabbed fingers, wrapped in his own.
Her voice will be so faint he will have to lean close for the next words. “Angel... Do you ever wish...”
She will never finish her thought, though he will guess how that sentence would have ended. And no, Angel will not wish things had been different. This was their way.
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Summary: the might have beens that made their relationship