The Wildest Times in the World

by: Christine

Rating: PG - some cursing but nothing major
Spoilers: Mostly Becoming 1&2, a few minor references to other episodes but nothing major
Summary: Twenty years in the future Buffy & Angel are together again
Disclaimer: Nobody belongs to me. Belong to Joss, I'm not worthy! I'm just borrowing them for awhile. I promise not to hurt them too badly :).
Thanks: To Andrea for moral support and inspiration (Now finish Repercussions!) and to Rebecca for showing me where all those commas belong

Prologue

//Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when you said good bye//
From "The End of the World"
Words by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee

October 23, 1998
Sunnydale Cemetery

The sky threatened rain much like the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. She was waiting for him at the old mausoleum. If it wasn't for the ache in her heart she could almost believe it was just another night of patrol. Another night of slaying unlucky vamps and then gentle kisses good night.

Angel approached her slowly, he knew he had to do this, knew he had to be strong for both of them. Stopping a few feet away he dropped his bag to the ground.

"That's all you're taking?" Buffy asked. "I would have thought you'd have more stuff after 240 years." Her tone was flip to cover the anguish in her heart.

"I have everything I need right here," he replied as his hand moved to cover his heart. As her face twisted with grief, his hand reached out to her. Buffy took hold and let him pull her in and wrap her in his arms. Her voice breaking she spoke into his shoulder. "It's not fair, I just got you back. I can't lose you again.."

His hand cupped the back of her head as he spoke softly. "It's for the best. They need you. Giles needs you and you need him to be the Slayer. With me around as a constant reminder..." His voice trailed off as he once again lost himself in the guilt of Angelus's crimes. "Not everyone can be as forgiving as you."

"But there's nothing to forgive!" Buffy exclaimed as she pulled out of his arms. "You weren't responsible for..."

Placing a finger over her lips Angel cut her off. "I know. But it's killing Giles to see me around as a reminder of what he's lost. I'm sorry, I can't stay here and hurt him like that. It's not fair to him."

Buffy shook her head sadly. In her heart she knew Angel's words were true. She had felt the buried anger in Giles the few times he had seen Angel since his soul was returned and they had rescued him from hell. She knew he tried to hide it for her sake, that he did want her to be happy but the bitterness and anger in his eyes was all too apparent to her. "Will I ever see you again?" she asked her voice beginning to quiver. Tears began to leak from her eyes as small raindrops began to fall around them.

Angel smiled sadly, "I'll be around." His finger traced a tear down her cheek. "I love you" he whispered softly. Turning around he picked up his bag and began to slowly walk out of the cemetery and out of Buffy's life.

"I love you too." He heard her soft reply as he walked away. The sheer pain in those words almost made him turn back to her, but he kept walking. He knew that if he turned back he would have to stay and staying would only cause more pain in the end.

The small blonde figure dropped to her knees and wept.

Chapter 1

//My heart is racing much faster now
Life passes before my eyes
Something's I see, they make me smile
Something's they make me cry
So I look, so I try to find
A lesson I can learn
The passing of time hasn't changed my mind
And the ghosts I know return//
"We Fly So Close" by Phil Collins

October 31, 2017
Santa Monica Pier - Noon

Buffy Summers stood at the end of the pier and stared off at the horizon. She was oblivious to the activity around her, the people walking past, the gulls in the air. Instead her mind focused on the memories of the past.

-Angel lying on his back in the alley, shocked to be taken down so easily
-Pulling away from her when he vamped out after they first kissed
-Hesitantly asking her our for coffee after the whole fraternity disaster

Buffy smiled as she thought about that incident. Had she ever properly thanked Willow for giving him the nudge he needed? Still smiling she continued to think of the happy times.

-Snuggling in his lap after the ritual to restore Drusilla
-Making out through her window when she was grounded
-Making love to him, terrified that she was going to lose him

"Wow girl, let's not go there" she said to herself. But the memories kept coming

- The cruel look in his eye the morning after Angelus had returned
- The devastation on Giles's face after Jenny died
- The disbelief on Angel's face as she sent him to hell.

Think happy thoughts, she told herself. Closing her eyes she remembered the one moment of true happiness after all those months of torment, the moment her Angel again looked out of those beautiful brown eyes after being brought back from hell. The moment she saw the understanding in his eyes. Shaking her head she laughed at the irony of it all. Her moment of true happiness brought its own curse. Delighted to have Angel back, she quickly realized that try as he might Giles was unable to separate Angelus the demon from Angel the man she loved. Struggling with his own guilt, Angel was unwilling to stay and cause the Watcher more pain. A little more than two weeks after she got him back she lost him again. With a whispered "I love you" he left on a rainy October night.

Now, twenty years later she needed to find him again. Somehow Willow had determined that Angel was in the LA area. She hoped the residual Slayer abilities she still had would enable her to find him again.

Finally turning her attention to her surroundings Buffy realized it was getting late. With one last look at the limitless horizon she turned away. She just had time for a quick nap and a chance to freshen up before she began the search for her lost love.

Chapter 2

//I have fallen, I have stood up, I've had the patience of a tree
You have trembled, you have stayed still, you have tumbled like a weed
All the mountains, all the deserts, go for miles and miles around
We have driven for years now, baby, just to get back to a place we had already found//

//Now you're driving me downtown, baby, on this rainy night
You're driving me crazy, baby, is this really life?//

//In the wildest times of the world
Oh I never thought I would be here with you tonight
In the wildest times of the world
Let's stay together in this lonely and crazy life//
"The Wildest Times of the World" by Vonda Shepard

October 31, 2017
Downtown Hollywood
7:00 p.m.

Buffy paid the driver and got out of the cab. Looking around the streets she wondered if the people around her were dressed for Halloween or if these were their normal outfits. Thinking back, she realized that Southern California hadn't changed much in the years she'd been gone. Pushing past a Dracula wanna-be she shook her head. "Not even close pal" she muttered.

She walked down the street with no particular destination in mind. The neighborhood seemed like a place Angel would stay, rundown and abandoned buildings mixed with seedy clubs and topless bars. She hoped that her Slayer sense would tingle like it always had when he was near but realized that it had probably deteriorated like everything else as she got older. If she had asked, Willow probably would have given her his address, but after twenty years she was afraid to show too much interest in front of the new Watcher. She would demand to know why Buffy was ending a twenty-year separation after all this time, and that was a reason she wasn't willing to share right now. Willow's off-hand remark, a carefully veiled update, that Angel was living in L.A. was all the information Buffy needed to start looking for him.

Hours passed as she walked. The streets became more crowded as people came out in a frantic rush to use the excuse of the holiday to expose their general weirdness. Once or twice Buffy felt the tickle of a vamp, but her Slayer sense was so off that she couldn't tell if they were next to her or four blocks away. She pushed those feelings to the side. At almost thirty-seven she was no longer able to kick vampire butt as easily as she used to. She continued on, waiting for that special feeling that affected not only her dwindling Slayer sense but her heart as well.

It was well after midnight when she finally felt, something? Looking around she saw she was in front of a youth center. Looking at the sign she saw that it was called Janna's Place. Crossing her fingers she walked through the door.

A party was in full swing. Dozens of costumed teenagers danced as Frankenstein spun records on a makeshift stage. To the one side of the room the remains of a pizza feeding frenzy could be seen. It reminded her of happier times in the library as the Slayerettes spent a long night looking up the latest demon. Smiling to herself she looked around, half expecting to see Xander eating Ho-Ho's in a corner. She was still smiling as a counselor came to her side. "Can I help you?" Buffy turned to see a Klingon woman staring back at her. Startled, she was speechless for a second. Quickly recovering her voice she began to explain her quest, hoping all the while that her story didn't sound half as hopeless as she felt.

"You see, I'm looking for a friend of mine. I know he's in L.A. and I can picture him being involved in something like this. In fact the name of this center reminds me of a mutual friend we had. I know this is crazy, but I had a hunch. The guy I'm looking for is about twenty-two or so. He's really good looking and would usually keep to himself. His name is Angel." Buffy finished her explanation in a rush and watched the woman's face for signs that she was in luck. It was hard to do through all the layers of Klingon make-up. Remarkably the woman smiled.

"Your hunches must be pretty good. Do you have any advice for lotto numbers? The guy you described sounds a lot like the guy who funds this place. It has to be him, how many guys have a face to match their name? He was around here earlier; he might still be in the office in back. I'll show you."

Buffy followed the warrior woman through a maze of dancing bodies and into a computer room. She smiled at that. She could see a door marked Staff Only and stopped the woman just before she knocked. "Would you mind if I went through alone? It's been a long time since I've seen him, and I'd like to surprise him."

Klingon woman shook her head and smiled. "Go on ahead. Hey, have you ever known him to really smile? He seems like he has the weight of world on his shoulders some times."

Smiling sadly Buffy shook her head and responded "Once or twice maybe. But it's been a long time since then."

"Well maybe an old friend will cheer him up. Tell him we're gonna start getting the kids outta here soon. It's about time all the ghosts and goblins got home to bed. Let him know we'll take care of out front so you don't have to interrupt your reunion. Hope he's surprised." With a cheerful grin that contradicted her warrior salute she left the room.

Stopping for a second to take a deep breath, Buffy then reached out and softly knocked on the door. The answering "Come in" stopped her in her tracks. It was his voice; she had found him. Turning the knob she opened the door and walked in. Angel's back was to her as he muttered over a computer. "I'll be right with you as soon as I figure out what the hell I just did here," he said. She laughed to herself as he snarled "Compute this!" at the computer as he turned it off in preparation for a reboot.

"You know" she said, "that would work a lot better if you had Willow configure it for you."

Angel stopped dead at the sound of her voice. He slowly turned around and faced her. His face was frozen. "What are you doing here?" His voice sounded as cold as his eyes looked.

"Looking for you. I would think that's pretty obvious." Her voice was soft as she took a step towards him. This wasn't the way she had pictured their reunion. She had believed he would be a lot happier to see her. But looking into his eyes, into the pain hiding behind the ice, she knew what had happened. Knew it because it had happened to her also. He had taken his pain and anguish at their parting and hidden it away inside his heart. He let his heart grow cold and numb because living with the pain would have driven him insane. She had done the same, had kept her emotions hidden and shielded until recently, when she took them out for the comfort they gave her at long last.

Lifting her hand she softly touched his cheek. "It's been a long time Angel" she whispered. He continued to stare at her and as she watched, the ice melted in his eyes, melted into a single tear that ran down his cheek. With her fingertip, she brushed the tear away. His hand came up and caught her hand as she went to pull it away. He held it captive and tenderly brought it up to his lips. After a tender kiss to her palm, he dropped her hand and reached out for her. Pulling her close he held her tightly. And at that moment she was content to stay where she was forever.

Chapter 3

//Together again, it would feel so good to be
In your arms, where all my journeys end
You can make a promise and if it's one that you can keep
I vow to come for you if you'll wait for me//
"The Promise" by Tracy Chapman

November 1, 2017
Janna's Place

How long they clung to each other she wasn't sure. It was only when he began to pull away that her thoughts focused more on her surroundings then on the arms that held her so tightly. "Don't, don't let go" she whispered.

"Don't worry, I'm not letting go of you again" Angel softly replied. He stepped back and looked at her, all the while keeping a hand on her arm as if afraid she would disappear once he broke physical contact. "I can't believe you're here. You look wonderful!" His voice was choked, the newly awakened emotion overwhelming his reserved exterior.

"Angel, you look wonderful, as handsome as ever. Me? Well it's safe to say I don't look like seventeen anymore." Buffy laughed as she looked at him, drinking in the sight of him. Was it possible he was even more beautiful?

"You don't look a day over twenty-five!" he swore.

"Well flattery will get you anywhere. What do you say we go get a cup of coffee? The Klingon Queen promised that they would take care of things out front." Buffy asked as she looked at him hopefully. She wanted to keep the light-hearted mood for as long a possible. There was time enough for serious discussion later on.

Grabbing a black leather jacket off a nearby chair he opened the door. "After you, madam." Buffy swatted his arm as she walked past. "None of that! Just hold my hand. You don't need to impress me."

Arm in arm they walked through the streets to a quiet coffee shop. As she walked through the door Buffy stepped on a roach. "Wow, it's almost like being back in the Bronze." Angel laughed. "Well the music here isn't quite as good but the cockroaches are just as hardy. They coffee is pretty good to."

"Since when have you been drinking coffee?" she asked.

"Not me. Sandy, the Klingon Queen, lives for it. I swear I think it's what she uses for blood," he replied.

As they slipped into a corner booth a waitress appeared with two steaming cups of coffee. Suddenly quiet, they sat across the table from each other, once again lost in thought as they came to grips with being together again. Angel was the first to break the silence. "How are you Buffy? How are Willow, Xander, Oz, and well, everyone from Sunnydale?"

Happy to talk about something other then herself for a little while, Buffy began to fill him in on twenty years of Slayerette happenings. "Well Willow is the new Watcher. A new Slayer was called about six months ago and sent to Sunnydale. Unfortunately the Hellmouth is acting up again so Willow and the Slayer have plenty to do. She's still with Oz, although they haven't gotten married. They felt it would bring too much attention to the Slayer if the press started looking at Willow too much."

"I knew Willow was doing pretty well." Angel replied. "Every once in a while a strange e-mail appears on my computer. It feels good to have that connection. I had to laugh when I first heard about Oz though. His first big hit a remake of Werewolves of London? Wasn't he pushing things a bit?"

"Not really. It's the same as it was in Sunnydale with the vampires. He says he won't play the three nights of the full moon because he's superstitious and people believe him because the only other answer is unbelievable." Buffy shook her head remembering how oblivious her mother had been for so long.

"Speaking of unbelievable things," Angel asked. "Is Alex Harris, the favorite author of teenagers everywhere, really Xander? I looked at one of the books at the center and the story struck a little close to home. Something about making the perfect date out of body parts."

"Yes, that's Xander. I was ready to kill him when I first read the stories but then I realized that nobody who mattered would know they weren't fiction. Did you read the one about the PTA meeting? Spike got a big part in that. I wonder if he ever knew?" Buffy laughed at the thought of Spike sitting and reading a teen novel. "Better yet, here's something even more unbelievable, Xander and Cordelia are married!"

"Was the wedding in a broom closet?" Angel asked with a snicker.

"No, actually it was a pretty simple ceremony on the beach in Sunnydale. Willow was the Best Person and I was the Maid of Honor."

"What? No wedding of the century for Cordelia? I would have thought she'd have the picture perfect wedding."

Buffy shook her head. "She had her wedding of the century right after college. She had gone East to Boston, some fancy design school there. While she was away from us she met some fancy Harvard guy. They got married right after she graduated."

"Xander must have been pretty unhappy."

"Words don't begin to describe it. He barely coped for the first year. He finally started to pull himself together and write those stories. I think it was a way for him to remember Cordelia. Then about two years after that Cordelia got divorced and came home. Apparently the fancy Harvard guy had a thing for anything in a skirt. By then Cordelia had realized that she was wrong for leaving Xander. It took her awhile but she was able to get him to forgive her. They got married about eight years ago. They have a five-year old daughter named Joy. She's my godchild." She smiled at the thought of the dark-haired little girl that was so close to her heart. "She was born about a year after my mom died. I think they named her that to cheer me up."

"I'm sorry about that. I had heard. I wanted to be there for you. In fact I was at the cemetery the night of the funeral. I was going to go to you but then Giles..." Angel frowned, unwilling to think of the Watcher he had hurt so long ago.

"You were there that night! I knew I felt something! You should have let me know!"

"I'm sorry, I didn't want to shock him. He looked so much older, so upset. How is he?" Angel asked the question quietly, afraid to stir up memories of their parting, afraid to remind Buffy of the pain he had caused the Watcher even after his soul had been returned.

"He's well. He's been living in England for the last few years. He said he wanted to get back to his roots. He claimed that too much exposure to American culture was going to cause him to forsake tea for coffee. I go to visit him every two or three months, if fact I just got back last week. He's the closest thing to a parent I have left." Buffy closed her eyes for a second as the pain from the loss of her parents once again welled up.

"What about your dad? I thought he was somewhere here in LA?"

"No, he had a heart attack about a year after you left. It was hard for me to accept. I was so used to losing people through Hellmouth related causes. To lose both my parents for such mundane reasons, a heart attack and a car accident... It just really frustrated me for a while. Needless to say I took that frustration out on the unlucky vamp population of Sunnydale." Buffy hesitated, she could see their discussion was heading into some rough territory, territory she wasn't ready to face just yet. Looking at her watch and then looking at the sky she was grateful for a chance to redirect the conversation. "Look it's getting late, or early depending on how you look at it. You should probably be heading for cover. Do you have a place around here?"

"You know you're right. I don't want to start tanning now. Listen, why don't you come with me? Unless you'd rather go back to your hotel?" Suddenly uncertain, Angel looked at Buffy across the table. Reaching across she took his hand. "I'd love to go with you," she smiled. "Besides" she said, "You can fill me in on what you've been up to.

Angel left a few dollars on the table and then took Buffy's hand. "Well Whistler was around the first few years. I think he stuck around because he thought I was about to go off the deep end. But I held it together. More out of stubbornness then anything else."

The street was quiet as they walked hand in hand towards Angel's apartment. "I went to Europe for a while. I figured I could handle old memories better then the more recent ones. I was wrong. I came back within six months. I landed in New York and figured it was time I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I had money. It was time I put it to use. I started the first youth center there. When we were in the planning stages I was trying to think of a name for it. That was when I got my first message from Willow. The name was obvious after that. I called it the Willow Tree. I stayed there running it for a few years, actually let me correct that. I stayed around and made a nuisance of myself while the professionals ran the place. After a few years I realized I needed to leave. You can't stay young looking forever without somebody commenting on it. I moved on to Detroit and started over and then on to Miami. I finally came back to L.A. about a year ago."

"You've been busy," Buffy said. "It sounds like you did a good job with these centers. That you enjoyed it. I'm glad. There were moments when I'd think you were out trying to be a homicide detective or something."

Angel laughed as they walked down the steps to his apartment. "The thought crossed my mind once or twice. Only the fact that I didn't have a beautiful coroner to hang out with kept me from doing it." Still laughing he opened the door to allow her into a small, Spartan room. Gone were the artworks and treasures from his Sunnydale apartment. This room had little in the way of creature comforts. He walked across the room and lit several small candles on a shelf. Coming back to Buffy, he pulled her down next to him on a small sofa. He placed his arm around her along the back of the couch and began to stroke her hair. "Now I've told you everything I've done for the last twenty years. What about you? What have you been doing and what brings you here now?"

Chapter 4

//You never thought you'd be alone
This far down the line
But maybe someday you will find
That it wasn't really wasted time//
"Wasted Time" by the Eagles

November 1, 2017
Angel's Apartment

"What about you? What have you been doing and what brings you here now?"

Angel's question hung in the air as Buffy got up from the couch and began to investigate the room. "What have I been doing for the past twenty years? Keeping the world safe from vampires and other things that go bump in the night. No, really I stayed in Sunnydale for my senior year. When the time came to go to college I attended Sunnydale Community for two years. But by that point things had slowed down tremendously at the Hellmouth. The slayer that had been called when Kendra died seemed to be handling most of the vampire problems in the world."

"So if you were no longer needed to handle vamp problems what did you do?" Angel asked.

"I said things had slowed down, not that they stopped completely. I was alternating my time between Sunnydale and L.A. There were still a few of Lothos's boys running around down here and they needed stopping. Then Willow started training to be a Watcher. I spent time with her, learning all the things I should have learned when I was younger." Buffy smiled as she thought of how she had first approached slaying. "Looking back at everything I didn't know it's a wonder I survived. If it hadn't been for you, Willow and Xander helping Giles and I out, my reign as the Slayer would have been a very short one." Running out of things to investigate Buffy returned to couch and sat down next to Angel.

"Buffy, you came into your role as the Slayer in the worst possible way. You did the best you could with the resources around you. Letting Willow and Xander help you was the best decision you ever made." Angel's voice was solemn as he spoke.

"Hey, you helped too!" Buffy exclaimed.

"I caused more problems..."

"Angel, we've talked about this before. That wasn't you! I wouldn't trade any of the time we had together for anything. Now before you put on the sad face, let me tell you the rest of my story. As I started getting older I noticed that my Slayer abilities seemed to be slowly diminishing. I wasn't as strong or as fast. By the time I was twenty-six I was pretty much a normal person. Or as normal as a person could be when they could still sense a vamp at two hundred paces. Giles didn't know what to do. The Watcher Diaries were useless. Did you know I was the first Slayer to live past twenty-two?" Without waiting for an answer she continued to speak. "Giles finally decided that the Hellmouth was slow enough that I shouldn't patrol any longer. Of course he decided this only after he saved my butt from a knife-wielding vamp. I was shocked that I couldn't fight them off any longer without being a danger to myself." A flurry of emotions crossed her face, disbelief, humor, frustration and shock appearing and disappearing as she wrinkled her nose. "My mom was certainly glad when I stopped. She came to understand my being the Slayer, but she was never happy when I went out on patrol. It was such a great time for us. We became so close once I no longer had to hide anything from her."

Angel's eyes narrowed as he listened to her story. "I'm glad things worked out with your mom. I still feel like I should have been there with you though."

"No Angel, it was probably for the best that you weren't there. Giles was still hurting pretty badly. It wasn't till later that he started to move on. But I'll tell you about that in a bit. Where did I leave off? Oh, so what's a newly retired Slayer to do? I took my two years of credits from Sunnydale Community College and put them towards a degree in phys. ed. I think Principal Snyder spun in his grave the day I applied for a job a Sunnydale High. But I did get a job teaching gym. Things seemed to working out reasonably well. I almost had the normal life I always wanted. It was a little after this that the love bug struck. Can you imagine how I felt when after all that time my mom and Giles started spending quality together? I was amazed. But I figured it was good for her. And for him. He had shut a big part of himself off. It was really nice to see him smiling again. And then mom died..."

She stopped for a second as the loss struck her like a physical blow. Angel pulled her to him and gently kissed her hair. "You don't have to go on if you don't want to," he whispered.

"It's ok." Pulling away she continued, "There's not much more after that. Giles was terribly broken-hearted, for both of us. But he felt he had to get away. Sunnydale held entirely too many memories for him. I certainly understood. I wanted to get away too. I was no longer needed; Willow was working with the other Slayer, the one before Claire, the newest Slayer. I took a job up in Capeside, a little town up the coast north of Sunnydale. Giles took a job in the Watcher Archives back in England."

"So you've been all alone for the last six years?"

"Well there was this marriage proposal" she smiled trying to lift the sad mood.

"What? Never mind, as long as you're happy. Do I get to meet your husband or do you keep all your ex-boyfriend vampires hidden away?" Angel's voice was joking but Buffy could hear the hurt hiding behind the words.

"I said proposal! Not marriage! When I first got to Capeside I was alone. I met Greg at the local gym. We started to date. We had dated for almost two years when he proposed. I thought I could do it. I thought it was what I wanted. But when I went to take off my ring I couldn't." Looking down at her hands Buffy softly touched the Claddagh ring on her left hand. She continued to stare at the ring as she spoke again. "I realized that even though you and I weren't together, hadn't been together for over fifteen years; I still couldn't love somebody the way I loved you. I turned him down. He was very understanding. He told me he always knew that a big piece of my heart was locked away for somebody else."

Angel tenderly reached over and lifted her chin with a gentle finger. Looking into her eyes he saw all the love he had been missing for so long. Reaching out for her he pulled her into his lap. He kissed her softly and felt his kiss returned with rising passion as twenty years of longing caught them up in its grasp. Until it no longer mattered that they had ever been apart, only that they were once again together.

Chapter 5

//And I am falling into a world I can't describe
And I am calling cause I'd like to say goodbye//

//Ya, I will be in town tomorrow, could you meet me at the station
If it's just to see your face as the train pulls through
I just want to see you laugh or cry or shake your head at me
I just want to see what twenty years has done//

//See I have nothing left to lose and no time left to choose
If I should let this deadly silence carry on
Twenty years or twenty days is far too long
For two people who once held each other in their arms//
"Falling" by Bruce Guthro

November 1, 2017
Angel's Apartment

The flickering light of candles cast dancing shadows on the wall as Angel awoke with a start. Looking over he saw Buffy tangled in the sheets. For a second he thought that he was stuck in the nightmare that had haunted him for years, the nightmare where Angelus rose again. It was only as his head cleared that he realized it wasn't a dream. Buffy was really there in his bed. Smiling, he sent a quiet thought of thanks to Willow. Her restoration spell had lacked the conditions of the original gypsy curse. His soul was his. Carefully shifting his weight he propped a pillow behind his shoulders and leaned against the headboard. He relaxed as he watched Buffy's sleeping form. For the first time in a long time he felt truly content.

The sheer joy of having Buffy back in his life banished any thought of additional sleep from his mind. He started to rethink their conversation and was saddened at the losses Buffy had suffered, her parents gone, her Watcher half way around the world, losing her friends to marriage and careers. He knew only too well the loneliness she was most certainly feeling. Frowning, he realized that she never had told him her reason for contacting him again. He knew it must be serious. Loyalty would prevent her from doing anything that would hurt Giles. They had made the choice to separate to prevent hurting the Watcher. They had lived with that decision for twenty years, and he couldn't imagine what would cause her to change her mind now.

He watched her sleep as he tried to figure out what new threat could be so awful that she would have to find him. It was then that he noticed exactly how thin she was, how her collarbone jutted out from her skin, skin that was no longer pink and healthy but pale and sallow. Her once shining hair seemed dull, its luster vanished. With a sinking heart Angel realized that there was no outside threat to battle this time. Buffy looked sick. The fleeting feeling of contentment left him. Biting his lower lip he leaned his head back and prayed. Prayed for the strength he knew he was going to need. She had come to say goodbye he realized, and there was no way in hell he would let her. She couldn't just walk in and walk out. He hadn't been there when she needed him these last twenty years, but he would be there now.

How long he sat, watching her sleeping form he wasn't certain. Finally Buffy began to stir. Her eyes opened and she sought him out with her eyes. A smile broke out across her face as she saw him.

"Hey, not sleepy?" she asked. Her smile vanished as she saw his solemn gaze. "What's wrong?"

"Shouldn't I be asking you that question? I'm sure you have a reason for finding me now, after all this time." Angel's voice was harsh with anger and sorrow. Standing up he walked over to the candles and stood with his back to her. Buffy's face grew troubled as she considered his question. Pushing up into a sitting position she reached down and pulled the blanket up around her shoulders.

"I missed you..." Her voice was soft.

"Is that all? There's nothing else? No demon you need help with? No monster that needs stopping? Nothing important you needed to tell me?" He kept his back to her as he spoke.

"What's with you? I'm here because I wanted to see you. Isn't that enough?" She stood and walked over to stand behind him. She slipped her hands over his shoulders as she spoke.

"No it's not! I need the truth. We've spent twenty years apart because neither one of us wanted to hurt Giles. What's changed that makes it okay for us to be together? Are we together again? Or were you just passing through?" As he spoke Angel pulled away from her and stalked across the room. He stopped for a second and she could see him make an effort to calm down. After a moments silence he returned to stand in front of her. Lowering his voice he continued, "What's wrong with you? Don't lie to me and say everything is okay. I know something is wrong. I want to know what."

Buffy looked down at her hands for a long minute. When she finally spoke her voice trembled. "It wasn't supposed to be like this. I didn't want you to find out. I didn't want to hurt you again." As she finished speaking she returned to the bed and sat, a small huddled figure beneath a dark blanket.

"Find out what? What's wrong? Tell me please." He knelt in front of her as he waited for her answer, an answer he already knew deep inside.

"Angel, I'm dying." As she spoke tears began to trickle down her cheeks. He reached up and brushed them away, then sat down on the bed and pulled her into his arms. She lay her head upon his shoulder and quietly wept for them both. Angel slowly stroked her hair as if he could wipe away whatever pain she was suffering. After awhile the tears stopped but he was afraid to question her, afraid to break the fragile peace of the moment. Buffy sensed his unspoken questions and began to speak softly, almost whispering her story.

"Over the past few years I've occasionally had these really severe headaches. I didn't think much of it. I could go months at a time without them, then have one that would knock me off my feet for three days. I just thought they were migraines caused by stress. Then about three months ago I had a seizure and passed out. I was admitted to the hospital for tests. An MRI showed a mass near my brainstem. They tried to shrink it by using some drugs and some radiation but nothing worked. It's inoperable and it's getting bigger. The doctors say it'll eventually get big enough to press on my brainstem and disrupt its function. It's going to kill me." As she spoke her voice went flat, as though distancing herself from the story. "They say they don't know how long that'll take, but I know it's not long. I can see it in their eyes." She lifted her head up and looked him in the face. "I just wanted to see you one more time."

Angel was silent. Her story had washed over him like a wave. He needed time to let the news sink in. When he spoke his voice was gentle. "Did you really think you could come here and tell me this and then I'd just let you go? That I'd let you face this on your own? And don't tell me you're not on your own. I know you. You won't tell the people that matter, Giles, Willow, Xander or even Cordelia. You'll try and tough it out yourself, thinking you're protecting them. Well I know the truth now and I'm not going to let you be alone. I want to help you."

"I don't need help. I can handle this." She pushed away from him angrily and walked back across the room

"You can handle this? When you're scared and in pain and alone? Can you handle it then?" He watched her flinch beneath his words and hated himself for it. But he knew her, knew she was stubborn enough to try and tough it out on her own until she was too weak to fight his help. He didn't want that. He didn't want to get there only to watch her die. He wanted to spend every possible second with her until the end.

He crossed the room and stood behind her, afraid to touch her, as if she might shatter like glass. He could see her shoulders trembling and knew that if he saw her face he would see tears trickling down her cheeks. "Let me help you" he whispered in her ear, "Let me come home with you."

"I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to leave you alone when I'm gone," came her soft reply.

"If you walk out that door now you'll still be leaving me alone. I rather be with you for every possible second no matter how bad it gets, than be here alone. I love you. I never stopped loving you. Please. Let me come home with you." His voice was desperate, all his fear and longing and love for her apparent in his words.

Buffy turned to face him and his heart broke at the sight of the tears in her eyes. "Ok" she replied. She swallowed once and looked into his eyes, then leaned in and fit herself against his body. He wrapped his arms around her as if he would never let go. "I'll be there for you. We're in this together," he whispered into her hair.

Chapter 6

//I could stay awake just to hear you breathing
Watch you smile while you are sleeping
Far away and dreaming
I could spend my life in this sweet surrender
I could stay lost in this moment forever
Well, every moment spent with you
Is a moment I treasure//

//I don't wanna close my eyes
I don't wanna fall asleep
'Cause I'd miss you, babe
And I don't wanna miss a thing
'Cause even when I dream of you
The sweetest dream will never do
I'd still miss you, babe
And I don't wanna miss a thing//
"I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" by Aerosmith
Armageddon Soundtrack

November 2017
Buffy's House in Capeside

They arrived in Capeside just before dawn. Driving quickly through the deserted streets, Angel directed the car to a small, lonely house perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. He took their bags from the car and followed Buffy across the porch and into the house. They entered into a large open living room with a fireplace to the one side and a kitchen-dining area located towards the back of the room. A staircase was opposite the fireplace.

"Why don't you take your stuff upstairs?" Buffy said. "I'll start closing down the shades."

The upstairs of the house had a single bedroom located off a balcony that overlooked the downstairs. Angel quickly placed his bag in the room and returned downstairs to help Buffy.

"It's a nice house. You live here alone?"

"No, I have Spike and Dru to keep me company."

"Spike and Dru?" Angel's face was wary as he the question.

"Yes, Spike and Dru. My dogs! I couldn't help it. I had to do it. The look on your face..." Buffy laughed as Angel came over and grabbed her in a hug.

"Whatever possessed you to call them Spike and Dru?"

"When Willow gave them to me I swore they were possessed by demons. They destroyed everything in their path, especially leather. I had to hide your jacket for the first two years. It didn't help that Spike was yellow lab and Dru was a black lab. Actually Xander suggested it. I shocked him when I listened to him. They're at the neighbor's right now. I'll get them later. Trust me, you'll love them."

Angel picked up his jacket from where he had left it on the couch and clutched it to him protectively. "Buffy, I'm not much of a dog person."

Buffy smiled at him brightly. "Love me, love my dogs."

The first few days passed, and they began to settle into a routine. After an initial period of adjustment and growling on the part of all three, Angel and the dogs called a truce. Buffy was no longer working so she easily adapted to Angel's nocturnal habits. They spent hours together, talking in front of the fireplace, taking long walks on the beach with the dogs or quietly sitting on the porch swing.

"So, you've been around for how long now? 260 years give or take?"

"Yes. Why?" Angel asked as they followed the dogs down the beach. He put his arm around Buffy's shoulder and pulled her close, snugging the blanket she wore around her shoulders tighter.

"Hey, watch it! I still need to be able to breathe you know! I don't know. I mean you've seen a lot in that time. What was the greatest thing you've ever seen?" Buffy led him over to a flat rock that had become their favorite discussion spot. Angel sat down behind Buffy and she quickly leaned back against him. He was quiet as he thought for a moment.

"Something I'm still seeing now. Your face everytime I wake up. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

"No really. You've seen life change completely. What amazed you the most?"

"Buffy, things were pretty simple in Ireland before I met Darla. Then when I became a vampire, well, let's just say that the only changes I truly appreciated were those that let me spread a little more terror around. After the curse I was to busy wallowing in guilt and trying to survive to really care. It was only after Whistler came to me in New York and showed you to me that I began to care about the world around me. I began to care about you and to me that was the most amazing thing." Angel's voice had gotten softer as he spoke until it was almost drowned out by the sound of the waves. He stopped speaking for a moment, lost in thought. Speaking up he said, "I don't want to think of what my life would have been like if I hadn't found you."

"The same here Angel. The same here."

A rainy night two days later found them cuddled in front of the fire. Buffy had been amazed at how much Angel enjoyed touching her. They slept entwined like spoons and were never farther then an arms length away when they sat together to read or to talk.

Mischievously poking Angel in the ribs Buffy looked at him and asked, "So, what are we going to do tonight? Want to play some more chess?"

Angel groaned at the thought. "I think we'll pass on that. I can't keep all your rules straight. In the chess I play only rooks can move straight. How about we...." A loud knocking interrupted his suggestion. They glanced at each other as Buffy got up to open the door. Surreptitiously she held a stake behind her back. "Who's there?" A reply too muffled for Angel to hear caused Buffy to fling open the door and throw herself into the wet arms of Willow?

"Willow! What are you doing here? Don't you have some book of gloom and doom you should be researching? Oz, you superstar, come in out of the rain." Intent on dragging the wet and bedraggled pair in off the porch Buffy didn't think about Angel standing in the middle of her living room. She realized her mistake when Willow froze while in the process of taking off her bright yellow raincoat. "Angel?"

The small Watcher stood frozen for a second longer, and then launched herself across the room into the shocked vampire's arms. "What are you doing here? Oh my God it's so good to see you. What are you doing here? Oz, look Angel's here! Oh my God, Buffy why didn't you tell me?"

Oz laughed as he walked into the room. "You're getting a better reception the I usually get. Should I be jealous?"

Angel smiled as he disentangled himself from Willow's arms. He crossed the room and shook Oz's hand. "It's good to see you. Werewolves of London, hmmm?"

"Whatever works man!"

Buffy smiled to see some of the most important people in her life together and happy in one room. The smile faded as a calmer Willow once again questioned why Angel was there and why Buffy hadn't told her.

With a warning look at Angel, Buffy began to speak. "I went down to LA to do some Christmas shopping last week. I was walking through the mall when my Slayer sense starting acting up after all this time. I looked up and there he was. We just got back and have been spending time together catching up. I'm sorry for not letting you know. We just wanted some time to ourselves. So what brings you two here tonight?"

Willow frowned for a second. Something about Buffy's story didn't feel right. But everything seemed ok as she looked around the room. The crackling fire made it obvious that she and Oz had interrupted a quiet evening at home. Deciding to figure it out later, she responded brightly to Buffy. "Oz has this week off. The full moon begins tomorrow night so he came back to visit me. I had been thinking that I hadn't seen you in a while so we decided to surprise you with a visit. We'll leave if we're interrupting anything."

"Nonsense!" Angel declared. "We were just trying to figure out what to do. Buffy wanted to play chess."

"I've played chess with Buffy" Willow laughed. "I don't think I'm up to the challenge tonight."

"How about some poker?" Oz inquired with a grin.

"Perfect!" Buffy left the group and began to pull food out of the kitchen. "I've got munchies!"

Several laughter-filled hours later Willow was declared the winner by virtue of a small mountain of gumdrops piled in front of her. She giggled as she swept them all into a bowl. Oz and Angel had ventured into the storm to take a look at the ocean's fury and Willow decided to take advantage of the moment. "Have you told Giles that Angel is back?"

"No, and I don't intend to. He's so alone right now. I couldn't bear to call him and tell him that I have the love of my life back. Please don't say anything, Will."

"I don't know if that's right, keeping something like that from him. He always wanted you to be happy, Buffy."

"Willow, he hurt so badly when he saw Angel and I together after Angel got back. Even if he wanted me to be happy I couldn't do that to him."

"So you're just going to hide Angel from him for the rest of your life?"

Buffy was saved from having to reply when the door opened and Angel and Oz came through. "Will, the storm seems to have stopped. We'd better get going. I have that practice tomorrow at ten." Buffy silently thanked Oz for saving her from answering questions she wasn't ready to face.

"Okay, we'd better go then. Buffy take care of Angel, and Angel you take care of Buffy! It was so good to see you both. I'll see you soon!" With a flurry of hugs Willow and Oz headed out the door.

Buffy closed the door and walked with Angel to their usual spot in front of the fireplace. "It was good to see them again," Buffy stated softly.

"Yes it was" Angel replied. "I don't think I ever realized how much I missed them until now. You're lucky to have friends like that."

"Angel, they're your friends too. They always have been. They always will be."

"I know, Buffy. It's just hard to accept after being alone so long." Silence settled in as they sat and watched the flames, each lost in thought. After a while Angel looked down. Buffy was fast asleep. She looked beautiful. He frowned as he thought of losing her. The past few days had been idyllic, but he knew it was only a matter of time. He wasn't sure, but it seemed like each day she got a little thinner or moved a little more slowly. Settling back against the cushions he held her close. He had spent many hours like this since they had returned, just silently watching her sleep. He knew the memories of these times would be what would sustain him after she was gone.

The following evening, Buffy quietly sat on the porch and watched the sun set. As if to make up for the violence of the previous night the sunset was picture perfect. The sun slid into the sea with a blaze of red, orange and gold. The first stars were beginning to appear when Angel joined her on the swing. They sat silently looking out over the black Pacific as the full moon rose.

Angel was the first to break the silence. "I guess Oz is locked up somewhere by now."

"What? Oh yeah, I'm sure." Buffy's voice was distracted as she continued to look across the water.

"What's with you tonight? You seem sorta distracted."

"I guess I'm just thinking about Giles. Willow wanted to know if I had told him you were back."

"What did you tell her?" he quietly asked. He was afraid of this conversation. The hurt he had caused the Watcher so long ago still felt fresh in his heart.

"I told her no and asked her not to say anything. Right now he's relatively happy in England. It's taken him a long time to feel that way. I don't want to upset him now. It's going to be hard enough for him when I'm gone."

"Buffy, I think you're wrong. I think you should tell him you're sick. You should tell all of them. You're really going to hurt them by not letting them say good-bye." Angel's voice broke as he spoke to her.

"It would hurt them more if they came here to see me. I've always been strong for them. It was bad enough when they saw I could no longer be the slayer. I don't want them to see me dying. It's better they remember me the way I was. Don't fight me on this Angel, please?"

He could hear the tears in her voice and wordlessly nodded his head in agreement. They spent the rest of the night staring out to sea in silence.

Chapter 7

//Don't you fret, M'sieur Marius
I don't feel any pain
A little fall of rain
Can hardly hurt me now
You're here, That's all I need to know
And you will keep me safe
And you will keep me close And rain will make the flowers grow//
"A Little Fall of Rain" words by Herbert Kretzmer
Les Miserables Soundtrack

Capeside, California
Buffy's House
December - January 2017

November gave way to December as winter storms began to pound the coast relentlessly. They spent a quiet Thanksgiving with Willow while Oz returned to his tour on the East Coast. Willow briefly mentioned inviting Giles and Xander and his family to share the holiday, but the anxious looks that crossed the faces of Buffy and Angel made her rethink her decision. They appeared so happy together that she was reluctant to do anything to disturb their peace. Shortly after the holiday a new vampire arrived in Sunnydale and Willow was forced to resume her role as Watcher, leaving her lingering concerns about the former Slayer and her love till another time.

As the month progressed, Buffy could feel herself becoming weaker. She dug deep within herself to find the energy to keep going, unwilling to let Angel know how bad she felt. Angel watched her struggles in silence. He realized how bad she was getting and regretted his promise not to let her friends know the truth. With a troubled heart, he did his best to keep her comfortable without appearing to baby her.

The sound of muffled sobs woke Angel one dark afternoon. He instinctively reached for Buffy only to find cold sheets in place of her warm, soft body. He rose from the bed and grabbed his robe, silently creeping onto the balcony over looking the living room. The sight before him broke his heart. Buffy sat huddled in front of the cold, dark fireplace softly weeping. Padding gently down the stairs he sat down behind her and pulled her into his arms.

"What's wrong? What are you doing up so early?"

"Nothing, just some stuff I had to take care of." Her voice broke as she spoke.

"Just stuff? It sounds like it's pretty important." As he spoke, his eyes caught sight of a small stack of envelopes. The one on top had Willow's name written across it in Buffy's looping script. "What's this?"

"I've been avoiding this for too long. I'm dying, Angel. I can feel myself getting weaker everyday. I know you think that I'm wrong for not calling them. But I can't face them. I'll say my goodbyes this way." She reached down and picked up the envelopes. Turning around she placed them into Angel's hands. "When I'm gone will give these to them? Tell them I'm sorry." Tears began to slide down her cheeks as she leaned into the comfort of his arms.

"I'll do it. I promise you."

Angel was anxiously pacing inside the house, cursing his inability to withstand sunlight when Buffy returned from the doctor's several days later. One look at her face answered all his questions. Things were getting worse. They made no mention of the doctor as they quietly prepared dinner. Buffy was carrying the dishes to the table when her hand suddenly seemed to give out. They crashed to the floor with a clatter. Angel rushed to her side and gently lifted her from the midst of the shattered plates. He carried a sobbing Buffy over to the couch and set her down. Kneeling in front of her, he checked for cuts. Finding none, he took her hands in his.

"You're ok. Relax. Take a deep breath."

"I'm not ok," was her choked response. "My hand just gave out. It's starting. I'm scared. I don't want to die." Buffy's voice began to rise in anger and frustration. "It's not fair. We gave so much time and effort to save the world and what did it get us? I've been alone for twenty years. You've been alone for twenty years. Where was it written that we had to be the one's to suffer? That we had to be the one's to make the sacrifice? Everyone else got to live their lives and find some happiness. Me? I save the goddamned world and I get shafted. It's not fucking fair!!!"

Angel sat silently through her tirade. When she finished he looked at her calmly. "Twenty years ago we separated to avoid hurting Giles. We've stayed apart for twenty years to keep from hurting him. You know it was the right thing to do. Neither one of us would have been able to bear it if we had hurt him, and after awhile we wouldn't have been able to face each other. It's horrible that you're sick. But if you weren't sick do you think you would have sought me out? Do you think that we would have had this time together? You know you wouldn't have. We would have stayed apart and been noble about it. Well you know what? Screw nobility. I'm here with you now and that's all that matters."

A much calmer Buffy looked deeply into his eyes. "You're right. These last few weeks have been the best times I've had since high school. It feels so good to be with you again. I just wish we had more time."

"I know."

Christmas week approached and Buffy no longer had the energy to do more then lie on the couch. The usually rambunctious dogs seemed to sense the sorrow in the air. They took up sentry position next to the couch, whining pathetically when Angel took them out for walks. It was on one of these late night walks, the day before Christmas, that Angel first saw the tree. Instead of taking the dogs for their usual walk down the beach, he had taken them down the winding coast road Buffy lived on. Through her neighbor's window he could see the Christmas tree glowing softly in the front of the fire. He had been too concerned with Buffy's rapidly deteriorating health to give much thought to the approaching holidays, but he remembered Buffy's enthusiasm for the holidays from the years past. It was then that inspiration struck.

Returning home, he saw that Buffy was sleeping soundly. Sneaking through the house, he took the car keys and headed out on his mission. Silently blessing Sam and his concern for last minute shoppers, he pulled into the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart. Hurrying through the store, he quickly found what he needed.

He returned to the house and gently carried a sleeping Buffy up to the bed leaving her wrapped warmly in the covers. Returning to the living room he faced the curious dogs. "Now you guys be quiet and let me get this done." He worked quickly and within two hours the tree was up and decorated. "What do you think? Will she like it?" Angel stopped and shook his head. "I can't believe I'm been reduced to talking to animals. I used to be the most feared vampire in the world. What happened to me? I tell you what happened, you furry beasts, the most wonderful woman in the world happened to me." He stopped his monologue as he heard the bedroom door open.

"Angel? Is everything ok? I thought I heard somebody talking. Oh..." Buffy grew silent as she saw the tree. Angel hurried up the stairs and picked her up. He carried her back downstairs and settled them both in on the sofa.

"So, do you like it? It's nothing fancy but it is almost Christmas..."

"Angel, it's wonderful. It's the best tree ever. I just want to stay here and watch it all day."

"We can do that."

"Who are the presents for?"

If she didn't know better Buffy would have sworn that Angel blushed when she asked the question. "I, uhm, feel really bad about this. The presents are for the dogs. I bought them some bones. I have a gift for you but it's not wrapped. Do you want it now?"

Buffy began to weep, and she silently cursed her volatile emotions. "I'm sorry, I don't have anything for you."

"Buffy, being here with you the last two months has been the best present I've ever received. There's nothing that could top that. Here, this is for you." Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a delicate silver chain with a small silver heart dangling from it. Looking at it Buffy could see the word "always" scrolled across the surface of the heart. "I don't have to tell you what that means do I?"

"No, I know. I feel the same way. Will you put it on me please?" She pulled her hair up as he placed the chain around her neck. As he closed the clasp, he leaned in and gently kissed her neck. "Merry Christmas Buffy" he whispered.

Christmas came and left. They rang in the New Year together quietly, sitting on the beach wrapped in blankets. Buffy had become progressively weaker. She was no longer able to walk more then a few steps at a time. The once strong muscles in her body continued to betray her. Angel had not wanted to bring her out into the cold night but she was insistent. New Year's was the first clear night in weeks. She wanted to see the stars one last time.

"I still don't think you should be out here. It's too cold."

"I'm warm enough. I think you have every blanket in the house wrapped around us. I just wanted to enjoy a clear night for a change. It's been so stormy these last few weeks." She paused for a second as though gathering her courage. When she spoke again her voice trembled. "Do you remember those letters I asked you to deliver?"

Angel nodded against her shoulder. Those letters had been in the back of his mind for days.

"I've been thinking. I want you to deliver some gifts with those letters. The letters are just words. I want them to have something concrete to hold on to."

"What do you have in mind?"

"Well the first is pretty easy, my diaries from when I was the Slayer. I want you to bring them to Giles. As much as I hate to admit it, they belong in the Watcher archives. Maybe they can help some other slayer in the future. I think it might help Giles too. I know that sometimes he just didn't understand me then. Maybe this will help."

"I'll do that."

"The next one is a little harder. Would you mind if I gave the cross you gave me to Joy? I think it always brought me luck, and I'd like to pass it on to her."

"Buffy you do what ever you think is best. Tell me what to bring and I will. What about Willow?"

"Bring Spike and Dru back to her. Tell her I thought her life wasn't complicated enough. Also give her the leather jacket you gave me. It's hanging in my closet upstairs."

Angel smiled ruefully. "She's going to kill me. You realize that?"

Buffy smiled for a second, the somber mood lifting for a moment before the finality of the conversation crashed back down. "She won't kill you. She'll put you to work in the library researching the latest demon." Tears filled Buffy's eyes as she spoke. "It'll be something for you when I'm gone. You won't be alone. You'll be with friends." Stifling a sob she continued, "I want you to have something to. I want you to take my ring. All along this was my touchstone. It always reminded me that you were out there somewhere. Well now let it remind you that I'm somewhere waiting for you." She was sobbing openly by the time she finished speaking. Angel held her close and kept silent. Now wasn't the time to debate whether or not he would meet her in the afterlife. He knew he wasn't lucky enough to spend eternity with her. He was going somewhere a lot warmer.

Three days later Buffy lapsed into a coma. The doctor came and wanted to put her into the hospital, but she had left strict instructions that she wanted to stay at home. A nurse came to help Angel take care of her, but he insisted on doing everything himself. It was only after he collapsed from sheer exhaustion four days later that he finally accepted the help. No longer able to distract himself with activity, he sat at her bedside and spoke to her constantly. He told her stories of his life in Ireland, of the years he wandered after his soul was first returned, of the years he'd spent after he returned from hell. Finally he talked of their times together in Sunnydale. His voice breaking, he spoke of saying goodbye to her twenty years before.

"Leaving you that night was the hardest thing I've ever done. That last night in the cemetery, I wanted so much to just be selfish, take you in my arms and run away. I just wanted us to have some peace and happiness for a change." Angel stared at the unmoving, placid face of his lover as he continued to speak, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "You were right, why did we have to be the ones to lose? Why couldn't we be happy?" He looked away, blinking the tears from his eyes.

"Remember when I told you Whistler was with me after I left you? I didn't tell you this earlier, but he kept me from doing something really stupid that first morning after I left you. If I couldn't be with you I didn't want to go on, I just wanted it to be over." Angel paused, trying to find the strength to continue. After a moment, he began to speak again. "He found me sitting out in the park waiting for the sun to rise. He convinced me that going on was better, that there was always the chance I would see you again. He finally got me when he asked what I thought you would feel if you came looking for me and found out I was gone? I realized I couldn't hurt you like that. I guess he was right, we did get some more time together. This has been the greatest two months of my life," he said fervently. "Thank you for sharing it with me." He picked up her hand as he finished speaking and brought it to his lips. "I love you."

Ten days after the coma began Angel woke with a start from his bedside vigil. Some instinct deep inside told him that it was time. He gingerly climbed into the bed and took her in his arms. "It's time Buffy. I know it. You can let go now. I love you. I'll always love you." He sat there unmoving as he felt the life leave her body. When she was gone he finally gave in to heart-wrenching sobs he felt in his chest. She was gone.

Chapter 8

//A friend is a friend
Nothing can change that
Arguments, squabbles
Can't break the contract
That each of you makes
To the death, to the end
Deliver you future
Into the hands the of your friend//
"A Friend is a Friend" by Pete Townshend

Sunnydale Library
January 14, 2018

He crept quietly into the library just after dusk, amazed at how much it still seemed the same, even after all these years. He stood silently in the stacks watching Willow pore through the musty books, laughing and joking with the slayer. Regret filled his heart. He didn't want to be the one to wipe the smile from her face. Taking an unnecessary deep breath he stepped into the light and was immediately knocked over by an angry Slayer.

"What do you want here demon?" she snarled as she prepared to shove a stake into his chest. Only Willow's quick shout of "Stop" prevented her from making the fatal plunge.

"Let him go, Claire. He's a friend of mine."

"You're friends with a vampire? Why didn't you tell me? What's he doing here?" For a second the slayer's excited speech reminded Angel of Buffy when he first met her. He closed his eyes as the thought of Buffy sent a fresh stab of pain through his chest.

"If you'll get off of him and be quiet for a second maybe he'll tell us."

With a perky "Sorry," Claire scrambled off Angel and went to stand protectively by her Watcher. Willow might claim him as a friend but as far as Claire was concerned he was still a vampire, a good-looking one, but a demon none the less.

Resignedly Angel climbed to his feet and stood before Willow. She looked at his disheveled appearance and then quickly glanced around the room. "Where's Buffy? Did she come with you?" A dark sense of foreboding began to take hold in her stomach as Angel continued to stand silently in front of her. "Angel, what's wrong? Where's Buffy?"

Angel slowly walked over to her and pushed her down into her chair. He knelt in front of her and took her hands, disregarding the warning looks being shot at him by the hostile slayer. "I'm sorry Willow, there's no easy way to say this. She's gone."

"Gone? What do you mean gone? You mean she ran away again? Why? What happened?" Willow's voice was confused but the realization of the truth was slowly appearing on her face.

He stood up and took the seat next to her. Twisting the two Claddagh rings on his finger, all the while wishing there was some way to spare her the grief to come, he began to speak. "Willow, she died last night. She's been pretty sick for a while, some kind of inoperable tumor in her head. That's why she came to find me, why I came home with her. I wanted her to tell you the truth but she didn't want you to see her like she was these past few weeks. She left a letter for you. Here." The words came out in a rush as if speaking them quickly would make them hurt less. When he finished he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the letter.

Willow took the letter from him. For several long minutes she sat silently in the chair, grief plainly visible on her face. Claire stood beside her, uncertain of how to respond to the unfolding tragedy. She could almost feel sorry for the vampire before her; his face was a frozen mask of grief. It was apparent that his heart was broken. Deciding that discretion was the better tactic she laid her hand on Willow's shoulder. "I'll leave now. Call me if you need me. I'll just do a quick patrol and then head home."

Claire's words broke their reverie. Both Angel and Willow remembered another well loved voice speaking the same words many times before. Wiping a tear from her eye Willow opened the envelope and began to silently read. Angel stepped away to give her privacy to read the last message from her friend. He paced the library seeing Buffy's face in every corner, perched on the counter doing her nails, arguing with Giles as they sat around the table. Just as the memories threatened to overwhelm him he was saved by Willow's tear-filled voice.

"Have you read this?"

"No, she gave them to me sealed. I have some things she asked me to bring you out in the car."

"I know what 'things' you have in the car. She's finally getting me back." A rueful laugh quickly turned to a choked sob. Angel hurried over and took Willow into his arms. Together the two mourned their loss. After several minutes of heart-broken sobs, Willow pulled away and wiped the tears from her face. She picked the letter up off the table and handed it to Angel. "Here, read this. She spelled out her plans for you in there. I think you might want to know what they are." Looking down he began to read.

My Dearest Friend,

It's so hard to think of what to write. I don't have enough time or paper to write all the things you've been to me. When I first came to Sunnydale I was so alone. I didn't want to be the Slayer. I wanted a normal life, with friends and boyfriends, where the biggest decision was what to do on a Saturday night. Maybe having a normal boyfriend wasn't meant to be and my Saturday night plans usually involved saving the world but I had some of the greatest friends I could ever ask for. The six of you kept me sane when I wanted nothing more then to run screaming away from my destiny. There aren't enough words to thank you enough for everything you've given me and to apologize for not saying all this in person. I'm sorry for that but I needed to face this last fight on my own. I know you're most likely really angry with me now and I hate to ask you this one last favor. But it's so important Will. Please, please look after Angel for me. I lied when I said we met by accident. I went looking for him just to feel his arms around me one last time. He figured out the truth and that's why he was there when you and Oz came to visit. This is going to be so hard for him. I didn't want to hurt him. I didn't want him to watch me die but it looks like that's how it's going to be. You know him Will, you know he's liable to do something stupid like think this is all his fault. It's not. It's my body betraying me. It'll never ever be his fault. Put him to work in the library or backing up Claire. Just whatever you do please don't let him be alone. He's been alone far too long, we both have. Learn from us Willow. Treasure every second you get with Oz. Don't lose out like we did. I'll miss you so much.
Forever in friendship,
Buffy

P.S. The demon dogs are all yours again. Please give them lots of love and they'll return it tenfold. They've been the greatest source of happiness for me these last few years. I hope they can bring some of that same happiness to you.

He finished reading the letter and looked up at Willow. "I loved her so much." Willow's heart twisted at the sight of the pain on his face. Looking at him she realized that even though she had lost one of her best friends, he had lost his whole heart. She wasn't sure how he would be able to keep going but she would do her best to help him.

"Oh God, we have to tell Xander and Giles." Willow's face was pale as she considered the horrible news that needed to be passed on.

"I know, I have letters for both of them. I need to see Giles on my own though. There are things that need to be worked out just between the two of us. But would you go with me to see Xander and Cordelia? You know how he always felt about me. I don't think this is going to help. Besides, if I showed up on his doorstep now without you there for protection, he's liable to greet me with a stake through the heart." His voice was bleak as he considered facing the two other men in Buffy's life. He knew that their anger at her death was going to need a target and it would most likely be him.

"Okay, why don't we go now. We can't put this off. Xander should be home by now. We can stop by my house and leave off the dogs. Buffy always said that she would get me for those two. I guess it's payback time." With a small laugh Willow took Angel's hand and led him out the door. She was crying on the inside but determined to put on a brave front for Angel. His trepidation at seeing Xander was obvious to her and she wanted to do what she could to relieve his anxiety. He gave her a small, bitter smile and together they walked through the door.

Chapter 9

//You've got a right to be angry
You've got a right to complain
But just being right
Ain't gonna change anything
You want understanding
Without saying a word
You want admiration
Even though it's undeserved//
"Nothing Much of Anything" by the Badlees

Sunnydale, California
January 14,2018

The wind was bitter as it whipped around them. They stopped at the end of the walk, both facing the house with uneasiness. Although the house appeared well lit and homey, it did not feel welcoming to the two figures standing at the edge of the light. It was almost as if it knew the sorrowful news they carried.

Hoping to delay the inevitable for just a moment longer, Angel spoke. "I didn't realize they lived here."

"Buffy sold the house to them right after her mom died. She was leaving town and liked the idea of the house holding a growing family." Willow paused, then looked over at Angel. "Are you sure you want to do this?" she asked as she placed a hand on his arm. He had been silent on the walk over. Willow knew he was lost in thought, both remembering the nights he had walked these same streets with Buffy and dreading the confrontation that was to come.

"I have to. I promised her." Angel started to walk forward and then stopped suddenly. "They took the tree down?"

"It came down in a storm shortly after Xander and Cordelia moved in, about a year after Buffy's mom died, a little after Joy was born. Buffy was pretty upset, she said she had a lot of fond memories of the tree. Xander was happy. He said that he wouldn't have to worry about Joy sneaking out to meet any boyfriends at night."

Angel had to laugh at that. "Yes, the tree did see a lot of late night traffic." He sobered suddenly as they reached the front porch. "Well, this should be interesting." Reaching out, he knocked on the door and then stepped back to wait. A patter of footsteps was heard and then the door opened to reveal a small, dark-haired girl in pigtails. When she saw Willow she launched herself into Willow's waiting arms. "Aunt Willow!" she shrieked happily.

"Joy, how many times have I told you to let me answer the door at night!" Cordelia's worry was apparent as she hurried to the door. "Willow? What brings you over tonight? I thought you were with Claire? Angel..." Her voice trailed off in shock at the sight of the vampire. She quickly reached out and took Joy from Willow's arms, pulling her back across the threshold. "What are you doing here?"

"Hello Cordelia. It's been a long time." He could sense her nervousness and took a step back from the door. "Congratulations, you have a beautiful daughter."

Cordelia continued to stare in fear at Angel for several long seconds. It was only when she looked at Willow and saw the protective way she stood next to Angel that she remembered this was no longer Angelus the demon but Angel their friend. He looked devastated she realized. "Joy, why don't you go up and play in your room. Let Mommy visit with Aunt Willow and Angel for a while." She turned and gently pushed the little girl towards the stairs. "We'll be up to see you in a bit."

"Xander should be home in a few minutes. We can wait in the kitchen." She stepped aside to let Willow pass and turned in confusion when Angel didn't follow. He stood hesitantly at the threshold. "I need to be invited in remember?"

"Oh, sorry. Come in." He followed her back to the kitchen and took a seat at the table. Cordelia brought the coffeepot and mugs over to the table. "I have a feeling we're going to need this. What's wrong? What are you doing back here?"

Willow was the first to speak; "It's about Buffy."

"No Willow, let me do this," Angel interrupted. "Cordelia there's no easy way to say this, Buffy died last night. She'd been sick..." The sound of the front door opening cut him off.

"Honey, I'm home!" Xander's voice rang out as he walked into the kitchen. He stopped as he saw Cordelia's stricken face. "What's wrong?" He looked around the kitchen trying to find the cause of her distress. He stopped suddenly as he saw Angel. Multiple expressions crossed his face, surprise, shock, fear, it finally settled into a scowl of anger. "Wait a second, what the hell are you doing here? What did you do to upset her? Will, what's going on?" Willow got up from the chair and put her hand on Xander's shoulder.

"Xander, Buffy died last night." She bit her lip as she said it and waited for the inevitable explosion.

Xander's face grew pale and he sank into the open chair next to Cordelia. She reached over and took his hand, trying to offer comfort. "What? That's not possible. How?"

"She'd been sick for the last few months, Xander." Angel looked up into Xander's distressed face. "She had a tumor in her brain. It was inoperable. She slipped into a coma a little more then a week ago and died last night."

"How do you know all this?"

"I was with her."

He sprang out of the chair at that news, brushing aside Cordelia's calming hand. "Why the hell were you there and we weren't? We were her friends. We should have been there for her. What right did you have to be there? You never did anything but bring her pain."

"I know. You're right." Angel agreed without a fight. He began to twist the Claddagh rings, as if to draw strength to endure the confrontation from them. "But it was what she wanted. She didn't want you to see her the way she was this last week. I thought she was wrong but I didn't want to fight with her."

"You didn't want to fight with her? You son of a bitch. You should have called us. We should have been there!" All the anger, sorrow and loss of twenty years past was in his face. The words seemed to strike Angel like a physical blow.

"Xander, that's enough!" Willow shouted as she faced him. "It was Buffy's choice and we have to live with it. Yelling at Angel isn't going to make it any better. It's not going to bring her back."

"Willow, it's ok. He's right. You should have been there. I should have called you. Here, she asked me to give this to you and she wanted Joy to have this. I'm going to get out of here. You don't need me here now. Willow, I'll meet you back at the library." Angel stood and placed the letter and the cross on the table. Shoulders slumped; he walked out the door.

"Xander, there are times when you really are an ass." Willow's comment was fierce as she took her seat at the table and played with her coffee cup.

"What? We were her friends; we should have been there. She needed us."

"No she didn't. She needed time with Angel. They were so happy together when Oz and I first saw them in November. For as much as they loved each other do you realize how little time they actually spent together? My God, how can you begrudge them that? Do you think it was easy for him to be there when she died? To watch the person that made him feel most human slip away? He loved her with his whole heart. I don't know what he's going to do now."

Xander had the decency to look abashed. "Why didn't you tell me he was back?"

"Because they didn't need you calling and making dead-boy comments. They were happy just being together. I thought they could use some time alone."

"Yeah, well they had their time alright," he said bitterly. He once again sat down next to Cordelia and picked up the letter. Opening it he began to read aloud.

To my friends,

I know you're going to be so angry when you read this. Angry that I didn't let you know I was sick. Angry that Angel was here when you weren't. I'm sorry for that. I needed to do this on my own. I didn't want you to see me like this. It's bad now and it's only going to get worse. Let your memories of me be happy ones, dancing in the Bronze, skulking through the cemetery, dinners together as we got older. Those are the important memories. It doesn't matter who was with me when it was all over. Well, yes, I guess in a way it does matter. I needed Angel here. Thank God he made me see that. This brief time we've had together went a long way towards making up for all the years we spent apart. If I had died without having that time with him... I don't want to think about it. So please don't be angry any longer. Don't blame Angel.

Xander, I know it's still hard for you to understand how I could love him. You were never able to separate Angel from Angelus. Yes, Angelus was horrible. He deserved to die and maybe I should have killed him during those terrible months so long ago, but inside he was my Angel, the sweetest, most gentle man. We never really discussed what happened when I sent Angel to Hell or those terrible months while I ran away. Maybe it wouldn't have changed things if you had told me Willow was retrying the spell, but maybe it would have. Maybe I never would have seen the look of betrayal in his eyes as I shoved the sword through his ribs. Maybe he would never have had to suffer those months of torment, all alone in the dark. Maybe my mother and Giles wouldn't have been frantic with worry about me. We don't know and because we don't know, you owe me. You owe me because we should have had that chance. So I'm calling you on it. I'm not asking for much, just give him a break. He's going to need all of you. I'm getting tired now and I have one last letter to write. I guess I should end this now. Thank you for everything you've given to me over the years, I'm sorry we couldn't have had more time.
Always,
Buffy
Please give my cross to Joy. It always brought me luck. I'd like to pass it on. Besides, you live in Sunnydale. There's no such thing as being too careful.

Cordelia was crying openly by the time Xander finished reading the letter. He placed it down on the table and then covered his face with his hands. After several minutes silence he took a deep breath and looked up. "I never realized how angry she was that I didn't say anything about the spell."

Shaking her head in frustration, Willow spoke. "Of course she was angry. She was given no choice but to send the man she loved to hell. You would feel the same way if you had to do it to Cordelia."

"But she's never killed anyone. Cordie never tried to open the gates to Hell." Xander exclaimed in a futile effort to defend his hatred of Angel.

"Dammit Xander! Neither did Angel! When will you understand that?" Willow's face was almost purple in anger. She stood up unwilling to listen to Xander any longer. Angel had to be hurting and she knew that the next visit he needed to make would be the worst. It would be better for her to leave and comfort him then listen to Xander bash him. "Listen, I can't take this anymore. Angel's barely keeping it together in case you haven't noticed. I'm going to go catch up with him. You don't need me here." Spinning angrily Willow started to the door.

Xander watched her leave and then turned to his wife, "Was I wrong, Cordie? Did he have the right to be there with her, even after everything he's done?" He looked at Cordelia, hoping to see some sign that he was right.

Cordelia shook her head sadly; "He loved her Xander, always. I think that's all that matters."

Xander's face crumpled at her words, "I guess I owe him an apology." He stood and hurried out the front door. "Willow, wait!" Xander called after her, finally catching up to her on the street outside. "You're right. He's lost more then any of us. I don't have any right to give him grief. Can you wait here for a second? There's something I want you to give him." He ran back to the house at her nod.

She waited on the walk, impatiently shifting from foot to foot, anxious to be on her way. He returned several minutes later and handed her a manuscript. "Give this to him. Tell him I wrote it a while ago. I've been trying to decide what to do with it. I think I know now."

"What is it?" she asked warily. She knew Angel couldn't take much more grief from Xander.

"It's the story of a beautiful girl who hunts demons and the noble vampire who loves her. They have a happy ending here Will." Xander wiped a tear from his eye and reddened in embarrassment. "Tell him I'll talk to him in a few days. I guess I have some apologizing to do."

Willow smiled at Xander; maybe things would be ok after all. "I'll tell him Xander."

Chapter 10

//La-la-la-la...
Oh, I want to thank you for so many gifts you gave
The love, the tenderness, I wanna thank you
I want to thank you for your generosity, the love
And the honesty that you gave me
I want to thank you show my gratitude
My love, and my respect for you, I want to thank you
Oh, I want to thank you, thank you; thank you, thank you
I want to thank you, thank you; thank you, thank you//
"Kind & Generous" by Natalie Merchant

London, England
January 16, 2018

Rupert Giles wearily walked to the window and looked out at the cold rain. The bleak view from the window seemed to suit his melancholy mood as he sipped his tepid tea. After several minutes of silent contemplation he turned and headed across the room to the phone. Quickly dialing a number, he listened to the phone ring. It was answered after the fourth ring and he grumbled as he listened to the answering machine message once again.

"Hi! This is Buffy, I can't make it to the phone right now. You know what to do at the beep."

"Buffy, this is Giles. I haven't heard from you in a while. Is everything well? Please call me back. You know where to find me." He sighed as he placed the phone back in its cradle. Of course she knew where to find him, he had hardly left the archives in months. Picking up his tea he wondered how his life had gotten so empty, when had he become a solitary old man with only his books for company? A picture sitting on the desk caught his eyes. He smiled as he lifted it up and studied the happiness in their faces. Joyce Summers had taken the picture the day of graduation. Buffy, Willow and Oz, Xander and Cordelia stood around a much younger him in the library. The graduates were still wearing their robes, proudly displaying hard-earned diplomas. Those had been happy times he realized, the Slayer, the Watcher, and the Slayerettes banding together to fight the forces of darkness.

He continued to look at the picture and was struck by a wave of sadness as he thought of the faces that weren't there. Jenny, spirited Jenny, who made him realize that books weren't all there was to life, he missed her still. And Angel, the tormented soul trapped with a demon's legacy. Long ago he had admitted to himself that Angel was not responsible for Jenny's death and guiltily regretted his actions towards him so long ago. He realized that Buffy and Angel had separated to avoid hurting him. Many times over the years he regretted his rash actions, particularly when he saw Buffy alone with only those damnable dogs for company. Shortly before Joyce Summers's death he had toyed with the idea of trying to find Angel. Willow knew where he was, he was almost certain. However he was afraid to broach the topic with her, ashamed to admit to the wrongs he had committed, the hurt he had caused Buffy. And then Joyce was killed and the grief overwhelmed him again. It was only recently that he thought about finding Angel again.

A gentle knock and the sound of an opening door interrupted his reverie. Startled, Giles looked up into Angel's face.

"Angel? Am I dreaming? What are you doing here? How did you get in?"

"Hello Giles. No, you're not dreaming. Your housekeeper let me in. You really should warn her about admitting late night visitors." Angel turned his head as he spoke, unable to look the old Watcher in the eyes. Long buried guilt rose up inside him. Once again he would hurt Giles by taking someone he loved from him. "It's been a long time."

Giles nodded in agreement. "Yes it has. But I'm so..."

"Giles, I need to give you a message and then I'll leave. You'll never have to see me again." Angel paced as he spoke, finally stopping next to the window. "It's about Buffy."

"Yes, about Buffy. Angel, I really want..." he stopped as he was again interrupted by the vampire.

"Giles, please, just let me say this. I'm sorry, there's no easy way to tell you. Buffy died three nights ago. I was with her. She'd been sick for a while, some kind of inoperable tumor in her head. She didn't want you to see her the way she was in the end. That's why she didn't call you or anyone else." Angel sat in one of the chairs across from Giles and lowered his head into his hands. This was the third time he had made this short speech and it wasn't getting any easier, each repetition only served to drive his loss deeper.

Giles sat in shock for several minutes, staring at the grief stricken figure before him. "She's gone?"

Angel nodded. Reaching into his jacket pocket he pulled out two small books and a letter. "Here she wanted you to have these, they're her journals from when she first became the slayer. She thought they might help you understand what went on in her head during that time. As for the letter, well I think it was her way of saying good-bye." He placed the articles on the table, rose from the chair and started for the door. The grief he felt over Buffy's death paled in comparison to the guilt that magnified the longer he stayed in the Watcher's presence. "Giles, I'm sorry, for everything."

"Angel, wait, please?" Giles hurried after Angel and stopped him at the door. "You were with her?"

Reluctantly Angel let Giles lead him back to the chairs. He refused to look the Watcher in the face as he spoke. "She came to find me in L.A. in November. She thought she could just pass through and leave. But I realized that she was sick and insisted that she take me home with her. I knew how she was. I knew she wouldn't ask for help. I forced it on her. I'm sorry I didn't call. All of you had more right to be there then me, but she was adamant that nobody see her like that."

Giles listened to Angel speak without comment. The shock of Buffy's death had yet to sink in, but he could recognize the terrible grief of the man in front of him. After several moments of silence he spoke. "Angel, of all of us you had the most right to be there. Long ago I realized the harm I did to both of you. I was so bitter and angry that Jenny had died... No, stop!" Giles waved aside Angel's protest and continued to speak, "Angel, you would never have hurt Jenny, just like you would have never hurt Buffy. That was the demon that caused all that pain. Not you. Rationally I knew that, but I was so angry I wanted someone to suffer because I was suffering. You wore the demon's face, spoke with his voice, it was so easy to forget you weren't the same man." He stopped for a second to gather his thoughts. Gazing at a spot only he could see, he began to speak again. "I know you left for my sake, and I know it broke Buffy's heart to let you go. I thought several times of trying to find you, to bring you home to her. But I was afraid, afraid to admit my mistakes. I let that wonderful girl live her life alone because I was a foolish old man." His voice broke as he finished speaking and he gave in to the tears that pooled in his eyes.

Angel watched him weep, not knowing what to say. He had expected to be greeted with angry words and threats at least, part of him had almost hoped for a loaded crossbow and end to the heaviness in his heart. The unexpected confession had been a complete surprise. Looking for some way to comfort the grief-stricken man he went to a small hot pot and began to brew a cup of tea.

Giles gratefully took the cup when it was handed to him. He watched as Angel once again took the seat across from him. "She was the child I never had. I can't believe she's gone."

"I know," Angel replied quietly. "She loved you very much. She never wanted to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you."

"I know. Was she in very much pain?"

"No, not physically. Emotionally, well she was very angry that her body betrayed her. But in the end she didn't feel anything." Angel closed his eyes as he remembered those terrible days at her bedside.

"I'm glad. I can understand how angry she must have been. She was the same way when her Slayer abilities disappeared. It must have been very hard for you to see her like that."

"It hurt Giles, it hurt so badly. I loved her so much, even after all this time."

The Watcher stood and crossed over to take the seat next to Angel. "I'm sorry doesn't begin to express how I feel. I stole so much time from the two of you. But as I'm sure you know, sorry doesn't mean much when you lose someone you love." Their eyes locked in mutual understanding. Angel was the first to look away. His guilt was still there despite the Watcher's understanding. He picked the letter up from the table and handed it to Giles. "I need to get going now. I'm heading back to the States. I need to go soon in order to arrive when it's still dark. Thank you for understanding."

Giles watched silently as the vampire left. When he was certain he was alone he opened the letter and began to read.

"Dearest Giles,

Writing this letter has been the hardest thing I've ever done. I don't know where to begin. How do you thank some one who's saved your life? How do you explain exactly how much they've meant to you? I don't know that I can. There have been so many things we've left unsaid between us over the years, yet we've always understood exactly what we felt. I guess I'm going to hope that you can understand what you've been to me without my saying a word, but if you can't, know that you've been Watcher, teacher, friend and father. I never would have survived as long as I did without you. You accepted me with all my flaws. I can't thank you enough for that.

I know you must be angry with me that I didn't tell you I was sick. Angry that Angel was here with me. I'm sorry. I never wanted to hurt you but I needed this time with him. I know that even though you grew to love my mom, in your heart you still loved Jenny. I felt the same way about Angel. I had the opportunity to see him one last time and I took it. I hope you understand.

I can't write anymore. It's breaking my heart to think of you on your own. Know that I'll be watching you, I'll be watching all of you. I love you very much.
Your daughter in your heart,
Buffy

He sat silently when he finished the letter. Finally breaking his reverie he returned to the phone. Dialing the number, he wasn't surprised when it was picked up on the first ring. "Hello Willow..."

Chapter 11

//Don't be afraid
Close your eyes
Lay it all down
Don't you cry
Can't you see I'm going
Where I can see the sun rise
I've been talking to my Angel
And he says that it's alright//
"Talking to my Angel" by Melissa Etheridge

Capeside Cemetery
January 19, 2018
Midnight

Angel entered the cemetery as the clock in the local church struck twelve. Walking slowly through the rows of marble stones to the far side of the cemetery, next to a solitary oak tree, he came upon the newest grave. Biting his lip, he stared off into the distance. When he finally returned his eyes to the simple white monument, tears glittered on his cheeks.

"Happy Birthday, Buffy," he whispered as he dropped a single red rose on the grave.

He took a seat on the ground and leaned back against the tree. Drawing in a deep breath he began to speak. "Well I delivered all your letters. It was so hard, Buffy. The looks on their faces... Willow understood, but Xander was ready to kill me. I don't think he's ever forgiven me. You were right, his little girl is adorable. I wish I could have spent a little time with her but I don't think Xander and Cordelia will be inviting me over for dinner anytime soon." He stopped speaking for a second and looked out over the cemetery. Habit made him search for any newly risen vampires, but Capeside was a quiet town. Buffy would rest in peace.

"Giles surprised me. He's forgiven me for Jenny's death. In fact, he wanted me to forgive him for all the time you and I lost because of him. I told him that we both understood. He's a lonely man. I hope he can find some happiness in his life."

Angel reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "Xander gave this to Willow for me. It's a manuscript he wrote a while ago. It's supposed to be a story about you and I. Want to see what the great Alex Harris has written about us? I'm probably staked by page ten." He smiled at the tombstone. He could almost feel Buffy's presence as he began to read. It brought memories of the nights they had spent in front of the fire before she became so sick. "Her beautiful blue eyes shone with an inner fire as she approached the mysterious man who had provided her clues to the demon's activities..."

"Hand in hand the Demon Hunter and the Vampire walked off in the night. The path they had chosen was not easy, but when was love ever easy? Each knew that in the other they had found the missing part of themselves. They would never be alone again." The moon had traced its path across the sky and set by the time Angel finished the manuscript. He closed his eyes while he considered the meaning of the story. Xander had given them the happy ending they never had in real life. Was it a sign that Xander had forgiven him? He smiled ruefully to himself, that would be the day. Finding a pen in his coat pocket he wrote a short note and attached it to the manuscript. Carefully he placed the manuscript next to the quiet stone.

When he resumed his position against the tree he reached into his pocket and removed a small envelope. His name was written in Buffy's writing much like the envelopes he had delivered to Willow, Xander and Giles. He had carried it with him since her death, unwilling to face her final message. He looked at the Eastern sky and then, sighing heavily, opened the envelope.

My dearest love,

There aren't enough words to describe all I feel for you. You have been the greatest love of life, the only love of my life. I can't thank you enough for everything you've given me, both years ago in Sunnydale and these wonderful months here in Capeside. I only wish we had more time. But we'll have eternity together. I know that in my heart. The good in you, the love you have given me, far out weighs anything that the demon did. We have sacrificed so much in this lifetime. We should have our eternity together in the light.

I know you Angel. I know that you are probably reading this letter as you wait for the sun to rise one final time. I wish there was a way I could stop you. You could be happy with Willow, helping Claire, protecting Joy. They need you. But I'm selfish. I'm waiting for you. I want you to come to me. I want our eternity together to start now. So as you face the morning sun, don't be afraid. I'm there beside you. Holding your hand. Rejoicing in the brilliant sunlight. I love you from the bottom of my heart.
Buffy

Angel wiped the tears from his eyes when finished the letter. If only it were true. If only they could spend eternity together. But the demon's sins had condemned him to eternal damnation, of that he was certain. He rose, walked to the tombstone and sat again, facing the direction of the rising sun. If their spirits couldn't be together at least their ashes would mingle.

"So, are you already to face the fires of hell again, Angel?"

Angel jumped as the voice disturbed his reverie. Turning, he saw Whistler seated on a large marble stone about twenty feet away. "You've been to hell once already. I wouldn't think you'd be so eager to head back there again," the small demon continued.

"Haven't we done this before, Whistler? You talked me out of it once already. I don't think it'll work again. She's gone. Dead! There's nothing left for me here now." Angel had risen from his spot on the ground. He paced angrily around the marker, grief at his loss and fear of the coming dawn mixing with desperation on his face.

"I'm not here to talk you out of it, Angel. She's gone, a part of you is missing. There's nothing holding you here now. You're right. But before you go for the perfect tan, answer this question for me. Do you think there's a cosmic scorecard? You know, somewhere they keep a tally of the good and the bad people have done? The sacrifices they've made?" The small demon followed Angel around as he spoke.

"You're damn right there's a scorecard. I hope it gave Buffy the happiness and peace in the afterlife that she never had here. I know what it's going to give me," he said bitterly.

"I don't think Buffy's gotten the happiness she wanted in the afterlife..."

Whistler's words were interrupted by Angel's hands around his throat, "What do you mean, you bastard? She gave up everything to be the Slayer. She deserves some happiness now."

With a strength that belied his small stature, Whistler pushed away. "You're right, she does. That's where you come in. She needs you there with her. She's waiting for you. They sent me to make sure you came. I told them it wasn't necessary, that you wouldn't survive for long without her but they wanted to make sure. They want her to be happy."

"They?" Angel's voice was suspicious, "Who the hell are they?"

"The forces of Good and Evil, the Fates, whatever you want to call them. You'll see soon enough. Are you afraid to see the sun for the first time in 262 years?"

Angel resumed his position on the ground against the stone marker. "I'm more afraid of life without her," he said quietly.

"It won't be long till you see her again. I promise." Whistler vanished as quickly as he appeared, leaving Angel alone in the cemetery.

The morning sun began to peek over the eastern sky and Angel waited for the pain to begin. To his surprise he felt no pain, no burning as his clothes began to smoke, only a gentle pressure in his right hand, almost as if someone was holding it. Turning his gaze from his smoking clothes he looked into Buffy's bright blue eyes. This was not the wasted Buffy of only a week earlier. This was Buffy in all her seventeen year old beauty. She smiled a brilliant smile at him. "I've been waiting for you."

 

Epilogue

//His voice is still
Like the night
Rustling winds
Of angels' flight
Take him home
To the light
This friend of mine//
"Friend of Mine" by John Hiatt

Capeside Cemetery
January 19, 2018
Just after sunset

They met in silence. By unspoken agreement they had gone to their own hotels after arriving in town. They knew that the time for reunion could only happen when all the members of their privileged group could be together. The setting sun found them meeting around a stark marble stone.

Xander was the first to speak, "It's hard to believe she's gone. I never expected to lose her like this."

Cordelia placed her arm around her husband's waist as she spoke, "She was always so strong. It's not fair that something like this should happen to her."

Wiping a tear from his eye, Giles turned from the simple stone. "Fair was never part of being the Slayer. Buffy learned that over time, no matter how much she fought against it. If life was fair she wouldn't have been so alone these last few years, so alone in this last fight."

"She wasn't alone, Giles," the red-haired Watcher stated. Willow looked at the grave and shook her head. She still couldn't believe that her best friend was gone. She leaned back into Oz's shoulder, grateful he could find time from his tour schedule to be there with them, with her. "Angel was with her. If anyone deserved the opportunity to be here at the end it was him. They lost so much time as it was."

"Speaking of dead-boy, where the hell is he? I expected to find him haunting the place." Xander flinched as Cordelia elbowed him.

"Perhaps he wished to give us some time alone. Remember that he left us under rather difficult circumstances. Buffy's death certainly hasn't helped him find any peace." Giles sadly turned and looked at the trees, half expecting to find the guilt ridden vampire materializing out of nowhere as he had done so many times in the past.

"You sound like you've forgiven him," Xander said incredulously. He had only recently come to terms with the havoc Angelus had caused so long ago and the losses he had suffered were nowhere near the magnitude of the losses suffered by the older Watcher.

"There was never anything to forgive, Xander. Jenny died because of Angelus the demon, not Angel our friend. I regret that through my actions I caused him to leave. I knew the difference between the two at the time, but I was so angry I wanted someone to suffer. Poor, tormented Angel became my victim because the demon wore his face. I will always regret that Buffy spent the last twenty years alone because of my stupid desire for revenge." Giles spoke softly as his eyes returned from the trees to the sad faces watching him.

Willow knelt to place the flowers she was holding on the grave. As she lowered the bright colored blossoms a soft breeze came up. A feather light dust suddenly swirled up from the green grass. "I don't think she'll be alone any longer, Giles." She stood up suddenly, a sob choking her throat.

"What?" Xander looked from Willow's tear-stained face to the dust dotting the smooth petals of the yellow roses. "He didn't, did he?"

"Apparently Xander, he did." Giles knelt next to the stone and reached into the grass. He lifted his hand and let the fine ash slip through his fingers. Reaching around the stone he pulled out the manuscript. Attached to the manuscript was a small envelope addressed to "My Friends." Giles handed the manuscript and the letter to Xander.

"What? You want me to read this?" Xander asked. "I guess you do. Okay dead-boy, what were your last words?" Opening the letter he began to read:

My Friends and I'm truly grateful to be able to say that for you were my friends even through all the hurt I caused. I was glad to see you all this past week even for such a sad reason. I know I didn't say it out loud but in my heart I was saying good-bye. I'm sorry, I can't go on with her. She was my light in the darkness even if I couldn't be with her. Without her the darkness is overpowering. It's wrong of me to ask after all the pain I caused but please remember me. Not as the monster I became for a time, but as your friend.

Xander's voice broke on the last line. "It wasn't supposed to be like this. I wanted to tell him that this was going to be my next book. I had the dedication all worked out. It was for both him and Buffy."

"He knew Xander, he knew." Giles looked from the dusty stone, to the stars in the sky, and then to the solemn group around him. "I can only hope they're happy together now."

As they slowly turned to walk away, each lost in their own thoughts, the soft breeze began again. A silvery peal of laughter, followed by what could only be described a wry chuckle danced through the sound of the rustling leaves. Unhappy faces lifted and smiles began to appear. "I think they are Giles; I think they are." Willow said. She tucked her head against Oz's shoulder as the suddenly lighthearted group walked away.

"Great, we've got ghosts!" Xander laughed. "Our own Casper and friends, this could be fun." Still laughing they walked to their cars, their sorrow lessened by the knowledge that Buffy and Angel were together again and that nothing would ever separate them. Things were as they should have always been.

~end~

Author's Note: This is my first fanfic so all constructive criticism and ego boosting is welcome. Flames will be used to light my cantankerous BBQ

The Wildest Times in The World
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