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Just Friends

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Buffy surveyed the paper and pen in front of her apprehensively.  She had given this a great deal of thought, but she was still not entirely sure she was doing the right thing.  She didn’t write letters often, either.  She was much more at home with email or, better yet, the telephone.  But neither seemed right for the person she needed to communicate with.  So…letter it would have to be.  And not one just typed on a computer.  Not for this person.  He was the type to appreciate old-fashioned virtues – like handwritten letters.  She sighed, and picked up the pen. 

**

Angel started out of his reverie as Cordelia entered the room.  She leaned against the doorjam, looking at him appraisingly as she tapped an envelope against her thumbnail.  Outwardly she showed little sign of the ordeal she had been through, and Angel was more grateful than he could say that both she and Wesley had been spared.  The last year had brought great losses for Angel – Buffy and Doyle both gone, although in different ways; office, apartment, possessions destroyed. But it had also brought great gains: a new life, a new purpose to replace the one he had left behind in Sunnydale, a new destiny, and most of all, new friendships.  Those gains had come so close to being taken from him; if he had lost Cordelia and Wesley he was not sure he could have found the strength to go on.

“I really don’t want to give you this,” Cordelia announced, “but last time I looked it was illegal to intercept the U.S. mail.”  She handed him the envelope.  Angel took it and turned it over curiously.  He instantly recognized the handwriting, even before the return address – a box number at Stevenson Hall, UC Sunnydale -- jumped out at him.  He knew that Cordelia had recognized it also.  The yellow forwarding label obscured the L.A. address – of course, she didn’t know about the explosion.  He closed his eyes and held the envelope for a moment, bracing himself.  He could not guess why Buffy might be writing to him, but he couldn’t think of any reason that could be good.  They had parted on relatively good terms when he went to Sunnydale to apologize to her, but he had beaten up her boyfriend!  Maybe she was writing to announce that she would stake him if he ever crossed her path again!  He never noticed when Cordelia slipped out of the room with a sigh and a frown.  She was SO not looking forward to 24/7 brooding again!

Handling the envelope as though it was a bomb that might explode if jarred, Angel gingerly slit it open and pulled out the sheaf of pages.

 

Dear Angel:

You must be wondering why I’m writing this – I’m kind of wondering why myself.  But a lot has happened since I saw you, both to me and in general, and I seem to have some things to say to you.  A phone call seems too – immediate – in our situation and you don’t seem like the email type.  So, I’m doing the letter-writing thing.

 

Angel frowned.  He was actually quite at ease now with email, thanks to Willow’s tutelage, and used it frequently.  Just one more instance of how he and Buffy no longer really knew each other.  How quickly it had happened!

 

The whole deal with Adam and the Initiative came to a head.  I’m not sure how much you really know about Adam, but it was the end-of-humanity-as-we-know-it again.  He was this hybrid Frankenstein/demon/android/ thingie who wanted to make the world safe for other hybrid F/d/a’s.  That meant eliminating us (as well as assorted demons, vampires, etc. which is a switch).  Then he would have plenty of parts for more hybrid F/d/a’s.  And he was created by Professor Walsh, of all people!  Who would have guessed? 

 I think this was the first really major end-of-the-world type crisis I’ve faced since you left.  We’re in the same business, and we really should be sharing information or we might end up working at cross-purposes one of these days.  It’s pretty much happened already, with Faith.  So I thought I would tell you about it.

 

Angel read her account of the final confrontation with Adam with growing amazement and admiration.  There seemed to be no end to the tricks that Buffy could pull out of her hat, with the aid of Giles, Willow, and Xander.  And he grudgingly admitted to himself that Riley seemed to have come through for her also.  How he wished that he could have been there himself, fighting at her side.  He wondered about that spell, though.  That was pretty powerful magic not to have any repercussions.

 

The thing that really made this difficult was that Spike was working for Adam, trying to split us up by causing trouble between Xander, Willow, Giles and me.  It came very close to working, and if I had had to go up against Adam alone, you wouldn’t be reading this letter because there wouldn’t be a Buffy here today.  Fortunately, we figured it out before it was too late.  The scary thing is that there was trouble waiting to be stirred up.  If there hadn’t been, Spike couldn’t have done anything.  We were all feeling insecure and alienated from each other for various reasons, and we were all trying to deal with it by ourselves, some of us in rather foolish ways.  Do you think I will ever learn the value of talking things out with my friends when the going gets rough?  Hope springs eternal, but my track record isn’t very good, as you know.

It was mostly my fault, anyway.  After you left, I really wanted to have as normal a life as possible, just like you wanted me to.  I made some mistakes along the way, but then I met Riley and things seemed to click.  I told you the truth when I said I loved Riley.  I do.

 

Angel closed his eyes for a moment against a stab of pain.  Well, that was what he wanted for her, wasn’t it?  A normal life with a loving partner?  Wasn’t that why he had left?  But it hurt!  And it always would!

 

But I got so wrapped up in having a “normal” boyfriend (who has turned out to be not-so-normal after all) that I drifted away from my friends.  I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Xander’s identity crisis, especially since I’m not that fond of Anya and they seem to be joined at the hip (or somewhere else) these days.  I pretty much brushed off Giles – I didn’t even tell him about the Initiative after I found out what it was.  I thought I had – that’s how out of it I was!  And Willow!  Willow was having the hardest time of all after Oz left.  I tried to be there for her, but as time went on I slipped back into my self-absorbed little world.  And so I didn’t even notice what was happening between her and Tara (yes, Willow has a girlfriend, in every sense of the word) and she was really scared to talk to me about it.  And when I did find out, it was a shock and I wasn’t cool with it at first.  Willow picked up on that, of course.  So the seeds were definitely sown for the Scooby Gang to self-destruct.

 

Angel wasn’t surprised at the revelations about Willow.  He had been pretty sure which way the wind was blowing since the run-in with Willow’s doppelganger.  Bisexuality was a trait that didn’t change or suddenly appear just because the person became a vampire.  If Oz hadn’t left, though, it probably would have taken her a lot longer to discover it herself.  He hoped that this Tara was making her happy – he was very fond of Willow.

 

As I said, it didn’t happen.  And things are a lot better between us now, if not entirely back to normal.  I discovered how important my friends are to me.  Not just because of the support they give me in the saving-the-world business, but to me as a person.  And I’m going to try very hard to cherish them in every way that I can.

 

‘It’s amazing,’ Angel thought, ‘that we were both having such traumatic crises simultaneously where we would be weakened by attempts to separate us from our support groups.  And that would bring home to us the true value of our friends.’  He knew it was a lesson that he would not soon forget, and it didn’t sound like Buffy would either.

 

The Initiative has closed up shop, and good riddance.  I can’t believe that Professor Walsh would create such a monster!  Even if she did try to have me killed.  What on earth was she thinking?  Well, she paid the price.  But it was pretty eerie to see her moving around like a zombie when I knew she was dead.  Not the worst part of the evening, but ‘eew’ just the same.  The military and high technology obviously just don’t mix with demons and vampires.  At one time I thought it was cool that I had all these big strong guys with neat weapons on the same side as me, but in the end most of them were of no use at all.  And I don’t think we were ever really on the same side. 

There was a strange follow-up to the whole Adam episode.   The Scooby Gang was at my house for a video session, when we all fell asleep and had the strangest dreams.  I don’t know what the others dreamed, but I think all the dreams were important.  In the spell we had called upon the powers of all the previous Slayers.  The first Slayer was pretty upset that outsiders had dared to do that and in my dream she forced me to choose between going-it-alone like she thought I should (and as Slayers traditionally do) and working together with my friends.   You know what I chose.  It sounds so ordinary when I put it down on paper, but believe me, it was no ordinary dream!  There was so much more to it that I can’t begin to describe.  You know me and my dreams.

 

‘So there were some repercussions,’ thought Angel.  ‘They’re lucky they were no worse.’ 

 

‘So what’s this got to do with me,’ you’re probably thinking.  I felt like we parted as friends the other night for the first time since before graduation.  It felt good!  And I want us to remain friends.  I know we tried the “friends” thing before and it didn’t work.  But we were in the same town then.  And I think we’ve moved past where we were at that point.  But for us to remain friends, we have to have some contact.  And so I thought we might write letters occasionally – just to let each other know what’s going on in our lives, the things that friends tell each other.  And, as I said, to exchange world save-age information.  I’ve found out I need my old friends, as well as my new ones.

 

Angel frowned again.  Could this possibly work?  Could they have any contact without falling back into the same old traps?  And more importantly, could he stand to have this limited connection with her?  Would it be a relief, or torture?  But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that having her in his life, in any capacity, was so much better than being totally cut off from her, as he had been so afraid that he would be.  Besides, it was much easier if they weren’t face to face.

 

I also thought a lot about what you said to me that night in LA.  It was really neat that you came and apologized, but the shoe should have been on the other foot.  You were right about butting into your business.  You know how I get about Faith and it DID hurt to see you with her.  But I keep thinking about something I said to Giles back when we thought that all (all?) she had done was to accidentally kill a man.  I said I wasn’t going to give up on her.  But I was so angry at her for betraying us and for almost killing you.  And then the whole body-switch thing made me totally crazy.  So I think I had some justification on my side.  But I did say some unforgivable things.  And I want to apologize, and say that I lied when I implied that I didn’t trust you.  Of course I trust you – with my life!  So I hope you succeed in redeeming her.  But be careful!  I trust you, but I don’t trust her!

 

Angel paused in his reading.  Yes, he knew how Buffy was about Faith.  He understood her deep insecurities about the rogue Slayer.  He didn’t blame her, really.  But he also knew what it was like to need another chance when it wasn’t deserved, could never be deserved – and yet another, and another.  Buffy had been willing to give him those additional chances because she loved him.  Maybe eventually she could see that Faith needed those second chances as well.

His thoughts turned elsewhere.  There was one person who was, if not conspicuously absent, at least not mentioned as much as he should be. What about Riley?  And what was his role now that the Initiative was no more?  What would happen to him?  Angel didn't like the man, but he put down a lot of the dislike to plain old jealousy.  Buffy obviously cared about Riley a great deal.  Angel didn’t want her to be distressed, so he grudgingly hoped that Riley would be okay.

 

And what about Riley, you’re wondering. (Boy, could she read his mind!)  Well, Riley is just going to have to deal.  He’ll have to accept that I’m going to spend time with my friends.  And he’s going to have to accept that you and I will exchange information (that is, if you’re willing).  He’s important to me, but so are all of you.  Us fighters-of-evil have to stick together! 

 

‘Okay, not all the questions answered here,’ thought Angel.  ‘Maybe she just doesn’t want to upset me by talking about him, but it seems to me she’s avoiding the whole issue of Riley’s future.  Or maybe all the implications haven’t sunk in yet’

 

By the way, Willow said you were having problems with some encrypted computer files.  I hope that all came out ok for you.  And say ‘hey’ to Cordy and Wesley.

That’s pretty much it.  I don’t know how you’ll feel about this – you may want no part of it, and I would understand if you feel that way.  If I don’t hear from you I’ll know that’s it.  But I hope you’re willing to try this plan.  After all, we can always cut each other loose again if it doesn’t work – we’ve certainly done it before, too many times.  We’ve tried so many different ways to have a relationship, but I think it’s time to try one more – this time truly as friends.

Always,

Buffy

 

Angel sat for a while.  He thought back for the millionth time to when he had first come to Sunnydale, following the girl he already loved with all his heart.  Their immediate soul-deep connection had catapulted them headlong into an emotional relationship, right past the getting-to-know-each-other friendship stage that most couples go through.  Angel was not sure that he would even have known how to be a friend then. 

He remembered their first conversation:  “Who are you?” Buffy had asked.  “Let’s just say I’m a friend,” he had replied.  “Well, maybe I don’t want a friend!”  “I didn’t say I was yours.”  And later in the mausoleum when Buffy asked him,  “Do you know what it’s like to have a friend?” he had had no reply to give to her.  He couldn’t admit that no, he didn’t know what it was like to have a friend.  

Now he had formed firm friendships with Cordelia and Wesley.  And he had counted Doyle as his closest friend before Doyle’s death.  He was a little more experienced in human relationships now.  Obviously, this would be yet another kind of friendship, but Angel looked forward to the challenge.  An unfamiliar feeling of peace and contentment filled the heart so used to pain, anguish, remorse, and guilt.  As yet unacknowledged, a tiny shoot of hope sprouted deep within his soul, born from the seed of the shanshu prophecy and nourished by this letter.

Angel smiled, and then went in search of a pen and paper.  He’d surprise her with his email skills one of these days, but, for right now, a good old-fashioned letter would do just fine.

***

In some unimaginable place, unimaginable beings could be said to be pleased, in so far as mere mortals could understand what they felt.  The first steps had been taken to resurrect a destiny that had seemed to be thwarted, to reforge a weapon that had seemed to be broken.  The path would be a long and difficult one with many obstacles, detours and sidetrackings.  There were no guarantees that the final destination would be reached, but the journey had begun once more.