I've taken to writing to you. It reminds me of when we would write letters back and forth when I was working at Wolfram and Hart and you were traveling. Well, you would write brief emails and I would write far-too-detailed letters that would only reach your hotel in Greece when you had already moved to Moscow.
When you began leaving forwarding addresses instead of allowing my letters to fall back on my desk with a “Return to Sender” stamp, I felt hopeful for the first time in years. Even if my life was literally going to the devil, at least I would fix my relationship with you.
The letters also brought the unexpected benefit of you knowing to come save me (you told me later that you knew something wrong because my tone became “more broody than normal”). Now I wish these letters could help you save me again, but all the circumstances are different. I have little hope, you have left no new address and you will never write back. You have gone on a tour that you will never return from, and I can only wish that I will eventually be allowed to join you.
I love you anyway.
She had been saving the letter all day. Angel’s handwriting had addressed it to her hotel in India, but it now bore stamps from Hungary and Egypt. Angel used high quality paper so the letter wasn’t as worn as it should be. Bent and creased from handling, but not torn as her letters from Giles often were.
She had spent the day exploring the great market of Marrakech, the letter in her pocket. Every so often she would take it out and fiddle with it, running her thumbs over it and staring at it until her name started to run in front of her eyes or someone bumped her along through the crowd. Once, standing quietly in a corner, she even sniffed at it guiltily. (She couldn’t smell anything over the scents coming from the various stalls on either side and she wasn’t sure that it would smell like anything anyway.)
It was a teasing game she played, to determine her control over herself and because she was used to denying herself the things she wanted. There was no reason to stop herself from opening it, but it always felt better to savor the pleasure. By the end of the afternoon, she knew that she would be tearing into it, devouring his words and then sitting down to type a too-short, too-cheerful response of her own, but for now she waited.
She got back to her room and sat down to write in her journal as she promised Dawn (“If you get to go on awesome, globe-trotting adventures, I at least get to read about awesome globe-trotting adventures.”) and found that she couldn’t remember a single thing that she had seen. That meant that it was time to open the letter. She had only lasted a few hours this time; she was getting worse at controlling herself. Angel always had driven her to distraction.
She wasn’t sure when the oddness struck her. The letter started out as they usually did. Angel questioned whether or not she was even reading his words (I make myself believe that we share a need to know, to make sure that we understand everything and have done everything.); he told her about latest cases (In between a budget meeting and some emergency with the Phuket branch, I slipped out and tracked down a flehop that’s been causing some trouble.); he talked about his friends (I can’t remember a time when I had a group like this, completely imperfect and accepting of the fact that it is our shared flaws that bring us together to fight for a common cause.) But it was there, a hopelessness in the “buts” at the ends of his sentences (Still, I fear that you have long since given me up, and the fact that I no longer get these letters back is more due to the unreliability of the postal system than any favor from you; But it hardly seems worth it anymore, to kill these things one by one.)
She shifted in her chair, trying to escape the shivery discomfort of the wrongness in his tone, trying to convince herself that she was imagining reasons to bring him pseudo-casually up when she spoke to Giles or even- heaven forefend- to visit him herself. But then she reached the end of the letter. And yet it seems that I always lose them: first Doyle, now Cordelia, even you. I believe that we have been chosen for a battle that can never be won. I wonder if I care about helping to win anymore.
Angel had always been a little gloomy, to say the least, and she actually appreciated that he wasn’t trying to protect her from his worldview anymore. But he didn’t sign the letter. Angel was a creature of habit and to come to the end of the page and not see his name in that old-fashioned script… She turned the sheet over, just to make sure, but the blankness of the back side was even more haunting and she couldn’t shake off this feeling any more. She turned to the phone to call Willow, but it rang as she was reaching for it.
When she heard Faith’s voice, she knew. There was no other reason she would be calling. Her bag was packed by the time they hung up and slung over her shoulder as she dialed. Angel needed her and she would always be there to help him, no matter what lay between them.
“Will? As much as I’d like to get chatty, I need a portal. Like, instant-mashed-potatoes-now. Microwave, not stovetop.”
Samantha had her baby today. As Dan came out to tell us it was a girl, I saw you in our Bridget. You two have always looked alike, but I remembered today your face when Samantha herself was born. The look that said, “I am a grandmother; I have created generations in my image.”
It hurt that you were not here to grin even wider at the birth of our first great-grandchild, a different kind of eternity than I have ever known.
Dan called me in to see Sammy and she beamed up at me.
“Hi Grandpa,” she said, happiness painted across her face. Her daughter was nestled in her arms, and I thought about the idea of reincarnation. As Samantha handed the baby to me, I hoped for your sake that it was false. We spent many years discussing your depression after your second resurrection. Although I did not believe that you were literally staring back at me from the baby's face, I hoped that you were not present at all. You had been through so much and deserved to rest.
For the first time since my son was set in my arms, I was awkward holding a child. Do you remember when Samantha was born, or Matthew? You would hold them for a few minutes and then hand them to me when they started to fuss, stating that I had more experience with children. I would glare at you, but the baby would stay with me for hours.
Now, though, new life felt odd in my old arms. I think that Samantha could tell; a mother's worry dispersed through her eyes. I sat down beside the bed, forcing myself to relax.
“Have you and Dan picked a name?”
She smiled, happy again. “Lillian Paige. Lily.”
I looked down at Lily. “Beautiful,” I said.
“I'm sorry we didn't name her after Nana.” Samantha reminds me sometimes of Willow, in the first years we knew her. She rushed her speech, blushing, and I sensed that this was why she had asked for me alone.
“It's alright,” I told her, and it was true. In the past I had liked the tradition of naming the next generation after the previous. Maybe it was losing so many friends, but it seemed that it was good to remember them.
But with you it seems impossible. There is no way to remember you exactly. There will never be another you, and I'm glad that Sammy didn't try.
“Lily is perfect, sweetheart,” I told her, and smiled. She looked surprised, probably because I hadn't been smiling lately. When you and I first met, this would not have been notable. But since our wedding, it seems like I rarely stopped smiling, despite any trouble we faced over the years. The life we led had been beyond imagining for so long, how could I help but be optimistic? Samantha had grown up thinking that Spike was lying when he said that I used to never stop brooding.
Bridget burst in then, the proud grandmother unable to wait, sweeping the baby from my arms.
I kissed Samantha on the forehead. She looked unbelievably happy and I wished she could keep that look for the rest of her life.
I left the hospital, returned to the house that I still hold the key to although it no longer feels like home. It felt more even more empty than it has lately after the crowd of our family at the hospital.
As always happens when I return here lately, I remembered picking out this house. I remembered fights about classic artwork versus contemporary, about what kind of rug to buy, about getting demon blood on the rug we finally chose.
I sometimes think that the memories are what will really kill me in the end. Somehow you are everywhere in my world while being nowhere. You are in every thought and every memory, yet I cannot actually see or touch or talk to you. And the absent presence of you is so painful that it eclipses everything.
I love you achingly.
“Maybe to the left?”
Angel threw up his hands. “Buffy, it’s been to the left. It’s been to the right, and to the center, and ‘just a little more’ in every direction known to man. The next time I move this damn couch, it had better be to its final resting place.”
Her lip quivered and she sat down awkwardly on said damn couch, trying to balance with her now-expanding belly. He sat down beside her, keeping his arm alongside hers. He loved to touch her now, loved that he could without fear or shame or anger.
“I’m sorry,” he said, quiet.
“No,” she sighed, “it’s me. I’m being nuts about this. I just want everything to be perfect.”
He knew that, too, just as he knew that what she really wanted was to talk. “What are you scared of?”
“I’m afraid that this isn’t real. That I’ll wake up and I won’t be pregnant and you won’t be here and maybe I’ll be dead or you’ll be dead or I’ll just be crazy.” She couldn’t look at his face as she spoke. “I’m afraid that this shouldn’t be my life. I’m not the little girl who fought evil and then went to battle algebra over a mocha. What if I’m not good enough, Angel? What if I don’t deserve this?”
“Hey,” he murmured, turning her face toward his. “Isn’t that supposed to be my line?” She barely smiled. He took her face in his hands and his words poured out, jumbled. “Buffy, you are good. You’re still the force that drove me to change my life. But you’re more mature now. You have so many new layers that make me love you more. How can you see how amazing something is you don’t have anything to compare it to? We’re not perfect. Nobody is. But we earned this. This isn’t a dream, Buffy. It’s our chance to be happy.”
Buffy blinked. “Wow. Make a guy human and suddenly the glasses are all full.” She leaned her head against his shoulder, snuggling into him. “I’m so glad I always have you to talk to. And, Mr. Eloquent, now I know how good you are with words, you get to do all the fun lecturing parts of parenting.”
“That will be the best part,” he told her, his smile slight but deeply joyful. “That will mean it’s real.”
I can't sleep tonight.
It's odd to me how empty our bed seems now. You were much smaller than I am, would complain that I took more than my share of the mattress and the covers, and shove me over to the side. Still, it feels uncomfortable without you here. My limbs flail in the emptiness; my body does not know how to behave without yours to wrap around.
I don't think that I ever really considered living without you. I should have. You were physically older than I by the time we married. But I was always the old one in our relationship, and it made me think that it would even out eventually. We would joke that we were perfectly paired. On average, men die ten years before women, after all.
Now, after nearly a year of being alone, I don't feel like joking anymore.
I love you anciently.
Angel woke Buffy in the middle of the night. He was whimpering, very softly. He got nightmares, still. She hated that. It had been years, happy ones, he had had gray in his hair for a while, and yet the nightmares came.
She maneuvered herself over to him, wrapped him in her arms as best she could. She didn’t want to wake him up. Selfish, yes, but she couldn’t stand the haunted, wild confusion on his face when he was startled awake, as if aging and kids and groceries and college savings wasn’t their life now, as if all he could remember was pain and loss. So she lay with him in her arms as he cried. “Shh, Angel, it’s alright. I love you. We all love you so much.”
She made sure to stay quiet so they didn’t wake the kids. Bridget had turned suddenly from her adorable little girl to a sullen teenager who was even harder to handle if she doesn’t get her full eight hours. Buffy didn’t know how it happened so quickly, but it made her want to place a really long distance phone call to apologize to her own mother. Thankfully, Ryan was still a sweet seven year old, not too old for hugs yet.
It was odd, this life they had. Two point something kids (they still counted the one they lost between Bridget and Ryan, even though no one else knew) and a pet (a gecko, because Bridge was allergic to fur), a picket fence and stars to wish on. And still nightmares because pasts couldn’t be erased, especially ones like theirs.
She whispered to him for a long while, until he was quiet. She shifted herself, keeping close to him, just in case. She was glad that it was Sunday. They would lie in bed together and he would tell her in slow, soft words what he had dreamed and she would tell him that she would never let it happen to him again. And then they would get up and make breakfast.
I am furious with myself for not realizing you were dying. I, who spent nearly two centuries as Death Walking, did not notice that it was stalking you. I have a perfect, intimate knowledge of you- I knew that you were pregnant with Ryan before you did, do you remember?- yet I refused to feel the weakness in your muscles, the unsureness in your touch, until I was forced into facing it.
I feel like a fool, Esau tricked out of his birthright by Jacob. That always struck me as one of the saddest stories of the Bible: Esau returns to his father Isaac and asks for the blessing that Jacob has already received. He falls at his father's feet. “Is there nothing left for me?” he cries.
Logically, I know there is something left for me: religion, family, consulting for the Council. But with you gone, I feel as hollow and angry as Esau.
Esau vowed to kill Jacob. I cannot do the same to the thief who stole you from me. I can only wait for him to come for me as well.
I love you angrily.
There was something raw and wrong inside of her. She felt it weightily inside herself. She knew that Angel felt it too, when he took her hand and held it, lightly, as if it were a wilting flower. But he never mentioned anything and that was the worst pain. Because they had shared everything for more than forty years and now this secret that they both knew lay festering between them.
So one day, as he took the lone pot out of her hands for no reason so he was carrying all and she none, she spoke. She had words prepared, a strong-voiced rallying speech, the kind that she hadn’t made in decades. Angel, we both know that I’m sick, so please just admit it and let us appreciate the time we have together. And she started in on it, but all she got out was “Angel,” because then her voice shattered and her breathing went shaky. She hadn’t been the general in years and she had become complacent in the sharing, emotional life that she and Angel led. She was no longer the seventeen-year-old who stood upright as she damned the love of her life. She was only the sixteen-year-old who tearfully confessed that she did not want to die.
It was sixty years later and she still didn’t.
She was shaking and she did not want to go through this alone, and she was so afraid that she would have to because Angel had never dealt well with the imminence of her death. But he wrapped her in trembling arms, letting the pots and plates fall, and she knew that they were going to be terrified together. And maybe that would lead to some kind of grace.
I went to confession today. You know it's something that I've loved to do since I've been able to again. I still look for you when I step from the confessional, as if I will find you reading by the stained glass light as I did so many times before, and this ache in my heart will have been for nothing.
I walked home afterward. I cannot recall what I did with you, what activities we filled our days with, but time now seems to drag. I cannot believe that I lived this aimlessness almost constantly for over a hundred years. That period of my time on earth is one of my biggest regrets
I think about regrets often. If I had been a better man in my first human life, if I had not been brawling in the pub where Darla first saw me, if I had not followed her in to the alley where she turned me...was my fate set from birth, stuck in the grooves of becoming a vampire? And can I find fault in that fate if it were so? Yes, those who Angelus murdered (and I only say it like this because of your insistence over the years at the distinction between the two of us) might have lived, but what about later? Would you have been killed by the Three or one of the things I warned you about before you got your bearings in Sunnydale? Would Xander have been able to find you in the Master's chamber in time? What of those I saved later in Los Angeles?
As reluctant as I am, I have to submit to the cliché that everything comes out for the best. Plucking the strings of fate, as I learned with Connor, most often ends up badly.
It doesn't mean I don't regret. Hurting thousands of half-anonymous people over the centuries, hurting my friends, your friends, you...You always complained about my thick head. I fear that this is another example. I understand that this pain might have prevented greater pain in the future. I still wish it could have been avoided.
Still, over the years, I have never managed to fully regret meeting you or the night of your seventeenth birthday, despite my betrayal and the hurt I caused you after. Few people have the chance to identify a moment as fully perfect, but we both know that you gave me that chance.
I love you absolutely.
Buffy was constantly cold.
“Is this what it felt like to be a vampire?” she asked Angel one night as he reached more blankets down from the linen closet. It was exactly the type of question that she would never have thought to ask him years ago- too intrusive, or worse, too naïve.
“No,” Angel told her. “It always felt like cold was just how things were supposed to be.” He reached high for the last blanket, stuffed to the back of the shelf. His back cracked and he groaned. He was getting old.
Buffy looked at him affectionately. He was older, yes, but the very definition of growing old with dignity. He looked like a professor, the handsome one who all the girls felt odd for being attracted to.
He piled the blankets on top of her and she snuggled into them, pretending that it would help. She thought that he could tell from the knowing tilt of his head, but it was kinder for neither of them to say anything.
“Do you need anything else?” he asked, and there was a forced politeness in his tone that she hated.
“Come lie with me?” she asked, almost shyly, which was odd. He was her husband. He had seen her at every time of the day or night, examined her body with more thoroughness than a doctor, knew every secret she had. Before all of this, there was a comfort in knowing that if she looked at him, he could know what she was thinking. But now there was a distance between them, and they tried to step around it or call across it, but it was based on the painful fact that she was dying and that it was not something that they could fight.
He eased himself down beside her, on top of the covers, so the angle between them was awkward. She brought a hand to his face. “You’re hot.” He had turned the heat up high for her.
He smiled, fleetingly. “Sorry, ma’am, you’re very attractive, but I’m married.”
“I’m sure she won’t mind.” She lifted her eyebrows at him saucily and he kissed her, hard. She kissed him back, harder, because she wanted to feel healthy again. He pulled back after a minute and slid arms around her, gently this time. Buffy lay there, quiet. Years and years, and still his heartbeat was her favorite sound.
“She won’t mind, you know,” she told him after a minute. “Your wife. If you meet someone else.”
“Oh, Buffy,” he muffled a chuckle into her hair, a wry, tearful laugh. “I’m already married. I’ll always be married to you.”
She smacked his chest. “Could you make an attempt not to be stubborn for two seconds? I’m giving you an out here.”
“But I don’t want an out,” he explained, in that endearingly simple way of his, when all of his fancy words and deep sentiments went away and it was just the two of them. “Buffy, I’m in. I’m all in. I’ll always be in.”
He shushed her gently. “This isn’t me being a martyr-”
“Really? Because I think I saw you on a poster for the Martyr of the Month Club-”
Angel took her hands, kissing her fingertips to quiet her. “I married you. Death does not stop true love.”
Buffy coughed out a dry laugh. “But Westley and Buttercup had a happy ending.”
“We got married, we had children, we talked and worked and loved…all things I never thought we would ever have.” The smile he gave her was her favorite kind, a bright, uninhibited grin, the kind that once upon a time she had thought impossible. “We do have a happy ending, sweetheart.”
I've always loved snow, in all my different lives: Liam in Galway, taking his little sister out for the first fall; Angelus, tracking innocents through silent European streets. Christmas Eve always reminds me of you in the snow, shouting at me that I have something to live for.
Christmas Eve is tomorrow. Bridget brought a tree over. The family is coming to decorate it, as per your tradition.
I don't think I'll be there.
I didn't notice Death creeping up on you, but I feel its touch on me tonight. It is cold but comforting, familiar and loving. Death has stretched its fingers through mine more than once, but it is not painful now. It is no longer the bitter cold of a gloveless hand; it is now more like the sweet touch of your nose on mine after we were out on a winter night. I wonder if you are shielding me, muffling the freeze as it falls over me. But I think that perhaps I am giving in willingly, and so I am spared the pain.
I have lived one year without you and I am finished. Perhaps as a younger man I could have survived longer, reminded myself of my ever-present obligations, but I have grown to selfishness. I am old now in all ways and can no longer drive myself to live without you.
There is a storm outside, but I feel a peace within myself. A peace that comes from the knowledge that the rent in my heart will soon be mended.
I love you always.
When she sees him again, she says, “Was it hard?”
And he answers, “Yes. Harder than I thought it would be.”
“Do you regret anything?” she asks.
He gives her a look. “Of course I don’t. It’s the road that makes the destination worth it.”
“And was this worth it?”
“It was more worth it than anything.” Angel gathers her into his arms. “So, do you want to show me around?”
She slips out of his arms and starts jogging away. “Good idea. I told Mom that we’d go say hi- I know how much you’ll be looking forward to that, but you had many happy, mother-in-lawless years, so you need to sacrifice- but after that we can go see who’s around. In the category of “who would have thunk it?”: turns out that Gandhi is really funny. Although he still has that weird lack-of-clothing habit.”
“Hey, slow down,” he says, catching up to her and pulling her to him again. “Why are you in such a rush?
“Well, there are a lot of people who have ever died, and I think that they all deserve to meet you and so we’d better jump on that bandwagon before it pulls out of the station.”
“Buffy,” he says, and his voice is full of the annoyed affection that you can only get from the people who love you the most. “We don’t need to jump on anything. Don’t you know that it’s time for our forever?”
She looks at him and the years and miles they have traveled are all there, in his eyes. Every single fight they’ve ever had, for or against each other, every petty remark and each kind word, every loving moment and every painful one: it is all there, in his eyes. “God,” she says, overcome. “You’re going to be the best sap to spend eternity with.”