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Agony, Ecstasy and Hope

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"A vampire in love with the Slayer. It's rather poetic – in a maudlin sort of way." Giles

I've been reading all the posts to ship_manifesto with a growing sense of awe and dread. So much treasure here: brilliant analyses and discussions of subtext and extrapolation from canon, academic journal-worthy reviews of the show's timelines from shippers' points of view and sharp, astute character and pairing sketches; opportunities to laugh, cry, sweat and remember eight years of TV greatness. Each one makes me sigh with envy and nostalgia.

And makes my job seem that much more daunting: to describe a relationship that spans the entirety of both series, is central to the past, present, and possible future of each show's protagonist, and elicits some of the most powerful reactions from fans (whether positive or negative) of anything else in the 'verse. Giving it a form that's palatable to everyone, while capturing the ship in all its melodramatic, epic, angsty, hopeful/hopeless glory is a lot like... walking uphill on my hands. Backwards. While very, very drunk.

How the Hell am I supposed to do that?

Let's face it, I'm not going to convert anyone new to B/A, no matter what I say here. And there's no way for me to really soften detractor's hearts toward this, my beloved OTP, either. Nor can I adequately represent the viewpoints of all the varied kinds of B/A Shippers in the fandom (and there are many more of us than you might expect), or cover all the possible angles from which this story can be told. So I'm going to take those pressures off myself right away, and tell you that I'm just going to ramble, and focus on me – talk about what I've seen and felt that makes me a B/A shipper.

Truthfully, I'm not comfortable the whole "essay" angle. I'm a fiction writer – a show-er, not a tell-er, and spelling it all out for you feels a lot like trying to accurately define what "love" is for someone who's never felt it.

I mean...It's B/A. From episode 1 of BtVS to episode 110 of AtS, it's been an undercurrent, a driving force in the Reality That Joss Built and a cornerstone in the individual foundations of Our Heroes themselves.

The pairing evokes in their fans (and creators) emotional words and catchphrases like Passion, Forever, Always. Transcendent. Eternal. Innocence. We believe they represent to one another that impossible dream of a future where they can rest and live the peaceful lives they've always dreamed of, free of the burdens of their identities and destinies. She was a break in his endless storm – a Moment of Perfect Happiness that, ironically, almost destroyed the world. He was the only one who she truly let in to her heart. She was the only one who ever really mattered (up to that moment, anyway. Connor is born shortly thereafter and rightfully usurps Buffy's place as #1 in Angel's heart). He was the one she loved more than she would ever love anything in this life.

That's a damn big story to tell, whether it's literally true or not.

It's a story that's been, by turns, touching and disturbing. Comforting and terrifying. Dark and dangerous, yet still filled with unexpected tenderness, giving and respect. They made each other better, stronger, physically and emotionally. They turned to one another in times of need. They healed one another. They were friends. (Never *just* friends, though. Spike was right about that.) They were able to share some of the weight of the world, find solace in one another. They repeatedly showed themselves willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the other. They trusted each other with their lives. Neither was ever more vulnerable, or happier, or more content than during the earliest days when they were together, before the curse. And even when they were separated by that horrible twist of fate, when the fit really hit the shan, they have always managed to be there for one another (unless fate was doubly cruel, and forcibly kept them separated, ie. The Pylea Arc.). Even when they argue, even when they slam into that wall between them for the thousandth time, those moments are still filled with an abiding passion that you can almost taste.

That's the essential pull of them – the claddaugh personified. Love, loyalty and friendship. Basic, simple, tender affection. A gut-level draw to one another that defies the natural order of things, making you hope that maybe, just this once, love *can* conquer all. All set to a backdrop of horror, violence and death that seems like it should make such feelings impossible.

Of course, love doesn't conquer all. We know that in real life, and Buffy and Angel learn it themselves -- the hard way. The emotional punch of this relationship is that we learn it again, painfully and violently, right along with them.

Now, I'll admit my biases: I tend to see the Whedonverse through Angel-colored glasses. Seeing from his POV (as I imagine it), The B/A Saga looks something like this:

He's been alone, devoured by guilt for a hundred years, falling apart to the point where he is living in alleyways eating rats. He hates himself, hates what he's done, and basically just waits around for his eternity to be over. He has no hope or expectation of anything but this, forever. Hell on Earth -- a fitting punishment. And still less than he deserves, he thinks.

Then, the sun bursts through those clouds in the form of a sunny girl named Buffy Anne Summers, who just so happens to be the newest Chosen One. The Guardian standing between Humanity and "the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness". Quite against her will, and definitely outside her skill level, all while trying to maintain a "normal life".

The Slayer. And as inevitably happens in tragic love stories, he is instantly smitten by her, and overwhelmed with the urge to help her as she faces what he knows will be an ugly battle – because he used to be a soldier in evil's army. Angel suddenly finds the urge to make something of himself.

His Destiny, the Whistler tells him.

Buffy is the embodiment of goodness to Angel. The polar opposite of everything he is that he despises. Someone who is supposed to hate and kill him actually *cares* about him. Trusts him. Gives herself to him. Can you imagine anything more precious to a suffering creature than the love of someone he considers above him? Perfect Happiness, indeed.

And in less flowery terms, you could say he admires her heart, her courage, her abilities as a warrior. (No doubt her baby-butt soft skin and vanilla and sunshine scent don't hurt, not to mention the yummy mystical heroin pumping through her tasty veins like self-prepared gourmet take-out – lots of room for humor, darkness and depravity here as well, if that's your thing.). She makes him feel worthy of the second chance he's been given to do good in the world. For a long time, she is the only thing that keeps him going. Later, she is the reason he leaves what has become his home and sets off to find his own destiny. He loves her so much that he wants her to have a better life -- which he believes she can only have without him. He gives up part of his fondest dream – becoming human again – to prolong her life (or he believes) . When he receives news of her death, he leaves the country with barely a word, and spends three months coming to grips with his bitterness, grief and survivor guilt. By the end of his story, Buffy's emotional worth to him is superceded only by that of his son.

What about Buffy's point of view? Well, let's face it: in the beginning, she is a horny teenager who sees a obscenely hot guy and turns to goo. It's not that profound. Somewhere between the Hell and the High Water, though, she falls deeply in love with Angel. She grows to admire and respect him, and feels protective toward him in spite of what he was and what he'd done. Even when she finds out they're natural enemies, and that she's supposed to kill him. Even after she finds out he was once a vicious monster. Even after she discovers that they can't make love, because she makes him so happy that he loses his soul and turns back into that monster. Even after his soulless alter ego tries half-heartedly to kill her and then whole-heartedly to get the world sucked into Hell with her (and him) in it. Even after she is forced to send him to that Hell to save the world, even though he's just regained his soul and told her that he loves her too; even after he comes back and they play Come Here, Go Away for a year. Even after he breaks her heart, she kills her sister Slayer to feed him her blood, fails, and so almost dies saving him with her own blood, and even after he leaves her without saying goodbye and moves to Los Angeles and builds a life without her and yells at her and beats up her boyfriend and she dies without Angel at her side and comes back feeling more dead than ever, and she sleeps with Spike, and then Spike tries to rape her and gets a soul, and then Angel comes back and acts like Dawson Leary...

She still drops everything and flies into his arms when he asks if she's happy to see him.

By the end, they are old and battled-scarred, separated by seemingly still impossible odds, insurmountable issues, time and space, years of separate lives, other lovers, a bleak and probably short future, unspoken resentments and old, still-bleeding scars...

But here I still am, shipping them. And up to the last season of Angel, there they still were, loving each other. It's not a question of won or lost, lived or died, happy-ever-after or ambiguous-fence-sitting. It's not about whether I can convince you that B/A is worth shipping. To me, it's about this:

All the way through, Buffy and Angel cared deeply about one another. They moved on, got over, shuffled around one another, died and came back to life, and still they were connected. Their lives continued to intersect at important points, and ran curiously parallel the rest of the time. They've experienced other loves and other losses, but have never truly left the other behind, or gotten them out of their heart.

In the end, there was still hope for our heroes. We don't *know* if Angel really died in NFA. We don't know that Buffy didn't show up and help him fight the dragon, and afterward, they started talking about what they could do to start to fix things between them. You can't say they did, but in the grand denial tradition, you can't say they *didn't*, either. And that is the legacy we as shippers were left with. To carry on the story the way it plays in our hearts and minds. Yay for fanfic!

How can we not keep writing fanfic? They have so much in common now that Buffy and Angel are better suited for one another than they ever were in the days of graveyard smoochie-thons. Both have had time to learn and grow. They've embraced their responsibilities and accepted their duties, while completely changing what they assumed was their Destiny, and thus, taking power and control over their own lives. They've both raised children... sort of. (I mean, sort-of raised sort-of children.) They've both died and come back a few times. One's been to Heaven, the other Hell. Both lead their large, constructed families and the teams for their respective missions and carry that double weight on their backs alone, for the most part. She's seen more of the dark side – including her own – and come to terms with it. He's accepted that he's worth more than just a sword arm and eventually another stint in Hell. They have the ability, now, to take one another down off those old "first love" pedestals, and maybe grow just as close to the flawed, complicated beings they've grown into and now have a unique opportunity to get to know each other again as the heroes and adults they've become.

Underneath and in spite of all the baggage, there's a level of understanding between these two warriors that no one else who cares about them could ever achieve. Only they have stood at the front of that army and known they're about to die, and take most if not all of that army with them. Only they understand that when all else fails, they are the bottom line, the last hope for the world. And, though it's been beaten down and repressed over the years, they share a hope that someday a miracle could happen, and the Fates will be kind enough to bring them together the way they always wanted to be. Neither of them can wish it aloud anymore, but it still shines in their eyes when they look at one another.

I guess if you asked me, "Why do you ship B/A?", and I boiled all those complicated and's if's and but's down, I'm left with this simple -- but never easy – response:

Because every hero's heart deserves a home, and in the entire canon of either series, I have never seen either Buffy or Angel want, need or trust anyone or anything quite the way they want need and trust each other. And I think they deserve that much, at the very least.

Yup, it really is that plain for me. (Realistic or not is another question entirely.)

Damn it, now I'm all snuffly again. Some things never change.

In conclusion: Did I forget The Pretty? Yeah. There's that too. Big, dark, strapping lad; teeny tiny blonde girly-girl... you know the drill. Enforced celibacy (or the end thereof) also a big boost for the UST (or the RST). Supernatural strength and agility makes for interesting porn. As does bloodplay. *G*