after.midnight // v.naked
TITLE: On Life and Second Chances
DISTRIBUTION: My page. Want it? Mail me.
FEEDBACK: Like chocolate, I crave it.
SPOILERS: None, really. Just know that Riley left. This is pretty much
a way into the future fic, the future as envisioned by me. Ten years have
passed, at least.
SUMMARY: Buffy thinks about what used to be as she tries to make things
DISCLAIMER: Buffy, Angel, and the company they keep belong to Joss Whedon
and the company he keeps. However, Angelica, darling that she is, belongs
"You gave up. It may have taken me a while, but I finally realized that I
can't do that, I won't, because my life means nothing if I don't fight."
I can clearly recall the night Angel said those words to me, the night
when I knew without a doubt that I had lost him. We were knee deep in a
crisis with no idea what we were fighting against, no idea how to stop what
was coming. And then Angel and his team swept into town, with their scrolls
and their books and all the answers we'd been lacking. We never really had
a chance to ask how they knew what they knew, and to this day, Giles has
only given us the simplest explanation; Angel had access to sources we
didn't. All we knew for sure was that we had a fight on our hands. It
wasn't the big one, the one Giles has spent whatever spare time he has
researching and preparing for, but it was a crucial one for the forces of
good, a battle that we had to win.
Angel and his crew handled the complicated stuff, rituals only they knew
the details of, things Cordelia and Wesley insisted that Angel deal with
personally. They operated so efficiently, fought so amazingly well, that,
for days afterwards, Willow mentioned Angel, in that childish "Oh, my God,
he's amazing" sort of way, more times than she'd uttered his name in years.
Giles, in not so many words, practically offered to open a vein for him
should he ever need it. Even Xander showed signs of definite Angel worship.
For a week straight he was the most popular person ever, and I wondered why
the hell they couldn't have shown this much affection towards him when he
was actually living there, saving their lives on an almost daily basis.
In just five years, Angel had managed to bring out qualities in Wesley and
Cordelia that I wasn't sure had even existed. He helped Faith completely
turn her life around, so much so that her acceptance of her past, the inner
peace she had found, and her determination to be a better person was visible
with one look in her eyes. He'd inspired fierce loyalty and affection in
all of them, including Kate, who had once hated him. And he'd formed a
strange attatchment to a singing green demon with no name, an endless
wardrobe of brightly colored suit jackets, an uncanny ability to see
everything you buried deep down inside, and absolutely no qualms about
telling you exactly what you didn't want to hear, but needed to know. They
were a family, their support and love for Angel a palpable entity, and their
genuine caring for each other a force that could not be denied.
I remembered when the Scooby Gang was like that, and all the obvious
affection between Angel and his friends just made me think about how the
years had changed us and how far we had drifted apart. Angel was just so
happy, happier than I'd ever seen him, even when he was with me, and I
couldn't handle it. He'd left me without a backward glance, he turned his
back on me and our love and he found something so much better. He found
peace and people who loved him unconditionally, people who accepted him and
stood by him no matter what. All I had found was loneliness and heartache,
and the knowledge that whatever I did, however many people I saved, I was
going to spend the rest of my life alone. And for a moment, I hated him,
hated him for what he'd done to me, hated what he'd found, hated the fact
that everything he had gained had come at the expense of my happiness.
I dragged him outside, took him up to the hill, and I told him exactly
that. He didn't say a word the whole time, he just looked at me, and with
every word I spoke, I could see everything he had ever felt for me just fade
away until his gaze was as empty as my heart. I never knew you could look
into someone's eyes and see their love for you trickle into nothing, but
that is exactly what happened, and I will never forget that look as long as
I live. After I was done, he looked into my eyes, and he said the words
that would haunt me for years to come.
"Life is all about change, Buffy. People die, they grow and they move
away, and lovers do the same. People leave their loved ones behind,
sometimes it's better that way, sometimes it's just the way life is. You're
not the only one who's lost, Buffy, and there's nothing you've lost that a
thousand other people before you haven't, nothing that I haven't lost. But
instead of giving up and feeling sorry for themselves, they fight. They may
not find what they had before, sometimes that's impossible, but they do find
something and they make the most of it because not everyone gets a second
chance. And that's the difference between you and me, Buffy. You felt
sorry for yourself and you gave up. It may have taken me a while, but I
finally realized that I can't do that, I won't, because my life means
nothing if I don't fight."
He turned away then and he walk away, leaving me standing there all alone.
When he left an hour later, I was still sitting up on that hill, his words
echoing in my head.
Angel's words have always had a profound affect on me, his wisdom seeing
me through many a crisis, his comfort giving me strength when I thought I
had none left. His words affected me no less this time, but it did take a
while for the truth to seep through all the layers of pain and denial I'd
been living behind. It wasn't until three years later that I finally
admitted that he was right and I had given up. I had convinced myself that
I was a victim, refusing to take responsibility for my actions.
Angel didn't abandon me, if anyone did any abandoning in our relationship
it was probably me. He was always there when I needed him, calming my fears
and wiping away my tears, but when he needed me most, I was off pretending
that my pain was the only pain that mattered. In the end, I may have saved
his life, but I'd done a pretty good job of damaging his heart. He couldn't
give me what I thought I wanted, and I wasn't prepared to give him what he
knew he needed. Staying only did more harm than good and, for him, leaving
was the only alternative. I spent the summer hating him for leaving me,
convincing myself that he never loved me the way I loved him. I poisoned
all the good that had ever been between us, focusing on nothing but the
negative, until I was convinced that the bad was all there was. When summer
was over, I tried so hard to be the normal girl that I'd always wanted to be
that I lost every bit of who I really was.
I never loved Riley, I can admit that now. We were together for a year
and a half and I never told him my hopes and dreams, never shared with him
my deepest, darkest fears. I never let him close enough to see what was
inside. He never knew the real me because I spent the whole time I was with
him pretending to be someone I wasn't. I will never agree that what he did
was right, because it wasn't, and I can understand why he felt the way he
did, but I know now that his leaving was the best thing for me. I could
never have given him what he wanted, and after plenty of soul searching, I
know that I could never have been what he wanted me to be.
I am not normal. I'm not cut out for quiet walks on sunlit beaches or
picnics in the park, they're just not important to me anymore. I'm Buffy
Summers, the Vampire Slayer. I can dust a vamp at a hundred paces, I can
load a crossbow with my eyes closed, and kicking demon ass and shopping are
my favorite pastimes. I'm a supernatural freak who happens to be better at
the job than any other Slayer before me, but hopefully not better than
Slayers yet to come. I love who I am, and I love what I do, and if I have
to do it until the day that I die, that's okay because at least I can say
that I lived, really lived, that I experienced all that life has to offer,
good, bad, happy and sad. Protecting the Hellmouth, saving the world, and
making sure my family is safe are the things that make me happy, and the
only thing that would make it better was if I had Angel by my side.
I haven't talked to him since that night all those years ago, but I know
he's doing well because Giles makes it a point to ask Wesley about him
whenever he calls looking for information about demons, or sharing some news
of the same. I know that he was the best man at Wesley and Cordelia's
wedding, that he walked Cordelia down the aisle. I know that he doted on
Cordelia when she was pregnant, that he was the first one in the delivery
room when she went into labor. I know that he cried when they named the
baby Angelica, that she is more precious to him than anything in this world,
and, if he is able, he will protect her as long as she walks this earth. I
know that he and Faith spent five years together, that he loved her and her
death affected him greatly. I know that he's never loved anyone else, that
he refuses to even try, convinced that loving two such special women in one
lifetime is much more than he ever deserved. There's so much that I know,
all second hand information because, while I've learned many things about
myself over the years, gained an incredible amount of inner strength, I've
never worked up enough courage to go to him.
Until today, that is.
He's lying there on the couch, a raven haired bundle of endless energy and
curiosity in his arms, a smile of such perfect contentment on his face that
it makes my eyes tear up. The baby smiles as he reads to her, her attention
riveted on him, fascinated by the sound of his voice as he regales the
antics of Dormouse and the Mad Hatter at the wackiest of tea parties, and
pretty soon I am, too, remembering a time when he would do the same for me.
Shakespeare never sounded as good as it did from Angel's lips.
I'm so busy watching the baby watch him, her love and adoration clear,
that I never noticed that he'd stopped reading until he said my name.
I look up at him, my smile faltering just a bit, unsure of of the
reception I'll receive. He looks exactly the same as he did all those years
ago, and I can't stop the tears from falling. I've missed him so much and
now that I'm here and he's here, I have absolutely no idea what to do, no
idea what to say other than I'm sorry and that just doesn't seem to be
He takes the decision out of my hands, turning his attention back to the
baby in his arms. "Angelica, that is Buffy," he says, getting up from his
seat and stepping closer to me. For a while he just stands there, his gaze
unreadable as he looks into my eyes. And then, after a moment, he smiles at
me, his gaze warm and welcoming. "I think you'll be seeing a lot more of
Angelica says something, by the amused look in Angel's eyes, it was
probably a command, and he takes me by the hand, and leads me over to the
couch. Sitting down, he tugs me down beside him, pulls me close, and as if
no time has passed at all, he picks up his book and starts reading again.
This time, Angelica is paying more attention to me and less to Angel, and
I take her into my arms, smiling when she offers no protest. "You know,
you're Godfather is one very special person," I tell her, making a silent
vow to never let her forget how lucky she is to have him.
Angelica falls asleep fifteen minutes later, and after putting her down,
Angel comes back and wraps me in his arms, his lips lightly brushing mine.
"Welcome back," he says softly, his eyes full of nothing but love.
There are tears in my eyes and I brush them away, smiling up at him,
happier than I've been in a long time. "It's good to be back," I tell him,
hugging him close. Nothing has been this good in a long time.
Things between us have never been simple, and I know they never will be.
But I know that this time we can make it work. Angel told me once that not
everybody gets a second chance. I've gotten mine and I'm going to make damn
sure I make the most of it.