Disclaimer: Joss, that huge ass, owns them;) I strive to fix the messes he so loves to create
Summary: Many years in the future, Angel decides to make a visit to the past
Last night I tried to leave
Cried so much I could not believe
She was the same girl I fell in love with long ago" – Hootie and the Blowfish "Let Her Cry"
"I wanted to see you walking backwards,
and get the sensation of you coming home
and I wanted to see you walking away from me
without the sensation of you leaving me alone" – Counting Crows "Time and Time Again"
December, 2015- Somewhere on the battlefields outside Sunnydale, California
Angel felt the blood dripping down his chin, but didn't wipe it away. His lip stung and he knew it was split clear down the middle, a side effect from a recent fight with a Morgallah demon.
He picked his way through the trenches, his gaze fixed on the bright splashes of red the poppies crawling up the dirt and tufts of grass made in the endless grey of the landscape. They looked like blood. His chest hurt as he caught a glimpse of his second in command, Charles Gunn, who was scanning the battlefield with worried eyes. The dark brown orbs turned to him then and Angel suddenly had an inkling. Something was wrong. He wondered how things could get any worse than they already were.
They'd already lost Xander at the beginning. Giles came later, as did Cordelia. Willow had succumbed in a fight saving Tara a year ago, and her Wiccan lover followed- dying of a broken heart. Anya remained at the frontlines as a nurse, but she was a shadow of her former self without Xander.
He heard Wesley's voice and just knew. Spinning slowly, he looked at his friend dizzily and whispered, "No."
"I'm so sorry." The former Watcher hesitated. "They say she doesn't have long… it might be the time to… say goodbye."
Angel stared sickly at the poppies, (poppies… for remembrance) and heaved, vomiting and coughing against the side of the small hill, choking on his own breath which seemed too thick for his throat. "Buffy…" he murmured in stunned amazement. It couldn't happen. He knew it couldn't. She had told him so this morning, as the first lights of dawn streaked the sky. Her hair had been dunked in cold water to wash it, and dripped down her shoulders as her eyes locked with his. He remembered the cool feel of her lips against his, their teeth bumping slightly as she kissed him and whispered, "Just another day, baby. Want me to get you some coffee?"
He had caught her around the waist and lifted her up, so they were face to face, muttering, "I hate you going out alone. Come back to me, all right?"
She had laughed, her Buffy laugh, and pecked his nose, saying, "I always do, don't I? Don't be a worrywart. I gotta go. See you tonight." And then she had jumped in the waiting jeep with the rest of the team, leaving him with a wave and a smile.
His soul screamed. Ignoring the concerned glances from his friends and members of the army, he entered the medicine tent and it was all a blur of white and red crosses. Silver trays of instruments glinted underneath the canvas, and smells of gunpowder, shrapnel and flesh wafted through his nose, into his brain. He knew where she was… he could feel her. Travelling across the grass floor, he found her at the end, on a cot all alone, with a small candle burning by the bedside. She was a hero to the people she was trying to save. Already a legend.
His wife, too. Above all else, she was his wife. A flesh and blood woman who knew his secrets. Who knew how to make him smile. She was the only one who could do that. Who was going to tell him jokes at night now? Who was going to stave off the dread of battle… soothe his wounds… kiss him goodbye in the mornings over cups of coffee? Dropping to his knees, he felt for her hand, interlacing their fingers. She didn't open her eyes, at first, simply smiled and said, "I was wondering when you were coming."
He kissed her fingers gently. "You said this morning not to worry." It came out like an accusation, but he didn't mean it like that. Or maybe he did. He wasn't sure. Could he blame her for dying?
Buffy opened her eyes and grimaced. Purple bruises streaked the sides of her face, running down her neck to disappear underneath the thin black shirt she wore. He could see the blood spreading underneath her ribs and cursed whatever weapon had run her through. His beautiful, beautiful love.
"What happened?" he asked quietly and she shrugged, fury burning beneath her skin.
"They surprised us. We lost two. I didn't even think of the Master, you know," she shook her head and he could see her wince with the pain. "I thought I had everything covered and didn't even bargain on him coming back from the dead. We were about a mile from the camp and they just fell on us as if they knew we were coming all along."
Pressing her hand to his face, he watched her cough, a thin stream of blood sliding from the corner of her mouth. Picking up a cloth, he wiped it away, leaving a film of poppy-red across her cheek. "I don't…" he broke off, his belly aching. "I don't think I can go on… I can't live without you, Buffy."
"Yes you can," she said implacably. "The battle's almost over." She smiled tenderly, and to him, her teeth looked like shattered windows. Windows to a life they almost had… it was so close he could reach out and touch it, feel it, taste it. "You'll finally have what we worked for, baby. That's all I want."
"I don't want it without you," he argued, despairing. She was giving up- she wasn't fighting. "Please… just try. Try and get better. I…" he held her ring finger, stroking the cold diamond adorning it. "We're gonna have children, love. And a house. And we're going to be normal. You just have to fight a little longer…"
"No," she said softly, touching his face, his tears. "You know it's too late for me. I have to go on. I have to…" she looked straight into his eyes. "I've died before. It's not so bad. And I'll always have the memory… the knowledge. That I loved you. That I married you…" she paused, her gaze far away. "And that's enough."
"No." He shook his head, stumbling over his words. "It's not enough. I'm not Dawn, Buffy. You can't soothe me with a few words. You CAN'T leave me, do you understand? I won't let you. Not now. Not with all—"
"I have to," she uttered. "I'm going to die. No one can stop it." Pressing a hand to her broken belly, she winced at the pain. "You have to protect Dawn. She's the only Summers' left now."
Leaning down, he curved his face against her neck and felt the stroke of her hand in his hair. She did this sometimes after they made love in the nights. It was always so cold that they had to cuddle all night, for body heat. His wife would laugh and say that she liked freezing weather. He'd laugh to, and they would kiss softly and hunker down in the sleeping bag, their skin hungering for each other only. He was never going to have those nights again. God, his heart hurt.
"Isn't this funny?" she laughed, a hollow sound. "How many times have I died now? You'd think the Powers would let it go already."
He didn't laugh. He couldn't even speak. His throat closed over and he felt his bones ache with the urge to slit his wrists and make her drink. He could make her live forever… no. No… he knew she would never accept that life. And he could never bring himself to make her suffer through it. "Buffy?"
"Yes?" she whispered, a listless note to her voice. She was weakening, he could feel it. Slowly, his reason for living was dying.
"Will you haunt me?" he asked blankly, and she breathed out, her chest moving with difficulty.
"No," she answered finally, misery filling her tone. "I want you to be happy. Without me. I want you to move on… be strong like you've always been."
Cupping her cheek with his hand, he kissed her and tasted the sorrow of so many tomorrows never reached in their tears. Her breath hitched and her fingers closed over his. "Hold me," she asked him and he drew her into his arms, her ear against his heart. He caressed her hair and back, murmuring utterances in his own language, felt the hot blood dripping down his chest from her split midsection.
"I love you, Buffy Summers," he kissed her forehead and sobbed softly against her hair.
"Love…" she slurred, and looked into his eyes one final time, smiling just slightly before she slipped away, her chest ceasing to rise. Angel closed his eyes to the pain, holding her in his embrace like she was going to crumble into dust and fade away with the wind.
Angel walked out of the medicine tent hours later. His shirt was streaked with dried blood from the body of his wife. Staring up at the sky with detachment, he gazed at the cold stars, which burned against a frail moon. The chill to the air made him automatically rub his arms. He wondered what he would do tonight for warmth. She wasn't there to hold him. She wasn't there so he could hold her.
Glancing towards their tent, he shook his head slightly, and imagined their cot with the blanket she had made for their first wedding anniversary ("Shitty quilting," she'd laughed. "but at least I tried. My sewing teacher would be so proud.") and pictured the sunshine of her hair, and felt his throat choke with vomit. Falling to his knees, he threw up into the dirt and sobbed, feeling his ribs caving in on themselves. Collapsing, he rolled over and the sky mocked him. Her ghost drifted in the shadows, her eyes and hands and skin glinted just out of reach from his fingertips. He wanted to die.
It was Wesley. He ignored him, sitting up and rubbing his eyes wearily. He was so tired. If only there was some way he could change this. He'd saved her life once hadn't he? Giving his own back to the Powers that Be so he could halt Armageddon. Maybe he could talk to them. Maybe he could tell them he didn't want his Shanshu if they'd just bring his wife back.
And then suddenly he knew. He knew what he had to do.
"Wesley," he stood up and looked at his old friend, who regarded him with trepidation. "I want the sphere you found last year. I need to go back in time."
The night air was wet and heavy on his face as Angel opened his eyes and faced the house on Revello Drive with trepidation. He saw it, but he didn't believe it. He didn't recognise this place after so many years of grey and blood and sunshine hair. He didn't know anything anymore. Not of this place. Not of her. What Buffy would be waiting for him up there?
Touching the knotty wood of the Oak tree, he tested its familiar weight, and began to climb. He could almost see his ghost from so long ago on the branches with him; and squeezed his eyes shut as the pain clamped down on his ribs and crushed. His past self didn't know what was coming- Faith, Angelus, razor sharp swords and lost souls and the City of Angels. Battlefields, and sweat soaked nights of whispers and kisses and Buffy.
As he came upon her window, the transparent white drapes fluttering in the breeze, he thought of his wife and screamed silently to her…Help me, love. I can't do this alone.
It was a sound of startled surprise. He glanced up and saw the girl. Her hair was bright, , thick- her eyes wide. She was beautiful. But she would become even more beautiful and didn't know it. "Hey," he murmured and tried to place the time. Wesley's orb hadn't let them be too specific of the period in which he went back in her lifetime.
She just stared at him and then rocked back on her heels a little. "What are you doing here?" her voice was laced with a sickening suspicion. He felt his guts clench and his throat swell. He wanted so badly to fall to his knees and kiss her belly, beg her to love him the way her future self did. Turning, he paced a little and ran a hand down her shelves, disrupting a thick layer of dust which made him smile in remembrance.
("I am not cleaning.
No, Angel. C'mon… it's already a big dirty battlefield already. There's no need for excessive cleanliness. I make our cot. Isn't that enough?
Fine, I'll do it.
Oh fine, baby. If you're going to be that way. Show me the mop and the bucket.)
She looked at him strangely. "What are you doing here?" Panic sharpened her tone. "Did something happen? Is Cordy ok?"
"Yes," he finally managed to speak clearly, and glanced at her again. She looked so young. There was no stain to her eyes that years of war can bring… and did. "They're fine. Buffy…" Saying her name sent a wave of hellish pain down to his belly. Stopping for a moment, he leaned against the wall and motioned to the door. "Is your Mom ok?"
"Yes…" she sent him a weird look. "Why wouldn't she be?"
Oh, love. If you only knew. He wanted to tell her, to warn her… but he couldn't. "Where's Dawn?" he asked.
"Dawn?" she repeated. "Who in the hell is Dawn? Angel… you're scaring me."
A Buffy that didn't know Dawn. He had lived with the little girl for so long and lived with a wife whose burning love for her sister drove everything she did. Not knowing how to respond, he shrugged.
"It doesn't matter now. Buffy… I'm not… I'm not the Angel from LA." Oh, great. Great way to explain it to her, he chastised himself soundly, and could almost hear his wife… (Stop being cryptic guy. Just spit it out already.)
She laughed and crossed her arms. "Not the Angel from LA. Well, this is a new one. Who are you then?"
"I'm from… the future."
Buffy shook her blonde head and answered blankly, "The future. What…" she opened her mouth a few more times, but no sound emanated from it. "What… I don't understand. Time travel isn't even possible. I mean… is it?"
He nodded. "Wesley and I found an orb a while ago. Well, actually, you found it." He smiled slightly, lost in the future that was already past, his eyes far far away. "You were out on one of the recs with Gunn and in a demon stronghold you found the orb that—"
"Wait a second," Buffy held up her hands and he snapped back into the present with jarring force. "I found it? I don't understand… I'm *with* you, in this future?"
He nodded, and attempted to block out the voice in his head. The voice of his wife, his girl, his life. His everything. He couldn't think. Trailing his fingers down the windowsill, he faced her again and wished more than anything for her. For the other her. The one that looked at him with softness in her eyes. The one that called him "baby", the one that lounged on their quilt in the very early hours of the morning and beckoned him from where he was making coffee, into her arms. His Buffy. Not this stranger.
"Why am I with you?" she inquired sharply, and he swallowed helplessly.
"We got married." He didn't want to explain this to her. Not the way she had looked in the church, in the simple white silk. Not the sheen of her skin afterwards. Not the moonlight dance on the balcony that night when she'd stumbled and hit her elbow against a table they hadn't noticed. Not the sound of her giggles as he had patched up the small wound, kissing it better at her insistence. Not the way her hands gripped his back as they kissed between silken sheets.
His eyes stung with tears as he watched her grapple with the news.
"When did we get back together?" she asked him softly, and his head jerked up at the new note to her voice. She sounded more like her. More like his Buffy.
"It was a few years—" he was about to say a few years after her mother died, but choked on the words. He couldn't inform her of that. He didn't want to be the one to tell her she would find her Mommy lying glassy eyed on the couch as he was screwing Darla in another city. "It was at Xander's wedding."
"Xander's wedding?" she spluttered, and raised her eyebrows. "Please don't tell me he marries Anya. Let it be Willow, or Cordy… or even Giles, for crying out loud."
Angel smiled gently at her. "No, it was Anya. They were very happy," he assured her. "And Cordy got invited so she dragged me and Gunn and Wesley along. You and I…" he closed his eyes as the rush of sweet memories glowed behind his eyelids. "You and I started to talk again. And slowly… we got back what we had lost. We realized we still loved each other." He looked at her and could see the faint flush underneath her skin. "We got married on your twentieth fourth birthday. I told you… I told you I wanted to give you a happy birthday. To erase the memory of all the bad ones."
She stared at him with tears glittering in her hazel orbs and held out her hand to touch his. "Well I hope future me said thank you."
"You did," he told her huskily. "You thanked me by marrying me. That's all I ever needed."
The tears spilled over her cheeks but she didn't acknowledge them. "Why are you here, Angel?"
"Something bad happened." He let that sink in, and began to pace. "The Hellmouth was opened and demons took over. We were living in LA at the time, and you couldn't get to the school in time to stop it. Earth became a war zone. Demons against humans. We've got the upper hand though, now, and it looks like we're going to win. But…" he paused and bit his lip until he tasted blood. He couldn't tell her. "We lost a lot of people. Willow, Xander, Tara…" he let that ram home and saw her pale, her hands start to shake. "I need to warn you. I need to make sure you don't let any of this happen. Be at Sunnydale High on December 1st 2005. That's the day the Hellmouth opened. Stop it, and none of it will happen…"
She nodded dumbly, and reached out to him. "What about us? Now that I know…"
"Nothing's changed. You just have the knowledge that there is…" he felt his belly tighten with sorrow, "there is a happy future waiting for you, Buffy."
"Riley…" she whispered, and he knew then that Solider boy hadn't left her yet. "I don't… not that I think what we have is forever… but??"
"He's… he's not worthy of you," was all Angel said. He didn't want to tell her about the way she'd find him with a vampire feeding off his arm, or the subsequent helicopter ride to the vast jungles where he'd disappear and never contact her again. "Never mind that. Just remember the Hellmouth. Be prepared, love. Just be prepared for that."
Looking at her one last time, memorising the curve of her young cheek, the fresh whiteness of her teeth, the shine of her hair, he spun to go, to leave the same way he had come.
"Wait," she grabbed his arm. "Where are you going? Back… back to where you came from?
"No…" he said blankly, tiredly. "There's no… there's nowhere. I made a new future." He was glad. His wife no longer lay in that blood stained cot anymore. "I have to go though. I'll see you," he caressed her face for a moment.
She leaned into him and he felt the press of her lips against his neck. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you in advance for making me happy."
Sobs threatened to overwhelm him for a moment. Oh, love. My beautiful, beautiful love…
Kissing her forehead, he murmured, "It was you that made me happy. It was you that always drove my life, my fights, my existence. Never forget that, Buffy Summers. I loved you."
Without looking back, he climbed out the window and was on the street. As he walked, he heard her voice in his ears, heard the music of her laughter in every bird song. Ascending the hill above the Mansion, he turned his face to the sky and saw her eyes in the vibrant dawn sweeping the horizon.
"Buffy…" he whispered, as he felt the sun. "Love, I was true… true to you…"
There was fire, there was pain, and then there was peace. As his ashes drifted into the wind, his last words echoed in the still morning air.
"I'm coming home."
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