Christmas Eve, 2075
Angel patted Charlie's head and instructed him to return to the house. He would be by the door waiting for them when they decided to return. Angel sat behind Buffy, his arms went around her to support her. She knew this was where she was supposed to be. She couldn't remember what it felt like to be held by another man.
"How are you?"
"Fine," she whispered.
"Are you sure?"
"No," she admitted and tilted her face up to look at him. "I just want to say I get it."
"I get why you left me."
"I didn't understand then. I was eighteen, thought I'd die young. I never thought about watching those I love die. Meantime, I look like that girl."
He slid a hand along her arm, calming her which she imagined was the intention. "I know."
"It was bad enough when it was Giles. I mean, I expected that. He was older than me. But Xander, Willow, and now Dawn. I'd forgotten for a while there she wasn't even in my life once upon a time. I mean, how could someone who wasn't real have kids?"
"How could the son of two vampires create perfectly human children? And I've seen no evidence in their kids or their kids that they aren't."
"I don't know. None of it makes any sense, does it? Connor isn't fully human, but he's aging just slower than humans do. I guess through them we get carried on. Summers blood, Angel blood. To think of having to go through this alone. Losing you and having no one to turn to."
"You're never going to lose me."
"I know." She turned, wanting to really look at him. "But had this whole return from the dead thing not happened." She shrugged. "Had you stayed with me, you would have watched my friends go one by one and then me. And who would you have to comfort you?"
"But you wouldn't have had him," Buffy whispered, cupping his face.
"Good point," he whispered.
"I wonder if they hated me. Resented me."
"Willow and Xander. Dawn."
"Why would they?"
"Because they got old and I didn't."
"At least they lived to get old, Buffy, and didn't die from something else."
"I see that, but I wonder if they did. They were always a little jealous I got the slayer goodies. Never mind that Willow was more powerful when it got down to it. That's why the First feared her, fears her children."
"Yes," Angel said simply. "It's a powerful bloodline."
"I'm so glad she and Oz found each other again. I know she never loved anyone like Tara, but Oz was a close second and they made each other happy."
"There's a lot to be said for that, especially when she couldn't be with a woman again. I know how she felt."
"I tried to replace you, but it didn't work. Even what I felt for Darla wasn't a good substitute. What Willow and Oz had while not the same was at least positive and healthy. I think she knew she needed to have children, that the power she contained needed to be handed down."
"We talked about it some, yeah."
Buffy regarded him. Despite spending decades with him there were still mysteries about him. She imagined he felt the same about her. "Did you get the presents all put out?"
He nipped the tip of her finger and nodded. "Santa was a busy man this year."
"I'm so glad they stayed, I know it's hard but Christmas in this house is my favorite holiday. It reminds me of the year it snowed for us."
"I remember. It's how I knew this was where we were supposed to be. This is where the miracles that happened to me occurred. I saw us here, like this, in one of my visions."
"Yeah. Could very well be this moment. You looked kind of sad I remember, but I knew you were content."
"That about sums it up. Hard to believe someone who wasn't even supposed to be a part of our lives could make such a difference."
"It is, and I know. Just think if I hadn't been turned we would never have met."
She probably would have stayed dead after diving off that tower. She knew that because Angel was the reason she had been brought back. Other slayers came after her to fight the fight, but by losing Buffy the Powers had lost the heart of their champion.
She stood and he did the same, walking toward the mansion arm and arm. Soon it would be sunrise and the kids would be awake to see what Santa brought them. Tears formed in her eyes at the realization that Dawn would never see another Christmas. Angel stopped walking and brought her into his arms. "It hurts so much, Angel."
"I know," he whispered, smoothing her hair with his hand. "But we have the others to look after and to make sure they know who Dawn was, how special she was. Our job will never be done."
"I've heard those words before."
"A few hundred times."
"And it's no less annoying now then it was the first ninety-nine."
"I keep hoping one of these days you'll realize it's true."
"I do, Angel. I don't know what's wrong with me. It just hurts so much. I didn't think it could hurt any more than it did after Xander and Willow."
"You're human, Buffy." He stroked her face with his thumb, wiping away her tears. "That's all."
"I never realized that was such a curse before now."
"You want to talk about curses," he quipped.
"No," she said with a laugh.
"I love you, Buffy, human or otherwise."
"I love you, too," she whispered. The rays of the new day's sun were beginning to peak over the horizon. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," he said as they resumed their approach to the mansion where Charlie waited for them. Buffy lost count of how many generations removed Charlie was from Chief, eight or nine by now. Like Dawn's family, Charlie was here representing a piece of the past that Buffy wouldn't trade for anything.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com