Title: Four Times Buffy Saved Angel's Life (and One Time She Couldn't)

Summary: If she had the choice, she'd save him every time.

A/N: This was written for chrisleeoctaves' IWRY month-of-B/A marathon on LJ and And big thanks to carlyinrome for the big help with the beta!

A. The Blood

Connor died in the battle, too.

It wasn't even due to his stubbornness, his determination to be involved. He'd sought out safety, just as Angel had demanded.

Turns out shelter doesn't mean much when the army of death sends out a fireball that wipes out half the city.

Doyle, Cordelia, Fred, Wesley, now Gunn, Spike and… Connor. All lost. And he doesn't even have the balls to take his own life.

Not in one swift motion, anyway. He stops eating. He stops moving. He becomes a vegetable by choice. The not-eating is the worst part, though.

When she finds him, it's been months. Now he couldn't move if he tried. He's a skeleton, he's yellow, his vocal chords don't work. He can't even open his eyes to look and confirm that the voice he thinks he hears is actually hers.

When he comes into full consciousness, days later, and realizes she's been feeding him blood through a tube, at first he hates her. He fucking hates her. He wanted – he deserved – to fade away, become the nothing that his life has become, in as painful and gradual a way as possible.

He's pissed, and he tells her if she doesn't get the hell out of his life again, he'll put a stake right through his heart. But she doesn't give up on him.

And he still doesn't have the balls.

She keeps feeding him against his will, and he's getting strong enough to put up a fight, but she's still stronger and she manages.

The day arrives when he's sick of being babied, and he takes the container of blood and feeds himself.

So he doesn't hate her anymore. And he may have decided that he has a reason to live.

It's a start.

B. The Deal

It doesn't stick. She doesn't stay. Once she's convinced he'll be okay on his own again, she goes back to her own life. They say they'll keep in touch, but that doesn't stick either.

Time passes.

The day he wakes up breathing, she's there. She takes his hand in hers, not sure which of them is warming up the other more, and he doesn't care to ask how she knew to come.

But it's not right. He brings his other hand to his chest, trembling, to feel the rhythmic beats within and says, "It wasn't mine anymore. I signed it away."

She smiles, shakes her head. "I know. But that doesn't matter now." Her smile grows, turns a little mischievous. "You're not the only one with negotiating powers. And hey – you might even find that you got to keep the superpowers!"

He can't help but smile back; she looks so happy and he feels so alive, but logic sets in and his face falls. A cold fear fills him. "No. You shouldn't… What did you have to give them in return? What did they take from you?"

He knows the kind of demons she must have dealt with.

Her smile doesn't fade and she shakes her head. She presses a finger to his lips, reassuring and soft, a sign that his arguments would be worthless. "Don't worry about it. Everything's fine. Maybe I caught them in a charitable mood or something," she tries to joke and it isn't much but it makes him grin because he's wanted this. So long, he's wanted this. He pulls her down in the bed beside him and spends the rest of the day showing her just how much he appreciates her powers of negotiation.

It shouldn't take him as long to notice as it does. But he's so happy that for awhile he manages to ignore the signs. He ignores them, but they're there.

Time passes. She doesn't fight anymore. She's not as spry. She doesn't lift heavy things around the house. She's always tired. And she's aging so very, very fast.

C. The Portal

It doesn't last that time, either. She's growing older and weaker, and eventually comes to resent him for still being strong, and still aging slower than the average human. She knows it isn't his fault, she knows it was her own doing, but she can't look at him and not feel like she's a disappointment, and she hates that. So she leaves, goes back to live with the people who know what it's like to feel weak.

Time passes.

Time brings them back together, gives them the chance to meet one more time. And now they're here – she still makes an effort to get involved in those battles that don't require her using physical strength. She does what she can. He fought this one, and now she's here to do her part.

This has happened to her before. She's been here a couple of times. Once, with him. She didn't have a choice that time. Stuck a sword through him and let him get sucked in, choked, cried. Didn't want to but she had to.

The other time he wasn't there. He wasn't with her to help her make the choice. She still wonders sometimes if she made the wrong one. If she'd be happier with her life now if she had chosen otherwise. But no, she loved her sister. It had to be the right choice.

This time, there's a choice again and it's their decision to make. He's of the opinion that since the first time he went, and the second time she went, it probably should be his turn again now.

But she's so much older now. She's been deteriorating in the two years since he last saw her. She doesn't have much time left, no matter what, and he still has more time than he'll ever know what to do with – less than he used to, but still too much. She thinks that's a reason she should go, but he, of course, thinks the opposite. She's got so little precious time left to enjoy, and he doesn't know how he'll go on in a world without her. Again.

She says, "Let me."

He imagines letting her, and it gives him a pain deep in his gut, so he says, "I can't."

Then, even though she's so much older, it's the same as it was. She holds him close, kisses him with everything in her until he can't think, can't see anything but them, like this, forever. And she whispers, "I love you," but before he gets to say it back, she shoves him down.

He could have stopped her if he'd been expecting it, but it took him by surprise. He looks up at her, and she's wearing a smirk. It's a smirk that says, 'Works every time.'

But then the confident look fades and she reaches towards him, not with the intention of touching him, but just to show that she would hold him forever, if she could, and he understands.

If she had the choice, she'd save him every time.

Then she turns, and she runs, and she closes the hole between dimensions. Their world is safe again, and he still has to exist in it. Without her. Again.

He has a pain deep in his gut. He ignores it and stands.

D. The Letter

She wrote it before that day, that last day they saw each other. She gave instructions to Willow to send it if… – to send it after.

For the two weeks between that day and when it arrives in his mailbox, he's just going through the motions. And he buys a gun. He looks at it everyday, thinks about timing, and knows he'll do it soon. He's not the man he was before.

Two weeks, and then something in him decides it's time to bring his gun and go back to that place. The place where it ended for her. He's planning on going at sundown, but that morning, the letter comes. He doesn't read it right away – he takes both the gun and the letter with him that evening.

He sits on the floor, places the gun down in front of him, opens the envelope, and begins to read. He wants her words to be the last to enter his consciousness.

Dear Angel,

I know it's a cliché, and it's depressing, and stupid, these letters that start off with, "if you're reading this letter, that means I must be dead," but there's really no other way to start a letter that has to say what this letter has to say, is there? So, my love (and I've been denying terms of endearment like that for years, but if I'm dead, I get to be a little nostalgic and sentimental), I'm sorry to do this to you,, but if you're reading this letter…

It starts off light and as meaningless as such a letter can – he can tell she was trying to be strong for him – but midway through the letter, her tone has changed into something more real, more heartfelt, more pained. She'd known what she was going to do that day; that much is clear. He'd never really had a choice in the matter. When he gets closer to the end, he can hardly take it any more. He's lost so many people already, and always thought… somehow he always thought he'd have another chance with her, at least. A surprisingly optimistic thought for someone who's given up on believing in everything else at one time or another, but he can't deny now that it was there.

After each sentence, he casts a glance at the gun. It looks more and more tempting. But then he reaches the final paragraphs:

No matter how much we've drifted over the years, I still feel your presence in my life everyday. I still find the most insignificant moments reminding me of a moment I shared with you so long ago, some piece of advice you gave me from your centuries-old well of experience. And I know you, Angel. I know you, and I can't help but worry that you're going to do something stupid after getting this letter, or after it happens, if you're there.

But you can't. Please? You can't. For me. I know you don't have much left, I know you've lost virtually everyone you've ever cared about. I know it's been hard, and this may feel like the last straw. You've gotten all you've needed from this world, and mostly suffered in the process. But the world still needs you. You have to go on fighting. Think about it – with me gone, who else is going to be looking out for all the people out there who still need saving? I trust no one as much as I trust you, to this day, with that responsibility.

And to be honest, the thing that makes this easier, knowing what I'm getting into, is knowing that you'll still exist in this world after I'm gone. You'll still be okay. And if something happens and you're not, and it was your fault, I'm sure I'll be watching from above and crying. Or, you know, somehow finding a way to come back down here, and bring you back too just so I can kick your ass.

Please? For me. I love you. Still. Always, remember?

Somehow he finds the strength within him to make his way back home that evening, and he leaves the gun behind.

E. The Battle

Time passes.

He finds a new gang, eventually. As much as he doesn't want to, it's like fate – it just happens. They find him. He tries to stay disconnected from them, he tries not to form any emotional attachments, but his heart is bigger than he wants it to be and he can't not love them. He can't not want to keep them safe. It's like fate – it just happens.

So he fights by their sides, nightly. Daily, too, now. His whole life is the fight. And eventually, another big one comes. An apocalyptic battle that they won't all come back from.

It's another round of thousands against five, and then he loses them one by one and soon it's thousands against him. He won't win this one. He thinks of her, and how she wouldn't fail at this if she were here. He thinks of her and how she'd want him to be strong, how she'd want him to go on. But he can't.

It's too hard, it's too much, and he can't find a reason in his consciousness that proves that it's still worth it. A sword is slicing through the air towards him, and he lets it come.

She's watching from above and crying.