Title: Warm Skin, Wolf Grin
Spoilers: up to the end of Angel
Personal Website: exitseraphim
As destined loves go, theirs isn't one.
He's a vampire atoning for centuries of atrocities. She's a werewolf, struggling against the dark side that could one day overwhelm her. Angel and Nina should be epic. They should be epic in black gothic script with tiny bats handing upside down from the c as lightning flashes on some castle turrets. And yet… they're not. He thinks she's pretty. She thinks "the vampire thing's pretty sexy" and develops a crush after he saves her life. It's as simple as that, two attractive people having a good time together. It's also casual, hot, and one of the most bizarrely normal relationships in the Jossverse. All things I love about it.
Part of this normality could be simple time constraints. With Nina appearing in three episodes and getting name-checked in two, there's not much space for her relationship with Angel to become a heartwrenching Romace of the Ages. In that sense they're not too different from Wes and Virginia, or Giles and Olivia. The relationships were fun and mutually satisfying and ended without anyone meeting a horrible death; on the scale of one to apocalypse, not a bad way for things to go.
It all starts in Unleashed, which is all about Nina first becoming a werewolf; at the end of the episode they get a quick heart to heart about living as a monster, and when asked by Gunn if he thinks he has a chance with her, Angel shares that Nina "gave him a look". Four months, eleven episodes and an apparent bout of amnesia later, he's shocked to realise she's interested. And he panics. "I mean, here we had this very good, very platonic thing going on," he says, insisting that a relationship's out of the question: "I'm not that guy. That guy is charming and funny and emotionally useful. I'm the guy in a dark corner with the blood habit and the 200 years of psychic baggage." Things just get more complicated when he turns into a puppet, she turns into a werewolf and he almost becomes a scooby snack. It all works out fine in the end, though, and he invites her out for breakfast. Still interested, even while he's made of felt with detachable body parts, Nina happily agrees.
From then on they seem to be dating offscreen. In The Girl in Question Angel at first denies she's his girlfriend, saying they've just been hanging out, an opinion he abruptly u-turns on when he finds out Buffy's out of the dateable market. Another potential situation for recriminations and ‘why doesn't he love meeee' angst that just isn't. Next episode Nina teases him in bed over his ‘Roman friend' and suggests they take a beach vacation. No angst, just a long bout of imperfect happiness.
Even their break-up is understated. In a universe where becoming the girlfriend of someone in the credits is very often the kiss of death – see Jenny, Tara, Anya, Lilah, Darla, Fred and Cordelia – Nina survives by her cunning tactic of sort-of-but-not-quite breaking up with Angel. "Why on earth would I stay?" she asks, taking the tickets he's bought for her and her relatives to skip town before the final fight with Wolfram & Hart. Angel doesn't seem to take this as Farewell Forever, though, since by the next episode he's telling Connor about the artist girlfriend who made him a vase. If they got out of that alley alive, maybe he did meet her on the beach.
So why write them? Well, part of the fun is in getting in on the ground floor of the relationship, before it all goes horribly wrong (and in their world, inevitably, it will.) Since so much happens offstage, there are a lot of gaps to fill. No pun intended, despite the fact that the show thoughtfully tells us that Angel and Nina have a spectacular sex-life – and it's worth remembering that this is Angel's first long-term physical relationship since he was cursed with a soul. She's a woman who he enjoys spending time with and who he can have sex with without unleashing Angelus. It's a pretty good deal.
Nina herself is so compelling to me because she's the outsider. We've had other characters introduced as love interests for the leads – Tara, Kennedy and Virginia, to name three – but they've almost always had some existing connection to the supernatural world. Tara and Virginia were brought up knowing magic. Kennedy was trained as a Slayer since childhood. Until she becomes a werewolf, Nina has no idea that demons and vampires and hell dimensions and apocalypses are real. Afterwards, even while dating a vampire and spending one weekend a month locked in a cage at an evil law firm, she's still not completely part of Angel's world or his mission. She's still going to classes at her art college and playing with her niece and leading a normal life. For someone like Angel, denied that kind of normality for so long, that has to be part of the appeal. A relationship without baggage, with someone he doesn't have to save and who isn't supposed to be his redemption? Sounds like fun.
If it all sounds too fluffy, there's the possibility for darkfic. Angel's relationship with Nina is a paradox: they're safe provided he doesn't love her, or at least doesn't love her too much. Get him close to perfect happiness and he's got to start worrying about losing his soul. It's clearly something they've talked about, since Nina jokes in Power Play that she's ready to stake him if he's lost his soul, but unlike Buffy or Cordelia she's never seen his dark side, has no clue what Angelus is like. It's interesting that Nina's an art student since so much is made of Angelus' artistry in his kills, and that we tend to only see Angel drawing as a symptom of some obsession (the pictures on Buffy's pillow, the endless sketches of Darla). On the flipside, Nina's inner wolf isn't going to stay an easily-containable cub forever. Over on BtVS we saw Oz begin to lose control of his wolf side. Veruca embraced hers, and it destroyed her. In the end, Angel might need to save Nina after all – if he can.
Then there are the other issues: she'll get older, he won't. She's been insulated from his mission by meeting him when he was in charge of Wolfram & Hart and not fighting the good fight in such an active sense. The demons Nina's seen so far have been wearing corporate suits. She wants to stay and face the danger with him in Not Fade Away but Angel's seen what happens to people who fight beside him. He's already sent her away once for her own protection, and it's easy to imagine him making one of his unilateral decisions to let her have a fabled normal life in the sunlight.
In the very first episode, Doyle told Angel that he needed some connection to humanity. With Cordelia, Wes, Fred, Gunn (probably) and Doyle himself all gone and Buffy seemingly out of reach, Nina's his best human link. Whether Angel will realise that is another matter.
So, fic recs. To my lasting disappointment, here's hardly any fic for this pairing. Believe me, I've looked. There are a couple of gems, though: nihilistbear's All the Small Things explores what Angel sees in Nina. 'She's not like anyone that's been in his life in the past two hundred years. There's no burning passion, no desperate need here. There's just an attraction because she's gorgeous, and he's not drawn to the pureness of her heart of the darkness of her soul or any of the crap.' A drabble written by 506_mph is a brief snapshot of the relationship, and the moment that Angel realises he could possibly love her. And Michael Weaver's A Day in the Life of Puppet Angel shows us the missing day from Smile Time, as Angel tries to work out what exactly he's going to say to her that night.
ETA a self-pimp that got lost between drafts of this essay: Howl is Buffy/Angel and Buffy/Angel/Nina post-apocalypse fic and there's an untitled Angel/Nina/Spike drabble.